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Steve Laube Answers Your Questions And Mine

On the heels of the news that Steve Laube has purchased Marcher Lord Press, I contacted the new owner regarding the questions that some feel still have been unanswered.

Steve LaubeOn the heels of the news that Steve Laube has purchased Marcher Lord Press, I contacted the new owner regarding the questions that some feel still have been unanswered. Despite the mound of correspondence he’s received since the news broke, Steve kindly agreed to provide us with further insight.

First, my own disclaimer. I’ve known Steve for about ten years now. Not well, mind you, but well enough for him to have rejected offering representation for my work three different times. I’ve heard him speak several times at a small local writers’ conference and met with him more than once at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.

On each occasion I’ve seen something different. He’s hardworking, knowledgeable, visionary, insightful, godly, vulnerable, unselfish with his time. My greatest impression of him, however, is that he is a man of Christian conviction who wants to help writers.

That being said, here is the interview with the new Marcher Lord Press guru.

RLM: Steve, I’m sure you’ve been inundated with questions since your announcement went out that you’ve purchased Marcher Lord Press, so I really appreciate your willingness to give Spec Faith some of your time. From our initial post on the news and from a follow-up response to your Q & A blog post, we’ve had a number questions. I’ll throw in a couple of my own.

You said you think speculative fiction is under represented in the Christian publishing industry (and I agree). Why buy an existent company rather than start your own (which could practically double the output of speculative fiction for the Christian market)? Besides the under representation issue, is there any other reason you want to be involved in publishing books in this genre (as opposed to mystery, for example)?

Marcher Lord PressSteve Laube: The MLP brand is already established and thus is an easy answer to the first question.

I think it is well-known that I’ve been a longtime supporter of the genre. I discovered Karen Hancock, for example, and was the one who brought Kathy Tyers and others into our market as an editor in the 90s. It has always been a favorite category in my own reading.

RLM: You mentioned that for now, you anticipate things as usual—same number of titles, operating procedure, and many of the same authors. What do you hope to see for Marcher Lord Press down the line? Are you hoping to expand the number of titles (in other words, do you see speculative fiction for the Christian market as a growth industry)? Would you consider moving more toward e-publishing? Toward traditional publishing so that MLP books might appear on bookstore shelves? Or are you satisfied with the MLP product as is?

Steve Laube: All are good questions that will be answered with time. It is too early to answer these questions in detail. Other than to say that the books are already in ebook form so not quite sure what is meant by “moving toward e-publishing.”

RLM: That ebook question was mine. I know of some publishers who have moved toward ebook publishing first, adding print publishing only if sales warrant such. I was wondering if MLP would consider going in that direction, especially since ebooks seem to have broken out and are contributing to the change in the publishing landscape.

Along the line of changing things, will you still be open to unagented authors? Are you open to submissions now?

Steve Laube: This was answered in the Q&A on my blog earlier today. The answer is yes and yes.

RLM: Hmmm, yes, I see now. You said, “We will consider both agented and unagented submissions. The submission guidelines are found on the Marcher Lord Press website.” That’s good news for writers.

Some people see you as a “CBA” insider. While you stated that early in life you fell in love with science fiction, and that you believe the whole speculative genre can build worlds never explored, there’s still the question about how that type of story relates to “Christian.” Will you expect a conversion scene in the books that you publish? What will make the Marcher Lord Press books you acquire, Christian? What do you think of stories told from “a Christian worldview”?

Steve Laube: I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus Christ. My entire life has been devoted to the spreading of the gospel through books of all kinds. The decision to purchase MLP was made only after seeking the Lord’s face and trying to discern His will in all things. As has been said to me, “Without THE Lord, there would be no Marcher Lord.”

That said, the question of what makes a Christian novel Christian? An age-old question which I’ve lectured on at conferences for nearly 22 years. There is no simple answer other than to say that “story” is first. Tell a great story. If there is an overt faith element it must be a natural part of that story. I can tell when it is manufactured or added to make something “feel” Christian.

A great example of the creativity available in this genre is found in the Firebird series by Kathy Tyers. In that series she asks the question “what would our universe look like 2,000 years from now? But a universe into which Jesus has not yet come, the first time.” Man would have conquered space. And there would still be a people, a remnant, waiting for a Messiah to come from their people. Into that world the Firebird story takes place. Technically it is a tale of the Hebrew people. So is that a Christian novel or not? Read it for yourself and answer the question.

RLM: Another set of individuals, despite your assurances that your agency will compete with all other agencies, is concerned about conflict of interest. For example, if the Steve Laube Agency is negotiating with MLP, how can the client know that his best interests are being served by his agent? Is it simply a matter of trust and integrity or will you put policies in place to ensure that the Agency will negotiate with MLP as aggressively as it would, say, with Thomas Nelson?

Steve Laube: The contract terms will be the same for all authors. Makes things simple.

RLM: So going in, all agents will know what the Marcher Lord Press contract is. That does make it simple.

One more. There have been questions about the decision to return to the author the rights of Amish Vampires In Space. Is this an indication that you are not, to use the analogy of one individual, as much a trailblazer as a homesteader? What message about the future MLA titles can fans of Christian speculative fiction read into this decision?

Steve Laube: My suggestion would be to avoid reading a “message” into a decision that isn’t there. As I stated in the Q&A, while I admire the intent of that publication, that title is not one I would have chosen to publish if I had been the owner of MLP at the time. Thus it was reverted to the author. To say anything more invites a debate which would be unnecessary.

The issue of trailblazer vs. homesteader is a subjective analysis that each reader will make based on their own criteria. We can only endeavor to publish the very best writers and the very best stories in a genre we all love with a passion.

RLM: Steve, you may not know this about us writers, but we are always trying to read things into what agents and editors say, even if it’s in a form rejection letter (Did she send it out personally or did it come from an assistant? Does that mean . . .). 😀

Again Steve, I really appreciate you answering questions in the face of all the feedback you’re getting and the work ahead of you to actually run the business. I for one am looking forward to the direction you’ll take Marcher Lord Press. Let me close with a quote from one of your comments here at Spec Faith:

Steve Laube: 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.

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Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Honestly, I think it’s time to let up on beating this horse. I doubt Steve’s going to write an essay describing his entire philosophy of literature and the marketing thereof to our satisfaction, and even if he did, I’m still going to think was…the politest word is “unfortunate,” that he dropped AViS.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Perhaps, “Show, not tell” applies equally to publishers as it does authors.

Grace Bridges
Member

I think it’s true that everyone can stop making a big deal out of this. Sure, things change, but that is a fact of life. 
For me, it’s helped refocus the kind of books I will accept at Splashdown – I need to be as specific as possible because people want to know. It hasn’t changed my vision for my own writing, but it has confirmed to me that I’m headed the right direction with it.
It’s all about our own response to change, isn’t it? I for one look forward to reading more of Jeff’s own novels and seeing him continue to teach at conferences.

C. S. Lakin
Guest

Steve, congrats on this move and I hope and pray you will find great joy and satisfaction in this creative venture! I do have one question for you, and maybe others wonder as well. Will you consider acquiring novels that have already been self-published by the author as an ebook? Or will you only look at unpublished books?
Thanks!

Becky Minor
Guest

I’m just looking forward to seeing what 4-8 titles Steve readies for the marketplace over his first year. That, I think, will be the most telling evidence of what direction he is taking with the press. Given what I’ve read of his represented authors, he knows how to pick quality storytellers.
As for Hinterlands content and AViS–they will find the right homes. No use staying in a place where the person getting your work to market admits he would not be the best advocate for the story. I admire a person who is willing to admit their limitations.

Michelle
Guest

I really do want MLP to succeed.  I’d love to have someplace I can send the people who want Christian fantasy and sci-fi. 

Personally, I’m not reading any more Christian fiction of any kind.  I am burnt out, even on Speculative Fiction of the Christian variety.  I have three left to read for The Christian Manifesto and then I’m switching to the secular market and don’t see myself coming back. I will possibly make an exception for Kerry Nietz and Jeffe Gerke’s offerings but other than that I am done. Over done as a reader of Christian fiction.

Kerry Nietz
Member

Thank you, Michelle. I’m honored to be considered one of your exceptions. Means a lot.

Alex Mellen
Member
Alex Mellen

It’s probably also good to remember that this is taking a load off Jeff Gerke’s back. Having someone with fresh passion and energy leading MLP forward will be great I’m sure. I’m glad AViS took off before being released from MLP; it should continue to do well (and I need to find myself a copy!).

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

The question that has been asked regarding AViS, repeatedly, is “Why?” The best answer we’re getting now? “I’m not telling you why, except to say there’s no ‘message.'” Um… then there IS a message. Ugh. 
All I was asking for was an explanation. I might have disagreed with the explanation, but at least then I would understand that there WAS an explanation. Instead, every answer is “I’m not giving you an explanation.” 
Simple example: “I decided not to keep AViS around because I want us to be taken seriously and I feel that title, in and of itself, invites too much mockery.” I would have politely disagreed with that concept to some extent, but I could understand why someone felt that way. Then we could move on and I could trust the new owner, because he gave me a straight answer. 
I’m sorry. It’s just too ridiculous. I’ve lost faith, for now. Maybe in a year or two, if MLP puts out some great titles, I’ll change my tune, but with this kind of equivocation, I have little desire to support it any more.

Steve Rzasa
Member

I find it troubling, Tim, that you would punish the other Marcher Lord Press authors by avoiding our works altogether because you don’t like the decisions made about one book. Steve Laube has given his answer, and I agree with Rebecca, he was probably avoiding any further controversy or conflict or whatever you want to call it. And frankly, he doesn’t have to say anything about why he chose not to publish it.

Now, I don’t agree with Rebecca’s statement about not publishing AViS. This same thread about it being exploitative is worrying about a lot of nothing. The way it was written is entirely respectful of the Amish people, so far as I know, and the story does not carry the slightest hint of parody on its pages with the exception of the cover.

I heartily recommend to everyone should stop freaking out about this change at MLP.  

J. S. Bailey
Guest

My question is this: Will MLP still be open to Christian horror? It seems like the emphasis in these interviews is only on science fiction and fantasy, but horror lies under the umbrella of speculative fiction as well.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

I highly doubt it.  “That,” as I like to call it, is still by and large an unacceptable genre in the Christian writing community unless it’s about serial killers, demons/angels, Nephilim, ghosts (which is an unbiblical notion in and of itself), ad infinitum et nauseam.  MLP represented and presumably still will  represent only fantasy and science fiction.  Even this website only gives lip service to “that.”  In the entire month of October, the most appropriate time of the year to address “that,” we were treated to only one post re The Walking Dead (and a great one).  I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.  If a well-written novel about vampires in space preying upon a community of traditional believers whose faith enables them to stand firm against the blood-drinking darkness becomes anathema, I do not expect things to change any time soon.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

If a well-written novel about vampires in space preying upon a community of traditional believers whose faith enables them to stand firm against the blood-drinking darkness becomes anathema, I do not expect things to change any time soon.

Hmm. I recommend you read the book.

Interesting thought about our Halloween “coverage.” I can confirm that, were I not in the midst of a half-continental move, I would have written more about it. But “horror” elements, and particularly Christian responses to them (bad or good) is something we’ve emphasized often at SpecFaith. Here’s hoping future changes to the site will help pull that material to the front, collected all in one place.

J. S. Bailey
Guest

It’s interesting that you mention that ghosts are an unbiblical concept. I’m not going to disagree, but I have to say this: my second novel is a ghost story written from a Christian standpoint. In no way do I attempt to convince people that ghosts are “real.” I used the ghost as a metaphor for what happens when we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us. Just like Jerry, the ghost, can’t move on from earth into paradise, we can’t move on with our lives if we refuse to forgive others.

So I suppose my question is this: Would MLP be open to submissions like these in which “unbiblical” concepts are used to illustrate biblical truths? I mean, goodness, dragons and aliens and magic are unbiblical concepts, too, but nobody seems to have issue with them in Christian speculative fiction. So why not ghosts?

By the way, I just started reading Amish Vampires in Space and I have to say I love it.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I mean, goodness, dragons and aliens and magic are unbiblical concepts, too

Yup.

The difference, if there is any, is not in the fantasy itself, but in the realism of said fantasy. For example, most Christians are more accepting of an “other-world” fantasy in which magic, dragons, etc., are perfectly fine. But concepts such as aliens in sci-fi, or magic in the real world, or the existence of ghosts, raise hackles because people believe the author is thereby inching closer to deception. Magic doesn’t exist in the real world! Nor do aliens or ghosts! Of those three, ghosts may make us the most nervous because in the real world, more people believe in ghosts or try to contact the dead than those who believe in dragons. (Aliens, though, escape our scrutiny, despite the cultlike religious fervor over them.) So the thing becomes stigmatized.

For example, an online friend of mine, last I checked, held the view that even Narnia should be frowned upon because C.S. Lewis set part of the story in “our world.” After all, the world of Narnia is clearly connected to ours, so why veer toward potential deception? he asked.

Of course, contra this I say: every story is in some sense a fantasy. Every story that didn’t actually happen is set in a “fantastic” equivalent to our world. It’s just dressed up to look a little more like our world. Still fake.

With that in mind, it would seem only the pagan stigma about ghosts — and also the cult base around alien abductions, etc. — could trouble us, if at all.

J. S. Bailey
Guest

I actually included an author’s note in the back of my novel in which I stated that the novel was about forgiveness, not ghosts (since the lingering dead was essentially an allegory for what happens when we don’t forgive people). Nobody seems to have had a problem with it…yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. 😉

Ben Wolf
Guest

Tim,
 
Jeff gives his answer and his opinion in why Steve didn’t want AViS in my interview with him: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jcOo0Ja68fI 
The answer is somewhere in the middle of the interview, all of which would be good to watch if you’re feeling hurt or betrayed or skeptical.
 
Ben Wolf
http://www.splicketymagazine.com

R. L. Copple
Member

One concern from your interview (and I know Jeff could be reading Steve wrong and/or we’re missing context), Jeff made it sound like Steve’s goal is to expand the genre into the broader “we like Amish romance” readers. While certainly there will be a cross over segment between the two, by and large getting that audience interested in spec-fic will be difficult. Big houses have tried to do that before with limited success in many cases, though there are exceptions.
 
If Steve can pull that off, great. But I hope it is not at the expense of playing it too safe at the risk of offending that audience. Too much attempt to shoe-horn spec-fic into that market’s exceptions would end up hurting spec-fic rather than promoting it. A fine line, I’m sure. May God give him wisdom.
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Steve’s goal is to expand the genre into the broader “we like Amish romance” readers.

I’d say that’s not his primary job. Or Jeff’s. Or Marcher Lord’s. Or other publishers.

It’s our task, to “sell” this genre better to churches, friends, and culture at large.

Big houses have tried to do that before with limited success in many cases

There’s the problem right there, it seems. Genre preference must change at the “grassroots” rather than because of the actions of big-house publishers.

But would someone suggest that Amish fans couldn’t like sci-fi in a house, couldn’t like it with a mouse, wouldn’t like it here or there, wouldn’t like it anywhere?

If so, then I would disagree. You’d be surprised.

Once I was at a writers’ conference, an evangelical writers’ conference chock-full of womminfolk and which smelt of Amish butter and cozy-romance perfume. I struck up a conversation with two older women about our preferred genres, and they both mentioned that though they like romance stories, they also love fantasy. They kind of admitted this in lowered voices, as if to say they only enjoyed it for the articles.

A question about your average run-of-the-mill Amish/romance fiction fan. Really, think not about imaginary groups but the people you know at church or in culture at large. If we don’t know them, then we aren’t yet qualified for this discussion:

  1. How many of them would have seen, say, Disney’s Frozen in theaters?
  2. How many of them have at least read Narnia or Lord of the Rings?
  3. How many of them have boys crazy for superhero stories or movies?
  4. How many of them have girls who love princess/fairy tale stories?
  5. (Because I can just hear someone beginning to grump …) Or boys who love fairy tales and girls who love superheroes? (Happy now? :-P)

If so, then you’re talking about a closet fantasy fan who just doesn’t yet know it. Or, even if they can’t stand fantasy, they have children who love it. Booyah. Market.

We need to purge any stereotypes of fantasy fans being only stereotypical “geeks.”

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Nice save. You pass my Stink Eye of Feminism(TM) unharmed.

R. L. Copple
Member

Interesting solution to the contract conflict of interest concern. I’m assuming, then, that the contract template will be publicly available so submitting authors know in advance what rights they will be granting should they be chosen and asked to sign on.
 
It would appear to address my concern, but also has the downside that the contract is a take-it-or-leave-it deal. How much of a problem that would end up being probably depends on the extent of the rights such a contract would want.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

At present I’m satisfied with the answer for the conflict of interest concerns. I’m sure that if something else develops, we’ll be the first to hear about it at SpecFaith.

However, and strangely despite my own personal position, I’m primarily curious to see how the current course at MLP, and any future direction for the company, will affect readers. Shop talk can only go so far. How can a regenerated MLP reach out to more readers, many of whom are still stuck in time-lapsed evangelical echo chambers lamenting the fact that No One Is Writing Decent Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

merechristian
Member
merechristian

I personally don’t do dark and edgy like Vox Day, though I do want to read AViS. That said, I am worried that this is going to expunge stuff too much and make it too clean. The new publisher praises Kathy Tyers, but I still fear that he is going to do less of that type, and more of the more “safe” books. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m skeptical. I like idealistic over dark and edgy, but that doesn’t mean to have everything be safe either.

Rebecca, Ma’am, I haven’t read it yet, though I will soon, but Mr. Nietz has a book that seems to evoke imagery (on the cover) of radical Islamist imagery for some of the characters. I think he was asking why those books are fine, but the AViS bad?

Mike Duran
Member

Interesting observation from J.S. Bailey and HG Ferguson above about “Christian horror” and its under-representation in both MLP AND this website. I’m not keeping score like Mr. Ferguson, but if he’s right about the frequency, or total lack of frequency, of reference to / publication of horror, then its pretty clear we’ve found our red-headed stepchild. Apparently, to mainstream Christian readers, Christian spec fic is mainly sci-fi and fantasy. The rest of us spec writers / readers can look elsewhere.

Memo to Mr. Burnett: Time to find yourself a REGULAR horror columnist.
 

J. S. Bailey
Guest

I agree that horror should be addressed more. Now to be fair, there’s horror and there’s horror. I prefer the edifying variety such as Frank Peretti’s work and Ted Dekker’s “darker” novels Adam and BoneMan’s Daughters. Characters in a horror novel should learn something as a result of the “horrifying” situations they find themselves in. Horror for the sake of blood and guts is NOT my cup of tea.
Lately when marketing my books (which are not all horror) I tell people that they’re similar to what you might expect from Dean Koontz, who is a Christian but writes for the secular market. There are many Christians who do not read Christian fiction. Perhaps those of us who write Christian horror might try marketing to those people instead.

David James
Guest
David James

I’ve always said horror needed to be represented in Christian fiction. I’m wondering if anyone paid any attention back when I used to blog with the NAF. Probably not as people aren’t into that and were more into the fantasy/sci-fi stuff. I even did some initial marketing amongst the Christian spec-fic writing community to publish some “Christian horror” and got little to no response. People don’t want it. People are “scared” of it. And I still would like to help with this, but I have high doubts anyone would be ready, writer or reader, considering the response I got last time and with how Laube took away from MLP – the “premier” publisher remember – the very stories which gave people like me hope that I could get published or that others could without me doing it. Now it just ain’t going to happen. Not at MLP, that’s for sure. And again, based on previous responses, not with me neither. Prove me wrong and contact me if you have  a completed story. Meantime, I got my own story to finish writing and will probably wind up self publishing it at this point and just wind up pissing at the wind in the end once I do so.