Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Not New York: Book Business and Publishers in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Greetings from GRGrand Rapids, Michigan has known many monikers in its time – Furniture City, River City, Beer City USA – but what about Book City? While you may not expect it, this Midwest hotspot has a rich history of publishing, with several locally grown houses that continue to impact the market today. Each of the major publishers in Grand Rapids has a unique story that blends in much of the Dutch culture that shaped the area, as well as the family values that continue to influence the city.

Known for its theological and religious reference books, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is a star player in religious publishing. The company, founded in 1911, set itself apart early with its complete commentary on John Calvin, founder of Calvinism. Since then, it has become a mainstay in academic and commentary publishing. Despite the gravitas of the tradition, the company has continued to branch out into different genres. Most notably, Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, the children and YA imprint, has a number of award-winning picture books and middle grade novels on their list, such as I Lay My Stitches Down, A River of Words, and Garmann’s Summer.

Zondervan, now a part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, is another staple in the Grand Rapids publishing scene. Started by two of William Eerdman’s nephews, Pat and Bernie Zondervan, the book house has grown into one of the premier Christian publishing houses in the country. With numerous verticals and multiple New York Times bestselling books coming from each, the company continues to flourish in the digital age. Zondervan is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible, as well as many works of religious academic import and Trade Nonfiction bestsellers, such as Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and Ben Carson’s America the Beautiful.

Baker also has a strong presence in Grand Rapids and the larger Christian publishing world, both historically and presently. Herman Baker started working in his Uncle Louis Kregel’s bookstore shortly after he arrived in Grand Rapids from the Netherlands. By 1928, he opened his own bookstore and published his first book in 1940.  The small, one-man store has now grown to a publishing house with over five imprints and the God’s Word Bible translation, a version of the Bible which gives an ancient text a modern language. Baker and its imprints are known for their academic works, as well as their Christian Fiction.

Consequently, Louis Kregel’s bookstore eventually grew into a publishing house of its own. Kregel Publications has a vision to “maximize the impact of quality and life-changing Christian resources.” It also maintains a presence on the bookselling scene, via its Parable Christian Store.

Young professionals starting out in the industry might be surprised to find how welcoming the veterans are – I certainly was. The companies still have a family-centric feel, despite their much larger impact. There’s a certain pride in the city and the locally-grown businesses that make these places ideal in many ways for those of us at entry level. And though each publishing house has an undeniably Christian mission, the work environment is not stuffy and overly religious. Friendly, experienced employees have made great mentors and sounding boards, and I’ve been seriously impressed with how willing they are to help a publishing baby walk on her own two feet.

More than just that, though, is Grand Rapids itself. With a host of local restaurants and breweries – we didn’t win Beer City USA for nothing, people! – and tons of exciting new events like ArtPrize, Grand Rapids is truly a hidden gem. The charming city is only twenty-five miles from sparkling Lake Michigan, which gives the beautiful summers potential to make up for the brutal winter (but let’s just be honest – winters here are brutal). Add to that a low cost of living and you’ll begin to understand why it’s attracting all kinds of young professionals and families.

2 Comments

  1. Travis says:

    Its awesome to see so many publishers from the michigan area. Interesting stuff!

  2. john steele says:

    Hi..do you still publish..pocket book gods word..new testament and psalms..i am resident of u.k..purchased in new zealand..great book…but it is now wornn..do you still have…kindest regards..john

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