What You Need to Know Before Signing With Westbow Press

Typesetter

I’m sure you’ve heard of or seen Westbow books if you’ve ever been through a Christian bookstore. They’re a part of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan—so they’ve got some serious backing. They are the “co-publishing” wing of the bigger house and they guarantee that everyone who publishes through them will have their manuscript evaluated by their parent houses.

Over the last couple of years and last couple books I’ve had a few conversations with them. I went into a scheduled phone call with them with some numbers already determined. Like most indie writers, you’d probably look at their “publishing packages” and think—I’d probably have to save up but could maybe swing the lowest costing option—still over $1,000.

Being the creative guru I am and knowing what it actually costs to bring an indie book to print, I ran the numbers. I’d planned on a 160 page paperback in a 6×9 format and price it at 9.99. I can have that made via Createspace at no setup cost and my copies will cost 2.77, leaving a profit margin of 7.22 per book—I did it for both comparison purposes and to find out where my break-even price is. In my mind, co-publishing means that they would want to do something to make a part of the profits, right? Wrong. That’s not how they work. They sell you a package and then you still do all the long-term work such as marketing—unless you pay them more money to do added services… sounds an awful lot like Xulon to me. Or, gasp, Publish America?

Since most of the services they list in their publishing packages have little or no actual cost (for real? A cost to insert images into your book? Haven’t they heard of drag and drop?) for someone with a little talent or willingness to put in some effort, the lowest package amounts to those 5 “free” paperback copies actually costing you $220 apiece. Also, they won’t do anything in ebook unless you upgrade your package and pay them another $900 and upgrade into the next package (or put the book on Amazon or B&N).

Of course, there’s the usual spiel: “we only plan to make money off our sales percent,” (which is way too high and you only get a 25% author discount… if this were true you would get the books at close to cost.) This is untrue. I pointed that out when the Westbow sales agent tried to get me to bite on the lowest package after learning I couldn’t be talked into a more expensive one. She had tried to steer me to a higher one by mentioning I would not have U.S. Copyright registration provided as a service. “Um,” I replied, “you always have the copyright to anything you publish or self publish… this is not my first rodeo.” Of course she also tried the typical sales script, “One of the things we allow for is for you to retain complete copyright of your book.” I’m sure she hated talking to me since I responded with facts like, “the whole publishing industry is built on selling rights for an author’s work—why would I pay money to a publisher for them to be able to make money off selling my hard work? I’m here to actually sell, my ultimate goal is to sell the rights. Keeping them is the opposite of what I want! Give me money and you can have the rights—that’s how this works!”

westbow_newlogo

I would have less issues with a company that charged (even forced the charges as part of a package) if they were truly geared towards making authors successful, but with the price margins set up the way they are, companies are CERTAINLY trying to take advantage of enthusiastic indies and use them as free marketing employees. This isn’t just Westbow. It’s everyone. And it’s got to stop if you want to honestly say “we are about making money off of your book sales instead of off fees to authors.” One of the reasons there are so many indie authors that get burned out after the first book is that they flame out in a colossal heap of ruin… but the publisher still turns a profit because they made at least a thousand bucks even if the author could never sell a copy. There needs to be some kind of intermediate company out there to work with co-published indies which spends the bulk of their resources doing targeted sales of their books to brick and mortars as well as distribution and targeted individual sales via creative advertising methods. A publisher that is truly about the writers—it would succeed, but they couldn’t print everyone and instantly capitalize on the unpolished dreams of the writers as it seems all “copublishers” do. I wasn’t asked very many questions about my book; nobody qualified it to see if it should really be printed (and if it is, is there a market and how much refining work needs to go into the text to make it “not suck.” And let’s face it, most first time authors looking at self-publishing are still a few drafts away from “ready.” But don’t worry, at the $2,000 mark you also get an editorial assessment—but according to disgruntled Westbow authors you might be better off having a class of sixth graders group edit your manuscript as an English class project—they might even work for Cheetos and soda.) The reason they pull all these shenanigans: their folks get commissions for their sales packages (I verified later from an internet search, but as a commissioned salesman in years past I spotted the all the signs and pressure sales tactics a mile away.)

Basically I came away with the understanding that the only reason to use Westbow (provided you can do some of the very basic things like hire your own editor, utilize the createspace cover designer, or pretty much anything I’ve taught people to do through my blog,) is get a cursory look at your manuscript by a slush-pile sifter at Zondervan/Thomas Nelson and (if you pay for a package $2,000 or more) have access to be purchased via shoppers at Christian Book Distrubutors/CBD (see an earlier post about my frustrations over the impossibility of getting in there.) For just a few hundred bucks, though, you could go to a Christian writers conference, get some skills and contacts, and also have the same ability to pitch your work to reps from a bigger house (only it might be more convincing in person,) and I told the nice lady at Westbow as much. I think she thought her sale was a slam dunk—she had salesmanship talents, but I had facts and predetermined numbers from my experience as an indie.

Westbow might be a decent alternative if you have a large platform and have already got a strong enough sales records/expectations because of a traveling ministry circuit to allow for a $3,200 or more package just so you can be carried on Christian Bookstore shelves (your copies will be otherwise be just as unreturnable as any Createspace titles.) And if you want any sort of media campaign to have publicists work on your behalf to get the title into those stores without doing all the legwork yourself then be prepared to swallow an $18,000 price tag.

Here’s the rub… if you’re going to need to do all of the legwork yourself anyhow you would be better off financially if you went the indie route (even spring an extra chunk of change to invent the name of your own imprint publisher so that it doesn’t come up as Createspace—it’s a $100 add on) and independently hired a publicist… it would cost about $6,000 on top of getting your book ready and comparable promotional materials. A savvy indie author (or someone who just followed my blog religiously,) could realistically get their book out with paperback copies and promotional materials in hand AND have returnability via Ingram distribution for only a few hundred dollars—something that Westbow would charge more than $2,000 to do… you could even hire that personal publicist and come out at a third of Westbow’s service charges.

In the end they wanted me to buy in at a minimum of $3,150 so that they could sell a ten dollar book for $15 and charge me 11.25 per copy despite actual production costs closer to $3 (meaning they make $2 for every dollar I make AFTER PRODUCTION COSTS—and that’s if I inflate the production costs to about $4.) At least at this price point the stores have returnability so I could theoretically get my books on shelves… if I can personally contact a bunch of stores and get them on shelves through my own efforts… that makes the break-even point for me a minimum of 840 book sales. Up to the break-even point Westbow will make $15,749 gross profit before you earn your first real penny in the black—but that’s only if you work your rear-end off to market and sell the product that you already poured your heart, soul, and more money by way of editors, time, etc. into.)

If I up my price to $15 and sell the book on my own through Ingram at the max discount (it’s around 60%) I’ll still make about $3 per book and I can sell it on Amazon as well for ten bucks and make $3.25 per sale. If I was smart and follow this blog I did it for no cost and have already broken even—I could still do that promo and legwork and if I sell 840 books I’ve made over $2,500.
(you can check out package costs here:
http://www.westbowpress.com/Packages/PackageCompare.aspx
and the Createspace creation calculator here:
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/)

For a certain type of writer this might be a great option for a publisher (and I’m honestly considering using them for my devotional book in the off chance I can’t secure regular publishing for it.) However, one thing was certain: when she told me “our goal is to make money off of your book sales and NOT from the author,” that is certainly a falsehood. Christian-book-publishing might be as secular as any other cut-throat business, regardless of the product’s contents.

Until the copublishing/price-sharing/self-publishing houses figure out that authors aren’t stupid people they will continue running schemes and scams on us. Unfortunately, most starry-eyed first-timers are just happy to talk to a publisher (of any variety) and so they get suckered into agreements. Hopefully this post has been of help to you (I know it’s long) and please share it and become a regular follower of my adventures in writing.

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25 thoughts on “What You Need to Know Before Signing With Westbow Press

  1. I just bought a westbow package at a discount 11 days ago. After reading your article I want out. I am asking for a refund but wonder if they will give me any of my money back. I am devastated. I am living on social security and most of my savings went into it. Is there anything I can do? Thanks for your article. I will not give them anymore money no matter what. They say I have 90 days. I wonder.

    Lissette

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    1. I can only recommend you try everything you can to get out of it! hold them to the fine print. I have had calls from them before and they can be pushy. when they get pushy, get rude. remember that pushy people use social niceties to hold others in check, so when they dance around the line consider that they are trying to make you look like the bad guy even though they are the ones trying to take your money!
      If you follow all of the advice on my blog (which is also in my book: the Indie Author’s Bible) you can get everything they offered and more for no money down… and then you won’t have to wonder about the genuineness of your publisher’s faith (because it will be you!)
      Once you are out of their control, Email me and i’ll give you a free download code to the ebook version of the Indie Author’s Bible to help keep you going.

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  2. Thanks a lot for this article.I am a first time author and was planning to save money to get one of those westbow packages.Glad to have escaped.I was disturbed by my first call with the sales guy because he was manipulating me to not let the’blessing’ in this case any money I got stay idle but think of depositing with Westbow first.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this article. I am a first time author & feel I got hooky booed big time! My book, Golf Plus, Improving Your Life While Enjoying Your Swing, was published by Westbow Press in September 2016. The initial cost was $2676.65. I thought this would be the cost for publishing & promoting my book only to soon find out there was extra cost for editing the book (so it would be professional according to them) for $1391.00. After the book was published the marketing person calls to tell me how much extra I would need to spend to promote the book which amounted: $1798 for website & BookLook Bloggers and could of been a lot more. My total payout to them as of this date is $5865.64 + I have bought 200 books and they charged me $10.69 per book for me to try to sell myself. Is this cost fair to the one that spent all the time writing it?? They set the price of the book at $17.95 for a paperback that only has 204 pages. I thought this was way to much but had no say about it. As of this date I have received one royalty check for $143.83. I am a retired Christian pastor that wrote this golf/spiritual book to reach an audience to share principles and truths from God’s Word. I was lead to believe that Westbow Press was christian oriented and I am hurt & disappointed with them not being upfront about many things. Thanks for letting me share my experience. God bless you for trying to help folks not have to go through this.

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    1. Hey Jim. If you’re interested, you can use the principles from my blog (or the book The Indie Authors Bible) and relaunch your book at a lower price rate so you can use your book as a ministry tool (& buy your own books for under $5)… feel free to email me with questions or if you need guidance

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      1. I have been contacted by Okir Publishing Company ~ do you know of them – good or bad?? Thank you for offering to help me. How would I go about relaunching my book?

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  4. do not use westbow press
    I wasted a yr if my time and spent over $1500.
    they lied to me on more than one occasion,
    after everything had been finished i found out i now had to take my books to book stores and they directed me to do all the work as well ad publicity ,
    this is not what i had been told when i signed up. the main reason i picked them “ we will put your books in our stores , over 20,000.
    their workers took forever to return calls .
    Createspace is the best. they return emails in 48 hrs st the longest and have published 3 of my books at no cost to me.

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  5. Sandee, saying that Westbow lied to you is a pretty big charge. Perhaps you would consider providing details to support that charge.

    I am neither for or against Westbow at this point. I am here only because I was recently contacted by them concerning my writing.

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    1. Hold up R… THEY contacted YOU? Does the R stand for RR Martin (George… who perhaps recently converted)? Obvious sarcasm… but I’m not picking a fight. Sandee’s story holds a lot of water, especially if they pursued you while you have sold less than a million copies of a book (million is not an exaggeration.) Publishers who pursue authors without serious literary/sales credentials are nearly always trying to capitalize on fees paid by authors (author mill) rather than funds generated by book sales (publisher). Everything about Westbow indicates author mill… and the one of the worst sort because they represent themselves as a ministry. Scam presses lie, or at least fundamentally misrepresent themselves to authors, so I’ll go to bat for Sandee’s defense. Also, based on the tone of her comment, I would assume she was more trying to share her personal story as a warning for others, although the quotations do seem like a direct detail in her charge. The fact that you missed that makes me wonder if you work for them (and if so, you wouldn’t be the first Westbow employee who’s tried to steer some positivity back to the company–but that’s not happening without the omission that they are a vanity press and the cessation of their sales team’s commission model… which is incidentally why they will initiate publishing conversations with anyone-create a fake email and details and indicate that you might be looking to publish on their website. They will contact you. Sorry, but their interest doesn’t make you special; it makes you a mark. I have many articles on this on my blog… hopefully they will help you steer clear–there’s more than shark in this swimming pool.)

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  6. Thank you, thank you!! I have been “pestered” by Westbow Press for several years. Yes, I made the initial contact, but have said “no” every time. The sad part is that they say they are a “Christian” publisher, and when you do feel led to write and publish a book it feels as if this is the only way to go. My book is finally finished, only taking me 30 years! However, I am so glad that I found your blog. I will be going back through your archives to catch up and gather valuable information I am sure! I have always felt that Amazon was the only way in which I could self publish. Like many others, I am not in the position to be able to spend money on this endeavor. But I know it was to be written and now published in such fashion. Thank you again for all your valuable information.

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    1. I hear you! and I got a “pestering phone call” from them only days ago which convinces me they have a “cold file” of old contacts for their agents to occasionally crawl through to earn commissions.
      Incidentally, I also met an author over the weekend with an awesome, unique devotional book (which i now own) and he used a similar service (Xulon) that is almost identical to Westbow. I showed him the article I wrote and the comparison on the printed version (in my book, The Indie Author’s Bible (IAB)). He did a literal face-palm and said, “yep. pretty much the same.” They got him for over $6,000 in unnecessary services and charge him $8+ per book (I did the price calculation in front of him…a new feature in my Indie Author’s Bible Workbook. It came out to about $3.33 before shipping.)
      Feel free to contact me with any questions, and check out my IAB series… i know it’s helped several authors, but most of the content is discoverable on this blog

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much. I was just out running errands and someone asked me: “Is that book out yet?” How do you feel about self publishing on Amazon? I am relatively sure you have addressed this, so if so I can find it. I just keep gravatating toward it. I truly have the inability to invest in it at this point.

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  7. They most definitely lied to me. They blew profuse amounts of smoke my direction. I have two businesses and they are successful, so I’m not a gullible person. However I was very eager to publish and they lied to me on several fronts to the tune of over $10,000. The worst was their multimedia promotion for your book with a company out of Arizona. It was basically $5000 to help me set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I had already done all of that so the guy I was dealing with just posted some false posts pretending he was me trying to interact with followers I built up. It was a horrible experience. Especially for a company that claims to be Christian. They are very far from any Christian principals when it comes to business.

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  8. Christopher, I am in the midst of trying to get out of my contract with Westbow. Did you become a publisher or should I just start with your “how to” book? I need serious advice as I am ground beef from Westbow right now. Please help!

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    1. the old google box helped me find Westbow’s sample contract. Section 8 allows either party to terminate the contract… however, you should not expect a refund. You can
      Also, in reviewing their royalties structure, you should’ve run right away. it’s attrocious–worse than i thought. (10% of retain on an already inflated cost, so a $10 book is sold for $14 and earns author $1.40 in royalties and gives publisher about $10.50 AND they don’t pay until a minimum royalty is earned… that same book sold from an indie earns him/her about 7.50 after costs.)
      But I digress. If you want to get your fees back, you probably need to call a lawyer and claim that the publisher’s work was not up to the expected quality.
      You should also note another caveat on section 4.9 and also in section 8, it looks like while you paid for the artwork, layout, typesetting, etc. you might not have permission to use it (especially the art) if the contract is terminated. You might also have a lawyer look at section 14.3 (Notices) prior to terminating. It reads like a way out of paying you if you start the termination proceedings before demanding any refunds (or do not follow their very specific instructions)… again, Lawyer up.

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  9. Oh no…this is bad news. I have just completed my book. It turned out much better than I ever expected. It is going through that stupid editorial assessment right now. Can I get out? I have no earthly idea how to market my book or what to do on my own. Should I try to get out of my contract with them?

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    1. The short answer is yes. If you can get out, do it in a heartbeat. According to their standard contract, I believe it’s Section 8 allows you to give them notice to get out. There is some particular ways you need to do that, and they’re going to hold some of your money out of what you paid them already. But it’s a small price to pay to not lose more. And incidentally General consensus says that THEY don’t know how to market your book either. You will be much better off taking what you’re going to pay them in fees and investing them in some marketing classes and webinars online. My book and this blog will give you detailed information on publishing and putting the book together. That part is actually quite easy if you just follow the steps, again see my books. And as always, feel free to email me with any specific questions

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