July 21, 1999
Who Publishes Religion Books?
-- Peggy Fletcher Stack
Most "Sightings" deal with events and trends. Now and then we like to helpother "Sighters," as we did recently by calling attention to a book on religion reporting. Today we return to the scene of dissemination and again refer to a book that missed us or we missed in the year of its publication: Mike Farry's THE DIRECTORY OF PUBLISHERS IN RELIGION (Scholars Press, 888-747-2354).
What is Farry about? What does his book signify for the majority of people who are readers and not writers, consumers and not publishers? For one thing, its very length, inclusiveness, detail, and scope suggest something of the vitality in the religious publishing sector. As in the case of religious newsmaking and religion coverage, we find in Farry's book evidence to counter those who speak of "the good olds" in publishing. They were not "good old" or "better than" but rather "different from" what goes on today.
As with news coverage, we have to say that "we" have a long way to go in religious book publishing. There are ominous trends. It is ever less profitable for houses to publish serious theological scholarship; the market is too small. The market dominates denominational houses; university presses have a hard time with soft markets. Having said all that, however, the fact remains that in the directory hundreds of publishers, alive and often well, check in are observable--with topics of interest, editors' names, and addresses all in neat array.
People often ask us at the Public Religion Project for suggestions on how to get books published. Or they ask for the reading of a manuscript, a blurb, a word to a publisher. We always have to say no for reasons that would be obvious to anyone who knew in detail our agenda and constraints. If they ask," Could you at least give us addresses of publishers we might approach," we cannot.
Or could not. Now we can urge them to read Farry and promised biennial updates from Scholars Press. The indices register who does what in religious life and practice, religious thought and theology, religious studies, religion and society, sacred literature, and religious education. Who publishes on "Religion and Public Policy," for instance? Farry lists twenty-six publishers. "Religion in Popular Culture/Media?" His book tells how to find a way to forty-two interested publishers. From now on, if you ask us about publishers, we'll simply have you ask Farry.