Christian Retailing

Interest continues to grow in afterlife books Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Tuesday, 19 October 2010 10:02 AM America/New_York

New offerings on heaven and hell titles target people 'fascinated' with eternal subjects


Publishers continue to release and market titles on the afterlife as interest on the topic show no signs of dying.

This month, Thomas Nelson releases Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. In the book, Burpo recounts the near-death experience of his 4-year-old son, Colton, who began surprising his parents with detailed accounts of Jesus, places described in the Scriptures and departed relatives, including meeting his sister in heaven—a girl lost in a miscarriage before he was born.

The book follows the July release by Tyndale House Publishers of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven—co-authored by Kevin Malarkey. The book details the story of Malarkey's 6-year-old son, Alex, whose skull was detached from his spinal column in a car accident. While comatose, the boy says that he experienced God's voice, otherworldly music and heaven's gates.

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven reached the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction best-seller list, with more than 97,000 copies in print after three printings already, Tyndale officials said.

Meanwhile, Bethany House Publishers/Baker Publishing Group released in May Ken Gire's Flight to Heaven, an account of Capt. Dale Black's near-death experience in a plane crash at age 19. Bethany House then followed that with the August release of Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James Garlow and Keith Wall—a collection of stories of the afterlife inspired by the pair's 2009 Bethany House release, Heaven and the Afterlife.

Elsewhere, Strang Book Group's Charisma House 2006 title, 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese, recently passed the 1 million mark in sales.

MattBaugherMatt Baugher, vice president and publisher of nonfiction for Thomas Nelson, told Christian Retailing that there are "surface similarities" between the two new books about two boys experiencing heaven, but they are "actually quite different."

"The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is more about a traumatic experience in the life of a family and trauma, which continues to this day because of Alex's ongoing physical struggles," Baugher said. "It's also more a book written for people who are already committed Christians. Heaven is for Realwas written for a wide audience, and for those who are curious and yet unsure."

He declined to say the number of the first printing for the book, but "it is significant." "We expect strong sales, and the buzz is already developing," Baugher said. "We expect the pass-along rate on this title to be very high."

Heaven is for Real features a tie-in with Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry—a 2006 Nelson book by Akiane Kramarik, a child prodigy who at age 8 had painted a picture of Christ. In Heaven is For Real, Burpo's son, Colton, detailed accounts of Jesus matches the portrait of Christ painted by Akiane.

HeavenIsforReal"To have another child who had actually been to heaven verify the accuracy of the portrait was astounding," Baugher said. "This connection sealed the deal for us as a company. Since we had published (Akiane's) book, we not only knew the family, but were partners in sharing their story. Akiane is now 16, and (along) with her parents, Mark and Foreli, (want) to help us with the continuing conversation about Christ."

Meanwhile, a Spanish edition is in the works for The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and a documentary DVD was released by Tyndale House in conjunction with the book.

"It's probably an overstatement to say that books about kids dying and going to heaven have become a trend," Tyndale Associate Publisher Janis Long Harris told Christian Retailing. "But it's clear that people are fascinated with and find comfort in the topic of heaven. We've certainly seen that here at Tyndale."

Harris cited Randy Alcorn's Heaven, which has been through 17 printings, totalling more than 675,000 copies, since it was released in October 2004,

Joel Kneedler, a literary agent for Alive Communications, told Christian Retailing that he pitched Heaven is for Real to Nelson because he thought "it needed to be told." He added that both the book and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven "are remarkable and deserve to be told."

"I do not see a specific trend," he said. "Books about heaven have a way of comforting Christians and increasing our faith. It's natural to wonder about heaven, what it will be like, who we will meet. … I think Don Piper's book opened a door in the trade book market for books on heaven."

Following its release in 2004 by Revell/Baker Publishing Group, Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven was a mainstay for three years on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction best-seller list. It has more than 4.5 million copies in print in softcover, Spanish, hardcover, audio and large-print editions.

"God always has a message for us, but it seems right now it's about the hope we have in Him—the hope of heaven," Baugher said. "We've come to understand that many people have these near-death experiences, but not all get to see as much as Colton did. "