A junior publisher once told me that he had acquired a contract for several books for his pastor. I asked what the pastor was writing about and the editor told me “to be determined based on which of his sermons over the next year is gaining traction”. It didn’t take long for this professor who started writing in a completely different time – when publishers sent books to professors to verify the theological integrity and value of a proposed book (not the proposal, but the book itself) – anyway, it didn’t take me long to think that something was seriously wrong here. Not only did this pastor have a multi-book contract with a major advance, but he had no idea what his books would be – and I didn’t think to ask if the pastor would actually write the books. Don’t be fooled. He wouldn’t.
Publications are determined by a publication committee. Potential perpetrators need one or more defenders at the table.
In Katelyn Beaty’s new book, Celebrities for Jesus: How Celebrities, Platforms and Profits Harm the Church, is a chapter for potential authors. AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.
Here’s the bottom line: Too often publishers creep into the backyards of Christian celebrities to write for them because they have a huge platform and will sell a lot of books. They can help “the author” say something that will be respectable. The only the reason many famous pastors have books is because they have a monster platform. And a good nigger. And a good publicist. And a good editor. And famous pastor friends who tell their book.
Here’s a major problem: the money spent on these celebrities will never reach the young teachers and authors who have something to say. Yes, publishing is a business, but a Christian publisher is a form of Christian business. And a million dollar advance to a fancy pastor is not a form of Christian business. This from someone who took advantage of advances, some of which were more than the book deserved.
Back to Beaty’s book. This chp, again, is a must read.
She makes golden observations over and over again. These are the ones that caught me.
First, “publishers couldn’t resist the ascendancy of celebrity in a consumerist culture.”
Second, publishers often ask first (or very early) in the inquiry process about the proposed author’s platform. How can Twitter followers? How many Instagram followers? Etc. The first question should be “What does this potential author have to say?” The platform matters; readers think the content is important. “The rule of numbers.”
Third, plagiarism and ghostwriting is a major, major problem, and Beaty mentions Christine Caine, Driscoll, and Tim Clinton. Here are his observations: the writer deserves a fair amount, not the current market amount; the author must be on the cover and therefore recognized. If you’re not writing your book, say so. If such and such wrote it, credit him (or her). If your editor helped you a lot, say so. If your TA did the work on the book that you didn’t, tell your readers in the preface. The problem is the ego which will not recognize the help.
If you found out that your pastor didn’t write his sermons or your teacher didn’t write his lectures or your favorite musician didn’t write his lyrics – that he was presenting someone else’s intellectual work as the his – do you feel cheated and lied to, because you were actually cheated and lied to. Such deception is grounds for dismissal or prosecution in other areas. Yet the practice is common in publishing, including Christian publishing.
Fourth, evangelical Christians are book people and publishers know this and therefore readers of evangelical books are a consumer block for publishers to whom they can market. It’s a “bet” for a publisher to take your book, and they want a return – a profit. Profits are more predictable with celebrities than with gifted young authors.
Fifth, the “modern confusion of identity and giving with personal branding” and “platforming” has “compromised the original mission of Christian book publishing, and many authors for that matter.” Giftedness has too often become equated with followers and the platform.
Sixth, some famous “authors” and their publishers “profit from falsified data” by buying Twitter and Instagram followers and through likes, etc. This story became known to many of us around who else – Mark Driscoll. He used ResultSource to get on the NYTimes bestseller list. Others who use this service, including
Les and Leslie Parrott, David Jeremiah and Perry Noble. Ashamed.
Seventh, many famous pastors or mega-churches employ research assistants locally or through a service. and never credit researchers, leading their listeners, followers, and readers to think they’ve done the job. They did not do it. Credit your sources, pastors. It’s honesty.
A whole chapter. Sobering. Very real.