I run into this question quite a bit and it doesn’t have a simple yes/no answer. Over the years I do not think I have hidden the fact that I am a Christian and run my business and personal life, guided by Christian principles but I don’t believe that I have ever asked someone to work with me solely for that reason. I don’t believe you should either. One of the largest business losses I’ve ever incurred was at the hands of a so-called “Christian” corporation who I chose to deal with because they were “Christians”.
In a previous business, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on hundreds of different radio shows, from WWKW (W-Who-Knows-Where), hosted by Joe NoName, to CBS National radio with Charlie Osgood. The nature of these interviews was political and I had a product I was selling. This was the pre-Internet days of the early 80s, so the response to any particular interview was a little hard to gauge. With time, though, you got a pretty good feeling by the phone calls and orders that followed within a few days of a show whether a show worked or not. The ten to fifteen minutes with Charlie Osgood had the phones ringing for days while many of Joe No-Names netted no calls/sales, no matter how much time was spent on the air. It was sometimes surprising which shows worked and which shows did not work. My partner and I spent almost the entire night on air with talk show legend Barry Farber. We had a great time, with a friendly host but we had very few, if any, sales as a result. On the other hand we had more than a few shows where the host and various political opponents sat there screaming at us the whole time yet the orders rolled right on in. In the end, I was happy with the overall sales numbers as a result of all those interviews, primarily because the price was right… free. The only cost was time and maybe a little travel money. Thirty years later I can still do those interviews in my sleep so sales were probably not related to one interview being better than the other and more to do with the number of people actually listening. If nobody was listening, nobody was buying… easy as that.
Fast forward to the 21st century. RJ Communications (later Self Publishing, Inc) has been helping thousands of authors become publishers since 1994 through various websites, including www.RJCom.com, www.BooksJustBooks.com and www.SelfPublishing.com. The company had grown, primarily as a result of the Internet and Internet marketing. I was doing SEO work before there was even a term, SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Very little in the way of advertising was done outside the Internet although we all were certainly well aware of other traditional forms of advertising, like print, direct mail, TV, and radio. The problem was always the cost vs. the measurable return. TV advertising was out… way too expensive. We bought a certain amount of print advertisement, primarily in classified sections, advertising the free book Publishing Basics – Navigating the Self-Publishing Minefield. Direct mail never got beyond comparing postage cost with the cost of emailing the same prospect. Direct email marketing won hands down. That left radio.
My experience in the 80’s coupled with my own personal buying habits made radio advertising a possibility. I knew, for a fact, that a targeted message to a defined audience would net sales. It was strictly a numbers game. I couldn’t afford the stations and shows with millions of listeners so the plan was to find a smaller market. Unfortunately advertising sales people have a slightly worse reputation than used car or vacuum cleaner salespeople but if you want to buy advertising, you go through ad salespeople.
After much consideration it was decided that the best smaller market was the Christian radio market. We had a pretty good product idea that targeted clergy and lay leaders and we figured we would be dealing with Christians who would be telling us the truth. The initial interview with the salesperson did nothing to change my opinion of ad salespeople. He was smooth, to say the least, but it was Christian radio and he was a Christian so I felt reasonably sure that the slick presentation was at least based on the truth. Well, without belaboring the point too much, we ended up spending thousands of dollars on radio advertising with no results. Needless to say, I was livid. Not being one who appreciates being “taken” I escalated the matter into the upper management of the radio station, received additional “free” advertisements but with the same result. In the end, it was the number of actual listeners that had been exaggerated to absurdity. There were no listeners. With nobody listening, nobody was ever going to be buying. The sad part is that the number of actual listeners was the primary question asked multiple times throughout the process. In the end, it was all smoke & mirrors… all lies. So much for the Christian radio network.
What does this story have to do with publishing your Christian title with a Christian publisher? In researching this Christian radio network that operated on less-than-Christian principles, what else do you think that I found they owned? You guessed it, a Christian Vanity Press. A quick article search will give you more than enough reading material on the deceptive foundation of the vanity press industry. Is deception OK as long as it’s one Christian deceiving another? Not where I go to church.
New to the list is Westbow Press… another “Christian” publisher. I am an active prospect of pretty much all the various publishing services on the Internet. Westbow Press is no exception. I’ve spent the last six months trying to get the Westbow salesperson to admit that they are basically a “Your Name Imprinted Here” version of Author Solutions… the granddaddy of all vanity presses… which they are. The other day the salesperson was spinning so many yarns I tried to embarrass him into telling the truth, about the Author Solutions connection and the fact that most of the employees are actually in the Philippines, but had little luck. I’m sure he will be following back up with me in the near future trying out a few more lines aimed at getting my credit card out of my pocket. Unfortunately I am sure that none of these lines will include the truth. The most amazing part is the common “slickness” of presentation shared by both the Westbow salesperson and the Christian radio ad salesperson. I have to think on that one a little more.
Should you publish your Christian title with a Christian publishing service? The choice, of course is yours. Just remember that it is a “Buyer Beware” market. Do yourself a favor and look beyond the “labels” and judge the company by how others have been treated. It’s easy enough to do a simple Google search of “[company name] complaints” As with all pay-to-be-published publishers, ask any “Christian” publisher who wants you to pay them to publisher your book…
- Do I own the ISBN?
- Do I own the printing files used to print the book?
If the answer is no… or any variation of NO… it’s best to move on.