Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Evaluating the Christian Writers Guild's Response to Self-Publishing

What if you could take a writing course, be mentored by a published author, and at the end, have your book published?

That’s the idea behind the Christian Writers Guild program “Published.”

Besides the shockingly creative name, there are other distinctives about the course. Jerry B. Jenkins, founder of the Christian Writers Guild, calls it “come-alongside publishing.” It’s kind of a halfway house between the traditional publishing industry (which is not open to new authors) and self-publishing (which doesn’t have much chance of success). The course, which comes with editorial, design, and marketing help, ensures that the books being printed are of a higher quality than your average self-published book, and professional enough to get the reading public to take notice.

And it can be yours…for only $9,995. That is, if you stay within the page limit and don’t need “substantial editing,” which accrue extra fees. In the comments section of the CWG blog post explaining the new course, the price was what many people mentioned as a negative factor.

Off the CWG site, bloggers got a little more intense. Some people think the Christian Writer’s Guild is essentially ripping people off, using the promise of a published book to up the price for a writing course. Might as well print a fancy certificate instead, they’d say.

One blogger said of Jerry Jenkin’s newfound desire to help aspiring authors, “I have a feeling that the epiphany had at least as much to do with dollar signs.”

That may seem cynical, but one thing that bothered me is that Jerry Jenkins is not actually a supporter of self-publishing, or at least he wasn’t at writer’s conferences in 2010. Jenkins himself admits, “Despite that I’m on record for My Quarrel with Self-Publishing, which is in my Writing For the Soul book and which I have mentioned from lecterns many times, I’ve seen the light on this issue.”

It may just be me, but this seems a bit…convenient. And also a bit corny.

This doesn’t seem to be a case of an author passionate about changing the Christian publishing world by making a way for new authors to get their books on the market. An example of this kind of person would be Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press. People like Gerke, who care about the genre they’re trying to pioneer and have been working on that passion for a long time, have a lot more credibility with me.

For the other side of the argument, one good defense of Jerry B. Jenkins was this post by literary agent Chip MacGregor. As he points out, even if we think the Christian Writers Guild package is outrageously expensive, it’s not unethical by any means. No one is being forced to take the course and have their book published. If it’s worth it to the consumer, who are we to criticize?

I would moderate that opinion a little bit by saying that Jenkins and the CWG have more responsibility than that. People trust them, not just to be free of ethical problems, which this new program certainly is, but also to be sincerely wanting the best for writers and presenting them with an option that is good for both the writers and the Christian book industry in general…which this new program probably is not.

How do I know? Well, first, I’m a professional writing major at a private Christian college, and the 12-lesson CWG course costs almost as much as an entire semester’s tuition, where I could take up to 17 credit hours of writing classes per week. Why not spend your money on that? Especially in a world where you can now hire freelance editors and designers, then pay next to nothing to publish an ebook that you can market on Amazon, the price factor on this course is a pretty big deal.

Second, the books that come out of this enterprise will probably not change the publishing industry, or make editors say, “Huh, I wonder if we should start asking for unsolicited manuscripts again.” Although there is some quality control with the CWG course, many people who take this route instead of putting in the work to find an agent or make a connection at a conference will probably not write something that sells well. I could be wrong, but I imagine that all the CWG course will do is give some people the satisfaction of getting to sell a few copies of their books to friends and family. The Christian book market will remain unchanged.

Maybe Jenkins is right. Maybe the publishing industry does need to change to accommodate new technologies and a new writing business. But I don’t think this is the solution, and judging from the many angry blog posts and comments I looked at, many writers agree. Only time will tell if writers-in-training who take the CWG course found the process and the results worth the money.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, you nailed it, Amy.

    I usually lean toward traditional publishing, simply because of its role as a gatekeeper. Not that there's anything wrong with self-publishing--I've met several self-published authors who *sold* several hundred thousand copies of their books. (And quickly found themselves in bidding wars with traditional publishers for the right to publish their work.)

    This new approach seems like the worst of both worlds, however. You lose the majority of the gatekeeper function, but also give mediocre or downright bad authors a sense of entitlement that harms them in the long run. In my work at a particular publishing house, I've received numerous proposals from aspiring writers who've worked with CWG with... shall we say, disappointing results. Nothing wrong with that, but it was certainly annoying when their proposals practically bled with ego as a result.

    You're right. There's nothing strictly unethical about what Jenkins is doing here. But I would certainly say it's doing a disservice to the CWG's brand. Which seemed to be the unspoken point you were making.