When it comes to writing as a business, there is no shortage of people telling you they will take your work from zero to hero with little or no effort on your part. There are companies that tell you they will handle everything from the cover to editing, publishing, and even marketing for you, in exchange for a fee. Usually a rather large one.

Every single day, people fall for these things. And every single day, these companies open, close, change their names, and time after time they fail to deliver on their promises to authors, or justify that failure by the mantra, “We can’t promise sales. No one can.”

The last part is true. However, you can control how your book is presented, how it is marketed, and what tools are used to get it where it needs to be. There are tools that work and tools that don’t, and there are ways to test and practice methods to make sure they will work before spending a lot of money on them.

I’m going to use an example here: a client that I ghostwrote a book for, and a “publisher” and “literary agent” who made him an offer to publish his story. The “publisher” went by the name “Christian Faith Publishing” and the agent’s name was Jessica Meyer. The client will remain nameless as part of our ghostwriting contract.

Ms. Meyer contacted him and even sent him a contract, which I looked over, and then told him my opinion on who and what this company was. He asked if I would talk to them on his behalf, and I agreed. Mainly so that I could bring you information not from internet research or negative reviews (although there are many out there you can search for yourself). And so that I could offer you some tips and some warnings about how to spot these companies, and how to evaluate if they and their services are right for you.

What’s the Difference Between a Publisher and Self-Publishing Services Companies?

Here’s the primary difference. A publisher accepts or rejects your work not just on merit, but also depending on how it will sell and whether it fits or conflicts with their current catalog. They then have your book edited, select a cover for it with some input from you, and publish and distribute your work. They do some marketing, but the bulk of it is still the writer’s responsibility.

Publishers make their money when, and only when your book sells. Their income is based on royalties, which is why they do not just accept any manuscript. In fact, often if you don’t have an author platform and a good social media and marketing presence of your own, they will reject you on that basis alone. Essentially, they pay for your cover, your formatting, your editing, etc. They collect that later by only paying you limited royalties.

A self-publishing services company means you pay for all of those services up front. So you pay a fee of $3500 to Christian Faith Publishing. You get editing, a cover, distribution, and a limited number of marketing resources. The bulk of marketing still falls to you, and often (as is the case with Christian Faith) once you have earned out what you paid them, they start to collect royalties on your sales. So you are actually paying them twice, maybe more if you sell a lot of books, for one service.

But the marketing materials they offer are not always what you need to sell books. That’s part of the problem, and we’ll talk about that in a minute.

What’s in a Name?

First of all, let’s look at the name of the company, Christian Faith. If you have been around this game long enough, you remember names like Author Solutions and all the “publishers” that split off from it. There have also been names like Tate Publishing and others who have been proven to be scams.

A quick look at “Editors and Predators” website will tell you about many of them. But always, whenever you get an offer in your inbox for publishing that just seems too good to be true, Google the company followed by the word “reviews.”

The founder of Christian Faith Publishing, Chris Rutherford, used to work for Tate Publishing. However, according to Jessica, our literary agent, he did not like the way they did business. That is why he left. Yet he is following a very similar business model, just with “Christian” in the name. You can view his LinkedIn profile here, and note that from 2009-2012 he was with a “Book Publisher.” That’s Tate, where he held several titles. Tate closed amid complaints of non-payment and other serious issues and was a publisher that also catered to “Christian writers.”

The point is that no matter what the name, and if the publisher claims somehow to be Christian, that doesn’t mean it is, and it certainly does not mean you will get what you pay for.

What about Transparency?

One of the keys when dealing with one of these publishers or a publicist, or anyone who offers to assist you with certain aspects of your writing is transparency. There are a few aspects to this.

  • Upfront pricing on their website.If you talked to someone about cleaning your carpets, you want to know the price, right? It should be the same with publishing services. With Christian Faith, it is not. In fact, what they charge an author seems to change, anywhere from $3500 to $5000 dollars, usually payable in monthly installments.

While Ms. Meyer would not give me sales numbers, as those were confidential, she also would not give me average sales numbers or average earnings. She did give me a link to their authors’ books on Amazon for me to check out. Many did not even have Kindle formats available, there were few reviews, sometimes none for each book, and the rankings were, well, questionable. Remember though, I had to go find the numbers. They would not give them to me.

  • Who you are talking to.Jessica Myers email signature reads “Literary Agent.” Toward the bottom after a few phone numbers is “Christian Faith Publishing.” But is Ms. Meyers a literary agent? It appears that the only publisher she places authors with is Christian Faith.

But wait. A look at LinkedIn and all of the Christian Faith employees there shows no Jessica Meyer. Nor is she on any list of literary agents in Google. In fact, she doesn’t seem to digitally exist at all. Is this the agent equivalent of a pseudonym used to lure authors?

pay to play

And just to be as transparent as possible from what we could find: although the publishing company is based in Pennsylvania, most of the staff doing covers, editing, and other work is based overseas. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the website certainly doesn’t tell you that.

What about Quality?

The first thing I noticed, or one of the first things, when I opened the Christian Faith Amazon page was the quality of the covers. It’s the same on their website if you look at the testimonials tab. Here’s the thing—I don’t want to run down the authors or the cover designers, and maybe it is the process that is broken, but either way the covers look—amateurish, and from a company that you are potentially paying nearly $4000 or more to publish your book (depending on who you ask), that just is not acceptable.

So I haven’t opened the books to see if the edited is just as bad, but I can say this—from covers and descriptions on Amazon, I have some real questions about their decisions to outsource work overseas. It seems like it’s not going well, and I’m not sure who is responsible for Q.A.

That does not mean everything they do is horrible, but it is certainly lower than other publishing standards.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the bottom line. Not everyone’s path to publication is the same, and self-publishing services certainly work for some people. With the difficulty that publishers have making money with the current market, I actually don’t blame them for charging for some services up front, or at least letting the author absorb part of the investment in their own work.

What I do have issue with is the use of words. A self-publishing services company is not a publisher, and their representatives are not literary agents.

I also have an issue with clarity and honesty. If I quote you a price on ghostwriting, editing, even web content, my process is pretty transparent, and whether you are my relative, friend, or a client I don’t know personally, you pay the same rates with very few exceptions.

When I contacted Jessica Meyer, literary agent, and asked her if the author could switch out some promotional material for others that would pay off better, she had this to say: “We are pretty much a take it or leave it publisher. We offer one package and one set of options.” Yet I have read that the cost of their services varies. If the same things are offered, why does the price vary?

In short, I’d avoid Christian Faith Publishing, and I’d be careful no matter who you are when you are approached by a “pay to play” publisher. Ask a lot of questions, get second opinions from friends and professionals in the industry, and be sure you have a lawyer examine the contract.

What other “pay to play” publishers have you had experience with? How did it go? Let us know, and if you would like to contribute a guest post about it, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.