CSFF Blog Tour – WhereTheMapEnds.com, Day 2

I have to admit—I’ve been back and forth about what to write today. The CSFF Blog Tour is again highlighting editor Jeff Gerke’s speculative fiction website WhereTheMapEnds. But what to say?

Should I expound on the impressive book list he’s compiled? Delve into the fun writer toys? Critique the site? Perhaps I should simply point out the many good posts from others on the tour. With so much to work from, I’m sort of paralyzed with the wealth of possibilities.

I guess I’ll bring up something that is troubling me. In my post at Speculative Faith yesterday, I made the off-handed remark that I wish Jeff’s dream of a publishing company focused on CSFF was a traditional press rather than POD (print on demand). To that, Mirtika Schultz (don’t forget to enter her contest) included this in her comment:

I’m like Becky. I want to see traditional publishers get inspired to acquire and market and P.R. and push and open pathways for SF, big hoping gal that I am. POD simply can’t do the promotion or get into the venues traditional houses can. Ah, well. We need to keep our vision broad, I think, so kudos to Jeff and Bill Snodgrass, who both have a similar vision in this POD CSF regard.

Later, Jeff left this reply:

Thanks for the great promotion for the site, Becky. And thanks to those who have commented.

In order to see my response to your idea about Marcher Lord Press being mainstream instead of POD, please read Tips 16-18 here: http://www.wherethemapends.com/writerstools/
writers_tools_pages/tip_of_the_week.htm.

I dutifully went to read Tips 16-18 and came away feeling quite depressed. OK, that’s too strong. Disappointed, maybe, or discouraged. Usually the CSFF tours enliven me, embolden my hope. So, why this reaction?

As I mentioned yesterday, my vision of CSFF is like Jeff’s. In a guest post he expressed it this way: “Fantasy, therefore, can be the best genre for evangelism and apologetics in our day.”

I’ve believed this passionately. The problem I see is the lack of means. It’s one thing to write fantasy with this goal, and another to actually get the stories in the hands of people who could benefit. So I ask, Will POD do this? I have my doubts.

My vision is simple: write a great story that a Christian will find in the Christian bookstore or on the religious shelves of the chain store, and will give to his non-Christian friends. In other words, the story will entice and will provoke. It will be a vehicle—less threatening than an invitation to church—that can initiate discussion.

While God CAN most certainly use a story to bring someone to Christ, I think the more common situation is a person telling another person about Christ. But couldn’t a story be the catalyst?

So coming face to face with the realities Jeff brings out in his tips section caused me pause. Where does my vision fit in this? Not with POD publishing. Not with traditional publishing. Unless God has something else in mind.

I am constantly brought back to that truth. Unless God does the miraculous—the “Gideon-led army of 300 triumphing over tens of thousands of the enemy” kind of miraculous—my vision is nothing but a pipe-dream.

And that’s OK, because God CAN do the miraculous. If He wants Christian fantasy to “break out” and become the influence on our culture I believe it can be, it will be of His doing. He’ll receive the glory for it because certainly the numbers are stacked against it.

Would I rather write something with the numbers stacked in my favor? Not unless God is in that too. In the end, the numbers are irrelevant. God is God and He will accomplish what He wants with the means He chooses. I just have to be in position and available and willing.

OK, for actual discussion of WhereTheMapEnds, check out these other participants. For another contest and a good interview with Jeff, be sure to include Sharon Hinck‘s blog. For a review of one of Jeff’s books (he writes under the name Jefferson Scott), see Jason Joyner‘s earlier post or Grace Bridges CSFF post.

And much, much more:

Published in: on February 20, 2007 at 11:37 am  Comments (16)  

16 Comments

  1. Good post and thoughts, BTW.

    Um, the review I’m posting about is to a totally different author, not one of Jeff/Jefferson’s books! Sorry about the confusion – I’m just pumped about Abiding Darkness and was trying to do 2 things at once.

    The tour’s going really well, I think. We’ll see the finale tomorrow, right? 😀

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  2. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Becky.

    I’m sorry you got depressed! I think I may see more hope in POD publishing–as I describe it for Marcher Lord Press–than some folks do.

    Who is the market for Christian speculative fiction? The folks who come to WhereTheMapEnds and the folks who read your blog and the other blogs on the CSFF Blogtour. They are the ones who will buy the kind of books Marcher Lord Press would produce.

    So, those folks could have the book in their hands–because they’ve found it on WhereTheMapEnds–and they could take it to their unsaved friend.

    The only thing we’ve done is bypass the step in which these books are put into Christian bookstores or the religious section of secular bookstores, where not very many people will want them or buy them. Why do that step at all when we can get directly to the people who want them through a vehicle like WhereTheMapEnds and Marcher Lord Press?

    Good discussion, Becky.

    Jeff

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  3. Well, that’s the thing that I disagree with, Jeff—the part of “who will buy.” Yes, definitely, the died-in-the-wool fans will buy, but who bought Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings?

    Who’s buying Wayne Batson’s books or Bryan Davis’s or Donita Paul’s? These are selling well because people are finding out about them. Wayne’s is probably selling the best over all and I have to think they are because they are face out in Borders next to Cornelia Funk (though ultimately it is because God oversees these things).

    My point is, in my opinion the pundits are seriously underestimating the interest in fantasy, and it is only going to increase, as those raised with Harry Potter are going to look for fantasies at the adult level. CBA will lose a whole generation of readers if they don’t start offering what those readers want.

    I personally think the scene is changing. If MLP was a traditional press and could do what AMG did with Dragons in Our Midst, now that would be impressive.

    I just think there are already enough small presses to do what you’re talking about. Sigh. Just my opinion.

    Maybe someday I’ll have the money to start that traditional press.

    Becky

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  4. Hey, Jason, my fault, not yours. I should have checked out the review instead of jumping to conclusions.

    I agree, I think the tour is going very well. Seems like there is lots of lively dialogue. I just wish there was time to do all the posts justice.

    Becky

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  5. Great, thought-provoking stuff. Just a thought about POD. POD/selfpublishing can work–see Christopher Paolini; that’s where Eragon began, wasn’t it? He mounted a grass roots campaign in the schools and showed interest in kids. In return, they showed interest in him. Funny thing to ponder: If CP was a Christian (I have no idea) and had tried to get Eragon published through a Christian House, do you think he would have succeeded? I wonder. Many critics have called Eragon substandard writing and derivative of Tolkien and George Lucas. Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten a contract. What would that mean? Kids love the books. Hmmm…

    But for every Eragon, there are thousands of POD/SP books that never reach their potential. Becky’s reasoning about marketshare and promotion are the most likely reason. But there’s also a pretty widespread view that POD/SP equals vanity press and therefore unlikely to be very high in quality. That’s a very real stigma to face.

    Having read Jeff’s encouraging site intro (http://wherethemapends.com/main.htm) and then Christopher Hopper’s response (http://christopherhopper.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/setting-the-standard/)
    I’m encouraged to hear exhortation for excellence in His name.

    Whatever route we go with our stories, I think we really need to raise the bar on quality.

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  6. Great post about Jeff’s site, Becky. You’ve done a fabulous job and are an example to us all.

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  7. […] discussion on the Christian publishing world over on Becky’s […]

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  8. Janey, thanks for your kind comments. I appreciate the encouragement.

    Wayne, I think Paolini was small press/self published. As I understand it, his parents set up a publishing company so that he never identified himself as self-published.

    That’s different from print on demand. At least with self-published, you have a product you can take with you to your talks. The only limit really seems to be your ability as a salesman if you go around to schools and such as Paolini did. (Of course, adult fiction doesn’t have the built in audience of a school—unless you can taylor your talk to college age.)

    POD, however, has no product until someone orders it. Essentially you are limited to whatever can sell from the catalogue. Unless, of course, you order a bunch yourself. But then, why not just self publish and get all the proceeds? With POD you are making no effort to get books into bookstores. Distribution is completely on you.

    My biggest problem is the danger of becoming “in grown.” If Christians who love SFF only buy and sell among each other, what chance is there to touch the world? Will we even recognize whether or not our writing is good? If my critique partner then becomes my reviewer and my promoter, will I ever get an accurate idea of the quality of my writing?

    Like Mir, I think diversity is good for the industry. I don’t know if this was part of her thinking or not, but if nothing else, competition keeps people—and publishers—striving to do better. I can also think of some cases where POD might be the best option for a writer.

    But as the solution to the dearth of CSFF in the marketplace and the ignorance of readers to its existence? I don’t see POD as alleviating those conditions. Just my opinion.

    Becky

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  9. Hey Becky,

    Well, I will have to say I am in agreement with Jeff on POD. There are multiple versions of POD and the terminology really needs to be seperated. There is POD in how you are referring to, “One Off”, which is print only when purchased. But also many publishers are using the same POD technology in order to produce what is called “Digital Short Runs”. It is far cheaper to use the POD technology to print 10-1000 books than it is to use traditional offset printing. Once you get to about 3000 copies, it switches and offset printing is actually cheaper. For the paperback versions of Faith of the Unforgotten and Into the Darkness I have decided to use the Digital Short Run approach. My distributor already has a considerable amount of orders for stores, libraries, and churches. There are many advantages of doing it this way. We were rushed with the hardcover of Faith of the Unforgotten and some editing mistakes slipped by. With short runs, you can print a few hundred, fix any problems that might have been missed, then easily print a newer and cleaner version in greater quantities. Granted,it is far cheaper and more profitable for a publisher to print 5000 books at a time, but if a small publisher cannot guarantee those books will be sold and if there are missed mistakes, it could kill a small publishing company.

    So not sure if Jeff’s POD is referring to “One Off” printing or “Digital Short Run”, but I believe the technology can be used effectively.

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  10. I’ve gotta weigh in here with my hopelessly idealist view of life. 🙂

    For years I listened to debates about “the best way” to worship – pipe organ and Bach or electric guitar? thousand-year-old liturgies or dancing in the Spirit? My hearts conclusion was to do it all. Our God is so awesome and multifacted that we need myriad ways to communicate with Him and about Him.

    So I’m applying that same thinking to this question – how do we support and build the genre?

    Might POD or tiny-press spec-fic marginalize it even more? Perhaps. But I don’t want to worry. I want to celebrate it all.

    Let’s keep seeking publication in traditional CBA houses. Let’s explore writing as Christians in ABA. Let’s self-publish and POD publish and e-publish and WHATEVER God leads us into. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Let’s do both/and. 🙂

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  11. Sharon, to make a point, I down-played my agreement with your view in my comment.

    The discussion started with this off-hand remark in my post at Spec Faith: Still to come is Marcher Lord Press, a print-on-demand press dedicated to Christian speculative fiction. (Would that it was a traditional press instead, but that’s my opinion).

    I DO believe there already are small presses and POD publishers who will readily publish CSFF. Will it actually further expose the genre to others if we have a CSFF-specific publisher? That’s the part that I doubt, not that it is viable for authors looking to sell 1000 to 3000 books.

    Leathel, thanks for the explanation about Digital Short Run. I know one of the complaints about POD books has been the cost to the consumer. I’m interested in your mention of a distributor. Are you saying you can get books into book stores?

    I do believe God can use whatever means He puts before an author. So far, I only have an idea—a vision, if you will—and God may close all doors to that avenue. At this point, I see my job as “spreading the word” to help create the climate I believe is possible, with Christian publishers seeking fantasies as eagerly as the ABA was 2 years ago.

    Thanks for the healthy discussion, all.

    Becky

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  12. I think the main difference that Jeff’s MLP will offer, as opposed to someone just posting their SF book at LuLu or some other PODd publisher, is that Jeff actually IS an editor and has worked IN publishing as an editor. That screening he offers, right there, can help build confidence. That’s the light I see glimmering in the heart of my cynical cloud about POD. If someone who can weed out stinkers is at the helm, that helps oodles in terms of reputation.

    I’m a tough editor. I turn down more stuff at DKA than, I think, any other editor. I’m very picky. But that’s because I want to eventually see DKA as a magazine that can compete, quality-wise, with RoF and F&SF. Yeah, big ambition. But there it is.

    I assume Jeff is that way, too. He’s not just gonna publish something cause it’s “Christian SF.” He’s gonna give the okay because it’s GOOD. And other PODs can’t promise that. (Lord knows I’ve browsed some scary POD stuff. Poorly edited. Badly written. Horribly produced. In toto: crap.)

    We’ve been working on craft and promotion, and that helps set a base. The visionaries like Jeff and Bill Snodgrass are finding ways to get stuff out there. And we should pray that ALL AVENUES that will be beneficial open. ALL.

    I would also counsel folks who have this vision Becky has of producing something that has the spark of the gospel in it to open eyes, a work that is more than entertainment, NOT TO NEGLECT SHORTER FICTION VENUES.

    If you get published with TSR or DKA or The Wayfarer’s Journal or Coach’s Midnight Diner, even though remuneration may be nil or small, it will put YOUR work out there for someone to say, “Read this. I think it has something special for you.”

    It’s not just novels that do that. Short stories, artwork, and poetry do that as well. Let’s ALL get a bigger vision here.

    Let’s win the dang HUGO and NEBULA for the team! 🙂 (I did say I was a big hoping kind of gal on my best days, no?)

    Mir

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  13. >I’m interested in your mention of a distributor. Are you saying you can get books into book stores?

    Yes. Many copies are already being pre-ordered by stores, churches, and libraries. This is my first year using a distributor to market, so it will be rather interesting to see how things go.

    Doing a “One Off” printing method, I do not think you can get into stores though. As you mentioned the cost is enormous. You are usually spending $15 to print one book. A bookstore requires 45-50% discoount(we will use 50%). So in order to break even, a person would need to charge $30 for their book. This does not even cover shipping costs(which the publisher has to pay). Nobody is going to pay $30-35 dollars for a 200 page paperback book. That is why the bookstores won’t even look at them. It’d be a waste of shelf space.

    Doing a short run, you can knock the printing costs down. The more you print the cheaper it is per book. Printing 1000 copies could workout to be $5 per book. Not great money to the publisher by the time you add in discounts, shipping, marketing etc…, but far more easier to get into the bookstores if the publisher charges $15.

    Also as Mir mentioned, self-publishing/POD does have some serious stigma issues. There just are things that should not be published, but they do get published through these routes. The covers of the current leading POD publishers are well, not the greatest and it is pretty obvious what books are from them. And then there is the editing or maybe the lack thereof? The publishers got their money from the author through start up costs, they really do not care if the book is good, edited, or will sell.

    There are also other downfalls. POD usually does not have to cool cover additions(gold foil stamping and embossing) that many paperbacks have. So that adds another obstacle when competing for shelf space in the stores.

    So like all things there is good and bad. It just depends on how the technology is used. Jeff is known in the publishing industry and his name is on the line. He HAS to put out top notch works or else he would lose the credibility that has taken so long to build up.

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  14. Sharon, love your post. All things for all people that in all ways we might reach a few.

    Oh, and the answer to the worship question is: Electric Guitar.

    Definitely. 😉

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  15. Mir made a great point about Jeff as editor.

    Leathal, you’re right about the good/bad of it all. Again you’ve given good information. I appreciate hearing from someone who has researched the issue.

    I agree, there is obviously lots of room for finding ways to publish all those who want to wirte. Not one way will work for everyone. I don’t know what kind of competition is out there that Marcher Lord Press will be up against, but Jeff is certainly a recognized name in traditional press circles, so it would figure he’ll want to do it with the utmost quality.

    Becky

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  16. […] Jeff Gerke announced his plans to begin a new kind of publishing company, Marcher Lord Press. My initial reaction wasn’t particularly favorable because MLP is a print-on-demand […]

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