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Self-Publishing Watchlist for December 2018

ALLi’s Self-Publishing Watchlist highlights companies whose complaints are on the rise. We monitor these companies carefully, and upgrade or downgrade their ratings as circumstances change.

This month, we examine two substandard publishers who specifically target Christian lit and authors. Companies that cloak themselves in the mantle of religion are nothing new, but they’ve found a particularly strong toehold in indie publishing. Novice authors who assume these self-described “Christian” companies share their values of fairness, honesty, and trust may find themselves bitterly disappointed — and deprived of thousands of dollars.


WestBow Press

When one thinks of exploitative vanity presses, the first name that springs to mind is likely Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI). The company is finding it increasingly difficult to outrun its dismal reputation, even among first-time authors, and thankfully has fallen on hard times. Nonetheless, its myriad divisions and aliases do help to cloak it to some degree, as do the companies that legitimize ASI’s exploitative practices by partnering with them.

Each year, hundreds of unwary authors step into one of ASI’s many traps. WestBow Press is one such trap.

WestBow press is ostensibly a part of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan, which is in turn a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. WestBow eagerly wraps itself in Thomas Nelson’s positive reputation to disguise its own unsavory history.

David Gaughran describes WestBow as “a white-label Christian-flavored vanity publisher, pretty much the same any other Author Solution vanity imprint, just with a few crucifixes dotted around the place.”

That’s a succinct analysis, and spot on. We see the usual trappings of the Christian vanity press in their website: the word “Christian” repeated as many times as possible per square inch, lip service about Christian morals and family values, and the continual assurance that they share your beliefs.

But, if your beliefs include the unshakeable conviction that companies should provide good service, honor their promises, and deal honestly with clients, that may not be strictly true.

The company’s website declares that “WestBow Press complaints are few and far between but are always handled in a timely manner with care and professionalism.”

That stands in jarring contrast to the massive number of complaints they (like all Author Solutions imprints) have accumulated. One need only search for WestBow complaints” or WestBow reviews” to find authors relating stories of high-pressure sales, apathetic staff, ignored calls and emails, outrageous pricing, undisclosed fees, exploitative contracts, and worse.

One complainant signed a contract to publish her children’s book, a color book less than 150 pages. WestBow accepted her nearly $2,000.00 initial payment. Well after the “no refunds” clause kicked in, WestBow informed her that they would retail the book for $52.99, effectively rendering it unsaleable. They claimed that print-on-demand technology could not provide a lower price.

By contrast, Ingram Spark charges $13.23 for an 8.5″ x 11″, full-color, hardcover, case laminate book of 150 pages on 70# white stock.

Clearly, a sane retail price is possible with print-on-demand technology. Unfortunately, only a markup of nearly $40 was sufficient to offset WestBow’s greed.

The author was left with a book that cannot be sold, a gaping hole in her bank account, and no recourse under the absurd contract WestBow uses to justify its abuses.

Xulon Press

Xulon Press, owned by Salem Media Group, is known for its slick marketing and seemingly reasonable fees. They aggressively market to Christian authors and are often found in paid ads on Google searches for publishing terms. Their websites trumpet the word “Christian” like a broken record, alongside their “Statement of Faith” and the statements like “print… is as relevant and irreplaceable as the gilded Bible sitting on your nightstand table.”

However, complaints abound citing poor service, ignored calls, incomplete work, incompetent work, low-value/high-cost services, and fees on top of fees on top of more fees.

Xulon’s disclosed fees do not include editing (which can comprise a large portion of any publishing package). They upsell authors on overpriced video trailers, copyright registration (at a nearly 500% markup), and a series of “trade show placements” at $500 each.

Xulon promises one cover design based on the designer’s impression of the book, plus one round of adjustments. Period. Don’t like it? No worries, you can always pay them a few hundred dollars more to have a new one designed.

And so it goes: $500 here for a questionable press release, $200 there for a worthless banner ad campaign, all piled atop their already excessive fees.

According to Xulon’s contract, no refunds will be issued once a manuscript has been submitted. No refunds will be issued after 100 days, regardless of how unresponsive their staff has been or what (if any) work has been completed. If, after 365 days, the author finds that the work is incomplete, unacceptable, or unprofessional, they have no recourse and Xulon Press is under no obligation to perform any further work.

Christ be with you, but your money remains with Xulon Press.

Over to you

Authors must always be vigilant against companies that conceal disreputable practices under the guise of religion, patriotism, or even lofty literary ideals. Have you fallen prey to one of these schemes? Let us know in the comments below!

#Authors of #christianBooks, don't be deceived by exploitative publishers! — @johndopp Click To Tweet

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3 Responses to Self-Publishing Watchlist for December 2018

  1. Kristy McMorlan December 29, 2018 at 5:30 pm #

    I agree with your assessment of Westbow. But the one piece you didn’t mention was who else they’re affiliated with. I was looking for a Christian publisher and discovered they pushed the Thomas Nelson connection much to hard. While hiding they also were connect to Eastern Religion. I used Xulon and agree all those extras were not cost effective. I didn’t add them to my package. I also had to ask the right questions. There wasn’t a lot of aid in what I should and should do. I had to be delegent in teaching myself. But, I think that’s the downfall of self publishing. You have to your own advocate. Xulon didn’t give me any false expectations and treated me well. I felt, the were behind my project and aided me to the best of their ability. I also was able to edit multiple times without extra money.

  2. Athena Dean Holtz December 29, 2018 at 1:29 am #

    Good for you, John. I’ve been warning authors for years about these two specifically and a few more. Good to have another watchdog out there since Mark Levine moved on!

  3. Kassandra Lamb December 15, 2018 at 9:50 pm #

    Thank you for your continued vigilance, John!

    As a Christian, I always cringe a little when I see that word (or symbols related to it such as the fish) bandied about in a company’s hype. That actually makes me trust the company less, not more.

    I was raised to see one’s faith as a private matter between me and God, not something to be used to help my business be more successful.

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