What About Agreka Books?

Add to the perennial question “What Makes a Book Mormon?” another: “What Makes a Publisher Mormon?” A look at Agreka Books, of Scottsdale, Arizona, may help us at least decide what is not a Mormon publisher.

With this post I begin a series on the publishers in the LDS market and those of interest to Mormon authors. I hope and expect that these posts help authors to distinguish between all the options in the LDS market.

But I don’t want these posts to be solely about whether the publisher is an option for the Mormon author. I hope also to discuss the issues and problems in the LDS market, and at least gain additional perspectives on these issues and problems, if not practical solutions.

I’ve started with Agreka Books simply because it is included in several of the lists of LDS publishers available on the Internet. And as soon as I started talking with one of the owners of Agreka, Linda, it became clear that Agreka doesn’t fit the definition of a “Mormon” publisher the way, say, Cedar Fort does, and depending on your viewpoint, may not be “Mormon” at all!

The issue of how to characterize Agreka begins with its owners: they are not Mormon.

Linda explains that their involvement with Mormon books came when they were approached about a book about the polygamist FLDS Church in Colorado City, Arizona. After reviewing the book, Agreka agreed to publish it, believing that information about the problem of fundamentalist polygamy needed to come out. By 2006, Agreka had published at least 7 books on Colorado City and polygamy (all but one are still in print) and had several other titles of interest to a Mormon audience.

But they also ran into a problem. One of the men mentioned in one of these books didn’t like how he was portrayed. Upset, this man filed a lawsuit against both Agreka and the author. The case took two years and many hours of legal work to resolve, leaving Agreka with significant cost even though the lawsuit was eventually dropped.

As a result, Agreka has all but dropped Mormon-related titles. Linda says she is likely to reject Mormon submissions, unless the manuscript “reveals things that need to be revealed.” Short of that, Mormonism isn’t of interest to Agreka.

While Agreka did have quite a few Mormon titles prior to the lawsuit, it was never really involved in the LDS market. It has never been a member of the LDSBA, and hasn’t built relationships with LDS bookstores, so sales of its Mormon titles have come principally from the traditional U.S. market.

The company does focus on non-fiction and on fact-based fiction, leaning strongly toward issues prevalent in society. A look through the company’s list reveals books on animal companionship, some Utah tourism and historical titles, and a line of “Art Puzzles by Number.” In addition, Agreka also publishes family and local history under the imprint Agreka History Publishing, without regard to whether the material involves Mormonism.

Nevertheless, Agreka does have a number of titles still in print that will be of interest to Mormons, including Orson Hyde: Olive Branch of Israel, and The Correlation of Muslim Doctrine and Latter-Day Saint Doctrine: Based upon the Holy Scriptures; and a few others out-of-print, including the now rare The Osmond Family Trivia Book, and Conquerors of the West, Vol. 1: Stalwart Mormon Pioneers. A few others, such as Utah’s “Dixie” Birthplace are likely to have at least some Mormon content.

And despite Agreka’s ugly legal experience, Linda didn’t want to rule out the possibility that the right kind of Mormon title could come along. Regarding Mormonism, Agreka is looking for titles that “reveal things that need to be revealed” and that are unique.

I’m not sure exactly where this leaves Agreka. Mormon authors should certainly consider Agreka, at least for non-fiction titles that are not strictly Mormon, and maybe even for some non-fiction that is Mormon, if it meets their criteria. But I wouldn’t really consider it part of the LDS market, since it doesn’t target its sales to LDS bookstores and LDS Church members.

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16 thoughts on “What About Agreka Books?”

  1. It seems to me that the obvious criteria for what makes a publisher “mormon” is that they serve the LDS market. But given the restrictive nature of the LDS market, I’m not sure I can accept that definition as is.

    Perhaps an LDS publisher tries to publish books for Mormons in general, or has a program or imprint that is specifically targeted at LDS Church members or Mormons.

    Of course, if this is the definition, then, given Deseret Books’ attempts to publish books for the national market, perhaps they aren’t 100% a Mormon publisher?

  2. Yeah, that gets complicated. I think the place to start is by what types of work they are specifically soliciting, followed by the nature of the titles they publish (and the percentage of which are Mormon-themed), followed by their rate of activity in the LDS market.

  3. Maybe Agreka can be considered Mormon in the same way University of Illinois Press can. It wasn’t set up to handle Mormon titles specifically, but Illinois’s connection to Mormon history, and the work of a strong writer like Jan Shipps opened it up to publishing Mormon books. They also published Levi Peterson’s Canyons of Grace in their short fiction series.

    Agreka is geographically situated to publish Mormon books, if they wanted to, and they could probably build up a Mormon list if they wanted to. That is, desire or willingness to publish a particular kind of book may make someone a Mormon publisher.

    Of course, lawsuits can affect desire considerably.

  4. .

    Undoubtedly. But I would certainly consider the U of I a “Mormon” press in the broadest sense. In fact if Oxford USA hits three different authors, I would include them as well. And if they don’t, honorary inclusion for publishing Givens.

  5. Th., Harlow, I think you are confounding the definition of a Mormon book and a Mormon publisher.

    I don’t see that there is any reason to think that just because a publisher has published a Mormon book, or even regularly publishes some Mormon books, that the publisher is a Mormon publisher.

    As I said above, the publisher has to somehow be trying to serve Mormons (note I’m not restricting this to the current LDS market) – the publisher can be trying to serve any Mormons.

    FWIW, I do think the U of I is close to a Mormon press — their line of Mormon books does seem to be aimed at an academic group of Mormons. Oxford? I don’t think so. I don’t think they are aiming at the mormon market very much.

  6. Kent, you’ve got a good point. I don’t suppose anyone would call St. Martin’s a Mormon press just because it published a dozen novels about a Mormon detective. Indeed, that may be partly why Anne Wingate/Lee Martin decided to move her Deb Ralston novels to Bookcraft. (But The Thursday Club came out a dozen years ago. I’m not aware of anything since.)

    Still, if a smaller press like U of I is close to being a Mormon press because they’ve published a line of historical and scholarly works, why wouldn’t another small press regularly publishing Mormon work also be a Mormon press, even if that’s not their main focus?

    That is, I’m suggesting that desire and willingness play a part in how we define Mormon publishers. The more willing a publisher is to publish Mormon work the more likely they are interest Mormon writers or scholars.

    Similarly, if you had a press that was owned by Mormons but unwilling to publish Mormon work or on Mormon subjects, would you consider it a Mormon press?

    I was thinking about that question and remembered something my father told me, one of his early frustrations. Seems he once had a graduate student who wanted to do his thesis on a Mormon literature topic, the poetry of Clinton Larson, I think, and BYU’s English department wouldn’t approve the topic. He didn’t think the department refused because Clinton was a faculty member, but because they didn’t think a Mormon topic was worthy of a thesis–reverse provincialism.

    The department’s attitude may have changed when those young Turkish-Mormons Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert published A Believing People. In 1975 Clifton Holt Jolley’s creative dissertation, The Sublime, the Mythic, the Archetypal and the Small included “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith: An Archetypal Analysis” (later published in Utah Historical Quarterly, 44:4, Fall 1976). In 1976 Ned B. Williams wrote a collection of stories, We All Loved Eternally . . . in 1972, for his thesis. I don’t know if these were the first, but there have been plenty of Mormon-related theses from the English department since.

    Of course, those last two paragraphs probably have more to do with conditions affecting literary and critical production than with how we define a Mormon publisher.

  7. I have decided (through painful trial and error)… not to write fiction aimed at a Mormon audience. Because once you get through Deseret, Covenant, Shadow Mountain and Cedar Fort, you’re pretty much done. There’s nowhere else to go with your manuscript… at least from what I’ve seen. I’d love it if someone could debunk this and give me another direction to go; I have 2 manuscripts that are pretty specifically targeted to Mormon audiences.

  8. .

    Zarahemla and Parables are publishing very good stuff, but if your work is most appropriate for DB or Cov, they’ll probably say no. There are other smaller ones as well. This publishers series is going to be dozens long, so keep reading.

  9. I just recently signed a two book deal with a small publisher in Salt Lake, WiDo Publishing. My stuff is Book Of Mormon historical fiction that I feared was possibly pushing the limits because of grittyness, and going beyond the white hat Nephites and black hat Lamanites but they liked it.

    This wasn’t written as a means to dollars so much as something that needed to be written and I am pleased to say at least I know it’s very different from what is already out there. And I was guessing it would be a long way from Agreka to WiDo.

  10. Correction, BIP shows that WiDo has published one title, Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen, in July 2007 and has a second by by Gowen coming out next month, Uncut Diamonds.

  11. I wondered how long it would be before WiDo Publishing showed up on Motley Vision (love this website btw and what it’s doing to get info out on LDS literature and publishing.) WiDo has been under the radar for two years, seeking out its own Blue Ocean. It started as a group of authors and artists (several from the same family)who wanted to provide more options in the LDS publishing world. My first book, Farm Girl, was the kick-off, and was marketed to independent booksellers located mainly in the Great Plains states, as it’s a Nebraska regional book, although it can be found in independent bookstores from NY to CA, and locally in Borders. Second book, Uncut Diamonds, will be marketed initially to LDS independent booksellers, and a few select nonLDS independents in the Midwest, the novel’s locale. (WiDo likes working with the independent.)Initial marketing plan is to give out 200 review copies to LDS women in book clubs who love to read and talk about books, to get a buzz going to the target demographic. This year, WiDo decided the time was right to step it up and seek more submissions from LDS writers—posting the website on ldstorymakers and attending the BYU Pub Fair. The quantity and quality of submissions that have been pouring in from has been amazing…we had NO clue there would be this kind of response.

    David J. West’s Book of Mormon saga was especially exciting and promising. I read his first three chapters submission and was so taken by it that I even emailed a couple paragraphs to my missionary son, a complete nut for the Book of Mormon who used to act out Teancum’s assassination plots, using black Ninja get-up and random weaponry. He’ll go nuts over West’s books, the first one to be released Oct, 2009, if editing goes as planned.

  12. David, I think I missed that you were soon to be coming out with a book, and I apologize!

    Can’t wait to read it.

  13. Karen (12), its great to have you stop by.

    Drop me a note at kent (at) motleyvision (dot) org, and we’ll put together an interview for WiDo.

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