Author Archives: William Morris

Tom Nysetvold on the Mormon Texts Project 2.0

4.10.14 | | 2 comments

Tom Nysetvold has taken on the yeoman work of starting back up the Mormon Texts Project. He was kind enough to answer some questions about it.

Why did you decide to resurrect the Mormon Texts Project?

I somehow ran in to and read some books on Project Gutenberg (notably Joseph Smith as Scientist by Widtsoe) that had been done by the Mormon Texts Project (MTP). They led me to Ben Crowder’s MTP website, and I was very impressed with what he was doing. I got in touch with him and found out he’d recently suspended the project for lack of time to run it.
I thought it was a shame that many important Church books still weren’t (and aren’t) available, and I’ve long been interested in the ideals of open source projects, Creative Commons, etc., so I decided to do a couple of books to figure out the Project Gutenberg process and see if it was something I was interested in doing on a larger scale. I had a lot of fun doing The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, so I decided to try and get other people involved in the same type of work, and I contacted Ben and got his permission to use the Mormon Texts Project name. A few friends and I started working, and we’re now up to ten books released on Project Gutenberg (PG) this year (seven that were previously unavailable and three that were available only on the old MTP website). At this point, 31 church books are available on PG (23 of which were produced by MTP) out of roughly 45,000 books total. I think those numbers show that as a global religion with a rich heritage, we have a long way to go before that heritage is appropriately accessible. more

Artists own special temptations

3.6.14 | | 2 comments

Theric posted a link this The New York Review of Books article on Auden to Twitter and Facebook earlier today. It’s worth reading for many reasons but especially for this line:

Far from imagining that artists were superior to anyone else, he had seen in himself that artists have their own special temptations toward power and cruelty and their own special skills at masking their impulses from themselves.

Author interview with Lisa Torcasso Downing

12.19.13 | | 2 comments

AMV readers may mainly know Lisa Torcasso Downing from Mo-lit circles, including the comments section here and at the AML blog, and her work as fiction editor for Sunstone. But Lisa also writes fiction and has recently had two works of middle grade/YA fiction published by Leicester Bay Books (as L.T. Downing): Island of the Stone Boy and Get that Gold!  (the latter is part of her Adventures of the Restoration series). Lisa agreed to talk about those two books with me as well as some other Mo-lit topics.

You have two books that recently came out. Let’s tackle the one first that doesn’t have an overt Mormon connection: Island of the Stone Boy. You call it Mormon-friendly. And yet it is a “kid horror” novel. How do you make those [two terms work together?]

There’s no conflict between the terms, though I suppose the word “supernatural” might appeal to LDS parents a little more than “horror.” Maybe not. The reality is Island of the Stone Boy is a suspense novel. Yes, it’s a ghost story, which makes it paranormal, a subset of horror, but the suspense is what keeps my readers flipping pages. I recently got a note from an LDS mom who handed her 10 year old Island of the Stone Boy on a day off from school. He read it cover to cover in one day even though his brothers bugged him to join in a movie marathon. That didn’t happen because the book has ghosts, but because I remember what used to compel me to keep reading as a child, to click that flashlight on under the covers once my mother had closed my bedroom door. So that’s what I offered up in Island of the Stone Boy: good, old-fashioned suspense. more

BYU Studies review of the Matched Trilogy

12.9.13 | | no comments

My review of Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy is now available as a free download at the BYU Studies website. If you are not a subscriber, but would either like a print copy of the entire journal or a PDF download, check out the table of contents for the issue (52.4).

And here are the AMV posts that helped inform my approach to the review:

Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched

A nod to Mormon history in Ally Condie’s Reached

The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media

Replacing Irreantum: Readership

12.5.13 | | 20 comments

This post brings to an end my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters.

Other installments: Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions |Financial Models | Starting Up | Readership

READERSHIP

This series began by me thinking through the issues related to replacing a small, now defunct Mormon-themed literary journal (Irreantum). Looking at all the challenges (and choices) involved, it’s easy to see why very few are willing to take them on. But if there’s a reason to do it, then it’s for this — the readership. That’s true of any publication, but I think it’s especially true for the Mormon readership. In my experience, although the readership may be small, the actual readers are delighted to find something on the page that they can relate to. It’s important, rewarding work, and if a replacement could come about that expanded the readership that Irreantum had developed, that would be a great gift to the Mormon people.

And yet, I don’t want to downplay the concerns. Mormon publications have a mixed track record. There are no unqualified successes and the trail has been hard sledding the past few years for outlets that focus on fiction (Dialogue and Sunstone seem to be doing okay, but neither focuses primarily on creative work). Literature has long been in last place in terms of attention from the Mormon Studies crowd. And what readership there is seems to me to be fragmented along several axes in relation to content appropriateness; genre-literary; types of narrative art (fiction, essay, poetry, film, theater); socio-cultural experiences (Mormon corridor – diaspora); cultural aspirations (deseret school – missionary school); etc. more

Replacing Irreantum: Starting Up

12.3.13 | | 6 comments

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters.

Other installments: Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

STARTING UP

There’s such a wide range of factors involved in starting up a successor to Irreantum that I almost didn’t do this section, but there are a few items to think about in relation to starting up a Mormon literary magazine/journal that I decided I had something to say about.

Irreantum Assets: I’m not sure what all these would be, but at the very least there’s the Irreantum name itself and associated domain name [irreantum.org, which was never utilized for much]. But there may also be electronic files for previous content and those archives (and I don’t how extensive they are–it’d be awesome if there are electronic files that go all the way back to the beginning) could be leveraged for some value. Of course, anyone who wanted to put together a successor to Irreantum would need to put together a proposal for the board of the Association for Mormon Letters. I don’t know enough about the situation to say whether or not building on the bones of Irreantum is a good idea, but it may be worth exploring.

Minimal Start Up Costs: A domain name and a year of web hosting will cost about $100. Depending on the web development skills of the start up team, you may need to add on a premium WordPress (or other free CMS) theme as well as premium. Prices can vary, but a good premium theme can be as low as $40. That’s the minimum. Let’s say you want to produce 4 issues (I think 6-12 would be better) and pay for cover art (which is a good idea). In my opinion, $100 a cover is the minimum you should pay. And then let’s say you publish 6 pieces per issue and pay a token average payment of $20 per work. That’s $400 for a year’s worth of covers and $480 for content. Or say you were willing to pay 3 cents a word and averaged about 4,000 words per story/essay. That would make for 24k words per issue and 96k words total for the year at a total cost of $2,880. That’s all without paying for layout or editing or any additional services or advertising. But let’s say you operate under the exact submissions model as Irreantum and run a contest. For first, second and third place, Irreantum provided $300, $200 and $100. Assuming you’d do both fiction and essay, that’s $1,200 a year.

Crowdsourcing: One way to cover the start up costs would be to crowdsource them using something like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The beauty of crowdsourcing is that you are essentially pre-selling subscriptions. The genre community has found some success in funding anthologies and/or a year’s worth of issues of a magazine. Such a campaign could also test whether there is a readership for the magazine. The thing is, though, that Mormon fiction projects don’t have a great track record of being funded via a crowdsourcing campaign. Another barrier is that because crowdsourced campaigns rely on a variety of deliverables to gain traction, often a print product is involved and print versions can quickly eat up funding. On the other hand, it’s easy to see why crowdsourcing is attractive to those looking to kickstart magazines or (more often) anthologies. Let’s say a magazine was able to offer a good range of virtual incentives (no print version) from $5 to $30 and average $15. If you could attract 150 funders (which, make no mistake is a lot in the world of Mormon fiction — it’s certainly no given, but it’s doable), then you’d have $2250 to work with. That’s enough to pay for some covers and token payments to contributors as well as for basic webhosting. On the other hand, what happens if the Kickstarter fails? That can suck the air out of a project. An audience for a fiction publication especially can take a long time to build as potential readers (as well as potential contributors) wait and see if they like the editorial direction of the publication (or just see if the thing is going to make a go of it).

Recruiting Volunteers: based on my experience, here’s how to effectively recruit volunteers.

  1. Have a system in place to manage the work being done. Note that email + attachments is not a good system. Also have a style manual and production manual.
  2. Create a defined list of positions along with the job duties and expected time it will take to do the job well.
  3. Make sure a few of the positions can accommodate a fair number of volunteers just in case they appear (for lit pubs, that’s often slush readers and copyeditors). These are folks who can grow into other positions (either through experience or the ability to commit more time to the cause).
  4. Provide training.
  5. Have people in charge who are responsive and friendly.

Social Media: use it. It’s a must in this day and age. You don’t have to be prolific, but you should be consistent in posting, interact with your followers and have a point of view/unique voice. I’d say that Twitter and Facebook are the place to start, but I’d also play with Pinterest and Google+.

That’s all I have to say in terms of starting up a successor to Irreantum. Any othe analysis would be in response to specific efforts. What did I miss?

And with that, we have one more to go in the series: Readership.

Replacing Irreantum: Financial Models

11.29.13 | | 5 comments

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters.

Other installments: Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

FINANCIAL MODELS

Any replacement to Irreantum is going to have to have a viable financial model. By viable, I mean one that allows for the continued production of the publication. There a variety of ways that continuity can happen. Technically I’m mainly going to talk about generating revenue so this post should perhaps be named revenue models, but how much and what types of revenue generation is required for a lit mag/journal to continue to put out issues is driven by the financial model of the team behind it. In brief: the financial model can either be for-profit or not-for-profit. The legal structures (assuming that this is a U.S.-based publication) can be anything from a sole proprietorship to an LLC, LLP or S corporation to a cooperative (informal or legal), 501(c)(3) nonprofit, or private foundation. While the underlying legal structure matters, it doesn’t change the essential financial imperative of any publication: covering the costs of producing each issue. Here then are what I see as the range of revenue models for a lit mag/journal. Note that these can be combined and configured in many different ways.

Benefactor: The advantage of having a benefactor fund the successor to Irreantum is obvious: there’s immediate start up money and (often) money to fund on-going operations. The major disadvantage is that one is almost impossible to find. But let’s say that one could be found. There are very few benefactors who are willing to be completely hands off. Even if they are hands off at first, eventually they want some say in where there money is going (as well they should). In addition, they also usually expect that the organization raise as much money as possible in other ways, which means you still have to undertake some or all of the below. As far as I know (and I don’t know much), there are no major benefactors (note the term major; there have been some minor ones: see the next section) out there who would be willing to fund a Mormon lit mag/journal. more

Replacing Irreantum: Generating Submissions

11.27.13 | | 21 comments

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. Other installments:

Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

GENERATING SUBMISSIONS

You would think that with so few outlets for Mormon short fiction that submissions wouldn’t be a problem for any successor to Irreantum. My understanding is that that’s not necessarily the case. Very few Mormons fiction writers write Mormon fiction that shows the craft and maturity and potential appeal to readership that one would want in a lit mag that publishes more than four or five stories a year. A key reason for that, of course, is that there is little incentive to do so.

Any potential successor to Irreantum is going to have figure out how to increase both the number of submissions and the overall quality of them. That’s may be difficult, but I don’t see why one would even bother to launch a Mormon lit mag if you’re not going to aim to increase the number of stories written, submitted and published. If all the field needs are 8 or so short stories a year and a dozen to two dozen poems then that’s already covered between Dialogue, Sunstone and BYU Studies. So what can/do lit mags offer submitters?

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