Guest post by Alan Mitchell
I’m an independent LDS publisher, which mostly means I don’t make any money. Every man needs a avocation. I’m not sure that is true. I’m not sure what an “avocation” is—is it a mission in life? I’m pretty sure every man needs a woman. Perhaps the quote was, “A man has to know his limitations.” No, that was Eastwood, who also asked the eternal question: “Do you feel lucky? Well, do you? Punk!”
I shouldn’t even be writing this blog this morning but last night I ran into Chris Bigelow at the Spanish Fork High School on my way to a beekeeping class, and he hit me up to write this blog report. Synchronicity. I’ll just have to neglect my deadline for my Melchizedek book. No it’s not about the higher priesthood and its meaning in our lives. It’s about stars, seals, symbols and a scroll. It’s a big deal—I mean the deadline. My publisher is advertising the book in early April, and by “my publisher,” I mean me.
As you probably know, Chris has a little press called Zarahemla, after the red city. My company is called Greenjacket Books (GJB) after the ranch, which was named after the Goshute Indian chief. Two weeks ago, I crashed a wedding in the Salt Lake Temple (seriously, it’s possible, you just show up), and there in the waiting room was my wife’s father’s cousin, who spent summers on the ranch as a teen, and who was attending a different, unrelated wedding. Synchronicity, baby. Ann told me that she had promptings about Chief Greenjacket, who had saved the Bennion family back in the pioneer days, and she and her son checked into it and had his temple work done. I’m not sure if Greenjacket was a translation of his name, or it just sounded like his name to the locals. In any case, Chris kept asking about Greenleaf, which is almost the same name except it’s not.
I asked him what is up with fiction—if Todd Peterson can’t sell to the LDS market, then who can? I loved his book Rift that Zarahelma published, except the ending that was too nihilistic for me. The 20-something heroine looked pregnant but wasn’t and she had been rooming with the Jens, the widowed grandpa in his farm house where they weren’t lovers. But things were coming to a head and I wanted someone to kill somebody or at least accidentally fall of a cliff: either her father the bishop, Jens, the baby she wasn’t carrying, the gang banger in prison—anybody! But because nobody died, I deemed the novel nihilistic. What does that say about me?
From time to time I work with authors. Steve Schwarzman and I worked on an LDS sports novella, Regulating BB. I think we sold five of them, three on the kindle. Lexi Bjornholt’s My Boyfriend Is a Mormon Vampire sold much more. Lexi did a great job of Twilight parody with an LDS twist, and we might have sold more if we had it reviewed, but what would a reviewer say? It is hard to parody Steph Myers because she constantly does it herself. And it’s not just the whole clumsy-girl-who-thinks-she-is-the-center-of-the-universe thing, and not quite the criminal stalking, murder, or lack of parental supervision. It is the whole boy-girl cultural thing. Like after being hunted by the undead, she still wants one of them to take her to the prom. And about every hundred pages Belle muses about their relationship and his anatomy being hard, very hard, as hard as his marble chest. But Lexi did a great job of lampooning it by including missionaries, boy scouts, sasquatch, vampire-slayers, and presidential candidates among the usual mythological creatures.
GJB takes submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org, but the editor is brutal and rejects most of them, saying, Go ahead, make my day, while squinting like Clint. We have no idea where the LDS fiction market is headed, and the business manager is trying to steer us toward last days and doctrinal books. It would seem that when Mitt Romney is elected president, that GJB is poised to take off—just download our books with new covers and titles and sell them online to people who hate Mormons. (Zarahelma could do this with Anti-Mormonism for Dummies.) If Obama is re-elected, our book The Coming Calamity ought to sell even more.
I told Chris that GJB exhibited at the LDS Booksellers Convention for the second year, and saw a lot of new start-ups. I asked a member of the board who told me the turnover is about a third each year. GJ Books had just cleared a major hurdle by pony-ing up $500 to attend a second year! Not that anyone came to my booth excited to know what was new, but I guess just being there told them GJB is still in the game. I saw an old acquaintance Josie who writes dessert (cake, pies, souffles) mystery books for Deseret Books, and it seemed the perfect fit because DB has added a cinnamon roll/dessert bar in their stores now. I mentioned this to Lexi and placed the climatic scene of My Boyfriend Is a Mormon Vampire in a “Dessert Bookstore” in Lake Oswego where it was raining raspberry cheesecake. Synchronicity.
Not that I’m sore at DB serving up sugar and having resources and not carrying our books; GJB’s latter-day-calamity-and-Austrian-economics book has taught me that their gain is not my loss. That and the whole 10th commandment thingee which Eastwood translated, “A man has to know his limitations.” And I’m not certain Josie is a better writer or even makes more money than Lexi, which is why I got into the whole self-publishing print-on-demand thing anyway. My first novel Angel of the Danube was published by an established LDS publisher and earned me 73 cents per book times 1200 books—pretty good by LDS publishing standards but less than selling pencils on the corner. If Josie sells 100 times as many, she might be making minimum wage. I figure if I’m going to work for nothing anyway, I might as well do it where I have control. Of course GJB is running a little low right now, and could use some work to pay for the convention registration. Last year I edited a book to raise the money and I know that somewhere out there, there is a great sister missionary novel set in Brazil. So please buy the Melchizedek book or Calamity or send me some work, but before you email your latest breakout novel, ask the question: Do you feel lucky? Well, punk, do you?