Chip MacGregor

May 22, 2010

Guest Blogger: Who needs a publisher?


 Today we're happy to have back with us Jeff Gerke, president of Marcher Lord Press (a tiny publishing house that just got a finalist in the Christy Awards, even though he's up against the Big Boys!). Jeff was at a conference recently, and sent this my way…

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…

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