Jeff Gerke has been called the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction. He has a special place in his heart for "weird" Christian fiction (SF, fantasy, supernatural thrillers, etc.) and maintains a thriving Web site dedicated to those genres: Where The Map Ends. Jeff has served as an editor for Multnomah Publishers, Strang Communications, and NavPress. While at Strang, Jeff launched Realms, an imprint of Christian speculative fiction. In October 2008 Jeff launched Marcher Lord Press, an indie publishing company specializing in Christian speculative fiction. Jeff currently makes his living as a freelance editor and book doctor specializing in helping Christian novelists improve their fiction and get published. Under the pen name Jefferson Scott he has authored six Christian novels and coauthored two nonfiction books. Jeff and his wife and two children live in Colorado Springs. They are traveling to China in March to adopt their special needs daughter (www.BringSophieHome.com).
Marcher Lord Press
My name is Jeff Gerke, founder and publisher of Marcher Lord Press. I have been involved with the Christian publishing industry since 1994, when I received contracts to write my own first novels. Under the pen name Jefferson Scott, I wrote a trilogy of near-future technothrillers for Multnomah Publishers.
The books were well received by reviewers and readers, but not nearly enough readers found them. I thought at the time that this was because I was a new author whose books the publisher didn’t throw a lot of marketing money at.
I then joined the editorial staff of Multnomah and began to learn about Christian publishing from the other side of the editorial desk. I became an advocate for the “weird” kinds of Christian fiction: near-future technothrillers (like mine), fantasies, science fiction, time travel novels, and the rest. I thought not enough editors were out there championing this kind of fiction, so I wanted to help balance the scales.
I had a few successes getting this kind of fiction through the publishing committees, but a lot more failures. I left Multnomah and wrote three more novels of my own—this time they weren’t speculative novels, but they were creative extrapolations of real-world military technology. These didn’t sell well either. Again, I thought, it’s the marketing.
I got a staff job with Strang Communications, where I had the great opportunity to spearhead the development and launch of a href="http://www.realmsfiction.com">Realms, which became Strang’s fiction imprint. It was created to produce high quality Christian speculative fiction: spiritual warfare, science fiction, fantasy, etc. I was in heaven during that time. The books got great covers, excellent editing, and a huge marketing budget.
But they didn’t sell very well. Oh, they did all right, but nothing like what we’d all been hoping for. My theory—that Christian speculative novels would sell great if they had better marketing and good covers—was shot. What was going on?
I left Realms and became the fiction manager at NavPress. While there, I continued my campaign to publish incredible Christian speculative fiction. I was able to get some terrific titles through committee, and some of them sold pretty well for the genre.
But by then I had rounded a corner in my thinking. No longer was I convinced that the Christian marketplace would embrace these weird Christian novels if people only knew about them. I was beginning to understand that the people who love the kind of fiction published by Christian publishers are not the kind of people who love Christian speculative fiction. The core CBA fiction demographic loves Amish fiction and female-oriented thrillers. They’re not especially fond of stories about mutant alien vampires who come to Christ.
So even as I went about my day job, trying to acquire wonderful novels that would appeal to that core demographic, I began wondering what the publishing model might be that could be successful publishing Christian speculative fiction. I knew people were out there who loved it. I just didn’t know how to find them.
For one thing, this group has pretty much stopped going into Christian bookstores. They’re knickknacked and potpourried to death. For another, they’ve stopped looking to Christian publishers
to produce the kind of book they’re looking for. Oh, we have the occasional Left Behind or Ted Dekker novel, but for the most part, the fiction shelves of Christian bookstores are not filled with books these people like.
So how to find these people? How to let them know that someone has produced novels they’d like? And how to convince them that they’ll be good books and not the kind of thing they’ve seen from some self-published authors? I launched a site dedicated to Christian speculative fiction, and though it was growing in popularity, I wanted to take the next step.
Slowly the idea for Marcher Lord Press began to form in my mind. If I ever did a publishing company like this, I thought, I wouldn’t try to get into Christian bookstores. Why should I if my audience isn’t looking there? If I ever did this, I’d have to find a way to break even on a very small number of books sold. Well, I can do the editing myself and I can learn typesetting. I’ve got friends in the industry who design covers and copyedit and do the other things I’m not good at. Could I do this and break even on fewer than 500 copies of a book sold?
Marcher Lord Press is the culmination of all my thinking and praying and the counsel I received from industry veterans and friends.
MLP went live on October 1, 2008. We launched with three Christian speculative novels. They have sold a combined 880 units so far, which exceeded my break-even total. The books have sold entirely through the Marcher Lord Press store and Amazon. We made enough money to do this again with a second list, which, in fact, will be released April 1. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the new books.
All three of them are amazing, but one of them exemplifies why I launched MLP. Starfire is a very strange—but wonderfully written—novel. It’s a far-future, non-earth, non-human science fiction about computer-using dinosaur people at war. The hero is a saurian. He has a tail and big teeth. But he speaks and uses weaponry and is quite a good iralok player. Starfire is a tremendous Christian novel about dark secrets and terrible choices and ancient prophecies that may save or doom a world.
But Starfire is also a novel that would never, ever get published through traditional Christian publishers. I should know—when I was launching Realms I actually reviewed Starfire. I loved it but knew I couldn’t get it through committee, so I had to reject it. I was thrilled to be able to accept it a couple of years later.
Marcher Lord Press is my way to advance the cause of Christian speculative fiction—for its readers and its writers. I publish a small number of novels in two release cycles a year. I sell only online. My marketing budget is almost nil. I break even on a very small number of books sold. And I have been told I’ve brought immeasurable enjoyment and encouragement to many fans and aspiring writers. “Finally,” they say, “someone is taking a chance to publish the most creative kind of Christian fiction possible.”
I love what I do and am praying we can continue selling enough books so we can keep doing this indefinitely.
Our stories are amazing, the writing is strong, the covers are to die for, and the worlds we readers get to go to are sublime.
We’re on the cusp of a publishing revolution. And I believe Marcher Lord Press is at the forefront.
Thank you for loving edgy Christian fiction.