Friday, February 01, 2013

Christian Writers Guild Publishing: Pay to Play from Jerry B. Jenkins

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Earlier this week, a press release caught my eye: Bestselling Author Jerry Jenkins Announces Innovative Publishing Firm. Since "innovative" in publishing press release-speak often means "charges a whopping fee", I decided to investigate.

Per the press release,
To help aspiring writers achieve their publishing dreams, Jenkins is launching Christian Writers Guild Publishing (CWGP). He says it will be different from other custom publishing houses in that it features Published, a six-month course mentored by an experienced author. When students with works-in-progress complete the course, CWGP will publish their books -- providing a copy editor, proofreader, cover and type designer, eBook formatter, printer, and a free package of promotion, marketing, and social media materials, everything the writer needs for a successful book launch. "This is different from self-publishing," Jenkins says. "It's mentored, coached, and educated publishing. We come alongside through this course and surround them with seasoned industry professionals."
According to PW, this new "come-alongside publishing" venture represents an "about-face" for Jenkins, who had previously opposed self-publishing. However, he recently experienced an "epiphany:"
Despite the best efforts of his guild's training, he said, not enough new authors have been able to land deals with traditional publishers, in part because houses continue to insist that authors have a significant "platform." As a result, "good, passionate authors are ignored because they're unknown," Jenkins told PW.
I have a feeling that the epiphany had at least as much to do with dollar signs. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

CWGP's required 6-month Published course consists of 12 lessons with titles such as "Presenting Yourself as a Professional," "The Writer and the Creative Process," "Characterization," and "Writing in Scenes"--all, by the descriptions, very basic stuff aimed at beginning writers. Course participants are paired with mentors, who are described as "published author[s] who will come alongside and walk you through our Published course, showing you how to turn your manuscript into a book that will keep readers turning the pages." (Novelists take note: of the seven mentors, only one is a fiction specialist.) 

At the end of the course: publishing! Before you get too excited, the services included in the CWGP "Premier" publishing package really don't look much different from the lower-end packages offered by most self-publishing service providers. True, there are some extras--copy editing, a book on social media marketing--but the basics--ISBN assignment, design and formatting, cover art, ebook creation--are standard-issue.

So how much does all this cost? According to the Registration page, publishing through CWGP will set you back a cool $9,995. And that's just if your book is 75,000 words or less (for longer word counts, there's a surcharge) and you don't want custom interior design or "substantive content editing" (also extra). It's also not clear to me--either from CWGP's own description of the package or the contract, which can be seen here--whether any distribution is provided. In fact, the wording of the contract kind of suggests it isn't (my bolding):
The Author is responsible for the marketing and distribution of the Work, though CWGP will provide free helps and optional resources to aid in this effort.
Can CWGP really be expecting authors to pay nearly $10,000 for a path to publication that doesn't even get their books into retail channels? Even the dreaded Author Solutions imprints do better than that. (I contacted CWGP to pose this question; as of this writing, I haven't heard back.)

Even with distribution, $9.995 is a hell of a lot of money. You could buy a similar publishing package from Lulu for around $1,600, or put together an equivalent suite of services a la carte from CreateSpace for around $1,000 (assuming you don't just go ahead and use Lulu's or CreateSpace's free services). As for the writing course, there are cheaper alternatives there as well. The Long Ridge Writers' Group, for instance, offers a similar beginners'-level series of lessons--with a much wider array of qualified instructors, and more course materials--for around $1,200.

As always, the important thing when choosing a path to publishing is formulating your goals and thoroughly researching (and understanding) your options. Always remember that when you pay for publishing, you're a consumer purchasing a service--not a writer submitting to a publisher. Consume wisely: don't be swayed by hype, or by the presence of famous names.

EDITED 8/10/13 to add: CWGP's URL has changed; it now has a dedicated website. It also now offers a "Master" package for $7,995 and an "Elite" package for $9,995, both of which provide access to "expanded distribution." Writers can also choose 2 (for the Master) or 3 (for the Elite) Author Solutions-style "marketing" options.


J. Mark Miller said...

I'm glad you're highlighting this, and also glad I'm not alone with my gut feelings. I hate to drag one of my own out into the cold light of day, but as a Christian minister and novelist I was offended when I saw this new "opportunity."

Nearly $10,000 cost? You'd better get published and distributed after that. Seems to me there needs to be a money back guarantee that you'd at least make your $10,000 back in sales, but alas that's obviously not possible.

Shame on Jerry B. Jenkins for preying on his own people to make a quick buck. Kudos to Victoria Strauss for shining a bright light on it.

Melanie Rose said...

Jerry B. Jenkins ought to be profoundly ashamed of himself. I am an independently-published author, and it makes my skin crawl to hear of this kind of advantage being taken of people who don't realize they're being taken in. Do your research first. It's worth it.

I publish my novels myself, using Createspace for the paperbacks and Kindle Direct publishing for the e-books. I pay around $5 per book for a physical proof copy, and $25 for Createspace's Expanded Distribution option, which gets me worldwide distribution and availability not only online but to physical bookstores, libraries and schools. Yes, you can spend more to use their paid services, but for $10,000 they'd better fly you to NY first class and get you a featured spot at Book Expo.

I agree with Mark as well. Christianity should not be used as a ruse to funnel the income of innocent people into your own pockets. It's behavior like this that makes the rest of us look bad.

Elissa M said...

This absolutely looks like it's preying on the Christian market. Thanks for once again shining a light in the dark corners of publishing.

Redleg said...

As a thought experiment, would I be crazy to think that $10,000 would be better spent buying 10,000 copies of your own CreateSpace novel to goose sales?.

middle grade ninja said...

Good looking out. It's so gross how people use religion to sucker folks.

Brett said...

$10,000? That's insane. It's probably more than many writers will get as an advance on their first novel/story sold.

You've got to love the weasel words associated with the surcharge, "substantive content editing". Translation: If you want our editors to do anything more than things like "you should have put a comma here", you're going to need to pay extra.

I can't say I'm shocked. There tend to be a ton of rip-offs and scams aimed at evangelical Christians.

Victoria Strauss said...

Sadly I think one reason there are so many schemes aimed at Christian writers is that they are more ready to trust someone who self-identifies as Christian. There are some so-called Christian enterprises where I really wonder how the staff sleeps at night.

Brett said...

I've got some ideas why, but it probably wouldn't be a good idea to divert the discussion that far off-topic.

Anna L. Walls said...

Why do places like these set their prices so high? Is it so hard to be competitive and offer good services, and I mean GOOD services?

Will Lutwick said...

Thanks, Victoria, as always, for shining a light on exploitation. Newbie writers with a dream are prey enough for the predators. Adding religion into the mix, makes them even more ripe for exploitation. However, I would guess those most likely to use CWGP are least likely to read your blog or even if they do, to believe that Jerry Jenkins is not their publishing savior.

Will Lutwick
Author of "Dodging Machetes"

Anonymous said...

I have often noticed the tendency of scammers to use "Christian" as an advertising schtick. Personally I steer away from any business that sticks a little fishy in the corner of their ads.

There's a carrot and a stick there... the stick being the much-touted lie that "traditional" publishers aren't looking for new authors. "Platform", of course, is only a concern in non-fiction.

Roger Colby said...

I know Jenkins is a best selling author, but have you actually READ his work? I couldn't think of anyone save Stephanie Meyer who I would rather NOT help me become a great writer.

Iulian said...

I have to admit I haven't read too much of Jerry's work, but I did listen to a lot of his webinars on the craft of writing and I was always positively impressed.


Doug Brunell said...

Just another wolf in sheep's clothing. I hope people aren't falling for this.

Kelly Robinson said...

$10,000 worth of marketing could sell a pile of dog poop. I'm betting that's the quality of stuff we're sealing with here.

Iola said...

Thanks for this - it confirms my own opinions (although I hadn't seen that only one of the mentors was a fiction author - how helpful can the others possibly be, unless they also read a lot of fiction).

I've only read a couple of Jerry Jenkin's books, but my daughter enjoyed his children's Red Rock series.

However, if you look at some of his recent reviews on Amazon, for the re-released Left Behind series, you'll see that the updating apparently leaves something to be desired: they have updated 'video' with 'DVD', but have left the characters still rewinding the DVD after playing it. Oops.

Robert said...

No wonder he changed his opinion on self publishing with fees like these! Ten thousand bucks and, from what I cna tell, nothing in return. The author is responsible for distribution? That is absolutely incredible!

Deb said...

Victoria, did you ever hear back from them about what they will do in distribution? Absent any sort of route to the reader, it sounds like a swackload of money for very little value.

Victoria Strauss said...

Deb--No, they never responded. It sure looks to me from the wording of both the website and the contract that distribution isn't included.

Victoria Strauss said...

Does it say something that this post is receiving more comment spam than any other post on this blog? I delete them almost daily.

Stephsco said...

Holy crap. I can see people getting swindled by this because of the Christian tag and the high-profile author's name. Wow.

This is a great blog. I've heard about it but this is my first time visiting. Will keep this post handy to send off to my extended family and their church friends, who've started asking me publishing questions now that I've signed with an agent.

Diane McElwain said...

I read the comments here, and am reading this in 2014. I actually took the Christian Writers Guild course while a Senior in High School in the 1970s. It was then owned by Norman Rohrer and cost $150 for a 4 year course. Sorry, but I don't see how people can afford this publishing contract in the times we are living.

Anonymous said...

And did you bother looking at theprice of the Published course today? $2300 is far lower than $10000. I'm not defending Jerry B Jenkins at all, but this is a successful author. Go find me another course, with a niche at its core, offered for less, with the kind of mentors available. Winghill for instance, at a much cheaper offering, has mentors who are virtually—literally—nobodies. Again, in no way am I endorsing Jerry B Jenkins, the Christian Writer's Guild, or his publishing venture with course... but your accusations, while perhaps accurate when this was published, are no longer valid. I will say this in his defense; he has made himself worth that kind of money. He has been there, done that, as a writer and author; he likely has connections in the industry otherwise unavailable to fledgling authors; and his Apprentice, Journeyman and Craftsman courses seem reasonably priced as compared to similar programs but with far less credible mentors and teachers.

Anonymous said...

The fact that he and his publishing company maintain the Christian Writers Market Guide, which is widely accepted as the go to source for authors, also gives credibility to this course offering.

Victoria Strauss said...


$2,300 appears to be the price for the Published course only. Publishing services are extra. According to CWG Publishing's FAQ, "The CWGP Elite Publishing Package, including the personally mentored course, your editor, proofreader, designer, and complete production is $9,995. The Master package, with certain services available à la carte, is $7,995."

So they've added a lower tier of service, but $7,995 is still a hugely inflated price for self-publishing. And though the true prices of the full publishing packages are revealed in the FAQ, they appear nowhere else on the CWG Publishing website. A writer could easily assume--as you did, Anonymous--that $2,300 covered everything.

One thing that does seem clear now is that CWG Publishing does have the resources to get its books into online retail channels such as Amazon.