Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, an independent publisher located in Springville, UT, has decided to cancel publication of a YA fantasy novel rather than include a line in co-author Michael Jensen’s bio that would have read, “He lives in Salt Lake City with his partner and their four dogs.” The book, Woven, is co-authored by David Powers King and Michael Jensen. The authors have gone public with their side of the story, which is gaining some attention, with a story on Utah television station’s KUTV local news.
Here is an excerpt from authors Michael Jensen and David Powers King’s press release (pdf), (html). “Sweetwater Books, a division of Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, has cancelled the publication of Woven, a highly anticipated young adult fantasy novel, because the biographical blurb of one of Woven’s two authors referenced the author’s “partner.” Authors David Powers King and Michael Jensen signed a publishing agreement with Sweetwater Books on January 15, 2013. They submitted their manuscript materials—including their bios—shortly after and worked with Cedar Fort for several months on editing and designing the book. Originally scheduled for an October 8, 2013, release date, the final manuscript was slated to go to press on August 1 . . . On August 2, Mr. Jensen received a proof of Woven’s final cover art and noticed that his submitted bio (which included the sentence “He lives in Salt Lake City with his boyfriend and their four dogs.”) was incomplete. He emailed Cedar Fort’s acquisitions editor, Angie Workman, who explained that Cedar Fort would not allow Mr. Jensen to state that he lived with a man because the publishing house was concerned about ruining their relationship with the LDS-church-affiliated Deseret Book. [See complete email exchange—read from the bottom up.] Mr. Jensen replied that Ms. Workman could change the word “boyfriend” to the non-gender-specific “partner,” as his original bio—submitted shortly after signing with Cedar Fort—had always referenced his “partner.” Ms. Workman refused, and instead insisted that the reference to Mr. Jensen’s significant other be removed entirely. “David’s bio said that he lived in Utah County with his wife and their kids,” says Mr. Jensen. “I wanted a comparable, accurate sentence in my bio.” Mr. Jensen called Cedar Fort’s owner, Lyle Mortimer, and asked why he was being treated differently from Mr. King. “The conversation really devolved quickly,” says Mr. Jensen. “Lyle started yelling about my ‘agenda’ and how I was trying to destroy families. He even started saying inappropriate things about how God had given me a penis for a reason. It was very uncomfortable. Then he threatened to publish Woven without our names attached or without our bios at all—rather than print that one sentence. He told me that if he decided not to publish because of this, I’d have to buy back the rights to our book and reimburse him for his work so far, and that would cost me thousands of dollars.” But Woven’s authors insisted that Cedar Fort treat them equally, and asked that both receive honest, accurate biographical blurbs. “That one sentence shouldn’t even have been an issue,” says Mr. King. “All we wanted was for them to print Michael’s biographical information like mine.” Two weeks after Mr. King and Mr. Jensen insisted on equality, Cedar Fort elected to cancel the publication of Woven completely and return all rights to the two authors. “They knew I was gay when they signed me,” said Mr. Jensen. “If they didn’t want to print the bio of an author who happened to be gay, then they shouldn’t have signed an author who happened to be gay.””
Angie Workman, the acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort, wrote in a August 2, 2013 email, after Jensen asked about his missing bio, “I was concerned about your bio and wondered what effect it would have with our LDS buyers, so I spoke with Lyle about it. He says we can’t risk ruining our relationship with them by stating you live with your boyfriend, so we need to cut that part out. We will have much better sales if we can get into Deseret Book and Seagull, so that’s what we need to focus on. I hope you can understand our objective with this.”
Here is a blog post by co-author David Powers King. Unwoven: How One Word Lead To The Cancellation Of Our Novel and These Are My Thoughts On The Matter. August 21. “We were told that a certain word, one word, would be harmful to their relationship with LDS-based booksellers. That seemed especially strange to us. We were printing the book under Sweetwater, their national market imprint. That doesn’t mean we were selling Woven exclusively to the LDS market, right? . . . Michael and I knew this about each other. Never once did we think of each other by orientation or religious affiliation. We were people first – talented people who wanted to make a cool story together. We may disagree about a few things, maybe LOTS of things, but lasting, trusting friendship, is more important than disagreements . . . When we started – and ended – Woven, our goal was to find a home for it. We think it’s a beautiful story. Family friendly, as heterosexual as it gets. As the title implies, this story is about bringing people together, unity, and overcoming impossible obstacles by working together. Perhaps our once-publisher missed this message? . . . I’d like to point out that, yes, I am Mormon. The folks who run Cedar Fort are also Mormon, but this was not a Church decision. I don’t agree with Cedar Fort’s decision. I know legions of Mormons who also do not agree with their decision. Some might, I don’t know. I have never been a fan of blanket statements, so it is my hope that people see that there are LDS peeps in this world – and many other religious and non-religious peeps – with love – not fear – in their hearts.”
Author Amber Argyle responded with her own blog post criticizing Cedar Fort’s business practices. “I absolutely know Mortimer is capable of such atrocious behavior. Why? Because I’ve had dealings with Cedar Fort before. I haven’t talked about it publicly because I don’t believe in badmouthing anyone. Cedar Fort has moved passed that point. I know feel a need to warn my fellow authors away from this TERRIBLE publisher. I sent them my first manuscript, The Priestess Prophecy, in 2009. They accepted the book for publication, but their contract was downright predatory. I called to try to negotiate some of the terms. They kept giving me the runaround–pushing me to sign before the contract expired. They told me the only person who could change the contract was Lyle Mortimer, and he was on vacation. I transferred to another employee, who apparently hadn’t been briefed on the “Lyle’s outta the office” runaround. That’s right. Mortimer was upstairs. I stood my ground and Lyle finally called me. At which point he yelled at me and told me if I didn’t want to sign the contract as it was, he had twenty other authors eager to fill my spot. That’s when I walked out . . . I know dozens of authors published through Cedar Fort. NONE OF THEM ARE HAPPY. Not one. You are better off never publishing than to publish with Cedar Fort. Just go self publish. You’ll be happier and make more money.”
Larry Correia, in his inimitable way, discussed the potential business implications of the decision.
I survey authors every year for my Mormon Lit Year in review, and one of the things I ask is about their experiences with publishers. Here are excerpts from by Year in Review columns about Cedar Fort for the last three years.
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 very displeased with the level of editing and marketing, while others say that Cedar Fort has increased its staff and improved its services.
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 . . .
Cedar Fort (also known as CFI), founded in 1986, and located in Springville, UT, is the largest independent publisher of Mormon books. Lyle Mortimer is the Publisher, Lee Nelson the Associate Publisher, and Bryce Mortimer the Executive Vice President. Cedar Fort published 34 novels in 2010, up from 23 in 2009 . . . On the average, however, the Cedar Fort fiction authors are less well known than those Deseret Media publishers. Publisher Lyle Mortimer commented, “We actually do an inordinate amount of fiction just because Lee Nelson and I like it so much. Fiction very seldom makes much money. It takes several non-fiction books to kind of cover the costs of the fiction.” Mortimer continued, “We ended 2010 with a 12% increase in sales, our best year ever when last year was our previous best year ever . . . Our sales at Ingram and other national accounts has continued to improve . . . and the LDS market ended up about even. We are hiring 7 new positions within the next month. This will increase our labor force by about 14%. We have very exciting (and large) goals this year and obviously believe we can reach them in spite of the economy.” Although it is careful to publish books that fit currently accepted bounds of Mormon propriety, it is bolder in publishing books that contain challenging or non-mainstream elements than the Church-owned presses.
Cedar Fort has a history of publishing new authors, providing many Mormon writers with their first opportunities. Well over half of its 2010 fiction authors were publication rookies. In comparison, in 2010 Deseret Book published only one new fiction author, and only about 20% of the fiction authors at Covenant were first-timers. At one time Cedar Fort encouraged new authors through an “author participation program”, through which an unproven author was asked to put up a portion of the publication costs, which would be returned if the book sold well. National bestselling YA author James Dashner published his first novel under this program. Cedar Fort discontinued the program approximately six years ago, because it felt it gave them a negative image.
Despite a 22% growth in the size of Cedar Fort in the last 10 years, I imagine it has limited resources when compared with the Church-owned publishers. Their approach today appears to be to produce a huge number of titles (nearly 100 in 2010, when you count all of the non-fiction), and see which authors are able to gain traction on their own. Then they back those titles, at the expense of the others. One author commented, “CFI has a history of not marketing books until they ‘catch’ the market, which usually takes six months or so to be noticeable by which time the initial spark is extinguished. One of my concerns about CFI publishing so many books is that they aren’t giving marketing attention to them. A few will stand out and have better sales, at which time CFI will get behind them and do some marketing, but it’s a very backward form of marketing to me.”
Concerning marketing, Mortimer commented, “We spend nearly 20% of our budget on sales and marketing. We get in front of buyers nationwide. Often, (because we do risk a lot on first-time authors) we aren’t as successful as we would like. We feel we have been successful when we have given a first-time author a shot. I subscribe to Mark Twain’s quote, ‘The great public is the only tribunal competent to sit in judgment upon any literary effort.’ Once that great tribunal has spoken, I am not going to try to convince them they are wrong. As a result some first-time authors are disappointed. Because we risk more on first-time authors than other publishers do, you may hear that disappointment more often from the CFI direction. If the press or rumor mill points out that a minor proportion of our authors are dissatisfied, our only alternative to quell that kind of disquiet is to quit doing so many first-time authors. We believe there are diamonds out there and we want to mine for them. The only problem is you don’t always know what you have found until you get it washed off and cleaned up and set in front of the light.”
Authors wishing to publish with Cedar Fort should not expect extensive editing of their manuscripts. One author reported, “I’ve heard of an author getting a few edits here and there, but others have told me that not a word was changed in their books before press–so the editing is spotty. I will say that I have seen an improvement in recent years–it seems like some books are actually edited and proofed, but some still are not.”
Another author reported, “CFI has its advantages. They are fast in production, and for the most part they have really nice covers. They don’t edit very much. That light editing is what really keeps them from being huge contenders in the market. The potential is there, but they fall short because they don’t take that extra step to get involved in the editorial process. They are unyielding in their contracts.”
Another author reported, “I felt that CFI missed the mark on editing in several books I picked up this year . . . I continued to be very impressed with Cedar Forts covers and overall formatting of their books, I think they are as good, if not better on some books, as any other publisher in the market. Sometimes their covers tend to ‘match’ one another too well, but overall I think they’ve done an excellent job . . . I have noticed some improvement with editing, but am surprised that I continue to find editing issues . . . I’m impressed with the number of books CFI is putting out and glad to see so many new authors getting published with them since Deseret Book and Covenant don’t seem to be taking on many new names, but I would like to see improved quality in the editing and in some of the story development. I have said for many years that CFI is the strongest publisher in the market next to Deseret Book and Covenant. I feel that if they would pay more attention to editing and really work hard at choosing only those books that are exceptional, then support those authors and market those books, they could be a stronger company than they have ever been. They have some excellent authors publishing with them right now.”
Mortimer and Nelson reacted strongly when I shared these quotes with them. They commented, “If what you have written is true, we’d certainly be out of business. Instead we have averaged 22% growth for the last ten years . . . We’ve paid the most advances ever this year, starting at about $2,000. The largest advance we ever paid was $50,000 . . . Cedar Fort has been able to grow even when the LDS market has remained level by publishing more and more non-LDS book. We are the largest publisher in the world for Dutch Oven cookbooks, and are now publishing a wide assortment of other cookbooks, plus an increasing number of garden, camping and outdoor titles.” Concerning the editing, Mortimer responded, “We don’t spend a lot of time reconstructing fiction work. If we don’t think it will fly, we won’t publish it or we send it back to the author for revising. We try very hard to keep the author’s voice and maintain the author’s integrity (probably harder than most publishers). The work remains the author’s work and not our work. Very, very seldom will you find typos and gross ‘publishing’ errors.” Mortimer then insisted that every book they released had gone through significant editing and changes.
Mortimer continued, “We are getting more and more recognition from nationally established authors. We signed Dave Wolverton yesterday. We signed [national romance author] Carla Kelly a month ago. Patricia Davis is now on board. There are many others we expect to announce in the next few months. By attrition we may be spending less and less on first-time authors. Again, this makes me a little sad. That’s where the real excitement and satisfaction is.”
Although there is frustration among some Cedar Fort authors about the amount of editing and marketing that the publisher provides, I also heard from several authors who said they realized the strengths and weaknesses of the company when signing their contracts, and were happy with the results. . . .
[I want to apologize for posting this right after Eric James Stone published his post. Jonathan has these nicely scheduled out, but I saw this news story, and thought it should go up quickly.]