What LDS Authors Need to Know

On one of the Mormon email lists I follow, a list member made a formal announcement recently that he had submitted his manuscript to Deseret Book for their consideration. The announcement included details like the title and subject of the work and its length. The announcement seemed kind of odd to me. Normally I only see such announcements, when I see them at all, after the book has been accepted for publication!

Even more unusual, the book seemed to me like something that should be aimed at a national audience, something that Deseret Book has no strength in whatsoever.

I have no idea what will happen to the book I saw announced. I can’t imagine that Deseret Book will publish it — it doesn’t seem to me like it fits Deseret Book’s publishing program. I also don’t expect that any national publisher is likely to pick it up, so I guess it will either not be published at all, or appear on the list of one of the print-on-demand service companies that I’ve warned authors about.

More and more incidents like this one convince me that many LDS authors don’t really know what it means to be an LDS author, and how that might be different from being some other kind of author. And, most importantly, these LDS authors don’t know what they need to know.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that being an author who is LDS somehow means you have to write for the LDS market, or that you can’t write some kinds of works. But I do think that a author’s religion has to have an effect on their writing. I’m sure someone will comment in response to this post saying that there shouldn’t be any difference at all. If so, then what good is a religion that can’t manage to influence the kind of material that an author writes or how the author is perceived? I tried to answer that question recently in the post What’s the Difference?

I also don’t mean to suggest that there exists some special body of esoteric knowledge that only LDS authors will understand. I think what LDS authors need to know is easy to understand, but at times difficult to put into practice. Largely, what LDS authors need to know is the same as what other authors need to know, except for two broad areas that are exceptions.

First, and most importantly, LDS authors need to know how their religious beliefs, culture and experience impact both their writing and the process of getting the works they produce published. Of course just like other authors, LDS authors need to know how to approach a publisher, how to format a query and how to negotiate a contract. But I’m not talking about that knowledge. There are dozens of author guides and other resources that give that information. I’m talking about the direct effects of the author’s beliefs and culture on writing and on negotiations with publishers–how including LDS elements or themes in a book can affect whether or not a publisher looks at the manuscript, or how NOT including expected material, again because of the author’s LDS beliefs or culture, might trip up getting it published.

It is, of course, simplistic to say that an author’s LDS values, regardless of what they are or how they might surface in a book, will automatically prevent it from being published because of the “liberal bias of publishers,” just as it is simplistic to believe that the LDS experience is unique or common or fascinating to others, leading publishers searching for LDS works. The details of a work determine its success. How a work is written, how it is presented and to whom it is presented matter far more than the publisher’s biases (if any) or the public’s inherent interest, or lack thereof, in Mormonism.

Second, LDS authors need to know about the LDS market. Again, I will not be surprised when someone says that they will never ever publish in the LDS market. I think they still need to know some basics about the LDS market. Not only is it foolish to ignore a place where the author’s work might be sold (I don’t know ANY author who can say what every future work they write will be about, and therefore be certain that those works will never find their best fit in the LDS market), it is also shortsighted to believe that nothing can be learned, positive or negative, from the market. If nothing else, the LDS market might become more valuable by the participation of more authors.

Both of these areas encompass a wealth of questions and judgments that LDS authors must face and navigate. I’m not sure that I know them all, and I certainly don’t have experience with most of them. So I’m interested in what you, dear reader, can add to these questions. What do LDS authors need to know? What problems have you run into that would have been smoothed if you knew more ahead of time? Am I right about these two general areas of needed knowledge? What don’t you know that you would like to know?

25 thoughts on “What LDS Authors Need to Know”

  1. Maybe this author noticed huge endcap displays of the Twilight series at Deseret Book and simply assumed that they made a habit of publishing tripe that just happened to be written by Mormons?

    *ducks*

  2. Anneke, I wish I could say that even that much thought went into making the announcement.

    Clearly, the author needed to have a bit more knowledge about how book publishing works.

  3. .

    Clearly. I think step one might be to learn anything about publishing. Anything at all.

    Is there a writers-market type resource (and up-to-date participated-in one) for the LDS market. Given my experiences with LDS publishers, I can’t imagine such a resource existing, but if so, it would be a good start. Even just a list of names could be helpful.

    Not, again, that it’s apt to do anyone any good.

    (Sorry for the cynicism — it’s borne of irritating experience.)

  4. Th.

    There is a writers-market type resource, put together by Windriver Publishing (last edition is 2007). Their website says a new edition will come out this year.

    But it doesn’t completely cover the issues I’ve discussed here (at least not those that we’ve covered since their 2007 edition came out). Windriver’s publisher, JB, has followed A Motley Vision over the past few years, and I hope that he has picked up a few things to add to that guide.

    I’ve told him that if he ever stops putting out his edition, I’ll do one myself.

  5. MoJo, you are right. We all do have to start somewhere. I would hope that before an author get’s a book finished, he or she would have at least browsed through a few of the many author’s guides available on the market.

    But the particular author I mentioned above is really not the issue. I didn’t intend to beat up on that person, just to use them as an example of how little knowledge some people have.

    What is more important here is gaining a better understanding of what knowledge is needed. What is it that authors don’t know?

  6. What is more important here is gaining a better understanding of what knowledge is needed. What is it that authors don’t know?

    I guess I’m not understanding the question. They don’t know what they don’t know.

    How can people ask questions about things they don’t know exist and, further, how can others who don’t know those people and don’t know what they don’t know, create a resource for them specifically?

    At first I, like Th., thought it was simply a lack of a directory for LDS publishers. But there is, so great! Do these LDS authors know it exists? Whose responsibility is that?

    I’m *really* not trying to be argumentative. What I’m trying to point out is that somewhere in our journey to a goal (any goal, not just literary), we stumble (sometimes publicly and with great humiliation–ask me how I know!). If no one tells you that X information is available, how can you ask questions?

    Now, it didn’t take me long online to figure out that you research first and type second, or risk being called out on Usenet with “call for reference!” and various less-than-kind hecklings. So I’m not going to say that Author X shouldn’t have known better; he should have googled until he found something he could use as a toehold for more information.

    After all, he knew enough to send to Deseret Book (but how was the MS formatted?), even if he didn’t know the market very well. Lots of querying authors of every market do that and publicly screw up.

    And I’ll go one step further and say that I hang out on writer’s boards and groups where people routinely announce what they sent to which house/agent when and targeted for which line, complete with query and blurb and word count. They come back and say, “Yay, it was accepted” and get pats on the back, or “Crap, it was rejected” and get virtual hugs and kisses.

    So I am throwing in the possibility that he might have been used to something like that and didn’t really know his audience on that particular board.

    So I guess what I’m really asking is: What could have been in existence for this author not to have done that? What kind of resource was lacking in this case that this author could have put his finger on and said, “Oh, THIS is how you do it!” before posting his announcement?

    an example of how little knowledge some people have.

    And again, people don’t know what they don’t know. The best we (who do know) can do is be where we are, put out good advice, and wait for them to stumble upon us.

  7. MoJo:

    “I guess I’m not understanding the question. They don’t know what they don’t know.”

    Of course not. I’m not asking them. I’m asking you, and the others reading this post.

    Let me put the question another way that might make it easier:

    What (in an LDS context) do you now know that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

    I’m NOT trying to be critical in asking this. I’ve worked in book publishing for over 20 years now, which means that thinks that are new to me, that I don’t really know, aren’t the same as those who are just writing their first book.

    So I’m trying to figure out what today’s authors don’t really know, especially those things that are likely to be different for an LDS author as opposed to authors who are not LDS.

    “At first I, like Th., thought it was simply a lack of a directory for LDS publishers. But there is, so great! Do these LDS authors know it exists? Whose responsibility is that?”

    Well, it’s no one’s and it’s everyone’s responsibility.

    The publisher should probably promote the directory better (he should have incentive to do so). And authors who know about it should pass the information on to others. The market should have a way of passing on or listing everything that is in print, but it doesn’t. I should probably have mentioned it here more than a year ago.

    You’re welcome to blame me if you wish! {GRIN}

    You are right that authors make mistakes in the market all the time–its one of the principle reasons why few publishers read what comes in over the transom (it seems like those few items that are any good are usually directed to the wrong publisher).

    So I guess what I’m really asking is: What could have been in existence for this author not to have done that? What kind of resource was lacking in this case that this author could have put his finger on and said, “Oh, THIS is how you do it!” before posting his announcement?

    I’m sure with a few days I could give you a list of 50 books for authors that tell all about how to navigate book publishing. There are probably thousands of websites that do the same thing.

    The LDS market doesn’t have as much, I’ll admit. There is the book from Windriver, and there are several blogs and groups where you can get help. I like to think that here on A Motley Vision we are one place to come for information.

    From your account, I gather that some of these groups do what I saw and thought strange — announcing submissions. So I’m probably wrong about that being as weird as it seemed. [But tell me. This announcement was very formal. Are they all formal? Wouldn’t it be kind of an off-the-cuff thing?] I do get that this could be a source of support for their efforts as well as a resource for other authors — they get to see what works and what doesn’t work.

    Regardless of whether this announcement was an error or not, I think the overall point is still true–that authors don’t have as much information as they need. I’m just trying to make sure that, as much as I can here on A Motley Vision, I’m covering what authors don’t know. I’m just trying to help.

  8. I’ve learned a lot about the LDS publishing world from LDS Publisher’s blog. Like Mojo said, it’s hard to know you are making a mistake until after you’ve made it. Following LDS Publisher’s blog helps me figure out what I don’t know. The only problem there is that it’s a bit random. When I first started writing I read the LDS Storymakers’ guide to publishing and it made me feel terrible. They made writing and publishing sound so hard and unrewarding. Looking back on it now I think they were just trying to help weed out the people who weren’t serious about writing and prepare prospective writers for the many disappointments that come with trying to get published, but it did get me down.

    Understanding the market and how my LDS-ness reacts with it is hard. It doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing you can put down on paper. You have to develop an instinct about it. The only way to do that is to immerse yourself in your niche.

    I guess the thing I wish I had realized about the LDS market was how important it is to network. Publishing is just like any other business and it’s a lot about who you know. That said, I also wish I realized how easy it is to network in the LDS market. It’s small enough and so much of it happens on the internet that a new writer really can get to know a lot of important people.

  9. Other thought: I wish I had realized how much preparation goes into writing a salable book. Unfortunately getting published is a lot about timing and you have to learn to read the market. The only way to do that is to prepare. You have to watch for trends and interests. Which, I guess, comes back to immersing yourself in your niche.

  10. I guess it was a misguided act of over exuberance? After all, first time writers are quite naive for the most part in terms of what it takes to publish a book in the LDS market.

  11. What (in an LDS context) do you now know that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

    I first started writing when I was 11. At 13, I read the phrase “how to submit” (or its equivalent) in Reader’s Digest–and submitted something. I don’t remember a time in my writing life when I didn’t know how a writer went about trying to get published, so I’m kind of the wrong person to ask that.

    I guess what’s making me scratch my head is that I’m getting the visual of US (meaning, us, the LDS writing community) preemptively reaching out to each and every individual shooting for the LDS market, taking them by the scruff of the neck, shoving their heads in the how-to books and blogs and wikis, and showing ’em how it’s done–before they trip and fall.

    Well, it’s no one’s and it’s everyone’s responsibility.

    No, I respectfully disagree. It is NOT my responsibility to make sure that people I do not know tread the straight and narrow path to publication.

    The materials are out there; I/WE cannot be responsible for half a world full of scribblers who don’t know Writer’s Market, or who can’t deduce that if there is a Writer’s Market, there might also be an LDS Writer’s Market.

    As Malcolm said, “I guess it was a misguided act of over exuberance?” ::smile:: It could be as simple as that. I (nor you, nor anyone else) canNOT reach out into the ether and make people do things the Right Way before they trip and fall.

    But tell me. This announcement was very formal. Are they all formal?

    No, it’s not formal, but it’s not off-the-cuff, either. It’s on a message board for working writers in genre romance for e-presses and NY publishing houses. There are a lot of participants, so people post those because *someone* will be helped by reading it.

    I think the overall point is still true”“that authors don’t have as much information as they need.

    Do any of us? Ever? No matter how far along this path we are?

    In my mind, this whole discussion is based on the desire to actively PRE-EMPT someone’s misstep by reaching out to them before we even know they exist. If I have the wrong impression, I apologize profusely.

  12. MoJo:

    I’m not sure what you think we’re going to do with this information. I’m certainly not going to hunt down unsuspecting LDS authors and shove it down their throat!!

    As I said before, I’m just trying to figure out what authors don’t know, in order to have things to explore and discuss here on A Motley Vision.

    I suspect you are assuming a lot more about this discussion than what it is likely to accomplish. After all, this is just one more place they can come, if they bother to look for us, that might be helpful to them.

  13. ::sigh::

    I’m not sure what you think we’re going to do with this information.

    I simply don’t understand *what* information you’re asking for and in what format, where and how it will be stored, who will maintain it, and how it will be advertised. I don’t understand the question or its purpose.

    I suspect you are assuming a lot more about this discussion than what it is likely to accomplish.

    That’s very likely. And I suspect that you and I are not destined to communicate efficiently the first or second (or third) time through any discussion, so I’ll bow out now. 😉

  14. One example I can think of that came up at LDS Publisher:

    Electronic distribution of content.

    There seems to be a lack of understanding of the technologies, best practices, various business models, concerns, promotion and of electronic products, including e-books (on LDS Publisher it was childrens’ activity books).

    In this sense, it would be good for LDS authors to know what they don’t know, but also to know what the publishers don’t seem to know.

  15. MoJo, I think that they are just cautious about the whole thing — uncertain what the advent of ebooks will mean and scared that it will mean that they loose. Producing information for publishers and authors can help.

    To be honest, I suspect that if they are truly not interested, they will eventually find themselves in trouble as a result. We’re seeing the first round of the effects of electronic texts on traditional media this week, with the bankruptcy filing by the Tribune Co. and stories about trouble in newspapers in General. Total circulation for newspapers is off more than 10% since 1990.

  16. Producing information for publishers and authors can help.

    Well, I could write posts and posts about that, what to do and how to do it, and finding outlets for it.

  17. To be honest, I suspect that if they are truly not interested, they will eventually find themselves in trouble as a result.

    As an aside, in the post that Wm. referenced, digital format would have been highly INappropriate for work in question. I’m the biggest ebook pusher in the world and there are just some things that shouldn’t be done in electronic format.

  18. .


    Total circulation for newspapers is off more than 10% since 1990.

    Oh, is that all? I had assumed it was much much worse.

    That’s a good thing, right?

  19. It’s funny, I see the same issues in PR/marketing.

    People seem to blind to the major changes that are happening and the fact the more major changes are looming. Or if they aren’t, they seem to think that the hot solution of the moment is the solution and a half-hearted, ham-fisted attempt at deploying the hot solution is all that needs to be done.

    Nope. As models change and as the media/distribution possibilities continue to change and/or multiply, the approach is still the same: figure out the best way to tell and deliver the story to the audience(s) you want to reach.

  20. The problem right now, Th, isn’t circulation (although that is an ongoing problem) — it’s ad dollars. The ad market has plunged in the past six months (real estate and auto are big percentage of newspapers major advertisers). Add that to the fact that Craigslist has effectively killed classifieds and there’s just not enough money coming in. Which means cuts. Which often means reduced coverage and/or quality of coverage.

    It gets way more complicated once you factor in ownership models and unions and Web strategies and all that. But ad spending is way off and is most likely going to get even worse over the next year.

  21. .

    You know, I liked working in newspapers, but rarely do I think that leaving was a bad decision.

  22. A few things all micro-market authors need to know and do: basic HTML and CSS (and styles in Word); creating a PDF file; using authoring tools such as ReaderWorks and Mobipocket Creator; the fundamentals of typesetting; the fundamentals of marketing and advertising; create a personal web presence; put your words out there and invite criticism.

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