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Jerry Jenkins Launches Vanity Publishing Operation

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Jerry Jenkins, best known for the “Left Behind” series he co-wrote with Tim LeHaye, is launching his own vanity publishing division for those Christians ready to drop $10,000 to see their publishing dreams come true.

In 2001, Jenkins bought the Christian Writers Guild, a correspondence course founded in 1965 by Norman Rohrer. It currently has about 700 Internet-based students.

Samuel Johnson's The Vanity of Human Wishes ti...

Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes title page

Publishers Weekly said in an article that Jenkins was always against “self-publishing” but had an “epiphany” and changed his mind because traditional publishers were not able to accept much of the good Christian writing available.

Jenkins appears to be adopting the methods of old-time vanity publishers like Author House, Dorrance and Vantage Press, and newer ones in the Christian market like Westbow, Xulon and WinePress. They all say their pay-to-publish programs are “self-publishing,” but in reality they are just old vanity publishing schemes in modern dress.

Jenkins intends to charge prospective authors $10,000 for his staff to mentor new authors though the writing and editing process, and to shepherd them through the mechanical aspect of book creation, including typesetting and cover design. Like other vanity publishing companies, Christian Writers Guild Press (CWGP) will offer advice on marketing, but authors are otherwise on their own when it comes to sales.

The distinction between vanity publishing and all other types of publishing is that vanity publishers sell services, not books. When an author pays to publish under another publishing company’s imprint and ISBN, then they are a victim of vanity publishing. If an author publishes under his or her own company name and ISBN, then they are the “Small Press” or “Indie Publishers,” which are respected in the creative community.

Many who are duped into pay-to-publish schemes, cunningly labeled “self-publishing,”  never live down the humiliation. They think they are dealing with reputable companies, but everyone in the book marketing community, including reviewers and booksellers, are aware of the pay-to-publish companies and usually decline being involved with the books, thus making them nearly impossible to sell. Vanity publishing companies may have book sales pages on their websites, but such listings generate few sales.

Many established companies are adopting the vanity press model. For example, WestBow Press is owned by Thomas Nelson Publishers, and they receive many submissions from authors. Now, rather than reject a book outright, they have the option of referring the author to their WestBow division where the author pays from $1,000 to $6,500 to have their book published. Authors pay because they like to think they are publishing with Thomas Nelson rather than their vanity publishing subsidiary.

WestBow adds insult to injury by identifying themselves as an “Indie Publisher” in their promotional material. That claim seems disingenuous since the brand is the pay-to-publish division of traditional publisher Thomas Nelson, which itself is a division of News Corp, a major media conglomerate that also owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and numerous other newspapers and media outlets around the world. Only the most uniformed or gullible person would consider WestBow to be an Indie Publisher. The high-jacking of the term appears to be an attempt to mask their vanity press business model.

While some traditional publishers are using vanity press divisions to turn their slush piles into cash, Jenkins has a different problem. He charges neophyte Christian writers from $900 for an Apprentice Writing Course to $1,150 for a Journeyman Writing Course, plus fees for conferences and other add-on services. He realizes most of his students will never be able to sell their books to traditional publishers. The epiphany, perhaps, was his student population might decline if they got wise to that reality. Thus, a vanity press division makes perfect sense for the Christian Writers Guild because it guarantees a publishing outlet, albeit an expensive one, for his students.

It is a noble thing to want to train Christian writers, and Jenkins is to be commended for that. However, he is setting some unrealistic barriers to keep students in his program. They are likely to spend $12,000-$15,000 or more for courses and publishing, but they are unlikely to sell enough books to get any financial return on their investment.

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