2012 Mormon Literature Year in Review, Part 2, Mormon market and independent publishing

See also Part 1, The National Market.

I used to call this section “Mormon Market”, but it is getting harder to differentiate between Mormon market books and books by Mormon authors published through independent and small publishers, as well as self-published books. So I am lumping them together.

The story of the Mormon market and independent publishing (MMIP) in 2012 was more authors and more books. Authors and authors, books and books, everywhere. The leading Mormon and Utah independent publishers all published more fiction, resulting in a record number of titles. They are also experimenting with ebook-only works. LDStorymakers, the LDS author’s guild, continues to grow in numbers, and added a regional Midwest conference to its already existing annual conference in Utah. Most of all, the number of authors turning to self-publishing has skyrocketed. The main reason is the proliferation of e-readers. The e-reader sale market has reached a tipping point, and Mormon fiction readers are buying a significant portion of their books electronically. While LDStorymakers is getting larger, the LDS Booksellers Association convention has been getting smaller. Therefore the old paradigm, which held that the only way to sell was through a leading Mormon-market publisher getting a book into a bookstore, has lost its sway.

Another reason that many authors are turning to self-publishing is that Deseret Book and Covenant are the only Mormon publishers able to do significant marketing for their newer authors. Several authors who had published with smaller houses, and even some authors from the big two, have said that the services the publishers provided are no longer worth the share of profits that they took in return. And yet not all authors agree, as Cedar Fort, Walnut Springs, and WiDo are publishing more books than ever, and Jolly Fish Press has joined the market as well.

The rise in ebooks has also resulted in a trend towards more short stories and novellas. When bookstores dominated the market, novels were the alpha and omega of publishing. Short stories were limited to literary and speculative fiction journals. Now authors are experimenting with different forms of short fiction. Authors of established series frequently produce novellas to go between novels. Brodi Ashton, Heidi Ashworth, Elana Johnson, Brenda Novak, and Dan Wells did so in 2012. Authors are also turning to joint publication of novellas as a way of reaching each other’s readers. Sarah M. Eden, Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, Joyce DiPastena, Donna Hatch, and Heather B. Moore produced A Timeless Romance Anthology, and Jolene Perry, Kaylee Baldwin, Rachel Anderson contributed to All I Want: Three holiday romances.  Several science fiction authors combined for the Lovecroftian Space Eldrich. Others are taking the opportunity to publish the kinds of books that would not be viable in the pre-ebook era.  Pulpy speculative stories are a good example. Who would have published Mette Ivie Harrison’s LDS urban fantasy/alternative history Vampires in the Temple before? Or D. J. Butler’s steampunk City of the Saints series? Publishers are also producing their own ebook only books, increasing the number of authors they can publish at lower cost.

Look at the list LDS Publisher has made of Mormon-authored 2012 fiction. I would say half of the titles are self-published. They include everything from backlist titles to new full-length works, novellas, and short stories.  Now many of these books are lacking in terms of content, covers, typesetting, and/or formatting. But an increasing number are of a quality matching the industry standard. Stephanie Fowers put together a series of posts in which she interviewed a large group of LDS authors talking about their decisions to go independent, and give advice about how to do it.

With all of this quantity, is quality going up too? Are publishers hiring more staff to handle the editing and marketing needs of all of these books? The answers vary. Several authors and critics have noted a rise in typos and sloppy writing that editors should have corrected. Authors have come to understand that the lion’s share of both editing and marketing now lies with them.

Now, things are not all bad for the publishers. Ebooks make distribution easier, lowers overhead, and holds out the promise of greater profits down the road. They can experiment with titles and product size that they could not before. Perhaps most of all, it gives publishers a chance to experiment with price points. Previously, a publisher basically had one chance to price a book during its initial run, and had to hope it made the right decision. With ebooks, publishers can adjust the price to go along with movements in the market, and can try out short-term sales as a way to gin up interest in a book. Generally Deseret Book and Covenant keep their ebook prices on the high side, while Cedar Fort and the smaller publishers offer them at much lower prices. Based on what authors have told me, I estimate Deseret Book and Covenant sell 80% to 90% of their books through traditional distribution. Cedar Fort appears to have a slightly higher ebook/traditional ratio, while all of the other smaller publishers sold a majority of their books electronically.

Several authors have reported that in some sectors of the market there is a return to the practice of including strict Right of First Refusal clauses in contracts. For a time the publishers allowed an LDS-only addendum, which allowed authors to make the jump to national publishers when they wrote non-LDS novels. Recently, in the face of the changing market, one leading LDS publisher has adjusted by tightening its grip on the old way of doing business. An author reports that the publisher’s standard contract changed so that “it now claims everything an author will write, regardless of genre, content, themes, etc., for a period of two decades, a length of time and broadness of scope that is absolutely unheard of and unacceptable in the industry at large.” While authors with leverage and the help of an agent might be able to negotiate some of these clauses out of their contracts, less experienced authors are more susceptible.  See this post at LDS Publisher for an earlier discussion of similar issues.

In terms of trends in genre, Women’s fiction (books about adult females not focusing on romance) has grown in popularity.  The number of speculative stories, some with LDS themes, is on the rise. Conversion stories enjoyed a resurgence. Middle grade books, including Wimpy Kid-type hand-drawn diary books, have become common. Authors from the Mormon market continue to find opportunities to transition to writing young adult and middle grade novels for New York publishers.

The field has been enriched by a swelling of quality scholarship about current and historical Mormon literature, centered on the literature and culture blog A Motley Vision. Most impressive to me has been the work of Scott Hales, a doctoral student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati, who blogs both at AMV and his own The Low-Tech World. Scott has been writing fascinating essays about both his research topic, 19th century Mormon authors, particularly Nephi Anderson, as well as contemporary Mormon fiction.

Publishers

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Cedar Fort 25 21 24 17 23 34 44 49
Covenant 39 25 33 35 29 30 34 38
Deseret/Shadow Mountain 13  10/3 10  8/2 18 13/5 24 12/12 18   5/13 19 10/9 166/10 226/16
Walnut Springs  4 5 12 12 14
WiDo  1  0 2 2 7 (9) 5 (14)
Zarahemla  2  4  2 3 3 2 4
Jolly Fish 3
Rhemalda 2 (?) 3 (12)
Strange Violin 1 2
Leicester Bay 2
Parables  3  0  1 1 1 4 1
WindRiver 0  1  2  1 0 0 0 1
Golden Wings  1  1  1 0 1 0 1
Signature  1  1  1  0 0 2 1 0
Other 29  13  12  7 14 17 8 0
Total 107  77  96 92 95 121 127 145
(Figures reprepsent number of literary titles written by Mormon authors. Numbers in parantheses represents a total number of literary titles published, including those by non-Mormons.)

Deseret Book Publishing continues to be the strongest company in the market in terms of cachet, marketing power, and sales.  Authors have reported that its contracts are the most author-friendly in terms of ebook royalties; around 40%, compared to 25% at other LDS publishers. It published 22 works of fiction in 2012, the most it has done since 2008. Over 2/3 of those were published under its national-market oriented Shadow Mountain imprint, although the trend of having non-Mormon-specific books be the majority is not expected to continue. Of the 16 fiction books published under Shadow Mountain, 8 were YA speculative. The Deseret Book imprint did not publish any speculative fiction, but 3 of its 6 titles were for juveniles. DBP had not done many romances in the past, but they had a national success with the Regency romance Edenbrooke, and are said to be looking for more “Proper Romances” (clean but not religious). Deseret Book experimented with ebook only titles, Susan Auten’s YA novel Becoming Bayley, and a short story by Jack Weyland.  In 2012 DBP created a new imprint, Ensign Peak, for national market titles that primarily include LDS/religious content. Most authors have been happy with the courtesy and professionalism Deseret Book offered them. One author said, “Shadow Mountain is growing like crazy, returning to very large marketing budgets, signing big name authors, and appears to have very aggressive growth plans.”  Another author, however, has commented that they did little to push that author’s book nationally.

Covenant Communications has existed since 1984, and was acquired by and became one of the business units of the Deseret Book Company in 2006. It retains a separate staff and an independent identity from Deseret Book Publishing. It published 38 fiction titles in 2012, continuing an upward trend over the last few years. As has been the mode at Covenant, over half of those titles were either romance or suspense, most with LDS specific content. Covenant has expanded its thematic reach, however, with a handful of Regency romance and speculative fiction titles without LDS content, and released a clean horror novel early in 2013. Only 4 or 5 of its books are specifically for juveniles.

Like Deseret Book before it, Covenant is expanding into clothing lines, novelty foods, and other such markets to meet the challenges of the tight economy. Kirk Shaw, an editor at Covenant Communications for nearly 7 years, and a frequent presenter at writing conferences, announced he was leaving his position to go to law school.  Many authors who enjoyed a close relationship with Shaw expressed to me that they were sad to see him go, as they saw him as an engine of thematic innovation. Authors were mixed on Covenant’s business practices in 2012; many were happy being with a house that could place books in LDS bookstores, and its acceptance of a wider range of books. Some, however, noted declines in marketing strength, editing, and proofreading, and a tightening of contract provisions.

Managing Editor Kathryn Jenkins Gordon commented, “We continue to spend on marketing at a rate slightly higher than last year. . . Covenant is dealing with electronic/digital movement by not only publishing most of our books in ebook format, but by working at warp speed to get all our old titles converted to ebooks as well. With the broad-scale acceptance of ebooks, we’re also doing some books only as ebooks—enabling us to “take a chance” on some manuscripts we’re not certain would sell enough to cover printing and distribution costs.”

Cedar Fort published around 49 fiction titles by Mormon authors in 2012. That is a record number, for the third year in a row.  21 were through the Sweetwater imprint, which focuses on works that are not Mormon specific and could potentially sell in the national market. It publishes a wide variety of genres, and has been willing to publish subject matter that goes beyond the Mormon fiction norms, as long as the content is clean. 18 out of the 49 titles are for juvenile readers. There is quite a bit of revolving door with the authors. While the Covenant and Deseret Book collection of authors is relatively stable, every year sees a big new group of authors publishing their debut works with Cedar Fort. However quite a few romance authors who had books published by Cedar Fort in recent years decided to self-publish this year.  I got mixed reports back about Cedar Fort. Some were displeased with the level of editing and marketing, while others say that Cedar Fort has increased its staff and improved its services.

Walnut Springs Press published 14 fiction titles in 2012, including three through its Inkberry Press imprint for national-market young adult.  Like Cedar Fort, it publishes a wide variety of genre fiction.  Authors I have talked to have raved about the house’s editing, covers, and speed in getting books to the market, despite the fact that it essentially a two-person operation. Some authors also said, however, that marketing is where “they are in over their heads,” not because of lack of dedication, but simply a lack of staff to deal with the number of books they publish.

Jolly Fish Press, WiDo Publishing, and Rhemalda Publishing are all small publishers owned by Mormons which are better labelled “independent” rather than “Mormon market.” All three report that 2012 was an excellent year for their business. Jolly Fish Press was created in Provo in October 2011 by Christopher Loke and Kirk Cunningham. They published three novels in 2012, and have 14 books scheduled for 2013. Jolly Fish has been very impressive with the professionalism of their website, public relations, and contracts, despite the young age of the principals. While the founders and all three 2012 authors are Mormon, the press does not at all position itself as a Mormon publisher, but rather as directed towards the national market. The website says Jolly Fish is not interested in religious fiction, and Loke has said on this blog that “in order for an LDS writer to successfully write for a more popular audience, he will need to write a narrative that is devoid of his LDS persona.” I am very interested to see how this ambitious Provo-based publisher develops.

WiDo Publishing, which was founded in 2007 in Salt Lake City by the family of Karen and Bruce Gowen, published 13 titles in 2012, up from 9 in 2011. Of those 13, only 5 books were written by Mormon authors, the first time the majority of their authors were non-Mormon.  While not actively pursuing Mormon-themed novels, WiDo has published several such books. Managing Editor Karen Gown talks about the problem of including Mormon characters in nationally published books in this post.

Rhemalda Publishing was founded by Rhett and Emmaline Hoffmeister, a Mormon couple living in Wenatchee, Washington. They published around 10 novels in 2012, three of which were by Mormon authors. They report that they are currently targeting women’s, young adult and middle grade fiction, but that that they are open to novels that are specifically Mormon. They report, “We discontinued offset printing and switched to digital print on demand. The initial coast of loading all of the books to the printer and distributor was a good move for us because we have been able to cut our costs significantly when it comes to warehousing and insuring pallets of books.” Authors from both WiDo and Rhemalda report that about 70% of their sales are from ebooks.

Zarahemla Books, run by Christopher Bigelow, has been at the center of Mormon literary fiction for the last six years. It has been a mark of quality for those interested a mixture of literary excellence and Mormon themes, without the overreaching concern to avoid offense that hampers mainstream Mormon publishers. This year Zarahemla published four books, a missionary thriller, a supernatural thriller, a play script, and a Mormon historical novel.

Strange Violin Editions is a micro-publisher run by Therese Doucet which aims to fill the same kind of niche as Zarahemla Books. It published three books in 2012, two literary novels and a non-fiction book. Parables Publishing published only one novel in 2012, and is relatively inactive because of the poor health of the owners. WindRiver and
Golden Wings published one fiction book each. Alan Mitchell’s Greenjacket Books published only one non-fiction book in 2012. Signature Books did not publish any literary works in 2012, but has four scheduled for 2013.

Leicester Bay Books is a new publishing venture by the playwright and author C. Michael Perry, based in South Jordan, Utah. Perry ran the theatrical publishing company Encore Performance Publishing from the 1980s until he sold sold it in 2008. This year he acquired the catalogues of two small Utah publishers, Handcart Books (owned by Dan Thomas) and Slickrock Books (owned by Robert Kirby). Among the seventeen books in the catalogues were humor books by the Salt Lake Tribune writer Robert Kirby and cartoonist Pat Bagley.  This year Leicester Bay published two new books, C. Michael Perry’s fantasy/adventure Daniel Light and the Children of the Orb, and Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood’s Book of Mormon graphic novel iPlates. The website says Leicester Bay Books is, “a new type of publisher of Adventure Fiction, Fantasy Fiction and Science Fiction, and other titles. We publish for the Family . . . LBB is also a publisher of inspirational, motivational and just plain fun or instructive books for Latter-day Saints.”

Short stories

2012 saw a reinvigoration of the Mormon short story, largely at the instigation of James Goldberg, who created two short story contests, the “Mormon Lit Blitz” in February (with Scott Hales), and “Four Centuries of Mormon Stories” in October. Merrijane Rice’s “Stillborn” was the grand prize winner of the “Mormon Lit Blitz”, and Steven Peck showed his range by sweeping 1st and 2nd prizes in the “Four Centuries” contest with the science fiction “Avek, Who is Distributed” and the  contemporary tale “When the Bishop Started Killing Dogs”. The organizers encouraged discussion, and spread the stories out on a variety of blogs, which made each story a fun little event. The website Everyday Mormon Writer is the home base for this continuing project.

Recommended novels

I surveyed Mormon authors and critics, and asked them to recommend their favorite books of the year. Here is a list of books, by genre, that received multiple nominations. It is not a comprehensive list, just a cross-section of recommendations I received.

Speculative fiction for the national market has been a big part of Mormon literature for several years now. Recently more speculative fiction has appeared in the MMIP as well. Steven L. Peck’s work is the place to start.  A Short Stay in Hell (Strange Violin Editions) is a novella about a Mormon geologist who dies and finds himself in a Zoroastrian hell rather than Mormon paradise. Scott Hales says it is “a deliberate homage to Borges (with a bit of Kafka and Book of Mormon thrown in) . . .  For Johansson, the realization that the afterlife is not what he always imagined throws him into an existential crisis that is only exacerbated by the nature of the hell he finds himself in: a seemingly endless library wherein every book that has ever been written or could have been written can be found.”  Peck, a biologist at BYU, has become the darling of the Mormon literary world over the last two years.  I’ll let Scott Hales summarize. “In 2011, he published the AML award-winning The Scholar of Moab and was anthologized in both Monsters & Mormons and Fire in the Pasture. In 2012 he followed these successes up with A Short Stay in Hell, The Rifts of Rime (a YA fantasy novel about warrior squirrels), a practical sweep of the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest, and a series of off-beat blog posts chronicling the career of fictional Mormon writer Gilda Trillim. While I haven’t read all of Peck’s work, what I have read of it screams something fresh. I hate hyperbole, but Steven L. Peck might be the Moses of Mormon Letters in the Twenty-First Century. Aspiring Mormon fictionists need—I repeat: need—to pay attention to his exodus from Faithful Realism.” (Scott defines “Faithful Realism” as a form of literary fiction developed in the 1970s and 1980s, which “welded the unflinching realism and literary craft of the Mormon Modernists of the 1930s,
40s, and 50s with the faith-affirming perspectives of the Home Literature writers”).

The Rifts of Rime (Cedar Fort), mentioned above, is indeed a YA fantasy novel about warrior squirrels. Yes, squirrels. Scott Parkin commented, “Peck didn’t just replace humans with squirrels and trivially squirrelish behavior in a general medieval morality tale; he created practices, folklore, poetry, common wisdom, and customs specific to each Quickened species that are plausible extensions of known animal behavior . . . The society and mythos he has created is consistent.”

Peck was not alone in producing quality literary speculative fiction. Luisa M. Perkins’ Dispirited (Zarahemla Press), a YA supernatural thriller, received just as many rave reviews. Scott Parkin wrote, “This is a fun, well-told, nicely-paced story that succeeds on its own terms. I recommend it as a solid supernatural thriller that builds good tension with a minimum of gore, while presenting some story elements of particular interest to Mormon audiences.” Other notable speculative fiction included Amber Argyle’s YA paranormal Witch Born (self), D. J. Butler’s fantasy adventure Rock Band Fights Evil(self), Margot Hovley’s YA last days novel The End Begins: Sudden Darkness (Covenant), Melissa Lemon’s YA fairy tale fantasy Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem (Cedar Fort), Kelly Nelson’s YA pioneer time travel The Keeper’s Calling (Walnut Springs), and the latest two volumes in Rachel Ann Nunes’ paranormal romance/suspense Autumn Rain series (Shadow Mountain).

The Whitney Award’s “General” category has been a grab bag that can include women’s fiction, inspirational fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and, I suppose, humorous fiction.  The big story in women’s fiction in 2012 was The Newport Ladies Book Club, a quartet of books written by popular LDS authors Josi Kilpack, Annette Lyon, Heather Moore, and Julie Wright. Each wrote about some of the same events from the point of view of a different woman in the titular club. All four books received strong reviews. As three of the authors were with Covenant, and one with Shadow Mountain, the two publishers made a special deal to co-publish the works, which may open the way for further cooperation (which is funny to say, since they are owned by the same company). Also getting strong notices is Tanya Parker Mills’ A Night on Moon Hill (Walnut Springs), about a successful professor whose life is turned upside down by a dead body and a ten-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who is thrust into her life.

Other significant “general” works include Jennifer Griffith’s sports drama Big in Japan (Jolly Fish Press), Jennifer Ann Holt’s teen pregnancy/adoption story Delivering Hope (Cedar Fort), and Jason F. Wright’s Christmas inspirational novel The 13th Day of Christmas (Shadow Mountain).

In historical romance, Sarah Eden had two Regency romances which were well regarded, Friends and Foes, a revision of a 2008 self-published novel, and the new An Unlikely Match (both at Covenant), a ghost-story romance. Carla Kelly is a nationally published romance author who has found a home at Cedar Fort, republishing her earlier novels and producing new novels with Mormon settings.  Enduring Light (Cedar Fort) features turn-of-the-century Wyoming Mormons, and the republished Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is one of five books on the Publisher’s Weekly list of Best Romances of 2012.

Melanie Jacobson made a splash last year with her first two comic romances. She has two new ones in 2012, out of which Smart Move (Covenant) has gotten the strongest reviews. Two debut authors have popped up this year with comic romances with a strong literary bent. Theric Jepsen’s Byuck (Strange Violin) is a “deeply weird romance” with complex characters set at BYU, and Lisa Rumsey Harris’ The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume (Cedar Fort) tells the story of an elementary teacher with the family curse/gift of rubbing adults the wrong way when she first meets them.

Some contemporary romances which have received notice are Michelle Holmes’ My Lucky Stars (Covenant), Krista Lynne Jensen’s Of Grace and Chocolate (Covenant), and Heather Justesen’s Family By Design (Cedar Fort).

In mystery/suspense, S. P. Bailey’s Millstone City (Zarahemla), a crime thriller centering on a pair of missionaries on the run from gangsters in Brazil, was a favorite. William Morris wrote, “In Millstone City, the LDS mission novel and the thriller collide to create something new: an intense, gritty story that is nevertheless shot through with resilience, honesty, optimism, and, yes, that certain willful naïveté that missionaries possess. Call it Mormon neo-noir. Or full-throttle faithful realism.” Gregg Luke’s medical suspense Deadly Undertakings (Covenant) also was frequently mentioned to me as a favorite book. Others receiving attention include Stephanie Black’s murder mystery Shadowed (Covenant), Josi Kilpack’s cozy/culinary mysteries Banana Split and Tres Leches Cupcakes (Shadow Mountain), Rachelle Christensen’s crime drama Caller ID (Cedar Fort), Julie Coulter Bellon’s romantic thriller All Fall Down (self), Traci Abramson’s romantic thrillers Royal Secrets and Code Word (Covenant), and Tristi Pinkston’s cozy mystery Targets in Ties (Walnut Springs).

In historical fiction, the work mentioned to me the most was James Goldberg’s retelling of the gospels in The Five Books of Jesus (self). Scott Hales wrote, “Its intimate simplicity and thoughtful recreation of the Gospel narratives give presence to Jesus in a way that lingers with you long after you read its final words. More importantly, like any good retelling of the Gospels, it makes you long to return to those four original books of Jesus and read them again with eyes and ears open to new possibilities.”

H. B. Moore’s Book of Ether drama Daughters of Jared (Covenant) also received significant positive attention. So did Sarah Dunster’s pioneer story Lightning Tree (Cedar Fort), Sian Ann Bessey’s Within the Dark Hills (Covenant), a romance and conversion story set in 19th century Wales, Sonja Herbert’s Carnival Girl (Cedar Fort), based on the author’s own experiences in post-war Germany, and A. L. Sowards’ World War II commando novel Espionage (Covenant). Also Zarahemla republished Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray’s One More River to Cross, the first in their landmark Standing on the Promises series about African-American Latter-day Saints.

Dean Hughes’ The Winds and the Waves (Deseret Book) mixed a 19th century conversion in England with the story of a modern-day descendent in the United States. This may have been the bestselling novel in the Mormon market in 2012. Reviewers largely praised the 19th century sections as vintage Hughes, but did not cotton to the modern story.

For young adults, Gerald Lund’s suspense tale The Guardian (Deseret Book) is his first work of fiction in several years. Susan Auten’s high school drama Becoming Bayley (Deseret Book), Michelle Davidson Argyle’s kidnapping thriller The Breakaway (Rhemalda), Jenni James’ Austen-inspired romances Northanger Alibi and Persuaded (Walnut Springs), and Steve Westover’s adventure Crater Lake (Cedar Fort) were all mentioned as favorites. For middle grade readers, there was Braden Bell’s comic superpower fantasy The Kindling (Cedar Fort), Matt Peterson’s comic Boy Scout adventure The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero (Cedar Fort), and Kenneth Pike & Isaac Stewart’s “Wimpy Kid”-type comic illustrated Jacob’s Journal of Doom (Deseret Book).

Milestones

Chris Stewart was elected to the US House of Representatives, Utah 2nd District, as a Republican, and takes office in January 2013. Stewart is a former Air Force pilot and businessman, as well as an author of both fiction and non-fiction. He authored five nationally published military/techno-thrillers, followed by the six-book last day thriller The Great and Terrible series for Shadow Mountain in 2003-2008. In 2012 the series was revamped, with the Mormon content removed, into Wrath and Righteousness, a 10-part ebook series published by Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink.

Richard Cracroft, one of the deans of Mormon literature criticism, passed away on September 20, at the age of 76. Cracroft taught in the BYU English Department faculty from 1963 until his retirement at 2001. He was among the earliest academic critics responding to the development of Mormon literature from the 1970s. One recent tribute read, “With the 1973 publication of A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints, the first anthology of Mormon literature, followed by the 1974 publication of 22 Young Mormon Writers, Richard helped lay the foundation for the development of contemporary Mormon letters. He served in various editorial capacities for numerous journals—including Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, BYU Studies, This People, and Literature and Belief—and wrote innumerable reviews of Mormon literature in a variety of venues, most recently BYU Magazine in his regular “Alumni Book Nook” column. As a professor of English at Brigham Young University, Richard nourished Mormon letters as a significant branch of Western Studies and mentored many students who subsequently made their own significant contributions to the field.”  He served as AML President in 1990, and received an AML Honorary Lifetime Membership in 2000 and the Smith-Pettit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters in 2010.

Preston McConkie passed away in December. He was a journalist, webmaster and editor, and a frequent commentator on Mormon literature sites.

John M. Pontius passed away on December 10, at the age of 60. He was an author of several LDS doctrinal books, as well as a Millennial Quest, a series of last-days novels.

Gordon Ryan passed away on November 14, at the age of 69. Ryan served in the United States Marine Corps, and later as a city manager. In his early 50s he began writing LDS fiction, and was prolific in his last years. His best known work is the Spirit of Union trilogy, which followed a multi-generational family from 1895 to 1940.

Paul Swenson passed away on February 2, at the age of 76. He was a journalist at the Deseret News, editor of Utah Holiday magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, and wrote for The Event, the Salt Lake Observer, and the Salt Lake Tribune. He began writing poetry later in life, some of which is collected in his 2003 book Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake.

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50 Responses to 2012 Mormon Literature Year in Review, Part 2, Mormon market and independent publishing

  1. I love your year end reviews. I always find books and authors I’ve missed. I also look forward to your analysis of the LDS market and publishers. Thanks for the time and effort you spend on this site. It’s a great one.

  2. This is a great retrospective. I’d think so even if I hadn’t been mentioned. Excellent work.

  3. Josi says:

    I am always amazed at how many books I have missed. Thank you, once again, for taking the time to show us what is happening. Though I’m a part of the market, I realize when I read your annual reports that I only see a small part of it. My reading list has just grown by a dozen titles at least. Thanks for all the time you put into this, it is a blessing for all of us invested in these words to have your efforts.

  4. Th. says:

    .

    Another banner year. Can’t wait to see 2013.

  5. As usual, Andrew, you are right on! After 20 years of publishing with DB, I have left the fold and gone Indie, doing amazingly well. I attribute this to my choice of genre: Regency romance sells like hotcakes, even clean Regency romance.

    Thank you so much for your quality review of the year. I am sorry I was too scatterbrained to get my thoughts together to contribute. Blame it on my ditzy age!
    Cheers,
    GG

  6. SteveP says:

    Scott this is amazing. I cannot imagine the work that goes into this. It is much appreciated, every year I find amazing things to read from this. And don’t forget your own AML award!

  7. Your report dramatically highlights how much publishing has changed in just the short six-plus years since I got directly involved via Zarahemla Books. While part of me is sad not to sell as many hard copies anymore, it is nice to have things so well automated with ebooks. Thanks for this great overview.

  8. Jenni James says:

    Thank you! This is an impressive year end review. Some incredible books too.

  9. Amber Argyle says:

    Thanks so much for this! I rarely venture out of my own circle, so it’s good to see the whole picture every once in a while.

  10. I look forward to this summation every year – impressive as always.

  11. Braden says:

    Well done, Andrew. Thanks for doing this.

  12. Wm says:

    A couple of years ago I felt like were in a bit of a doldrums (or at least headed there). This is very cool to see.

    And, as always, thanks Andrew.

  13. Jessie says:

    This is such a well-done, comprehensive review. Thanks for all you hard work–like others I have discovered new books to read.

    I admit I’m a bit of a party pooper about e-books. I don’t have a Kindle or other reading device. I don’t even have a smart phone. I rely on the library for a lot of my reading, and because of the way most current libraries have e-book lending set up I couldn’t get LDS e-books from them if I wanted to. I understand all the advantages to publisher in publishing digitally, but I worry that we might over-assume a level of access to technology that doesn’t exist.

    • Th. says:

      .

      I have a Nook but I still haven’t bought anything for it. Just downloaded stuff from Gutenberg. My Nook has made me old fashioned. Moby Dick, Middlemarch, Chesterton, Jack London . . . .

      • Andrew Hall says:

        I still don’t have one either. I’ve only bought one book as an ebook, Monsters & Mormons, and read it on my little smart phone. I hope to get one soon.

  14. Krista says:

    Wow. I still feel like I’m getting to know the workings of this industry and a summary like this makes me feel more a part of something truly exceptional. Thank you, Andrew. And keep up the good work, everyone!

  15. Melanie Jacobson says:

    Wow. I’m dying to get my hands on A Short Stay in Hell now. My husband loves Borges and has me reading Ficciones. This sounds like something we’d both love.

    Thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this. It makes me feel as if Mormon lit is even far more vibrant than I realized.

  16. Mindy H. says:

    Wonderful article! I enjoy reading about the success of amazing LDS authors.

  17. I love reading this each year–the information is truly fascinating. Thanks for all of your work, Andrew!

  18. A great review with a lot of information that I need, but have a difficult time finding. Thank you, Andrew!

  19. Talk about thorough! Thank you so much for putting all of this together each year, and I was honored to be included. I’m definitely going to have to check out Steve Peck now, and I had no idea there was a new publisher on the scene in my neck of the woods.

  20. I’ve got to say, it’s an honor being mentioned in your post and the LDS publishing industry analysis is always helpful. Thanks.

  21. Andrew, thank you so much for the tremendous amount of work you put in to gathering information and writing these end of year summaries. They are marvelous!

  22. Heidi Ashworth says:

    Wow, I really appreciate being included. I didn’t think I was one anyone’s radar. Fun!

  23. Lee Allred says:

    Great review, Andrew!

    One of the happy drawbacks to the new indy press paradigm is that there’s too much stuff from too many directions to keep track easily (not that it was ever easy in the first place).

    Here’s a couple more books for your 2012 report:

    In 2012, my indy press Rookhouse Books published a print (POD trade paper backs) and an ebook versions ASSEMBLED ALLRED, a short story collection of some of my published sf stories; they also published a short novel version of my “For the Strength of the Hills” novella.

    http://www.rookhousebooks.com

    Slated for 2013 are several new short stories from me in ebook format and two story collections including a hybrid fiction/mormon studies volume entitled BEEHIVE 5.

  24. Julie Wright says:

    As always, this is a great review for the year! I have some new books to look into and am excited to see where the new year takes this market of ours.

  25. I appreciate this review, Andrew! When I began my “mission,” feeling that the only TRULY Mormon literature was laughed at by the national presses, (New York ignored us unless there was an anti-Mormon edge), all I can say now is that THINGS HAVE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY! We have competent writers and MANY ambitious publishers. And I also want to report that this year’s winner of the MARILYN BROWN NOVEL AWARD is one of the highest quality I’ve seen so far! We are making a ponderous contribution! Thank you for recording it!

  26. Thanks for the wrap-up, Andrew! Someday, I will be mentioned in one of these things. ;)

  27. So much going on in both this and the national press report.

    Maybe we should start making an annual list of the top five works a person should have to read in a year before generically bemoaning the state of Mormon literature.

  28. …make it top ten.

    (Please) :)

  29. …or top 20, perhaps…

  30. Yes, but then my novel wouldn’t be included. (there isn’t a selfish-face emotocon)

  31. Jennifer Ann Holt says:

    Great article! I can’t wait to read a few that I’ve missed!

  32. This is a fabulous article. Loved all the details about the LDS publishing world. I’m thrilled that Treasure Blume received a shout-out. “Comic romances with a strong literary bent” = easily the best genre description I’ve seen for my book (much better than anything I’ve come up with).

  33. Th. says:

    .

    On Amazon, I just bumped into a company called Word Garden Press which is publishing a lot of LDS work. I can’t find a web presence though. Looks like they published several books last year.

  34. Andrew Hall says:

    The 2012 Whitney Award finalists are up. The awards will be announced on May 12.
    http://whitneyawards.com/wordpress/finalists/2012-finalists/
    40 books in 8 categories. Congratulations to all! Several of the books are on my list to read, and there were a couple of self-published books that I was not previously aware of. A total of seven of the books were self-published, much more than ever before.

    There were no big disappointments like in recent years. The Speculative category looks weaker than it could have been. I am sorry to see that Steven Peck was not nominated. I guess A Short Stay in Hell would have been in Speculative, but it may have been disqualified for being too short, and first being self-published a couple of years ago. Sanderson’s two 2012 books may also have been too short. Luisa Perkins and Orson Scott Card might have fit in there. Who knows, maybe the category’s lesser known authors (except for Dan Wells) are diamonds waiting for closer scrutiny.

    The Young Adult-General category also was surprising, with 3 self-published novels. Carol Lynch Williams and Jennifer Shaw Wolf, who I expected to see there, did not appear. Also sorry not to see S. P. Bailey in Mystery, and Theric Jepsen in wherever he would go. Big-sellers Hughes and Lund did not make the cut. James Goldberg and Tanya Parker Mills did. Melanie Jacobson and Josi Kilpack were both nominated twice.

    Interesting to see that except for Feedback, almost all of the YA books (speculative and general) appear to be aimed at girls. 4 out of 5 of the Middle Grade books, on the other hand, have male protagonists.
    There will be 2 Best Novels, one from the Adult categories, one from the Youth categories.

  35. Wm says:

    I once again am astounded that Ally Condie got no love from the Whitney judges, but also realize that I may be looking for something very different from them from YA.

    I also think that while The Hollow City is a good book, Partials (also by Dan Wells) was the more interesting of the two from a Speculative Fiction perspective.

    The cover for Flight From Blithmore intrigues me.

    I also don’t understand why Palace of Stone is in the Middle Grade category.

  36. Robison Wells says:

    I’m really shocked by Luisa’s absence on the Speculative list. It definitely deserved a spot. And I agree with William: Ally Condie should be up there, too.

  37. Anne Perry is not a finalist. I find this specially embarrassing this year, given the fact that she is the Guest of Honor at the Storymakers conference.

  38. I echo the others: an excellent, thorough and very helpful review of the LDS publishing scene. As an LDS author who decided to self-publish, this is really, really useful. Thank you!

  39. Emily Milner says:

    Agreed on Luisa’s absence (crazy. Seriously.), also Ally Condie’s. I kinda hoped to see Byuck in there as well, and I wanted Courtney Miller Santo’s book to make the cut as well.

    But congratulations to all who did make it. The field is getting tighter every year, and being a finalist is big.

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