When my first novel came out, I had no notions of being a best-selling author. My goal was simply to sell enough copies to make my publisher happy and ensure future contracts.
An odd thought struck me. Hey, I know how to be a best-selling author. I just need to be rich enough. I could give tons of money to a friend, who could then buy up all my copies. Then my publisher could proclaim that I have an instant best seller!
Does that idea sound fanciful? Not so fast. It appears that others have entertained the same idea.
I recently saw an article in World magazine about Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, who authored the book Real Marriage. According to the article’s author, Warren Cole Smith, Mars Hill Church paid a marketing company up to $210,000 to ensure Driscoll’s book made the New York Times best-seller list. How exactly the marketing company pulled off this feat through manipulation of the system in place appears to be complicated and would take perhaps a series of articles to explain.
Now, I don’t know anything about this book. I also don’t know Pastor Driscoll personally and want to be careful not to cast aspersions on his motives or behavior. Whether he personally did anything wrong, I don’t know. Nevertheless, consider the implications if this story is true.
Maybe my idea of buying one’s way to the best-seller’s list isn’t so farfetched after all. But is it ethical?
When you read that a book made the New York Times best-seller list, what immediately comes to mind? Most of us assume regular Joes on the street bought tons of copies. We assume this must be an amazing book if it has sold so well. I would have never suspected that some sort of manipulation of the system could have occurred behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, this story now casts doubt on the very accuracy of the New York Times list itself.
Why is it so important to make the New York Times best-seller list anyhow? Well, mainly, there’s a cultural norm that isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s face it. People flock to whatever is new and popular, whether it’s the new Disney movie Frozen, The Hunger Games trilogy, or the iPad.
That doesn’t necessarily mean best-selling products themselves don’t have merit, but in publishing it means that a lot of folks buy whatever is “best-selling,” whether good or bad. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses. If two million people say a certain book is outstanding, then I must have a copy too. The logic is as old as the hills.
But in this case, if the book didn’t make the list by ethical means, then many people may have bought the book under false pretenses. Perhaps the book never deserved to make the list to begin with. Who knows?
So what does this story say to those of us who consider ourselves to be very small fish in the very large pond of publishing? What if we don’t have the bucks to buy our way to a best-seller’s list? What are we to do? Find a rich uncle?
My personal philosophy hasn’t changed. I’m not out to write books so I’ll be popular and get rich. I write books because God has given me a desire to. And if He has motivated me to tell a story and touch just one heart, then let His will be done.
For all the manipulation people may attempt to beat the system, nobody will thwart the will of the King in the end. I may never make a big-time list like the New York Times, but I can go to sleep with a clear conscience, knowing that I wrote the best book I could and didn’t do anything unethical to manipulate my sales numbers.
What about you? How does this story make you feel about publishing? Do you think it’s right that those who have the bucks can manipulate the system?