Who Needs A Publisher?

Jeff Gerke, president of Marcher Lord Press (a tiny publishing house that just got a winner in the Christy Awards, even though he was up against the Big Boys!) was at a conference in May 2010, and sent this to Chip MacGregor…

Jeff launched Marcher Lord Press (www.marcherlordpress.com), an Indie publishing house billing itself as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. His fiction how-to book THE ART & CRAFT OF WRITING CHRISTIAN FICTION is available through Amazon or Marcher Lord Press and his new craft book from Writer’s Digest Books is due out in late 2010. Jeff lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, teenage daughter, 10-year-old son, and 2-year-old adoptive daughter from China. Check out his Fiction Writing Tips.

I wish you’d been at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference with me last week. I was amazed at the change in attitude regarding self-publishing. The mood was sort of…who needs a publisher?

Traditionally, publishers have been a good thing to have because they’ll pay the author and get the author’s book into bookstores. But those things are changing. New authors are finding it almost impossible to get contracts. Advances have dropped (some to as little as $3,000). Brick-and-mortar bookstores are becoming a less-important part of the scenario, especially with one of the giant chains apparently 180 days late in paying their bills (as someone said in a panel). Who buys books at bookstores anymore anyway? It’s all on Amazon. So as long as you’re there, who needs to go to bookstores?

The other thing that kept coming up is the fact that publishers will keep whatever is earned by a book, since most books will never make back their advance. However, those few that do earn back their advance will make only $1 per book in royalties. Contrast that with self-publishing, where you keep everything beyond the cost of printing the book — the payout is more like $8 per book or higher.

Most publishers aren’t wanting to publish an author unless s/he’s got a large “platform,” sometimes even for novelists. If you can’t guarantee 10,000 in sales, you may be told “don’t bother.” My question (which I asked over the microphone on at least one panel) is this: if you have 10,000 in guaranteed sales, what do you need a publisher for?

I even went so far as to predict that in 3-5 years these same publishers who have been saying that self-publishing is a bad career move for a writer will instead be pleading with people to come to them: “Please consider publishing with us. We have this, this, and this we can offer.” I am saddened when I hear editors and authors talking about “real publishers” and books that are “actually published” (as opposed to self-published). Yes, I know what they mean… but I can’t see how anything approaching arrogance pleases God. The climate has so changed that many people are realizing they don’t need publishers. Publishers need authors! Most may be only 5-10 years from obsolescence anyway. Maybe 3-5 years. They’re holding on to an old model, and it’s a model that no longer works.

The new model is for consumers to self-publish. Now, many of them will just post their Word documents to the web, sort of a YouTube approach. It will just be raw words, and though some may be good, most will be unpolished and weak. But many will eventually realize that a great edit, a professional-looking interior typeset, and a terrific cover design will help them sell more copies.

That’s where people like me come in. Smaller, nimbler, working on a new model. I offer all those services, and others like BelieversPress and WinePress become attractive to potential authors. Something to think about when you consider the future of publishing.
Okay, so you may not agree with Jeff. But we’d love to know what you think. Tell us in the “comments” section…

This post first appeared on Chip MacGregor’s blog at www.chipmacgregor.com, May 22, 2010. Used by permission.

Chip MacGregor created MacGregor Literary and has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both CBA and ABA. Chip has written more than two-dozen titles, including two books that hit #1 on the bestseller lists in their category. During his tenure as a publisher at Time Warner, he helped the company grow into one of the world’s biggest providers of Christian books to the general market.

5 thoughts on “Who Needs A Publisher?

  1. You might think that Jeff is a little crazy, but I once hired him to do some editorial work and found him to be very perceptive. This trend he’s observing would mean that learning the craft to produce a quality work and marketing to stand out from the crowd are even more important.
    Two very interesting articles related to Jeff’s post above….

    Randy Ingermanson on “The Future of Publishing” in his July E-zine
    Skip down to article 2 in this link:

    The Steve Laube Agency had a great post about E-Book Sales: Behind the Stats

    The people of Gutenburg’s time witnessed a sea change in publishing. Is a similar change occurring in our time?


  2. Excellent comments. As a new author writing to a subject that is needed but selective in its market base, I feel time squeesed to do all the marketing along with gathering information and writing. As a licensed counselor I have both a professional base and a personal base when I write about loss and I self-published my first book. I have a second one ready and a third that I think would be extremely helpful. It does become overwhelming and first time authors can become discouraged – not a good thing if they have something of importance to share.
    Thanks for your comments,


  3. I became a self-published author in November of 2008. Since then, just because I am an author, all kinds of opportunities have opened up for me. Sure, I have to do my own promotion but I am with a company that has all kinds of promotional packages that I can buy, as well. Self-publishing enabled me to fulfill my life-time dream of becoming a published writer. It has been an incredible journey, and one that I would highly recommend to anyone who desires to crack into the publishing field. So many things have happened. I hate to think about my book still being in manuscript form somewhere on my desk at home because no publisher will accept it.


  4. Publishing your own book doesn’t even have to cost you any money. E-publish! You might say that you don’t know where to start. Or that you are not computer savvy enough! I highly doubt that either of those statements are true, but it they are, or if you just don’t have time, then that is where individuals like myself can help. I do e-book publishing. You send me your word document, and I turn it into a properly formatted HTML document that is suitable for publishing on Kindle, through Amazon.com

    Alex at Jerimiah Publishing, Bonnie Lake, WA (253) 862-9662


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