Click here to read Part 1, about Mormon authors publishing for the national market.
Changes in the nature of book buying are causing shifts in the Mormon publishing world. In the past, some self-publishing authors had their works picked up by Mormon publishers. Recently, however, authors publishing in the Mormon market have started going the other way, turning away from traditional Mormon publishers towards self-publishing. Among the reasons authors have given for going independent include Mormon publishers’ increasingly restrictive contracts, their lack of marketing efforts, and the possibility to make more money on a moderately successful self-published novel than on a more successful novel published through a Mormon publisher. Some authors (such as Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore, and Tristi Pinkston) are taking a hybrid approach, doing independent publishing in addition to their work with Mormon publishers. A new group, Indie Author Hub, has been acting as a clearinghouse for insider information, and will be holding its first Publishing Conference in Provo in June. Andrea Pearson in the group’s Executive Director, and Rachel Nunes and BJ Rowley are organizing the conference.
Micro-publishers, often run by authors themselves, have also been appearing, providing peer-editing and mutual promotion. Other authors are acquiring agents, and trying to place books with national publishers (see this recent Emily Tippetts article about agents in the LDS market). Several authors have noted that so far Mormon publishers are reacting to the loss of authors by becoming less flexible with their contracts.
A wider range of Mormon literature has been available to readers because of the internet, including not only short stories, but also flash fiction, fictional historical essays like Steven Peck’s Gilda Trillim essays, fiction blogs like the mutant MormonX, comics, and even twitter feeds like @MormonShorts. Scott Hales wrote about this phenomenon recently for this blog. The Mormon Lit Blitz in May ended with Emily Harris Adams’ “Birthright” voted as the Grand Prize Winner. Tyler Chadwick led a Mormon Poetry Slam, with fourteen poems read by six submitters. Mark Penny created a new literary blog, Lowly Seraphim: A Mormon Speculative Fiction e-Collective.
Literary works published by Mormon market publishers (novels, anthologies, literary non-fiction).
|Cedar Fort||17||23||34||44||49||32 (36)|
|Deseret/Shadow Mountain||24 12/12||18 5/13||19 10/9||16
|WiDo||0||2||2||7 (9)||5 (14)||3 (12)|
|Jolly Fish||3||8 (10)|
|Rhemalda||2 (?)||3 (12)||5 (?)|
(Parenthesis indicates the total number of novels the publisher published that year, including novels by non-Mormons)
Deseret Book Publishing is part of the Church-owned Deseret Book Company. It published 15 new novels in 2013, down slightly from 2012. Five were from the Deseret Book imprint, one from Eagle Gate (as part of an experiment with straight to digital ebooks/POD), and nine from the nationally-focused Shadow Mountain. Shadow Mountain successfully launched its “Proper Romance” series in 2012 with Julianne Donaldson’s Regency romance Edenbrooke, which received considerable national attention. It followed up that success in 2013 with two “Proper Romance” novels, Julianne Donaldson’s sequel Blackmoore, and Sarah M. Eden’s Longing for Home, set in 19th century Wyoming. Shadow Mountain also published five YA/MG fantasy novels and two mysteries. There were three LDS-themed fantasy/thrillers through the Deseret Book imprint, two historical fiction, and a contemporary romance novel. The Donaldson and Eden “Proper Romances” were the best-selling novels of the year for the entire Mormon publishing market, and both are finalists for Whitney Awards. They were also the two novels mentioned the most when I surveyed Mormon authors about their favorite books of the year. Josi S. Kilpack’s culinary cozy mystery Rocky Road, Chad Morris’ middle grade fantasy Cambridge Hall, and Gale Sears’ historical Belonging to Heaven are also Whitney Award finalists. J. Scott Savage’s YA fantasy Air Keep and Luisa Perkins’ LDS fantasy adaptation The Book of Jer3miah: Premonition also received strong critical reviews.
Deseret Book Company (including Covenant) has its own ebook platform, BookShelf, and Mormon market books are released there first, and then released for Kindle and Nook after 90 days (nationally published books are released simultaneously to Kindle and Nook). They do not have an agreement with other e-book platforms, including iTunes, Kobo, and Sony. Deseret Book Company has recently reached an agreement with Audible, and audio versions of its Shadow Mountain (although not Deseret Book imprint or Covenant) books are now available there.
Laurel Christensen Day, the Vice President in charge of product development, told me, “2013 saw our biggest investment in personnel and resources towards marketing efforts in the national market. Like all publishers (and most organizations), we are able to rely less and less on traditional marketing and continue to work on ways to connect with consumers and create relevant networks and communities. . . . Sales are up overall. In terms of our strategy for fiction, we will always be interested in well-written fiction that satisfies the needs of our readers while supporting the mission and brand of the respective imprints.”
Usually when I hear from authors publishing in the Mormon market, I hear complaints about the marketing and communication of independent publishers, but mostly contentment with the more established Deseret Book. This year, however, I heard loud complaints from Deseret Book authors for the first time. Several of them were unhappy with the marketing efforts to the national market. One author said, “They don’t stick with a plan. They want instant success, not realizing that new platforms need to be built, and that takes time and investment. Their only ‘marketing’ is planting reviews in the Deseret News and putting out their catalog, where new books compete with scented candles and bread mixes.” Another said, “The novels aren’t carried in national-chain bookstores outside of Utah and not even consistently within Utah. There have been no national reviews to speak of, no presence of any kind on a national level, which is really a shame.”
In response to these quotes, Day said, “I obviously don’t agree with the claims but welcome direct contact from any author who isn’t pleased with their experience here. I sincerely would hope they would reach out to us. It’s the only way I can address specific concerns.”
Another author commented, “I am aware of several internal changes taking place within DB/SM, longer lead times and better marketing campaigns are planned out for future projects. I’m excited to see these changes come to fruition and hope they will resolve some of the complaints. I think it’s important for national authors publishing with Shadow Mountain to realize that in the national industry, Shadow Mountain is a small press. I wonder if they ever notice marketing from any other small press national publisher? I don’t. My point being that they are still trying to get their footing, if an author publishes with them they need to understand the breadth. I feel like because we are used to Deseret Book being the BIG DOG in the LDS market we don’t realize that Shadow Mountain is a small fish in the national market.”
Covenant Communications is also part of the Church-owned Deseret Book Company, but is run as a separate unit, in conjunction with Deseret Book Publishing. Covenant published 37 literary works in 2014, about on par with what it has done the last several years. Covenant is largely sticking with what has worked so far: Regency romance, historical romance, suspense, mystery, and general women’s novels—overwhelmingly written by and catering to women. They also published a few YA and speculative novels in recent years, although authors report that Covenant is less interested in publishing in those genres.
Managing Editor Kathy Gordon reports, “We have worked very hard this year to get most of our back titles converted to ebooks, and we are making sure that all our new offerings are available in the most popular electronic/digital formats. We are also looking at taking some of our titles to the national market during the next year, so we are considering including that in our publishing model. There have been no changes in staff or ownership other than recently welcoming two new graphic artists to our design team. We are looking at publishing about the same number of books next year as we did this year; depending on how the market goes, we may publish slightly more. We have also branched out into an aggressive and lucrative line of modest clothing and home décor items, and have dabbled in some themed food offerings as well. Essentially, we are trying to leverage all opportunities that make sense as we try to determine what the LDS market wants and needs.”
Sarah M. Eden’s Regency romance Glimmer of Hope was the best-selling Covenant novel of the year, and another, Drops of Gold, also did very well. Clair Poulson’s two suspense novels Framed and Checking Out also were among the top sellers. Ten Covenant novels were Whitney Award finalists, quite an accomplishment. Heather B. Moore’s Newport Ladies Club novel Ruby’s Secret, Jenny Proctor’s contemporary romance and conversion novel The House at Rose Creek, and Donald Smurthwaite’s intergenerational Road to Bountiful in the General category, Heather B. Moore’s Biblical Esther the Queen and Jennie Hansen’s turn-of-the-century cowboy novel Where the River Flowed in the Historical category, Melanie Jacobson’s LDS single scene Second Chances and Krista Lynn Jensen’s modernized Jane Austen novel The Orchard in the Romance category, Jeffrey S. Savage’s LDS horror novel Dark Memories and Stephanie Black’s dystopian The Witnesses in the Speculative category, and Traci Hunter Abramson’s CIA romantic suspense novel Deep Cover in the Mystery/Suspense category. Two other books receiving strong reviews were Annette Lyon’s women’s novel Band of Sisters: Coming Home, and Jody Wind Durfee’s debut YA novel Hadley-Hadley Benson.
Several authors expressed to me their dissatisfaction with Covenant’s contract provisions, particularly their increased unwillingness to include a “LDS-only” addendum to the “right of first refusal” clause. Several other authors, however, expressed their satisfaction with their experience with the publisher.
Cedar Fort is the largest non-Church owned publisher in the Mormon market. It published 32 novels by Mormon authors in 2013, down significantly from the last two years. Cedar Fort was publishing so many fiction books recently, it was doubtful they could pay much attention to each book. I am not sure if this drop in numbers has to do with a desire to focus more on a smaller field, or simply because the authors that would have been published by Cedar Fort are turning to self-publishing. Cedar Fort also was involved in the successful 2013 LDS movie The Saratov Approach, including publishing and distributing the DVD.
Almost half of Cedar Fort’s 2013 novels are Middle Grade or Young Adult books, a much larger percentage than at Covenant. Many of those are speculative (fantasy, paranormal, or dystopian). Cedar Fort published in a wide variety of styles. This included several realistic LDS adult novels with literary aspirations. Three novels were finalists for the Whitney awards, Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage in the Romance category, set in the Mormon colonies in Mexico during the 1912 revolution (Carla has been the best-selling fiction author at Cedar Fort in recent years), Phyllis Gunderson’s The Mounts Anomaly in the historical category, a mystery set around the Native American mounds of Illinois and Michigan, Sarah Dunster’s Mile 21 in the General category, about a young Mormon widow with her life in turmoil. Other books receiving strong reviews include Ryan Rapier’s LDS realistic novel The Reluctant Blogger, T. Lynn Adams YA adventure Lair of the Serpent, Vicki Hall’s pioneer historical Journey of Promise, Mandi Tucker Slack’s romantic thriller Tide Ever Rising, and Annette Haws’ LDS realistic novel The Accidental Marriage.
The author comments I received about Cedar Fort were similar to those I have received in past years. The experiences range from very positive to very very negative. Most are happy with the covers, but unsatisfied with the degree of editing help and marketing effort they receive. Editorially, Cedar Fort tends to be slightly more adventuresome in terms of content and theme than the Church-owned publishers.
Cedar Fort placed itself in the media spotlight when it decided cancel to their planned publication of the YA fantasy novel Woven, because one co-author, Michael Jensen, who is gay, asked that a reference to his partner be included in the author biography. The authors went public with the decision, as well as a series of emails, and the story was reported on Utah TV news and in the Salt Lake Tribune. Cedar Fort’s manner in dealing with the situation and alleged words to the authors were as much a part of the story as the final decision. Bryce Mortimer, the President of Cedar Fort, responded by saying they had to make the decision because of the policies of the Mormon book stores they work with. “We understand some of the silly things they have problems with, and so because of that we know that that would have been a problem,” Bryce Mortimer said. Cedar Fort’s history with the companies indicated to Mortimer that the line would have kept the book from reaching their shelves. “I’ve seen them turn books away for us for less than that, for having beer cans underneath the seat of a truck,” he said. “We wanted to get as many sales as we can with this book, but we just knew if we had that they would censor it, and they would have a problem.” Both stores mentioned in the email from Cedar Fort’s editor [Deseret Book and Seagull] are owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book refused to comment on this story, while an official with Seagull Book would only say Cedar Fort’s decision was based on speculation. 53 Mormon authors, including many publishing with Cedar Fort, signed a letter showing their support for the authors, and asking publishers to base decisions on “content, quality, and commercial viability, not on any other factor.”
Walnut Springs Press published eight novels in 2013, down somewhat from recent years. Some authors expressed their concern about the financial state of the company, but managing editor Linda Prince assures me that they have a full slate planned for 2014, including at least eleven novels. It has created a new imprint, Currawong Press, which is distributed by Deseret Book Distributing.
Veteran author Dorothy Keddington had her most recent romantic suspense novel, Hearth Fires, published on the last day of the year, and it is a Whitney Award finalist in the Romance category. She has another book scheduled for 2014, as do Marilyn Brown and Tristi Pinkston, and others.
Christopher Bigelow’s Zarahemla Books has been the leading publisher of literary fiction for the last seven years. They put out only two titles in 2013, Mahonri Stewart’s valuable Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama, and a revised version of Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray’s The Last Mile of the Way, the third book in the Standing on the Promises series based on the lives of African-American members of the Church. It has plans for four more books to be published in the near future.
Signature Books published three literary works, Susan Elizabeth Howe’s poetry collection Salt, James W. Ure’s memoir Polio Boys, and Frence Lee Menlove’s collection The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-Day Saints.
C. Michael Perry’s Leicester Bay Books has actively been publishing adventurous novels that might have gone to Zarahemla in previous years, as well as non-fiction books. It released five novels in 2013, including Stephen Carter’s YA paranormal thriller The Hand of Glory (which has what must be the scariest cover in Mormon literature for the year), Lisa Torcasso Downing’s YA ghost mystery Island of the Stone Boy and middle grade Joseph Smith adventure Get that Gold!, Thom Duncan’s YA fantasy adventure Moroni Smith in Search of the Gold Plates, and James F. Oshust’s Civil War-era Even of the Fourth: Between the Round Tops. Perry is also releasing many Mormon-authored plays and musicals, by authors such as Eric Samuelsen and Marvin Payne, through his Zion Theatricals business.
Another category of publishers are independent publishers that are Mormon-owned, and include Mormons among their roster of authors, but which aim for the general market, not the Mormon market. Jolly Fish Press, which began publishing books in 2012, released ten books in 2013, eight of them by Mormons. Publicist and co-founder D. Kirk Cunningham says they have at least 12 books scheduled for 2014. JFP signed an agreement with national book distributor Independent Publishers Group to distribute all of JFP’s titles starting January 2014, which JFP hopes will increase their national availability. Authors have praised the publisher for its cover designs and its high aspirations, although (as with all of these publishers) there is dissatisfaction with the company’s marketing ability. The novels represented a variety of genres, with juvenile fantasy the most well represented. Of its titles, those that seem to have received the most attention are Eric Bishop’s The Samaritan’s Pistol, a thriller about a modern Wyoming cowboy fighting mobsters, which Publishers Weekly called “taut, well-paced and fresh”, and Jenniffer Wardell’s humorous fantasy Fairy Godmother’s Inc.
Familius was founded in 2012 by Christopher Robbins, who had been the CEO of the successful Utah-based publisher Gibbs Smith from 1995 to 2012. Familius, according to Publishers Weekly, intends to be a “digital niche publishing company that will focus exclusively on books for families, and market its titles to specific core audiences through the Internet, social networking, and web videos in a community-based program.” The company’s website includes a substantial number of articles by a variety of authors about family issues. Smith claims, “Familius is different in that we are not trying to be a traditional book publisher. First, we are what I call a transmedia publisher, a company that tries to publish content in as many ways as possible–books, articles, apps, video, etc. 52 School Lunches is a good example. This book succeeds as an ebook for all devices, an app for all devices, as content for our familius.com and as a print book scheduled for winter 2015.” Familius published a few books in 2013, including three by Mormons, Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s highly regarded memoir Global Mom, and two volumes in Carol Lynch Williams and Cheri Pray Earl’s middle grade time travel adventure series Just in Time.
WiDo Publishing, run by the Gowen family, initially published overwhelmingly Mormon authors, but only three of its twelve 2013 novels were written by Mormons: Whitney Boyd, Charity Bradford, and Julie N. Ford. WiDo reports that their sales remained about the same in 2013, although surprisingly their print sales increased.
Rhemalda Publishing, an independent Washington state publisher founded by Emmaline and Rhett Hoffmeister in 2010, announced in September that it was going out of business on December 31, 2013. It went out of business without going bankrupt, so all royalty payments and other financial obligations were met before it closed. It published 39 titles in 3 ½ years, including the work of seven LDS authors. Of those published in 2013, one of the best reviewed books was Donna K. Weaver’s debut romantic suspense, A Change of Plans.
Several authors have created their own micro-publishers, using the tools of self-publishing to publish peer’s works. Mirror Press, run by a board of three authors, Heather B. Moore, Annette Lyon and Sarah M. Eden, has been publishing a series of “Timeless Romance” novella anthologies since 2012, including four anthologies in 2013. It also published several of Moore’s works, including the historical ghost story Heart of the Ocean, which was a Whitney Award finalist in the Speculative category. Moore is also a Whitney finalist in the Mystery/Suspense category for Finding Sheba, which was published by StoneHouse Ink, a publisher outside the Mormon market. That is four finalist books for Moore, for those keeping count. In February 2014 Romance Through The Ages, Mirror Press’s box set of seven novels selling for only $0.99, landed on the USA Today Bestseller list.
Tristi Pinkston started her own company, Trifecta Books. “The goal of Trifecta is to merge the benefits of self-publishing and the advantages of traditional publishing into one cohesive unit. Trifecta offers competitive royalty rates, quality cover design, meticulous editing, and targeted marketing techniques to help bring the book to the attention of a nationwide audience.” Jenni James, BC Sterrett, Karen E. Hoover, and Laura Bingham are currently listed as authors with books published by the company. Scott and Marny Parkin created a company called ArcPoint Media, which published a collection of J. Scott Bronson’s short stories, and will be publishing more short story anthologies in the near future. Beth Bentley’s Parables Publishing and Elizabeth Beeton’s B10 Mediaworx could also fall under the micro-publisher rubric.
Of the many self-published books in 2013, four were Whitney Award finalists. Jordan McCollum’s two espionage novels I Spy and Spy for a Spy are both finalists in the Mystery/Suspense category, Amber Argyle’s fairy fantasy Winter Queen in the Speculative category, and Shannen Crane Camp’s YA romance Chasing June in the Young Adult-General category. Two books placed in the 2012 Ind’Tale Rone Award, Julie Bellon’s All Fall Down won for Best Suspense, and Joyce DiPastena was named First Honorable Mention for Historical Novella for A Candlelight Courting.
One of the sadder pieces of news in the Mormon literary world in 2013 was the apparent demise, or at least hiatus, of Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters, which was co-founded by Christoper Bigelow and Benson Parkinson in 1999. Editor Jack Harrell gave a warning of impending closure early in the year. Wm Morris at A Motley Vision wrote an excellent series of articles discussing the different options for restarting or replacing the magazine. Scope/positioning, Staffing/Production, Generating Submissions, Financial Models, Starting Up, and Readership.
In academic literary studies, a Nephi Anderson Panel was held at the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies in May, featuring presentations by Scott Hales, Theric Jepsen, and Sarah Reed presented, in San Francisco. Hales also published ‘This Earth Was Once a Garden Place’: Millennial Utopianism in Nineteenth-Century Mormon Poetry” in Religion and the Arts, Vol. 17:4, 2013.
Latter-Gay Saints: An Anthology of Gay Mormon Fiction, edited by Gerald S. Argetsinger, Jeff Laver, and Johnny Townsend, was published by Lethe Press in July. It featured “twenty-five short works depicting a variety of perspectives of what it means to be both Mormon and gay.” It includes Argetsinger’s introductory essay which traces the history of the intersection of Mormons and homosexuality in literature back to the 1959 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Advise and Consent.
In 2013 two podcasts that frequently featured LDS authors and other artists appeared. The Good Word is an LDS author interview podcast hosted by Nick Galieti, a musician, record producer, and radio producer. The podcast is made in cooperation with Eborn Books and Custom LDS Scriptures. Galieti interviews both fiction and non-fiction authors. The Cultural Hall podcast covers a wider range of Mormon cultural stories, but also often includes interviews with Mormon artists. Mormon Artist, a website run by Ben Crowder and Katherine Morris, has recently revived, and features scores of interviews with Mormon artists in a wide range of fields.