msnbc.com news services
updated 4/4/2005 6:53:08 PM ET 2005-04-04T22:53:08

Sales of books by and about Pope John Paul II have soared since his death Saturday, and U.S. publishers are wasting no time cranking up the presses for a new round of works about the late pontiff’s life and legacy.

Just hours after the death of Pope John Paul II, News Corp.’s HarperCollins unit and Bertelsmann’s Doubleday division announced separate plans for new books about the pope and his yet-to-be-named successor. Other pope-related books surely will be on the way, industry experts predicted Monday.

“I think you will see some quickie books because of the tremendous influence this man had — there is huge interest in his life,” said New York literary agent Mort Janklow, whose firm has represented several of the pope’s books in the United States.

Sales of Pope John Paul II-related books have jumped into the top 20 lists on Internet booksellers Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com in recent days.

Leading titles include five by John Paul: “The Way to Christ,” “Memory and Identity,” “Pope John Paul: In My Own Words,” “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way” and “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” Another popular book has been “Witness to Hope,” a biography by George Weigel, a Catholic theologian and syndicated columnist.

Because of the pope’s extended illness, both publishers and booksellers had time to prepare. Within hours of his death, HarperCollins announced that a new book by Weigel, not yet titled, would come out by the end of the year and “examine the death of the pope and the Church he left behind, while also offering an unparalleled inside account of the election of the next pope.“

“No writer today has a better understanding of the papacy than George Weigel,” Tim Duggan, HarperCollins’ Executive Editor, said in a statement. “I’m absolutely certain that he will provide a rich, illuminating account that stands as the defining chronicle of this next phase in the Church’s history.”

New books already out or coming soon include “Holy Father,” by Greg Tobin, and two works by the staff of the Chicago Tribune: “A Global Pilgrim: The Journey of John Paul” and “John Paul II.”

Doubleday said it plans to publish two books about the next pope. One will be a collection of the new pope’s writings and the other will be a biography and account of the Vatican’s pope selection process.

The death of other famous figures, such as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan last year and Princess Diana in 1997 also created a whirlwind of action among publishers.

Publishing experts said that now that John Paul has died, they expect more academic biographies to be published that will take a historical view of his life.

Books of that type could take many years to complete, but they could still be blockbusters because John Paul appeals to such a wide array of people who are interested in his life story, said Lorraine Shanley, a partner at Market Partners International, a publishing consulting firm.

“He straddles a lot of different markets — the Christian market obviously, but he is also of interest for his own magnetic personality,” she said.

Stores around the country, from the Tattered Cover in Denver, to R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., were offering papal book recommendations to customers Saturday. Nancy Brown, a buyer for R.J. Julia, said she was emphasizing books for children, including John Paul’s “Every Child a Light.”

“Children watch TV, they go to church, so this affects them, too,” Brown said Sunday.

Borders Group Inc. anticipates interest in the conclave, the secret gathering of cardinals that chooses the next pope, and is citing such works as “Heirs of the Fisherman” by John-Peter Pham, and “Conclave” by Michael Walsh. Barnes & Noble Inc. has sent a long list of suggested titles to its stores, including Carl Bernstein’s biography, “His Holiness,” and the collaborative “John Paul II: A Pope for the People,” with Arthur Hertzberg and Heinz Joachim Fischer among the authors.

“We’ve instructed our stores to tastefully pull together and display all the books [about the Pope] we currently have,” said Bob Wietrak, a vice president for merchandising for Barnes & Noble.

Media coverage of John Paul’s death will likely take attention from three major U.S. books scheduled to come out Tuesday: Jane Fonda’s “My Life So Far,” Jack Welch’s “Winning” and Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Mermaid Chair,” her follow up to the million-selling novel “The Secret Life of Bees.”

A publicist for Fonda said both segments of a two-part interview with “60 Minutes” had been scheduled for Sunday, but the second segment was postponed until next Sunday. HarperCollins, which will release “Winning,” and Kidd’s publisher, Penguin Group USA, said no changes currently were planned.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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