Christian Retailing

Life stories help readers see God’s hand Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:17 AM America/New_York

Strong personal accounts offer a glimpse of how believers ‘incarnate’ their faith

Whether the story of Duck Dynasty’s quirky Uncle Si, the sports biography of pro football’s Robert Griffin III or memoirs of TV stars Tim Conway and Love Boat captain Gavin MacLeod, 2013 has seen a wealth of biographical titles.


This category reflects how the best stories happen in real life, said Matt Baugher, senior vice president and publisher of W Publishing Group.

“There is a reason people continue to be fascinated by the lives of other people,” Baugher said. “God designed us for community, to connect with each other and to see His hand at work in individuals.” 

W Publishing Group recently released MacLeod’s This Is Your Captain Speaking. Another Thomas Nelson imprint, Nelson Books, follows Dec. 31 with King Rules by Alveda King, a niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Open Your Eyes by Jake Olson, who aspires to become the first blind pro golfer.

Authentic stories inspire people and offer hope, said Maegan Roper, marketing manager for New Hope Publishers. New Hope’s A Thousand Times Yes by Dr. Wana Ann Fort (August) is the story of two doctors who answered God’s call, one of them among the first female graduates of Baylor University’s medical school.

“Some of our most powerful biographies and autobiographies are of missionaries who give a first-hand account to what is happening in foreign lands,” Roper said. “Essentially, [they] are testaments to the reality of God’s grace.”

The genre’s potential is evidenced further by the fall debut of Convergent, a faith-based imprint under Random House’s Crown Publishing Group. All five of its new releases are autobiographical, including this month’s Strangers at My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, which tells the story of how he and his wife decided to open their door to anyone who knocks.

Publisher Stephen Cobb said that among “the very best books”  for Convergent’s launch list “were the outgrowth of the writer’s personal experiences with faith.”BandHBooks-BalancingItAll

Biographies of historic figures are a category mainstay, including two titles releasing this month by Kregel Publications: The A-Z of C.S. Lewis and William and Catherine, an account of the Salvation Army founders’ love story. Lesser known is African-American singer-composer Harry T. Burleigh, the subject of Nobody Knows (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group, Jan. 1, 2014).

Barbour’s December titles on Gladys Aylward and Samuel Morris for its “Heroes of the Faith” series are being re-released.

“It seems that no matter how much society and technology have changed, there is always some interest in great Christians of history,” said Paul Muckley, Barbour’s senior editor for nonfiction.

Another historical figure, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was the subject of one of the best-selling biographies in recent years. Michael Maudlin, executive editor of HarperOne, credits his company with helping to spark a resurgence of the category with 2007’s Amazing Grace, paving the way for Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer (Thomas Nelson, 2010). 

Bonhoeffer has been the most successful historical biography in decades, so expect to see more of those kinds of books in the near future,” Maudlin said.

Crossway has a theological take on the category, releasing two such biographies, one on the ultimate subject—Jesus—and the other on Reformer John Calvin, on Jan. 31. Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor recount Christ’s end in The Final Days of Jesus, while Michael Horton reviews Calvin in Calvin on the Christian Life.



Howard Books’ Senior Editor Philis Boultinghouse said one of Howard’s three subcategories of the genre are “do-gooder” stories like her company’s Kisses From Katie and Thomas Nelson’s Same Kind of Different as Me, both backlist titles. 

“They are all the stories of someone who sacrificed time and effort to pour love and practical help into the life or lives of people who are hurting and have nowhere else to turn,” Boultinghouse said.

New material in this vein from other publishers includes Chasing God by Roger Huang (David C Cook, September) and next year’s The Gift of Love by Amy Clipston (Zondervan, March 4); Hope Runs by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Samuel Ikua Gachagua (Revell/Baker Publishing Group, April); and Miss Brenda and the Loveladies (WaterBrook Press, Feb. 18). 

Another subcategory is inspirational/celebrity, as exemplified by Howard’s “Duck Commander” titles, including Si-Cology (September) and Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen (Nov. 5), and the saga of the Duggar family, including Growing Up Duggar (March 2014) by daughters Jill and Jinger. Howard’s fall biographies What’s So Funny? by comedian Conway and My Life With Deth by former Megadeth bassist David Elleson fit this bill, as does Simply Rich by Amway co-founder Rich DeVos (April 2014).

Examples in this category from B&H Books next year are TV actress Candace Cameron Bure’s Balancing It All (Jan. 1) and Double Play (April 1) by All-Star baseball player Ben Zobrist and his wife, Julianna. Retired Secret Service agent Jerry Parr—who stood next to President Ronald Reagan when he was shot in 1981—wrote In the Secret Service (Tyndale, October). Pilot Brian Brown recalls surviving a plane crash in Rescued (Harvest House Publishers, September) and journalist Lindsey O’Conner recounts her brush with death in The Long Awakening (Revell, October). In Dead 13 Times (Whitaker House, February 2014), Cam Tribolet tells of recovering from a vicious assault that cost him both legs. 

The third subcategory Boultinghouse lists is near-death and afterlife experiences, the topic of numerous current best-sellers. TyndaleHouse-InTheSecretService

Howard has seen strong sales from its spring title, Waking Up in Heaven by Oklahoma teacher Crystal McVea. Tyndale House Publishers released Appointments With Heaven by Dr. Reggie Anderson (September), which reviews glimpses of the afterlife he obtained from patients.

“These books give readers hope for life after death and portray heaven as something that is possible for them,” Boultinghouse said.



With the holiday season approaching, publishers suggest shelving these titles in highly visible locations, as many shoppers will purchase them for Christmas gifts.

“Readers love a good story about the down-and-out receiving help and kindness from strangers,” Boultinghouse said. “They are looking for role models and examples of how an average person can make a difference.”

Thomas Nelson’s Baugher said genre doesn’t have much of a middle ground. 

“These types of releases tend to either do extremely well or perform at a level that is less than expected,” he said. “This is another reason to concentrate on the power of the content and not just rely on the power of the author’s name to sell the book.”

Maudlin encourages retailers to work with publishers, schedule author appearances and maintain an awareness of national media.

“It is becoming much harder to let people know about good books,” said HarperOne’s editor. “I think biography is a tremendously important category for Christians because how we incarnate our faith is more important than getting our beliefs perfectly in order.”