I feel, as a new LDS fiction writer, like I am on shifting, volatile ground right now. I see LDS publishing companies that are smaller and more independent either shutting down business or struggling to stay afloat, while the bigger publishers slowly consume each other until they become one Frankenstien-like conglomeration; you submit to one, and get rejected by all. I read submission suggestions on the websites of LDS publishers and see that just about everyone is asking for literature that appeals to a wider audience than just LDS people. And this recent interview with Lyle Mortimer, who is in fact the CEO of CFI, my own publishing company, leaves me in a bit of a cold sweat. I guess comparatively, it’s not such a bad thing that my first book has only sold around 1400 copies so far. But it also points to a much more worrisome thing… something that maybe isn’t going to go away at all.
My husband has been urging me all along to self-publish. And I love the idea of the freedom that would create: the ability to present whatever face or idea to the world you want, entirely under your own creative steam, without being compelled to mainstream your stuff or curtail yourself in any way.
The downside of that is that young writers (and by young, I’m referring to experience, not age) we *need* that sort of direction and curtailment. I would not be nearly the writer I am today if I had not been rejected by Granite Publishing. Tristi Pinkston, the acquisitions editor at the time, provided me with a lot of detailed constructive criticism that took me to the next level as a writer. And the process of publishing—edits and edits, suggestions to clarify fuzzy messages that I did not realize came across as fuzzy, fixes for improbable plot twists… yeah. The ironic thing is, being published is often what makes you a writer worth reading. Not to say there aren’t writers out there who don’t do well on their own. I just believe (especially after reading a few of the independently-published releases in the LDS market this year… sorry) (No, James Goldberg, I’m not referring to you!) that this is not common. Amazing stories consist not only of honed, practiced writing, great plots and great character development, but also great editing. By someone not-yourself. Who has a lot of experience, not only in line-item editing, but overall story structure and what comes across well to a reader. And I hate to say this, but I think that’s kind of rare.
Another difficulty with self-publishing is (and this is just my opinion, after watching what my friends who self-publish go through) it’s basically the same thing as starting a small business, with intense amounts of time and labor spent to market, to get your name and product out there. In general, a niche market like this (LDS literature) gives you a better chance of finding your audience, but still, it takes a lot of work. Basically, if you’re self-publishing, you’re taking on a full-time job as a writer. With 7 children at home and a household to manage, I can’t quite afford that time commitment yet. And like with a small business there’s that risk (and it’s not a small one) that all your investment of time (and money too) will end up (I won’t say wasted, because you still created something, and that, by itself, is worth something) but with less benefit than you planned.
At the same time, this is how it always is. New territory means shaky ground and sometimes years of grind to get the flywheel going. And it sometimes means shaky product, too; product that has great potential but has not quite been fine-tuned the way it should. But that’s not a reason to lose hope. Scott posted something recently over on Dawning of a Brighter Day that left me feeling kind of depressed. I think sometimes we push for and believe in something, we expect it to be wonderful immediately. But something new will usually have kinks.
Like I said, I’m not ready to jump ship. Cedar Fort does a an excellent job at marketing my stuff–far better than I have time or ability for at this point in my life. But based on what we see (and cited by Lyle Mortimer himself) unless the big LDS publishers adopt a radically different model of marketing and publishing to match the way publishing as a whole is shifting, I will have to jump at some point. We will all have to. I hope that by then, I will find it a far less shaky and frightening prospect than I’m imagining it to be right now.