Steve Laube’s Q&A on Purchase Of MLP
On January 1st, many of this blog’s readers awoke to the news that Jeff Gerke had sold Marcher Lord Press to Steve Laube, president of The Steve Laube Agency.
The reactions varied from hopeful to skeptical of MLP’s future. Questions were raised on several fronts. Primary among them was the decision not to purchase the Hinterlands imprint, containing more mature stories, and the popular Amish Vampires in Space novel. People like Mike Duran questioned whether this signaled a pulling away from publishing more “realistic” stories in the future. Many seemed confused about the decision to not buy AviS.
Some worried whether this signaled a future for MLP back into Amish romances as so many other Christian publishers tend to publish.
To those questions, Steve promised in his comment to the above thread to offer a question and answer on his blog by the 6th. He came through, the article appeared early Monday morning.
Did he answer all questions? To some degree. But he does reveal some information of interest, leaving more questions in its wake.
Will Marcher Lord Press’ Focus Shift Away from Speculative Fiction?
Based on Jeff’s trust in him, and Steve’s own admission of loving speculative fiction, I think the following statement speaks for itself:
MLP has been and will continue to be the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market.
When you think about it logically, it would be a waste of Steve’s money to buy a company with a reputation for speculative fiction, then alienate the fan base by going more mainstream. He obviously bought a publishing company specializing in speculative fiction because that’s what he wants to publish.
Not that it’s impossible, but I don’t think there are any Amish romances in MLP’s future short of a speculative one, and he turned down the one Amish title MLP did have.
What is the Future of Hinterlands?
Steve gives us new information on this topic:
That imprint and all those titles have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear under a new publishing name in the near future.
Those who feared no publishing company for mature Christian fiction may still have reasons to rejoice. Of course it remains to be seen who has taken it, if anyone, and what they will do with it. Only time will tell on that front.
But the selling away of the Hinterlands imprint does indicate that MLP under Steve won’t be as bold as Jeff was in considering stories with mature themes. Some will rejoice at that decision, others will bemoan it. In the end, every publisher has to make that call.
Why Reject Amish Vampires in Space?
On this topic, Steve doesn’t give much of his own reasons for it. He did clear up that he didn’t turn it down due to thinking it had mature content, and acknowledges it is a well written story, but ends up saying, “. . . ultimately it would not have been a book I would have published had I been the publisher.”
People will speculate on his reasons. My guess is pretty simple. I think he just didn’t believe it fit the rest of the line up. It is an oddity from the MLP brand. A good oddity in many eyes, but one that doesn’t “fit” with the rest. Publishers reject well written manuscripts telling a great story for this reason all the time.
I’m not saying it does or doesn’t fit, or that is why he chose not to take it, but I can see that as a likely basis for the decision. What the real story is, it will be up to Steve to divulge if he so chooses. This answer probably won’t quell the speculation mill, however.
Conflict of Interest?
Most of the rest of the questions deal with the appearance of a conflict of interest in a literary agency president also owning a publishing company. He focused on potential conflicts of interest with publishers, agents, and authors.
This happened to be a question I asked. He answered only one part of my question, however. His answer boiled down to the fact that:
- MLP will only be publishing four to eight new titles a year and it is one of the few prime Christian speculative fiction publisher for agents and individuals to submit to.
- MLP will look for the best, no matter the source.
- MLP will remain a separate company from the agency.
While all that is true for now, there still remains a conflict of interest when Steve’s agency attempts to sell a manuscript to MLP. It isn’t so much a matter of whether MLP will favor the agency’s submissions, but how well represented will an author feel if the agency negotiating a contract with MLP is also owned by the same person as MLP? What policies are in place that will ensure that The Steve Laube Agency will negotiate it as aggressively as one to Thomas Nelson?
I don’t think that question was answered. One solution would be a prearranged deal that when that happened, the manuscript would be passed to an outside agency.
E. Stephen Burnett, in his January 1st article announcing the sale linked above, likens the change to the recent regeneration of the Doctor in BBC’s hit show, “Doctor Who.”
The metaphor is apt. Each time the Doctor regenerates, I’m thinking, “But the other guy is the Doctor. This guy doesn’t look right!” But after a few episodes I find myself thinking, “I love this guy!” People often talk about their favorite doctor since the reboot, most seeming to land on David Tennant. But I have difficulty picking a favorite, because each one is like my kids, special in their own unique way.
So I’ve learned not to prejudge the new doctor until I’ve spent some time with him. Allow him to fall or stand on his own merits rather than comparing him with the previous doctor.
Likewise, I think instead of fearing the worst, we should spend a few “episodes” with Steve before dismissing Jeff’s pick to follow him. Give him time to show us what kind of fiction he’ll promote. Let him stand on his own merits, not on our speculation of what we think he might do.
Did his Q&A answer your questions?
The conflict of interest issue is one I’ve been repeatedly bringing up, though nobody I know seems to care at all. This is a problem, but not surprising, since writers rarely fight for their own best interests in the publishing world. It is likewise unsurprising that Steve has avoided the topic, because to address the issue would be to admit there is the possibility of there actually being a conflict of interest which would put the financial future of both MLP and his agency in peril.
The real issue revolving around this conflict of interest is that no amount of “corrective policies” can solve the problem. There is no band-aid for this. Steve Laube has crossed over from being an agent and the organizer of an agency to being a publisher. That is a fundamental conflict of interest the ONLY solution for is the sale of the company to someone else or Steve Laube leaving the agent business and running MLP.
Were Steve Laube my agent, the purchase of MLP would be an automatic firing offense, because it means that he is no longer undividedly on the side of his writer clients. Similarly, were I published by MLP, I would immediately review my contract with them and start the process of getting the rights to my novels back as soon as possible. This situation is sad and entirely unprofessional. It bears no reflection on the character of Jeff or Steve or anyone involved, but as a business situation it is entirely unacceptable. There is now no way to be *sure* that MLP or Steve Laube as an agent or his agency now serves the best interests of writers. My confidence in that is shaken, and our collective confidence in that as writers ought to be shaken. This is an unfortunate state of affairs. I don’t like it any more than any one else, but there it is.
Adam, I think there are a couple things here that need to be mentioned. Steve taking on Marcher Lord Press is not doing something completely outside the box. In many ways, his foray into publishing, separate from his agency, is far freer of the ethical stigma than what secular agents have been doing for the last couple years. (See this article written in June, 2011, about agencies becoming self-publishing consultants). I remember having a discussion at Rachelle Gardner’s site at least a year ago about the ethics of agents starting publishing companies. Now apparently Amazon has facilitated this collaboration. So Steve is not doing any ground-breaking move by purchasing MLP.
Second, I think it’s fairly clear that an author would not sign with an agent who doesn’t have his best interests at heart–or at least shared best interests, since agents benefit from authors getting the best deal possible. So if a client felt they could have had a deal with a major publisher but the agent was steering them to MLP for the benefit of MLP, then I think that client would certainly sever ties. I mean authors need to be wary, and why would we assume they are asleep at the wheel while someone is taking advantage of them?
But that brings me to the third thing. I don’t know Steve Laube well, but I’ve had enough contact to see how genuine his love for God is and how willing he is to help writers–of all kinds, not just ones he thinks are brilliant and can earn him money. It would take an unscrupulous person setting out to scam writers if he was to make money doing what you suggest, and that isn’t Steve. He’s a man of integrity, and I’m sure his clients would attest to that though I’ve never asked any of them. His reputation is beyond reproach.
The way a client can be *sure* the Steve Laube Agency has their best interests in mind is the same way any client of any other agency can be sure–stay in communication, know where the agent is sending your work, stay informed about the rejections you receive. I dare say, writers who receive rejections from major publishers are often thrilled that they have the opportunity to publish with a small press, and Steve is facilitating that, not only for his clients but for other writers as well. His reach is broader.
Two points, just for clarity.
One need look no further than Vox’s blog to know that answer:
Only if you think all my books are oddities. (And perhaps they are. 🙂 ) But AViS is no more or less an sci-fi oddity than a trilogy based in a world under sharia law, or a novel about a place where everything is up for a vote.
In fact, given enough time and inspiration, I could write novels (Asimov-style) to connect them all into one shared universe.
No doubt you are right on the story itself. But the title and cover look/sound on the spoof side of speculative fiction. If someone hasn’t read it, they will think it isn’t as serious as the rest of the line.
But, like I said, it is just a guess. Not saying that’s what Steve saw/thought. But it is a possibility. Especially if he’s not read it yet. I’m sure you’ll have continued success with it, though.
Mitchell Bond’s books are humor, so I can’t see this as a reason. If anything, we need spoof humor in SF; it’s one of the subgenres that the CBA will never touch.
I agree, dm. Personally, I like a good spoof. But Steve also represents a lot of romance writers, I’m sure many being Amish. Though we know AViS treats them with respect, that may not be the perception out in Amish romance land unless they’ve read it. Me thinks he’s being overly cautious for fear of alienating the agency’s bread and butter. But again, that’s just my wild speculation.
Not so wild. The interview posted later with Jeff confirms this. He even mentions that it might have been easier to keep if it were a parody.
I thought it was a fairly bland statement that ought to calm jitters in the fanbase. A few items caught my eye:
The agency, founded in 2004, has four agents and over 150 active authors…with contracts for nearly 1,000 new books.
“The plan is to continue with what Jeff started and release between 4-8 new titles in 2014,”
4-8 versus 1000, those presumably across a variety of other Christian-fiction genres. That’s a sizable disparity in emphasis to overcome if MLP is to prosper as a spec-fic house.
Marcher Lord Press (MLP) releases only 4-8 titles per year. The readership of the genre are enthusiastic and voracious. Thus I don’t see MLP being competition [with other publishers to whom the Steve Laube Agency pitches books] in the larger sense of the word.
So, if MLP’s output remains constant, there’s no competition, which seems on its face an odd approach to business. If MLP surges under Laube’s leadership, however, then competition will become a bigger issue.
Our own agency’s agents will have the same chance to sell to MLP because it is set up as a company separate from The Steve Laube Agency.
That will be interesting to watch in practice. It’s like saying there’s no connection between Taco Bell and Pepsi-Cola. For another example, reference Disney’s recent transfer of the Star Wars comics franchise from indy Dark Horse to Disney-owned Marvel.
Initially it will be business as usual. The people and resources already in place will remain unchanged.
Probably neither revolution nor assimilation in the works, then.
Anyhow, best wishes to all involved. Should be fun to see what the next few years bring.
*obligatory disgruntled grumbling noises*
Ultimately, Steve is a CBA/ECPA insider. His philosopy is going to reflect that. He’s a CBA/ECPA insider who likes speculative fiction, but probably likes it a bit more sanitized than Jeff was willing to consider. Whether that is good or bad depends on your POV, but it definitely signals a change of direction for MLP. Don’t expect to see the more cutting edge, bold, push the limits type of books MLP has been famous for.