A newbie editor once told me he had acquired a multi-book deal for his pastor. I asked what the pastor was writing about and the editor told me “TBD on the basis of which of his sermons over the next year gains solid traction.” It didn’t take long for this professor who began writing in a completely different era – back when publishers sent books to professors to vet the theological integrity and value of a proposed book (not the proposal, but the book itself) – anyways, it didn’t take long for me to think something was very seriously wrong here. Not only did this pastor have a multi-book contract with a major advance, he had no idea what his books would be about—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 publishing committee. Potential authors need an advocate or more at the table.

In Katelyn Beaty’s new book, Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church, is a chapter for potential authors. ASAP.

Here’s the gist: too often publishers slip into courting Christian celebrities to write for them because they have a huge platform and will sell lots of books. They can help the “author” say something that will be respectable. The only reason many of the celebrity pastors have books is because they have a monster platform. And a good ghostwriter. And a good publicist. And a good publisher. And celebrity pastor friends blurbing and busking their book.

Here’s a major problem: the money spent on those celebrities will never get to the young professors and authors who have something to say. Yes, publishing is a business, but a Christian publisher is a Christian form of business. And a million dollar advance to a fancy pastor is not a Christian form of business. This from someone who has profited from 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. Here are the ones that grabbed me.

First, “publishers haven’t been able to resist the ascendancy of celebrity in a consumerist culture.”

Second, publishers often ask first (or very early) in the inquiry-proposal process about the proposed author’s platform. How may Twitter followers? How many Instagram followers? Etc. The first question should be “What does this potential author have to say?” Platform matters; readers think content matters. “Numbers rule.”

Third, plagiarism and ghostwriting is a major, major problem, and Beaty mentions Christine Caine, Driscoll, and Tim Clinton. Here are her observations: the writer deserves a just amount, not the going market amount; the writer must be on the cover and therefore acknowledged. If you don’t write your book, say so. If so-and-so did write it, credit her (or him). If your editor gave you lots of help, say so. If your TA did the work on the book that you didn’t do, tell your readers in the preface. The problem is the ego that won’t acknowledge the help.

If you found out that your pastor didn’t write their sermons or that your professor didn’t write their lectures or that your favorite musician didn’t write their lyrics – that they were presenting someone else’s intellectual work as their own – you’d feel deceived and lied to, because you were in fact deceived and lied to. Such deception is grounds for firing or a lawsuit in other arenas. Yet the practice is common in publishing, including Christian publishing.

Fourth, evangelical Christians are book people and publishers know this and thus evangelicals book readers are a consumer block for publishers to whom they can market. It’s a “gamble” for a publisher to take your book, and they want a return – profit. Profits are more predictable with celebrities than gifted young authors.

Fifth, the “modern conflation of identity and gifting with personal brand” and “platform” have “compromised the original mission of Christian book publishing, and many authors besides.” Giftedness has become equated too often with followers and platform.

Sixth, some celebrity “authors” and their publishers “profit from falsified data” by buying Twitter and Instagram followers and by likes etc.. This story became known to many of us surrounding who else – Mark Driscoll. He used ResultSource to buy his way on to the NYTimes Bestseller list. Others who use this service including
Les and Leslie Parrott, David Jeremiah, and Perry Noble.” Shameful.

Seventh, many celebrity or megachurch pastors employ research assistants locally or through a service and never credit the researchers, leading their listeners, congregants, and readers to think they did the work. They didn’t. Credit your sources, pastors. It’s honesty.

Quite the chapter. Sobering. Very real.