In January of 1845, Elder Parley P. Pratt published regulations for the official publications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was worried about the multitude of books and tracts being published by members of the Church, for he wrote:
Are you not all aware that very many, if not all, of our men, women and children are turning authors, and publishing works purporting to be illustrative of the doctrine of the saints. Some of them are badly written, and some of them are mixed with error, and very many of them which are true and useful are borrowed, in part or in full, from our standard works… vast sums are expended by men who have but little experience in publishing, and perhaps pay double for the paper and printing, and all this into the hands of those who feel no interest in our cause.
In this way thousands of dollars are drawn from the saints and from the elders, while the temple cause is neglected.
In my mind, the above quote hints at a lot of the issues in publishing for a Mormon audience. Issues of doctrine and authority are a huge part of what gets published by whom and how willing Mormon audiences are to accept and purchase published materials.
As far as I can tell, no one has put together a complete history of Mormon publishing, although parts of the story have been told. I recently compiled an overview of this history as part of a presentation I gave at the recent Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference, held in São Paulo, Brazil. And I suspect that readers of A Motley Vision will be interested also. I plan to break up this overview into at least 7 parts (in addition to this introduction), and post them here weekly.
This overview is far from complete. Many parts could be better written by those who know the material better than I. In other places no one has really done any research or compiled any data, so this overview may be all that is known. Like most areas of Mormon history, the research done depends a lot on the bias of the majority of those who study Mormon history towards the LDS Church’s formative period and early Utah years, which makes it somewhat difficult to compile information about other periods and areas. Readers should also know that because of the nature of the conference in Brazil, this history may discuss publishing in languages other than English more than is justified by history.
Since this history isn’t complete, I beg for comments, corrections and additions that might help make it more complete.
But even incomplete, the story of Mormon publishing is, I think, fascinating.
“Regulations for the Publishing Department of the Latter-day Saints in the East,” New York Prophet 1 (4 January 1845), as reprinted in Times and Seasons 6 (15 January 1845).