Being faculty has its perks. While at Write! Canada, we met Jeff Gerke from Marcher Lord Press and he kindly answered a few questions for us to post here. This is Part 1 of 3 where Jeff explains the current publishing model and how MLP is different.
GWP: What is the most common misconception about MLP that you encounter, and how do you respond?
JG: Two. First, that we’re a self-publishing company. People say to me, “Well, if I were to decide to go with you, what would it cost me?” No. You don’t decide to go with MLP—MLP might decide to go with you. And in that case, you wouldn’t pay anything.
Second, that we do only e-books. Because we’re not in bookstores and because you buy our books online, people assume it’s all digital. But that’s not so. We’re a print book-first company, though we also do e-books.
GWP: Marcher Lord offers a completely different publishing model (you must be popular with agents). Why create a new model?
JG: First, you need to know that MLP is an advance-paying, royalty-paying publisher. Now, the advance is miniscule, but it is an advance. So you’re right that agents are not paying their bills by signing their authors to Marcher Lord Press.
Traditional Christian houses in the U.S. pay an advance (usually around $3,000 for a first-time novelist) and then, if the book ever makes back that amount (which 96% of books never do), the author earns a royalty rate of around 16%. In my model, I pay a very low advance and then, when the development costs for the book are made back, I split profits with the author 50/50. So…a royalty rate of 50%.
85% of Marcher Lord Press authors are receiving quarterly royalty checks. No other Christian publishing house I know of can say that
GWP: Part of that publishing model is not selling in bookstores?
JG: I didn’t try to get MLP books into brick and mortar bookstores for several reasons. My target reader has given up thinking she’ll find Christian speculative fiction in a Christian bookstore.
Bookstores require a massive discount off the retail price. If a book retails for $14, the bookstore will expect to purchase it for $4.90. They do this so they can mark it back up to $14 and keep the rest for their profits so they can stay in business. But it might cost me $5.50 to print the book. The big chains or big box stores [want] 65% off retail. Larger publishers use offset printing that prints thousands of books at a time, but then they have to ship all of these to a warehouse. So there’s larger printing costs for the whole job, shipping costs to the warehouse, warehouse rental and staffing, order fulfillment costs, and shipping costs from the warehouse to the bookstore.
I don’t play that game at all.
The third reason I didn’t try to get into bookstores was returns. If a book sits on the bookstore shelf for 3-6 weeks and doesn’t sell, bookstores want to ship it back to the publisher and get their money back. Often the books suffer in the return shipping, and they are not fit for resale. Bookstores used to tear the covers off before returning the books. I’ve seen a title sell into bookstores at huge quantities—only to be returned in huge quantities a month later. It’s a blow that not only kills a book, but can kill an author’s career and even sink a publishing company.
I understand why bookstores expect returns. They’re running so close to the red line that they can’t afford “dead weight” on their shelves. But it’s a game I decided I didn’t want to play.
GWP: MLP uses POD publishing. Can you explain that?
JG: When a customer orders a book, I place the order with my printer. The printer uses print-on-demand [POD] technology to print one copy of that book. The printer ships that order to the consumer. At the unit scale, it costs me more than if I’d used an offset printer to print 5,000 units at a time. But when everything else is figured (no warehousing, no large order expense, etc.), it’s costing me less. The POD model makes a lot more sense for the quantities we’re typically working with.
GWP: Why should authors consider publishing with MLP?
JG: Editing, for one thing. The big CBA houses are getting rid of their editors and using freelancers—or not having much editing at all. But every MLP book is edited by a multiple Christy Award-winning, ACFW Carol Award-winning editor who was one of three finalists for ACFW editor of the year in 2010.
The potential for greater financial success. Refer to the discussion above about higher royalty rate for MLP authors. Once my (very low) production costs have been made back, the authors are getting 50% of the take. So as we move forward, 50% of all profits for the book are profits for the author. It behooves the author to do more to promote the book because, at 50% royalties, it’s going to come back and bless the author. Whereas at traditional houses, the 16% royalty will always hamper the author’s profits, since 84% will always be going to the publisher.
No large CBA house publishes only Christian speculative fiction. There is wisdom in mastering and conquering a niche. Focus and exclusivity bring clarity and excellence, as any Olympic athlete or concert musician will tell you.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Jeff Gerke, the Marcher Lord 🙂 Like the Girls With Pens Facebook Page for bonus interview content in the notes section you won’t find posted here.