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I have to say it: every time I go into a Christian bookstore, I feel like I’m standing in a landfill.
It has nothing to do with cleanliness. It has everything to do with the garbage titles I see. I call on the Christian book industry to do some self-policing and decrease the number of bad books. Notice I didn’t say there aren’t any good titles; there are. But I am contending that celebrity titles, based on what I call piggyback topics, are slowly killing Christian publishing.
But we have, as they say, a conundrum: the worst offenders in Christian celebrity publishing – odious self-help titles – are rolled-out to a culture that is in some measure self-absorbed.
So the questions shake out this way: Is the culture being given what it wants, or is it receiving what’s shoved down its collective throat? For years, I’ve heard publishers “complain” that if they turn out some mediocre product, well, it’s what the public wants.
I think that’s disingenuous.
My theory is that much of book publishing conditions readers to embrace what they’re given. If they’re given fluff, they’ll slobber on themselves and reach for fluff. If they’re given meatier topics, they’ll embrace that.
I call it my “Americans are not as stupid as publishers claim” theory. In other words, people are able to read and process material that is “difficult” or weighty.
I’m thinking of something like “The Return of the Great Depression,” by Vox Day. The author no doubt has chosen a topic that at best could be called uncomfortable, yet he is presenting, in a terrific effort, a wealth of information that will help real Americans make smarter choices than those who stick their heads in the sand and read “How to Have Your Best Life (Seriously) Right Now!”
Cupcake-topped-with-candy-corn junk is not only worthless, I’d argue that it harms readers.
For centuries, Americans have been innovative, hard-working, independent-minded and tough. My grandparents might have burned a Joel Osteen book to keep warm, but they wouldn’t have wasted 30 seconds reading that clap-trap (To be fair, Osteen and dozens of other “authors” like him are simply refusing to turn down a ridiculous amount of money. I can’t say I’d be a purist in that scenario).
I just broke my promise to myself that I wouldn’t pick on anyone by naming names. Having broken that one, let me plunge headlong into deeper waters.
If I could speak to all Christian book readers, I’d say something like this: “To those of you who plunk down hard-earned money for a self-help book from, say, T.D. Jakes, do you realize the extent to which you are enriching this man? STOP!”
Sure, Jakes is an entrepreneur and seemingly living the American dream, but I do have a problem with publishers sitting around for hours brainstorming about the right knock-off title for a new project that is, let’s be honest here, created purely for the cash it brings in. They pair self-absorbed topics with charismatic spokesmen.
Make no mistake, even the largest publishers are obsessed with cash flow. Only a handful of publishers are financially healthy. Many are like the character I once saw on a “Tales from the Darkside” episode: Grandpa was dead and didn’t know it; sitting at the table with the family for dinner, his nose fell off.
Well, a lot of noses are falling off in publishing houses today. The desperation is making this problem of junk books more common. As the economy “grows” at a pace less robust than the Man from Kenya told us it would, publishers are like everyone else: Stay with what seems like a sure thing. If that means garbage books are shipped to stores on a regular basis, well, that must make it okay.
I suppose I think of this the same way I look at pyramid schemes: A few will get rich while the majority gets poor.
If you are paying $25 for a book by a self-help guru, know that it’s hardcover mostly for economic reasons. The publisher’s economic health, that is. It costs a bit more to print a hardcover book, but oh boy, you can charge several bucks more than for a paperback. It’s called “perceived value.” If it seems literally weightier, then an extra $7-$10 is justified.
To be as clear as possible: You’re getting ripped off.
So I return to the beginning. When I see all these Christian, self-appointed self-help gurus (most of whom masquerade as preachers) smiling at me from bookshelves, I get almost physically ill. I promise you, most don’t write their own books, have little-to-moderate involvement in the process and simply pocket nice advance checks. I would go so far as to call it a publishing scam.
And don’t get me started on the cookie-cutter mentality these people have. If Joel made a killing with his toothy, narcissistic title, “Your Best Life Now,” well by golly, get ready for about eleventy hundred rip-off titles from lesser-known TV preachers. People actually get paid to sit around conference tables and knock off titles like that. It’s sort of like if my name was Rich Warren and I wrote “The Purposeful, Driven Life.”
If I’ve offended publishers of this drivel, and one of them takes me out like someone did Bugsy Siegel – in a pool of blood on his couch – so be it. At least I will have perhaps helped some poor reader cling to that 20 burning a hole in his pocket.
Here’s to great books by great authors and the great readers who support them.