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CWG – The Rest of the Story

12 Dec

There is misleading information circulating online about the recent demise of Christian Writers Guild. Some of what has been written is blatantly false and a reckless use of the power of communication. Words like “rumor” and “threat” pique human interest and appeal to our basest selves. They may be good for clicks, but they do not dwell on what is lovely, noble, pure, or of good report. They do not lift one another up. They do not encourage.

As many of you know, I sold my 9-year-old for-profit company, Glass Road Media, to Dave Sheets in June 2014. Dave was one of the partners in the Christian Writers Guild. The only other partner was Jerry B. Jenkins. CWG was failing and I was asked to join in on the discussions to try and determine its best future. Those discussions allowed me to be privy to information that I am about to share because – and ONLY because – the best way to combat rumor is with truth.

Let me be clear. I am only sharing this level of information because of the misinformation that is circulating in the industry about why and how the Guild was shut down.

Jerry B. Jenkins and Dave Sheets became business partners in September 2013 after working together on a few consulting projects. They’d known each other since Dave’s days at Tyndale House Publishers, during the Left Behind heyday. Dave had always admired Jerry’s work and the work of Christian Writers Guild.

Their vision for the new partnership was to help authors who were coming through CWG with additional resources that would help them independently publish their books if that was their preferred route.

In their legal partnership, Dave was asked to be the managing partner (making the day to day operating decisions) while Jerry remained the majority partner. As has been said in other places, he felt, “that he was ready to return to his primary occupation and calling, that of full-time writing.” He wanted all the benefits of being the expert-in-residence without any of the responsibility of running the company. Understandable.

During this same time, Dave bought an independent publishing company to provide services to CWG authors. At his expense, he moved his family to Colorado to take on the CWG work as well.

Dave saw CWG as an underperforming organization, with a long track record of helping students and yet a very poor track record of financial performance. It had never posted a profit in the 13 years Jerry owned it prior to their partnership. This was due to very aggressive marketing expenses, sponsorships of events in the trade, and a highly expensive (and unprofitable) writers conference.

As has been said in many places, Jerry is generous with his resources in supporting author causes. He believes in the power of writers and the importance of educating them and ran the Guild according to that passion, without a need to experience profit. Essentially, his support carried the organization.

Dave shares that same passion for serving writers, but is a businessman who was brought into a for-profit company as a partner. A for-profit company that had not posted a profit for 13 years. (I have no knowledge of its financial state prior to that.) He felt that this could be turned around with a lot of effort, some new thinking, and other resources that he was bringing to the equation.

CWG moved to less expensive office space, trimmed staff, recalibrated the services and began the rebuilding process. In late 2013, Dave had a conversation with Jerry about the Writing for the Soul conference which Jerry had organized and operated for the previous dozen years. WFTS had always been a destination for authors looking for some of the best speakers and teaching in the industry, and it came with a commensurate price tag. Dave worried it was not a sustainable conference and knew it had proven to be a financial loss in previous years. Even with this knowledge, he was encouraged to commit to the 2014 conference, and it lost money again.

As these losses kept mounting, and anticipated course restructuring didn’t produce the revenue needed quickly enough to sustain the organization, Dave began taking financial resources from his publishing company to prop up the Guild. After a short time, he had to accept reality: The Guild model as a for-profit company was irreparably broken, and either needed to be reorganized under a nonprofit model, or shut down completely.

Dave and I had discussions with Jerry in July 2014 and provided a plan in August that outlined how the organization could transition with minimal changes, but needed some additional resources to make the transition. The bottom line was simple: a for-profit company needs to make a profit. While generosity and passion had kept it afloat for 13 years, this was not a sound business model. Dave had reached the end of his ability to financially prop up CWG, Jerry (understandably) had reached the end of his will to prop it up, and its history would not instill confidence for potential investors to keep it going.

After a number of weeks, however, Dave still hadn’t received final approval from Jerry on a plan. CWG costs mounted weekly. Dave was tapping out his company’s financial resources. A decision to shut down, move to a new structure, or continue with a single donor financing CWG was needed.

Finally, in September, Jerry and Dave agreed on a plan – to shut down CWG with the understanding that a nonprofit would be created to take care of the existing students, mentors, and CWG commitments going forward. Both men held true to one main concern: that the writers and mentors would be taken care of. I agreed to use my nonprofit experience and resources to help with this. Jerry agreed to help fund that transition through the nonprofit, to assist CWG in finishing well by the end of 2014. Together, the three of us began making phone calls to the mentors and other key people and informing them.

In October, Jerry asked for all of the shares of CWG back and withdrew his financial commitment to the nonprofit. I don’t know why. Dave effectively resigned from CWG as President and Jerry took it back 100%. Dave and I continued what had already begun under the agreed-upon plan – the formation of TheBelieversGroup which included both a nonprofit and a for-profit model.

That’s it, folks. That’s what I know to have happened. Now, to just combat some of the false information out there:

  • To my knowledge, Jerry and Dave are still friends.
  • Dave was the sole business partner with Jerry. There isn’t anyone else who had any stake in the Guild.
  • Jerry and Dave co-owned the organization since 2013 until he asked for his membership shares and control back.
  • Dave was not a rogue agent…Jerry and he made decisions about CWG together.
  • The students were getting served with all the services they paid for until the end of October when Jerry shut the Guild down. As far as I know Jerry has committed to continue those services.
  • We had a plan to serve these students under a nonprofit model which would have expanded their services and the value the Guild carried. This was not implemented. We have created BelieversTrust, a nonprofit which educates and equips writers, but we have not done so with the use of CWG resources.
  • The Guild never made a profit (it was single investor supported), and even with good effort, it never recovered enough to be profitable. The organization was in the red by hundreds of thousands each year before Dave ever entered the picture.
  • Both men invested significant dollars and time in the Guild’s success, at serious personal and professional cost. They did so because they truly believe in serving writers well.

If you know me, you know I tend to just say things out loud. I’m not good with the white elephant standing all lonely in the middle of the room with no one to acknowledge it. Especially when everybody is tripping on its trunk and bumping into its backside.

So, I’ve spoken the relevant truths that I know. I’m sure there is plenty of truth I don’t know, and that’s okay in this situation. Had there not been blatant misinformation out there that could harm Dave and all of the employees, writers, and mentors who depend on him and his organization, I’d have not spoken these truths. What I do know isn’t what was being gossiped, so I’ve spoken.

I hope – I pray – really, really hard that speaking all of this serves the purpose of focusing on good, noble, right things. I don’t intend to speak of any of this again and instead will focus on continuing the good work that began this year in the formation of TheBelieversGroup and its service to content creators. Their words create better culture for Christ.

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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Industry Reflections

 

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