Last week in a guest post on Dawning of a Brighter Day, Jana Riess suggested that Mormon novelists have a more difficult time getting published than those in the Christian market because Deseret Book dominates the LDS market so much. [I can't resist pointing out that I've argued the same thing here on A Motley Vision, and that others have made this argument as well.]
But Riess went further, suggesting that novelists who can’t get a contract with Deseret Book should self-publish instead of going with any of the other publishers in the LDS market. Really?
I’m happy to admit that most of the publishers in the LDS market aren’t as professional as they should be, and have a very limited reach. I’ll also admit that the results that the small LDS publishers can get for the author will likely not be as good as if the author’s novel was published by Deseret Book or by a national market publisher. But, shouldn’t the author also ask herself if self-publishing will be as successful as publishing with these small LDS publishers?
One of the first posts I wrote after I was asked to join AMV discussed the difficulties of self-publishing, even in the current POD-driven self-publishing world. Among other things, I pointed out that self-published titles don’t reach LDS bookstores the way that even titles published with the smaller LDS publishers do. And, many authors self-publishing their books simply don’t realize how difficult self-publishing can be.
I won’t cover again all that I wrote in that post. Instead, I want to highlight another reason for supporting independent LDS publishers, you might call it a political reason: If most LDS authors self-publish, then will the lack of strong LDS publishers and a more dynamic LDS market ever change?
At least theoretically, carefully selecting a small publisher who can reach the audience or who the author can help to reach the audience for his book should give an author as much or more success than self-publishing, even if it isn’t as lucrative. And, by strengthening the small publisher, an author not only helps him or herself, but also helps fellow authors who publish with that publisher.
In the long run (again, at least theoretically), stronger small publishers in the LDS market means competition for Deseret Book, and improved opportunities for authors. In this sense, by publishing with a small publisher the author can help herself. When a market has multiple publishers, the successful author can choose between them, and likely get a better deal and better distribution in the process. And the less successful author may actually get published by a strong publisher, instead of spending a lot of time and effort learning how to publish effectively.
The problem is that the hallmark of self-publishing is its instability and impermanence. Usually self-publishing doesn’t institutionalize its ability to produce and sell—i.e., publish—books. Successful institutions learn and apply what they learn to future tasks. Like it or not, self-publishing usually learns for a single or a handful of projects, and loses that knowledge once the project(s) are done or the author has moved on.
I don’t mean to suggest that authors should never self-publish. My view is that it depends a lot on the author’s abilities and resources. For some it is probably the best move. But, I do want to reiterate what I first said soon after joining AMV, that self-publishing is a difficult path to getting published (although admittedly the only path for far too many books).
And, I also want to emphasize that self-publishing usually does little to address the overall problem we face in the LDS market. [Its not really a problem for the national market, which is well developed.] If Deseret Book is really the only LDS publisher worth publishing with, then we are indeed in a difficult situation. But even so, the only way out of it is to develop strong independent LDS publishers. And someone will need to publish their books with those publishers in order to make them strong.