Clever Titles Do Not Sell Books

I’ve written five books and am about to release my sixth. I never thought Id write one book.

I have had an interesting journey with book titles. Titles are very very very important however as stand alone elements, they don’t sell books. People buy books for a variety of reasons the chief one being a friend who recommends it to you or if the title immediately indicates that the book will solve a problem for you

My friend Paul wrote The Shack, which so far has sold 20 million copies in the past 8 years and been read by at least 100 million other people who were lent a copy by their friend. What does the title say? Not much, but the image on the cover says ‘mystery” inside and that promise along with the incredible word of mouth the book has received has been enough to prompt millions of people to take a chance.

While spending the 2-3 seconds humans typically allot for reflecting on a book title, the subconscious question we’re really asking is “is it worth it?” People’s relationship with time is our fiercest opponent when it comes to motivating them to take a chance on a book. The title can tilt them. All other things being equal, the title is the proverbial toe in the door.

For example I recently read (consumed is more apt) a book titled “Markets of One”. I liked the interplay between the word Markets (plural) with the word One (singular). That title suggested that getting people to buy new ideas, (a topic of great interest to me) really is just as I suspected a highly individualized process. The main title was enhanced by the fore title, “113 million” which I only noticed as my mind scanned the page for other reasons to suggest that this book might satiate my curiosity about human behavior. (Which it did and which is why I now recommend “Markets of One” as one of the most important books I’ve read in the past 5 years)

I offer this as backdrop as to why I’ve decided to stick with the much disputed  for the title for my new book.

My co-author Doug Murren and I have had front row (well… front section) seats in the development of evangelical Christianity over the past 45 years, most of them spent as pastors. Consequently we think we see patterns that explain why our current version of Christianity is uniquely welcoming to bullies and how to put a stop to it. That’s why the subtitle Why The Church Welcomes Bullies and How To Stop It will be prominently displayed. That’s the rational promise we’re making to thousands of religious people who have suffered in silence from religious abuse and feel alone. We are also hoping to “telegraph” a message to our non- religious friends who have watched Christians sit silently by as some of our leaders publicly abuse power and wonder why we allow them to get away with it.

But why the image…? Why not just title the book Question Mark.

(FWIW we do anticipate that QM will be the title people will enter when searching on Amazon or BN)

This is a very relevant and reasonable question, especially given my track record of book sales, which if nothing else has proven that a clever title does not a best seller make. I mean how cool is this title? – The Resignation of Eve what if Adams rib is no longer willing to be the church’s backbone? – that cleverly titled book probably sold fewer than 2000 copies. You know why? Pastors don’t feel threatened (yet) by the promise the book made. As clever as the title is, it’s not clever enough to overcome what James Davison Hunter refers to as “agency” or the role cultural elites play in determining what gets to market and who gets to “see” it.


The ? is clearly (if not cleverly) meant to link the most recent public soap opera involving a religious leader with the topic of religious abuse. Why?

This book was intentionally produced in 90 days so that it could address issues people are feeling in real time. As an author of non-fiction material I detest being told I have to wait 1-2 years for my thoughts to “go public”. The Internet has permanently disrupted that process. Consumers won’t wait because they don’t have to. Not only that, for more and more public thinkers and speakers, books will cease to be the first way people engage with your ideas. That will more likely happen via a blog, YouTube, podcast or even a small “house concert”. In the near future your “books” will be relevant “after” people sample you via another form of media. Your book will not be for people who want to “take a chance” on you but for people who are asking you to “tell me more”. In other words your book will become an adjunct to you rather than an introduction to you. That’s why I intend to produce “90 day books” a line of books that are produced as events transpire so that readers can get a deeper dive into the idea or issue they’re curious about from a person they like and trust. That’s the human process.

The current process we inherited locates that trust in an institution called a “publishing house” which determines that such and such author is worthy of their brand signaling that you can take a chance on them. Now the roles have been reversed. Whatever services publishers ultimately end up providing authors in terms of taking their ideas public are yet to be determined. Publishers that figure out why they should get a percentage of income for services rendered will survive the others will die.

This book was produced in 90 days because during that time the topic of religious bullying has been given historic levels of visibility through very public displays of hubris by Mark Driscoll. Without Driscoll this would be another “me too” book on spiritual abuse.

In our opinion, given the cultural relevance, to not associate the topic of religious bullying with Driscoll would be intellectually dishonest and pastorally irresponsible.

In our book we avail ourselves of the very public record of Driscolls’ fall into grace (our hopeful reframe for him). We are not reticent to call out his abusive patterns since anyone can access them the same way we did using Google. However our larger point is highlighted by the subtitle – the systemic reasons a young man like Driscoll made it to the very top levels of influence in modern day Christianity. Why didn’t his mentors spot his dysfunction earlier in his development? Why are other young men currently being groomed to take his place? Why is the church complicit? Why don’t religious people police themselves rather than waiting for “the world” to notice and then when they do, claim that we’re being persecuted or shooting our wounded?

These are the systemic issues we address but would have no audience for were it not for the actions of one very influential and very ill young man named mark.





My Birthday Wish

I’m blowing out 67 imaginary candles and making a “wish”. Here’s my wish. I wish that Christians, Atheists and all people would trade in certainty for faith. (Hey its my birthday – a guy can wish can’t he?)

Something I Don’t Understand About Christians (or Atheists)

In fact I don’t understand this about human beings in general. Why are we/they so surprised, shocked and even appalled when we discover that people (sometimes millions of them) disagree with our basic theory of life – the way we make sense out of life – the things we choose to feel certain about.

Certainty is a fact of life. It is the set of assumptions and beliefs that we choose to hold. The alternative of being uncertain about everything would be completely disabling. We would simply never be able to make up our mind or belong to anything.

For example I believe (deeply and profoundly) that God is a personal being named Jesus. I believe that there is one God who lives as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that there are no other gods and that Jesus alone is all in all. I personally thank him everyday for being able to say thank you to someone beside myself. I am utterly dependent on Him and am thankful that he saved me from myself.

Having said all that I could be completely misguided and some would say delusional. I mean look at how serious I am about this whole Jesus thing. So what am I to do when perfectly reasonable people give me their story of reality? Run away, call them names, tell them to stop or invite them to tell me more?

In recovery groups they have a rule- no crosstalk. That means, you only give advice when the person who is talking asks for it. My experience with most Christians and Atheists for that matter is that they cant find a way to sit in the room with difference. They can’t stop themselves from mentally comparing their best with their ideological opponents worst. They either try to re-educate them, control them or exorcise them.

Why? One simple reason-We’re afraid of discovering that our version of reality may not be the right one. We’re insecure. We hold onto our beliefs like a security blanket.

Christians need to trade their certainty in for faith – hope- confidence. Christians need to renounce beliefism (the worship of right/my beliefs) and embrace the beauty and mystery of following Jesus. I’m not sure what Atheists have to do but I’m sure someone will tell me (or them).

When my grandson Huck was 3 years old he let go of the last fragment of his security “blanky”. He would periodically forget to hug it when falling asleep and became less and less dependent upon it to comfort him as his interest in the wider world grew. That seems about the right age.

6 Reasons Mars Hill Church Will Be Gone by End of This Year

1. The Math

MHC was $650K upside down in August. That was 2 months ago. The banks will foreclose on them since they’ve lost many more people (a.k.a. giving units) since then. Do the math.

2. The Elite

The cultural elite have turned on Driscoll. Former insiders have laid siege around MHC. Their numbers are growing. They’re not leaving. Like Sun Tzu says “the one incalculable in war is the will of the people”. Driscoll has no defenders left.

3. The Money

Many Americans, including many Christian Americans, do their most serious worshiping at the altar of consumerism. Moral issues like gay rights, abortion or adultery may upset them but money moves them.  Some rich ex member will bring a lawsuit for fraudulent use of funds.

4. The Leak

They committed the unpardonable sin by using “helpless” orphans in Ethiopia to raise money to pay off Driscoll’s WoodWay Mansion. Then they hid the memo. Then someone leaked it. Current staffers have lost confidence and are wanting to clear their conscience.

5. The Addict

Just like an addict, Driscoll has let his church take the hits for him while he “reflects” in his bunker. He hides while his church dies. Mars Hill deserves to disappear. There are no leaders left to lead anymore. They followed their king over the cliff.

6. The History 

Barbara Tuchman wrote; “history is a series of miscalculations”. Smarter people than Driscoll have been caught by history. Just before the fall comes the proud face. Disgraced Ex President Richard Nixon said it best, “I’m no crook” and then… he was gone.

Why I Protested and Why I’m Done

Brian McLaren is one of the Christian leaders I respect and admire the most. He has been made a lightning rod for many people simply because he loves young leaders and refuses to “throw them under the bus” when they say things that make life uncomfortable for him. He is one of the most honest followers of Jesus I know.

Unlike his many bible defending critics, Brian is very very reluctant to criticize others so when he does it’s a pretty serious deal in my mind. He and I became friends around 2000. He came to Seattle for a visit and I drove him around. I’ll never forget him mentioning meeting with Driscoll and saying “there’s something wrong with that guy” I recorded that and remembered it when I ran into a number of comments Driscoll made about McLaren in public. That’s when Driscoll got on “my list”

Around 2006 I was painting Paul and Rachelle Chapman’s house (that’s my day job). Rachelle is a ministry colleague and Paul is a friend. They were both raised in Christian homes and went to Regent for their graduate degrees. They’re smart sincere followers of Jesus. While I was painting, Paul started asking me if I would ever be willing to protest Driscoll, specifically for misogynistic statements that were generally debasing of women and ungodly for a leader to make in public. This was the Ted Haggard incident where Pastor Driscoll inferred that if Gayle Haggard had been more sexually available to her husband, he may not have been tempted to have gay sex and use methamphetamines. (true story – google it)

Paul and I organized an online group called People Against Fundamentalism because we see Driscoll as the poster boy for neo fundamentalism (all his fundamentalist denials notwithstanding) Like they say, if it quacks like a duck…
We set a date and published our demands. Then the phone started ringing for interviews with the Seattle Times and KIRO Radio etc.

As the Sunday we’d chosen to protest drew near we got a call from Driscolls camp asking for a private meeting. Paul attended and several other veteran Christians pastors from the Northwest (who can identify themselves here is they so choose). I chose to stay behind the scenes since I wasn’t pastoring and had not been attending church since 2000. To a person these long time Christian leaders told me that “there’s something broken in that guy”, he couldn’t stop talking about how difficult it was to lead a large church which didn’t particularly endear him to my friends. Leif Moi (now fired) was with him ostensibly as his security person which also served to reinforce the tough guy image Driscoll had already successful created around himself.

In that meeting Driscoll agreed to apologize to women (one of our demands) if we would call off the protest. We agreed and he gave what can only be called a “political apology” where you refrain from directly apologizing someone you actually insulted and instead apologize to everyone who might have been offended. It’s a tried and true tactic in national politics, which Driscoll now employs on a seemingly monthly basis. This was my first time watching Driscoll use private meetings to get out of public trouble but it would not be the last.

Instead of protesting we pivoted and held up signs saying Thank You Rev Driscoll for Apologizing. There were two of us and about 15 others joined us for that thank you party. Several people from Mars Hill came out to talk with us. Some of them were security people and some were elders and deacons. One of the elders was Paul Petry who in response to our protest was quoted in the paper as saying “Driscoll honors women”. He was fired about 6 months later.

A few years later Driscoll came out with his famous video rant against the best selling book The Shack (which unlike his faux bestseller Real Marriage, “earned” its #1 ranking on the NYT bestseller list as in 19 million in 7 years). Since I’m a friend of the author, Paul Young I asked the two of them to meet in Seattle in public to discuss their differences. Paul immediately agreed, Driscoll went silent. On the appointed day Paul and I and about 100 curious people showed up at Sandy Browns First Methodist Church in downtown Seattle. Driscoll did not. We had a great time taking questions from the audience.

After the meeting Driscoll’s camp in keeping with insulating the “man of god” “reached out” and said Driscoll would be willing to meet with Paul privately (are you seeing a pattern?) However Paul would have to come to Driscolls office and meet with him there. Paul had returned home to Portland but nonetheless drove back up to Seattle a few days later to meet Driscoll (his junior) in his office in Seattle. Driscoll promised to not diss the book anymore (which was of no concern to Paul since Driscolls rant only served to draw more attention to the book ultimately driving it onto the list of the 100 most popular books in history) Paul went hoping to make a connection so that in the future Driscoll will know Paul is safe to talk with.

Fast forward 7 years to 2014. Paul Petry and I became friends and he introduced me to Rob Smith. Rob, like me, is a provocateur but unlike me he is also a former Mars Hill insider given his status of being shunned by Driscoll for calling BS when Paul Petry was put through one of Driscolls ecclesiastical kangaroo courts. Rob invited me to a group of ex insiders who asked me to join them in protesting their former church. Those who had been opposite sides seven years earlier were about to join forces and do it all over again. What type of leader would push these former ideological opponents to stand together?

After the protest this weekend it became apparent that the role I served as placeholder is done. There is now an activist base of resistance against Driscoll led by his former close friends, allies and co planters. Rob Smith, Judy Abolafya and Paul and Jonna Petry are qualified, capable and now motivated to lead this Driscoll Awareness Campaign to its next logical place, which is to gain the partnership of some influential pastors who will call Driscoll out and ask for his resignation. This will not be easy but it is inevitable.

I took on this challenge as a result of feeling compelled by The Holy Spirit. I never asked anyone to join me and kept my questions about others passivity to myself. I am fine forgiving Driscoll as long as he is fired or removed or resigns from his role of influence in the church as part of that forgiveness. There are some sins that require people to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance” KJV (sorry it’s the one I memorized) this is one of those sins. I am astounded at the fear leaders have of Driscoll and appalled at how little Christians care about their reputation with nonbelievers in the Seattle area. I’m speechless. I’ve learned a lot about the condition of the Church and I’m wondering about a lot of things.

Driscoll is an addict. Quit expecting him to respond normally or with empathy. Not going to happen. He will either hit bottom or sabotage himself and his future in a manner that finally forces people who are dependent upon him for their incomes and identity to fire him and save him from himself.

I appreciate the insiders who have allowed me access to their group. It was an honor and I wish you the best.