by Pat Holt
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
MORE CRAVEN THAN THOU: MAINSTREAM PUBLISHERS CHASE TIM LAHAYE
The New York Observer had some fun recently with ultra-conservative Christian author Tim LaHaye signing one deal after another with his new Jewish best friends (see http://www.observer.com/pages/story.asp?ID=9592 ).
These would be Irwyn Applebaum of Bantam Doubleday Dell, literary agent Joel Gotler and a dandy group of other publishing folks, including editor Leslie Gelman of Viking, who hope to profit from the coattails of LaHaye's bestselling "Left Behind" series.
Tyndale, a Christian publisher, hit the jackpot with crossover sales amounting to 60 million copies for the dozen books in the "Left Behind" series. This of course brought out the vul - the mainstream publishers. "There they were," the Observer mused about Applebaum and Lahaye in California, "mapping out Mr. LaHaye's largest deal yet with a major secular publisher," and we'll get to that in a moment.
On the one hand, it's intriguing to follow the LaHaye story as the U.S. presidential election grows near. His fabulously successful "Left Behind" series seems so harmless - shlocky disaster fiction with a catastrophe to beat the (biblical) band - until you get into it and absorb the real message of the series. More about that later, too.
I used to listen to LaHaye and his wife Beverly speak at Christian Bookseller Association conventions, and my goodness, one would be hard pressed to think of these two Moral Majority co-founders as crossover anything. The Observer notes their peculiar "strain of earnest religiosity," which is a nice way to put it. Back in the '70s and '80s, they didn't sound very tolerant, very forgiving, very flexible or very Christian. They sounded furious, fearful and mean.
Blame It on Jews - Oops, Make That "Secular Humanists"
LaHaye was among the first to assign major evildoing on "secular humanists" - independent-minded people who relied upon themselves, not God or Christ. Many of these followers of Satan were immigrants who had come to this country, he said, to take control of the American press, education, business and government. "Secular humanists" headed the American Civil Liberties Union, founded the Communist Party, or like Norman Lear, brought "amoral" comedy to TV. They were liberal judges, owners of newspapers, Harvard's intellectual elite, wealthy merchants and business owners.
Sound familiar? Well, everybody knew LaHaye used "humanist" as a euphemism for "Jew," and it wasn't hard to learn why. "Judaism grew out of the rejection of Jesus Christ and steadily became humanism," wrote the son-in-law of the Presbyterian minister who introduced secular humanism back in the 1960s. "The Talmud is essentially the exposition of humanism under the facade of Scripture." (See "Anti-Semitism and the Religious Right" by former Christian fundamentalist Skipp Porteus, Institute for First Amendment Studies, reprinted at http://www.sullivan-county.com/id3/right_jews.htm .]
Like the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the time, the LaHayes appeared so adamant about a perceived liberal Jewish Communist pro-choice homosexual pro-evolution sex-ed conspiracy that anybody with ideas that were different from theirs became an instant enemy, they said, to Christians everywhere. One wouldn't want to introduce oneself to the LaHayes as a radical anti-creationist feminist lezbo advocate for birth control, for example.
I found that most of the evangelical Christian booksellers and publishers at CBA, while tolerant of the LaHayes, were also embarrassed by them and frankly more interested in fitting their businesses and lives with what they perceived as the purity and innocence of Christ's love and teachings.
They happily attended CBA performances at 1 p.m. with gospel singers and laughed at the polished, easy patter of Christian showmen who knew how to mix music with old-timey religion. Even "objective" reporters got hooked on these packed daily meetings where you could sit in the bleachers and meditate your way to Jesus without any training at all.
Then, too, for anybody in the secular world, the contrast between CBA and the crazy zoo of the American Booksellers Association (not BookExpo yet) convention with its splashy parties, colored waterfalls and walking artichokes on the convention floor was quite dramatic. CBA presented a hard-working, businesslike demeanor one couldn't help admire. Its exhibit booths were arranged like little banks with reps at tellers' cages offering prayer and convention discounts at the same time.
Even the more garish sideline booths with Christian frisbees for dogs and velvet paintings of foot-washing seemed to declare that anything contributing to the general ministry of Christ was part of God's plan. True, the depth of Christian devotion often broke up a business meeting here and there when someone would suddenly exclaim, "If only we had the courage!" - meaning that we were all sinners who went through life taking no real stand for the principles of living through Christ. We might fake it and "buy low" at CBA - just sit on the fence and pretend we were true Christians - or we might demonstrate our commitment to Jesus by risking a buy of this counter pack with Christian sayings or that one-free-for-10 deal on yet another Tim or Beverly LaHaye pop-psych book about strengthening Christian marriage.
Reagan Opens the Door
Then came Ronald Reagan's trickle-down evangelism, and Tim Lahaye's fear-mongering was given the exposure that would make the LaHayes powerful and rich. LaHaye not only gave Reagan access to fundamentalist Christians and provided prayers at the Republican convention, he brought Ed Meese (Reagan's attorney general) together with Falwell, Robertson, Don Wildmon, James Dobson and other ultra ultra ultra conservatives to form the new Christian Right organization, Council for National Policy. (This group still exists, reportedly having called George W. Bush on the carpet in 2000 to make sure his fundamentalist credentials were in order.)
As Tim LaHaye built a power base to fight secular humanism, Beverly LaHaye founded Concerned Women of America to attack abortion, feminism, gays and sex education. Ironies abounded as Beverly instructed wives to stay at home while she raced around the country doing interviews and managing her $4.5 million group, but Tim didn't object - he was never home either.
Eventually the LaHayes got into a big scandal about accepting a $10,000 check from the Moonies and calling the Pope the "archpriest of Satan," but Tim LaHaye bounced back in 1995 with, guess what, the first novel in his "Left Behind" series.
And what a stroke of genius it was. By now, of course, "a complete world takeover" was underway by those danged "secular humanists," LaHaye had warned, but to many he was raging to the wind. So LaHaye got savvy enough to take on co-author Jerry Jenkins, king of the "Guiding Light" kind of soap opera novel that turns the most hideous of Christian prophesy into beach reading.
Heck, remember Hal Lindsay's "The Late, Great Planet Earth," the bestseller about the End Times that hit the charts back in 1970? That was nothing compared to the LaHaye/Jenkins blockbuster, which starts out as the kind of "who'll survive?" romp that Americans have loved from "The Bridge on San Luis Rey" to "The High and the Mighty," "Airport," "X-Files," "Earthquake," "Jurassic Park" and of course, every variation on 9/11 in fiction and fact that has played out since 2001.
Will airline pilot Captain Rayford Steele recover from grief and investigative reporter "Buck" Williams find love while the two battle the Antichrist? And will readers ponder questions about the Second Coming and a Merciful God and the need for wars - really BIG WARS - to save the world by trouncing the Really Bad Guy who happens to have set up headquarters in Iraq?
What, you think this is fiction? LaHaye asks. Why, it's all biblical prophesy! And certainly metaphorical interpretations of Revelations, it turns out, could mean anything - for example that a certain maverick columnist will win the Pulitzer Prize in 2054. (The Harmonic Convergence predicted this, too.)
The Message Beyond "Left Behind"
The thriller aspect of "Left Behind" has made it easy to overlook LaHaye's nonfiction polemics, such as "The Battle for the Mind," "The Unhappy Gays, "Mind Siege," "Rapture Under Attack" and others. Here and elsewhere, LeHaye not only blames "secular humanists" for the evils of the world, he calls for the Christian Right to go on the attack - "to take back America" (thank you, Newt Gingrich), to fight against global socialism in the "New World Order" (thank you, George H. W. Bush), to interpret and quote the bible widely and remind everyone that the founding fathers intended "faith-based" politics to *join* churc and state in "one nation under God" (thank you, Mr. President).
So let's go back to the spectre of Irwyn Applebaum and others racing out to Rancho Mirage, California, where the LeHayes live and carry on their "ministries."
First, I'm not asking any publisher to explain its intentions to anyone. I believe in the First Amendment ideal that a publisher has the freedom to find, edit and publish many kinds of books without having to believe in ANY of the authors' points of view. That's the American way.
But when I see Bantam's Irwyn Applebaum offering a reported $42 MILLION for only four books in the next Tim LaHaye series ("Babylon Rising," which the Observer calls "a swashbuckling, evangelical Indiana Jones-like archeologist who acts out biblical prophecies" - just what we need); and Viking's Leslie Gelman throwing LaHaye offers in "the many millions of dollars" for another four-book deal called "The Jesus Chronicles"; and Kensington beseeching LaHaye to sign a two-book deal for Easter and Christmas, I wonder what those folks are thinking.
Sure, they're probably hoping the 60 million readers of "Left Behind" will want to gobble up more LaHaye titles, whatever they are (who cares?). They're thinking how happy the buyers at Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Costco and Borders will be to order more LaHaye and possibly consider new authors on the list who might have been overlooked before - not a lot of "secular humanists," maybe, but certainly more global thriller writers the world can't do without.
And as these publishing people compete with each other to get to Lahaye, they may be thinking how craven they should act, how they might cry "We're not worthy!" and wave lotsa cash around instead of promising a check. They might even see themselves fulfilling the Ben Bagdikian prediction of nearly 30 years ago, that when merger mania hit New York, the only job worth doing for the Irwyn Applebaums of the world is to sign up, at almost any cost, the kind of author who makes the money that feeds the corporation that pleases the stockholders. Bertelsmann, which owns Bantam and 6,283,840 other imprints, will be proud.
Hatred as Literary "Product"
But personally, well, I dunno. If I were Irwyn Applebaum et al, I couldn't do it. Christian Right authors of Tim LaHaye's stripe hate Jews, hate women, hate Catholics, hate gays, hate independent thought. They are hate-mongerers, fear-mongerers, war-mongerers. Jews were their first target and Catholics their second and then all the "swarthy men" they could find in their crosshairs after 9/11. That's a lot of people to hate, and if you're one of the hated number, and you *still* want to make money off that hatred by publishing books that help *spread* the hatred - well, it's painful to fathom.
Thank heaven Christian Right authors like LaHaye still embarrass, perhaps disgust, many Christian booksellers and publishers. And here's hoping that if Bush loses, the atmosphere from the White House that welcomes fanatic Christian Right ideas will fade away, sending many of these books to their own Rapture, i.e., the remainder bins of America.
On the other hand, if Bush wins, as a former Reagan adviser put it Sunday, "there will be a civil war in the Republican Party," and in part it will be a raging conflict "between reason and religion," according to the New York Times Magazine. Bush will win that war because he "truly believes he's on a mission from God," as does LaHaye.
So fine. Give LaHaye the money. Maybe we'll just appreciate it all the more when Bertelsmann allows the Applebaums of the world to spend money on real talent.
Meanwhile, there is an amusing aspect to the Observer story: Remember when mainstream publishers spotted a trend-in-the-making and ran off to do copycat books of their own? Tom Clancy's first book initiated the military techno-thriller era, for example. Stephen Hawking did the same with quantum-physics-made-easy books, Danielle Steel the same for romance fiction, Shakti Gawain for New Age spirituality, Dr. Blank-Blank (who can remember) for running and fitness books, and others for organic foods, sex after 40/50/60/70/150, Prozac and the like. Today's books on yoga, ChickLit, viagra and Bush vs. Kerry are happily glutting the market in the same way.
But all of these trends have been eclipsed by Tim LaHaye, the latest phenomenon in mainstream publishing: Here we have a single author *becoming his own trend,* published by many different publishers from New York, and one of the reasons for their ardor is that they see him as the new golden calf! Now there's a biblical prophesy: After a lifetime of bouncing around trying to pin the world's evils on "secular humanists," LaHaye has found new fame as a false idol of the new century! Who in LaHaye's shoes could ask for more?
Dear Holt Uncensored,
Two comments arising from my reading of issue #389 [on Xlibris' offer of sending out press releases as a "marketing" service; and on tips for dreaming up fresh and catchy titles for books]:
1. Regarding the so-called free author publicity at Xlibris, there is another way. Please tell authors of how-to books on art and entertainment to contact us. We post online interviews with authors of the books we sell--no charge, no gimmicks, no catches. Our goals are to sell books and to establish a vibrant creative community. We cover animation, filmmaking, music, art, writing, game development, photography, 3D modeling, and so on. By the way, we are located in California and do not outsource anything to other countries.
2. As to the perfect book title, please consider the importance of key words that can be found by search engines. Catchy titles are all well and good when books first come out, but mid-list books need to be discovered. The best way to make that happen is to assign a title that accurately describes the content. Okay, yes, I'll admit it: I'm an ex-librarian.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
So, is there a POD (print-on-demand) publisher that authors can feel good about? I'm starting to think that if an author is considering any level of self-publishing, they'd be better off hiring an editor, designer, printer and publicist on their own.
Holt responds: I felt that way until reading MJ Rose's letter below about BookLocker. I'd love to run emails about other good ones. Dear Holt Uncensored,
About your article in #389 regarding the marketing services that Xlibiris and all the other POD houses has been making me sick for ages.
I first covered how these POD services were treating writers and the new consumers in 2000 at Wired when I wrote a column there. And since then it's only gotten worse. I've been in contact with the heads of these companies and talked to them about the way they basically lie to writers about what those services will do for them and the real value of them and listened to their spiels.
What it boils down to is that they are business people and their attitude is hey - why not treat writers like every other consumer and try to milk them dry? That's the American way, right?
It just does seem so dishonest to imply that a press release is worth anything like that amount -- or that any media outlet will even notice those releases with the number they get every day, as you so wisely pointed out.
I've actually seen and read the marketing materials that those companies offer to their writers and their advice is so basic and unhelpful, I've been really amazed they have the nerve to charge for it.
For less than 25 dollars a writer can buy Jacqueline Deval's "Publicize your Book," and Doug Clegg's and my "Buzz Your Book" and learn just about everything they need to know about how to do what the POD companies offer.
Speaking of POD companies that are different and have respect for writers (since the head of this POD firm is a writer - she gets it) Angela and Richard Hoy's Booklocker is the only POD company I know of that doesn't offer that fake marketing stuff and delivers without hype and lies. (Caveat - Angela has become a friend and I co-wrote a marketing book with her.) But since I've been recommending her I have never heard a single complaint about the company.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
I was reading your latest (#389), and I'm struck by the fact that in the USA it seems people are railing against the same problem as they do here in Australia: the outsourcing of jobs to India, Philippines, etc.
We as a small (even micro-) publisher have an unbreakable tenet: All books published are by Australians, the staff in-house are all Australians, the printer is in Australia, the stock he uses has to be Australian papers, and no distribution to multi-national giant (read: American) booksellers takes place - they can still buy the product, but on the same terms as small booksellers, or not at all.
This takes some courage, as you'll imagine, and we recently had a low key visit from an American bookseller's representative handing out some veiled threats about what we'll be able to do under the Free Trade Agreement (the what?) in time to come.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
What are your resources for story about the Bush administration outsourcing campaign telecommunications to other countries?
Dear Many Readers: Thanks to all who wrote about this and please accept my apology for not running links with the story. Here are two good ones:
The Telegraph of Calcutta was responsible for the hilarious story about the Indian telecommuter who swore he was calling from "The Washington D.C. of Virginia" - see http://www.telegraphindia.com/1040830/asp/frontpage/story_3694663.asp
And the Asia Times not only names names of companies and regions where about Bush's campaign has been outsourced, it offers related links that are just as intriguing. See http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/FE19Df04.html
Dear Holt Uncensored,
I urge you to reconsider your position on outsourcing. It can be and is a very good thing both for U.S. and overseas companies. The benefits to U.S. companies, if implemented correctly, are obvious and innumerable, so I won't go into that. The benefits for overseas companies and their workers are also innumerable though not as obvious.
John Stossel of ABC's 20/20 reported on this phenomenon a few years ago and his argument still holds true. While the wages US companies pay their overseas workers are "slave" wages, they are considered that only by citizens in the US. The overseas workers that US companies employ need and love those jobs as they are better in virtually every respect than the jobs many of them could otherwise obtain.
I saw this first-hand myself when I visited the Philippines. Young girls would urinate and defecate on the side of the road. They would sell their bodies to American tourists for just a few dollars. Any jobs that could extract them from those situations, even if it distasteful to us, should be supported, in my opinion.
Below, I have included a link to John Stossel's report, which is much more eloquent and better argued than what I have written. http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/GiveMeABreak/gmab_sweatshops031011-1.html
Holt responds: I don't think it's not a matter of "slave wages" that is primarily at issue but "slave treatment" of workers. And the problem at home is whether a consumer can know, when a label says "Made in Malaysia," let's say, whether the product comes from outsourcing that pays well or outsourcing that chains 12-year-olds to machines where they eat, nap and work for wages that are rotten by anybody's viewpoint. As Naomi Klein writes in the eye-opening "No Logo" (see #115), bidding wars for factories are fierce among Third World countries and tax/wage waivers are given out so liberally to American subcontractors and sub-subcontractors that in the end, nobody can tell who makes what, and that includes celebrities such as Kathie Lee Gifford. The victims tend to be children working on double and triple shifts in filthy conditions, so when in doubt, I tend not to buy products with any hint of outsourcing.
For those who want to stop outsourcing and "offshoring," which I believe is the same thing, The National Writers Union has joined with other unions to issue the following warning about several bills in California:
"We [the NWU] urge you to immediately contact Governor Schwarzenegger* and press him to sign the following 4 anti-offshoring bills that have been passed by the legislature:
* AB1829: Government Offshoring. Prohibits state agencies from offshoring government work, or using contractors who offshore work paid for by the state.
* SB1492: Confidential Information. Prohibits sending personal medical information outside the U.S.
* AB3021: Offshoring Reports. Require all employers with more than 250 employees to publicly report information regarding offshore work.
* SB888: Homeland Security. Prohibits national and homeland security work from being performed outside the U.S.
"For the complete text and history of these bills, go to:
"There are a number of ways to contact Governor Schwarzenegger:
"You do not have to write a complicated message (though you can if you wish). Your message can be as simple as: 'Please sign AB1829, AB3021, SB1492, and SB88.' "
National Writers Union
Dear Holt Uncensored,
Whether or not the title of your book was the "right" title for the market (personally, I liked it), the title you used in your article was definitely the *wrong* title.
As I recall, the title of your book was "The Bug in the Martini Olive," not "The Bug in the Martin Olive." I'm sure there's no such think as a martin olive.
Holt responds. Thanks to you and the many writers who caught this typo, which I am shamefaced to say not only got past our army of copy editors but also happened to show why carelessness itself may be the culprit in any article about "wrong" titles.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
My very favorite title is one by the British humorist Alan Coren. It features a red dustjacket with a white circle and black swastika and the title, "Golfing for Cats." The premise was that the bestselling books that year, maybe 1975, were about Nazis, Cats and Golf in that order.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
About your comments on book titles: There's the old gag about the popularity of each word in "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog," and if you Google that, you'll find that at least three books have been published with that title.
At a fantasy-and-science-fiction conference some years ago, a number of editors and publishers were kicking this matter around during a penal discussion -- whoops, I meant to say, a panel discussion. They agreed that certain words were certain to sell fantasy novels. "God" or "Gods" was one, "Unicorn" was always popular, and there was always that good old standby, "Naked."
I was sitting in the audience and raised my hand. "How would you feel about a book called 'God of the Naked Unicorn'?"
The response - in unison - "I'll buy it!" So I went home and wrote "God of the Naked Unicorn." Not a novel, just a novelette. Sold it to a magazine on the first try. A few months later it appeared in print in the U.S. It was promptly picked up by a reprint house in France. And it's about to appear in the U.S. again, in an anthology edited by the brilliant Michael Kurland.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
My interest is to help retain independent bookstores and to help them to thrive.
I'm a rank outsider, but I know enough about commerce of any kind to know that entrepreneurs look for opportunity that's not being met and they go where the buyers are. I know too of the assault of the corporations: how they sweep markets clean by glitz, by the attractions of "names," heavy ad budgets and vicious targeting tactics. I know that billions can be made practically by selling air itself. I write what's commonplace to your beleaguered fans. Such actions ruin moral, frugal pricing.
But an old boss of mine said I should always look for the market. I realize the men and women out there struggling have scant time and resources to put into bringing economic facts about their business to bear on their quest for survival. But that simply must be done.
And I propose that some group of y'all should fund studies of existing creative ventures that develop markets. Benchmark them. Lots of people lean into just such challenges. I was reading about a quirky but gifted inventor of the not-so-yesteryear, John Hays Hammond, Jr. Cape Ann, Massachusetts residents know who I'm talking about. Well, he invented a gizmo to radio control ships. Ok, not so advanced by our standards, but latter-day scientists, pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants like Hammond, used his kind of insight to put a man on the moon.
My point here is that we may be only as far away of some gifted bookseller's brain to accomplishing the desired goal: a stable, thriving independent market for books.
I hope this does not come across as paltry. I know this. My generation can still barely remember when the Strand Bookstore was one of scores all along Fourth Avenue in Manhattan. The guy behind the counter knew all the volumes, and the customers revelled in spending quality time searching, browsing and the wonder of it! In one of those now deceased troves, one fine day years ago, I found two volumes of Krisin Lavransdatter. No third. I looked and looked and far from the site of the find, I hit on the third.I want that back. By way of encouragement, Daniel O'Connell, Irish statesman, made it to Parliament in part by the device of raising money on the backs of his poor Irish supporters by charging them a pence each. Plenty for them to pay, but not much in the grand scheme of things.
Holt responds: Each time I think every last option for independent bookstores has been exhausted, I'm surprised again at the endlessly inventive and optimistic ways that booksellers have indeed "researched" their markets, found new audiences and brought back established customers. I'm hardly alone in feeling astonished that as other kinds of retailers drop like flies all around us, independent bookstores not only hang in there but also make the First Amendment a practical, applicable, accessible ideal by offering readers real choices in the books they read, not just a formula buy from an office 3000 miles away. Perhaps customers who "want that experience back" can help do some "market research" and find more new ways to make it permanent.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
This is the first time author Patricia Cornwell hasn't done a booksigning to promote her latest work. Although I've watched her signature turn into one of the most forged out there (a bookseller friend tells me), and I can't blame her for avoiding signings, do you have the real reason for her withdrawal? She's always been an indefatigable self-promoter -- almost shamelessly so. So I'm curious why this little dynamo has finally said *no mas.*
Y.A.A. (Yet Another Author)
Holt responds: Cornwell has been threatening for years to step out of the limelight and let her books do the work of finding their audience. Other bestselling authors - Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard come to mind - have pulled back, too, and perhaps the lesson is that although their books do take a hit in sales, audiences seem to "forgive" them and resume buying books at earlier rates. Cornwell's latest, "Trace," didn't seem to fall off the charts all that earlier than usual, so maybe there's hope for privacy-seeking authors.
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
To subscribe, send a blank email to:
To unsubscribe, send a blank email to: