SHOULD MICHAEL VICK
RECEIVE GRACE?

On occasion, the most bizarre things leap out of the great abyss, reminding us of the fallen nature of humanity. Worthy had that experience this week with regard to a controversial book we published last fall—the autobiography of Michael Vick. It tells the story of a poverty-stricken child who rose to stardom in the NFL, followed by a meteoric fall from grace into federal prison. Vick confesses heinous wrongs from his involvement in dog fighting and seeks redemption with the counsel of legendary coach, Tony Dungy. 

Now, six months after his book, Finally Free, released across North America, serious and credible threats of violence are being made against Vick, his family, and bookstore employees, including Barnes & Noble, at the announcement of an in-store book signing by Michael. To protect the safety of bookstore employees, fans, and the Vick family, the decision was made to cancel those book signings.

After the threats were reported to law enforcement, the story was picked up by media all across the country. Here’s just one of many stories being circulated.

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The QB, who canceled his book tour after being threatened, is a reformed man. What more can he do to prove himself?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Delete it from your iCal: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and convicted former animal abuser Michael Vick will not be appearing in a bookstore near you any time soon. His publisher announced this week he has withdrawn from a scheduled book tour due to “credible threats.” Nice grasp of how it works, bullies. Because nothing says I am a compassionate humanitarian who’s on the higher moral ground than anybody else like throwing around a few threats of violence.

Vick, who served over a year and a half in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to felony charges regarding a dogfighting ring, has spent the past six years trying to prove he’s a changed man. Since serving his sentence, he’s not just gone back to his football career; he’s become a volunteer for the Humane Society, speaking out in schools and public events about animal abuse and dogfighting. Last year, his foundation gave $200,000 to renovate a rundown local Philadelphia football field. He even became a dog owner, and when the news of his family’s new addition emerged, he announced, “I want to ensure that my children establish a loving bond and treat all of God’s creatures with kindness and respect. Our pet is well cared for and loved as a member of our family. To that end, I will continue to honor my commitment to animal welfare and be an instrument of positive change.” And now, he’s written a memoir for a Christian book publisher with the hopeful title, “Finally Free”—a tale his publicity materials describe as the story of “how a broken man sought and received forgiveness for his wrongs.”

But forgiveness is far more easily sought than received. Vick has long faced the scorn of those who will never, ever forgive him for what happened to those animals. In 2010, PETA’s vice president Lisa Lange compared Vick to “convicted pedophiles,” and the michael_vick3-620x412consensus among Internet commenters still runs heavily along the “rich creep” lines. But this week, things took a darker turn, when his publishers announced, “Despite warnings of planned protests, Vick had hoped to continue with the appearances as planned, bringing his story of redemption and second chance to major markets. However, once the reported protests escalated into threats of violence against the retailers, Worthy Publishing, Vick and his family, decided to cancel the events. . . . While we stand by Michael Vick’s right to free speech and the retailers’ right to free commerce, we cannot knowingly put anyone in harm’s way, and therefore we must announce the cancellation of Mr. Vick’s book-signing appearances. We’ve been assured these threats of violence, which have been reported to the police, are being taken very seriously by local authorities.” The publisher says the threats were made to Barnes & Noble and an independent bookstore in New Jersey.

As Phillymag reports, the comments on Vick’s Facebook page give an indication of the tone: from “I would go there to slit your throat knowing how you treat animals” to “hope your kids don’t fall in a pool with a battery” to “I would snap your neck if I met you, your [sic] a piece of trash.” Ah, sweet liberating rage. And that’s just the random, run-of-the-mill Facebook grossness. Makes you wonder what the threats to the bookstores looked like.

The actions of Vick’s dogfighting ring were unconscionable. Vick was a part of a group that maimed, tortured and killed animals—and did it for the thrill of sport. But Vick’s behavior was not then and sure as hell is not now an excuse for anybody else to behave like a monster either. One man’s misdeeds are not an opportunity to be rude or cruel or say scary things about his children. And there’s something truly sickening about the sheer relish Vick’s detractors seem to possess, their pleasure in the way that his crimes give them license to be as angry and resentful as they want to be. Gosh, what a convenient outlet.

You think once an abuser, always an abuser? OK. Don’t buy his book or go to Eagles games. But don’t misdirect all the rage you have at the universe toward the guy. Don’t kid yourself that being furious and unforgiving makes you a noble human being. And consider that you don’t have to have done time for hurting animals to be abusive. Michael Vick has spent the last several years looking within himself, living with the burden of his actions and trying to change the course of his future. He knows his wrongs. How many of his trolls can say the same?

MEWilliams_BioMary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

 


Still Captivated
After All These Years

Periodically, though not nearly often enough, I’m seized by an awareness that I’m still getting to do what I love to do! Publish books. I have found myself immersed in a career so deeply satisfying I can’t imagine it coming to an end. Of late I’ve reflected with amazement on the odd track that brought me to be involved with books.

My first years were spent on a remote farm in north Texas in a house with outdoor plumbing. At five-years of age I had already begun to see a bigger world while sitting on my grandfather’s lap watching CBS News each evening on a little round-faced 1950s TV.  Loved the news!

By day I fed a Jersey, two pigs, and small flocks of chickens and sheep. Weeded and harvested a one-acre garden with my grandmother, taken by how seeds explode. Met Dwight Eisenhower – well, he patted me on the head – at a whistle stop during a campaign, and by age six I already was captivated by a stimulating world.

Spent nearly every day of my eleventh year watching typographers set and pour hot-type, and then observing the presses roll out the city paper at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It was clear to me that words captivated. Lounged on a public library floor during junior high reading the Tale of Two Cities and Robinson Crusoe. Later in life often sat on the floor of our Barnes & Noble sampling books with my teenage daughter, except that her tastes ran more to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

Restocked a bookstore in high school, while making ridiculously poor grades in English. Years later an old English teacher of mine was stunned to see me as a book publisher and, truthfully, I am more surprised than she was. Sold books and Bibles door-to-door two summers in Ohio and Alabama during college years, and also sold books direct to consumer via telemarketing, never realizing any future irony.

Through it all, and I’m convinced it must be a God-thing, I have come to publish a list of ‘amazing authors and their remarkable ideas’ – that’s how I’ve come to describe the business of books. I’ve seen first hand how words can transform lives. It’s been an honor to work with Max Lucado, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, Jerry Jenkins, Charles Colson, Nolan Ryan, Emerson Eggerichs, and so many more.

Acknowledging these gifted authors, including Sarah Young and her remarkable Jesus Calling, I’ve never been more honored than to work with David Jeremiah on his upcoming Jeremiah Study Bible, which Worthy Publishing expects to release, God willing, before Christmas 2013.

My current course was well predicted by a high-profile business consultant who once told me, “Those whose careers are invested in intellectual property never choose to retire.”  I’m still captivated after all these years!

What work most captivates you?


Getting Back to Mission

I just read a blog by a self-styled book industry expert, who, for a handful of irrational reasons, all but predicts the demise of a major book retailer. One doesn’t have to be terribly visionary to see menacing clouds churning above the book world. But, rather than responding to such hyperbolic predictions, it occurs to me I ought to stop and reconsider why I was drawn to this business from the start.

  1. I love books! Not surprisingly, I love reading insightful, provocative ideas, marvelously expressed, that surge from words on a page. That’s very cool. I’m re-reading David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris, and it rings with hope about how creative thought can renew a broken world. So, one reason I came to publishing was to affirm the expression of creative, regenerative ideas.
  2. Good news is my call! For those of us who first invested ourselves in the Christian genre of publishing, it was about mission. Worthy’s mission is to help people experience the heart of God. We must not let the tumultuous book trends of the 21st century distract us from our mission to bring light to a world permeated by darkness. Any number of Worthy’s recent books remind me of that mission, not the least of which are Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck, Mary Lou Quinlan’s The God Box, and Nichole Nordeman’s  Love Story.
  3. Wall Street doesn’t get it! The book industry has been overrun by holding companies and entertainment corporations, causing it to lose much of its creative heart. Not every business is best exercised as part of a multi-national enterprise, such as a mature, boutique-arts industry like books—the entire trade book business of $16 billion is only one third the size of the $42 billion Walt Disney Company. It’s hard to see what Wall Street has brought to the table, and I’m not altogether sure why the Street sees books as an opportunity. Do financial gurus think book earnings will experience double-digit growth over the next five years?
  4. Craft can be lost in a corporate environment! There was a time not long ago that publishing was driven by literary families who were impassioned by the artistic, enriching expressions found in books. Beginning with Gutenberg, think about all the family names that have defined what we still call publishing houses: Nelson, Zondervan, Harper, Collins, Putnam, Pearson, Warner, Doubleday, Simon, Schuster, Wiley, Dutton, Holt, et al. Today few families retain their heritages, resulting in Big 6 publishers being a conglomeration of hundreds of acquired imprints. The primary focus has changed from mission to ROI. Not good news.

Worthy’s mission is our message . . . helping people experience the heart of God. We are blessed to be funded by individuals who believe in our craft and support our mission. Worthy must be a great steward of its resources, yet we must not lose site of our mission.

Question:  From a literary and mission point of view, how is the business of books in a better place today than it was in years past?


Encouraging News about Books

Considering the quakes rumbling through the book industry, even slightly encouraging news lifts the heart. Because I believe so fundamentally in the vitality of book content and the future of reading, I’m not alarmed that the reading of books is threatened. But what’s nearly impossible to predict is the course book reading will take over the next few years.

That said, of late I’ve noted a number of small indicators that may affirm the future of the book industry.

  1. During this holiday season, TV ads for a half dozen brands of digital devices are noting how attractive their device is for book reading, whether in low light, bright light, in bed, or on the beach. Those TV spots are defacto consumer ads proclaiming the joys of book reading. Yay!
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a Publishers Weekly story saying Barnes & Noble bookstore profits were up and that sales increased 1.8% for the quarter, excluding Nook hardware (in transition to a partnership with Microsoft). There’s little the book industry needs more than a healthy Barnes & Noble. Go, B&N!
  3. E-books accounted for 22% of book sales in the second quarter, up 14% over the previous year, according to Bowker Market Research. It appears quick adopters have settled in with their reader of choice, but notice that physical books are still 78% of the total unit sales. We need new technology, yet everyone involved—authors, publishers, retailers—need an element of stability in our shared industry. Christmas cheer all around!
  4. AAP reports trade book sales for August 2012 were up 10.4% over 2011, whereas ebooks are now growing at a far slower rate. Great news!
  5. Family Christian Stores just announced a new investor group that is committed to its mission. Having spent time in recent days with one of those investors, I’m encouraged again about moves toward more stability in book retailing. Prayers for Family!

Change is inevitable. But smart change will better protect the flow of great content to consumers in a way that works for author, publishers and retailers. I’m praying that the flashes of sanity I’m seeing aren’t illusions, but are the makings of a trend toward a more stable, healthy book industry.