This is the third installment of our interview with Jeff Gerke from Marcher Lord Press. Based on his experience as an editor and a writer, Jeff explains how publishers will have to change, and how writers can be successful in the changing market. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of this series be sure to check those out too.
GWP: The ground is shifting beneath us as publishers strive to remain competitive. What will publishers need to do more of, do better at, to be successful in this changing marketplace?
JG: I think that large CBA publishers ought to reinvent themselves while they still have the financial liquidity to do so. It’s better to make the change on your own terms than to be forced into changes you don’t like.
I think they should (regrettably) lay off all but about 8-10 employees. They should retool themselves as multiple MLPs, basically. They should pick the, say, three types of book they’re most known for, and concentrate on those. Hire or retain one editor for each of those lines or imprints. That editor becomes the publisher, if you will, of that line. He or she does the acquiring, editing, and project managing.
The company would keep one person for accounting and contracts management, one person to handle record-keeping and clerical work, maybe one person for sales to major retain chains, and then 2-4 people for marketing and publicity (mostly online and social network marketing). Finally, there should be one top person, the capital P publisher/CEO who knows everyone in the industry and can make the big deals with the big authors and agents, and who can make decisions for the imprints.
Everything else—cover design, typesetting, sales, printing, e-book conversion, etc.—can be handled by freelancers or in direct association with those companies. Everyone works from his or her own home, so there’s no need for a facility to rent or build. The company uses the POD model, so there’s no need for a warehouse or warehouse staff. Creating those imprints, each with a narrow focus, will clarify publishing decisions and maximize the brand the publisher already has.
It’s a model that’s not been tried at that scale, as far as I know, but I think it makes sense. It allows a publishing company to retain its identity and control of its destiny (well, unless God wills otherwise, of course), and it allows them to make the changes themselves. I like that outcome for these companies better than seeing them clinging to the old model and then having to simply go out of business. I’d rather have a smaller version of these companies people trust than to not have them at all.
GWP: What will authors need to do more of, do better at, to be successful?
JG: The refrain we’re hearing all over the industry now is that authors have to be marketers. They have to know everything about Twitter and Facebook and the rest. They have to do their own marketing because publishers aren’t able to.
That scares a lot of authors—novelists, especially. They just want to write. They don’t feel confident as marketers. Most of them are introverts, after all.
Then there’s the talk about self-publishing and how authors can bypass the publisher/bookstore blockade and get directly to the perfectly targeted reader. That’s a great opportunity for previously marginalized authors and genres. But it’s likewise intimidating to the wallflower novelist.
So the common wisdom is that authors have to be strident, tireless online marketers and brilliant entrepreneurs and self-publishers, handling all portions of the publishing process. It’s left a lot of authors quaking in their shoes.
But I see it as an opportunity for author services to rise up. These authors would gladly pay someone else to go be the Facebook/Twitter expert and advocate for their books. They’d gladly pay someone else to assemble the book and figure out how to sell it and to reach the target consumer.
This is the age of the freelance book specialist: the freelance editor, the freelance cover designer, the freelance e-book converter, the freelance online social media marketer. If you can do for authors what they need done, I think there will be a growing willingness among those authors to pay you to do it.
So if you’re an author…don’t stress out! Individuals and small companies will arise to do for you the things you’re being told you must do for yourself. You’ll be able to go back to just writing.
Thanks Jeff for being so candid and sharing your thoughts with us. Make sure you check out MLP – buy a book while you’re there 🙂
Do you agree with Jeff? Tell us what you think.