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Purpose-Driven Interference?

What happens when a powerhouse author demands changes in a book another writer is doing for the same publisher?

In this case, Greg Stielstra says his book has effectively been taken hostage by megaselling pastor-author Rick Warren.

Stielstra, senior marketing director at HarperCollins's Zondervan division, said HarperBusiness was to have released his Pyromarketing: The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life on June 15. But, according to Stielstra, Warren has held up the book by insisting it not mention his bestselling The Purpose-Driven Life, which Zondervan published in 2002.

Stielstra worked on Zondervan's PDL campaign from the beginning, and he said Warren has demanded that every reference to PDL be stricken from the book. "HarperCollins asked me to make that change, and I have declined and asked HarperCollins to either publish my book as it is or to immediately return the rights to me so I can find another publisher," Stielstra said.

Stielstra, who in recent weeks has been taken off the PDL campaign and given other projects at Zondervan, signed a contract in May 2004 to write Pyromarketing, and Harper knew PDL would be one of his case studies.

Since signing the book deal, however, Stielstra has run into unexpected obstacles, beginning in June 2004, when Zondervan editor-in-chief Stan Gundry suggested that it would be a good idea to make Warren aware of Pyromarketing. "I didn't see any reason not to. I certainly didn't need for that to be a secret," Stielstra said. That month, at the Christian Booksellers Convention, Stielstra and Gundry met with Warren's agent, Bucky Rosenbaum. "Bucky was fine with my book, and only made three requests," Stielstra said. Rosenbaum asked that PDL not be the only case study; that Stielstra write about it "from the perspective of an observer"; and that Rosenbaum see the manuscript before publication.

On July 6, 2004, Stielstra wrote Warren a letter outlining those three points and included a sample from the book that illustrated how references to PDL were being incorporated. Stielstra e-mailed the letter to Rosenbaum. "Within hours of receiving the e-mail, Bucky replied by saying, 'This is fine and consistent with our agreement.' "

Stielstra said HarperCollins accepted his manuscript last February, but in early April, he got a call from Warren staffer Doug Slaybaugh. "Doug had become aware of my book and told me that he would use, quote, 'every ounce of influence' he had to see that every reference to The Purpose-Driven Life was stricken from my book," Stielstra said. According to him, Slaybaugh said he didn't want PDL "associated with the word 'marketing' in any way, shape or form."

Soon after, Warren's new agent, Jeff Slipp, requested a copy of Pyromarketing. "And it was his expectation that he and others at Saddleback [Warren's church] would be allowed to make whatever change they pleased and then send it back to me," Stielstra said. "Unfortunately, this was also Zondervan's expectation, and they made it clear to me. This was never my intention. When I said I would allow them to see the manuscript, I meant just that: 'You can look at it.' "

After Slaybaugh's call, Zondervan President Doug Lockhart got involved, Stielstra said. Stielstra said he agreed to show Warren's organization the manuscript because he knew he intended to treat them well and couldn't imagine them being upset.

Stielstra told PW that PDL constitutes a "small but important percentage" of Pyromarketing, and some of the references are brief. "But it is woven throughout, so in an editorial sense, it's inoperable. What's more, I think it makes the most compelling case study for the points I am trying to make."

Stielstra said he did offer to make revisions if he had gotten something wrong or had written something that would harm Warren. He had several meetings with Slipp and Lockhart, and made two rounds of changes to the manuscript. Stielstra said Saddleback required Harper to typeset the changes, which Slipp declared acceptable and passed on to Warren. But in early June, Warren called Lockhart and said he wanted all references to PDL deleted, said Stielstra.

Harper's editorial team suggested that replacement case studies could include last year's presidential election, Stielstra said, but he refused. "Except for casting my vote, I had no involvement in the 2004 presidential election. By contrast, I was the marketing director for The Purpose-Driven Life."

He has been awaiting a response to his own ultimatum since mid-June. Stielstra said, "It's becomes apparent that a resolution is far, far away. If HarperCollins isn't going to publish my book and they don't want to upset their largest author, I can understand that. Just give me back my book."

Harper senior v-p/director of corporate communications Lisa Herling declined to discuss Stielstra's assertions, noting only that Pyromarketing "is still in the editorial process, and the publication date is yet to be determined. We do not discuss the details of our editorial process nor our conversations with our authors." Warren's organization referred PW to Zondervan.