Archived from The Magdalene Review on Tuesday 29 November 2005:

The following article, from The Dallas Morning News, was posted today at

‘Dummies’ and ‘Idiot’s religion books prove smart bet for publishers
by Sam Hodges

My editor at Alpha Books, Randy Ladenheim-Gil, was interviewed for the piece.

This was the absolute best part of the article:

Father Trigilio is just as pleased to be a Dummies author. He’s at work with two others on a Dummies book about Pope John Paul II, to be released near the first anniversary of his death, April 2, 2006.

For anyone who has lingering concerns about pairing “dummies” and “idiots” with sacred subjects, the priest says: Get over it. He notes that in First Corinthians, St. Paul favorably uses the term “fools for Christ.”

“The actual word in the Greek, if you translate it literally, means ‘morons,’ ” Father Trigilio said. “Nobody gets bent out of shape that St. Paul is calling them a moron.”

My experience with writing an Idiot’s Guide was as follows:

  • I had twelve weeks to write the book. This is not enough time to order images from archives and get permissions for copyrighted material. For example, I wanted to use an image from a book published in the 1950s on an imprint now owned by Penguin (of which Alpha Books is a subsidiary). They couldn’t find the copyright owner in their files, and there wasn’t enough time to do a full copyright search.


  • The book went through a review by Mark L. Strauss, author of Distorting Scripture?: The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy. He is not a Mary Magdalene expert, but my book is much more solid as a result of his input.


  • The introduction was written by Jane Schaberg*, author of The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. She is a Mary Magdalene expert, and I felt honored that she agreed to do the introduction.


  • The book went through a review by a copy editor in a different state who was hired by Alpha. I had a couple of weeks to go through all of the comments inserted into the text by Mark Strauss, the copy editor, and someone in layout, and respond to them, though there was no opportunity for any real dialogue about potential changes. I could only accept suggested changes or reject them, and there was no guarantee that my decision wouldn’t be vetoed.


  • Alpha’s policy is to NOT send the layout to the author before the book goes to the printer unless specifically requested. This is something I learned after waiting and waiting to receive a galley for review, only to find out the book was already being printed.


  • There are several problems in the book that I would have liked to correct if I had seen them in a galley. For example, there is a stupid typo in the map that appears within the first few pages. It says “Lebanan” instead of “Lebanon.” Mea culpa. I’m disappointed that not only did no one else catch it, but I didn’t have a chance to correct it before it went to print.


  • No one, I mean no one, got advance copies of the book. That includes me. I had to buy a copy of my own book from Barnes & Noble to see what the finished product looked like. It took about six weeks after the official pub date to get my box of contract copies.


  • The person hired to do the marketing (it seems that Alpha outsources everything instead of doing it from in-house) can’t seem to get the description of the book right, so there are problems with the way it looks on,, and the Penguin website.

The positive points for the book are that the advance was decent for a first-time author (I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to get any kind of advance had I taken an independently-written manuscript to some random publisher) and I got published. In print. For real. That’s pretty satisfying, which is why I usually don’t complain about the kinds of things I outlined above. The fact that I was able to write a book with wide exposure more than makes up for the inconveniences.

* Sadly, Jane Schaberg is no longer with us; she passed away in 2012. We met once in 2005 during the filming and roundtable for Dan Burstein’s The Secrets of Mary Magdalene video, and corresponded occasionally in email. I wish I could have gotten to know her better. She was kind to me, and very approachable even though her level of education far exceeded mine. My contributions to the conversation around Mary Magdalene wasn’t always been appreciated by academics, but Jane made me feel welcome. Her thoughts, suggestions and support meant the world to me while writing my book, and her own book The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: legends, apocrypha and the Christian testament is one of my most valuable resources.  I’ll miss her as I revive my work.

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