I addressed a part of this question some time ago in the post Fiddler-Envy and the Elusive “Cross-over” Work, in which I expressed doubt about removing the Mormon elements from works, so that they can reach the “national” market. But the question is really larger than that.
The decision of whether or not to sell a work nationally can be quite complicated, and depends a lot on the subject, genre and abilities of the author and publisher. But regardless of whether it is the right decision for a particular work or author, going national has implications for the LDS market as well as for the author, publisher and for the work.
How does this affect the LDS market? Well, regardless of whether the work has been groomed for the national market, titles that sell nationally are rarely sold in LDS stores (look at how many LDS stores stock Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming series which is based on the Book of Mormon).
Any time a title is sold in the national market instead of the LDS market, the LDS market is weaker — LDS stores don’t get the sales (unless they carry the title, which generally doesn’t happen), and LDS publishers don’t have the title.
This isn’t always a bad thing. Generally, national publishers can do a better job of selling than LDS publishers, at least for titles that have a subject and writing that fit the national market (and that are then accepted by a national publisher).
But it is also not exclusively a good thing — since every title not in the LDS market means a weaker market. IMO, that’s a bad thing — it makes it harder for LDS-specific literature and a more mature LDS culture to develop.
This is a kind of dilemna — what may be better for an author who reaches the national market could weaken the LDS market. And what is true for authors is also true for publishers and booksellers. Publishers have to decide whether to sell to the national market, and how much to invest there versus the LDS market. Like additional titles, additional publishers also strengthen the LDS market. In a similar vein, LDS booksellers need to decide whether or not to stock national titles in addition to LDS titles, and which titles to stock in either case.
The problem with all this is that we need both. LDS books and products need a presence in the national market as well as a separate LDS market, so that those books that can’t make it in the national market have a place to go. LDS customers need to be able to find LDS titles and products at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble as well as at Deseretbook.com and Mormonpavillion.com. We need LDS titles to be available from an LDS wholesaler (see ) AND from the major US wholesalers (Ingram, Baker & Taylor and perhaps a few others).
This issue is one that everyone in the LDS market has to explore, given their situation. I don’t think that anyone (except perhaps some authors) has the balance between the two right yet. Most LDS publishers (including yours truly) do not. The LDS bookstores I’ve been in generally do not.
I don’t have all the answers for setting this balance. I do know that it is a balance — setting how much effort is put in both areas. But at a minimum, titles need to be available both places. We need to abolish the mentality that there are some titles that belong only in the LDS market because, after all, LDS book purchasers don’t buy exclusively from LDS stores, and as I observed a week ago (see Where is Mass Market Mormonism?), LDS bookstores don’t reach even half the potential market in the US!
Somehow we need to expand our presence in the national market, while maintaining an independent LDS market.
It won’t be easy.