Today, author Eric Metaxas’s Twitter page is full of congratulations about his book, Miracles, hitting the New York Times bestseller list at #12. Metaxas is no stranger to the list; his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer, hit number one and was released to critical acclaim.
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) January 7, 2015
But earlier this week, an article in Christianity Today quoted Metaxas giving what sounds like his approval of a controversial marketing tactic: buying your way onto the NYT bestseller list. The article is available to subscribers only, but watchdog blogger Warren Throckmorton posted a snippet of Metaxas’s comments:
“Anyone thinking there is something pure about that list does not understand the system and how it works,” [Metaxas] said. “I would even argue that trying to get on that list is a combination of a realistic sense of the market and good stewardship. When you understand … the Times list is a bit of a game … you realize being on that list has less to do with the actual merit of a book than with other, far less important factors.”
I’m not sure what those “other, far less important factors” are, but more and more Christian authors have admitted to having benefitted from the work of Result Source, the company who does the buying. (If their website is any indication, their business is shady at best. It consists only of a “contact us” link.) According to Forbes, the company runs their “bestsellers campaign” by requiring “authors to make bulk purchases of their own books, then breaks those orders up into small increments to make them look like organic retail sales.”
It’s hard to imagine that Metaxas legitimately got onto the list with Bonhoeffer but is also okay with people buying their way on, although perhaps he did. (Update: He tweeted yesterday “I don’t think ‘buying’ one’s way onto a bestseller list is ok! I never heard of Resultsource! I only thought Driscoll deserved some grace!”) It’s harder to imagine why Christians, who are meant to be marked by humility and gentleness, feel the need to buy their way onto a list, any list. You don’t have to be an ascetic to realize that there is something inherently dishonest about this practice. Whether the system is pure, our responsibility as Christians remains the same: You do the work, and you don’t lie about how well it does.
Is it so foreign for Christians to imagine that we don’t need to earn success on anyone else’s terms that we do such foolish things? Are we so convinced that the message justifies the means that we will engage in dishonesty to spread the gospel? That, after all, isn’t a story to sell.
When we trust in the means of sharing rather than the goodness of the story, we are selling everything short. When we make excuses because the list isn’t “pure” and because the system can be gamed, we aren’t being true to the story we tell. This all comes because we get too anxious about our platforms and our standing and don’t concern ourselves enough with the truth–the truth about the gospel, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about broken systems. The success of your book is never more valuable than who you are as a person, and if you are a person who engages in deception to boost your sales numbers, you ought to take a long, hard look at yourself.