2011 Mormon Literature Year in Review, Pt. 2, Mormon-market fiction

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing Mormon-authored literature published in 2011. You can see Part 1, on Nationally-Published Fiction, here. Posts on theatre and film will follow.

Mormon fiction book sales appear to have made a slight recovery in 2011.  Publishers report sales up, due in part to growth in ebook sales. The larger publishers largely kept the number of annual titles stable, with the exception of Cedar Fort, which increased its number of titles 20% over the 2010 level. Without a doubt, the distribution of Mormon market fiction is changing. The growth the ereader market means that more people are buying books online rather than going to a store. This simplifies shopping for Mormon readers who do not live close to a Mormon book store. The number of independent bookstores has gone down, although Deseret Book Retail appears to remain stable. The Church merged its Church Distribution Services stores with Deseret Book Retail, which may help to keep the stores strong.

Two publishers went out of business in 2011, the short-lived Valor Publishing Group, and Granite Distribution and Publishing, which has existed since 1995. Granite was never a major force in fiction publishing, but it was an important distributor. Its collapse leaves Brigham Distributing as the last remaining avenue for smaller companies and self-publishers to outsource the distribution of their books to bookstores.

While small and midsized companies like Granite struggled in the evolving book market, there has been growth among tiny niche market publishers. Mormon niche publishers have always struggled to get their books in Mormon bookstores. The growth in ereader market penetration and the drop in costs due to the rise of Print on Demand (POD) services mean that the inability to get into the stores becomes less of a factor. Zarahemla Books and B10 Mediaworx report that 75 to 80% of their sales in 2011 were as ebooks, and that total sales were much higher than in earlier years, largely due to the rise in ebook sales. Wido Publishing reported 50% of their sales were ebooks in 2011, with that number expected to grow significantly higher in 2012. The larger, more established publishers, which have both access to and an infrastructure for getting products into bookstores, report a smaller percentage of their sales as coming from ebooks. Walnut Springs says that ebooks made up 10% of their sales in 2011, and expect that to rise to 25% in 2012. Cedar Fort reports that 5-10% of their 2011 sales were ebooks, and authors at Covenant and Deseret Book also appear to sell between 5% and 10% of their books electronically.

Directly related to the growth in e-readers and POD services is the recent explosion in self-published books, which I will discuss at the end of this post.

Deseret Book Publishing, which is part of the Church-owned Deseret Book Company, published 16 novels in 2011, six through its Mormon-market imprint Deseret Book, and ten through its national-market imprint Shadow Mountain. That is slightly lower than the number of novels they published in 2007-2010. With the end of Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series, Shadow Mountain did not have any national bestsellers in 2011. The most popular Shadow Mountain novels appear to have been Lisa Mangum’s paranormal romance The Forgotten Locket and R. William Bennett’s Christmas novel Jacob T. Marley. The best-selling book under the Deseret Book imprint was Josi Kilpack’s cozy mystery Blackberry Crumble.

Covenant Communications has been a part of Deseret Book Company since 2006, although its offices are located in American Fork, rather than Salt Lake City. It published 34 novels in 2011, about the same as it has done the last four years. Anita Stansfield’s four-volume Shadows of Brierley were the publisher’s best sellers of the year, followed by two novels each by Sarah M. Eden, Traci Hunter Abramson, and Clair Poulson. Covenant, unlike Deseret Book and Cedar Fort, does not have a national imprint, and is the least likely of the three to accept a novel that does not have some Mormon content. The number of exceptions has grown recently, however, including Sarah Eden’s regency romances and Julie Wright’s middle grade science fiction. Both Deseret Book Publishing and Covenant Communications received generally good evaluations from authors on their editing, marketing, and professionalism, although I did hear some unhappy voices.

I wonder how long Deseret Book Company will keep publishing Mormon-market fiction under both its Deseret Book imprint and its separate Covenant Communications division. Apparently the two divisions are kept strictly separate, with completely independent acquisitions, editing, and marketing. I speculate that Deseret Book promised to keep Covenant Communications separate and independent as part of its acquisition deal in 2006, but I am not sure. The competition between the two divisions is probably a good deal for authors, but in a climate where efficiency is everything, I find it strange that DBC continues to have separate editing and marketing staffs for essentially the same products.

Cedar Fort, founded in 1986, remains the largest independent publisher of Mormon books. It published 44 novels by Mormon authors in 2011, up from 34 in 2010 and just 23 in 2009. That is doubtless a record number of novels in a year for a Mormon/Utah publisher, and Cedar Fort reports that they plan to continue the trend. Several of these books were by first-time authors. For the most part this is good news for aspiring authors looking to get into the Mormon market. Authors should also keep in mind, however, that the mid-sized company’s attention is thereby divided by the many titles and authors. Most Cedar Fort authors I spoke to were happy with the professionalism the company displayed, but frustrated with the limited ability of the company to edit and market the books.

One author reported, “The turnover rate with PR people is really high [three different Marketing Directors in the last three years], and other than getting books into as many bookstores as possible, they pretty much rely on the authors to do all their own marketing–i.e. write our own press releases and follow up on them, schedule our own blog tours, find book reviewers, etc. CFI will schedule a few signings, but that’s about it . . . Most CFI authors I know are lucky to break even–which is why I think many authors who are in it for the long haul switch to Covenant or DB or try to find and agent and go national. I’ve learned from experience that growth and name recognition is very hard to come by when publishing with CFI. They don’t own retail chains like DB, and therefore can’t push their titles the same way. Also, the editing process at CFI is still the same. Books receive a fine-line edit by two editors about a month before publishing, and that’s really about it . . . That being said, CFI still designs some of the best covers, and they’ve given a lot of first-time authors their start. They are great to work with, always get back in a timely way, and are courteous and professional.”

Several authors noted that Cedar Fort produced excellent cover art, and that it provides a shorter wait period between acceptance and publication than other LDS publishers. Cedar Fort is generally more accepting of non-traditional content than the Church-owned publishers. It has also shown a willingness to innovate. In 2011 it acquired Books & Things, a catalog which works with independent bookstores to help drive traffic to the stores. Cedar Fort’s best-selling novel of the year was Carla Kelly’s western/Mormon romance Borrowed Light. Kelly is an established nationally published author of Regency and western romance novels who signed a three-book deal with Cedar Fort.

Walnut Springs Press (also known by its official company name Leatherwood Press) continued to solidify itself as a presence in the Mormon market in 2011. It published 12 novels in 2011, the same as in 2010. It added a YA imprint, Inkberry Press, which is designed to go beyond the Mormon market. The publisher’s best-selling novel was Inkberry’s debut, Pride & Popularity, the first in a series of Jane Austen modernizations by Jenni James. Other best sellers were Tristi Pinkston’s cozy mystery Dearly Departed and L.C. Lewis’s historical fiction In God Is Our Trust. Managing Editor Linda Mulleneaux reports, “While we publish many novels that do not contain LDS elements, all our novels meet LDS standards—i.e., no swearing or profanity, no overt sensuality, no extraneous violence, and no focus on occult or other dark elements.” She describes Walnut Springs’ strengths as “(1) we can cultivate a closer working relationship between author and publisher than is possible with most larger publishers, and (2) because of our lower overhead, we can take on some novels that won’t necessarily be best sellers in the market.” While I have heard only positive comments about Walnut Springs’ professionalism, I also heard reviewers express frustration concerning editing shortfalls.

WiDo Publishing grew significantly in 2011, publishing nine books, seven of them by Mormon authors. WiDo reports they plan to publish 12 books in 2012. Although it has so far mostly published Mormon authors, WiDo does not position itself as a Mormon market publisher, and does not require its books to meet Mormon market standards, although they are not interested in sexually explicit material. Its bestselling print book for 2011 was Mississippi Cotton by Paul Yarbrough, a non-Mormon author. Its bestselling ebooks were Ann Best’s memoir Shattered Secrets and Lisa Dayley’s handcart pioneer novel The Frozen Trail. Authors report that publishing with WiDo can be a slow process, but that they work hard with authors to edit and reshape books into what they think will be a marketable product.

Peculiar Pages, Zarahemla Books, and Parables Publishing are micro-niche publishers which specialize in literary fiction for adults. Peculiar Pages, run by Theric Jepson, published the speculative fiction anthology Monsters & Mormons and the poetry anthology Fire in the Pasture. Speculative fiction scholar and author Michael Collings praised Monsters & Mormons, saying, “Perhaps the most intriguing thing . . . is the extraordinary range of ideas, themes, images, and tales that fit underneath the general umbrella of “Mormon” . . . Most of the tales could stand on their own in any anthology of horror or science fiction, regardless of their Mormon content; many are first-rate, truly exceptional examples of contemporary storytelling. A few venture perhaps a bit too close to the boundary between imagination and reality as they configure worlds in which priesthood powers and demons intersect, but most of the 500+ pages proved entertaining, intriguing, occasionally enlightening, always thought-provoking. Strongly recommended.”

Fire in the Pasture, edited by Tyler Chadwick, is the first serious new collection of Mormon poets since the Eugene England and Dennis M. Clark-edited Harvest in 1989. Michael Collings praised it, saying, “Everywhere in Fire readers will find evidence of artistry, of control and discipline, of structure wedded to content…of poetry. What they will not discover, however, is Mormon verse. That is, doctrine scantly or overtly dressed up in the costumes of rhyme and rhythm. Some poems are firmly embedded within easily recognizable LDS beliefs, but none of them are overwhelmed by those beliefs. Many of the pieces solidly and powerfully affirm and re-affirm the core concepts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without becoming exercises in sentimentality or cliché . . . Highly recommended.” Scott Hales wrote, “If King Noah and his goons tied me to a burning stake and demanded that I name the most important work of Mormon literature published in 2011, I would soil my drawers. Then I would say, as calmly as a man aflame can, Fire in the Pasture. No other work published this year—or any year, for that matter—has gathered more quality Mormon writers into one volume.”

Theric Jepson runs Peculiar Pages in cooperation with Elizabeth Beeton’s publishing company B10 Mediworx. Beeton, writing under the pseudonym Moriah Jovan, produced Magdalene, the third in her Tales of Dunham romances. While there are Mormon authors who write romances for Mormons, and others who write “hot” romances that would never make it into a Deseret Bookstore, Jovan does both, in a way that pleased several feminist reviewers who did not mind some spicy (marital) sex thrown into a story set in a Mormon milieu. Amelia at The Exponent wrote, “Jovan writes a book, complete with explicit sex and four-letter words, that better captures Mormonism and its culture than any other book I have read. Ever . . . This is a very real ward. I loved reading such an honest picture of Mormonism, one that does not hide warts but which also makes the community and love clear . . . And the book is much more than just Mormonism. It’s an allegorical examination of the atonement. It’s a story of vendetta and justice. It’s a celebration of strong people who shape their worlds. And it’s a very, very sexy read.”

Zarahemla Books, run by Chris Bigelow, published two works in 2012. David Clark’s The Death of a Disco Dancer has won very strong praise from reviewers. Scott Hales wrote, “The Death of a Disco Dancer is David Clark’s first novel, and part of me hopes that he becomes this century’s Douglas Thayer, whose literary influence seems to pervade the book’s prose. Todd Whitman has a strong, distinct narrative voice that captures perfectly the innate obnoxiousness of early adolescence. Also, Clark incorporates Mormon elements seamlessly into the novel.” Theric Jepson wrote, “Zarahemla keeps proving my faith in them well placed. They’re the Pixar of MoLit! . . . The Death of a Disco Dancer is a brilliant book . . . He has captured a time and place so perfectly it feels like documentary footage of 1981 Scarsdale, Arizona. He’s funny. He drew tears without being the least sentimental . . . He engages with the ambiguity of all things stereotypically good (religion) and bad (darn teenagers!) . . . Highly recommended.”

Zarahemla ended the year by publishing Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella, by the patriarch of Mormon literature, Douglas Thayer. It is the BYU emeritus professor’s third collection, including a dozen of his career-best stories. Richard Cracroft, Thayer’s contemporary at BYU, says it is “LDS literary fiction at its finest, written with Thayer’s crisp style and shot through with his trademark irony, tempered by his faith.”

Parables Publishing, run by Elizabeth Bentley, published four works in 2011, including Marilyn Brown’s historical fiction Fires of Jerusalem, and poet Adam Talley’s collection Adam’s Dream. Parables appears to be not as active as Peculiar Pages and Zarahemla Books in promoting their works. Strange Violin Editions, a new venture created by Therese Doucet, aims to be an edgy publisher open to fiction and memoirs by both Mormons and former Mormons. Signature Books, founded in 1980 by George D. Smith, specializes in Mormon history and historical documents, and has shown little interest in publishing literature in recent years, but it does have some titles coming up for next year. Greenjacket Books, run by Alan Mitchell, publishes doctrinal books, last days books, and parody novels.

BYU Biology Professor Steven L. Peck wrote The Scholar of Moab, which was published by the niche environmental literature publisher Torrey House Press, based in Utah. Blair Hodges, at By Common Consent, wrote, “The Scholar of Moab is the most engaging Mormon novel I’ve read since Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, though its approach is radically different. Peck convincingly merges the genres of magical realism and American West fiction by invoking the power of personal testimony—not his own, but those of his characters through their letters, journals, poetry, and interview transcripts. Using these disparate voices, Peck concocts a strange and tragicomic brew of naivety, philosophy, faith, discovery, and loss.” Rachel Helps wrote, “It is darkly humorous and literary . . . Despite the humorous undertones, the elements of magical realism leave a feeling in the reader of wonder and suspicion at the possibilities of everyday life. The unreliable narrators and editor is kind Nabokovian, and the alien abduction storyline reminds me a little of Vonnegut.”

I trolled through the published book reviews over the last year, and surveyed a number of authors and reviewers, asking them about their favourite Mormon authored books of the year. The Mormon-market books most often mentioned were Melanie Jacobson’s Not My Type, Stephanie Black’s Rearview Mirror, and Gregg Luke’s Bloodborne. I will go over some of the oft-mentioned books by genere.

Romance and mystery/suspense novels dominated the titles released for the Mormon market in 2011. The romance author which reviewers and fellow authors most often listed as their favourite was Melanie Jacobson, whose first two novels, The List and Not My Type, came out in 2011. Both are riotously funny young adult romances with quirky characters. Not My Type in particular received a lot of love. A fellow author wrote, “Melanie Jacobsen has brought a new voice into LDS fiction and is a very fun read. She’s taken the chick lit snark and wrapped it around contemporary LDS themes that are really fun. She’s not preachy but manages to steer clear of the ‘mean girl’ attitude of a lot of the chick lit books.” Two other humorous/chick lit romances which have received strong reviews are Rachael Renee Anderson’s Minor Adjustments, about a man and a woman thrust into an unexpected obligation to care for an orphaned boy, and Julie N. Ford’s Count Down to Love, about a woman who agrees to appear on a The Bachelor-type reality show.

Historical romances are another popular genre. Sarah M. Eden’s Regency romance The Kiss of a Stranger had strong sales and a favourable critical reception. Melissa DeMoux in the Deseret News wrote, “This book is peppered with beautiful dialogue. Crisp and witty banter between the main characters is enthralling. Eden has a gift of balancing sardonic humor with breathtaking heart ache.” Veteran author Carla Kelly debuted in the Mormon market with Borrowed Light, about a 1909 Mormon woman who goes to Wyoming to cook for cowboys, and falls for one. Heather from Fire and Ice writes, “Her writing is so full of detail, her characters alive and the historical setting spot on.” Prudence Bice’s The Kissing Tree, a city/country love triangle set on the 19th century American prairie, also received good notices.

Also well-regarded is E.M. Tippetts’ contemporary LDS romance Paint Me True. Reviewer Gamila commented, “It turns romance tropes on their head by switching gender stereotypes as Eliza now has to be the one who wins the guy back after her huge lapse in character judgment. In this touching novel characters are painted with true and realistic personalities that make them memorable, lovable, and endearing. I laughed out loud, felt the deep loneliness of the single life, and was strengthened by Eliza’s patient faith in the face incredible trial.”

In the suspense/thriller genre, two novels have received the strongest critical praise. Stephanie Black has won Whitney Awards three times, and her creepy thriller Review Mirror could keep that streak going. Jennie Hansen in Meridian Magazine wrote, “Rearview Mirror is so full of psychological and emotional problems it may leave the reader wondering if any of the characters, the author, or the reader are completely sane . . . The suspense escalates slowly with careful plotting and seemingly unimportant events until suddenly in the last third of the book the suspense is so riveting that even if the reader has guessed the identity of the murderer there are doubts. Nearly every character in the book has wisps of suspicion like trailing clouds around him or her. Black makes full use of weather, light, sound, and all the elements that surround everyday life to create mood and an ambience of suspense.”

Gregg Luke’s Bloodborne is a medical thriller about a lethal man-made virus spread by mosquitoes. Jennie Hansen wrote, “Luke does a masterful job of explaining biological and medical terms and reactions . . . He’s also a master at building suspense and creating believable characters, inserting realistic dialog, and keeping readers turning one page after another without a break until the story is finished.”

Romantic suspense books also received critical praise, including Traci Hunter Abramson’s Smokescreen and Obsession, Julie Coulter Bellon’s Ribbon of Darkness, and Stephanie Humphreys’ Double Deceit.

Cozy mysteries remain popular, led by Josi Kilpack’s popular Sadie Hoffmiller series of culinary mysteries. Volumes 5 and 6 of the series were published in 2011, Blackberry Crumble and Pumpkin Roll. The series does not have LDS specific content, so with Pumpkin Roll Deseret Book moved it to its Shadow Mountain imprint. Pumpkin Roll in particular has won praise for its complex mystery. Tristi Pinkston’s Secret Sisters cozy series also had two volumes published in 2011, The Dearly Departed and Hang ‘em High. Jennie Hansen wrote, “There are old lady mysteries all over the place, but no others are quite like Ida Mae Babbitt and her sidekicks. They’re loveable, laughable, and have a knack for solving realistic mysteries and living life to the fullest . . . The clever dialog is well worth the price of the book.”

The Book of Mormon provides the setting for much of the historical fiction being published in the Mormon market. H. B. Moore continues to be the strongest voice working in that genre, and in 2011 she produced Ammon, the fourth in a series. The trio of reviewers at LDS Women’s Book Review unanimously gave the book their highest rating. Mindy at LDWBR said, “I really enjoyed how the story went from a “Book of Mormon story,” to a non-stop action suspense thriller . . . The writing is very well done, the characters enjoyable, and the action had my stomach in nervous knots.”  Three other well-reviewed books with Book of Mormon settings were Toni Sorenson’s Messiah, about Christ’s visit in 3rd Nephi, Misty Moncur’s debut novel Daughter of Helaman, about an Ammonite girl who sneaks into the ranks of the Stripling Warriors, and David G. Woolley’s The Compass of God, the fifth volume in his series about Lehi’s family. Two other historical fiction novels of note were L. C. Lewis’ In God is Our Trust, the fifth and final volume of the War of 1812/pre-Restoration “Free Men and Dreamers” series, and Gale Sears’ Letters in the Jade Dragon Box, about China under Mao.

I mentioned several general fiction books in my discussion of the micro-niche publishers above. Other general fiction novels which have received positive attention are Rachel Ann Nunes’ Before I Say Goodbye, a bittersweet, realistic family romance, filmmaker Kieth Merrill’s debut novel The Evolution of Thomas Hall, about an artist’s journey from atheism to Christianity, and R. William Bennett’s Christmas novel Jacob T. Marley, which fills in the back story of the minor character from A Christmas Carol.

On to Young Adult. Cindy Bennett’s Geek Girl and Jenni James’ Pride & Popularity are both contemporary YA romances with no Mormon content, and are being marketed for the national market. Because they are published by mid-sized Mormon publishers Cedar Fort and Walnut Springs, I am discussing them here. Both authors self-published before the respective houses picked the books up, and both have received strong praise. Reviewers have raved about how Geek Girl skilfully transitions from the light tone at the start to a darker second half, where the abuse and damage the lead goth girl has suffered becomes clear. Rowena at The Book Scoop commented, “I went into this book thinking that I would get something cute and fluffy but what I got was a story about a girl who needed someone to be there for her . . . she was dying for a family of her own and a place to call home. . . Her problems, her background and her past, they all felt so real. [Despite the lead characters’ serious personal flaws] Bennett kept writing a story that I wanted to continue reading. She kept writing about characters that I wanted to know more.”

Jenni James’ Pride & Popularity is the first The Jane Austen Diaries, a series of humorous modernizations of the Jane Austen novels. Heather at Fire and Ice said, “I found myself totally immersed and grinning ear to ear at the end. It not only won my heart, it also addresses withholding judgment, the risks of online sites for young teens, and the importance of involved parents. The characters are real, the teen perspective spot on.”

Two serious “issue” LDS young adult novels that have received good reviews are Stephanie Worlton’s Hope’s Journey, about a teenage LDS couple and their unplanned pregnancy, and Christine Mehring’s Bitter Blessings, about a girl who loses both of her parents, struggles to keep her sisters afloat in the face of substance abuse and grief, and is lead to the gospel by faithful friends. Finally, the middle grade time travel fantasy Texting Through Time: A Trek with Brigham Young, by Christy Monson, has received some positive reviews.

While many Mormons write speculative fiction for the national market, in the last few years a few titles have appeared in the Mormon market as well. Theresa Sneed’s No Angel is a paranormal romance between guardian angels who are struggling against demons. Jennie Hansen wrote, “Though a first book author, Sneed has a solid understanding of creating a fiction arc and keeping her readers entertained and turning pages. I love her sense of humor, wild imagination, and her ability to make her fantasy feel plausible.” Abel Keogh’s dystopian novel The Third and Julie Wright and Kevin Wasden’s middle grade SciFi adventure Hazzardous Universe also have fans amongst the reviewers.

2011 saw a staggering amount of self-published books entering the marketplace. There are examples in nearly every genre, although YA speculative appears to be the most popular. The primary reason for this is the ease and low cost with which an author can make an ebook available through venues like Smashwords and the Kindle Store, as well as inexpensive POD services. In the past working without a publisher was often seen as a sign that a book was either unmarketable, poorly written, or both. A number of noted national authors, however, have recently self-published, and financial success stories from previously unestablished artists are frequently passed around by aspiring authors.

The majority of self-published novels remain what they always were, poorly written and edited works with unattractive covers, which go on to eternal anonymity. A growing number, however, are works of merit. Some are books that do not fit into established publishing niches, or contain content that the established Mormon market houses are unwilling to publish. Authors also may be unwilling to accept the terms offered by established Mormon market publishers. E. M. Tippets commented on her decision to self-publish, “The usual contracts offered by LDS publishers are not worth the hassle to me. They tend to be grabby, demanding way more rights than is good for either party, and in my experience these companies are used to working with people desperate to be published authors, and that isn’t me. As an attorney who’s worked with a lot of writers, I do know what a standard publishing contract from a national house looks like, and I’m not interested in settling for less in order to get published in such a small niche as the LDS market.”

Tristi Pinkston commented, “I think [authors] choose to self-publish for one of two reasons, and sometimes both. First, they are tired of waiting for a publisher to make up their minds, or perhaps they have already approached all the applicable publishers for their genre and haven’t found success. Second, they want to be more in control of their product. They want to choose their own covers, their own marketing venues, their own everything. There is quite a feeling of freedom that comes with that. Ebooks are becoming more and more popular with self-published authors because there is so little overhead. You can upload a book on Kindle and on Smashwords for free, and you have a book instantly. You do, of course, need a cover and a typesetter and an editor, but many authors are trading services with providers.” One author who has both been published by a Mormon press and self-published wrote, “The sales dynamic from self-published books is the opposite of the dynamic of a Mormon publisher. They start slowly and then ramp up, the longer your book is online. The downside is not having my books in bookstores. But bookstores are struggling. When I published with a Mormon publisher recently, my book was number one or number two in sales in its class for half a year. However, despite that, my royalties were pitiful, compared to royalties received in the past. My bestselling book yielded my smallest royalty check.”

Robison Wells commented, “I’m not anti-self-publishing, but me it has all the dangers of a get-rich-quick scheme: It’s very tempting, because you see other people who have done it and made a lot of money; it’s easy to get into; it seems like an appealing alternative to a very difficult path. And, just like a get-rich-quick scheme, 99% of people who try it won’t get rich. Some will lose money. Some will get their name forever plastered on a poorly written book, and spend the rest of their career hiding their past . . . Be wary of the hype.  If you’re going into self-publishing, you have to be a great writer—as good and polished as if you’d worked your way through years of rejections and rewrites. And you have to be a great businessperson, because you don’t have professional editors, marketers, salespeople, accountants, graphic designers, distributors and retailers in your corner. It’s all you.”

David Farland (AKA Dave Wolverton) is the best known Mormon author to fully embrace self-publishing and enhanced media. He co-created a new publishing business, East India Press, where he published the fantasy novel The Nightingale as an enhanced ebook, which included illustrations, animations, a soundtrack, and annotations from the author. Other authors who have remained with traditional publishers have also self-published novellas or “extra” novels outside of their publisher. These include Dan Wells (The Night of Greater Darkness), Rachel Ann Nunes (Tell Me No Lies), and Annette Lyon (The Golden Cup of Kardak).

Veda Tebbs Hale’s “Swell Suffering: A Biography of Maurine Whipple” was published in 2011. Whipple (1903-1992) wrote what is often considered the first great Mormon novel, The Giant Joshua (1941), which tells the life story of a plural wife trying to survive physically and emotionally in the 19th-century Mormon settlement of St. George. Whipple had many troubles throughout her life, romantically, financially, and creatively. She only finished the one novel, and that was largely because her editor promised $50 for each completed chapter. She travelled down many dead ends, including an extended attempt to write about a method of overcoming alcoholism that came to be discredited.  The biography includes an outlines and pieces of the planned sequel to The Giant Joshua. Hale was closely involved in Whipple’s life during her last years, giving an insider’s insight on this fascinating author’s life.

Finally, 2011 saw the passing of Valerie Holladay, who played a vital role in Mormon literature over the last 20 years as an author of personal essays, a magazine editor at Inscape, Wasatch Review International, Family Voice Magazine, Ancestry Magazine, and Irreantum, a Covenant Communications book editor, and a University teacher. Valerie, who was 52, resided in Nephi, Utah.

Mormon Market 2010

The struggles of independent Mormon publishers, July 2009

Mormon Market 2009

Mormon Market 2008

Literary Works (novels, short story collections, etc.) published by LDS Publishers

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Cedar Fort 12 15 19 23 27 25
Covenant 15 19 25 33 39 39
Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain 12  9  8   6/2 13  12/1 13  10/3 13  10/3
Signature  1  2  2  4  1  1
Spring Creek  8  6
Granite  3  5  7  4 14  8
Other  7  2  5  5 21 15
Total 50 52 66 82 122 107


2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Cedar Fort 21 24 17 23 34 44
Covenant 25 33 35 29 30 34
Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain 10  8/2 18 13/5 24 12/12 18   5/13 19 10/9 16 6/10
Walnut Springs  0  4 5 12 12
WiDo  1  0 2 2 7
Parables  3  0  1 1 1 4
Zarahemla  2  4  2 3 3 2
Signature  1  1  0 0 2 1
Greenjacket 2 1
Peculiar Pages/ B10 Mediaworx 1/1 1 2/1
Strange Violins 1
Spring Creek  3  4  1 1 1 1
Granite  8  6  5 6 8 0
Valor 1 5 0
Other  6  5  2 4 1 0
Total 77 95 90 95 121 126
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30 Responses to 2011 Mormon Literature Year in Review, Pt. 2, Mormon-market fiction

  1. Th. says:


    Future generations studying this stuff will cite Andrew Hall more than any other.

  2. Jeffrey Needle says:

    Andrew Hall has once again performed an invaluable service for all of us. He deserves the highest praise for the enormous amount of work he puts into these annual summaries. Thanks, Andrew!

  3. Moriah Jovan says:

    Andrew, dude. I don’t know how you do it. This is AMAZING.

  4. WOW! This is fantastic, Andrew. Thank you for all your labor of love!

  5. Laurie Lewis says:

    Thank you, Andrew. This was an amazingly clear view of the market, and an asset to readers, authors, and publishers. I love the title. Things do look bright.

  6. Thanks for the excellent summary, Andrew!

  7. Nicely written article. I am published through Walnut Springs and have loved the experience! My editor is a delight to work with–her invaluable editing has helped me to grow as a writer.
    It’s very encouraging to see that the number of books overall has risen! That definitely gives me hope and encouragement for the future of publishing.

  8. Cindy says:

    I am confused, where is Sounds of Zion, either as a publisher, or a distributer. There is not mention of them here. They do some publishing and a great deal of distributing. In the LDS market they are a very well known, and well established distributer. Brigham is not the only distributer left in the market.

    • Wm says:

      Andrew only covers novels. Does Sounds of Zion publish fiction?

      • Andrew Hall says:

        I forgot about Sounds of Zion, I’ll check on that, thanks. I don’t think they publish any fiction, but they are a distributor that is in competition with Brigham Publishing.

        • Wm says:

          Ah, my reading comprehension skills could use work — I glossed over the whole distributor thing. I thought they were just a music publisher and online storefront.

  9. Fabulous article – very informative! As a new author, I must say that my experience with publishing through Walnut Springs has been more than satisfactory. Linda Mulleneax is not only highly professional, but one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met ~ she made the whole process simply delightful. I look forward to working closely with her in this next month for the spring release of the prequel to No Angel.
    ~Theresa Sneed, author of No Angel and the soon to be released, From Heaven to Earth

  10. Katya says:

    I have a couple of questions that someone around here might know the answers to:

    1. Is the Parables mentioned above the same as the Parables that published the Latter Day Science Fiction series in the 1980s? (I’m assuming not, given the gap in publishing activity, but I’d like to be sure.)

    2. Is Bonneville Books an imprint of Cedar Fort? I feel like I’ve seen the two names together, but I don’t know the exact relationship between the two.

    • Andrew Hall says:

      The way I understand it is that Bonneville is their imprint for Mormon-market/LDS content books, and Sweetwater is their imprint for books without LDS content, intented for the national market.
      And yes, Elizabeth who runs Parables did the LDSF series, you can buy those books on the Parables web site.

  11. Katya, I believe the answer to both of your questions is yes. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Cedar Fort uses the Bonneville imprint for books with author investment involved (in other words, author pays part of the production costs). I also want to say that they’re no longing doing Bonneville?

  12. Andrew, we need you to analyze the Whitney Award trends. It looks like the AML side of the spectrum was shut out with this year’s finalists just announced today, with no positions for two very well reviewed Mo-lit books, “The Scholar of Moab” and “Death of a Disco Dancer.”

    My impression is that the Whitneys are getting more and more conservative and orthodox, in general, but I’m not sure I could defend that with hard data, mainly because that would require some good analysis…

    • Moriah Jovan says:

      Chris, it looks like they came out late in the year. Maybe they didn’t have enough time? I don’t know. It’s a thought.

      Otherwise, I agree with your hypothesis.

      • Wm says:

        I do think that this might be a factor. I think that Chris should release his titles (depending on how many he has) in March, May, August and October. Of course, I realize that timing is more based on when people can get stuff done.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Do the Whitneys release a list of books that received the minimum number of 5 nominating votes? I’m just asking, because it’s possible that the problem has been that people who go for the more literary stuff haven’t been nominating for the Whitneys, which means that they don’t get onto the list of books the judges read to pick finalists (though I believe the judges can add up to one book that didn’t receive nominating votes).

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        Ooh, you know, I think that would be an awesome thing for them to do, to release that list.

        • Melanie Jacobson says:

          I’d bet that’s exactly the problem–that several deserving books didn’t get the nominations because it’s not something readers outside of genre fiction have on their radar.

    • Andrew Hall says:

      I have a second for a quick check.
      Here is the link to the Whitney Finalists, it is exciting to see them.
      The General catagory, like last year’s miss of The Lonely Polygamist, is the problem one. Too bad Disco Dancer and/or Moab did not make it. But it is not a bad list. No head slappers like Finding Mercie last year. All five have gotten at least some positive reviews. Gifted could have been in the Speculative Fiction, since it has a fantasy element (or is it a super-spiritual gift, and therefore not speculative?). The Jason Wright book got very mixed reviews, that is the one I would rather not see on the list. I am surprised Bethany Wiggins’ Shifting made it into YA-Speculative over some others, but it is good to see some new faces like her. I was not aware of Tess Hilmo and her book With a Name Like Love, I will have to add that to the national book review. Again, generally a strong group.

      • Moss says:

        The Wedding Letters- pretty much a head slapper. Jason Wright has written much better books. I cannot surmise how this one made the cut.

  13. Melanie Jacobson says:

    I cannot even imagine how much work must have gone into making this review happen. This is excellent information. Thank you!

  14. Kenneth Pike says:

    Thanks for part two!

    In the comments on last year’s edition we briefly discussed the “grabbiness” of LDS publishers here mentioned as a motivation for self-publishing. Those following the national market have seen that trend expand, most notably with Apple’s recent draconian e-publishing terms making headlines throughout the industry. However I thought it might be worth mentioning in counterpoint that I was involved a few months ago in some negotiations with Deseret that went very smoothly and resulted in terms much closer to “national publisher” norms than I have heard of them offering in the past. I share Robison’s well-articulated concerns about the rush to self-publication, but also I can’t help but feel that it has introduced some unexpected competition into the LDS market–to which at least some publishers appear to be responding quite healthily. After the horror stories I heard from colleagues at BYU ten years ago, I would never have expected working with Deseret to turn out to be such a uniformly positive experience–but so far, it really has.

  15. I can’t speak for “The Scholar of Moab,” but the Whitney committee contacted Zarahemla because “Death of a Disco Dancer” received enough nominations, and we provided both hard and PDF review copies for the judges, as requested. Of course, one book missing out doesn’t mean anything, but on the other hand I would like more of an inside peek into how the current Whitney committee is running things, as well as an Andrew Hallsian analysis of the Whitney trend. My impression this year is that it’s all mainstream LDS fiction, leavened with some nationally published stuff by Mormons. Is there anything by an alternative small/micro Mormon press?

    • Katya says:

      A Night of Blacker Darkness might technically have been self-published. (It was self-published as an ebook and then it got picked up by a national publisher, but it doesn’t look like their edition is out, yet.)

    • Wm says:

      In past years, there have been Zarahemla titles and self-published/indie press titles that were finalists (or even winners). This year may just be an up year in the market for certain categories. I’m not willing to make any claims until we see what happens next year.

    • What is it that you’d like to know, Christopher? I’m on the Whitney Committee and am happy to answer questions.

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