A few days ago, I shared my opinions on an offer to “co-publish” my manuscript that I received from Charisma Media. I felt, and feel, that at the very best the deal is bad for writers and at worst their business practices unethical.
Charisma and I have exchanged correspondence since then, which I am posting below at their request. I wrote the original blog post because I felt compelled to warn away other writers; I’m posting their responses below so that curious writers can hear the other side of the story and make up their own minds about whether Charisma is a good home for their books. (The emails below are reproduced in their entirety, except that I’ve removed the name and contact information of my correspondent.)
First, the email I received from Charisma July 23 2012 in response to my reply to their offer to “co-publish” my work:
Dear Mr. El-Koura:
Thank for sending us a link so that we can see your blog post regarding our company. With all respect, you’re very wrong about us. Your blog site is aptly subtitled “The Fact & Fiction of Karl El-Koura” because while you’ve posted a few facts about us, the essence of what you’ve posted about us is fiction. We are a Christian publishing house, and none of our publishing options are unethical. You might think our prices are too high, but that’s your opinion, and it doesn’t make us unethical. Lincolns cost more than Fords, but that doesn’t make the Lincoln company unethical.
As you compare us with other companies, you have to look at more than price. You must also compare the quality of the finished product—cover design, interior design, printing, binding, stock, overall craftsmanship, and editorial quality. Our books stand among the finest in the industry. Furthermore, most other self-publishing/co-publishing companies do very little or nothing to promote a book nationally and internationally, in spite of wonderful sounding hype. In reality, their marketing doesn’t amount to much. Our marketing actually gives our co-published books a real chance to succeed, and we have best sellers as proof. So, the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” holds true in this situation.
And your accusation that we “pulled the bait-and-switch” on you is utter nonsense. You visited our website (www.CreationHouse.com) in order to fill out our Proposal Application Form and submit it along with your manuscript. If you had paid any attention to the information on our site, you would have seen that we clearly explain co-publishing as a “hybrid between self-publishing and conventional royalty publishing”¦made possible by your willingness to purchase your own significant quantity of books from the first press run.” And the fact that the application asks how many copies of your book that you’re willing to purchase should have been more than a clue that Creation House is not a traditional publisher.
With that said, According to the way “self-publishing,” aka, “vanity publishing,” is understood in the publishing industry, our co-publishing model does not fall under that category either. A vanity press will produce a book for an author at the author’s expense and derive all the profit for the company from this service. A traditional publisher, on the other hand, derives its profit from sales of a book that it produces at its own expense. Creation House invests in every co-published book. We print copies for our warehouse, we market the book, we distribute copies through all major trade channels, and we pay competitive royalties. And, of course, we profit from our trade sales. And we don’t co-publish any book that comes our way. We’ve very selective, and we send out a lot of decline letters.
Our editorial team felt that your work was very good, and it was given consideration for Realms, our traditional fiction imprint. But we’re a mid-sized publishing house, and unfortunately, we do not have the financial resources to offer traditional publishing to every worthy book that comes to us. It boils down to economics. While we couldn’t offer you full traditional publishing through Realms, your work was definitely worthy of the Creation House name, so it made the cut for co-publishing.
By the way, even houses that are bigger than ours are now writing into some of their “traditional” contracts a required author buy-back. It is becoming> more and more the norm. There are those who still think that authors should not spend any money whatsoever on their own books or else it’s vanity-publishing, but that’s an outdated notion.
We wish we could offer you a traditional contract, but we’re unable to do so. You have a standing offer from us to co-publish your book through Creation House. You also have our blessing to pursue better publishing opportunities. If you decide at some point in the future that our offer is your best option, it would be our privilege to work with you.
In the meantime, we are deleting your manuscript from our drives and servers as you’ve requested.
In the spirit of Christian friendship and Christ’s “golden rule,” we ask that you delete your blog post about our company. Please reply to confirm that you’ve done so.
In reply (on July 25) I pointed out that I consider their business practices unethical not based on the inflated prices they charge (as stated in my blog post), but because they pulled a bait-and-switch. As per my original reply to them and as per that blog post, I submitted through CharismaHouse.com; I told them that I’d never visited CreationHouse.com in my life (I still haven’t), and so I’d never seen the text they quoted. It appears on neither the submission form I visited—http://charismahouse.com/index.php/proposal-application-form—nor the FAQ—http://charismahouse.com/index.php/frequently-asked-questions—nor the instructions page—http://charismahouse.com/index.php/submit-book-proposal. I also reiterated my position that their royalty structure is deeply unfair to writers. Finally, I said that I appreciate their offer of Christian friendship, but that my conscience would not allow me to delete the original post, since I believe it would make a mockery of Christ’s golden rule to not warn away fellow writers.
Below is Charisma’s reply, also sent on July 25, 2012:
We receive 80 to 100 unsolicited book submissions every month, and over the past twelve years, we’ve sent out thousands of co-publishing proposals. You’re the first and only author to accuse us of “bait-and-switch.” Every manuscript that comes to us is given editorial review to see first and foremost if the manuscript qualifies for a traditional offer. Your manuscript was no exception. Even if a manuscript does not qualify for a traditional offer, but still meets the criteria to be a Charisma book, we offer the author the next best thing–collaborative, customized publishing. Book publishing is moving in this direction whether you like it or not. It isn’t bait-and-switch; it’s simply the reality of our industry–an industry that has changed and continues to change drastically.
You haven’t seen other posts similar to yours because other authors don’t share your opinion. We have hundreds of happy authors who would tell you you’re wrong.
We’ve noted that you did not visit the Creation House site, but that you visited only the Charisma House site and from that site submitted your work. However, the submission instructions on the Charisma site state clearly:
After our editors review your submission, we will notify you by mail or e-mail if the proposal was accepted, what imprint has accepted the manuscript, or if the proposal was declined.
We did exactly that. We notified you by email that your proposal was accepted by our Creation House imprint. Forgive us for not declining your work altogether.
Please know that we’ve taken your complaints seriously, even though we haven’t heard them from other authors. We’re planning to revise the submission instructions on the Charisma House site so that any author will know for certain that his work will be considered for co-publishing as well as traditional publishing. We’re also planning to revisit our 50% royalty rate for our “e-book only” option. As far as we know, 50% is the industry standard and is considered a fair rate, especially since the publisher does all the work in negotiating the licenses with the e-book distributors and uploading and maintaining the digital files. But we will research it to make sure that we’re still offering a fair and competitive rate.
And since you refuse to delete your blog post, we accept your offer to post our email responses on your site. We appreciate the chance to let our side of the story be heard.
Blessings to you,
Honestly I would’ve been gladder had Charisma declined my work altogether than grace me with their “offer” to pay them thousands (to tens of thousands) of dollars and at least half my royalties. I sincerely hope Charisma goes through with their plans to indicate on their CharismaHouse.com website that manuscripts will be considered for both traditional publishing and “co-publishing” offers, however it doesn’t change my opinion that the “co-publishing” terms are a bum deal for writers (for reasons I’ve already stated). Finally, I’d be glad to hear from some of the hundred of happy Creation House authors, especially if they were forthcoming with their sales numbers.