Mind, Body & Spirit
yes, it fits in MBS,” he says. “There has to be a spiritual component; otherwise you’d
be looking at a work of cognitive psychology.”
Offering another take on the MBS subject heading is Michael Kerber, president of
Red Wheel/Weiser. He says that publishers don’t define MBS—the media and book-
sellers do, and he contends that those outlets don’t quite know where to categorize
books outside of the mainstream.
“When we get a project in, we think about where it will go within a bookstore.
Those distinctions are forced upon us,” Kerber says. “If our pagan and shaman and
Wiccan titles would be shelved in religion or reviewed [as] religion, we would publish
them in religion.” (Note: PW reviews titles about paganism, shamanism, Wicca, and
other belief systems that are outside the mainstream under religion.)
What’s in a Name?
The issues with labeling a title MBS don’t end with category overlap. New Age, which
is what MBS books were once more commonly called, came to be viewed by many in
the field as a derogatory term. Because of this, booksellers and authors, as well as
specialty magazine editors and workshop and retreat leaders, adopted the mind, body,
and spirit label—but not all publishers are fully on board with it.
Kerber uses New Age and MBS interchangeably, but says that the MBS label can
obscure the kinds of books Red Wheel/Weiser publishes—those on esoteric, occult
teachings such as metaphysics, magick, astrology, tarot, and Eastern thought.
“Some bookstores really miss the boat on the power of MBS books, because they put
MBS titles in self-help or personal transformation,” he says. “They miss the full range
of MBS books.”
By contrast, Hughes at New World Library embraces the MBS label, calling it a
much more inclusive and accurate subject heading than New Age.
HarperElixir’s Boutote says the New Age designation was originally a way publishers and other businesses could get a handle on a very wide-ranging subject area.
“I think it was fine—it helped in that initial burgeoning and mainstreaming of
these topics,” she says. “But our culture has fast-forwarded, and I think we are rede-
fining [what the category means].”
Horowitz says he “defiantly” holds on to New Age at Tarcher, despite the phrase’s
association with fringe, “woo-woo” topics. “I don’t think we should let critics define
the terms that we apply to ourselves,” he says. “[Otherwise] tomorrow, MBS will be
seen as softheaded, and we will have to find something else.”
Regardless of whether they call the books MBS, New Age, or something else entirely,
publishers agree on one thing: the category serves a significant audience.
“There’s a large segment of the population that doesn’t find what they’re looking
for by traditional means or in established religions,” Kerber says. “There are a lot of
questions about what we should do as a people collectively, and as individuals. All of
that plays into the popularity [of the category].”
HarperCollins launched the HarperElixir line for what Boutote calls the seeker
audience: those who frequent retreat centers, for example, and those who are bringing
the concept of mindfulness into their business practices.
Hughes at NWL says that cultural shifts, such as the drop in the number of people
affiliated with a traditional religion, has created opportunities for MBS publishers—
because many of those who reject organized religion still hunger for spirituality.
“People are constantly looking for answers,” Hughes says, “and so they go to [MBS]
books because they have always been a great way to learn anything—at your own pace,
and by communing with the experts.”
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