Thoughts for a New Year

We have a new year, perhaps not too different from last year, but, like every new year, with a certain degree of promise and expectation for something better.

Traditionally, the New Year brings New Year’s Resolutions, and even New Year’s Predictions in the media or as party games. In that vein, I came up with a list of New Year’s Wishes — things I hope will happen for Mormon Literature, Media and Culture:

I wish:

  • For a new, original Mormon work to be published in any language except English.
  • For Deseret Book to recognize its responsibilities to Mormon Culture as the dominant retailer and publisher in the market.
  • For the LDSBA to make an effort to expand distribution of LDS books outside the Intermountain West.
  • For a popular work of LDS fiction to be published during the year that is worthy of literary respect.
  • For an LDS mystery or crime novel to be published during the year.
  • For an advertising or marketing avenue to develop that will reach a significant number of LDS Church members outside of Utah.
  • For a work of LDS fiction aimed at men to become popular.
  • For one additional University to add a course in Mormon Literature.

I know they all seem a bit far-fetched. I can dream, can’t I?

Please add your wishes for the year to this list.

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22 thoughts on “Thoughts for a New Year”

  1. Some of those are pie in the sky dreams, of course, but I can’t agree on #4–every single year there ARE a few really good popular LDS novels published.

    No, they aren’t the majority–not by a long shot–but they do exist. I get tired of so many people saying that 100% of popular LDS fiction is bad, when the speakers themselves haven’t read enough to know.

    Unless by “literary respect” you mean it has to be both a literary novel AND a popular one. That’s a tricky thing to find even in the national market.

  2. I do infact mean the latter — literary fiction that is popular or perhaps even popular fiction that is literary.

    I realize that this is hard to find in the national market. But it would also be a boon to our market, IMO — it might persuade LDS Bookstores to carry more than just the popular DB offerings.

  3. Regarding #5 — do you mean in the national market? Because I’m pretty sure that the LDS market has consistently had 2-3 thrillers/mysteries a year for the past several years.

    ———

    The advertising/marketing venue would be interesting. I wonder how many unique visitors Meridian Magazine and MormonTimes get and what the percentages by country and by U.S. state are for their visitors.

  4. William, I didn’t make myself clear, I suppose.

    I meant the LDS market, but I did NOT mean thrillers. From what I’ve seen there are thrillers published in the LDS market, but not mysteries or crime novels.

  5. Ah. Then I completely agree. In particular, I’d like to see some well-written mildly humorous bibliophile mysteries hit the market at some point. I vaguely recall one that either was published or in development, but I think a Mrs. Marple-style LDS genealogist could do well.

    Hmmm. Maybe Ardis and Rob Wells could team up.

  6. Oh and I should have paid closer attention to the use of LDS vs. Mormon in your wish list, Kent. You did make yourself clear.

  7. William wrote: “I’d like to see some well-written mildly humorous bibliophile mysteries hit the market at some point.”

    AHA!!

    I can see it now.

    We need a Mormon Jasper Fforde!!

  8. My Mormon Arts and Culture wishlist for 2009:

    1) That an LDS architect would come onto the scene and build a really significant cultural building (museum, concert hall, academic space, etc.) the expands our thinking about what LDS architecture can and should be.

    2) That someone would start an open and inclusive festival of song based on LDS ideals and values.

    3) That an LDS artist would write a truly groundbreaking work of theater that is accepted by a broad audience and doesn’t expend its energies critizing the church and the religious culture.

  9. .

    I wish that each of us commenting on this thread will make a concrete step towards fulfilling one of the wishes listed herein.

  10. .

    (Not that I think we should stop wishing. I have a few projects which I hope will reach fruition in 2009, so I’ll see you in December!)

  11. You are absolutely right. Why sit around wishing when there are things to be done?

  12. My wishes:

    1. I wish some really high-quality and spiritually appropriate film adaptations of scriptural stories would be produced by a non-institutional LDS filmmaker.

    2. I wish/hope/pray (in the vein of Th.’s comment) that I will be able to find the time and resources to bring some of my own projects to market.

    3. Kent, I share your #7.

  13. .

    #7’s a tough one. Of course, men buy fewer books in the first place, but the publishers aren’t even trying.

    Deseret came close to buying a novel of mine once, but first they had me do market research for them (!) regarding whether or not women would like it too. The results were positive, but they still backed out, citing that reason: men don’t buy books; no book can sell well enough to break even without women going for it.

  14. Th. (15):

    There’s at least a couple reactions I have to DB’s attitude on this subject:

    1. They are wrong. Men do purchase books. They don’t purchase them in Deseret Book stores, because the stores are so heavily oriented towards women (as is the LDS Book industry as a whole).

    And, in any case, you don’t throw out one substantial potential piece of the market just because you aren’t set up to deal with it as a retailer.

    2. They actually mean that no book can sell well enough to break even IN THEIR PUBLISHING MODEL without the support of enough women. DB’s publishing model is a large part of the problem here.

    Break even depends heavily on how you prepare, design and market a book. If you don’t need to put a lot of editorial effort into a book, make wise choices in how you design and produce the book, and are frugal in your marketing, break even can be much, much lower than DB assumes it is.

    If I ignore my editorial costs (generally my own time) I can get a break even of much less than 100 copies in most cases.

    But, I have to admit, a lot of that is that I’m not spending as much as I should on marketing.

    My point is that DB is making the assumptions about how to publish a book that large, entrenched publishers always make. And under that scenario, the break-even point has been slowly rising for many years.

    Also, Th., I’m a little surprised at how they handled this. The fact that they rejected the book after positive results makes me wonder if the book ever had a real chance — if it wasn’t just an unconscious interest by the acquisitions editor that was always going to get shot down in the acquisitions meeting where the decision is actually made.

    This is a large part of why I’m looking for Deseret Book to realize its responsibilities as the major player in the market.

    If the market is all women, what is Deseret Book doing to expand the market among men? Isn’t that a logical way of building your sales?

    Its true in many different parts of the potential market.

    Yes Spanish books don’t sell — Spanish-speakers don’t have any way of finding out what’s available, and not enough new books in the pipeline to make it worth looking for them in bookstores. What is Deseret Book doing about that?

    Yes its difficult to sell LDS books outside the Intermountain West because the concentration of LDS members isn’t enough to sustain bookstores easily. What is Deseret Book doing about that? or about the situation overseas?

    Someone needs to give DB a vision of what this is all about!! New markets just don’t appear. Someone has to help them happen.

  15. They are wrong. Men do purchase books. They don’t purchase them in Deseret Book stores, because the stores are so heavily oriented towards women (as is the LDS Book industry as a whole).

    I just read a HuffPo piece wherein Goldberg gripes about the lack of male-oriented literature coming out from the traditional publishing houses.

    What makes DB different from the NY pubs?

    This is a large part of why I’m looking for Deseret Book to realize its responsibilities as the major player in the market.

    Why should they? They’re not hurtin’. Their model WORKS for them and they have a lot better handle on their revenue stream than the rest of the publishing industry does, especially after this past month’s Publishing Nuke got dropped on New York.

    What makes DB different from the NY pubs? Cash. And a niche market.

    And we just won’t even go into the Borders Books situation. You know, the one wherein I predict they’ll be in Chapter 11 by fall, sending all those books back to the publishers who have them listed on their A/R sheets as assets.

    Probably not gonna happen to DB. So their model works for them.

    Someone needs to give DB a vision of what this is all about!!

    Do you really think they A) haven’t looked and B) care?

    What is Deseret Book doing about that?

    I really don’t understand the continual call to DB to change when what they are doing is working for them. It’s not working for *you*. Or me. Or probably anybody here. We’re a minority, obviously, and not one that’s going to make a difference in their bottom line.

    If there is *any* responsibility to be had here, it’s whoever thinks DB is deficient to do something about it.

    Good thing somebody is.

  16. MoJo:

    I think you are looking at things from a strictly profit-oriented self-interested basis.

    I’m NOT looking at thinks that way. Many times our position in an environment gives us responsibilities beyond what is in our self interest.

    * The U.S. is the largest nation in the world, so we have a responsibility to act as a leader.

    * The Church has the truth (as far as it has been revealed) and the authority to act in God’s name, therefore we have a certain responsibility to act like God’s representatives.

    * Deseret Book is a near monopoly and is owned by the Church, therefore it has responsibilities beyond making a profit for the Church.

    Monopolies and the largest players in a market have certain advantages that no one else can match, and to balance that most countries around the world place restrictions on Monopolies, give them additional responsibilities. The largest players many times are also expected to lead, to use their advantage to expand the market instead of just serving the market that now exists.

    Instead of recognizing these responsibilities, DB is more like the person in the parable of the talents who hid his talent in the earth, reasoning that it is better to show little or no success than to risk failure.

    But its also worse than that. DB doesn’t seem to see its mission as opening the bounty of materials in the LDS market beyond the small Intermountain West market to the rest of the Latter-day Saints around the world. Instead of taking any risk to make that happen, they sit back and make only the most conservative of investments in the most obvious places. They worry more about a small financial return than about the mission of broadening LDS culture to those that want and could use it.

    And as for the rest of us needing to be responsible and trying to change things, I agree, I am and I believe many of us are. But the largest player in the market isn’t just not helping, its actually in the way.

  17. I think you are looking at things from a strictly profit-oriented self-interested basis.

    Guilty as charged. That’s the way I look at everything.

    And so, apparently, does DB. In this case (as in many others), we are dealing with what IS and not what SHOULD BE.

    You can’t MAKE an entity take responsibility that it doesn’t want to take, whether it’s good for others or not. I prefer not to waste my energy in trying to get it (we’ll say DB in this case) to do so.

    I guess what I need clarification from you on is if you want the *church* to step up and take responsibility for DB’s offerings?

    If you can make a case for me wherein DB is making a profit under a 501(c)(3) situation, then I can see where you’re coming from, but I still don’t agree.

    To go on with my thoughts, I have to assume that your answer to my question (about the church taking responsibility for DB) is YES.

    So let’s put the profit motive aside for a moment and look at this from another angle.

    Right now, DB is reasonably separate from CES.
    Say the church took responsibility for DB’s catalog. Do you think DB’s catalog would become *more* or *less* restrictive? Do you think it would then open up these markets that are being underserved?

    Now I’m going to assume that your answer to my original question (about the church taking responsibility for DB) is NO.

    Monopolies are broken 2 ways: (1) antitrust lawsuits and (2) competition.

    #1 is not going to happen. DB is small fry in a small market. Any antitrust lawyer’s going to tell you that the market simply can’t support another LDS literature/kitsch outlet. Even if you drug the 501(c)(3) into it, it’s not going to be worth the trouble.

    #2 could happen if there were enough money in it to make it worth someone’s while. You might not like it, but people have to eat. Nobody’s going to want to go into direct competition with DB unless they can assure themselves and their investors they’re not going to starve and go poof in the night in 3 years.

    Also, compete with DB on what level? Publishing? (As in, what gets published?) or Retail? (As in, what gets put on shelves?) or both, a la DB itself, putting that new business in direct competition?

    DB cannot be competed with. It is not the target here. Let them do what they’re going to do, serve the market they serve.

    Somebody Else can make inroads to the underserved markets with stuff DB (and possibly Zarahemla) would never touch and in formats they don’t care to exploit (which neither do).

    My point is to forget DB exists. Go forth and get to the markets you think are underserved and see. Take the responsibility and the initiative.

    Kent, you’re in publishing, right? In NY? With the resources and experience behind you? With that in mind, then, I see four items on your list YOU PERSONALLY could take direct responsibility for and do.

    And you and DB can pass like ships in the night.

  18. MoJo, I suspect we will have to agree to disagree. I don’t buy the position that companies only have to worry about their bottom line — that anything that is profitable is fine. And I certainly don’t buy it in the case of a large company with many resources like Deseret Book.

    As for me personally, yes I am in publishing and I am in New York. But I have very few resources at my disposal, especially compared to DB or any other publisher with more than say 5 employees.

    I AM taking responsibility for items on the list as much as I can. But this post and this forum isn’t the place for me to toot my own horn, especially about things I have planned and not yet completed.

    When I have something ready, believe me, I’m happy to announce them in the right forum and in the right way.

    Still, I can’t do everything and certainly not nearly as much as Deseret Book. For a decade now I have been speaking out against DB turning into a monopoly in the LDS market. I think others have raised similar concerns. But they keep acquiring other companies (mainly because as the largest player they are almost the only place where an LDS publisher can be sold when the owner wants to retire), becoming larger and controlling more of the market. And despite all this, the market isn’t improving or expanding.

    In my book DB is a large part of the problem.

  19. .

    Well, short of us getting consulting gigs at DB, all we can do is work around them. I agree that DB has greater responsibilities (and I’ll vote for you, Kent, if you run for DB pres), but bellyachin’ only takes us so far. It’s helpful and good to analyze and talk about the problems, but finally, we need to take action.

    It will interest you, Kent, to know that the same book DB gave the runaround to was accepted by Cov’t’s editorial staff only to be rejected by its marketers. So it seems we have a lack of marketing imagination here. But in an Internet-fueled world like ours, that’s the sort of thing small, nimble players should be best at.

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