Making sure I get the story straight…

March 19, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)

I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.

Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls from publishers after my last blog, and they led to share several thoughts…

1. Mark Driscoll, the Seattle pastor who I’ve had bad experiences with in the past, and who I raked over the coals on Monday for having bought his way onto the bestseller lists, offered up an apology yesterday. [You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/nbajg67 ] I have mixed emotions about this… On the one hand, I tend to roll my eyes at the fact he didn’t own up to plagiarism. He preferred to reference things “we” did, instead of just taking responsibility for books with his own name on them. His solution (to stay away from social media and not do many conferences this year) sounds, to me, like an effort to simply stay out of the limelight. And the concept of sending a private letter to church members only, taking it down so it doesn’t get passed around to news sources, and simply trying to make a private statement about a public error is TERRIBLE. For crying out loud, who is giving this guy advice?

2. BUT, on the other hand, the guy seems to have made an effort to make things right. A couple of people who know him well told me he’s actually been changed by this. That he’s considerably less full of himself than he used to be. That he really does want to make an effort to be more of a pastor and less of a celebrity. And you know what? I think making a good-faith effort deserves respect.

3. One publisher who called me said that, in his mind, the plagiarism was inadvertent — research assistants had done it, and Mark never purposefully intended to steal anyone’s words. So that publisher said it wasn’t really “plagiarism,” but a simple error. I tend to disagree with that notion — not because I think Mark Driscoll was actually trying to get away with stealing someone’s words, but because the book had his name on it. Um… this is MY blog. I type the words. When somebody else blogs, their name goes on the post (for example, yesterday’s excellent blog by Erin Buterbaugh). So if I hire somebody, and they steal some words and post them as mine, then it’s ME who is responsible, not some unnamed assistant. My intention may not be to harm anyone, but when it happens, I’m the one who has to come out, tell the truth, and apologize. If I’m too big and famous to write, or too busy with work to actually check the words, then perhaps I ought not to have my name on the cover, since I didn’t actually write it. All that said, I understand that the plagiarism was probably inadvertent. But, in my view, it’s still plagiarism, no matter the intent, and still requires an author to take responsibility and apologize.

4. Another publisher called to say that ResultSource is a good marketing company, who has worked with numerous bestselling authors, and they do a good job. He noted their speciality is helping speakers get a bunch of books sold by targeting their list of followers, and encouraging them to all purchase the book the week it launches. JUST SO WE’RE CLEAR, I’m all for that approach. I think any marketing an author does is aimed at selling books. An author does a bunch of radio shows, or does a blog tour, or speaks at conferences, and says to everyone, “Go buy my book!” That’s just marketing — getting in front of one’s potential audience and trying to convince them to buy your product. So let’s be clear: I have no problem with an author marketing his or her book. ResultSource apparently does this very well. But I was told, by two different people, that what was unique about this campaign was that those outside of Mark Driscoll’s following were used to purchase copies of the book, and World Magazine reported that numerous credit cards were used to purchase the copies specifically to get around the reporting strategies of the New York Times bestseller list. In other words, it wasn’t the core group, who you would expect to be encouraged to purchase the book, but outsiders who would not normally have bought it. That’s why I said this was a case, in my view, of gaming the system.

5. And that leads to another thing I heard from publishers — that the New York Times is so tight-lipped about what “the system” actually is for getting on the bestseller list, they have no idea how to manipulate it. Nobody really knows what numbers the NYT uses to actually create their list, and publishers complained to me that frequently a book selling particularly well but with an unpopular topic (such as a book featuring conservative politics, or a book about conservative Christianity) won’t make the list, while a book that obviously sold far fewer copies but with a more liberal perspective will make the list. Please understand I’m not arguing, only reporting what more than one publisher told me.

6. And that in turn means that the only way to insure a book sells the required number of copies to guarantee a spot on the list (in current terms, that means selling roughly 11,000 copies in a week), is to have some sort of marketing plan that focuses on selling a bunch of copies all at once. Again, I’m all for marketing books, as evidenced by the content of this blog. Every publisher I talked to said they want to hit the NYT list, and they’ll do all they can to hit it, but they also insisted they would never work with a company that tried to cheat their way on by basically hiring strangers to go purchase copies. I thought I’d mention that, since a lot of people have maintained that “everybody does that.” I made it clear in my previous post, and I still hold to the statement, that NOT everybody is doing this to try and cheat their way onto the list. I stand by these words: “I’ve never known one of the respectable legacy publishers to pull this sort of schtick.”

7. That said, it’s also clear nearly every publishing house is working with ResultSource. Not to have them buy copies via strangers, but to have them work with an author’s platform in order to encourage everyone to purchase a copy the same week. Again, for the record, I don’t have a problem with that. And I’m not here to bash ResultSource, who is clearly doing some good things, since every single publisher I spoke with works with them. (I sent a note to the president of ResultSource about all of this, by the way. I want to make sure the facts are correct. But their website is shut down and the phone not working. Um… I have no idea if this is related to the controversy or not.)

8. Finally, one publisher who is well-acquainted with the situation told me that the financial figure that was reported in the World article (“more than $200,000″) was not accurate. I don’t have any way of corroborating that, but it’s a source I consider reliable, and someone who was not the publisher of the book in question, so this person doesn’t have a dog in the hunt. I think it’s only fair to mention that this individual told me the actual number paid by Mark Driscoll was considerably lower than the number reported in the story.

Again, I once had a bad situation with Mr. Driscoll. He said something to me that I discovered was patently untrue, I’ve not been a fan of his macho crap in the pulpit, I’ve grown weary of the mindless hero-worship I have detected in his followers, so I have tended to be a critic and look with doubt on some of his words. But… well, I want to make sure I have my facts straight, so I’m not doing exactly the thing I have been critical of others doing to me. And if a guy says he wants to change, I need to have the grace to take him at his word. Sure, I’d prefer Mr. Driscoll owned up to the plagiarism in his works, whether he did it deliberately or not. I’d prefer he took responsibility for the problems, and not blamed unnamed assistants, or outside counsel, or anyone other than himself, whose name is on the books. I’d prefer if he were going to apologize, he did so publicly, since the errors were made publicly, instead of sort-of apologizing but then hiding the note away. I’d prefer his board didn’t look like a bunch of sycophants, praising him in the midst of obvious errors, instead of promising to ensure this never happens again. And I’d prefer he was more forthcoming about the whole affair, since Americans have a tremendous ability to forgive when a public person is up-front about his or her errors (but they’ll go after someone who waffles like a reporter digging for a story). So there are things I’d prefer. But most of all, I’d prefer to be correct in the things I share on this blog. I hope I got all of them correct today.

Posted in Books, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends

  • Melissa Tagg

    Chip, I really love this post and appreciated the extra insights. I loved your earlier one too about the whole mess and applauded from afar. I’m not a Driscoll fan and I find the term “macho crap” to be more than fitting. :) And yet, your efforts to get the whole story and make sure the facts are straight, well, that’s admirable. Frankly, probably Driscoll could learn from this post and the sincerity behind it. I just think a pastor, of all people, should be capable of taking ownership, and over and over, he hasn’t seemed willing to do that.

    That said, I don’t know the guy, have never been to his church and like to believe good things can come from messes. And just like you said, a good-faith effort deserves respect. So hopefully that’s exactly what this (his latest sorta-apology) is.

  • Jen

    I thought you were a Christian? I’m confused. I haven’t been following your blog for long, but this post is decidedly un-Christian. The cursing, the judgment… ? What? I’m sorry, I had no idea who this Driscoll guy was before I read about it on your blog. Maybe he is scum, I don’t know. But this seems like a lot of stirring up dissention for no good reason.

    I have to say, the post says quite a bit more about your character than it does this Driscoll guy’s. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any of his books OR any that you represent. I’m disappointed in you.

    • Jen

      Okay, I’ve read more about this and I want to apologize. I’ve done a complete 180. Though I do think the hatred in this blog post is uncalled for, I can understand how this man would upset you so.

      Please accept my apologies for my finger wagging.

      • chipmacgregor

        Hmm. Apology accepted. But just so we’re clear, Jen, you read something, didn’t know the facts, but decided to question my faith and motives anyway? You know, you may want to not be so sure of yourself. Sometimes when you don’t know the facts, it’s better to just shut up.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Chip, one thing I always appreciate about your posts is your attention to getting the facts straight. Thank you for that attention to detail, and for your straight-shooting ways of sharing your thoughts. It’s always enlightening.

    • chipmacgregor

      Appreciate that, Jeanne. Nice of you to come on and comment.

  • Donna K. Wallace

    Call me an old war horse of the industry, but I’m far enough in to know that Chip is erring far on the side of giving benefit of the doubt with this follow up to his first post. Perhaps the true test is how loved an author is and book sales that reflect such love. Which authors’ books do you hold to your chest or hide under the covers with late at night?

    Thank you, Chip. You have clearly and fairly articulated a topic that needs to be discussed. None of us want to be played. And all of can use an integrity check.

    • chipmacgregor

      That’s very kind of you, Donna. I appreciate you coming onto the blog to say something.

  • Patricia Zell

    It’s like a car accident in the middle of an intersection with a witness positioned on each corner. All of the witnesses would have a different accounting of the accident because their perspectives were different. Rather than playing judge and jury of our fellow human beings’ troubles, perhaps we should take Christ’s advice about not judging others and should ask God to work all things out for everyone’s good.

    • chipmacgregor

      Maybe. Or maybe it’s not like that at all, Patricia. Maybe we’ve got a guy who has been running his mouth off and acting like a know-it-all bully for years, and there are some people who are sick of it, while others continue to follow him. A debate ensues.

      But a word about your comment… I think you’re offering oversimplified, spiritual-sounding tripe. NOBODY is “playing judge and jury.” Events happen in publishing, and we talk about them, usually because they affect people. You seem to feel that exploring a situation like this is wrong. I disagree. And I don’t like you over-spiritualizing it, so that anyone examining the actions of an influential, wannabe-bestselling spokesperson like Mark Driscoll is somehow not being a good Christian.

      • Patricia Zell

        I did not mean that at all–all of us are on the outside looking in when we observe other people and their actions. I have learned over my years of walking with God that it is nigh unto impossible to understand circumstances in the lives of other people and even in my own life (without the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that God gives me for my own life). A huge problem is that when we explore circumstances in other people’s lives, we’re coming at that exploration from our own biases. Let’s face it, you seem to have already had a negative point of view of this writer–you don’t like him, so, of course you are going to see the negative in the current situation.
        I am not oversimplifying anything … Christ told us to take the beams out of our eyes before we judge others. So, even though I know nothing about this situation except what you have written, I’m praying that God will work all things out together for your good and the good of Mark Driscoll. In the culmination of the work of Christ–in the Resurrection–this to-do will be meaningless.

  • http://www.johnrobinsonbooks.com John Robinson

    I don’t doubt Driscoll’s a brother in Christ (well, maybe a little doubt), but the stuff he slings from his pulpit is damaging in the extreme. I know of some families who attended there, and left completely devastated.

    His utter contempt for women is probably part of that for me, and add to that his “porno visions” (just Google “Mark Driscoll porno vision” and see for yourself; it’s astounding) and his cult-like hold hold on his flock … yeah, I have issues with him. And truth to tell, they color my view when he pulls stuff like he does.

    But since I really don’t have a dog in this fight, I’ll just bow out and leave this knuckleknob to God.