Covenant Communications Inc. isn't just riding the wave of new interest in youth and adult romance, audio book tapes and youth fiction that's free of smut.
The LDS-oriented publisher is surfing on its 40 years of experience in marketing the very material that's "suddenly" caught on.The company, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has been known for years for its recordings and helped foster the trends now driving its publishing decisions, says Robby Nichols, vice president of marketing.
Nichols believes that by producing literature and recordings that are uplifting and positive, Covenant has created a market for itself that's just now taking off.
"We've had double digit growth every year for the past 10 years," Nichols. "We're four and a half times what we were 10 years ago.
"We still do a lot of talk tapes. That's something we've been known for," said Nichols, "We do a lot of LDS fiction. It's been our niche. . . . But we're not just in the publishing business any more. We're in the entertainment business. We sell as much in books as in audio, video and tapes combined."
Covenant now ranks third in the bustling LDS products market behind Deseret Book and Bookcraft.
"Right now, we're focusing more and more on the LDS market. That's our primary market. If there's a cross-over appeal, that's fine. We would love to pick up any readers who enjoy a good, clean story," Nichols said. "We're trying to take care of our own first while recognizing that the clean stories cross religious lines."
Readers across the nation are demanding more of what Covenant sells as its signature works, clean stories with happy endings.
"It's become a genre that's exploded," Nichols said. "And we have nine out of the top 10 books on Deseret Book's best-seller list."
Covenant's romance fiction sales now exceed a million dollars a year after just three years and the release of 20 titles.
"We're trying to give youth good alternatives, books that are not preachy but high on adventure and action with religion as a backdrop."
A good example has been the "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites," a fictionalized historical series written by Chris Heimerdinger, joined this year by the "Light Traveler" series by Brent Rowley. The Tennis Shoes series has sold over 300,000 copies.
In the young adult romance market, Covenant is competing in the market with books written by Cheri Crane following the story of a young woman named Kate who is an unusually spirited leading character.
In adult romance, Nichols boasts about the books written by Anita Stansfield, Jennie Hansen, Dan Yates and Rachel Nunes. Each of the authors deal hands-on with some of the more controversial aspects of modern-day living; serious illness, failed relationships, divorce and infidelity.
"We're trying to hit real issues with an approach that is uplifting," Nichols said. "We try very carefully to make sure we're building character while looking for a good story with emotion."
One of Stansfield's books was the No. 3 best-seller for the entire Deseret Book chain.
Right now, 20 percent of all trade books are romance. National bookstore chains have specific areas for LDS fiction, where most of the titles are Covenant Communications label.
"It's exciting," Nichols said. "It's getting to the point where there is money for the authors because there is more demand for their work."
Material for Covenant is culled carefully by a multistep review process. Any manuscript or recording being considered for addition to the Covenant line-up goes through an editor's personal review, scrutiny by the company's editorial board and is submitted to a reader's review.
Joann Jolley is managing editor and hand selects most of what eventually becomes part of the Covenant offering.
"She's largely responsible for our success," said Nichols. "She just has a knack. We believed there was a growing segment of women who liked to read romance, but who were tired of all the negatives associated with traditional romance fiction."
Jolley says the appeal for clean, non-steamy romance came as a result of the marriage between the good story and characters placed in a realistic setting.
"More than traditional romance, Covenant provides a spiritual dimension in these books that show how people, struggling through life's challenges and conflicts, learn to rely on God for answers to the tough questions," Jolley said.
Covenant started with recordings of LDS scripture. In fact, the company still has one of the original gold sets of the Book of Mormon produced by then Covenant Recordings.
They then started producing a series of lectures on tape and experimenting with material for the LDS audience which today includes "Happy Helpers" job-charts and Family Home Evening ideas in book form, teaching aids, postcards for missionaries and inspirational message tapes.
In addition, Covenant offers more heavyweight LDS material such as the reference book written on symbols that appear on the LDS temples and the "To Your Health," written by LDS health professionals.
There is also a division devoted to producing CDs and cassette tapes of inspirational music featuring LDS artists and arrangements.
In the very near future, Covenant Communications will be setting up listening stations in various locations with 48 samples of their product.
Also, more than 40 class speeches by popular speakers such as George Durrant, Hyrum Smith, Lucile Johnson, Ardeth Kapp and Dale Murphy are being re-released as part of Covenant's 40th anniversary celebration.