I received a call last week from an associate I hadn’t talked with for years. She wanted to congratulate me on my recent story in Christianity Today about buying bestsellers.
She was particularly impressed that the story seemed so balanced and didn’t take sides in the issue that became significant last year.
The spark came from the pastor of a Seattle megachurch, who admitted he had hired a marketing firm to make strategic buys of his book nationwide. That created the illusion of widespread reader interest to launch him onto the New York Times’ bestseller list—for one week.
While I appreciated the caller’s kudos, I really was unbiased. Since none of my books have ever gotten near bestseller status, I was curious what people in the industry had to say.
More importantly, what were the ethical implications for the church as a whole? Had we become so beguiled by money and fame that we were willing to—in effect—sell our soul?
This is the kind of sticky issue that generated a host of “no comments” or unwillingness to even respond to calls or e-mails. One longtime freelancing cohort even tried to talk me out of doing the story.
After postponement of the publication date, I didn’t feel comfortable responding immediately to the latter comment. When I finally did, I said, “If we can’t discuss this issue in the church, then we’re like the dysfunctional alcoholic family who can’t talk about all the pain that is part of their household.”
I learned a lot working on this story, including the fact that there are often subtle nuances that make it tough to say exactly what is right and what is wrong when it comes to book promotion.
After all, the reason there are release dates and advance orders for mega-bestselling authors’ releases is to create a wave of sales in the crucial month after the book’s debut—sales that can launch the book onto the Times’ list. Such status offers increased credibility, royalty income, and the chance of TV appearances, and more sales.
Even those critical of buying one’s way onto bestseller lists had no problem with these and other marketing methods. What they objected to was artificially goosing sales to qualify.
I found myself becoming quite introspective while working on this story. Before having own attitude adjustment last year about the place of money and achievement in my life, I would have had to confess that I craved the kind of status and recognition accorded those who make bestseller lists.
I sometimes daydreamed about how great it would be to have royalty checks flowing into my account, invitations to writers conferences, and people showing up for book signings (and even recognizing me).
As I discussed this issue with numerous writers, agents, editors and publishing executives, I saw how I had been guilty of being seduced by the same gods that appeal to everyone, regardless of profession.
A Nashville-based agent put it best when he said, “When you look at scriptures and say you want to live by dictates of Jesus, He said people will know you by your love, not by your recognition in the world.”
How true. Yet how difficult to live by when everything around us appeals to (as 1 John 2:16 puts it) “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
If we are honest, none of us should cast any stones.