Christian Fiction Online Magazine
Jeff Gerke

Jeff Gerke has been called the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction. After his own six novels were published (under the pen name Jefferson Scott) and his time spearheading the launch of a fiction imprint dedicated to Christian speculative fiction at a major Christian publishing company, Jeff branched out on his own to launch Marcher Lord Press (, 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, Plot versus Character, releases in October 2010. Jeff lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, teenage daughter, 10-year-old son, and 2-year-old adoptive daughter from China. Visit Jeff at And as a site of interest to fans of Christian speculative fiction--and for any Christian novelists looking for tools and information about writing and publishing Christian fiction.

ChristyMarcher Lord Press

Marcher Lord Press began out of a passion and a frustration. My passion has always been for speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.—the weird stuff) ever since I saw the original Star Wars movie when I was twelve and it showed me the power of story. Then I became a Christian and discovered the Lord of the Rings novels. More speculative power, but this time I saw it through the lens of Christianity. Suddenly I wanted to tell speculative stories from the Christian worldview. That became my passion.

My first published novels (six novels under the pen name Jefferson Scott) were near-future technothrillers. I thought they were terrific, as did the three people who read them. But they sold terribly. I thought I was ahead of my time. That’s what you say when you try something different and it doesn’t catch on. [grin] This began over a decade of frustration.

I became an editor at Multnomah Publishers. While there, I championed many Christian speculative fiction proposals. Most were shot down in committee, which added to the frustration. Then the few that did get published sold terribly, which also added to the frustration. I moved from Multnomah to Strang Communications, where I was able to spearhead the launch of their new fiction imprint, Realms, which was dedicated to Christian speculative fiction. There again we had great stories, great covers, and great promotion, but the sales were mediocre. More frustration.

I moved to NavPress, where I ran their fiction department for a while. I acquired some excellent speculative novels: Sharon Hinck’s Restorer trilogy and Tosca Lee’s Demon: A Memoir. Great stuff, but still they didn’t receive the popular support to match the excellence of the content. More frustration.

At that point I’d been in the Christian publishing industry for twelve years. It slowly dawned on me what was happening. Readers were out there who would love Christian science fiction and fantasy, but we weren’t reaching them. I finally realized why.

The people who walk into Christian bookstores looking for novels are white, evangelical women. As a group, those dear ladies prefer bonnet and buggy romances over stories about mutant alien vampires who eat your brains. When I made that key realization, I knew why speculative novels didn’t sell. There were Christians who wanted SF and fantasy, but they’d long ago given up looking for them in Christian bookstores.

I began thinking and praying about what a publishing company would look like that produced speculative fiction and got it to the people who wanted it. It wouldn’t be a company that sold to Christian bookstores. What would be the point? The task became figuring out where these target readers were and how best to reach them. Marcher Lord Press—and its very different publishing model—is the result.

MLP is an advance-paying, royalty-paying publisher producing print books with Kindle and Sony versions (not e-books only). Ninety percent of our sales are through the Internet: Amazon, CBD, or MLP’s store site. We sell a few copies at Christian writers conferences and a very few through special arrangements with bookstores (usually in my authors’ hometowns).

Instead of the traditional offset printing, in which thousands of copies of a book are printed and sent to warehouses, Marcher Lord Press uses print-on-demand technology. POD is not self-publishing. As I said, MLP is an advance-paying, royalty-paying publisher. The author puts up zero money for the production of his or her book. POD is just a technology. Instead of printing thousands of copies, hoping to have thousands of orders, I print zero copies until I have orders, and then I print just the number to fill the orders.

The publishing arrangement with my authors is also quite different from traditional CBA houses. They pay an advance of a few thousand dollars and then, if the advance is made back, a royalty rate on the order of 16 percent. I pay a very small advance and then, when my expenses for that book are made back, I split royalties with my authors 50/50.

This arrangement is great for the author (and the publisher). A traditional CBA house needs to sell 10,000 to 20,000 units of a book to break even. I break even on 300 units sold. After that, it’s all gravy for the author. A book can sell 8,000 units for a traditional publisher and be considered a colossal failure. A book can sell 500 units for me and be considered a runaway bestseller. I rather like that.

Marcher Lord Press launched in the fall of 2008. In 2009 we became eligible to enter contests. In the 2009 ACFW Book of the Year Award, two of our three novels were finalists for the award. And in 2010 we entered our six 2009 novels in contests. By Darkness Hid, an epic fantasy by Jill Williamson, won the 2010 Christy Award in the Visionary category. MLP novels have also won the EPIC Award, the Indie Award, and cover design contests. In this year’s ACFW Carol Award (the renamed Book of the Year Award), we have five finalists, including four of six finalists in the Speculative category. Five of our six 2009 novels are up for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. And I am one of three finalists for the ACFW Editor of the Year Award.

I believe the publishing model we use at MLP is inspired by God, because the more things change in publishing, the smarter our model looks—and I’m not that smart! As traditional Christian publishers are laying off and their incomes are taking a precipitous drop, MLP continues on a steady climb. And new small presses are springing up, using models very similar to MLP. Some are even asking me for counsel, which I’m pleased to offer.

The market for Christian speculative fiction is there. I found it. It’s bigger than I’ve been able to exploit so far, but hopefully news of what we’re doing will spread and the growth will continue. But right now MLP is not able to supply the need for all the people who want to read Christian speculative fiction. If I had the staff and time, I could publish three to four times the number of novels I’m publishing now, and the market would gobble it up. So we need more presses serving this loyal and voracious market. Hopefully, I will be able to expand my publishing program in the near future.

In addition to discovering new authors and voices, which I love, I’m now in a position to acquire some beloved authors and books from the pioneering days of Christian speculative fiction. Marcher Lord Press recently acquired Kathy Tyers and her groundbreaking Firebird trilogy—plus two previously unpublished novels in the Firebird saga. Other big names and well-known novels may rally under the MLP banner, but I can’t say anything just yet.

For a small, nimble press with MLP’s model, this day of dire news for the traditional publishing industry is a time of great opportunity. Something that began out of passion and frustration has led to a new path of possibility. Our fifth release list of novels will be available October 1. Now, the frustration is gone and the passion remains.