Of the many thousands of trade books published in the 21st century, few, if any, have exceeded the stunning success of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. Reportedly 35+ million copies of Jesus Calling have been sold worldwide—in several editions and languages. You might wonder, how on earth did such a remarkable book come to be? There’s a story here worth telling. It begins with Byron Williamson, who founded Integrity Publishers in 2001 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Williamson’s journey is notable, as he clearly saw in Sarah’s writing the marvel of God’s grace. In early 2003 his marketing vice president, Rob, offered him a few sample pages used by his wife’s weekly group meeting. It wasn’t unusual for one of his team members to surface ideas for possible book content, so he affirmed, “Sure, just leave them on my desk.” Later that day, he picked them up and began to read. Something instantly captured his attention. There was an unusually poignant voice here, speaking through these few sparingly worded devotions.
How Jesus Calling Came to Be
He carried those pages next door to Joey’s office, the vice president of editorial, and laid them on his desk, simply suggesting he look them over. Williamson never thought about it again until the following day when Joey returned those pages to him, saying he had shown them to his wife the previous evening. She had been aware of Sarah, a missionary in Perth, Australia, and loved her writing. Affirming these brief devotionals had been written for a weekly church bulletin. Williamson walked back to his office and began to imagine.
To Byron’s mind, this was something of an odd circumstance. First, there was no title attached to this tiny bit of content, and, considering this was written by a person he knew little about, he was still intrigued. Williamson dropped by Rob’s office and asked him how many more of these little writings Sarah could provide? Rob said he’d check. A day or two later, he came back and reporting Sarah had said, “I’ve got several dozen. How many do you want?”
Reflecting on this enormous success, Williamson recalled, “Well, there are about as many paths to the printing press as there are books in print. Each has its own story. I spent the next few days reflecting on the voice I heard in Sarah’s devotionals…they were remarkably intimate words, warmly voiced…as though someone was whispering in my ear. It reminded me of a book I’d seen on my own mother’s bedside table years before titled ”God Calling.” So I looked it up online and saw it had been authored years ago by A.J. Russell.”
After reading some of Russell’s work, Williamson sensed a difference. Russell’s voice was of an all-powerful Father speaking authoritatively from the Heavens. Whereas Sarah’s Jesus expressed himself in a more personal, intimate voice. And it hit him, if Sarah could produce 365 of these short, 175-word devotions, Integrity could make a year-long devotional his own mom would love to read. And it could be titled Jesus Calling. So, he went back to Rob, asking him to get with Sarah to see if she could manage 365 devotionals? And that’s just what she did!
Jesus Calling, A New York Times Bestseller
Jesus Calling was first released in the summer of 2004. No one imagined 35+ million copies being sold with frequent appearances on New York Times bestseller lists. Quickly bookstores began to call Integrity Publishers, asking for multiple cases at a time because customers weren’t buying just one copy. People were often buying several copies to give to friends and family. Often single customers ordered total cases with 36 copies to give away. That trend cascaded into the following year. Before anyone realized it, sales had blown past 500,000 copies, and its velocity was escalating—the publisher couldn’t print fast enough. Through the next 16 years, its sales have yet to slow, now passing 35 million copies. Williamson stated, “God is good, and his blessings have extended well beyond anything he could ask or think, much less deserve.”
A couple of years after the release of Jesus Calling, the Integrity Publishing Group was acquired by Thomas Nelson, now the Harper-Collins Christian Publishing Group. And management of Jesus Calling was assigned to Thomas Nelson executive Laura Minchew, who, interestingly enough, had been part of the original Integrity team. Laura continues to do a remarkable job expanding the worldwide vision and reach of Jesus Calling.
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