What should Authors be doing?

Its one of those questions that may seem obvious, but really isn’t obvious. What should authors be doing, if anything, to improve the market for LDS books? Or is improving the market even in their best interest?

This is probably an issue that every author should think about, because their interests and improving the LDS market aren’t necessarily the same.

Why not? Well, some LDS authors appeal more to a non-LDS audience, and anything religious in their work might actually turn off some readers. Noted author of books about vampires, Anne Rice (note: I’ve included her as an example. She is NOT LDS), may be facing some of this at the moment; she has just published a book about Christ, one that is NOT about vampires. She hopes this will still attract a lot of those that purchase her vampire books, and at the same time attract new readers. But it could also have the opposite effect — turn off readers of her vampire books (who would become more cautious about her future efforts) and yet make no inroads in the Christian audience.

Some authors who are or could be popular in the national audience might be in this situation. And some have published LDS-themed works despite the risks. Orson Scott Card’s Book-of-Mormon-themed Homecoming Saga is one example, but unfortunately, that series wasn’t particularly successful among critics. This kind of makes me wonder if these attempts can ever be successful.

But regardless of whether or not such successes are possible, most LDS authors are not in the position to take this risk, and, I believe, their interests do coincide with building and improving the LDS market.

So what should they do?

I’m sure I probably come across as thinking that I have all the answers. I don’t. And this is one of those cases where I think I have fewer answers than normal. I’ll take a stab at it, and I’d appreciate it if you (reader) would take a stab at this question also. Give me some ideas for what authors can do that not only improves their own standing and sales, but also improves the LDS market.

Here are my own ideas:

Know the Market.
I think its pretty easy for authors to concentrate on writing. Its what authors know how to do, and (except for authors just starting) its what they have already done. But reality today is that this only yields one kind of success — the success felt when you see your book in print. That’s not the same success as seeing others read your book, as knowing that thousands of people have purchased your book, and at least some of them have actually read it .

This latter success is sometimes due to the publisher’s efforts. More often, it comes because the author has somehow figured out what to do to promote the book.

How do you find out about the market? Read. Ask questions. Ask some more questions. Start with your editor and ask what their sales process is. How do booksellers find out about your book? What kind of companies buy books from your publisher? Why did your publisher choose to publish your book instead of a cookbook, for example?

Then go to google and search for other answers to your questions. You can also look through major sites for book publishing like www.publishersweekly.com, www.bookweb.org, or www.loc.gov/loc/infopub/. You’ll probably find there are other answers to the questions you asked your editor. You may find answers that are true in the LDS market but not true in the National market, or vice versa. You’ll probably learn so much that you will have other questions to ask.

And don’t forget to find out specific information about the LDS market and LDS Books. The AML’s website and list are invaluable. While I am apparently the only blogger to take on the LDS market, there is an LDSelfPublishing email group that can be helpful. If nothing else its a place where you can ask questions.

If nothing else, knowing the market will help authors figure out what to do to promote their books. And the more books are promoted, the more the market will grow (and, I hope, improve).

Make Sure the Publisher Promotes
Believe it or not, publishers don’t always do everything they could for every book. Here in New York City, among the largest publishers, this phenomenon is common. Publishers choose their ‘lead’ books for a season, and those books get most of their attention, efforts and money. The other titles the publisher releases that season get a minimal, basic level of promotion and nothing else.

I think this also occurs in the LDS market, except that smaller LDS publishers don’t have lead titles — they just don’t have the resources to do more than the minimal effort that large New York publishers put in. (Its also possible that some of these smaller LDS publishers simply don’t know how to promote books.)

So what should an author do? Talk with the publisher’s marketing and publicity staff. Get them to spell out what will happen and when it will happen. And when you discover that its not enough (it never is — there is always something that even the largest publishers will pass up for many reasons), do some of the promotion yourself. Books and resources to help you figure out what to do are legion! Start with the Publishing & Promoting email list, or John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. There are also many, many resources on the Internet to let authors know what to do to promote their books — many of which at little or no cost.

Get Involved in the Market
Knowing the market is one thing. Participating is another. Both the AML and the LDSBA host events at which authors are welcome. Joining the AML is also open to authors. There is an increasing number of places, both in print and on the Internet for writing about books, something authors are very well suited to. I believe bookstores would love to see more authors, if your publisher hasn’t arranged one, set up an author book signing. And if nothing else you should know the staff at your local LDS bookstore and they should know you and your books.

Take a Risk
In my opinion, a lot of the problems in the LDS market simply come from a lack of knowledge and a failure to take risks. We’re missing some categories (see my post on categories) not only because publishers haven’t published them, but also because authors haven’t written much in those areas. Learn what else is missing and try to do something about it.

Support LDS Culture
Books aren’t the only means of cultural expression. The LDS market boasts significant and varied offerings in music and now in film. There is quite a bit of visual art also. Recently we’ve even seen opera! Of course there are problems in all these areas. But too much LDS Church members dismiss what is available as not up to national standards. We have a big problem because too much of our potential audience doesn’t buy LDS products, claiming that they aren’t very good. While this is true to an extent, we do have some quality products. And the only way we will get enough quality products is if the market develops enough to support them.

What Have I Missed?
I’m sure there is a lot of other things that authors can do to help build the market. What have I missed?

4 thoughts on “What should Authors be doing?”

  1. I believe bookstores would love to see more authors, if your publisher hasn’t arranged one, set up an author book signing. And if nothing else you should know the staff at your local LDS bookstore and they should know you and your books. 

    My experience is that bookstores definitely like book “events”; that is, they’re happy to hold signings, but they like signings better if the author does a reading from his or her work along with the signing. Some libraries also hold readings, but there the red tape factor is higher sometimes. I heartily agree that bookstores would love to see more authors. I’ve never had a bookstore I visited or called to set up a reading say, “Sorry, we don’t do that.” Most are very interested.

    One thing at least some writers might do to help the market–one little thing (I admit that this might be my own funny little preference showing here)–is work on their out loud reading skills. This is not only a matter of enhancing sales through giving a good performance but also a matter of providing your audience with a stimulating experience with their native language, which has surprising effects for people.

    Thanks for writing this post, Kent. I wish I’d seen it three years ago.  

    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  2. Great post, Kent.

    I certainly think that LDS writers could take cues from speculative fiction authors (some of whom are LDS even) and develop stronger online presences and do more electronic marketing.

    Book signings are great because you get people into a place where they can actually buy the book. E-marketing has the same virtue. It doesn’t matter how good your newspaper reviews are (assuming you even get any) or how much you or your publisher spends on ads — only a fraction of the people who see you in print are going to make the effort to seek out your title.

    With e-marketing, interested readers are a click or two away from purchasing your book. 

    Posted by William Morris

  3. As a LDS author-hopeful with my first book in the works, I have to admit that my consideration had not extended much beyond Deseret Book. Posts on here have made me think, though. Perhaps it would be good to send my book elsewhere.

    The idea of the difference between marketing for self-interest and marketing in the interest of the LDS market-at-large is one that I had not considered. It overlaps somewhat in my mind with general church public image & outreach. I am not speaking specifically missionarily, but not ignoring that either. Simply that we tend to be a fairly insular culture-wise. It would be neat to see more LDS creatives break through on to the national scene (i.e. Jared & Jerusha Hess).

    When you choose to be in the world but be not of it, it can be hard to gladhand your way to a spotlight. 

    Posted by Naiah Earhart

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