Check for $97

I've had an ongoing fight with an advertising book since October of 2005. I once believed in it, supported it and loved it. Others did too. And then someone with another opinion took over and after one brief paragraph the fight began.

" startling features to distinguish it...." All punches to my fragile pride.  

Tony Campolo had said it was "a must read for anyone who is trying to critique our culture and stand against its debilitating effects." Ron Sider called it "an important, urgent, penetrating analysis of how today's pervasive materialism seduces us and how biblical faith liberates us." The president emeritus of Bread for the World said that it was stellar.

I loved this praise. I had worked hard, cared deeply and had a grand vision of pulling materialistic America out of its blind consumption, and I wasn't alone. Jean Kilbourne, famed for her relentless and articulate beef with Madison Avenue since the 70s, stood behind me. She said I had done "a masterful job of demonstrating how the 'simulated gospel' of advertising perverts and distorts Jesus's message of love and compassion."

But insecurity confuses all of this. It doubts. It entertains unprovable possibilities. She was just being nice. He was paid to do it. He didn't really read it - just liked the title and first few pages and gambled on it being good. I've thought a hundred variations like these, all reminders that the only opinion I really believed was the one that started the fight. These were its offspring. 

One year after its release, On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope went out of print. I tried to forget about the whole thing until, several years later, Wipf & Stock Publishers asked if they could bring it back on a need to print basis. I didn't really care. Sure, I said. I disliked the new cover (I care enough about advertising to think it should be done well). They promised a dollar per copy and I signed. And then I forgot about it again.    

This morning I received a surprise check in the mail. Without telling my youngest daughter what it was for, I asked her to guess how much it might be worth. She said $5. I guessed $4.

It was $97. I'm not sure what to think about having sold 97 more copies of something collecting dust on the shelf and in my mind, but I smiled. Then not two minutes later I imagined a benefactor had set me up just like Pip in Great Expectations; someone nice and in the mood to send me a hug. Another doubt.  

This post may amount to being the worst book promotion ever, but I set out to write about a fight I continue having with myself, almost four decades old, book or no book. I'm haunted by fear and the criticism that lurks about.

Don't buy a copy because you feel bad for me. I've moved on in other ways. But if you want to read a simplistic, overstated, nothing new book that is simultaneously a masterfully demonstrated, important, urgent, penetrating analysis (See what goes on in mind?), you can find reviews and sources for the original here, or buy it direct from Wipf & Stock.

Better yet, call or email my favorite local bookstore, Hearts and Minds Books.


Melissa Miller,  November 1, 2011 at 6:49 PM  

Yea Sam!! So glad to hear your book is still being published and purchased. But most of all, thank you for your honesty regarding criticism. We're probably harshest on ourselves, and boy, doesn't the devil know which cards to play when we are doubting ourselves? I think he is especially persistent when what we are doing is for "good", and your book is just that. You wrote what you felt passionately about, and that is the best way to write...and just what the devil would like to "squash".

Congratulations again...I'm inspired to "dust off" my original copy. :) November 1, 2011 at 8:09 PM  

This is - I want to say - Precious.

Sam Van Eman November 1, 2011 at 11:15 PM  

Melissa, you know this weakness of mine and I've always appreciated your encouragement.

Brad, I first read "precious" with Gollum's voice in my head. Fitting, eh? :)

Ann Kroeker November 2, 2011 at 11:11 PM  

I find my first book, The Contemplative Mom, on discount tables and for cheap on seller accounts. I even found a copy at the library book sale one time--how could the library be done with it?

Still, I get enough comments from readers that the book may have some life in it, just as your book is proving to have. Well done. What was it David Dark said? Or maybe it was Julia Kasdorf, but someone said, "Receive the affirmations."

Receive it, Sam.

Sheila November 2, 2011 at 11:19 PM  

I love this story. I love your openhearted telling of it. That transparency is invaluable. Thank you.

Sam Van Eman November 3, 2011 at 2:06 PM  

Ann, the library! Hey, I remember the first time a friend told me he found a copy of On Earth... at the discount store, Ollie's. Good thing I like Ollie's.

Sheila, I've been so up and down with this thing that I'm not sure I know how to be anything but transparent about it.

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