One fall out from the recent TGC debacle over the article that was pulled, replaced with a longer book extract and then replaced with a resignation announcement has been greater attention on the Christian publishing world and how book endorsements work.
A couple of the people who endorsed Josh Butler’s book have since withdrawn their endorsements claiming to have only read a portion of the book or skim read the whole thing. So, people are now beginning to ask whether or not it is really healthy for authors to be seemingly so dependent on celebrity endorsements to sell their books.
It’s not a completely new issue. I remember being advised a long time back that publishers would be reluctant to take a risk on a young guy without name recognition unless his work were linked to a better known Christian as a co-author. However, the problem seems to have escalated.
Thirty years ago, most books would have been published with a foreword from one other author, introducing the book and the author, explaining why it was worth a read. Then you might see a couple of endorsements on the back cover. I can’t speak for the international market but it seems to me that the whole endorsements business really took off with the publication of Pierced For Our Transgressions by Ovey, Sach and Jeffry back in 2007. The book came with several pages of endorsements from the great and the good of evangelicalism. In many respects, the endorsements in that case were part and parcel of the book’s argument. Those writing in support represented a cross section of evangelical leadership. There were academics and pastors as well as worship leaders. Endorsers included charismatics and conservatives, New Frontiers, Anglican and FIEC. There was even a representative Arminian to make it clear that this wasn’t just a Calvinist position. Indeed, I suspect that being seen to endorse the book was as important for those doing it as it was for the publishers and authors. Like signing a petition or open letter, being linked to the book became a badge of orthodoxy.
Well, whatever the rights and wrongs then, I would say tha tit has become increasingly normal to have several pages of endorsements for books. In addition to those that make it into print, you;ll often find a further list of other endorsements, especially by the less famous online. As a disclaimer I should mention that I was asked to provide such a statement for a friend recently and was happy to do so. My issue is not with endorsements and recommendations themselves but to do with how this has grown to such an extent.
My concerns are as follows, first that It seems to play into a Christian celebrity and patronage culture if we are constantly on the look out to see if books are being recommended by famous Christians. Secondly, there are big questions arising about what an endorsement actually means. In the case of those people who endorsed Josh Butler’s book, it may be true that they only read part of it or skim read it but if that level of reading highlighted some good and helpful things, then should they remove their endorsements because there were problems with part of the book? Are we expecting perfection from authors or are we expecting something a little bit more realistic. If I recommend a book to a friend, am I saying that it will be 100% perfect and that there will be nothing to disagree with in it? Well, obviously not. So, should the back cover or front few pages endorsements work any differently?
Secondly, I’m still wondering about who the endorsements are actually for. I decided to do a straw poll on Twitter to see the extent to which Christians are influenced by endorsements. Here are the result.
I have to say that those results aren’t overwhelming. They don’t suggest that we as the public readership are as easily swayed by seeing that John Piper or Phil Wickham have endorsed a boom as some might think. Do the publishers really need to the celebrity endorsers or is it that:
- Having a few famous names supporting the book gives a conservative market a bit of a comfort feel?
- The endorsers themselves feel honoured and privileged to be asked, so that they are kept on board by the publisher?
I hope that findings like mine will encourage publishers to have a re-think of how things work. Perhaps this might encourage a wider and deeper look at the whole Christian publishing scene in order to ensure that it complies to Gospel principles rather than worldly ones.