Ever since the 1971 publication of The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, Chosen Books has been publishing powerful books that help millions to live Spirit-empowered lives. Books published by Chosen help believers to better know and love the Lord Jesus Christ; to pray about the concerns that are on God’s heart; to be empowered by his Spirit for ministry; to fulfill the Great Commission; and to transform their communities and their world.
Many titles over more than four decades, from Charles Colson’s Born Again to The Essential Guide to Healing by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark, reflect the publishing mandate of Chosen Books to publish well-crafted books that recognize the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit and help readers live more empowered and effective lives for Jesus Christ. Challenged by the written word, these hungry readers are joining the amazing adventure of what God is doing in the world.
The History of Chosen Books
In 1971 four established writers joined to launch Chosen Books: John and Elizabeth Sherrill, who had written the best-selling The Cross and the Switchblade with David Wilkerson and God’s Smuggler with Brother Andrew; Catherine Marshall LeSourd, whose credits included A Man Called Peter, Christy, and Beyond Our Selves; and her husband Leonard LeSourd, editor of the rapidly growing magazine Guideposts.
The story of how Chosen Books began is best told by John Sherrill, who had a surprising dream one night early in 1971.
I was awake. There had been no transition between sleep and being fully, startlingly awake. Quietly, so as not to disturb Tib [Elizabeth], I propped my pillow against the headboard of the bed and sat up. In the pre-dawn light I could just make out the bureau in the corner of the room.
The picture was in black and white. It was of a group of people—Len LeSourd was there, and Len’s wife, Catherine Marshall, Tib and I and some others I could not identify. We were all studying a pile of books spread out on a conference table. A block of copy said that this group of people had worked together for years, writing and editing Christian articles. Now they had banded together to do the same with books.
The vision was over. I could not get back to sleep so I went downstairs and made coffee. I was excited but also stunned, full of fear and misgivings. I knew nothing at all about business, still less about book publishing. What did all this mean?
When Tib began to stir, I took coffee up and told her about the vision and asked her what she thought of starting a publishing house. To my astonishment Tib—who knew, if possible, less about business than I—said, Why not? It would be an adventure.
So I took the plunge and spoke to Len LeSourd. I told him about the vision and asked if he and Catherine would consider joining us.
The next day Len called me at home with the news that he and Catherine were definitely interested.
But, said Len, and then came the words that were such a threat to me, we couldn’t join you now, of course. We couldn’t publish books and work at Guideposts at the same time. That creates a problem for you, too. You’ll have to talk to the Peales, won’t you? It wasn’t a question; it was a statement.
I put down the phone slowly, drawing in a long, long breath. The Peales?
I went straight to the phone and called Norman Vincent Peale. When we met, he told me, If God is leading you into Christian books, I have a suggestion. You’ve heard me talk about the key to success in any undertaking. Six words: Find a need and fill it. And I’ll tell you the need that I see. When I look at some of the Christian books coming across my desk, I’m appalled. Sloppy writing, sloppy editing, sloppy manufacturing. Aim for quality, John. Strive for it. Hold out for it, even though it costs you time and money. Take a year off. Take the risk of living without a salary. Find adventure. And hold onto quality.
So we plunged ahead. We even had a power verse, given to us as a special encouragement: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10, NIV). Our job was simply to walk the path He had planned for us.
Our infant company, which we called Chosen Books, had no titles. The most obvious first book was The Hiding Place. The manuscript was ready. But The Hiding Place was already under contract at World Publishing Company.
I picked up the phone and called World’s chief executive officer, Martin Levin.
When we met with him, we reminded him that we were under contract with his company to write a book with Corrie ten Boom.
Interesting theme, he said. Spinster lady turns underground hero. I think we’ll do a good job with it.
I cleared my throat. Well, as a matter of fact, that’s why we’re here. We’d like to buy back the contract.
Mr. Levin didn’t show any reaction at all. What do you want it for? he asked.
We want to go into publishing, I said quickly. The Hiding Place would be our first book.
I fully expected Mr. Levin to lean back and laugh. Instead he seemed interested in the idea and asked for details.
Publishing is a very tricky field, you know, Mr. Levin said when I had explained our dream. Especially today. Prices are rocketing. Paper’s scarcer. If you’re small, printers want their money up front. Salesmen need salaries as well as commissions today. The after-tax return on capital in this industry is a disaster; you can do better in any savings bank.
In a few minutes Mr. Levin got up from his desk and stuck out his hand to Tib. Was the interview over? Was this the abrupt closeout to our hopes?
You’re sure you want to take your title back? he said at the door.
Yes, that was the central question: Were we sure?
Yes, Mr. Levin, we’re sure.
He nodded. Then we certainly won’t stand in your way. He walked us to the elevator bank. Congratulations on being our newest competitors.
Tib and I looked at each other in amazement. Within half an hour we had become a new publishing company with something more than just a name. We also had our first title. We had a strange confidence, too, that The Hiding Place would go on to be used by God in unusual ways.
So Chosen Books was launched. Later Len and Catherine joined us as partners. It is no lipservice to say we can’t take credit for anything the little company achieved. The four of us were so ill-equipped to run any kind of business that the credit has to go to the Lord. What we did have is a master plan for handling the problems that arise daily in this scary, stretching business. Allow yourself to be led into problems by God; walk through your trials with your eyes on God; and expect to be put to work by God.
That year, 1971, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill was published, followed by Deliver Us from Evil by Don Basham and Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. After 1974, when Len and Catherine Marshall LeSourd joined the fledgling publishing company full time, more well-crafted books hit the bookstores.
Charles Colson’s Born Again, Catherine Marshall’s The Helper, Betty Malz’s My Glimpse of Eternity, and Bilquis Sheikh’s I Dared to Call Him Father were a few of the bestsellers that Chosen published between 1974 and 1978.
Among the small staff in the former schoolhouse just down the road from the LeSourds’ Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, Virginia, were Ann McMath and Jane Campbell. Ann continues as a freelance editor for Chosen Books, while Jane heads up Chosen editorial as director, as she has done since 1984.
In the 1970s Chosen Books tried distribution arrangements with several companies, then was sold to Zondervan in the winter of 1982–83. In 1986, along with Fleming H. Revell, Chosen was sold to Guideposts, then to Baker in 1992—its permanent home.
Chosen has published hundreds of titles since 1971, each one edited with the company’s original goals in mind. More recent bestsellers include Spirit Wars by Kris Vallotton, Blessing or Curse by Derek Prince, and Angels Are for Real by Judith MacNutt. These and many others continue to cross all denominational lines, homing in on Spirit-empowered living.
Focusing on what God is doing around the world, Chosen Books still aims to publish well-crafted books that recognize the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit and help the reader live a more empowered and effective life for Jesus Christ.