Christian Retailing

Authors share heavenly hope Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 02:35 PM America/New_York

Beyond-this-life testimonies assure believers of a sweet bye and bye

BethanyHouse_50ThingsDon Piper, author of the best-seller 90 Minutes in Heaven, sums up the allure of books about heaven in one word: hope.

“People want hope for a better place some day, and hope for a better life along the way to that place,” Piper said. “Heaven books are about hope. Can you go there? Yes. Can you have a better life on the way there? Yes.”

The Revell-published 90 Minutes was released in 2004 with a first printing of 7,500 copies. Until that time there hadn’t been much interest in heaven stories, but as word spread about Piper’s experience, a new publishing category was born. Today more than 6 million copies of the book have sold, and parent Baker Publishing Group will release a 10th-anniversary edition, which includes a personal update from the author; accounts from readers about how Piper’s story affected their lives; and an eight-page photo spread.

“Our heaven books have all amazed us,” said Revell Editor Vicki Crumpton, who acquired and edited Piper’s book as well as My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life by Marvin J. Besteman and Lorilee Craker. “We see the sales numbers, but the authors hear from their readers, and we love when they share those stories with us. We had such a modest forecast for 90 Minutes. We still laugh about that.”

Baker_90Minutes-10thAnniversaryRevell also found success with Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life and Eternity by Leanne Hadley (2013) and Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories of Hope & Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris R.N. (2008) and the subsequent More Glimpses of Heaven (2010).


Inspirational stories about heaven are popular among Christian and general market publishers. Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Thomas Nelson) by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent has sold over 8 million copies and is an impetus for the new feature film from Sony Pictures released Easter weekend and starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilley and Connor Corum. 

“The movie has been very well-received so far and the positive results at the box office have been matched with equally positive comments in the exit interview,” said Matt Baugher, senior vice president and publisher of W Publishing Group. “The original book continues to sell extremely well, and it has increased considerably since the announcement of the movie. The same could be said for the movie tie-in edition as well as the other ancillary books in the marketplace.”

CharismaHouse_TheDayIDiedThe film edition of the book includes art from the movie, a new introduction and epilogue.

“Any book that causes this much conversation on such an important topic is something that we want to be involved in, and we have been honored to join with all of our retail partners in sharing this story,” Baugher added.

Gift supplier Kerusso offers two new T-shirt designs to go with the original Heaven Is for Real-themed T-shirt as well as new wristbands in the signature yellow of the original book cover.

Perhaps to capitalize on the interest in heaven, Barbour Publishing offered its 2013 release Heaven Here and Now: True Stories of God’s Kingdom Here on Earth by David McLaughlin for $1.99 instead of the usual $12.99 as an extended promotion via the Barbour website.

Other publishers have made good on the heaven-book phenomenon with titles such as To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story by Mary C. Neal (WaterBrook Press, 2013); Heaven Is Beyond Your Wildest Expectations: Ten True Stories of Experiencing Heaven by Sid Roth (Destiny Image, 2012); Waking Up in Heaven: A True Story of Brokenness, Heaven, and Life Again by Crystal McVea (Howard Books, 2013); and What Happens After I Die?Chosen_FaceToFaceWithJesus by Michael Allen Rogers (Crossway, 2013).

Others include Opening the Gates of Heaven: Walk in the Favor of Answered Prayer and Blessing by Perry Stone (Charisma House, 2012). Charisma House also released Birthing the Miraculous: The Power of Personal Encounters With God to Change Your Life and the World by Heidi Baker in January this year. Another early 2014 release is Dead 13 Times: Learning to Live After Dying by Cam Tribolet (Whitaker House).

Charisma House releases The Day I Died: My Breathtaking Trip to Heaven and Back by Freddy Vest, a rodeo rider, in June. 

“We’ve seen a consistent demand in the trade for books on the afterlife,” said Woodley Auguste, vice president of marketing for Charisma House Book Group, which also published Choo Thomas’ Heaven Is So Real, which has sold a half-million copies.  While Charisma House isn’t actively looking for books on heaven experiences, they take a good look at what comes through on the topic.

“People have always been fascinated by what’s in the future. We can look at Scripture, but we still have questions because no one has seen heaven,” Auguste said. “We hope these books point readers to a deeper relationship with Christ, and/or to receive the gospel.”

Crossway_HeavenGeneral trade publishers have got in on the action as well. Eben Alexander, who had long debunked heaven encounters, had one of his own that he recounts in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster, 2012). HarperOne published Saved by the Light: The True Story of a Man Who Died Twice and the Profound Revelations He Received by Dannion Brinkley with Paul Perry (2008, reprint edition), and Bantam has published Raymond Moody’s book on heaven and heaven experiences as mass market paperback (The Light Beyond, 1989). 

Christian bookstores are seeing ongoing interest in heaven books, with 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is for Real leading the way in inspirational stories, and Heaven by Randy Alcorn popular as well.

“There is very much renewed interest in Heaven Is for Real with the movie coming out,” said Carl Peterson, owner of Lighthouse Book & Bible in Hillsboro, Ore. “Customers are looking for peoples’ experiences more than the theological books, but when they ask for something beyond the experiences, I give them Alcorn’s Heaven.”

Peterson admits his fascination with the topic because he had his own heaven experience. He said he was dead for four hours in the hospital during which he went to what seemed like an island paradise. 

ThomasNelson_HeavenIsForReal-MovieEditionAlthough his experience was different to some stories, he’s happy to sell the popular heaven books, also citing reader interest in My Time in Heaven by Sigmund Richard (Whitaker House, 2009) and Heaven Is So Real (Charisma House, 2006).

Kelly McCoy, owner of Enid Christian Bookstore in Enid, Okla., cites a similar interest among readers in Piper, Burpo and Alcorn’s books, noting renewed interest in Heaven Is for Real because of the upcoming movie. McCoy said the store sells a couple hundred heaven books a year.

“I’m seeing a definite interest in spiritual things. Sales in Christian fiction are not near what they used to be, but Christian Living is doing well,” said McCoy. “It’s a sign of the times that people are paying more attention to spiritual things, and heaven books go along with that.”


The trend continues with new books in the offing. Chosen Books is releasing in June Face to Face With Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter With the God of Love by Samaa Habib with Bodie Thoene. Samaa Habib is a pen name for the author’s protection. She met Thoene at a Youth With a Mission conference, and together they began working on her story.

“The author became a Christian when she saw Jesus as a teenager, and she and her sister became the only believers in a Muslim family,” said Jane Campbell, editorial director of Chosen. “Later, Samaa was located almost right next to where a bomb had been planted in a town in the Middle East. She flew through the air, slammed into a wall and was gone. Her sister, uninjured in the blast, prayed fervently until Samaa came back. She had seen Jesus in heaven before coming back to Earth.”

Campbell sees five reasons that these inspirational stories have such strong appeal. First, the books meet a felt need. People need to know that heaven is real, and these accounts assure them of that. Second, these kinds of books offer assurance for those who belong to Jesus that heaven is truly a place. Even Christians, said Campbell, are afraid of death or just want to read about where they’ll go, especially if facing imminent death.

Campbell pointed out that I-saw-heaven books also help those who aren’t yet Christians.

“Such books help people who don’t know Jesus to realize the future impact of the choices they make now,” she said. “There really is life after death.”

Another reason heaven books are so popular is that they show the Bible is true; readers discover truths in the books that they also read about in Scripture. And finally, according to Campbell, these books show readers that when this world gets crazy, there is order and peace and joy on another level.

“People are so desperate to know what comes next,” she said. “We’re providing biblical answers from peoples’ experiences that coincide with what the Bible teaches about heaven and the afterlife, as well as communicating with believers and nonbelievers looking for answers.”

Campbell is quick to point out that the house has been publishing heaven books all along. Chosen published Betty Malz’ My Glimpse of Eternity in 1977, with the book reissued in 1983, 2009 and 2013. More than 750,000 copies of the book have been sold though the years.

“Now there is a growing interest in heaven and the afterlife. People want to know what’s coming next,” Campbell said. “We are spirit beings, so it’s natural to wonder and want to be assured that something good is going to happen.”

Baugher of W Publishing Group said that while his company had high aspirations for Heaven Is for Real, they didn’t expect the huge sales the book generated. 

“It was always about one specific thing, and that was this family’s story,” he said. “Above all else, they have simply told their story exactly as it happened to them. It was a testimony in its purest form, from the mouth of a 4-year-old boy. The mysteries of the faith only get more mysterious when experienced firsthand, and those times seem to have one purpose: to lead us all closer to Jesus Christ.”


While inspirational stories about heaven surely offer readers the hope Piper speaks of, books with a more theological or doctrinal bent provide readers with answers to their questions about heaven, Bethany House Senior Editor Andy McGuire said. 

“More and more people are looking for answers to their questions rather than the supernatural stories and stories that fill people with wonder,” he observed. “There is always a need for books that answer basic questions about basic topics, and heaven is one of those topics.”

Bethany House released Between Heaven and Earth: Finding Hope, Courage and Passion Through a Fresh Vision of Heaven by Steve Berger in March and will release 50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven by John Hart in June.

Berger’s Between Heaven and Earth was motivated by Berger’s research on heaven after his teenaged son was killed in a car accident. He began exploring heaven “and it changed how he preaches, how he counsels,” McGuire said. “It changed his perspective, and he wanted to share that.”

More than half of the book focuses on what the Bible says about heaven, with the remaining chapters about how such knowledge will change a reader’s life when it comes to worship, prayer, evangelism and everyday life. 

“Berger says that the more you’re thinking about heaven and have a heavenly perspective, the more it wants to make you change the world,” McGuire said. 

He describes 50 Things You Should Know About Heaven as a book for those who have questions about heaven, but who don’t where they can begin to find answers. The Q&A set-up of the book is perfect—at $9.99 and 128 pages—as an impulse buy for those who may not be immersed in the Scriptures.

“We have a lot of success with slim, easy-to-read volumes on basic topics like prayer, and we hope this book ends up on racks at grocery stores and airports, though it will certainly be at Christian bookstores too,” McGuire said.

McGuire points to the ongoing success of Everything the Bible Says About Heaven, released in 2011 and is still in print, which compiles all the scriptural references to heaven and offers short explanations of each.

Newer books mirror popular older titles such as Randy Alcorn’s Heaven (Tyndale, 2004) and its ancillary products that include books for children, gift books, study guides and teaching materials. Billy Graham’s gift-edition The Heaven Answer Book (Thomas Nelson, 2012) and John MacArthur’s The Glory of Heaven (Crossway, 1998 and 2013) put well-known and -loved names onto books on the topic, with last year’s reissue of MacArthur’s title an indication of their popularity.

Crossway is releasing Heaven as part of its “Theology in Community” series in November of this year. Editors Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have gathered evangelical scholars to explore the doctrine of heaven from a number of angles, including heaven in the Old and New Testaments, and the history of theological reflection on heaven. 

Publishers say they that while they aren’t actively looking for books about heaven or supernatural encounters in heaven, the right story with the right tone will always prompt interest.

“People are so desperate to know what comes next, so we are providing biblical answers combining peoples’ experiences with what the Bible teaches about heaven and the afterlife,” said Chosen’s Campbell. “We want to communicate with believers and nonbelievers looking for answers.”

Revell’s Crumpton agrees: “I think we all want to know what happens when we die. Even Christians who say ‘we know’ still wonder and find comfort and hope either for themselves facing death or when they’ve lost loved ones.”