Aspire to see your book land on the New York Times bestseller list?
With a couple hundred thousand dollars and the services of an enterprising – if dubious – marketing outfit, you can.
That’s according to new reports outlining how Mark Driscoll, an evangelical pastor, paid $210,000 to ResultSource Inc., a professional firm in the business of making bestsellers. The result? Driscoll’s book, “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together,” which he wrote with his wife Grace, skyrocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list before dropping abruptly off.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard of, or reported on, this practice. The Wall Street Journal broke the story about ResultSource in 2013, which we reported on in “How to buy your way onto the bestseller list.”
"Precisely how [ResultSource] goes about [its business] is unclear," the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
No longer. A recent report in World Magazine gave a more detailed account about how businesses like ResultSource go about creating bestsellers.
According to the report, Driscoll’s church, Mars Hill Church, paid some $210,000 to ResultSource and entered into an agreement in October 2011 for the company “to conduct a bestseller campaign for [the] book, ‘Real Marriage’ on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place ‘Real Marriage’ on the New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-to list.”
As it so happens, “Real Marriage” led the Times’ hardcover advice bestseller list on Jan. 22, 2012. The following week, reports the Los Angeles Times, it was gone.
“The spike onto a bestseller list and then disappearance – as opposed to an up-and-down arc, or a high debut followed by a decline – can indicate something other than typical consumer book-buying behavior,” the LA Times reports.
Here’s what ResultSource did to land “Real Marriage” on one of the most sought-after lists in publishing. It started by placing a large order for a lot of copies of “Real Marriage” – 11,000, to be exact, all in one week. And the company went to great lengths to make it appear the books had been bought by individuals so as to fool book sales talliers like BookScan which exist to ensure bestsellers are legitimate.
According to the World’s report, "The contract called for the 'author' to 'provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the makeup of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.'"
It doesn’t end there. Once it rounded up thousands of supposed purchasers with addresses from across the country, ResultSource made sure the payment systems also appeared diverse and could withstand scrutiny.
According to the agreement, “"RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc)."
That’s a lot of hoops to jump through – not to mention money spent – to create a bestseller.
And in the case of “Real Marriage,” it’s not simply an issue of an author using dubious means to artificially place his book on the bestseller list – it’s also the case of a religious leader allegedly using his community’s church funds, to the tune of $210,000, to give his book a one-week boost on the New York Times bestseller list.
“Would churchgoing Christians really consider this to be the best possible use of Mars Hill funds?” asks Seattle’s alternative weekly “The Stranger.”
As World Magazine reporter Warren Cole Smith put it, “What we’re talking about here is a quarter of a million dollars that apparently Mars Hill Church spent…This is a very unusual practice … I think many people find the practice distasteful if not immoral.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
A (short) trailer has arrived for the upcoming film adaptation of the “Paddington” children’s series by Michael Bond.
The trailer shows a boat coming from Peru, Paddington the Bear’s original home. “From the jungles of Peru comes an unexpected arrival,” the trailer states, followed by a quick glimpse of Paddington in his famous red hat.
The “Paddington” series, the first book of which was released in 1958, follows a small bear who is found by a family at London’s Paddington Station. The Brown family decides to adopt him and name him after the station at which they found him. Paddington loves marmalade and is often depicted wearing the red hat and a blue coat.
The books have previously been adapted as a TV series in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.
For the “Paddington” film, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” actor Colin Firth will voice the titular bear (he will be computer-generated), while “Downton Abbey” actor Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins of “Blue Jasmine” will portray the Brown parents. Nicole Kidman will portray an evil taxidermist.
The film will be released on Dec. 12.
Check out the full trailer.
After the identity of the person behind the Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip Twitter account was revealed – and it was discovered that he is not currently a Goldman Sachs employee – publisher Simon & Schuster initially said it would still release the book by former banker John Lefevre but has now canceled the book deal.
As we previously reported, the person behind the Twitter account, who was still anonymous at the time, secured a deal with Simon & Schuster to release a book titled “Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking” this October.
The New York Times revealed late last month that Lefevre had written the tweets and that he does not currently work at Goldman Sachs (he worked for Citigroup for seven years and at one point was offered a job with Goldman Sachs, but never worked there, according to the company. He now lives in Texas). Simon & Schuster initially stood by Lefevre, with the editor of “Straight,” Matthew Benjamin, telling the NYT, “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise. That you’re writing about him speaks to the interest he’s generated. We always expected his identity to be revealed at some point.”
However, yesterday Simon & Schuster announced it had canceled its agreement with Lefevre.
“In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre’s ‘Straight to Hell,’ Touchstone [an imprint of Simon & Schuster] has decided to cancel its publication of this work,” the publisher said in a statement.
Lefevre was not pleased.
“It's just a comical mystery to me," he told Business Insider (BI). "After all of the noise — during which Simon & Schuster prohibited me from responding and defending myself — they have continued to support me and stand by our project. Well, until today, apparently.”
In response to similar comments made by Lefevre to the NYT, Touchstone publicity director Brian Belfiglio said, “We never muzzle our authors.”
As for the content of the Twitter account, Lefevre wrote a column for Business Insider after his identity was made public.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overhead in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot,” he wrote.
Separately, he told the NYT of his tweets, “I’ve been collecting these stories for years.”
If “Straight” is published, Lefevre wrote in his BI column that the book is not just his tweets but is “a collection of true stories from my experiences directing traffic at Wall Street’s epicenter – the bond syndicate desk.”
It’s no secret that many in our modern age have trouble getting the sleep they need – 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues, according to the CDC – and now that problem is popping up as a plot point in the literary world.
“Swamplandia!” author Karen Russell will release a Kindle-only novella later this month titled “Sleep Donation” that Amazon selected as one of its 10 best works of March. In “Donation,” many Americans can no longer sleep and an organization asks those that can still do so to donate some of their sleep to someone who can’t. A recruiter for the organization, known as the Slumber Corps, soon finds herself questioning her trust in the Corps.
“It’s a hilarious concept,” Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson said of Russell’s concept of giving your sleep to others.
Meanwhile, another slumber-focused book has appeared on the scene. Debut novelist Kenneth Calhoun released a book titled “Black Moon” earlier this week which takes place in a world where insomnia is sweeping the globe. Protagonist Matthew Biggs is one of the last people who can still succumb to slumber and must deal with a world populated by those driven insane by lack of sleep.
NPR writer Jason Heller says that “Moon” “isn’t just another spin of the post-apocalypse plot wheel.”
“Many authors have tackled the mystique of sleeplessness — but few have done so with the grotesque grace and poetic insight of "Black Moon",” he writes.
Will more stories pop up that center on the appeal and lack of sleep? Difficult to say, but Russell and Calhoun’s works will likely have you reaching for the Sleepytime tea.
Should Amazon require users to identify themselves when posting comments on products?
Author Anne Rice and others have signed a petition created by a Change.org user named Todd Barselow which urges Amazon to require identity verification for commenters. The petition focuses particularly on book reviews.
“People have found ways to exploit this flaw in the system and are using it to bully, harass, and generally make life miserable for certain authors on Amazon,” Barselow wrote of the ability of users to comment anonymously. “These people are able to create multiple accounts and then use those accounts to viciously attack and go after any author or person that they feel doesn't belong on Amazon or who shouldn't have published a book, made a comment on a forum post, etc. With the current system, if one anonymous account gets deactivated because it was reported for these things, it is easy for the bully or harasser to simply create another anonymous account and continue on with their shenanigans.”
Barselow mentioned Rice by name and that he was “sure that she will support this petition” because she had experienced “vitriol and hatred” from Amazon users.
Rice did indeed stand behind the petition, which has now reached almost 3,000 signatures.
“My experience with the gangster bullies in the Forum has been very bleak and ugly,” Rice wrote on the petition. “I post there under my own name. They blatantly violate your guidelines with personal insults and harassing posts. If you would only apply your own guidelines this would greatly help.”
Online book reviews have certainly experienced growing pains – as reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, authors have been caught giving their own books positive reviews online and in 2012, the New York Times wrote an article examining entrepreneur Todd Jason Rutherford, who made hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling good reviews.
One of the greatest spy novelists of all time surprised some fans when he took a public swipe at real-life intelligence agencies in a letter published in a UK newspaper.
In a letter published in the UK’s Telegraph, John le Carre warned that intelligence agencies could “become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies,” if not subjected to close oversight.
From a novelist whose life work has been built on the secret stories of spy agencies, real or imagined, the remark is significant. His letter reveals the extent to which he is critical of intelligence agencies.
Le Carre's letter was written in response to news of a quarrel between le Carre and the late John Bingham, le Carre’s famous British Secret Service mentor upon whom he based the fictional character George Smiley. According to reports, Bingham “deplored” and was “hurt” by le Carre’s portrayal of the “secret world” of intelligence agencies.
“[Bingham] was not treated as respectfully as he deserved by his protégé, John le Carré, who immortalized him as George Smiley. He was hurt by the portrayal of his secret world in the novels. The author, Bingham once said, 'was my friend, but I deplore and hate everything he has done and said against the intelligence services,'” one Lord Lexden wrote in a letter published in the Telegraph.
In response to Lexden's letter, le Carre affirmed his affection and admiration for Bingham but was unyielding in his strong language about the dark side of intelligence agencies.
“Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies,” he wrote.
He continued, “John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence.”
News reports have pointed out the sting of le Carre’s final remarks, which no doubt point to the flawed intelligence which led to the Iraq war.
Here in the US and in the UK, the letters have inspired discussion regarding the portrayal of spies and intelligence agencies in movies and novels.
For his part, le Carre wrote “I had, and shall always have, unqualified admiration for [Bingham’s] intelligence skills and achievements. He was a most honourable, patriotic and gifted man, and we had wonderful times together. And surely there can be few better tributes to a friend and colleague than to create – if only from some of his parts – a fictional character, George Smiley, who has given pleasure and food for thought to an admiring public.”
Le Carre’s novels, and this more recent exchange on the portrayal of spy agencies, we think, provides food for thought for discerning readers to form their own opinions on the value (or lack thereof) of fictional portrayals of government espionage – and the potential dangers of intelligence services.
According to new information from the NOP World Culture Score Index, residents of India and of Thailand spend the most time reading per week of the countries measured, while the US trails behind at number 22.
According to the NOP World Culture Score Index, residents of India spend an average of 10.42 hours a week reading. Thailand came in at number two with residents reading an average of 9.24 hours every week and China was third with 8 hours. The Philippines followed with an average of 7.36 and Egypt was fifth with an average of 7.30.
The average time an American spends reading is 5.42 hours.
io9 writer Charlie Jane Anders discussed the new data in her column titled "Does anybody read books the right way anymore?," noting that adults sitting down on the sofa with a title and poring over it for hours is less and less common.
"We've never had more distractions keeping us from focusing totally on a book as we have today," Anders wrote. "...Now that we read on e-readers and phones, do we tend to read a few minutes at a time, instead of sitting in a chair for an hour or two?"
Anders noted that reading in short bursts mean we get less immersed in a story.
"It does feel, subjectively, as though when I pick up a book for a spell here and there, I tend to forget the details of the plot more and maybe get less engrossed in the story," she wrote. "And books, even more than television or movies, may reward sustained, slow attention in a way that can't be replicated with speed-reading apps and random glances."
We wonder how that average is spread out across the country, especially considering another recent survey by Central Connecticut State University president John Miller which studied which US cities are the most well-read. Washington, D.C. topped the list, while Seattle came in second and Minneapolis was third.
Following in the footsteps of its fellow young-adult-series franchise “The Hunger Games,” the company behind the “Divergent” films has teamed up with a makeup company to release a line based on the world of the novels by Veronica Roth.
The company Sephora has released nail polish and various makeup products that use the colors of each “faction” in the book series. (In Roth’s universe, citizens are sorted into a faction based on their personalities. Faction traits include kindness and bravery.)
“This enormous multi-piece kit allows you to be brave, selfless, intelligent, honest, and kind all at once,” the Sephora site description of the Divergent Multi-Piece Collectors’ Kit reads. Products such as blush, lip gloss, and eye shadows are included.
To tie in with the “Hunger Games” films, Cover Girl released makeup products based on the Districts described in the series (for example, a “District 3” look included blue and green because the area is responsible for fishing). In addition, clothing based on the over-the-top fashions worn by Capitol residents in the “Hunger Games” world and designed by the franchise’s costume designer, Trish Summerville, were made available through the retailer Net-A-Porter.
“Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins spoke in favor of the tie-ins, which also included an online magazine titled Capitol Couture. The magazine included “interviews” with the characters.
“I’m thrilled with the work Tim Palen and his marketing team have done on the film,” Collins told Variety via e-mail. “It’s appropriately disturbing and thought-provoking how the campaign promotes ‘Catching Fire’ while simultaneously promoting the Capitol’s punitive forms of entertainment. The stunning image of Katniss in her wedding dress that we use to sell tickets is just the kind of thing the Capitol would use to rev up its audience for the Quarter Quell [the name of the games in “Catching Fire”]. That dualistic approach is very much in keeping with the books.”
Agatha Christie’s characters Tommy and Tuppence Beresford will be at the center of another TV adaptation, with the BBC planning to adapt the short story collection “Partners in Crime” for Christmas 2015, according to the Telegraph.
“Crime” is the short story collection by Christie which centered on Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who solve mysteries. Tommy and Tuppence appeared in four of Christie’s novels as well as “Crime,” which was released in 1929 and consisted of 15 stories.
It was recently announced that actor David Walliams of the TV show “Big School” will star on the six-part BBC series as Tommy.
“In bringing these thrilling stories to the screen, it is our ambition for Tommy and Tuppence to finally take their rightful place alongside Poirot and Marple as iconic Agatha Christie characters,” Walliams said, according to the Telegraph. “I was first drawn to the delicious notion of a married couple solving crimes together, and the more I read of the Tommy and Tuppence novels and short stories I realized they are among Christie's very best work.”
Actors James Warwick and Francesca Annis portrayed Tommy and Tuppence in both the 1982 film “The Secret Adversary” and the British television series “Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime,” which aired from 1983 to 1984.
2015 will be the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth and other Christie programs are slated to air on the BBC, including a new TV adaptation of her novel “And Then There Were None” and several documentaries about the author.
Literary adaptations again scored big at the Academy Awards, with the movie “12 Years a Slave” (based on the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup) taking Best Picture as well as other awards and other adapted films also scoring prizes.
In addition to Best Picture, “Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress award for her work in the film and the movie itself won Best Adapted Screenplay.
Other adapted films that scored Oscars last night included “Frozen,” which is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and won Best Animated Feature as well as receiving the Best Original Song prize for “Let It Go.”
Those behind the 2013 film adaptation F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” also went home with a couple of statuettes, with the movie winning the Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
It was an interesting Oscars ceremony this year, with many saying that the Best Picture race between “Slave” and the film “Gravity,” which follows astronauts in a crisis, was too close to predict. While usually the director for the Best Picture winner also takes the Best Director prize as well, this year “Gravity” helmer Alfonso Cuaron won the award but “Slave” was anointed Best Picture. However, the last time this happened was only last year because “Argo” director Ben Affleck, whose movie won Best Picture, wasn’t even nominated for the Best Director prize. (Ang Lee took the award for the film “Life of Pi.”) Before that, the last time there was a split was in 2006, when director Lee took Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain” but the film “Crash” won Best Picture.
As for last night’s other prizes, “Dallas Buyers Club” actor Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett of “Blue Jasmine” won Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. “Dallas Buyers Club” actor Jared Leto took home the Best Supporting Actor prize.