Ideas for the field: writers co-op

9.10.07 | | 6 comments

Note: this is the second in a series of posts of ideas for improving/growing/sustaining the field of Mormon narrative arts.

A writers co-op can come in a variety of forms and levels of investment. In fact, the Mormon market already has a co-op: LDStorymakers. This is what I would term a “weak” co-op in that you have to be a published author to join and you pay a yearly membership fee, but the cooperative effort is in the form of discussion, mentoring, marketing advice, sharing experience with publishers, etc. The group also organizes a yearly writers conference. I think that considering the Mormon market, LDStorymakers is a good response to the needs of working authors (although I’d like to see them branch out and offer a contest for unpublished writers).

A stronger form of an authors’ co-op would be a model where a group of writers team up and provide capital (and/or raise funds) for a work space that they share and use for events, workshops, etc. If successful enough, the co-op also provides space, mentoring and funds for emerging writers and maybe publishes a few chapbooks and/or a journal/magazine. Often the authors involved have similar tastes in literature and may even be friends, lovers or spouses. The important thing here, though, is the physical space that facilitates the growth and cohesiveness of the cooperative. That acts as a retreat, a salon, a school, a bookstore. The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis is one example of this type of cooperative (although it has become rather large and baroque).

An even stronger form of a writers co-op is one where a group of authors actually pool funds to publish and market work by the members of the co-op. This works best, obviously, when there is a strong (yet not overly overlapping) ideological, regional or genre theme that links the authors together. I would imagine that it’s also the most difficult type of co-op to successfully form and keep running because it depends on a certain level of sales for the authors involved. But if you find the right niche, the right audience, it’s doable.

I would love to see the third option take place, but I think it’s unlikely in the Mormon market because you’re talking about a small niche of a market that’s already a niche Market. So I think the next step is for someone to take a stab at the second option. Obviously, for such a thing to work, it would need to be in Utah. There just isn’t the right concentration of Mormon writers anywhere else. But a space where writers could write, book clubs and writer’s groups could meet, readings could take place — that would be very cool.

And now that I think about it, if you combined it with a performance (and/or screening) space, you might actually be able to generate enough revenue to make the rent. And if you also stole a page from the McSweeney’s crowd and also added tutoring for kids, you could probably pull in some grant money.

Anybody out there toyed with the idea of doing this? What barriers might there be to launching such an effort?
Next on the list: e-commerce

6 comments: “Ideas for the field: writers co-op

  1. Jeffrey Savage

    William,

    Storymakers actually did publish books for quite a while. They primarily focused on two writing and publishing in the LDS market books, and books by authors that for various reasons were not able to be published by traditional LDS publishers. (One for example was part of a series by a publisher that went belly up, I think.)

    I’m sure someone else could tell you more about it. But the venture was initially funded by several authors and eventually became self-sustaining to a point. Some of the writers conference money also went toward it.

    Ultimately though it was shut down because many authors and publishers looked down on the group, thinking they really just a group of disgruntled writers. Since cancelling the effort and fcousing on recruitment, membership has picked up dramtically.

    They have done some contests for non-published authors in conjuntion with the conference.

  2. William Morris

    Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate you taking the time to fill me in my historical gaps. At some point, AMV should do a Q&A with Rachel Ann Nunes or one of the other early members. I remember when she first started it, but honestly didn’t start paying attention to it until a year or two ago.

    I think that you also nicely illustrate the issues with such a small yet well-defined and fairly developed marketplace (in the sense that there are several publishers and quite a few authors serving the Mormon audience). A writers co-op might make more sense in a market that’s much more of a niche and that is in an earlier emergent stage.

    And yeah, the membership of LDStorymakers is quite impressive. More than 60 it looks like: http://www.ldstorymakers.com/photos.html

  3. Chris Bigelow

    I probably wouldn’t lead out on such a co-op, but I could well become an eager member/supporter.

    As an author, I wonder if I would get more or less work done if I belonged to such a co-op with a physical place. It could be worth $100-200 a month to me to be involved with such a physical space.

    As far as authors pooling to publish, I could see going there with Zarahemla, which would be better than doing individual author subsidies like a vanity press. I haven’t seen any indication yet that the audience is big enough to support it very well.

  4. William Morris Post author

    “I haven’t seen any indication yet that the audience is big enough to support it very well.”

    Yeah, it seems like this is the case.

    I’m not an expert on Utah real estate and you’d probably need a start-up grant or donation, but I bet you could get it down to $60 a month. The Loft in Minneapolis is 85$ a month for six hours per week of scheduled and 2 hours per week unscheduled studio time (plus the $60 a year membership).

    —-
    I neglected to mention this in my post (Sorry, Kent. The thought occurred to me when I was thinking about the post and was gone by the time I wrote it), but the Mormon Artists Group is an artists co-op (they use the term collective).

  5. Wm Morris

    You’d need to move to Utah first, Th. (or not — the Bay Area may a bit to spread out to make it work, but there have got to be a few writers kicking around. Of course, the real estate would be much more expensive.).

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