Jeff Gerke from Marcher Lord Press kindly answered a few questions for us to post here. This is Part 2 of 3 where Jeff explains the current publishing model and how MLP is different. Find Part 1 here.
GWP: MLP publishes Christian speculative fiction. Is there a market among Christians for weird?
JG: There is certainly a market for weird among Christians. Look at the success of Frank Peretti or Ted Dekker or the Left Behind books. Hundreds of thousands of Christians embraced these speculative novels. So the people are out there. The trick is to let those same people know that other books like those are available—and to convince them that they’re as good. So far, MLP has been able to tap into only a segment of that much larger potential readership.
The group that has been harder to reach consists of those tens of thousands of casual speculative fiction readers, the Dekker readers, the folks who don’t go out looking for the next new Christian fantasy novel, but who would read it if someone recommended it to them.
Word of mouth about MLP is growing, and the awards we’ve won and been nominated for certainly help us both with visibility and with convincing that larger group that these books are good.
GWP: In your opinion, will the big publishers begin to listen to the smaller groups crying for a greater variety of Christian fiction – or will the conservative church ladies set always be their main audience?
JG: I’ve said elsewhere that large CBA houses would actually be making a mistake to publish more speculative fiction. Or men’s fiction or military fiction or any kind of fiction that their core readership doesn’t embrace. If you produce tennis supplies, and you’re known for making tennis supplies, but then you start making, I dunno, scrapbooking supplies, you’re making a mistake. Your core customer won’t buy the new stuff, and no one in the scrapbooking world knows who you are, so your brand means nothing there.
Like I said, it’s wise to master and conquer a niche.
The way the old model works, it’s all about what Christian bookstore customers want. The people who come into Christian bookstores for Christian fiction are, generally speaking, sweet grandmothers. I love those ladies! But they don’t typically want science fiction, you know? And anyway, these bookstores are dying. So the force that gave publishers a reason to exist—serving these bookstores—is going away. CBA houses should keep supplying these stores and grandmothers, as that’s all these publishers are known for. But the demand is slumping toward extinction.
GWP: Can MLP compete with the big CBA houses?
JG: Can we compete with the larger CBA houses? Depends on what you mean. Can we offer those deep discounts? No. Can we get into bookstores across North America? No. But can we go head-to-head with them in the biggest contests in the industry? You betcha. Can we stand toe-to-toe with them for authors and end up winning? You betcha. I can’t give names or details, but that just happened this week. A big 3 CBA house and MLP both went after an author and a project, and the author chose us.
Here’s a better question: who’s going to be left standing in five years? The traditional CBA publishing model—which depends on bookstores—is dying. It was a product of its generation. It served us well, but no longer makes sense in our economy. The MLP model is designed to survive and thrive in a battered economy. And it scales upward quite nicely.
So, can we compete with the larger CBA houses? Ask me again in five years, and we’ll see which of them is around to compete with. I’m not trying to sound arrogant. I’m very sad that the old model is dying. But larger houses have so much invested in maintaining the status quo that it’s almost impossible for them to adapt. But smaller houses are more agile.
GWP: How is MLP handling this ebook revolution? Are you doing more ebooks, enhanced ebooks? What’s your take on that growing segment of publishing?
JG: I think technology has allowed us to become a global economy and a global bookstore. Yes, MLP is embracing e-books. All of our books are available for Kindle, and most are now available for Nook and the other devices that use the ePub format. I’ll always be a print-first kind of guy, I think. E-books are, in my mind, a secondary version of the print book. An alternate and slightly diminished way of enjoying the print book. But sales have taught us that our e-books are outselling our print books about 6 to 1, so we’d be dumb to ignore that.
We’re looking into enhanced e-books: adding music to our e-books, maybe video, graphics, animation, audio interviews, games and apps, etc. I don’t know if those are going to take off. In the near future, I see us possibly offering two versions of the e-book: a plain vanilla version with text only, and an enhanced (more expensive) version with some bells and whistles. Don’t know if people are going to like those extras or find them distracting.
And this month we launched our first experiment with an e-book only book. Ether Ore is a collection of short science fiction stories by MLP authors. It’s available for Kindle and Nook. On the first day of release, it hit #4 on Amazon under the SF anthology category—for print and e-books. So we’re thrilled with how that has gone. With a low price point and incredible content, it’s an attractive option for buyers.
Subscribe by email or RSS to make sure you don’t miss part 3 of GWP’s interview with Jeff Gerke.