Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jerks Come in Every Market

When I was in college, my Sociology professor said, "You stop being prejudiced when you realize jerks come in every color." That statement has stuck with me all these years. I'm not sure everyone fully understands it when I quote it, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't sink as deep with a lot of people as it did with me.

What that statement means is:

We tend to overcompensate when we feel prejudice. God forbid we think a black person is mean or dishonest--that might be racist. But let's face it, some black people are mean and dishonest. So are some white people. Jerks come in every color. Once you recognize that, you can start judging people based on their behavior, not their skin color.

This holds true for religious and political demographics as well. Having friends who are both atheists and Christians, both Republicans and Democrats, I have noticed that the most vocal are the ones that are most opposed and offended by the other group. I remember posting on Facebook that my one take-away from the election experience is that people groups judge each other by their extremists.

All that said, I'm going to switch topics a bit. Sorta. And in a way that is probably going to have my words misconstrued. I'm going to be accused of calling Jerry Jenkins a jerk. I'm not, I promise. But here goes....

Jerry Jenkins recently announced that his company, Christian Writers Guild, will be opening a publishing house, but it will run rather differently from traditional publishing. It's only being sorta-kinda called self-publishing by Jenkins/CWG. Essentially, a writer pays nearly $10,000 for a six month writing course and then will receive for "free" a publishing package.

Um....

First of all, $10,000 for both a six month course AND a self-publishing package is on the high side. A writer in a Yahoo loop I belong to quoted Jenkins as saying, "Anything with that kind of a price tag will appeal to only a certain market segment. In fact, we'll vet all applicants and cheerfully steer many to other, lower cost suppliers before we would hurt them financially. I would not advise anyone to stretch beyond their means for services they can find elsewhere for less." (Emphasis mine, and yes, this is second-hand, and I cannot directly verify the accuracy, but I do trust my source.)

That quote tells me he's fully aware that he's over-charging. He's trying to "appeal" to a certain market segment. I'd like to know what that segment is. My guess: the segment willing to pay $10,000 to say they were published by Jerry Jenkins.

So here's the connection. We judge by our extremists. Our extremists are all too often the jerks. Our extremist jerks end up inadvertently becoming our group representatives in other groups' minds. So the *real* representatives and leaders in our groups need to tread extra-carefully to balance that out.

Jerry Jenkins is a Christian fiction icon. He and his company, CWG, are seen as one of the biggest examples of the Christian fiction industry. In a way, he represents the CBA to many people, both inside and outside the Christian market. The idea that he is charging more for supposedly better quality and supposed opportunity for new Christian writers is not going to matter. The secular world sees it as a joke. Just check out this post on Writer Beware.

The head of any company becomes personally held accountable for that company, especially when that person's name is as big as the company itself. Walt Disney knew that. Sam Walton knew that. Jerry Jenkins ought to know that, and I believe he does.

What is happening now is Jerry Jenkins putting his name on this kind of practice is like him stepping up and saying, "This is how we do things in the CBA. This is what Christian writing is all about. Not letting talented writers land real traditional contracts, so they are forced to come to me and pay through the nose for what they want."

It may have truly started as a way for him to meet a need in the CBA. I am not judging Jenkins' character. I know nothing about him. But the only exposure I've had to CWG left me sick to my stomach. For a year, they joined forces with my main writers group, Word Weavers, which is a non-profit group. Things were supposed to be separate--WW members were not required to join CWG, and vice versa, but supposedly got discounts going either way. Discounts on over-priced webinars, the solicitations for which filled my inbox on a regular basis, leading me to drop my WW membership until WW and CWG parted ways.

So you have to see where I'm coming from on this. I'm not personally attacking Jenkins. I am not trying to spread gossip about him. I am merely evaluating a service offered by him and his company, and seeing things that don't add up. It's true that no one is being forced to choose this path he has laid out. But I know so many will choose it, including a lot of people that can't really afford it.

So, while I'm not calling Jerry Jenkins a jerk, the secular publishing world is, and Christian writers are being made out once again to be naive and gullible.



15 comments:

Kessie said...

Oh wow, I hadn't seen the Writers Beware post about it. You're downright charitable compared to what folks over there are saying!

I wouldn't blink at this whatsoever if it hadn't come on the heels of Jenkins' about-face regarding ebook sales. I wonder if all those articles about all those sales had anything to do with it? I think his company just wants a slice of the pie, same as everybody else. Writers beware, indeed.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Well, the secular market is not going to jump in and defend Jerry Jenkins because he's a Christian--they're going to judge him more harshly than fellow Christians.

And while I believe businesses have a right to do what they want and charge what they want, I think if they are saying one thing and doing another then they're opening themselves up for scrutiny. And that's what's happened here. "Oh, we're trying to help the truly talented--but ONLY the truly talented that can afford this program." Nope, sorry.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Excellent analysis, Kat. The "only being sorta-kinda called self-publishing" is the part that's getting CWGP called a scam or vanity press. If the company were more upfront about what it's doing, it wouldn't be drawing so much fire.

Lisa Godfrees said...

"Despite the best efforts of his guild's training, he said, not enough new authors have been able to land deals with traditional publishers, in part because houses continue to insist that authors have a significant "platform." As a result, "good, passionate authors are ignored because they're unknown," Jenkins told PW."

To rephrase, "After 6 months in my course, the author's work is still not up to the standard to be traditionally published." -- It seems that says a lot about the course. How can anyone think they can take a newbie writer, no matter how talented, and get them to the point where they are good enough for traditional publishing in 6 months. It sounds like a press that going to put out a lot of mediocrity.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Right, Kristen. It's like subsidy publishers. "We won't charge you to publish, but we will *require* that you purchase 250 copies of your book for $1700." In this case, you feel you're getting a bargain because you're getting classes instead of just books, but it's still putting the cost of publishing on the writer.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Lisa, I thought exactly the same thing. If his courses aren't helping writers now, then what's the draw?

If he was really concerned with getting "talent" out there without concern for "platform" he'd start a TRADITIONAL press that disregards platform. What he's doing now is disregarding both platform AND talent and only taking on people who can pay $10,000.

Fred Warren said...

It looks to me like he's mostly selling The Jerry Jenkins Writing Experience.

It's akin to one of those celebrity cooking courses where you study with a famous chef for a week or three and return home with a few new techniques, a cookbook, a monogrammed chef's coat, and a wallet that's lighter by two or three thousand dollars, plus travel, lodging and incidentals.

Will you then be equipped to start your own signature restaurant in Las Vegas? No.

Will you forever after be able to say you once studied under the famous Chef Zhenkeens? But of course!

At least with the cooking course, you can eat your creations.

Kat Heckenbach said...

LOL, Fred! Love it :). Perfect analogy!

Diane M Graham said...

Only a brave Chicky would kinda-sorta call Jerry Jenkins a jerk. *snort*

Kat Heckenbach said...

Only you would say that, Diane :P.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the company in Orlando I was in touch with a couple of years ago. In addition to "publishing" my book, they would be my "consultants" in every aspect. Various priced packages were available. Since they sent a newsletter with some very good ideas, I thought it might be worthwhile to meet them. When I inquired about this, I was sent an email to advise that unless I had a minimum of $3500.00 to invest, there wasn't much sense in scheduling an appointment. It was then, the light bulb went off for me...there are publishers and there are "publishers". Buyer beware. Or in our case, writer beware. Rick Christensen

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yep, Rick, it's that "we'll only deal with you if you pay up" that's the issue. The subsidy example I gave in a comment above really happened to me. I was contacted by a "traditional publisher" that wanted to contract my first book. (Without having read it--RED FLAG!) I knew they were up to something, so I asked to see the contract and of course it included a clause that required me to buy 250 books for a total of $1700. I told them I'd talk to them if they removed that. Whatcha think they said? Yep: bye-bye. Big surprise :P.

Jessica Thomas said...

I think it's okay to say that what he's doing is a potentially jerky thing to do. It wreaks of scam and self-importance. But, I bet the bottom line probably is, he's doing it because he can (And who wouldn't want Jerry Jenkins bottom line, right? $$$) Based on what I've read of his stuff, I wouldn't choose him as a writing coach. That's not the kind of stuff I want to write. It's working for him, though, obviously!

Jessica Thomas said...

So I just hopped over to the CWGP website.

"When you have completed our six-month Published course, personally mentored by a widely published professional, we will publish your book of up to 75,000 words (surcharge for longer manuscripts).

Services include:

...
...
...
12 free copies
...
..."

I can get 12 free copies for 10K?? Sign me up!!!

And don't miss this little nugget: "You want a quality result that honors God and your vision."

Time to call a spade a spade. Jenkins has lost touch with reality. And he's dragging God's name along with it. I think there's something in the 10 commandments about not using God's name in vain. Granted we all make mistakes, but if I ever get this self-absorbed, PLEASE SOMEBODY TELL ME! (And while you are doing so, please don't mince words.)

Kat Heckenbach said...

Funny how honoring God can be so neatly done with this nice little checklist. Pay $10,000, take a course, keep the word count under 75k...