My brother – who contributed to a book I edited, and occasionally writes reviews of books I’ve worked on – pointed me to a really interesting Twitter thread by Beth Moore.
Some context might be useful.
I work in Christian publishing – at the moment doing a hybrid role that spans commissioning (finding and editing books) and marketing (telling people about them and shaping books to make them easier to find). My brother is PhD student and a blogger, and Beth Moore is a ‘big name’ in the Christian book world – to be honest, if she wanted to endorse a book I was working on, I’d be delighted.
Or would I? To be honest, it would depend on the book.
This is one of the problems – there are a lot of books, and most of us don’t have time to read most of them. This, I think, is why endorsements (and forewords, afterwords and other related things) can be useful.
What is the purpose of book endorsements? From my perspective, ‘on the inside’, book endorsements do a few things
- they allow us [publishers/authors] to get some feedback on books before they are published, by critical friends [more on this later]
- they tell readers about a book – is it safe/relevant/interesting/good – and often (to be honest it annoys me when endorsers do this) about the author. Sometimes this latter part is really helpful – for example with an unknown or debut author, it helps to have a trusted voice giving them a leg up – other times it can just seem like a circle of friends endlessly patting each other on the back
- they allow publishers and authors to effectively network about their book – inviting in different parts of the church, or perhaps alerting ‘normal’ readers to a particularly important or readable academic book
- they help readers find books. Part of this is when an endorsement (either printed on/in the book or on an associated web page) means that google points to something, part of this is when endorsers really like a book, and either recommend it themselves online, or at an event
- they give bookshops, media outlets, reviewers and other interested parties a clue as to where the book is coming from and what it might do
There are lots of reasons why endorsements might be a bad idea – particularly if they are coming from the less ethical end of the endorsements game. What Beth Moore highlights as an issue [publishers providing prospective endorsers with some nice words so that they don’t have to actually read the book] is something I’m not aware of happening on any books I’ve worked on (Certainly none of the books I’ve commissioned) but fits with my experience and perception of the wider publishing industry, perhaps especially parts of the Christian publishing industry. When I send a book to endorsers, I’ve found (as editor – authors may have different experience) that if I email 10 people, 2-3 will be too busy, 1-3 will say they’ll do it and then not read it and not send anything, and the rest will read it and give feedback at various levels, sometimes too long for an endorsement! I’ve had a few responses where the prospective endorser has clearly read the book and decided not to endorse it – this encourages me: I’ll ask them again!
I’m also conscious that rather than only being a random guy with a blog on Twitter, I also have direct power over the future of endorsements, within a small subset of the books published by my present employer. Here are a few things I’ve tried to do to make endorsements more helpful:
- 1. asked people with no obvious connection to the author to read and endorse a book. This can lead to some hilarious correspondence!
- 2. asked people with small or no platform to read and endorse a book. Why? Because their opinion is just as valid as a ‘big name’ – and they may well read it more carefully!
- 3. published a book with no endorsements printed in it. This was a deliberate choice – Chris Green’s ‘The Gift: How Your Leadership can serve your church’ is the christian leadership book I’ve wanted to see for a decade or so, and it’s been a privilege working with Chris on it. There aren’t any endorsements printed in it – the reviews on our website/amazon are of the final text, without the normal pressure to supply a short and pithy burst of positivity by a deadline.
- 4. deliberately not asking some/certain people to endorse everything they might – this is partly because I don’t want to overload busy people with reading (obviously I do, but I don’t) and also because it can be very exciting to endorse a book
- 5. deliberately not endorsing books I’ve been invited to endorse – which has probably backfired in that after a few months of being asked, I’m not being asked any more. That’s ok, commissioning and reading books is much more fun
- 6. taking feedback from endorsers about books. Recently an author tweaked a book by about 10% to get it to a point an endorser would put their name to it – this made it a better book. Another author added a section off the back of a question from an endorser.
- 7. diversifying the endorsers. This is tricky, impossible to get right, and I think a different thing than the platform point above. My general rule is this: if a book is having endorsements, then I want at least 1 of [or 20%] of the endorsers to NOT BE LIKE THE author in at least one of the following: church movement, sex, country/continent, theological position on something important but secondary (e.g. women in leadership), education level, age and stage, or race. This is something I’m in a work in progress on – but I hope to be able to look back and see a shift in endorsers of books I’ve commissioned or worked closely on to more accurately reflect the beautiful diversity of God’s people. It’s worth noting that, particularly in the evangelical end of things where I work, white men like me need to work extra hard not to then dump a load of work on people who by dint of being in a minority or a complex context (like a contact in Beirut!) are asked more than average.
- 8. having a paper trail. Ultimately, this business is about telling the truth. So I want to have reasonable confidence that endorsers have read it, and so that if a colleague (or an Agent from the Evangelical Bureau of Book Endorsement Accountability [EBOBEA, which does not exist]) asked, I could show how the endorsement happened and what else the endorse thought of the book. Obviously, publishers tend not to publicise lists of people who declined to endorse, or really didn’t like the book. [That’s what reviews are for!]
Those are some initial thoughts on book endorsements. Part of me wonders if some kind of pledge for authors, endorsers, and publishers might be an interesting exercise. If you think so, let me know in the comments.
It goes without saying that this blog post is my opinion and not the opinion of anyone I work with – it’s offered in a spirit of collegiality and dialogue, and I’ve disagreed with colleagues about endorsements in various directions at various times.