Why Are Christians Attracted to Vanity Publishing?

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Christians seem to be attracted to vanity publishing. Companies like WestBow Press, Xulon Press, WinePress, CrossBooks, BelieversPress and many others are reaping millions of dollars from well-meaning but unsuspecting Christians who simply want to inform or inspire others with their story.

Of course, these Christian vanity companies or imprints never say they are vanity publishers. They advertise that they are “Self-Publishers,” or God forbid, “Indy Publishers.” However, they are only different in one way than old-time vanity publishers, and that’s why I call them “The New Vanity Press.”

Distinctions Between the Old and New Vanity Press

vanity publishingWhat is the distinctions? Back in the day, vanity publishers made their money off editing, book composition and printing services. The New Vanity Press still does that. However, the old vanity press made you purchase 2,500-5,000 copies of your book upfront, but the New Vanity Press uses current printing technology, Print on Demand (POD), so you don’t end up with a garage full of books.

Other than that, the New Vanity Press is the same age-old vanity publishing enterprises. The distinction between true publishing and vanity publishing is that the vanity publishing companies sell services, not books. It will be up to you and you alone to actually sell your book.

The New Vanity Press will tell you otherwise. They will say, “We will sell your book on our website.” However, those websites sell few books. They are there for show and are not marketplaces that attract hungry book buyers.

The New Vanity Press companies will say, “We offer promotional packages.” However, these are just over-priced services aimed that those with approbation lust, and may or may not sell books. You are far more likely to sell more books with your own platform.

Pay Us Now and We May Give You a Contract Later

These New Vanity Press companies have testimonials from satisfied customers. Yet, if you Goggle the names of these companies, adding the word “review,” you’ll see there are a great number of people who feel they were ripped-off by these Christian companies. There have been lawsuits, and the Christian companies have lost because they misrepresented what they were offering.

One company, WestBow Press is the vanity publishing division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, a legitimate Christian publisher. They intimate that if you pay to publish with WestBow, it may help you get a traditional contract with their Thomas Nelson division later. They even have a few testimonials from people where that occurred. But that is a sucker play. If your book is outstanding, and you have a platform, traditional Christian publishers will give you a contract without the requirement that you first pay-to-play.

Some Christians are willing to pay extravagant fees to WestBow because they think they are being published by Thomas Nelson. But they are not. They are published by their vanity press division, and that is the difference, as Mark Twain might say, between lightning and a lighting bug. Readers, the media and bookstore owners all recognize WestBow as a vanity publishing brand, and that diminishes author credibility.

Is Using the New Vanity Press Good Stewardship?

If you use the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) of any vanity publisher, then they are the publisher of record, so you are not “self-published” in any sense of term. Many of these new Vanity Press companies are Port of huge corporations. For example, WestBow is a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers which is owned by NewsCorp, which owns the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Fox Sports, Fox Studios and newspapers around the world. It is ludicrous for their WestBow division to suggest, as they have in the past, that they are Indy publishers. They are not “Indy” in structure or spirit.

So, is it good Christian stewardship to deal with any company that generates fog to hide the true publishing landscape from you? That is an important ethical question that you must ponder if you are considering any of New Vanity Press companies.

You also must consider your stewardship of money. The New Vanity Press companies charge top dollar for their services. Most don’t even handle the publishing process themselves. Each company has a fancy websites, but most are just affiliates for a company called Author Solutions who does all the work. They usually contact with other third parties, some offshore, so your work is probably not done by Christian editors. The person you are working with at the Christian vanity publishing company is not an editor, or even an account manager in the truest sense, they are sales people. Their goal is to continually up-sell you to more, and more expensive, services.

What does it cost to get first-class freelance editing, cover design and book interior composition? No need to spend more than $3,500, but with careful research you can cut that in half. If you are paying the New Vanity Press more, you are throwing money away. Vanity publishing is a highly profitable business because they sell services, not books.

What about book promotion? The New Vanity Press will sell you an expensive promotional package, but they do not guarantee books sales. One Christian vanity publisher, Xulon, is owned by Salem Communications, a Christian broadcasting network. Not only do you pay them to publish your book, but their radio network also profits when you sign a promotional contract. Traditionally, radio stations interview authors at no cost since authors are the talent that attracts listeners who hear paid commercials. In the New Vanity Press model, the author is the commercial and they pay dearly for having their voice heard.

Explore your publishing options. Don’t throw away your writing talent or your money.

This article is adapted from The Self-Publishing Trap: Discover the Difference Between Self-Publishing Scams, Traditional and Indy Publishing by D.L. Hughes. Revised, enlarged and updated, June 2018.  This ebook clarifies in detail the differences between vanity publishing and Indy publishing. The author strongly favors Indy Publishing and encourages self-publishers to use that method instead of the New Vanity Press.



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4 Responses

  1. Shawn says:

    Hi, Donald… I am very intrigued by your article. In my short research of the web in trying to figure out who Westbow/Thomas Nelson is I couldn’t find much. However, after reading your article I see that it may be a trap that I could fall into. They offer a $1,000 package, and after much research on traditional vs. self-publishing it seemed a happy middle ground. I am in the works of publishing my first book and I am caught in between what to do and what not to do. It seems you have done your research and I was wondering if you could e-mail me in regards to the work you have done. I respect that you are a Christian that looks at all sides and I am very curious to see what you have uncovered.

    • Donald L. Hughes says:

      Thank you for reading ChristianWritingToday.com, Shawn.

      At the bottom of this article is a link to an Kindle ebook I wrote on this topic. It outlines the problem, the culprits and how they work. I also offer alternatives. You will find options in the ebook for the “happy middle ground” you are seeking. The ebook is modestly priced and could save you thousands of dollars, the humiliation of being published by what I term “The New Vanity Press, (Westbow, Xulon and the like)” and a lot of anguish. The New Vanity Press sells services, not primarily books. Some basic services are needed to publish a book, but quality work is available at a fraction of the cost these companies offer. Blessings as you get your book into print.

  2. Donald L. Hughes says:

    Yes, I’m afraid you are correct, Fielding. They do not do “due diligence” to make sure they are using the money the Lord provided them in a wise way. They think they are getting a good deal when, in almost all cases, they are being taken to the cleaners.

    Christians are not the only easy marks, however. Most people who go for the “pay-to-publish” schemes are secular and materialistic people who write on non-religious topics.

  3. Fielding says:

    They are easy marks.

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