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Marcher Lord Press Regenerates

Literary agent Steve Laube has bought the Christian speculative publisher from Jeff Gerke; how may fans respond?
| Jan 1, 2014 | 59 comments |

The MLP Logo--OfficialNo, I didn’t see that coming.1

Today I learned that one of my favorite publishers, Marcher Lord Press, has been sold.2

I couldn’t help but think of Doctor Who. On Jan. 1, MLP founder Jeff Gerke, presumably after having blasted a Dalek horde out of the sky, stumbled into the control room of the TARDIS. After a tearful reminder that people change and that’s okay, a glowing Gerke jackknifed over the console, then snapped upright to reveal a new face: literary agent Steve Laube.

Laube now owns Marcher Lord Press. He’s a former Bethany House editor, a fantastic-fiction fan, and the literary agent behind novels such as Kathy Tyers’ Firebird space-opera trilogy and Randall Ingermanson’s and John Olson’s Oxygen and The Fifth Man.

From the press release:

Jeff Gerke, the founder of Marcher Lord Press, said “I could not have found a better person to buy the company I started in 2008.” Marcher Lord Press has a backlist of about 40 titles with many of them nominated or winning both Christy and Carol awards for being the best in their genre.

The new Marcher Lord Press will be run as a separate company from Steve Laube’s literary agency. The agency, founded in 2004, has four agents and over 150 active authors (www.stevelaube.com) with contracts for nearly 1,000 new books. Gerke will focus his efforts on his freelance editorial and publishing service business and his own. “The plan is to continue with what Jeff started and release between 4-8 new titles in 2014,” Laube said. “I have long believed that this genre has been underserved in our industry despite its inherent ability to tell ‘Fantastic’ stories of philosophical and theological depth.”

Accentuate the positive

  1. Will MLP get bigger? Improve its novels’ quality? Showcase its already diverse and creative titles to the wider audience it, and the Christian SF genre, often deserves?
  2. Will we see MLP titles at Christian bookstores, or even better, “normal” bookstores?
  3. Could the “niche” finally grow beyond those who already want to have their fiction projects published — to the level of folks who pick up novels or become fiction fans without dreaming of joining the authors’ ranks? (Perhaps I’m dreaming in our celebrity-obsessed age, or else crossing over into the next category of questions.)
  4. May even more Christian artists find ways to worship and promote joy in stories?

Eliminate the negative

  1. If MLP does expand, will the diversity and creativity of its repertoire remain? What about existing titles, such as the surprise-breakout Amish Vampires in Space? (MLP author Vox Day has already chosen to take his A Throne of Bones series elsewhere.)
  2. If MLP crosses over into Christian bookstores, how will Christian fiction-publishing standards — and all the real or perceived constrictions that implies — affect titles?
  3. How will fans (to say nothing of authors, editors, publishers) meet the inevitable challenges of growing beyond a “niche” market and finding success? Will we handle differing opinions in a Christlike way, putting first stories and the joy they bring us? Will we become merely another aspect of the “evangelical industrial complex”?
  4. Fans should love fantastic stories that glorify and worship God through explorations of truth and beauty. Will this “chief end” slip away, replaced by pragmatism — the notion that says, “The purpose of stories is to evangelize, entertain, or edify”?

How can this change best please our Author? How can Christian fantasy fans anticipate a newly “regenerated” Marcher Lord Press, support great stories, and best grow the genre? Moreover, how can we continue to seek His delights in fantastic tales in the new year?

  1. Today’s column from Marcher Lord Press author John Otte has been moved to tomorrow.
  2. Update: Here’s the official announcement from Marcher Lord Press.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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CKoepp
Guest

Surprise!  Wow… Watching the transformation will be interesting.

Michelle
Guest

I hope this means that Jeff has more time for his own stories. Bless him, he’s been so fantastic about championing everyone else’s.  Also, running a small press has to be exhausting, and more like the small press runs HIM than the other way around.

While I have decided to step away from reading any type of Christian fiction speculative or otherwise, I wish Jeff and Marcher Lord  Press only the best as they continue onward in their separate adventures.

Steve Laube
Guest
Steve Laube

Excellent post. I’ll be attempting to answer some of these questions in the form of a Q&A on the agency’s blog on Monday the 6th. (www.stevelaube.com/blog)

The one that is of considerable interest to readers of this blog (which I read faithfully, by the way) is what about Hinterlands and Amish Vampires in Space? I have chosen not to purchase those assets and agreed to have those publication rights revert to their respective authors.

The debate about edgy fiction or “mature themes” in Christian fiction is one rift with differing opinions, some more strident than others. I simply choose to stay away from those kind of books as a publisher. It is not a judgement on them or the decision to publish them, merely that I would not have chosen to do so. Therefore the authors are free to pursue their own initiatives and follow their artistic leaning.
Looking forward to fun times ahead with great books!

Steve Laube

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I kinda want to boo and throw eggs, because if Marcher Lord is no longer a platform for mature and therefore risky Christian fiction, then where is that supposed to be published? Of course, I hold the opinion that one of the reasons Christian fiction tends to stagnation is because few people are willing to take risks. On the flip side, it’s not my money at stake. But still, I can’t help but feel that the safe direction only leads to more of the same old Amish romances and Ted Dekker clones (and I’m fond of you, Ted, but you’ve really got to get over this one-trick-pony thing).

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

We all have to follow our own consciences. You can’t expect a publisher to work with material that makes him uncomfortable. We all have different risk tolerances, and knowing one’s tolerance level is an important part of doing business in any field. Someone will step in to fill the gap.
And of course a major answer to “where is that supposed to be published?” is Kindle/Create Space. If it’s done with quality, self-publishing is always an option.

Adam Collings
Member

Does that mean that these books will no longer be able to be purchased until the authors find new publishers for them?

Kerry Nietz
Member

Good question, Adam.
I intend for there to be little-to-no-time of unavailability for AViS. Yes, Jeff Gerke and I had to strive through Christmas and New Years to try to make that happen, but it is looking like it will be possible. Not quite to the final proof stage for the print book yet, but the eBooks should be ready shortly. (Both will soon be published through my new “Freeheads” imprint.) In the meantime, Steve has graciously assured me that the MLP versions will remain available.
Thanks for asking!

D. M. Dutcher
Member

That sucks. I can see not wanting to do Hinterlands, but I cannot get why AViS is being released. Hopefully you can transition well with little disruption.

Paul Lee
Member

I’ll feel guilty forever if this comment creates a lot of ill-will, but I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut when I have something in my head.
 
Was Amish Vampires in Space part of the Hinterlands imprint? I was under the impression that it was not, and the existing page on the MLP store for it gives no indication that it is.
 
Unless I’m wrong and it was part of Hinterlands, Amish Vampires in Space being excluded from the purchase indicates a very deliberate decision about the target audience and the cultural values.
 
I haven’t read either A Throne of Bones or Amish Vampires in Space, so I’m not qualified to speculate what that decision was. (I’ve been meaning to buy both books some day, and I hope that I still will be able to.) But even though I’m not qualified to speculate, my mind jumps to conclusions.
 
I was happy about the existence of Hinterlands — not because I necessarily need to read mature content in novels, but because I don’t like the cultural restrictions that make mature content taboo. I’m not a good Evangelical, and I struggle and despair every day about faith.
 
I understand that MLP was founded to fill the speculative fiction publishing niche within the Evangelical community, so I understand re-positioning MLP as the speculative fiction publisher of CBA-like books. Evangelicals deserve to have speculative fiction that does not offend their cultural tastes, and if MLP was no longer meeting their needs, perhaps this change is appropriate.
 
But I’m left wondering, who will publish books for people like me?

Robert Mullin
Member

Well, there’s still Crimson Moon Press. 😉  But we’re needing to push our projects forward with a bit more expeditiousness. 

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Heeeeyyy, does that mean they need more copyeditors? Though I’m already promised to Castle Gate Press, plus I might be going back to school later this year. But I might as well ask for my fellow impoverished English majors.

Robert Mullin
Member

Mostly means their authors need to get off their duffs and write.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

#OccupySpecFaith     😀

Kerry Nietz
Member

A quick answer to your question, bainespal: no, AViS was never a part of Hinterlands and contains no content that would be deemed “mature”.

Luscinia Hâfez
Guest
Luscinia Hâfez

Throne of Bones isn’t worth reading.

Ember
Guest
Ember

I am so glad – and relived –  that you chose to stay away from “edgy” and “mature” fiction. That is something I have never liked to read. If I did, I’d read more secular novels. I have been rather disappointed over the last couple of years as I have seen MLP stray farther into things that I would never read in good conscience.   After reading your comments I am cautiously optimistic that this change-over will bring MLP back around to the good, clean, wholesome fiction I love.

Randy Streu
Member

“I am so glad – and relived –  that you chose to stay away from “edgy” and “mature” fiction. That is something I have never liked to read.”
I’m curious as to why a company must only publish what you personally enjoy in order to get your support. Is it not enough that they DO publish items you like to read?
 

Pauline
Guest

Thanks for the link Steve, I subscribed to your blog as I’m interested to know what comes next! 🙂
 
Also I’d love to know what Jeff’s going to do now, too!

J. L. Mbewe
Guest

oh, wow. 
 
 

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Surprising, but disappointing. Even excluding Hinterlands, Marcher Lord was willing to take chances the CBA market wouldn’t, like doing humorous fantasy fiction and steampunk. I don’t want to see it become a place to publish Steve’s back catalog of mainstream CBA stuff, or a place where even something as mildly risky as Amish Vampires in Space gets cut.  
 
I’ll sit on my first reaction though, and watch how the new ML goes. Stephen is right about the potential for good this has, and I hope it comes to pass instead of my knee-jerk reaction and fears.

R. L. Copple
Member

One question that also needs to be dealt with is the inherent conflict of interest of an agent owning a publishing company. Taking into consideration they are two different companies, it could look bad if the agency’s authors end up there, and their are questions about the fairness of the contracts. What measures are being put into place to avoid this? How does one avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest even if the contracts are negotiated every bit as aggressively as they would be for any other publisher?
 
Questions I’m sure that will float around.

Paul Lee
Member

For that matter, I wonder if Steve Laube will perform the exact same role that Jeff Gerke used to fill, being both editor and publisher. Or, will Steve Laube hire one or more editors?

Fred Warren
Member

That’s a good question. At the moment, according to their website, the Steve Laube Agency is a four-person shop. I imagine either some resources will have to be diverted from agenting, or additional personnel added to run the MLP division.

Dawn King
Guest
Dawn King

Wow. I am hoping this is a good thing, but I’m not so sure. Bummer. 

Kat Heckenbach
Member

I want very badly to be positive and hopeful about this. But I must admit my gut reaction is, “Here comes the CBA-ization of MLP.”

Carole McDonnell
Member

Christian Companies then to be like vultures. They wait for success then they swoop down and take it. I hope Jeff made sure all publishing revenues from Amish Vampires will be his…and not get swiped up by Laube and company.
I really only see crappy unimaginative CBA specfic coming out of this…and a greedy move by the powerful gatekeepers of Christian publishing. 
 

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

First reaction was: Oh. Okay. No big deal, I suppose.
Second reaction was: No Amish Vampires in Space?? Is this guy INSANE???? That one title has done more for Marcher Lord Press than it’s entire history thus far. There’s nothing “edgy” or inappropriate about it whatsoever. It provided great publicity, and is a fun book, too.
I have very little confidence in the new direction. I have been a die-hard support of MLP from day one, but that is now over, as far as I can tell. That one decision tells me almost everything I need to know.

Steve Laube
Guest
Steve Laube

To all,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments on this new venture. All I ask is for patience with the process. I earnestly desire your support. My long-standing passion for this genre has never wavered. It has been a privilege to work with some of the best this industry has had to offer in Karen Hancock, Kathy Tyers, Chuck Black, Patrick Carr, R.J. Larson, Randy Ingermanson & John Olson, Lisa Bergren, Tosca Lee, Bryan Davis, Sharon Hinck, Jared Wilson, and others. My hope is to continue and build upon what Jeff Gerke built these past few years.
On Monday please visit the blog (www.stevelaube.com/blog) which may answer some of your questions.
Steve Laube

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

I will definitely read the statement, but please do not lump AViS together with Hinterlands in answering the questions. Two entirely different subjects, which require two entirely different answers.

E. Kaiser Writes
Guest

Hmm… very interesting news and interesting opinions following it. I think there may be space for more than one publisher in this genre, and perhaps it’s an opportunity for someone with marketing skills to start an edgier house to fill the bill of a lot of these concerns.
I understand several authors said they were going to self pub… and maybe that is the best path for those authors. As one with some experience there, I know a lot of authors may decide later that sharing the work load with a publisher is an attractive option after all, and may be interested in “joining forces” again. So, if there is someone out there considering a managerial role; they might start talking about a “co-operative” set up… where writers write, and sellers sell, and percentages are realistic as possible and everyone gets compensated a little for their expertise.
I know that sort of thing is tricky, but I don’t see why it couldn’t work if clarity and honesty were employed.
Letting those with strengths excel in their roles, and saving the individual from having to be “all things to all marketing avenues”! 😉
May be something for folks to start discussing…
I’ll be looking forward to more info!
Thanks for sharing!
Elizabeth

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Elizabeth, there already is more than one. Splashdown Books, for example, is doing something very similar to MLP. And there’s the new speculative publishing house Phylis Wheeler is starting. There are others that are wide open to speculative fiction, though not specializing. The “edgy” part, I can’t comment on.

Becky

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

I hope it’s not too self-serving of me to point to this New Authors Fellowship post:
http://newauthors.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/christian-specfic-publishers/
Where I compiled a list of publishers who handle Christian SpecFic and are open to unagented writers.
 

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Just to add to the information pile about Phyllis Wheeler’s new project: Castle Gate Press is now accepting manuscripts, agented and un-agented. On the flip side, their focus is more “a touch of the fantastic” than straight-up fantasy, and mature content is under tight rein.
(Disclaimer: I am on tap as copyeditor for Castle Gate Press, doing my part to advertise.)

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Notleia, I’m glad you filled in with the name and link to Castle Gate. I would have given those if I’d had time to look them up.

And Kristen, I’m glad you gave the link to your post of spec fiction publishers. What an excellent resource. I want to bookmark that!

Becky

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

My pleasure, Becky! I intend to update that list at least a yearly. Now that Castle Gate is open for submissions, it’s one I’ll be adding.

Patrick W. Carr
Member

I’m watching with interest to see what transpires. As a lifelong fan (and lately a writer) of fantasy, I think the market will always have a place for a well-told tale. For those that desire edgier content in their Christian fiction, the solution is quite simple: write a story that is so good, some publisher, be it CBA or ABA, picks it up.
Note that I said the solution was simple, not easy. Publishing is competitive and likely to get more so. However, story trumps everything. If it’s truly great (which is what we all strive for), it will find a home.
 

Austin Gunderson
Member

Absolutely.  A man skilled in his work will stand before kings, not obscure men (Prov. 22:29).  And that reality begs a question: if, as Jeff Gerke has stated, the Hinterlands imprint received “astonishingly few proposals,” then where are all these supposedly amazing unpublished Christian spec-fic novels that people keep complaining get nothing but a cold shoulder from the CBA Industrial Complex?  Why on earth weren’t they submitted to one of the sole publishing houses in existence tailor-made for their specific sub-subgenre?  Unless every single aspiring ‘edgy’ Christian spec-fic author has already gone over to the self-publishing side (deeply depressing to me if true — *sigh* let the hate begin now), there can be only one explanation: the books simply aren’t there.  We have the necessary demand — I hear folks like me whining constantly about the dearth of high-quality, thematically-rich, content-fearless Christian spec-fic, and the Hinterlands titles which did get published were said to sell like hotcakes.  The problem, apparently, is one of supply.  The failure of Hinterlands (and what other word can one honestly use in reference to its cancellation?) leads me to conclude that the current famine of ‘edgy’ Christian spec-fiction is due not primarily to an absence of marketing, distribution, or even readership, but to a profound lack of production.

Carole McDonnell
Member

I totally think this is the CBA’s way of undercutting and taking over MLP. They may throw christianspecfic a bone once in a while but they’ll be pretty CBA all the way. 

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

I could have sworn I heard Stephen say “eliminate the negative…”
I’m getting the impression that some folks think the mean ol’ CBA came and stole MLP from its rightful owner and handed it to someone else.
Jeff chose Steve to take the reins. That says a lot to me. You don’t spend five years raising and training a racehorse and then sell it to someone who’s going to use it as a plow mule. You sell it to someone you trust will take care of it and put it to its highest and best use.
In the interest of accentuating the positive, I’ll just say I’m eager to see what happens next. Both for Jeff and for Steve. I wish them both the best.
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Kristen, I couldn’t agree more.  Steve Laube, as an acquisitions editor, broke ground for Christian fantasy in the CBA when he signed Karen Hancock. He’s forward thinking and a fan of the genre. I don’t see any reason why people would think MLP would be less under him than under Jeff.

Becky

Nadine Brandes
Member

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Kristen. 🙂
As an MLP author and avid spec-fic reader, I’m very excited to see what God brings through this new step.

C. Kevin Thompson
Guest

Kristen, thanks for the moderation and the mention in your Spec-fiction publisher list. Although I have always viewed The Serpent’s Grasp as a sci-fi thriller, I’ll take the spec-fic label. 🙂  
There are plenty of options out there these days. Even as a published author, I’m always asking the question of what publishing route should I take for the next one? Some would say my first two books are a little edgy (I had one editor at a conference tell me that TSG was not fit for Christian fiction). Yet, Ramona Tucker at Oaktara loved both. One publisher’s trash…. 
The question we all have to ask as writers is for what purpose do we write?  Christian publishers ask similar questions about what they should print. Of course, everybody wants to keep the lights on and some food in the fridge. Writing and publishing with integrity toward God is something only the person and God truly know.
In other words, time is on the side of truth. If God wants a story out there, He’ll make it happen. Someone will publish it, somehow…someway. We just need to be obedient vessels in the interim.

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

Kevin, you are very welcome. Yeah, I put sci-fi under the speculative umbrella. 😉  I didn’t see anything “edgy” about Serpent’s Grasp. “Not fit for Christian fiction?” Boggles my mind. Which just proves your point re: trash vs. treasure. It’s a very wibbly-wobbly business we’re in.
“Obedient vessels.” I like that. 🙂

Scott Appleton
Member

This comes as a complete shock. From my interactions with Jeff and his authors I thought he intended to stick with MLP for a long time.
The trickiest part of this Sale will be losing the Jeff Gerke “brand.” He participated in the geeky things that draw readers to MLP, even going to secular conventions to augment his exposure.
Best of success to Steve in this undertaking. But why not Hinterlands and Vamps in Space? Those kind of things get the geeks talking. I am definitely going to blog my thoughts on this.

Morgan Busse
Member

I wrote on my own blog my thoughts on the sale. Here is something I said: I was shocked at first, like someone was going to jump out and say, “April Fool’s”, and I knew more about what was going on than most people. But after I recovered, I could totally see God’s hand in this. It truly is a great thing for MLP.

God is over this and I believe He will do great things.

Kerry Nietz
Member

While I’ll agree that God can use any situation for his glory, Morgan, I’m not sure it is correct to say  that this is God’s doing. By definition it is business transaction which is morally neutral.

Now, it is certainly a situation where each individual involved has an opportunity to either bring glory to the Lord, or shame Him by their thoughts and actions. But to say this is what God intended? <shrug> Difficult to say this side of Heaven. 😉

Morgan Busse
Member

I’m not sure I can agree with business transactions being morally neutral since heart motivations and desires can be involved (both good and bad). Greed can definitely be involved in a business transaction.

That aside, I was not referring to the actual business transaction, but to the future of Jeff and Marcher Lord Press. Out of almost every possible circumstance, I see this as a good outcome. Do I believe God deliberately brought this about in a miraculous way? I wouldn’t say that. But I believe His hand was a part of it.

Morgan Busse
Member

However, I am sorry to see AViS was not included in the sale. I was not privy as to why. I think it is a great book.

Kerry Nietz
Member

Yes, you’re right that the motivations behind such transactions have moral implications, absolutely. Was a transaction based in greed? Or fear? Or indifference toward others? And if it was, then can we say it is something that is from God? (Not talking specifically here, but generally.)
There’s doubtless fuel for another novel in here somewhere…perhaps Amish Vampires in Space…Too! 😉
 

Kerry Nietz
Member

And please, no one read more into what Morgan and I said above. As anyone who read my back and forths with Marc Schooley hereabouts knows, I like to mix it up. Theorize. 😉

No worries. And no offense I hope, Morgan! We’re buds!

Kerry Nietz
Member

And possibly I shouldn’t be reading Job right now…
🙂

Zac Totah
Editor

Wow. I didn’t see this coming. After getting over my initial surprise, I guess I’d say my reactions are mixed. On the one hand, I can see why Jeff decided to make the move, and I’m glad that he’ll have more time to work on his own stuff. On the other hand, the future of MLP seems uncertain. I’m glad there’s going to be a Q & A to address some of the questions being raised.
Since I was seriously hoping to submit my work to MLP, I’m interested to see where Steve Laube takes the company, and how his publishing structure differs from Jeff’s. I didn’t realize Steve was such a champion of Christian spec-fic, so hopefully this move helps broaden the genre’s reach and influence.
My main hope is that MLP continues to publish excellent Christian spec-fic, and it would be a relief if they continue to accept unsolicited manuscripts. I won’t even touch on the “edgy” vs. “tame-CBA” debate. Everyone draws the line in a different place, and any decision is bound to upset someone. Ultimately, the quality of the story is what counts.

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

Yes. Exactly, Zac. Well said.