By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated February 18, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Robert James Waller, meet your match. The Celestine Prophecy, the first novel by James Redfield, could be this year’s The Bridges of Madison County. Redfield, 43, an Alabama-based therapist, borrowed $20,000 to self-publish his book (about an ancient manuscript that contains nine insights into the human condition) in 1993. Distributed mainly to New Age bookstores, the novel became a cult hit, and major publishers started sniffing around. After a bidding war with Bantam, Warner Books won Prophecy for $800,000 and is shipping the repackaged novel this month. ”It’s a reflection of New Age meeting old age,” says Laurence J. Kirshbaum, president of Warner Books. ”Our only job (in making it a best-seller) is to not screw up.” The publisher has convinced major booksellers of Prophecy’s potential. ”Judging from how the self-published version is doing, they may be right,” says a spokesman from Waldenbooks. Meanwhile, Redfield is working on a sequel and taking his sudden good fortune in stride. His plans for the future: traveling. ”Money is just a tool,” says Redfield. ”And you can circulate the planet a little more with it.”