Revell began over 125 years ago when D. L. Moody and his brother-in-law Fleming H. Revell saw the need for practical books that would help bring the Christian faith to everyday life. From there, Fleming H. Revell Publishing developed consistently solid lists which have enjoyed the presence of many notable Christian writers over the years. This same vision for books that are both inspirational and practical continues to motivate the Revell publishing group today. Whether publishing fiction, Christian living, self-help, marriage, family, or youth books, each Revell publication reflects relevance, integrity, and excellence.
The History of Fleming H. Revell
Chapter 1 - The Moody-Revell Years (1870-1905)
From Fleming H. Revell Company: The First 125 Years, 1870-1995 (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1995).
Dwight Lyman Moody, a youth evangelist in Chicago, visited Great Britain for the first time in 1867, hoping to learn from evangelicals there. On his return, Moody established his own publication, Everybody's Paper, primarily for use in Sunday schools. By 1869 he convinced his brother-in-law, Fleming H. Revell, to take over the paper. In the following year Fleming founded the company that would become the most significant publisher of evangelical books in North America.
The Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Lutheran denominations were all active in book-publishing by 1870, as was the American Tract Society. Many of the most significant Christian books, however, bore the imprints of Harper, Macmillan, Scribner, Lippincott, and other general publishers.
While Fleming H. Revell was not the only person to begin an independent Christian publishing company, his organization became the largest and most influential. Isaac Errett established Standard in 1866; W. A. Wilde, his own company in 1870. During the next ten years or so, similar companies were created by H. Clay Trumbull (Sunday School Times), Paul and Timothy Loizeaux, and Daniel S. Warner. Fleming's connection with Moody, who would become the most famous evangelist in the Anglo-American world during the 1870s, undoubtedly contributed to Revell's unparalleled success.
The Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed Revell's offices, forcing the founder to rethink his priorities. One result was the decision to begin publishing books, which would eventually overshadow the Sunday school papers.
The first book to bear the Revell name was W. P. Mackay's Grace and Truth under Twelve Different Aspects, a volume of 272 pages. Pickering and Inglis, a Brethren publisher in Glasgow, had published the book initially. When Pickering released a new edition in 1872, Revell did a "stereotype edition" for North America.
Fleming selected Grace and Truth because Moody needed it for "inquirers." Mackay, a pastor in Hull (an English seaport), wrote a preface to "the American reader" in 1874: "I have much pleasure at the earnest request of my beloved brother, Mr. Moody of Chicago, with whom I have had such holy and happy times in the work of the Lord in Britain, in presenting this edition . . . to the continent of America."
Moody's interests in Sunday schools, the Young Men's Christian Association, evangelism, and missions would resurface again and again in Revell's list. Besides his interests, Moody decided to give Revell his own books. In the late 1870s Moody was in position to become a major author, but the rugged evangelist was indifferent to this prospect. Meanwhile, publishers were issuing collections of his sermons without his permission. Two such volumes were released in 1877. So Moody named Revell the official publisher of his sermons.
Revell started with five booklets by Moody. In 1880 Revell began issuing full-length volumes, including Twelve Select Sermons (which sold 120,000 copies in its first year!) and Heaven. By the end of the decade, Revell had given Moody's eager public thirteen books. During the next ten years it released eleven more. Even after Moody's death in 1899, Revell added six more titles, not to mention an authorized biography by his son Will.
One of the British authors to whom Moody was indebted and whom he quoted was C. H. Mackintosh. In 1873 Revell published CHM's Notes on the Book of Exodus. Mackintosh became well known for his premillennialism, which was beginning to challenge the majority view (postmillennialism) and which Moody himself adopted.
The single most influential premillennial volume was William Blackstone's Jesus Is Coming, released by Revell in 1878. Blackstone was a Chicago businessman who would later help establish Moody's Bible Institute. Jesus Is Coming went through several editions and sold more than 840,000 copies in its first fifty years. It was joined on Revell's list by other premillennial titles, written by William Trotter, J. H. Brookes, and others.
One of the first British pastors to support Moody's early evangelistic efforts was F. B. Meyer. By the time Meyer first visited America in 1891, he was a prominent preacher whom Americans were eager to hear. Moody invited Meyer to speak at his annual Northfield Conference, and the reception was enthusiastic.
The following year Revell began releasing American editions of Meyer's books, beginning with Christian Living, The Present Tenses of the Blessed Life, and The Shepherd Psalm. Under the name of this gifted preacher-author, Revell's 1903 catalog listed forty-two books, far more than the twenty-nine under the name of D. L. Moody.
One of Moody's American associates, R. A. Torrey, was established as a leading author by Revell. Moody invited Torrey to join the Bible Institute staff as superintendent in 1889. Five years later, Torrey accepted, in addition, the pulpit of Chicago Avenue Church (also founded by Moody). Beginning with How to Bring Men to Christ in 1893, Revell published nine books by Torrey in the 1890s. During the next twenty-nine years of his life, Torrey contributed many more books to Revell's list.
As conservative as Moody was in his theology, he was friends with some churchmen who were less so. He even invited several of them to speak at Northfield, most notably Henry Drummond. Moody and Drummond had been close friends since Drummond had worked with him in the early 1870s in Scotland. Though Drummond's theology became less conservative through the years, Moody continued to invite him to speak at Northfield.
Revell did not hesitate to publish Drummond, beginning with Love, the Supreme Gift in 1890 and continuing with at least four more titles. Love (under a revised title) became Drummond's most successful book in America. The same breadth that characterized Moody's associations was reflected in Revell's list of authors.
The collaboration between Revell and Moody included the Colportage Library, a series of inexpensive paperbacks conceived by Moody for wide distribution. Moody drew on Revell's backlist for many of these titles, then set up the Bible Institute Colportage Association to distribute them directly to readers. Negotiations between the publisher and the evangelist became tense as Revell saw in the BICA a potential rival (it eventually became Moody Press) and Moody pushed for the best possible terms for this new, nonprofit ministry. Trade sales of the Colportage Library were handled by Revell.
Revell's list of publications was by no means limited to expository and theological works. Well before the end of the century the list included books for Sunday school workers, musicians, and others active in church work. Books for women, youth, and children broadened the list's appeal. Religious fiction, missionary biography, and many other genres insured that Revell offered something for everyone.
Hannah Whitall Smith had established herself (with her husband Pearsall) as a popular speaker on holiness, and Revell published The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life in 1875. During its first ten years it sold over 35,000 copies. By 1943 it had sold 500,000 copies (earning it a place in Alice Hackett's Fifty Years of Best Sellers). Revell stuck with Smith despite scandals surrounding her husband and children, and she became a prototype of successful women authors of inspirational books.
Charles Gordon, a Canadian, gave Revell his first novel, The Sky Pilot, which appeared in 1899 under Gordon's penname, Ralph Connor. Like The Christian's Secret, its sale of 550,000 copies by 1943 put it on Hackett's list of best-sellers. Gordon followed with several other religious novels, including Black Rock, published in 1900 and even more successful than The Sky Pilot.
With the solid foundation of works by Moody and Meyer, as well as best-selling inspirational titles by authors like Smith and Connor, Revell established itself as the largest American publisher of religious books. By the early 1890s, it was releasing over 300 books a year. It had offices in Chicago, New York, Toronto (this office acquired through the purchase of the Toronto Willard Tract Depository), London, and Edinburgh. When the American Publishers' Association was formed in 1900, twenty-seven companies were invited to join. Revell was one of them.
Fleming Revell (1849-1931) had married Josephine Barbour in 1872. They set up housekeeping in Chicago and were active in Chicago Avenue Church, which had been founded by Moody. In the late 1880s they moved to Evanston, where Fleming's mother lived. Here the family attended First Presbyterian Church.
Wheaton College prevailed on Revell to serve on its board of trustees, a position he held from 1885 to 1891. Then the Moody Bible Institute secured his services from 1900 to 1904.
Fleming and Josephine had two children, Elizabeth and Fleming Jr., both of whom graduated from Evanston High School. Elizabeth married Max Shoop and moved to France. Fleming Jr. earned a diploma from Yale University, joined his father's company in 1907, and four years later married Marion Cornell.
Chapter 2 - The Revell Years (1905-1931)
Revell had weathered the depression of 1893 well, as conditions forced people to consider ultimate questions. The prosperity of the late 1890s lured all enterprises into an expansionist mode, one that Revell could accomplish only by publishing more general works like Roswell Field's fictional The Bondage of Ballinger.
"As we departed more and more from the publishing of purely evangelical literature and embarked more into the field of general publishing with a religious or highly moral flavour," wrote Vice President George H. Doran, "we did a greatly increased volume of business but at a much higher cost of operation."
The company had long operated a branch office in New York. This office, managed by S. Edgar Briggs (formerly of Willard Tract Depository), maintained its own editorial, production, and business departments. Convinced that Revell was "operating most uneconomically," Doran "drew up a plan for consolidation of our publishing business at New York."
Fleming Revell initially resisted the idea. Because he wanted the business to operate economically and he wished to live in New York, he eventually acquiesced. (Soon after the Chicago publishing office was moved to New York, Doran left Revell and established the George H. Doran Company.)
During the years that ensued, Revell published numerous titles appealing to a broad readership, though without abandoning its evangelical clientele. One of its authors, Newell Dwight Hillis, was instrumental in the effort to get the United States into World War I, largely through his tireless lecturing that resulted in the books Studies of the Great War, The Blot on the Kaiser's 'Scutcheon, and German Atrocities.
Hillis was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston when George Doran, a member of this congregation, encouraged the eloquent preacher to begin writing for publication. Hillis's first book was A Man's Value to Society (1896), followed by seven more titles before Doran left Revell. In all, Hillis, who pastored Plymouth Church in Brooklyn for twenty-five years, contributed twenty books to Revell's list.
Fleming Revell's willingness to publish books that pushed for a reluctant America to join forces with Great Britain against Germany is understandable. His parents had immigrated from England shortly before his birth, his brother-in-law Moody was an Anglophile, and he had innumerable business contacts with the British (he visited England annually for decades).
Even more prolific than Hillis was S. D. Gordon, first a YMCA executive, then a widely traveled speaker in high demand. His first book, Quiet Talks on Power, was released by Revell in 1903 (selling 500,000 copies in its first forty years). Between 1909 and 1915 Revell published fourteen of his books, most of the titles beginning with the phrase Quiet Talks or A Quiet Talk. Gordon died in 1936 with more than thirty books to his credit.
While Moody's death in 1899 had marked a milestone in the history of Revell, the benefits of the Dwight Moody-Fleming Revell association lasted for many more years. One such benefit was the books written by Britisher G. Campbell Morgan and published in America by Revell.
Morgan met Moody during his first visit to America in 1896, speaking at both the Northfield Conference and the Bible Institute. The following year Morgan returned to Northfield and Revell published Discipleship. Thus began an association between Morgan and Revell that endured for nearly fifty years.
From 1905 to 1931 Revell published twenty-three books by Morgan, including The Analyzed Bible (a ten-volume set) and Living Messages of the Books of the Bible (a four-volume set). During these fruitful years Morgan served as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London (1904-17) and had an itinerant ministry in the United States (1919-32). In all, Revell published more than fifty titles by Morgan, who died in 1945.
During the 1920s Morgan became a spokesman for the fundamentalist movement that protested the dominance of modernism in Protestant denominations. During the period 1918-29 (the dates favored by historians for the fundamentalist-modernist controversy), Revell provided a national platform to fundamentalist leaders. (The vast majority of Revell's publications during this period, however, had nothing to do with the fundamentalist-modernist debate.)
In addition to five books by Morgan during these years, Revell published books by Presbyterians William Jennings Bryan (six titles) and Clarence Macartney (five titles) and by Baptist William Bell Riley (two titles). And Revell continued to publish R. A. Torrey (six titles) and James M. Gray (five titles), Torrey's successor as academic head of Moody Bible Institute.
In all, Revell published twenty-nine titles by leading fundamentalists during the years of the controversy, a number exceeding that of any other publisher. Doran ranked third with fourteen titles (by Torrey and John Roach Straton). The Bible Institute Colportage Association, now publishing independently of Revell, was sixth with five titles (by Lewis Sperry Chafer, A. C. Gaebelein, and W. H. Griffith Thomas).
Other publishers releasing books by fundamentalist leaders were Union Gospel (twenty-four, all by Riley), Our Hope (thirteen, all by Gaebelein), Sunday School Times (nine), and Macmillan (four, all by J. Gresham Machen). Of other companies releasing titles written by the sixteen most influential fundamentalists, none published more than three.
Revell did not restrict itself, however, to authors identifying with the fundamentalist movement. Notable exceptions were Harry Emerson Fosdick and Robert E. Speer. Revell issued Fosdick's Cole Lectures, Christianity and Progress, in 1922, the same year he preached his famous sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" at First Presbyterian Church in New York.
Speer was secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions for forty-six years and moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1927. A theological conservative who nonetheless defended the PBFM's theological integrity, Speer became a target for J. Gresham Machen. Revell had begun publishing books by Speer long before the controversy and continued to do so throughout the 1920s.
In 1920, fifty years after founding his publishing company, Fleming H. Revell was honored by associates and colleagues with a surprise anniversary dinner in New York. A poetic tribute prepared for the occasion reads, in part:
All hail, true Christian! In your life you've sought
To put in practice what the Master taught.
In quiet ways, in spirit free from pride
His principles you have exemplified.
All hail, dear Friend! The tributes we would bring
Around this noble, tender title cling.
A Friend to man, to every worthy cause--
A Friend who sees the good and not the flaws--
A Friend to all--but bound to us by ties
Of closer comradeship and sympathies. . .
This occasion was extensively reported in the pages of Publishers' Weekly.
Approximately fifteen years before this event, Fleming and Josephine had moved from Evanston, Illinois, to Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York. They joined Riverdale Presbyterian, where Fleming served in such offices as elder and Sunday school superintendent. He also became a director of the PCUSA Board of Home Missions (1908-23).
In addition Revell sat on boards of nondenominational institutions: Wheaton College (1904-31), Northfield Seminary, the New York YMCA, and American Mission to Jews.
Only months after Fleming and Josephine celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, Josephine died. She did not live to see her son divorce Marion for infidelity--a painful ordeal reported in the New York Times during 1928-29.
Fleming Sr. retired from the presidency in 1929, named Fleming Jr. his successor, and became chairman of the board. In 1931 Fleming Sr. fell at his home and fractured his pelvis. Eight days later he died from complications. Later that year Fleming Jr. was promoted from president to chairman of the Board and moved to Los Angeles.
Philip E. Howard, editor of the Sunday School Times, wrote in an obituary for his friend Fleming H. Revell:
"If you entered his private office on a busy day, you saw a man of goodly height and sturdy build rise to greet you. His eyes, his words, his whole manner gave you a welcome. On his flat-topped desk were books and manuscripts. Behind him were shelves of books, and around the walls of the modest room book illustrations, and the portraits of authors."
Howard, himself a publisher, considered Fleming H. Revell "one of the most noted of our American publishers."
Chapter 3- The Barbour Years (1931-1978)
After serious setbacks during the 1920s, the fundamentalist movement began to establish a variety of institutions to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among these institutions were publishing companies. The Bible Institute Colportage Association (soon to be renamed Moody Press) and Eerdmans already existed. Zondervan was established in 1931, Baker in 1939, Van Kampen in the 1940s, Bethany in 1956, Tyndale in 1962, Word in 1965, Multnomah in 1969, and Harvest in 1974.
When William Barbour, Fleming H. Revell's nephew, became president in 1931, the Christian-publishing scene was in flux. While Revell remained the giant in this field, it would soon find itself competing against other companies with similar goals and comparable resources. Barbour replaced Fleming H. Revell Jr., who had been president for only two years.
Barbour took over Revell in the midst of the Great Depression, an event that took its toll even on religious publishers. (Fleming Revell's personal fortune, according to Doran, was significantly reduced in the stock-market crash of 1929.) Barbour admonished Pat Zondervan for beginning a new company at a time "when established publishers were finding business pretty slow." Not until 1936 was there a sharp increase in book production generally, and Revell's output that year exceeded that of any other religious publisher.
One author who was discovered by Revell during the 1930s and who became a mainstay on the company's list for nearly half a century was Vance Havner. When Revell released his first book, By the Still Waters, in 1934, Havner was a country preacher in the Carolinas. By 1940 he had published four books with Revell. He resigned from the prestigious pulpit of First Baptist, Charleston, and embarked on an itinerant ministry that continued virtually until his death in 1986. By then, Revell had published more than thirty of Havner's books.
In 1943 Barbour arranged an agreement between Revell and the Association Press, the publishing arm of the YMCA. New AP books of general interest would now be published under the joint imprint of the two organizations, listed in Revell's catalog, and promoted and sold like regular Revell titles. In 1945 Revell purchased Appleton's hymnbook department. Revell was also the exclusive distributor for Pickering and Inglis (1947-59) and Inter-Varsity (1948-54).
Barbour's most important accomplishment during the war years was to assemble the key staff who would carry Revell into the 1970s. In 1942 Barbour hired a new sales manager, Wilbur Davies. Two years later Barbour welcomed to the firm his son and namesake, who had just finished a tour of duty with the air force. And in 1945 he lured Frank Mead from Christian Herald to be editor in chief.
William Barbour Jr. later commented: "Ever since Wilbur came . . . in 1942 . . . Revell has been a trade publisher in the full sense of the term." Of Mead he wrote in 1982: "We remember Frank as the vigorous, able leader of our company's editorial program for decades."
One year before the company moved to Westwood, New Jersey (one of the first New York publishing companies to move to this state), Revell was surprised by the success of a book titled Mr. Jones, Meet the Master.
Catherine Marshall, widow of Rev. Peter Marshall, compiled sermons he had preached at New York Avenue Presbyterian (Washington, D.C.) and prayers he had offered as Senate chaplain. Revell published the clothbound anthology in 1949. "This was a book of sermons," William Barbour Jr. later recalled, "aimed to reach the common man in language he could readily understand."
The book's reception impressed the Revell staff. It sold well in both religious and secular bookstores. When the book took off, Barbour writes, "We asked ourselves, 'Why did this happen--and how can we make it happen again?'"
Before 1949, according to Barbour, Revell and other Christian publishers "served primarily ministers, Sunday school teachers and active church laymen." With the success of Mr. Jones, however, Revell "started keying in on the layman more than on the religious worker."
A Methodist preacher, Charles Allen, had already contributed two books to Revell's list when God's Psychiatry appeared in 1953. During its first twenty-five years it sold nearly a million copies, many of them through the secular trade.
An even bigger book that year for Revell was Angel Unaware, by Dale Evans Rogers. "In trying to meet the rising interest of the layperson in spiritual matters," Barbour said, "we found that other laypeople could possibly reach them more effectively." And if the author is a celebrity, this "helped make it seem 'okay' to be born again for the average Christian in the pew."
Dale Rogers, a movie-star and wife of Roy Rogers, wrote Angel Unaware to tell of the blessing she and her husband had received from a child who was retarded. By 1977 Revell had sold more than a million copies of Angel Unaware and offered fourteen additional books by Dale Evans Rogers.
When company president William Rinehart Barbour died in 1962, a half-century career in publishing came to an end. As a youth he had lived with his Aunt Josephine and Uncle Fleming for seven years before they sent him, first to Mt. Hermon School (a school for boys begun by Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts), and then to Wesleyan University (in Middletown, Connecticut).
After graduating from Wesleyan in 1909, William moved to New York and went to work for Revell as a clerk. William was promoted to manager of the manufacturing department and then, in 1925, to treasurer (and a member of the board). He became president six years later, holding the post for thirty-one years.
Upon moving to New York William joined the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, transferring his membership from First Methodist Episcopal Church in Middletown. He married Mary McKelvey, and they had three children: Mary Clark, William Rinehart Jr., and Hugh Revell.
After William Barbour Sr. died, the Revell board selected Wilbur Davies to succeed him as president. One innovation of Davies' six-year tenure was the launching, in 1963, of a line of religious mass-market paperbacks, Spire Books. As the twentieth-century counterpart to the Colportage Library, Spire became, in the words of William Barbour Jr., "the top mass-market religious paperback imprint."
About 75 percent of Spire Books came from Revell's list. The company often sold mass-market rights to paperback reprint houses, then purchased a quantity (never fewer than 25,000) to sell to the religious trade. The general and religious editions always bore identical retail prices.
By the 1960s Revell had a number of competitors, a fact that became clear in several ways. Though Revell had published the works of the nineteenth century's most prominent evangelist, it did not become the publisher of the greatest twentieth-century evangelist, Billy Graham. Graham was published by Zondervan, Van Kampen (founded by a Graham associate), Doubleday, and Moody before signing an exclusive contract with Word in 1977.
Wilbur Davies became a good friend of Herman Baker, who had founded Baker Book Store in 1939 and had begun publishing books in the 1940s. Baker reprinted older works, including many first published by Revell, and he always found Davies cooperative. Baker often turned to Davies for advice, and again he was not disappointed.
Davies retired in 1968 and was succeeded by William Barbour. At the same time the company moved into new headquarters in Old Tappan, New Jersey. The company's three annual catalogs were filled with books by "great preachers, well-known athletes and popular Christian entertainers, businessmen, and deeply committed laymen and women in all walks of life."
Barbour established a new division of Revell during the second year of his presidency: Hewitt House. This independent division, which lasted three years, published "books of general appeal," focusing specifically on "the American family: its interests and activities, its problems and pleasures." During the 1970s Revell pioneered among evangelical publishers in getting its books into secular bookstores. By 1977 sales to these stores accounted for about half of the company's sales.
Revell also excelled in promoting its publications. Barbour said in 1977 that, during the past year, the company had spent $150,000 advertising its three lead titles, and more than $25,000 each on several more titles. It was spending 9 percent of its total volume (including backlist sales) on advertising and promotion, and this did not include what it spent on overhead. In 1974 it established a telemarketing department to supplement the work of its traveling sales representatives. By 1977 nearly half of the best-selling clothbound religious books were Revell's.
Among Revell's "big books" of the 1970s were Anita Bryant's Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (1970), Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place (1971), Marabel Morgan's The Total Woman (1973), Richard DeVos's Believe! (1975), Charles Colson's Born Again (1976), and Hal Lindsey's The Terminal Generation (1976).
Two of these books, The Hiding Place and Born Again, were actually published by Chosen Books, a line distributed by Revell. The Total Woman was, according to Publishers Weekly, the best-selling cloth book in general bookstores in 1974. In its first four years it sold almost 3 million copies.
Among other important authors first published by Revell during the 1970s were Elisabeth Elliot, widow of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, and Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Revell first published Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor in a Spire Books edition in 1970. It followed with The Journals of Jim Elliot eight years later, then with six more books during the 1980s.
Edith Schaeffer's What Is a Family? was Revell's first book by either of the Schaeffers, missionaries in Switzerland. After this book appeared in 1975, Revell published Francis's How Should We Then Live? the following year. Two more books by Edith (A Way of Seeing and Affliction) and one more by Francis (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) added substance to Revell's list in the late 1970s.
Revell's best-selling author during the past thirty-five years got her start during this era. Helen Steiner Rice wrote inspirational greeting cards for Gibson when several events made her a celebrity. One result was a book of her poems, Just for You, published by Doubleday in 1967.
Rice was dissatisfied with Doubleday, however. Through the efforts of Revell's Wilbur Davies and Frank Randolph, she signed a contract the following year for Revell to publish Heart Gifts. Lovingly followed two years later. By 1977 Revell had published nine of her books and had sold 1.1 million copies (more were sold in the general trade than in the religious).
As Christian publishing expanded during the postwar years, it organized. The Christian Booksellers Association began in 1950; the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, in 1974. Revell mounted a display at the first CBA convention. And it became a charter member of ECPA, with Hugh and William Barbour each serving three-year terms on its board during its first eight years. Revell also began displaying at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1969.
William Barbour's career at Revell had begun in 1944. He had studied at Michigan State University, then served in World War II as an air force pilot. He began at Revell as a member of the sales force, then was promoted to sales manager, next to vice president (and a member of the board), and then to president. His brother Hugh was also a principal in the family business for many years, becoming executive vice president.
William (1922- ) married Mary Munsell, and they had three children: Bruce, Elizabeth, and Alan. Bruce joined Revell and became vice president of sales and marketing.
Chapter 4 - The Transitional Years (1978-1995)
The mid-1970s were heady years for evangelicals. The national news media discovered their existence and accorded them a measure of respect. Some of the largest communications companies realized that evangelicals constituted a sizable market and that the larger Christian publishers were growing faster than secular houses. In 1974 ABC acquired Word, giving Word access to financial resources no other evangelical publisher could match.
This put pressure on Revell to keep pace. At the same time Scott, Foresman and Company, a textbook publisher, decided to expand into trade publishing. It purchased William Morrow, a general house, and in 1978 it bought Revell.
Now allied with an educational publisher, Revell decided to begin publishing textbooks and reference books. The textbook program would focus on the needs of Christian schools, being established at the rate of one per day, and Bible colleges. Before these plans bore much fruit, however, SFN lost interest in trade publishing, selling Morrow in 1981 and Revell two years later.
Revell's new owner was one of its chief rivals, the Zondervan Corporation. After going public in 1976 and releasing the New International Version two years later, Zondervan entered an expansionist mode. In the early 1980s it acquired Marshall Pickering, the Benson Company, Chosen Books (in 1982), and Revell.
In 1984 Zondervan suffered the first of several financial setbacks, culminating in the hostile-takeover attempt by Christopher Moran. Though successful in fending off Moran, Zondervan was forced in October 1986 to offer itself for sale. Just before doing so it sold off Revell and Chosen.
Guideposts Associates, Revell's third owner in eight years, was the publisher of Guideposts magazine. This not-for-profit company (founded by Norman Vincent Peale) also sold books through direct-response programs, so owning a book-publishing company seemed to be a promising venture.
To complement Revell and Chosen, two more imprints were created: Wynwood Press for general readers, and Triumph Books for mainline Protestants and Catholics. Wynwood's best-known publication was a first novel, A Time to Kill, by a Southern lawyer named John Grisham.
Guideposts discovered that a retail-oriented, for-profit publishing company detracted from its core business. In 1992 Revell and its sister imprints were put on the market. Several serious buyers responded, one of which was Baker Book House. President Richard L. Baker, seeking to strengthen BBH in the area of trade publishing, made the best offer. Soon after acquiring Revell's stock and publishing rights, Baker sold Triumph to Liguori, a Catholic publisher, and decided against adding to Wynwood.
Baker hired several key members of Revell's staff and began publishing Revell and Chosen titles from its offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One key Revell executive employed by Baker was William Petersen. He had joined Revell's staff in 1986 (after twenty-eight years with Eternity Magazine) and had become editorial director and vice president. Baker retained him as editorial director of Revell and Chosen.
Almost simultaneously with Baker's purchase of Revell were other significant mergers: Nelson's purchase, first of Here's Life, then of Word; and Questar's acquisition of Multnomah. Flattening sales had forced some consolidation.
While Revell was being bought and sold, so were its books. New books by Helen Steiner Rice continued to sell widely. Working with the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation, Revell has published more than forty titles by Rice. More than 5.5 million copies of these titles have been sold.
Two new women authors were successfully introduced in the early 1980s: Sandra Felton and Florence Littauer. Felton's The Messies Manual has sold more than 200,000 copies; Littauer's Personality Plus, more than 500,000.
Motivational books by Denis Waitley (Seeds of Greatness) and Zig Ziglar (Secrets of Closing the Sale) in the mid-1980s reached a broad readership. So did Kevin Leman's The Birth Order Book (226,000 copies sold) and Ed and Gaye Wheat's Intended for Pleasure (more than 400,000 copies).
Willard Harley's His Needs, Her Needs (1986) continued to build in sales until it hit the religious best-seller lists in both Publishers Weekly and Bookstore Journal in the 1990s. Sales of the cloth edition are approaching 500,000. Also on PW's best-seller list in 1993 was Robert A. Schuller's Dump Your Hang-ups.
As part of the Baker Book House Company, Revell is more stable than it has been in fifteen years. Given the commitment to Revell already demonstrated by Baker, Revell's future looks bright. The transitional years are complete and Revell should remain one of the top trade publishers of Christian books for years to come.