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.
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, 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
I am a commercial illustrator who has illustrated the Biblical Book of Revelation. For years I produced art prints and visual teaching materials from that series of art. When I started getting inquiries about putting my art and my story in book form, I decided to seek out a Christian book publisher. I had a wonderful client who wanted to donate publishing costs to us to get it done. There was once a self self publishing company called Crossbooks (that was later sold to Westbow) that marketed themselves Christian and that is who I got to do my book. My husband is a computer expert who actually had already done the full layout for a book which we submitted to Crossbooks. We thought that would save money, but it was still a hefty price to have it published. Nothing was deducted for layout we provided! Then I had to purchase books from them so I could sell them. Since the price of publishing was already paid by my client, we figured that was ok. When Crossbooks was sold to Westbow, I was contacted weekly by Westbow’s author reps to try and sell me more books, to get me to buy space on tables at book fairs and all sorts of promotional gimmicks in exchange for big bucks! I later found that this is a common strong arm tactic to nickel and dime you to death and I resented it. I hang up on them now. After figuring in all the costs, we decided to go to a local printer in Pittsburgh (PA, USA) near us to find out about simply reprinting the book ourselves since we still had the digital layout! We found out that was feasible and not as expensive as we had thought. So that is exactly what we did. And we now have complete control. What I was not aware of was that Westbow had posted my book to Amazon and was, and still is selling it on there (to great reviews I might add!). Then I started noticing 10 or 20 sellers from the US, Australia and England selling my book on eBay! If you go to Amazon or eBay now you will see them selling “Revelation Illustrated” there! Whoa! So who is getting rich from me? Westbow? Author Solutions? First I contacted the legal department of Amazon who informed me that my book was being published “on demand” by many printers!!! I called Westbow to get some answers and was told that I should check my “author portal” on their website to see my sales. My sales?! Then why wasn’t I getting royalties? Oh suddenly they “realized” there had been a glitch in their system and apologized and said I would start getting royalty checks from Content Distributors, LLC in Bloomington, Indiana who handles their royalty payments. So now I am finally getting small royalty checks twice a year totally maybe $300. But I still wonder how much money I’ve lost in royalties through the years and how much Westbow is still making off of me!!! I am still constantly hounded by calls for me to order more books from them. No thanks, I’ll continue publishing and printing and promoting my own “Revelation Illustrated” books.
They completed CHEATED me. And using the guise of Christianity enrages me. Liars. Cheats.
I have just published my SECOND book with WestBow Press.
I have never been called, hassled, pressed or scammed by this organization.
They have always been true to their word. I have always been presented with the opportunity to accept and sign that I agree or disagree with the next step.
This is an indie publisher. Expectations can run high with first time indie authors regarding what to expect from a self publishing experience.
I have learned much in recent years about writing and getting published. I have educated myself.
Unless you are already world-famous before you publish, you still have to market your own brand. Various publishers will perform different levels of this per their agreement with the author.
We all think our book is the next best seller, only to learn that we still have a way to go and more to learn.
Being an author is one of the most amazing experiences in the world, and getting published a trying experience, yet one of the most personally rewarding.
DO: listen to others about their experiences, but remember to research for yourself. Listen, but don’t take everything without checking it out.
DO NOT: expect to land the dream contract the first time, but work hard like you will!
It takes a few books to get your ‘platform’ established. This is your style, your message to those you are ‘speaking to’.
Never give up! I was turned down recently by a major literary agent that said my manuscript, “has merit, but was not quite what they were looking for right now.”
Never, ever, ever give up!
I, too, was sucked into westbow press because of the supposed connection with Thomas Nelson, only to find out that they are just under the umbrella of a different publishing group. I know this because I’ve been contacted by other self publishers with the same address as Westbow. My experience was not good. One person in the office was very rude to me. They did indeed price my book out of the market but never consulted me on sale price. I only sold 35 copies on Amazon but had wonderful ratings. When I pulled out of Westbow, they refused to give me the native or publishing files. They said it was their property. Now it will cost me plenty to republish again stay away from Westbow.
If I read their misconduct. I would not have sign up they. Are not keeping their values as it is dated in their web site
Westbow has been after me for over 2 years to sign on with them. That’s my first concern. If you’re hustling me that hard, what’s it REALLY about? Recently they’re price has come down quite a lot, 340 initial price and 230 for the next two months. These reviews just confirm what I was thinking….No. So are there any good Christian publishers that can be recommended? It does’t have to be Christian, because although that is a big part of the characters in my book, it is a love story, and it gets quite “real” if you know what I mean. Anyway , I notice nothing posted here since June 2020. Hope someone is still here. Thanks!
Hello, what’s your honest review of Covenant Books of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina?
I read your article. Thank you so much for the warning. I am a new Christian author. You wrote an article to warn us about these self-publishing scams like Westbow Press and others, but you did not give us any alternatives. Which companies are reliable. Please we need that information. Who can we trust? Which companies are good? Please respond to my email and then write a new article on that please. Your audience is desperately waiting for this information.
Would someone please help me choose an affordable Christian publisher? I was all set to go with Westbow. They offered me the best pricing package. After reading the above reviews, I am not sure what to do. Please send me an email and advise. Thank you, Nancy
This is probably too late in regards to the book you are talking about, but there is a publisher called, New Harbor Press which will publish your book for half the cost of Westbow. They are a subsidy of Crosslink Publishing a well respected Christian publisher.
I have just had a bad dealing with Westbow. My book is a middle grade fiction fantasy about Book of Esther. After having the manuscript for one month, they cancelled my contract stating – after a week of asking – that it was because I had included talking animals. It is a fantasy!!! They have published other books with talking animals. Bottom line, I get a refund minus $400 US. All they needed to do was read the first two chapters to encounter the talking animals. That is not $400 US of work. Great scam though to take money then cancel and hold back a big chunk. No effort and 100% profit margin. Not the behaviour I think of when working with a Christian company.
Nancy, did you go with Westbow? I inquired with them, but after reading this am very nervous too.
Go to this page for great advice on self publishers, good and bad.
Your blog is very insightful, urgently reason for pause.. I will strongly consider your advisement . M y book is completed. It is my 2nd book, but 1st book to be published. I have reached out to Xulon, but thanks to your timely advisement, I will not be responding to their emails. However, I am still in need of a preferably Christian publisher for my book on Christian spiritual warfare through the Lord Jesus. In there any way you can assist me in a trustworthy publishing -self publishing co. I would immensely appreciate your assistance.
I disagree with the providers review of Xulon Press. I just published my first book with them and they were very reliable, thorough and provided additional services with no additional expense. I purchased a publishing package 9 years ago and it took me that long to actually have a manuscript to submit. They honored every dime and didn’t ask for a penny more. They extended me grace when I had additional edits and at every stage of the process I was kept informed, passed thoughtfully on to the next person and department. I believe I got a better looking book than what I have seen from “do-it-all-yourself” places and got my monies worth. Check out “The Big Lie and the Greater Truth”.
I am so pleased I happened upon your website and especially your notes on Xulon Press, as they have indeed been aggressively reaching out. As one might note from my website, I have primarily authored stage plays and screenplays. However, personally and frankly speaking, it has been in my spirit for quite a long while now to write novels. Though I have had a modicum of success, I feel that I have lingered on the wrong career path for far too many years.
I have an inventive, spirit-driven children’s book in the works, as well as a collection of inspirational writings. With your notes on Xulon and West Bow, I was wondering if anyone might have a recommendation for a reputable, Christian self-publishing agency with whom they’ve had a good experience. Thanks Much!
I agree with your assessment of WestBow Press as well. They were not transparent about costs. I did a whole lot of extra work to not incur charges after I had already paid for everything they said I’d be charged for. The only thing they can take credit for is pressing the print button. I even designed the layout of the book, altered every image myself, and chose the font/font size for my children’s book. They did nothing. I couldn’t have my press release sent out until I re-wrote it TWICE because of their typos and lack of understanding of what my short children’s book is about. And since Where We Found Home has been published, I keep getting calls from marketing agents from WestBow pushing packages on me that I absolutely cannot afford. I even asked to switch marketing agents because I was getting an attitude for declining unsolicited calls/marketing schemes from the agent assigned to me. They didn’t do anything about the reassignment yet. I would not use them again, and aside from having my children’s book available now, which was such a special project, I have nothing good to say about them other than the lady I ordered my author copies from was nice.
Me, too, Aly.
Did all the work and was charged extra for some revisions that I made!
Now we (my wife and I) self publish. Costs less and pays more.
I wrote a book and published it through Xulon.. they charged me over $1,400 just for the editing portion. after they had done all of the line editing they sent a copy back to me with corrections I went back through it and found 20 things that they should have corrected . After the book was published several people purchased it and discovered that there were three or four other areas that they had missed. I will not be using Xulon again. I am presently looking for another publisher. I I have asked for some type of sales report that have received no response for several days
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.
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!
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.