What Should the LDSBA do Differently?

LDS Booksellers Association

The LDS Booksellers Association‘s annual convention starts today.

For those who don’t know about this convention, it is the principal trade show for LDS products. Most of the association’s 200 producers and distributors display their wares for the 200 member bookstores, who attend hoping to learn what new products are available. Its the LDS equivalent of BookExpo America or the annual shows that many other industries have around the country each year.

I’ve been attending on and off for nearly 15 years, enough to learn something about how the industry works and see the value of the show. I’ve seen the number of stores decline from more than 350 to about 200 now. Attendance at the show has also declined. I’ve also seen the LDSBA’s policies develop, as it sought to improve professionalism among its members.

I think this kind of organization is important. A trade show is useful; its more efficient than sending sales reps (which LDS publishers and producers don’t have) to every bookstore, and it can be more effective than mailing catalogs and making sales phone calls. But I won’t be attending this year, in part because the products I’d hoped to have ready aren’t done yet, and in part because I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the show.

Part of my disillusion is because my products and my personal inclination don’t fit the norm for LDSBA members. My company is unusual, small, with comparatively few products and unfamiliar to most attendees, who seem quite satisfied to ignore anything that is unfamiliar.

But part of my disillusion comes from my perception that the LDSBA isn’t helping the LDS market expand. In a comment on my last post, Mark Hansen reminded me of this when he said:

I once heard Jeff Simpson (of Excel Entertainment) speak, and he had some very interesting thoughts. He said that too often we in the LDS arts business think about how big each slice of the pie is. What we truly need to think about is how to make the whole pie bigger.

I wish the LDSBA had actively listened to this idea.

I think there are a few other ideas that the LDSBA should listen to. In case the LDSBA board members happen to read this suggestion, let me make some concrete suggestions that, I think, would revolutionize the association, and maybe even actually improve the LDS market:

  • Offer free retail (i.e., bookstore) memberships. Since the bookstore members are predominantly in the US, and the LDS Church’s growth is predominantly outside the US, wouldn’t it make sense to do everything possible to encourage new retailers outside the US?
  • Explore holding conventions outside the Wasatch Front for the general Church membership. The convention that starts today is for members only (the LDSBA doesn’t even like publicity about the convention, fearing that the general public will get in and somehow collect all the giveaways). Why not hold events so that the average Church member knows something about all the products available? Local LDS bookstores (if any in the area chosen) may object, until they realize that such conventions will probably boost their sales in the long run (after exhibitors leave, where will local members go to get all the products displayed?
  • Set up or encourage the development of a true wholesaler — a middleman that purchases from the publishers and producers and sells to the retailers. I posted about the need for a wholesaler some time ago.
  • Join or partner with national book industry groups, such as the Book Industry Study Group, so that LDSBA members can learn about and benefit from its standards.
  • Create a committee to prepare a list of standard categories for publishers and booksellers to use — something like the Book Industry Study Group’s BISAC Subject Codes. Such a system would benefit everyone in the LDS market, and eliminate nonsense bookstore categories like “LDS Authors.”
  • Add ethical standards for publishers covering their contracts with authors.

I’m not sure that the above list is everything that I would suggest — I’ve probably left off things that I’ve discussed here, or things that have occurred to me at some point. But they are all things I think the LDSBA can reasonably do, and that would have a substantial positive effect on the LDS market.

I welcome any additional suggestions for how the LDSBA could improve the market for LDS books, music, film and other products.

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38 thoughts on “What Should the LDSBA do Differently?”

  1. LDSBA should study Comiket, the world’s largest comic book convention. Comiket says, “Are you a writer or artist? A reader? A fan? Come on down!” LDSBA should invite all comers, and become a place where readers and writers and agents and publishers and retailers can see everything the Mormon market has to offer.

  2. I remember when they did a top 10 list for a short while. I don’t know how valid it was, but I found it quite interesting and useful.

    At the very least, they (and/or the AML and/or LDStorymakers) should have a news blog that posts new releases and products, sales milestones (LDS Publisher tried to do this), changes in the industry (personnel moves, acquisitions and mergers), etc. All that stuff that most trade organizations do. Even if it’s just reposting news releases from members, it’d be great to have one central place to go for that kind of news.

  3. Thmazing, its really a very common policy in trade shows. In this case, the focus isn’t on consumers, but on the retailers and convincing them to stock and promote products. With consumers in the mix, retailers wouldn’t get as much attention, and producers would have to find another way to reach the retailers.

    I think both this kind of show, and shows for the general public are needed. In the Mormon market, open shows would probably be most useful outside of the Intermountain West, where the concentration of members makes advertising in local media feasible. For those of us that don’t live in the West, we don’t have any way of finding out about products, and an open show might help.

  4. William, you are right on. The LDSBA has done some bestseller lists in the past. And I do think they should help news get around.

    They have also prepared a kind of database of product information that gets distributed to members (so you can look up products you aren’t familiar with) its kind of a products available (equivalent to books-in-print) listing. However, IMO its not developed well enough to be truly useful.

    I wish the LDSBA would just take the trouble to investigate and copy the “best practices” of other trade organizations. That alone would make a huge difference in how useful they are as an organization.

  5. .

    I know it’s common, but it’s backwards. I just wish LDS publishers and retailers were anticipating changes, rather than being drug (slowly) into the future.

  6. Well, to be fair, how many of the folks in the industry have come from the outside — have direct experience with best practicies? I would guess not many because if you have national industry experience, it’s going to generally be much more lucrative to stay with the larger market

    I know that, in general, I’m not super impressed with the PR efforts of the LDS publishers. They’re okay. But certainly not leading edge. And my (admittedly inconsistent) attempts to educate (or simply reach out) have generally been ignored.

  7. In the final analysis, I’m afraid the most useful thing an association devoted to the perpetuation and dissemination of Mormon art could do is help artists, writers and publishers move their work into mainstream (secular) markets (and Mormon retailers identify “gentile” sales opportunities–for example, pay for Harlequin to send a rep from its Steeple Hill imprint), rather than trying to carve up an essentially static market with finer knives.

  8. I think both this kind of show, and shows for the general public are needed. In the Mormon market, open shows would probably be most useful outside of the Intermountain West, where the concentration of members makes advertising in local media feasible. For those of us that don’t live in the West, we don’t have any way of finding out about products, and an open show might help.

    It’s called the Romance Writers of America national conference. The retailers pay attention now.

    help artists, writers and publishers move their work into mainstream (secular) markets (and Mormon retailers identify “gentile” sales opportunities

    Amen.

    I can see the argument for a trade organization and a conference. I do NOT see an argument for a wholesaler. I see an argument for a direct-to-consumer clearinghouse for all literature having to do with Mormon. Anything. Even anti. Catalog it, tag it, organize it, put it online.

    The LDS pie isn’t going to get bigger, but the mainstream market is out there with holes to fill.

  9. I’m surprised and perplexed that so many comments here believe that the LDS market is so static — that “The LDS pie isn’t going to get bigger.”

    Why? How?

    Last I checked, the Church is still growing. New wards and branches are still being created. I know the growth rate isn’t as fast as it once was, but there is growth. In addition, we’re more integrated than ever.

    The potential market (i.e., active LDS Church members) is growing, and even among English-speakers in the US, I believe its growing (birth rate, if nothing else).

    If the LDS market isn’t growing, the booksellers, distributors and publishers are doing something wrong.

    Please tell me why your impression is that the LDS market isn’t growing!

  10. Mojo wrote:

    I do NOT see an argument for a wholesaler.

    Mojo, you haven’t worked as a buyer for a retail store, have you? If you have, you know why I say that wholesalers are needed.

    As I mentioned above, you can find my argument here. Basically, the problem is that the number of producers/publishers is large enough and they come and go frequently enough, that retailers would have to spend a lot of effort to figure out who to purchase from and what they have available. That effort is duplicated among a lot of retailers, to keep everyone in the know.

    The largest bookstores in the US carry as much as 50,000 titles from tens of thousands of publishers. The largest publishers have a few thousand titles in print. The smallest have just one. In contrast, the vast majority, if not all of those 50,000 titles can all be ordered from the same wholesaler. This reduction in complexity is worth it.

    In the LDS market, each store (outside the chains, Deseret Book and Seagull) carries perhaps 1,000 or more titles (of the 5,000+ in print) from more than 200 publishers. And since volumes in the LDS market are generally quite modest, these small stores can’t afford the time and investment needed for sophisticated ordering systems.

    With a good middleman — a wholesaler — the duplicated effort to keep track of all the suppliers is reduced. Instead of all retailers keeping track of who to order books from, they can get the book from the wholesaler, who keeps track of the publisher.

    Wholesalers also speed up delivery times and act as a safety valve for small or poorly run publishers who can’t ship promptly or who can’t afford to keep shipping costs reasonable when they ship small quantities to many different retailers.

    Even if you don’t buy the argument, I think the above is about the reasons you will hear from most retailers for why they use wholesalers instead of buying directly from publishers.

    And if you don’t buy the argument, I’d make sure you worked in a situation where wholesalers are commonly used, before you start your own bookstore.

  11. Mojo, you haven’t worked as a buyer for a retail store, have you? If you have, you know why I say that wholesalers are needed…

    …Even if you don’t buy the argument, I think the above is about the reasons you will hear from most retailers for why they use wholesalers instead of buying directly from publishers.

    I already have a retail store, thanks. (Not books.) The wholesalers (3) for my industry don’t have near to close everything and I rarely ever buy anything from any one of them. If they did, I’d use them more, but they don’t. I get it.

    But I have other serious concerns:

    Questions:

    1. Do you mean for LDS Wholesaler to sell to folks such as B&N and Borders and Books-a-Million as well as the 200 LDS bookstores that you say are left in the United States?

    2. How many of those 200 bookstores are under Deseret Book’s corporate umbrella or franchises? (I don’t know if they franchise; that’s why I’m asking).

    3. Let’s assume all 200 are independent. Do you think there’s a large enough ROI in aggregating for 200 bookstores? (I don’t and this is where the argument breaks down for me because the data breaks down.)

    So let’s assume LDS Wholesaler has swung this and it’s starting to make a little money:

    4. Do you envision a scenario where DB/Covenant would simply refuse to do business with LDS Wholesaler, thereby knocking out the majority of products out there oriented for a good portion of your customers? (I do.)

    5. Do you envision a scenario where Deseret Book would bring its considerable inventory and infrastructure to bear on those booksellers who choose to deal with LDS Wholesaler (on the basis that LDS Wholesaler carries stock that DB refuses to)? I.e., “If you don’t stop buying from LDS Wholesaler, we won’t sell you our books. We don’t want our books in any store next to…that.” (I do.)

    I believe that if there were money to be made being an LDS bookstore wholesaler/aggregator, it would have been done by now. I also believe that were someone to decide this is a money-making venture that DB would swing into action to shut it down and if your customer pool dries up because the money-making products go away, well. You know. You’re not going to be able to make that up with goods from the hundreds of other little publishers out there willing to take a chance with you.

    An online retailer/aggregator wouldn’t be as devastated from a broadside like this as LDS Wholesaler would. I’m not saying to keep out the middleman to grow a margin. I’m saying there’s a reason the middleman doesn’t exist. Whether the scenarios I’ve outlined are what would happen, I don’t know. Probably no one else does, either, but I’m not risking my capital on it.

    As for the LDS pie being static:

    First, the booksellers, distributors, and publishers aren’t doing a good job of reaching the market it already has, so probably the first priority would be to make the LDS book biz a bit more ubiquitous and concentrate its efforts there. But it’s not. So the point is moot.

    Second, of the untapped US LDS market that exists already (I think your percentage was something like 70%? Correct me, please!), a good portion of it thinks (rightly or wrongly) the end product is crap. So there needs to be some kind of massive PR campaign to turn that around, which will take years.

    Third, membership growth does not equate to potential customers; I would like to see data on how affluent the new membership is and how many of them are able and willing to buy books, which data I won’t get to see, I know. But depending on the growth of the church to grow your customer base enough to make decent money is a little too optimistic for my tastes.

    The way to expand the pie is to re-draw the circle wider into gentile territory. As I’ve pointed out on my blog, take a page from Harlequin. It goes in every direction and casts its net as widely as possible. Inspirational, sweet romances (i.e., not inspirational, but no heat), erotica, African-American, Latina, chick lit, women’s fiction. Two nights ago I bought four books, all from different sections of the Harlequin ebook store. But the customers are there to see all the selections, so if I’m there for one subgenre, I can take a gander at the others.

    And mormonozon.com (or whatever) was a flippant remark. Sorta. 😉

  12. “I’ve seen the number of stores decline from more than 350 to about 200 now. Attendance at the show has also declined.” That doesn’t look like a static market, that looks like a bear market. What explains it? (Not a rhetorical question.)

  13. .

    My theory:

    Mormon Lit saw an explosion in popularity thanks to the work in historical and romance fiction. Voices like Lund and Hughes and Stansfield uncovered parts of the pie that had been neglected and did it in a way that people liked and shared with their friends.

    Naturally, the publishers capitalized on this and now those genres are bloated. But innovation didn’t keep pace with expansion, and it didn’t take readers long to discover this.

    I blame this on the publishers being too cautious and unwilling to take chances on anything that hasn’t been sold before.

    The natural result of dampened innovation is market shrinkage. And until someone breaks through again, the market will continue to shrink, no matter how loyal the remaining customers are.

    I think we’re on the verge of a breakthrough and reenergization, but issues like distribution will determine whether or not this new era really takes hold.

  14. I also think that The New Era and The Friend not accepting fiction over the transom (they were enormously supportive of new writers) is a contributing factor. That’s where Weyland was “discovered” (and where I got a big break).

    Reading through this post at Times and Seasons, I was surprised at how many posters seconded Mojo’s observation above. A few samples:

    “Most Mormon books are trash. Unfortunately the stuff sells, and therefore more of the stuff keeps getting churned out.”

    “The best books have been written by non-Mormons. And it will never be otherwise. That is the plain fact.”

    “If there’s some good stuff out there, I’d love to know.”

    Talk about ruining a brand name. This is depressing.

  15. This is perhaps a tangent, but I think worth mentioning. What about all those LDS women (and sometimes ment) meeting in their bookclubs? Seems to me that is an important way to expand the market and to help change readers’ minds. I’m not sure how to implement it but, as someone who runs three separate book clubs for three markedly different groups, I’ve seen people in bookclubs try new books and thanks to all the discussions (sometimes) change their opinions. This has been true for LDS books that we’ve read. Just look at all the Mormon mommy blogs that review books. There’s got to be some way to tap into that for marketing purposes!

  16. Mojo:

    I have other serious concerns:

    The short answer to your concerns is that they are valid concerns — I share many of them. My claim wasn’t so much that I had analyzed how it would work and that I was sure an LDS wholesaler was viable. I was simply saying that we need one.

    1. Do you mean for LDS Wholesaler to sell to folks such as B&N and Borders and Books-a-Million as well as the 200 LDS bookstores that you say are left in the United States?

    I hadn’t thought too much about that aspect of the idea, but I think you are right; ideally an LDS wholesaler would need to sell to the mainstream market also.

    However, I think getting the mainstream US market to purchase from such a wholesaler is probably quite difficult.

    2. How many of those 200 bookstores are under Deseret Book’s corporate umbrella or franchises?

    Deseret Book has 41 stores, Seagull Book has 26 stores — so 67 total.

    But, these chains also have the largest sales per store, adding up to probably (including their websites) more like 60-70% of the retail market.

    3. Do you think there’s a large enough ROI in aggregating for 200 bookstores?

    I have no idea. I haven’t run numbers or made assumptions about what is needed.

    It could well be that an LDS Wholesaler isn’t viable at this point in time. Theoretically, its existence could expand the market, making it more likely to be viable.

    I don’t know.

    4. Do you envision a scenario where DB/Covenant would simply refuse to do business with LDS Wholesaler, thereby knocking out the majority of products out there oriented for a good portion of your customers? (I do.)

    Oh absolutely.

    If you read some of my previous posts here, you know that I’m no fan of Deseret Book. See:

    * The Problem of Deseret Book Part 1: A Question of Size

    * The Problem of Deseret Book Part 2: A Question of Focus

    * The Problem of Deseret Book Part 3: Unresolvable?

    When Deseret Book purchased Covenant/Seagull, I cried fowl both here on Motley Vision (see (Bad Move, Deseret Book!) and elsewhere.

    I even publicly criticized Deseret Book’s purchase of Bookcraft in 1998!!

    Deseret Book’s ability to abuse its position in the LDS market (which isn’t big enough or separate enough from the US book market to raise any serious anti-trust issue, in my not-a-lawyer opinion) is probably the single biggest problem in the LDS market.

    5. Do you envision a scenario where Deseret Book would bring its considerable inventory and infrastructure to bear on those booksellers who choose to deal with LDS Wholesaler?

    I suspect such a move would be much harder for DB to pull off, simply because it is so blatantly unfair that legal action by someone seems likely (but you never know — to sue DB you are essentially suing the Church. Not too many members I know are willing to do that.)

    I believe that if there were money to be made being an LDS bookstore wholesaler/aggregator, it would have been done by now.

    Oh, I can think of a lot of reasons why that wouldn’t necessarily have happened — the insular nature of the LDS market; the relative lack of business saavy among those in the market; the relative lack of attractiveness of the LDS market; the lack of enough information about the LDS market; etc.

    I’m NOT saying that I think that an LDS Wholesaler is viable. I have no idea — I haven’t run numbers and I’m probably not going to invest my time in doing so at this point.

    I just think there could be a lot of reasons why no one has started an LDS wholesaler that don’t have anything to do with its viability.

    I also believe that were someone to decide this is a money-making venture that DB would swing into action to shut it down

    You may be right. But I can also see scenarios where DB thinks this is a good thing. A lot would depend on how an LDS wholesaler got set up and how it presented itself to DB. If such a wholesaler could provide a tangible benefit to DB (such as good access to the US national market, something DB has repeatedly claimed it wants but seems unable to get), I can see such a wholesaler becoming something that DB thinks it needs.

    An online retailer/aggregator wouldn’t be as devastated from a broadside like this as LDS Wholesaler would.

    Irrelevant. Its not an either/or choice. The LDS market needs both an LDS Wholesaler and an LDS online retailer/aggregator separate from Deseret Book’s corporate umbrella.

    Although, it should be noted that ALL online retailers in the US that are independent of publishers rely on the major book wholesalers, especially Ingram Book. Most of them almost exclusively rely on Ingram. If you don’t have your book in Ingram’s database, it simply doesn’t appear in most online stores.

    So, an LDS wholesaler would theoretically help independent online LDS retailers/aggregators to exist. Without one, they would have to do all the work of figuring out what each publisher sells, ordering from each publisher separately, and sometimes getting one copy of one title shipped from a small publisher, just so that they can then turn around and ship that same copy out to the customer (that amount of shipping means they loose money on the transaction every time it happens).

    Whether the scenarios I’ve outlined are what would happen, I don’t know. Probably no one else does, either, but I’m not risking my capital on it.

    Nor am I (not that I have capital to speak of – [GRIN]).

  17. I need a while to digest your post and go back and read your back posts (I’m very new to AMV) and digest those, too, but this is just an aside:

    [quote]Most of them almost exclusively rely on Ingram. If you don’t have your book in Ingram’s database, it simply doesn’t appear in most online stores.[/quote]

    Lightning Source gives you the option of being listed with Ingram’s and staying there for $12 a year, which I do intend to do with my book. You probably already know that.

    Also, my B10 Mediaworx isn’t what I had set up for some future internet retailer/aggregator. That’s just for my self-publishing needs and the niche market I would like to create with others’ work should they be willing/able to come along for the adventure.

    My husband and I are still kicking around the other, which, if we attempt it, won’t be put into motion for another year or so.

  18. Mojo:

    As for the LDS pie being static:

    First, the booksellers, distributors, and publishers aren’t doing a good job of reaching the market it already has, so probably the first priority would be to make the LDS book biz a bit more ubiquitous and concentrate its efforts there. But it’s not. So the point is moot.

    I’m not sure why the point is moot. I’ve talked about book publishing and the LDS market here on Motley Vision for several years now, specifically trying to address its problems. I agree that the market needs to be more ubiquitos. But the simple fact that it isn’t doesn’t mean I should stop trying to influence anyone I can so that it soon becomes more ubiquitos.

    Are you saying that we should just give up?

    Second, of the untapped US LDS market that exists already (I think your percentage was something like 70%? Correct me, please!), a good portion of it thinks (rightly or wrongly) the end product is crap. So there needs to be some kind of massive PR campaign to turn that around, which will take years.

    I generally agree. I even agree that too much of the end product is crap. (Although, read What Bad Mormon Literature Do We Need?).

    All that means is that we need to get started, right?

    Third, membership growth does not equate to potential customers; I would like to see data on how affluent the new membership is and how many of them are able and willing to buy books, which data I won’t get to see, I know. But depending on the growth of the church to grow your customer base enough to make decent money is a little too optimistic for my tastes.

    Didn’t I already call you a pessimist somewhere on this thread? [GRIN]

    Seriously, I generally recognize what you are saying about the ability to afford books and interest in reading books. But in absolute terms, this potential isn’t tiny either. Convert baptisms totaled just shy of 280,000. Even at a lousy 20% activity rate and assuming that only 20% of those were likely to purchase books, you still have more than 10,000 potential new customers last year. I’d love to be able to get just 10% of that 10,000 to purchase one of my books each.

    The way to expand the pie is to re-draw the circle wider into gentile territory.

    I’m not sure that works. Deseret Book has been trying that for at least a decade — unsuccessfully (although I have to admit that from what I can tell they haven’t used all the normal sales tools in the industry).

    As I’ve pointed out on my blog, take a page from Harlequin. It goes in every direction and casts its net as widely as possible. Inspirational, sweet romances (i.e., not inspirational, but no heat), erotica, African-American, Latina, chick lit, women’s fiction.

    Really? I do admire Harlequin’s business sense. But aren’t these mostly just divisions of their genre? Are they really bringing in substantial numbers of new readers by creating these sub-genres? [And, FWIW, I’m pretty sure from what I’ve read in the industry that Harlequin did NOT create these sub-genres. Other small publishers created them, and Harlequin added them when it appeared that they were popular.]

    Even if the strategy of creating sub-genres is a successful strategy, I’m not sure how this is applied to Mormon works. If we start a Mormon Chic Lit sub-genre, do we really get gentile readers?

    I can’t see it.

  19. Eugene asked:

    “I’ve seen the number of stores decline from more than 350 to about 200 now. Attendance at the show has also declined.” That doesn’t look like a static market, that looks like a bear market. What explains it?

    The most likely explanation is the same things that have led to the decline in the number of bookstores in the US: competition from the major chains and the rise of the Internet as a significant sales channel for books.

  20. Thmazing wrote:

    The natural result of dampened innovation is market shrinkage. And until someone breaks through again, the market will continue to shrink, no matter how loyal the remaining customers are.

    I think we’re on the verge of a breakthrough and reenergization, but issues like distribution will determine whether or not this new era really takes hold.

    I agree, and I hope you are right that we are on the verge of a breakthrough. But going to the LDSBA can make you depressed on this front.

    Breakthroughs can be quite difficult to accomplish, especially in a market that is as resistant to change as the LDS market.

  21. Are you saying that we should just give up?

    Mmmm, no. I don’t think so. I’m still percolating. A lot of what I say is thinking out loud.

    And, FWIW, I’m pretty sure from what I’ve read in the industry that Harlequin did NOT create these sub-genres. Other small publishers created them, and Harlequin added them when it appeared that they were popular.

    No, they (well, Mills & Boon, in the UK–all the same thing) created the nurse-doctor pulps mid-century and expanded from there. Yes, they’ve taken cues from others, but all HQN needs is a hint of a whiff of a trend and they’re on it IMMEDIATELY to exploit it brilliantly. Think IBM and Q-DOS and Bill Gates, or Xerox and GUI and Steve Jobs.

    Thanks for being patient with me. Yes, I am somewhat of a pessimist, but please understand I do sit back and think through things even if I dismiss them out of hand to begin with.

    A lot of things seem to need a full-on revolution and some days I’m not rested up enough to engage in full-on revolutions.

    Plus, I have the attention span of a gnat.

  22. Eugene wrote:

    Reading through this post at Times and Seasons, I was surprised at how many posters seconded Mojo’s observation above. A few samples:

    “Most Mormon books are trash. Unfortunately the stuff sells, and therefore more of the stuff keeps getting churned out.”

    I think this is mostly true, but irrelevant. There is a role for trash (aka popular fiction), and always will be. Perhaps we have too much of it in the LDS market, but trash will always be there. [In part because of what I discussed in What Bad Mormon Literature Do We Need?).

    “The best books have been written by non-Mormons. And it will never be otherwise. That is the plain fact.”

    This is simply unsupportable. There is no reason to think that Mormon writers can’t produce good books. While there are certainly unique aspects of Mormon experience, I don’t think that our experience and thought is so different that it will keep Mormon writers from producing great literature.

    And, FWIW, it flies in the face of Orson F. Whitney’s prediction that “we will yet have Shakespeares of our own.”

    “If there’s some good stuff out there, I’d love to know.”

    Good is subjective.

    I believe that the majority of this problem of Mormon works not being “good” is simply that its hard to communicate what’s out there. The LDS market is broken in a way that inhibits communication about a significant portion of the market. As a result, the good often gets lost.

  23. Laura asks:

    What about all those LDS women (and sometimes ment) meeting in their bookclubs? … There’s got to be some way to tap into that for marketing purposes!

    There is. So far, the only publisher I know of that has made any attempt at all to do this is Zarahemla Books.

    A lot of this has to do with Internet marketing (especially using the so-called Internet 2.0 – blogs, social networks, etc.), which I don’t think the book industry as a whole has really figured out completely yet (its hard, it keeps changing).

    The Internet is especially difficult for the LDS market. I’m convinced that most Church members don’t use the Internet for connecting with other Church members. They go to the sites they know (LDS.org, Deseretbook.com) and ignore most of the rest. I got a great laugh in priesthood one Sunday when I mentioned the word “bloggernacle” — everyone thought I had made the word up on the spot!

    Your suggestion is good. Its day will come.

    [Although, I should mention that there probably isn’t a list anywhere of mommy blogs that review LDS books, or LDS book clubs, or similar resources — so publishers have a hard time even finding these communities for marketing purposes.]

  24. Mojo:

    Lightning Source gives you the option of being listed with Ingram’s and staying there for $12 a year, which I do intend to do with my book. You probably already know that.

    Lightning Source is an Ingram subsidiary. Which is why it will probably remain the premiere print-on-demand service provider.

    Unless you are completely clueless when it comes to book design, marketing and running your own operation, you are better off using Lightning Source than Lulu, iUniverse, FirstBook, Publish America and the host of others out there that claim to publish your book for you.

    BUT, I encourage anyone publishing their book themselves to think twice. I covered some of the problems that can come up in my post, The Difficult Path of Self Publishing.

  25. Even if the strategy of creating sub-genres is a successful strategy, I’m not sure how this is applied to Mormon works. If we start a Mormon Chic Lit sub-genre, do we really get gentile readers? I can’t see it.

    “Mormon fiction” that’s not exclusive. I cross over from genre romance and drew a bit of attention from that quarter to Eugene’s book (though I don’t know if that translated to sales or hits on his site) from that flap over his shockingly inappropriate Vampyra, Mistress of the Dark. His isn’t so Mormon-centric that context can’t be gleaned from an intelligent readership who’s up for something completely off the wall for them.

    What I’m doing is NOT kosher in any way, shape, or form for either “Mormon fiction” or genre romance, mixing believing LDS, erotica, and conservative politics. On the other hand, I had a story to tell and now I have people (not LDS, surprise!surprise!) wanting to read my story and they know it has religious themes. They are far less forgiving of that than LDS would be of the sexual content and perhaps that is as it should be, I don’t know.

    I have no delusions that I’ll make any difference whatsoever to anybody but maybe, just maybe, my outrageousness can carve a path for some who come behind me with work that’s far less outrageous but still too much for DB or any other LDS publisher out there.

    Ultimately what I’d like to see is work that puts the LDS lexicon out there in the mainstream so that people can pick up a book at B&N published by, say, Random House, that has LDS characters acting like…everybody else, being decent people, solving murders, having crises of faith, or or or or or… You get my point. “LDS/Mormon” becomes as ubiquitous and uneventful as “Catholic.” Oh, like Julia Spencer-Fleming’s episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson. I’d like to see “Mormon” unpacked and its baggage nullified in the general public’s consciousness and I think fiction is a conduit to that.

    [sigh] Didn’t I just get through saying I wasn’t up for a revolution right now?

    Breakthroughs can be quite difficult to accomplish, especially in a market that is as resistant to change as the LDS market.

    Someone said over on that Times & Seasons thread something to that effect (in a frustrated tone), but I’ll be darned if I can find it right now.

    There is a role for trash (aka popular fiction), and always will be.

    No, the “trash” mentioned therein wasn’t in reference to popular fiction; it was in the unrelenting cloying sweetness’n’light of LDS writers who don’t feel a need to confront conflict. The person who said it also said:

    Conflict, complexity, tough choices, drama, obstacles are all part of our lives, and these are things we are told we should overcome. (You can’t overcome something that’s not there. It’s expected that we’ll have challenges.) We need to stop whitewashing our books, music, and movies, and start producing some honest, genuine, sincere creative works for entertainment, education, and even enlightenment.

    In this instance, “trash”=”whitewashing.” I don’t think it’s fair to call all popular fiction “trash” in any case.

    And, FWIW, it flies in the face of Orson F. Whitney’s prediction that “we will yet have Shakespeares of our own.”

    This, too, was addressed in the same Times & Seasons thread:

    Mormons tend to shove conflict under the rug, or at least wait until the “proper” moment arrives for talking about it (testimony meeting). The arts are institutions of mortality. They are granted to us to ease our suffering by making us confront suffering. When Mormons are REALLY willing to face our own mortality without requiring a happy ending, then we will write the next Tale of Two Cities, compose the next La Boheme, and paint the next Raft of the Medusa.

    Shakespeare? Have you READ that guy’s stuff? Shocking, is what it is. Beasts with two backs and black rams tupping white ewes. Please. He should be banned. [big evil grin]

  26. Re: Self-publishing

    I bought my ISBNs. I got my PCN and the cataloging information done for the copyright page. I have a fairly good eye for interior design and I don’t think my cover sucks. I hired an editor so I don’t get tripped up by my puppy-like enthusiasm. I’m going digital as well as print (Lightning Source).

    All that aside…

    I have nowhere else to place it. I’ve never read anything like it (although I’m not arrogant enough to think it hasn’t been written). I’d rather it be considered a market “failure” and sell a couple hundred copies (if that) than live through another 10 years of rejection letters (the first 10 years was hard enough). I don’t write novels just to put them under my bed and store them on a CD in my file cabinet in my basement, never to be heard from again. I write to be read.

  27. They are far less forgiving of that than LDS would be of the sexual content and perhaps that is as it should be, I don’t know.

    I meant, secular readers seem to be far MORE forgiving of religious themes than LDS of sexual ones.

  28. Again, Kent, you seem stubbornly determined to miss the point. These are perceptions, and perceptions trump reality. They should be listened to and acknowledged the same way politicians treat every angry phone call or letter as representative of X thousand of their constituents. Because when a voter steps into the booth, cool rationality rarely rules the day.

    If you think these bad opinions of Mormon literature are “true but irrelevant” or “unsupportable” or “subjective,” you might as well throw in the towel already. Frankly, I’m naturally inclined to rise to the defense of even bad genre Mormon literature. But stamping one’s feet and insisting that the potential customer is wrong (even when the customer is) won’t change anything.

    This is the problem David Halberstam describes in The Reckoning, about the decline and fall of the U.S. auto industry a quarter century ago. One of the lasting legacies from that period is that the typical U.S. consumer still believes a German or Japanese-made car is superior to every competing Detroit model. Even when that is factually not true.

    Microsoft recently proved the point by test-marketing a rebranded version of Windows Vista and collecting favorable reactions from test marketing groups who had previously indicated a deep dislike for Vista. Lance Ulanoff notes here how Apple has brilliantly branded the Mac as something other than a PC when that is exactly what it is under the hood.

    Do you think that argument will change the minds of many Mac users? Of course, the painful question for Microsoft, Detroit (and Mormon literature) is how they allowed things to get to this point. In any case, what Orson F. Whitney said doesn’t matter when the people whose interest, support and talent are most necessary to make true his prediction do not believe it.

    The hard reality here is that the correlation of Stephenie Meyer’s success (and that of Glen Larson and Battlestar Galactica) to her book not being sold primarily into the Mormon market as a “Mormon” book is 100 percent (ditto Card and Wolverton and many others). You’re right that the LDS market is broken. Perhaps we should stop trying to fix it.

  29. Mojo:

    I cross over from genre romance and drew a bit of attention from that quarter to Eugene’s book….

    What I’m doing is NOT kosher in any way, shape, or form for either “Mormon fiction” or genre romance, mixing believing LDS, erotica, and conservative politics. On the other hand, I had a story to tell and now I have people (not LDS, surprise!surprise!) wanting to read my story and they know it has religious themes.

    This is great. You are right, this is the kind of thing that needs to be done more often. It requires that authors and publishers actually invest time in getting to know the community around books that are NOT Mormon. Perhaps a few dozen active participants in non-Mormon forums who bring up Mormon works in ways that stay on topic for that community could make a substantial difference.

    However, I’m not sure that this can work without some body of work that will interest them. Even if we had a dozen books each year that were of interest to these communities, would we actually be increasing the market for Mormon literature and fiction? After all, I don’t think this increase would be reading the works simply because they are Mormon, would they?

    No, the “trash” mentioned therein wasn’t in reference to popular fiction; it was in the unrelenting cloying sweetness’n’light of LDS writers who don’t feel a need to confront conflict.

    Well, let me be clear then. I still think that there is a role for the kind of “trash” you are talking about. PEOPLE READ IT! It can therefore be a gateway to better works. It can also support the institutions in the LDS market, allowing those institutions to grow and survive. It can also simply be the kind of entertainment that a segment of the market wants.

    Personally, I don’t read these works, I don’t want to publish them, and I’d rather have more good literature in the LDS market.

    But, I think it is better that “trash” exists than if it doesn’t exist.

    Re: Self-publishing

    I hope I didn’t come across in the wrong way when I addressed your self-publishing plan. I don’t mean to discourage anyone wanting to get their book published. I DO want to suggest that they need to realize what they are up against.

    You are right, as your comment implies, that at least with self-publishing the book actually is published. Many times that is the most important thing.

    I just to persuade those that are trying it to learn enough about the market so that they have a shot at some success. Unfortunately, most of the so-called POD publishers (Lulu, iUniverse, Publish America and similar companies) are almost guaranteed paths to failure, especially if you are writing for LDS Church members.

    Lightning Source is one of a few exceptions to this idea.

  30. Eugene:

    Again, Kent, you seem stubbornly determined to miss the point.

    Well, I thought you knew I was stubborn from all those years ago at SR!! [GRIN]

    If you think these bad opinions of Mormon literature are “true but irrelevant” or “unsupportable” or “subjective,” you might as well throw in the towel already. Frankly, I’m naturally inclined to rise to the defense of even bad genre Mormon literature. But stamping one’s feet and insisting that the potential customer is wrong (even when the customer is) won’t change anything.

    I don’t think I said the above. In fact, it sounds like we think the same thing. I probably miscommunicated. I don’t think that the perceptions are irrelevant. I think that the fact that there are bad books is irrelevant to what should be done in the market.

    Of course we have to pay attention to perceptions, at least among those that have perceptions.

    But we also need to point out to those saying this that just because there are bad books in the market doesn’t mean that better or good books can’t exist.

    Of course, the painful question for Microsoft, Detroit (and Mormon literature) is how they allowed things to get to this point.

    The painful question, yes. (And an interesting question, for those not in pain). BUT, the more important question is the one in the post. What should be done (or what should the LDSBA do for its part) at this point.

    In any case, what Orson F. Whitney said doesn’t matter when the people whose interest, support and talent are most necessary to make true his prediction do not believe it.

    Eugene, I think we are saying very similar things and disagreeing about details, except in perhaps one area.

    If I understand you correctly, you want to write off the entire LDS market as it now exists, and either create a new one, or work through the US national market.

    I agree that the LDS market is broken and needs revolutionary fixing — perhaps along the lines of writing off the entire LDS market as it now exists and replacing it with a new one.

    I will admit that I’m not quite willing to work entirely through the US national market. I see too many substantial downsides to that strategy, not the least of which is that Mormon material would be reduced or diluted substantially as a result.

    The hard reality here is that the correlation of Stephenie Meyer’s success (and that of Glen Larson and Battlestar Galactica) to her book not being sold primarily into the Mormon market as a “Mormon” book is 100 percent (ditto Card and Wolverton and many others).

    Correlation is not equal to cause. Nor is it absolutely predictive. AND, most importantly, success in the national market isn’t the only success. While you may not like their work, its hard to argue that Gerald Lund, Rachel Ann Nunes, Chris Heimerdinger and the like are not successful.

    The hard fact that I’m working with is that any culture, for it to be vibrant and growing, needs cultural institutions the roles that exist and should exist in the LDS market — publishers, distributors, retailers, etc.

    Without these institutions and the work they produce or should produce, we are poorer culturally.

    So, no, I’m not willing to give up and “stop trying to fix” the LDS market at this point.

  31. so-called POD publishers (Lulu, iUniverse, Publish America and similar companies)

    You’re perfectly correct in calling out Publish America. Scumbags. iUniverse is, I think, on the fence. However, I do think Lulu’s perfectly reasonable if you’re on a tight budget and you have no real skills, because they don’t pressure you into getting any service you don’t want and they don’t threaten you and they give you a fair shot at the marketplace for a nominal fee and you can pretty much point and click it into being.

    On the other hand, I chose to go a different route because I didn’t want Lulu’s ISBN on my book as if I couldn’t go the distance to do it properly, so obviously I agree with the sentiment. What I don’t like about Lulu at all is that it’s disingenuous enough to tell you (as you’re purchasing one ISBN from them) that you are you’re own publisher and let you set up your little “store” or “publishing company” when…no, you aren’t. Lulu’s the publisher.

    Perhaps a few dozen active participants in non-Mormon forums who bring up Mormon works in ways that stay on topic for that community could make a substantial difference.

    There is, right now, three active discussions going on about the Twilight series over on Dear Author in which Mormonism is one of the topics and quite a few LDS “come out” as members:

    Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

    On the Question of Whether Stephenie Meyer is a Racist

    Stephenie Meyer Books Encouraging Abstinence?.

    Dear Author is, IMO, where the net-casting should start, particularly since its readership is heavily invested (emotionally and financially) in furthering digital content.

    If Stephenie Meyers is good for nothing else, it’s conceivable she could be the one to crack this open. Certainly, no other LDS authors who write for the mainstream have done it.

    Even if we had a dozen books each year that were of interest to these communities, would we actually be increasing the market for Mormon literature and fiction?

    Yes. By a dozen books a year. That’s better than what’s out there now.

    After all, I don’t think this increase would be reading the works simply because they are Mormon, would they?

    It’s been done. It keeps being done. It’s always going to keep being done and the Mormonism of it is always going to get skirted.

    *You don’t write smut (good or bad) with non-LDS characters and then cover up the fact that you’re LDS.

    *You don’t write clean (good or bad) and trumpet the fact that it’s clean because you’re LDS.

    *You don’t write Mormon mythology and cloak it in fantasy and then kind of dodge the fact that it’s LDS mythology. It’s alllllll been done and it works, but it still keeps the worlds of LDS fiction and mainstream fiction written by LDS worlds apart. And it doesn’t cast a wider net for Mormon fiction.

    The gap needs to be bridged. You write LDS characters in a gentile world and present their world as if there is nothing remarkable about it and this is just the way they live their lives. You create a pocket of fiction where being LDS in a mainstream genre book is as unremarkable as breathing and the reader just accepts this as part of the world you’ve built. You write what’s interesting with LDS characters for the mainstream market of whatever genre you want in mind, and you are neither apologetic or defiant about it. You just are.

    The electric kool-aid acid test for this is when non-LDS start writing LDS characters going around doing normal-people things instead of making us all out to be nutjobs.

    I still think that there is a role for the kind of “trash” you are talking about. PEOPLE READ IT!

    Not enough people. That’s the point.

    It can therefore be a gateway to better works.

    Not according to the people who aren’t reading it because they think it’s trash. What needs to happen is a massive PR campaign. How one would do that, I don’t know. It’d have to be viral, getting the word spread through wards and stakes across the country through a book or a series of books. I’ll tell you, though, it’d have to be something remarkable. I can’t write that book; I have neither the talent nor skill to do it; I don’t write literary anything. Nor do I have the willingness to keep it clean it enough for one member to whisper to another in Sunday school as they pass the book along, “You have got to read this book.”

    I’d hold up Napoleon Dynamite as a film-counterpart example, but again, no overt LDSism was presented, so it fails my personal test of how this would manifest.

    I’ve been thinking about LDS Wholesaler some more and I think my pessimism comes from the fact that this is not something I can do on my own–and I do almost everything as a solo effort because I don’t play well with others and I run with scissors. I don’t have the passion or resources for it. LDS Wholesaler would need a team of people dedicated to the same goal (who also have money) and so I am un-optimistic on that basis.

    On my own, I can write and publish a book that breaks all sorts of rules, hire out what I can’t do, market it myself (although admittedly, those skills are not amongst the strongest in my repertoire), and let my six-year business plan gather steam. This is doable, with clearcut goals and a simple plan of execution.

    Kent, I really think if this LDS Wholesaler is something you want to pursue, you as the head cheerleader might need to make up a plan and recruit participants who have the same agenda you do. I might be willing to chip in for that (depending on how well my ADD is behaving), but it’d have to be a sound plan with set data. I don’t know, so I’m asking: Do you know any others who are on this bandwagon with you or who could be persuaded to climb aboard?

    In any case, I think you and I have similar (if not exact) goals in mind yet completely different approaches to achieving those goals. It’s kind of like we might meet in the middle if we both achieve what we set out to achieve and thereby cut the workload in half. You know, burning the candle at both ends.

    If I understand you correctly, you want to write off the entire LDS market as it now exists, and either create a new one, or work through the US national market.

    I agree that the LDS market is broken and needs revolutionary fixing — perhaps along the lines of writing off the entire LDS market as it now exists and replacing it with a new one.

    I think working through a national market might be a plan of attack to fix the current LDS market. As objectionable material gets published (mine), other LDS might be persuaded to actually write good work in response and get it through LDS channels.

  32. Second, of the untapped US LDS market that exists already (I think your percentage was something like 70%? Correct me, please!), a good portion of it thinks (rightly or wrongly) the end product is crap. So there needs to be some kind of massive PR campaign to turn that around, which will take years.

    There are two huge issues.

    First, the larger number of temples has really hurt bookstores. It used to be that people would travel to a temple, and as a part of that, visit local bookstores. In Texas, the new temples reduced the area that Dallas had in its district to 16 stakes. A very large, independent bookstore moved into space of 1/4 the size and the Deseret Books outlet closed.

    Second, there is a real perception that the material outside of what Deseret Book has really isn’t worth exploring.

    The problem with the LDS market right now is that it suffers from “too much” (both too much stuff and too much bad stuff) so that people retreat to a gatekeeper.

    What most authors are really looking for is a way to by-pass the gatekeeper or to get it to accept them. Otherwise, what we will have in LDS books is a “book of the month” from Deseret and everything on the outside getting left out completely.

  33. “I still think that there is a role for the kind of trash you are talking about. PEOPLE READ IT!”

    You’re still not getting it, Kent. I’m not passing judgment on any book or genre. I’m talking about people’s perceptions. Specifically, the perceptions of the people you would most likely want to take on as customers.

    The perception that “Macs are better than PCs” is undaunted by the fact that Microsoft still owns 90 percent of the market. Ingrained opinions about a product or manufacturer can take decades and billions in advertising to correct.

    Or the company gives up and abandons or orphans or remainders the product. It happens all the time. Cultural snobbery in particular is an implacable foe.

    As you rightly observe, as far as the writer, readers, and publishers of what you call “trash” are concerned, it’s not broke, so why fix it? And I agree with them. They’ve got a profitable business model and would be crazy to reinvent the wheel.

    I don’t have a high opinion of the “gateway drug” argument. I don’t have a high opinion of the “gateway culture” argument either. Its essentially condescending nature (“allow me to elevate your reading choices for you”) will never win over customers.

    I honestly don’t think a Jack Weyland or Anita Stansfield novel is “better” or “worse” on the cosmic scale than what the “literary” world has to offer on average. But good luck convincing their fans or detractors of the opposite proposition.

    There is a fundamental fallacy being propagated here–that the market for literary Mormon fiction is substantially bigger than the one all these small Mormon publishers are already crowding into.

    In marketing terms, anybody entering a market like Mormon lit faces the same 80/20 rule. And while the “long tail” is real, in a niche market this small, the “tail” segments become microscopic. Because everybody reads authors and genres (even those who claim they don’t).

    The “leftover” genres not being targeted by (what pass for) the “major publishers” in this market are not being targeted because they’re not worth targeting. Tastes down the tail are too eclectic to be grouped and exploited in any kind of cost-effective manner.

    The standard measure of marketing effectiveness–the cost of acquiring each new customer–is way too high.

    There is no “there” there, at least not a big, money-making “there” sitting there like a placer mine. A capital-attracting ROI from publishing Mormon literature whose only unique or common selling point is that it is finely wrought remains illusionary.

    Disney discovered this with Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. After spending a hundred times what other anime importers do prepping the films for U.S. release, they failed to expand the existing market beyond its natural growth rate.

    That’s why I believe the best strategy would be to grow those Mormon micro-niches in ways that can find purchase in already-defined marketing channels and genres, and among a possible demographic of 300 million rather than one of 3 million.

    When anime importers started licensing titles, they concentrated almost solely on SF/F. By doing so, these tiny, bootstrap operations could advertise in precisely defined markets, and leverage shared venues such as clubs and SF/F conventions. They could sell “the same only different.”

    They could attract customers with calculable expectations about what they would be getting. Mormon publishers (and authors) should likewise concentrate on profitable genres that can be easily defined, easily expanded, and pushed into non-Mormon markets.

    One other business model that might prove viable is a literary agency that concentrates on discovering Mormon artists with a non-Mormon reach and shops them to national publishers.

  34. The trouble is that Deseret Book is an 800 pound gorilla. It is the creator and distributor of a huge chunk of what the LDS audience will ever see. Or ever care to see. The Deseret Book imprint is like the Church’s good housekeeping seal of approval.

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