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 I also don’t expect that any national publisher is likely to pick it up, so I guess it will either not be published at all, or appear on the list of one of the print-on-demand service companies that I’ve warned authors about.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?