Andrew Hall reports on the struggles of independent LDS publishers

7.9.10 | | 31 comments

Wm writes: Andrew Hall, who does a yearly report on Mormon publishing, approached me with the idea for a story on the struggles that some of the small, independent LDS publishers are having in the current economic environment. I told him that if he pursued the story that I’d be happy to post it here. It’s always tough doing something like this — to be honest my first reaction was to shy away from the idea. No one wants to report “bad” news. Or at least I don’t. Even when I’m critical, it’s because I want things to improve and get better. And I do think it’s also important for authors and fans in the world of Mormon letters (which is what the AMV crowd represents) to be aware of what’s going on.

For what it’s worth: in my opinion (that is as someone who works in higher education public relations and has worked with the local and national media) this is a well-sourced, multiple-sourced story that brings in the major needed points of view. It does rely at times on anonymous sources, but I’m personally confident that Andrew has used them judiciously and within standard journalistic practices. But also keep in mind that it also represents particular points of view. No one story — no matter how long and well-sourced can do full justice to an issue or event or series of events. That said: this story is worth telling, Andrew has done an excellent job, and many thanks to all those who were willing to correspond with Andrew and especially those willing to go on record.

The struggles of independent LDS publishers

By Andrew Hall

In a Mormon book market dominated by two Church owned publishers and two Church owned bookstores, all which have considerable resources at their disposal, independent publishers live a precarious existence.  Independent publishers provide the diversity of outlets which any marketplace needs to thrive. With finite resources and limited opportunities to reach readers, however, the life span of such publishers tends to be short, and authors with works produced by these companies must take the lion’s share of the marketing on themselves.  This article will look at the current state of three small independent publishers, Valor Publishing Group, WiDo Publishing, and Leatherwood Press.  Valor Publishing in particular is going through what can charitably be called a moment of transition, with two of the four founding members of the company resigning, and several authors taking back their book rights.

Before discussing the state of each specific company, some perspective is needed. Deseret Book Publishing and Covenant Communications, both owned by the Church-owned Deseret Book Company, have resources that go far beyond that of the independent publishers.  They are also able to get almost automatic access to the two largest Mormon-specific book retailers, Deseret Book Retail and Seagull, which are also both owned by Deseret Book Company.  Independent publishers have to submit their completed books to an approval process to get placed on the shelves of these two bookstores, which can take months, and which can act as a brake on a book’s publicity momentum.  Two of the most prominent outlets for book marketing, the Deseret Book bi-monthly catalog and the LDS Living magazine (also acquired by Deseret Book Company in recent years), charge advertising rates which challenge the resources of publishers.  Finally, many books published by the Deseret Book Company are sold at the popular Time Out series—devotional-like events promoted from the pulpit which feature inspirational talks by recently published authors and tables full of books published by Deseret Book Company available for purchase during the event.  Considering these benefits, it is not surprising that Mormon authors interested in writing for the Mormon market are eager to take the opportunity to sign with Deseret Book or Covenant.

Publishers who publish for the Mormon market produced 95 novels in 2009.  Of those 95, Deseret Book and Covenant together produced 47, or very nearly 50 percent.  Those 47, however, represent the most established and best-selling authors in the market.  The sales of those 47 doubtless far outstripped the 48 published by independents.

The largest independent publisher is Springville, Utah based Cedar Fort, Inc. Cedar Fort has been in the business since 1986, and is able to consistently get its books on the shelves of the Church-owned bookstores and advertise in the Deseret Book catalog.  Another long established independent publisher is Granite Publishing, located in Orem, Utah. The more literary minded Zarahemla Books and Parables Publishing have been discussed on this blog many times in the past.

This article will look at three newer independent publishers, Valor Publishing Group, WiDo Publishing, and Leatherwood Press.  Each is a legitimate publisher–that is, none of them solicits money from authors to help in the publication of a book.  Yet each has small staffs and small budgets, and requires its authors to do much of their marketing on their own.  Each tries to get their Mormon-directed products on the shelves at the Church-owned bookstores, and although there are delays, they are usually ultimately successful at least at Deseret Book.  One editor commented, “All of our LDS products are available at Deseret Book stores. We have a great relationship with the professional staff at Deseret Book. In our experience, Deseret Book is more than willing to work with the smaller LDS publishers.  Seagull Book does not carry any of our fiction titles . . . Typically, Seagull is much less willing than Deseret Book to work with the smaller LDS publishers.”

Independent publishers also place books in Borders, Barnes and Nobles, or Costco, and sometimes help set up book signing events for the authors at these stores. For the most part they encourage authors to promote their books themselves by setting up and constantly updating their own author blogs, conducting “blog tours” (a logrolling activity where authors solicit reviews from each other), and participating in social media sites.

Some authors question the effectiveness of these activities, and are less willing to participate in them.  William Prusso, for example, had a novel published by WiDo in 2009.  He commented, “WiDo has no marketing budget at all.  I did not know that going in.  I can’t understand why they would put up the money to publish a book, and then do nothing to promote it.  It makes no business sense.”  When presented with this sentiment, founding WiDo editor Karen Gowen said that Prusso was mistaken; WiDo does have a marketing budget and a marketing director, and the company presents each author with a marketing plan, “We encourage our authors to be fully involved with marketing and promotion. We have asked each of them to set up a blog and keep it active and functioning, as well as any other social media like Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Shelfari. [Our] marketing director has created a 30-page marketing workbook for each author to assist them in promoting and reaching their demographic . . . I get a bit prickly when I hear something like ‘there does seem to be very little spent on promoting the books’  or ‘WiDo doesn’t market.’ . . . We don’t have the means to purchase billboard ads along I-15, or radio spots, or prime tables at Barnes & Noble. But ask any of the 280 followers on my blog if they’ve heard of [my novels] Farm Girl or Uncut Diamonds . . . In today’s publishing industry, an author must work as hard to promote his book as he did to write it, if not more so . . . Sometimes they have had to get past the fantasy that every publisher has bags of money to spend on ads and such, like Deseret Book does.”  Linda Prince Mulleneaux, the Managing Editor at Leatherwood Press, commented, “If an author does not [market their own book], a book will not succeed, no matter how large the marketing budget. That said, a small marketing budget does limit what a publisher can do to promote a book. We explain these limits to our authors up front. We create a marketing plan for each book, and that plan details what we require of the author . . . Many authors think that if the publisher simply throws enough money behind a book, it will sell. But our best-selling books have been those where the author has aggressively promoted the book, whether or not we conducted an expensive advertising campaign.”

The financial health of these companies is a concern for authors, considering the extremely poor record of survival among independent publishers in the Mormon market.  Several authors from one of the more established independent publishers have reported that the company is far behind in its royalty payments.

Next are profiles of the three companies being spotlighted.

Valor Publishing Group was founded in 2009, in Orem, Utah, with an Executive Board which included three published LDS authors, well known within the Mormon writing community; Candace Salima as founder, Owner, and Marketing Director, Brent J. Rowley as Business Manager, and Tristi Pinkston as Senior Editor.  Cash Case, Salima’s brother, was also a founding member of the Board.  The participants set lofty goals for the company, aiming to crack both the Mormon and national markets.  The company started with the coup of acquiring a novel written by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who then appeared to be embarking on a race for the United States Senate, and announced a slate of twelve books to be published in 2010. It was an ambitious beginning which had the potential to launch Valor into a position rivaling Cedar Fort as the leading independent publisher.  Salima dismissed a description of Valor as a “Mormon publisher,” claiming that the company would “aggressively publish and market in both the regional and national markets.”  Its website made claims that went far beyond the usual expectations of a small independent publisher, saying “Advanced reader copies and order forms will be sent to more than a thousand book dealers who stock our books. Additional promotional elements, including publicity, in-store promotion, electronic and print media, targeted email marketing, as well as whole promotions, may be developed as part of your book’s individualized marketing strategy.”

Early in 2010 Valor scored a second coup, when it acquired the rights to “The Cleansing of America,” a previously unpublished manuscript by W. Cleon Skousen, the late Mormon author whose writings have recently gained national recognition in conservative political circles.  The book has sold very well for Valor, with over 10,000 sales in its first two months, and a second printing on the way.  Valor also published five novels early in 2010. The company has also faced many setbacks, however.  In November 2009 it cancelled its contracts for three previously announced books.  In May 2010 it put all novels scheduled for release in the spring and summer on an indefinite hold, and several authors report that the company did not keep its commitments in terms of marketing.  Around this time Mark Shurtleff, unhappy with the company’s marketing and financial dealings, took back the rights to his book.  Then, on June 28th and 29th, Rowley and Pinkston, two of the four founding members of the company, resigned their positions.  Both declined to comment on their resignations, and Pinkston remains connected to the company as an author and a freelance editor.  Around this time four authors, whose as yet unpublished books were placed on hold, asked for and received back their publication rights.  Two authors with upcoming books have decided to stay with Valor.  Salima commented, “The authors who had their rights returned were those whose expectations were far beyond what we could deliver, or any publisher for that matter. When we restructured and streamlined Valor Publishing Group, those authors with whom I had to delay their printing were given the option of staying with Valor or having their rights returned.”

Valor author Jenni James stated that the main reason for the delays was the withdrawal of a key investor, who, she claimed, withdrew because of his own financial state, not because of concerns about the company. Author Gordon Ryan, one of the authors who took back their publishing rights, blamed Salima for focusing more on other endeavors than on her business, and said her actions were “not limited to incompetence, but were intentionally deceptive.”  Others with business dealings with Valor also responded to my inquiries with claims that Salima failed to follow through on promises, misrepresented the financial state of the company, and acted in an unprofessional manner.  James defended the company by insisting that Salima had always been honest with her, and that the company was in sound financial health.  Valor announced this week that it was going through “restructuring and streamlining”, and Salima commented, “We are indeed moving forward and not closing our doors.”  James admitted the company was “humbled” by the recent troubles, and planned a more modest slate of releases for 2011.

WiDo Publishing, in Salt Lake City, is the creation of the Gowen family.  The President/CEO is William Gown, family member Don Gee co-created the business and acts as typesetter and designer, Bruce Gowen (William’s father) helps run the business, and Karen Gowen (Bruce’s wife) acts as an assistant editor, as well as the author of two of the company’s first four books.  Kristine Princevalle is the Managing Editor, and Liesel Autrey DeVaul and Allie Maldonado also serve as editors.  The company was created in 2007 to publish Karen Gowen’s first book.  It published two more novels in 2009, and one so far in 2010.  Although the one book published this year is David J. West’s Book of Mormon-themed novel “Heroes of the Fallen”, WiDo staunchly avoids the term “Mormon publisher”.  Karen Gowen stated the company is “veering away from Mormon themes and characters to make our titles appeal to a wider demographic.”  It has as many as ten more books under contract, mostly novels, some of which were promised for 2010. Karen Gowen, however, says WiDo is “Cutting back production. We may not have as many new releases in 2010 as planned. WiDo is very conservative in its approach.”  As stated above, WiDo puts comparatively little money into promotion, but instead claims that they actively train their authors to promote their books themselves.  Some authors attached to WiDo, however, have said that they are disappointed by the lack of communication between them and the company.

Leatherwood Press, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2004 by the current President and co-owner, Garry P. Mitchell.  It publishes in the Mormon market under two imprints, Leatherwood Press, and since 2008, Walnut Springs Press.  Linda Prince Mulleneaux is the Managing Editor, and Amy Orton the Art and Marketing Director.  The company has produced 159 books since 2004, mostly children’s and non-fiction books.  Since 2008 it has also published thirteen fiction books. In 2009 it published two children’s books, eleven nonfiction books, and five novels.  In 2010 it is scheduled to publish eight nonfiction books and eight novels.  In terms of number of titles, Leatherwood appears to have moved into the second position, behind Cedar Fort, as most active independent publisher.  Mulleneaux commented, “In the last few years we have struggled financially, but things appear to be looking up now.”

Authors who published with Leatherwood were effusive in their praise of Mulleneaux as an editor and an advocate for the authors, although some noted that the editing and rewriting period was rushed, resulting in embarrassing mistakes. There was a split of opinions about the company’s marketing efforts.  Some authors were disappointed, while others accepted the fact that the company’s budget necessitated self-marketing.

One Walnut Springs author noted that one attraction she had towards the company was that the contract did not require “right of first refusal”, a provision found in many contracts in the Mormon market.  Mulleneaux commented “right-of-first refusal clauses are uncommon in the publishing world in general . . . ROFR clauses are often illegal (they restrict trade) and unenforceable.” The WiDo contract also apparently does not contain the “right of first refusal” clause, but Brent Rowley said at Valor “most of the contracts [had] a ROFR clause. It was somewhat negotiable.”

Independent publishers face many hurdles these days — from the bad economy to stiff competition to revolutionary changes in the way books are published, marketed and distributed. It is rather remarkable that they put out as much product as they do in spite of all the challenges. The message for established and aspiring authors, though, is that they need make sure that their work is as polished as possible before submitting and be prepared to take an active role in marketing any titles that make it to publication.

Editor’s note: a quote that was previously in this piece has been redacted because it had not actually been provided on the record. Andrew and I apologize for the error.

31 comments: “Andrew Hall reports on the struggles of independent LDS publishers

  1. Jettboy

    Distribution and Advertising baby. Without that there is no way to buy and sell to the public – especially a niche one. All independent publishing has the same exact problems. Big chains swallowing up smaller ones and becoming the selling gate keepers.

  2. Th.

    .

    I wish I had something nice to say, but I’m afraid Thumper’s mother will thump me if I so much as say I told you so.

    Sigh.

    Old models are dead or nearly so. I don’t know what the future looks like, but starting a new enterprise on old prinicples ain’t gonna work. V and Wi were moving in the right direction, but they were overambitious in the wrong ways.

    Of course. They’ve probably sold more books than I have. And that counts for something.

  3. William Morris

    I’ve never been compared to Thumper’s mother before.

  4. T.J.

    Very interesting article. Definitely worth reading for those interested in the LDS market.

  5. Andrew Hall

    Disclaimer: I do not nor never have had any business or personal relationship with any of the principles in this article. I have nothing against anyone listed, and I wish them all the best. I hope that the independent publishers can thrive. I feel sorry that some people will feel hurt by what was written, but again all anonymous claims were at least double sourced.

    I failed to add that besides Jenni James, Valor authors Karen Hoover and Andrea Pearson said that they felt Candace Salima was always honest with them.

  6. Karen Gowen

    Goodness, Th., already talking about WiDo (and Valor) in the past tense are we? Let’s not bury the baby until we have the funeral.

    Nice job, Andrew. Although a bit on the negative side I can see where that makes more interesting journalism.

  7. Tamara Heiner

    I didn’t find the article negative. Prusso didn’t like his experience, but I don’t know what he was told upfront. No other author from WiDo was quoted, and I doubt they were even interviewed. I know I wasn’t.

    I personally did think there would be more distribution on WiDo’s part, but as far as marketing and promotion, from the moment I submitted they asked my marketing plan. I knew going in that I was going to have to do a lot of the leg work. It’s a bit discouraging that we aren’t into independent bookstores, but I’ll just have to focus a lot of my selling online. It’s limiting but not the end of the world.

    I do, however, wish there were better communication. This blog is the first I’ve heard that some of the books slated for 2010 might not get published this year. Why is that? A release date being postponed is not unusual or unexpected at all. We just want to be in the know.

    When an author signs w/ a small press, especially a new one, they know and should anticipate the rocks and bumps along the way. They are growing w/ the company. It’s been a learning experience for me, and not all positive, but certainly not all negative.

  8. Marilyn Brown

    Good, Andrew. (Yes, WiDo, he DID contact me but I was at Shakespeare in Cedar City.) I thought Andrew did a comprehensive job with the very touchy aspects of independent publishing. (I once had “dreams” for Salt Press.)I “straddle,” the problem because I have published so much on my own. I was VERY honored WiDo’s excellent editor Kristine Princevalle spent so much time and care with my FIRES OF JERUSALEM (my next novel, which took two years to research and two years to write, and was supposed to come out in the Old Testament year, but I just discovered it will be next February, so we’ll just have to market it as a Xmas treasure about Lehi in Jerusalem for 2012, the B of M.)Since I have no ego left, I am just GRATEFUL they will 1)Work with my book, and 2)Stay conservative in this economy. I have already tried to market myself for 25 years. I’m just praying for a “word of mouth.”

  9. ByTheRules

    Wonderful article. As an aspiring author, I have a direct and proximate use for this information. I would also appreciate any additional first hand comments/info from those with first hand knowlege of these publishig companies.

  10. William Morris

    That’s a bit of a loaded question, Moriah. What sort of clarification are you looking for beyond what the article already states: that WiDo has published work by Karen and work that’s not by Karen? It seems pretty straightforward to me.

  11. Moriah Jovan

    William, it is a loaded question, I know, but considering I created B10 to publish my own work, I hope you would not think I found that problematic in the least?

    I’m asking because Karen has, in the past, questioned me about how I choose to publish, which discussion got a little, ah, enthusiastic. Part of the discussion got into electronic publishing and other such matters.

    I have always assumed she was just an author for WiDo and didn’t really think much of it, but now that earlier discussion (for me) may take on a different light.

    I tried to word the question as diplomatically as possible and of course, she’s not obligated to answer my question at all. I’m just curious.

  12. stacy

    It’s standard in the industry across the board for authors to be asked to help with their own promotion, from Random House and HarperCollins on down to the smallest small press, so authors who think they shouldn’t have to do so need to remember what century they’re living in. There are kinds of promotion that will only feel authentic if the author is doing it, such as social networking. Even if the publisher *could* do it, you don’t *want* them to.

    So I can see how author expectations might be a part of the problem, but it’s also that everyone’s trying out something new, and not everything tried will completely succeed, but we’re all figuring it out one way or another. This run-down sounds about par for the course for new-ish small presses, especially in a down economy with some major changes happening both in the LDS niche and in publishing in general.

    I started Tu Publishing in Orem last year myself (multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults), and was looking to face a lot of these kinds of challenges. I was lucky—Lee & Low Books in NYC acquired the company before I really got much started beyond taking submissions, and I’m grateful to have distribution, sales, marketing, and all those other things that I would have had build from scratch. Not to mention a salary and benefits, which most founders of a small company can’t normally say for a few years.

    Building distribution from scratch is a LOT of time and work. It takes years to build up a good distribution network if you’re doing it independently without a distributor (contracted sales force vs. internal sales force), especially if your sales force is one person doubling for several other roles. And you have to have 5 books OUT (not slated, but out) for most distributors to even look at you. (Unless you’re printing POD from Lightning Source—which gets you distributed by Ingram—which costs several dollars more per book and that means huge problems for the very narrow profit margin. Most small print book runs need to be at least a couple thousand to have a per-unit cost that works out to making money if the print run sells through.) Even as a micropress—I was planning 2 books a year to start out—that’s a lot for one or two people to do on top of acquiring and editing.

    There was a lot about Valor that gave me a vibe that’s hard to pinpoint when it first started. Mostly it was because it was started by authors, not publishing business people, and the thing about authors is that while they’re often brilliant, lovely people who know it’s a business and treat it as such, they come from a particular perspective within the business compared to someone from the publisher side. They want as much publicity as possible, so to promise so much made me wonder what was being thrown under the bus, economically speaking, to make the P&Ls work. The margins are SO CLOSE in this business, but almost every part of the process is necessary to making the book as good as it can be and able to reach as many readers as possible. So where were they going to cut back? On editing? On profits (already should be expected to be no more than 3-5%)? On paper quality (won’t save that much money)? On art and design? (Actually, I’ve seen some of their covers and wondered; but the thing is: cover art is your NUMBER ONE marketing piece for the book. People DO judge books by their covers.)

    Getting the word out *is* important, but there are so many ways to do it that cost very little to no money. While we need to look beyond the current paradigm, there was a lot about what was promising that sounded *really* ambitious for a startup in this economy, especially in a struggling industry like publishing. It’s good to see them evaluating that and trying to be realistic about what their reach can be in the first year or two as they build distribution and such.

    The old model isn’t dead, but it’s requiring some adaptation. Right now I don’t think *anyone* knows what the end result should be of all this chaos, but e-books will be part of that (and all the attendant how-do-I-reach-new-readers-now? problem), as will social networking. The most effective methods of promotion nowadays are often free, but they require authors to put themselves out there, to engage with readers. Publishers can’t do that as effectively and authentically. Every author NEEDS a website. It may not need to be a blog, but it needs to have current, up-to-date information, including a way to contact the author so people who want to invite you to appearances (i.e., PAY you) can *reach you*. Don’t do a blog if you’re going to be boring or know you won’t update it, though. Figure out some other way to keep your readers informed of appearances and to give them something “extra” besides the book.

  13. William Morris

    Dome excellent, Stacy. Thanks for commenting.

    I want to especially emphasize this:

    “The old model isn’t dead, but it’s requiring some adaptation.”

    I think that in a time of transition, it’s important to test a bunch of different models (some of which may fail or may need to re-adapt or more only work under certain conditions or with certain markets). I also think it’s important for authors (and readers who love authors and want to see them succeed) to become more aware of what’s going on in the field than they would under a more dominant paradigm.

  14. Karen Gowen

    Stacy, So nice to see your comment. I had wondered where Tu Publishing was & it sounds like things are moving well.

    About distribution, I don’t know what WiDo would do without the opportunity of working with Brigham Distributing. Because for a small press to get distribution is like trying to get published all over again. Brigham Distributing makes it possible, and having been in the business for over 20 years, Barry Reader knows what he’s doing. He has access to both the LDS market and the national market. Although that’s no magic bullet, as bookstores everywhere are less willing to take a chance on stocking unknown and debut authors.

    When someone says “you can’t do this,” or “this isn’t working,” I get excited, because it means new ideas will come to overcome obstacles.

    WiDo is looking at several innovative distribution & marketing channels that should prove more effective in getting books to readers, not just for WiDo but for any author with books to sell. I’m currently doing a feature of contests on my blog to lead up to the unveiling of the “Big Event.” My passion is to empower authors and promote literacy, and there’s something coming (not directly associated with WiDo except that a few of us are involved with it) that will fill this need in an original and exciting way.

  15. Kent Larsen

    Another fantastic work from Andrew. Well done.

    The thing that struck me most about the analysis of these three companies is the statements that indicate that they are all distancing themselves from the Mormon market and trying to reach the national market. It kind of seems like what I wrote about years ago in Fiddler-Envy and the Elusive “Cross-over” Work and later in a post entitled Going National?.

    It seems to me there is danger in biting off more than you can chew, and I wonder if this interest isn’t heading in that direction.

    And for those who are fans of Mormon literature, I’m not sure if this is really what we want. Too often “going national” requires removing from the work most or all of what makes it Mormon.

  16. Eugene

    And “going local” too often leads to removing from the work anything that might offend the locals. (A not unjustified paranoia, and if you want to sell locally, one that must be reckoned with.)

  17. Harlow

    Some interesting comments about the need for writers to be involved in marketing their work. Whenever there’s so much unanimity I worry about what’s not being said. I’ve been reading Marion D. Hanks’ Bread Upon the Waters. As the opening piece he chose a sermon that begins with the fear that he may be doing nothing more than stating the obvious.

    But sometimes the obvious ought to be said. Publishing may have changed, but that change doesn’t mean that writing and marketing or promoting are suddenly the same skill set or temperment. A writer may put words together brilliantly, but feel that using words to promote the work is a form of exploitation, something like using people.

    Ever since coming across T.S. Eliot’s famous statement about having spent 20 years learning to use words only to find you’ve just learned how to get the better of words for the thing you no longer want to say or the way in which you’re no longer inclined to say it (that’s a pretty close paraphrase, but I don’t know where the line breaks are), I’ve tried to think about words and my relationship to them in a way that doesn’t imply adversarial exploitation, and I think it’s fair to say that in the last 20 years I’ve learned to co-operate with words in ways that allow me to do things I couldn’t 20 or 30 years ago.

    It’s also true that the time any writer spends on promotion is time that can’t be spent on creation.

    (I keep thinking about Pres. Uchtdorff’s talk (May 2009 Ensign) on Sanballat’s efforts to get Nehemiah to come down off the walls of Jerusalem, to distract him from his task of rebuilding. “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3))

  18. Moriah Jovan

    It’s also true that the time any writer spends on promotion is time that can’t be spent on creation.

    When I was in NY last week, I was asked to be in a live-studio webcast for Digital Book World’s Roundtable. The topic was self-publishing. I don’t care to brag, but I do have some voice in digital publishing these days, and from what I have seen, my opinion is that sitting in one’s attic devoting oneself to craft is officially now a pipe dream.

    I believe that big publishers are using self-publishers who can market themselves as their farm team (other than the easy peasy celebrity and blog-based low-hanging fruit).

    The writers who will win in this new age are the ones who can write AND market. And maybe not even the ones who can write. Sad, but true.

    “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3))

    Yep. Marketing.

  19. Jonathan Langford

    I agree with Harlow. And I agree with Moriah. I think there are good writers out there whose works we will likely not see because they don’t also possess good marketing skills. Which is a shame, though I think it’s also by no means the biggest problem afflicting the fiction/literature market.

  20. Harlow

    Thank you for your reply, Moriah (#21). I should probably ask what you mean by marketing, but your comment about pipe dreams reminded me of a company I worked for 11 years ago. I had been working as a casual for the Postal Service (their fancy word for temp)and just couldn’t swing the graveyard shift. I was exhausted constantly. I heard that a company was hiring a wholebunchapeople to do computer hardware tech support via telephone. I have a technical bent, so I signed up, and told them I could start as soon as I got back from the RMMLA conference in Albuquerque, where I was delivering a paper called “She, Clory, had a Testimony, and a Great Smile.” I missed a few days of training, but was there for the Chief Morale Officer’s “How Would You Like to Write Your Own Raise?” speech, where he shared his vision of how we could make lots of money through high productivity, and how the company was going to e-mail us each daily reports showing us our performance, which would give us the information we needed to write our own raise.

    He also talked about taking responsibility for our own brand. There was a new age coming in which the employees who would thrive were the ones who could manage their own brand (or did he say it all depended on the management of the creature?) I walked home that day wondering if I had fallen into a nest of multi-level marketers.

    Well, even if they had been able to get their integrated VOIP and database reporting software to work properly it would have been a pipe dream, and without the automated software a teamlead would be lucky if he or she only had to spend 3 minutes/team member/night pulling together the information. But who has 90 minutes a night to do that?

    But even if they had been able to get their hardware and software to work together properly it would have been a pipe dream because the write your own raise criteria were based on very short call times, and the skills you need to give excellent service to a customer, especially one with a complicated problem, are not the same skills you need to make a call very short.

    23:20 7/25/2010 (I started this on the 14th–sorry to take so long turning it over and over in my mind)

    If you point this out to your teamlead in a callcenter they will say, (all together now), “but there are plenty of people here who can do both.” And those people burn out, by one estimate, at a rate of 150-200% a year. Perhaps call centers find that the constant costs of training new employees are offset by low pay, making such a high turnover more acceptable.

    Writers aren’t as expendable as call center agents. And certainly not as easy to train, and it feels to me like “publishers are using self-publishers who can market themselves as their farm team (other than the easy peasy celebrity and blog-based low-hanging fruit)” is the same kind of a pipe dream, the dream of getting people who sign up with one kind of a skill to exercise another skill as well so you can save some money.

  21. Moriah Jovan

    Harlow, your points are well taken, indeed. As far as I remember, I didn’t say there was no consquence. I simply said, “This is the way things are.”

    it feels to me like “publishers are using self-publishers who can market themselves as their farm team (other than the easy peasy celebrity and blog-based low-hanging fruit)” is the same kind of a pipe dream, the dream of getting people who sign up with one kind of a skill to exercise another skill as well so you can save some money.

    Yes.

    it feels to me like “publishers are using self-publishers who can market themselves as their farm team (other than the easy peasy celebrity and blog-based low-hanging fruit)” is the same kind of a pipe dream, the dream of getting people who sign up with one kind of a skill to exercise another skill as well so you can save some money.

    Yes.

    And why shouldn’t they?

    Writers aren’t as expendable as call center agents.

    Yes, they are. There are thousands of writers lined up to get a chance to GET published, to take another writer’s place. That’s the brass ring, the holy grail, the manifestation of decades of brainwashing that a writer (of all artists) cannot, MAY NOT take one’s future into one’s own hands—a culture of fear that writers buy into because they’re so DESPERATE to GET published.

    Panning for gold.

    Every single writer writing today is, in fact, expendable, able to replaced by someone with equal, greater, or lesser talent, so long as the book sells. And speaking of books…

    Books are commodities, like coffee, tea, sugarcane, natural gas, and pork bellies. Even if the writers WEREN’T expendable (which they are), the books certainly are. That’s why they get their covers ripped off and pulped, why hardcovers sit on the bargain tables until they’re 50c.

    I’m not saying this is the way things SHOULD be. I’m saying this is the way things ARE.

    Do I think the days of sitting in one’s loft toiling the day away writing, being able to sustain oneself on one’s writing, are gone? Yes, I do.

    I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the way things should be, because what other writers and publishers do makes no difference to me whatsoever. But that’s my own little quirk.

  22. Harlow

    Jonathan (#22), thank you for your comment. I have strongly mixed feelings about Marketing, but I’m only presenting part of the mix because whenever I see strong unanimity of opinion I worry about what’s not being said.

    It probably is true that “there are good writers out there whose works we will likely not see because they don’t also possess good marketing skills,” but I’m not at all sure it’s true that good marketing translates into sales any more than it’s true that good writing or good filmmaking translates into sales.

    Back in highschool I found a copy of Pauline Kael’s collection Reeling on the BYU Bookstore’s remainder table, and took it up to the dryfarm with a bunch of other books that summer to read when my cousins and I weren’t hauling hay or cleaning out weevily oat bins (than which nothing itches more, and for which nothing is better than a dip in the Weber, yea even 7 dips). I ate lots and lots of the book’s bon-bons, and remember sitting at Grandpa’s dining room table one night reading Part 3, On the Future of Movies. One of the things I remember from that essay is Kael’s complaint that she could write the most favorable and quotable review ever and it wouldn’t do one bit of good if the studio didn’t put it on movie posters or in ads.

    In the 30+ years since I’ve heard and read a lot of stories about marketing of movies, music, books, etceteraw, etceteraw, etceteraw, and one thing that comes up over and over and over again is that publishing is a crapshoot. No one knows what is going to capture the public’s imagination, and when something does watch for the imitations and sequels and prequels and seagulls to come out.

    But my concern with making writers into marketers runs deeper than that. Did you know that Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 12 different ways? I learned that from television, and at the end of the ad they’d rapidfire off the ways that Wonder Bread builds strong bodies. Now, I was a smart kid and I could count. So I put on my most attentive listening ears and listened as fast as I could and I could never count more than 7. I figured the Blunder Bread people thought I was stupid and if they claimed there were 12 ways but only mentioned 7, but mentioned them fast enough, I wouldn’t notice.

    About the time I read the Pauline Kael piece I was sitting in the Provo Library (courtesy of Andrew Carnegie) and came across an article in some magazine about ads as sermons. The basic structure of an ad is a vision of hell, a waitress looking at your shirt and taunting you with the chant “ring around the collar, ring around the collar,” a vision of heaven, clean collars, and their product as the way to get to heaven, “with Wisk around the collar there’ll be no more ring around the collar.” I still see that 3-part structure all over the place in all kinds of advertising, even in the yellow page ads I used to edit.

    I’m suggesting that for me and a lot of writers like me advertising and marketing are closely linked categories tinged with tactics of extortion and fear: you don’t use our product you’ll go to hell. (I do admit that one of my fond memories is being at a Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band concert in the Provo Tabernacle and shouting “Go to Hell,” but they didn’t play it.)

    Now you probably think I’m going to say something like, “so for someone like me doing marketing feels coercive or deceptive,” but before I say something like that let me back up a moment. Somehow I got on Carol Lynn Pearson’s e-mail list and I get an occasional newsletter that was called Carol Lynn Pearson “News & Views.” In the September-October, 2008 issue she said, “Because I have been called by life to address the issues of how we treat our gay brothers and sisters, and because this newsletter was born from my two recent works that address the subject, I must confess that the current situation [the fight over Proposition 8 in California] is very painful for me.” She included a couple of websites on both sides of the issue.

    Now it’s called Transforming, but I don’t find it nearly as interesting as the clip from Facing East that I heard on Radio West, (www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain/article/0/0/1303368/news/62008.Facing.East) or the Sunstone essay, “I Don’t Want to Be a Mormon Anymore” (not her words) (www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/090-53-57.pdf), which the publisher dropped from One on the Seesaw because it was just too Mormom, or the Sunstone excerpt from No More Goodbyes, (www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/142-66-67.pdf).

    Transforming is clearly a marketing tool. It feels like advertising, and I disregard it the way I mostly disregard advertising.

  23. Wm Morris

    “I’m suggesting that for me and a lot of writers like me advertising and marketing are closely linked categories tinged with tactics of extortion and fear:”

    That’s actually not at all the kind of marketing that MoJo and others are talking about. The authors who actually do this and do this well, develop relationships and a following of fans that is vibrant, interesting, and often very fruitful and even (as time allows) two-way. There are pros/cons to this type as well, but I think you misunderestimate how much the online world has changed an author’s relationship with his fans as well as the opportunity to circumvent (or at the very least supplement in a friendlier manner) the marketing the publisher is doing.

    Yes, there are sometimes cringing moments and actions on both sides — just as there are in any type of relationship. And there are costs to the author. But there’s never been a world where the author can just write and automagically reach an audience.

    Also: if Carol Lynn Pearson is your example of how author’s market to their fans, well, it’s probably not the best model to use.

  24. stacy

    This comes much later than it should, but I can’t let the “farm team” comment go by without saying something. Yes, on extremely rare occasion–notable because of the press surrounding the event–a publisher might pick up a previously self-published book. But out of the millions of self-published books published every year, that might happen to 10, 1 of which might get the kind of marketing, sales, and press coverage that Eragon did, for example.

    Publishers are still looking for writers most often the old-fashioned way: going through the slush pile, getting books from agents. Out of the 200 or so submissions I’ve gotten since January, only 1 or 2 have been self-published books, and neither of them has been worth spending more than a minute or two considering. The writing was just too bad, and the book had already exhausted its niche target market, making it impossible for me to market it to the people most likely to pick it up in a bookstore.

    Publishing is changing, yes. But it’s really more about format (e vs print) than self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Sure, millions of books are self-published every year, and it’s a valid choice for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s far overstating the situation to say that publishers are at all looking at self-published books for material.

  25. Andrew H.

    Jana Reiss article “Mormon Publishing: Four Trends to Watch”

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Mormon-Publishing-Four-Trends-to-Watch.html

    One interesting section:
    “It will become even harder for Mormon authors to make a living. In the publishing industry, we used to say that fewer than one percent of authors make their living solely from writing. (I am not one of these, by the way.) I haven’t seen any recent statistics, but that figure has to be down to a fraction of a percent now. That’s because of the aforementioned explosion of books, of course, but it’s also due to the changing royalty structures of the last decade or two.

    In the good old days, authors would receive a 15 percent royalty of the list price of the book, so if your book retailed at $20, you’d get three bucks. Sweet. As margins got tighter in the book industry, many publishers began to pay 15 percent of the net price of the book, which is half or even less than half of 15 percent of the list price. (The net price is what’s left over for the publisher after the bookseller’s substantial discount.) But we’re not stopping there. This summer I saw a book contract that offered the author — wait for it – 5 percent of net receipts. In our $20 list price example above, that would mean the author gets just fifty cents for every book sold. And to make this math even more depressing, consider this: now that ebooks are rapidly gaining consumers (last month Amazon announced that ebook sales had outstripped hardcovers for the first time), and consumers have come to expect that ebooks can be had for the enticing low price of $9.99, an author might get even less. It’s enough to drive a Mormon author to drink.”

  26. Moriah Jovan

    Ah, well, although not a Mormon publisher, I think this is pertinent: Dorchester is going to the born-digital and POD trade paperback model just to try to survive. They already sold off a good portion of their romance backlist to Avon some months ago.

    I have my doubts that they’ll survive, as they have to retrofit their entire model whereas born-digital presses have been doing this successfully for years now. I sure hope they do, though.

  27. John Lee

    Just fell down the rabbit hole into your strange, yet oddly wonderful world. The Church and business seems as foreign a combination as oil and water. Mighty fine discovering well written and professional folks in the publishing realm who are members. Thanks to whomever created and keeps up this gathering place, and the several contributors. Sweet reads.
    Anyone needing global non-LDS related motion picture help in trade for occasional publishing help- I am way up for connecting.

  28. G.M.Browning

    I have had some bad experience with publishers and agents. I am now a proud member of the WiDo stable of authors. They’ve been kind, prompt, dedicated and honest. They’ve helped me become a better writer.

    Any author who is not willing to go out and do whatever it takes to sell books, shouldn’t even try to get published. You get what you put in.

    With that said, I’ll market my book right now…
    VISIT MY BLOG: gardnerbrowning.blogspot.com
    VISIT WIDO PUBLISHING for info on the release of my new novel, “CERULEAN ISLE.” A highseas adventure like no other!
    FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @GMBrowning

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