Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Zarahemla Books: Edgy, but not Apostate, Part III

By Darvell Hunt

Part III: Why would LDS writers submit to Zarahemla Books?

Today I’m posting Part III of my series exploring the newest LDS publisher on the block, Zarahemla Books. You can find the previous two episodes by going to here and here.

In this third and final installment, I would like to ask (and attempt to answer) one last question: Why would I, as an LDS writer, want to submit my writing to Zarahemla Books to be considered for publication?

This, I think, is the most important question in this whole discussion. Why would I want to do this indeed?

First, why wouldn’t I want to submit to them? That’s a much easier question to answer. Zarahemla is small. They haven’t been around for very long. Who knows if this little publisher is going to survive in the LDS market? If something I wish to submit to them really were outside of the “normal scope” of what LDS publishers will publish, wouldn’t a national publisher possibly be a better choice for submission?

Maybe.

Suppose I could take my “edgy, but not apostate” LDS novel that was aimed toward the LDS audience and rewrite it enough so that it could be targeted toward the national audience. Would that be a good idea? More sales, bigger advances (the LDS market doesn’t really have advances), and generally, more publicity. That sounds like a good idea.

Or, should I submit it to Zarahemla Books, with hopes that it will sell enough to make the time spent doing the writing, publishing, and marketing, all worth it—or, at the least, to possibly break even? Does that sound like a better idea?

YES.

What, you say? Why?

Because the LDS market needs growth. We need more books like what Zarahemla wants to publish. If I can help grow Zarahemla Books by submitting something they don’t already have, yet still fits within their range of interest, then I believe I should do that to further their cause—because I believe in what they are doing.

Stupid? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Worth the risk? I certainly hope so. I like reading LDS books. Yes, many of them seem shallow, even sappy, to me, as I mentioned before, but I still like reading them. (Sadly, sometimes I like the idea of reading LDS books more than I like actually reading them, but that’s what I’m trying to help fix, right?)

Like many LDS readers, I do read more mainstream fiction than LDS fiction. I’d like to see that change. If at all possible, I would like to shift the ratio of the books I read to be more heavily weighted with LDS works. I would also like to do that for other LDS readers out there. Submitting to Zarahemla can help do that.

If my “edgy” material gets accepted by a national publisher, I might become a “small fish in a big pond.” I might also end up having to “spice it up” to make it acceptable to the national market, however. On the other hand, if Zarahemla were to accept it, I might become a “big fish in a small pond.” The income made and the copies sold would likely be considerably less, but—I would be making a difference.

Would making a difference be enough reason to submit to Zarahemla Books? I say YES.

As such, I am very interested in making a big splash in that little pond called Zarahemla Books. I also hope there are other LDS writers out there who would be willing to join me on that rock outcropping over this little pond, look down at the cool surface below, and prepare themselves to cannonball off into uncharted waters. Hopefully, we won’t hit the bottom on our way down.

You can find more about Zarahemla Books at http://www.zarahemlabooks.com/.

(See here for Part I. See here for Part II.)

8 comments:

Rebecca Talley said...

I would also like to see the LDS market grow because that's what I read. I never read mainstream, national adult books (not that kind of "adult"), though I do read mainstream, national juvenile fiction. But, even with the juvenile fiction I have found too many books that I've stopped reading, or even thrown away (very hard to do), because of the language and/or content. So for me, I generally stay with LDS fiction and I'd like to see it grow. Here's to hoping you can be a big fish, Darvell.

Th. said...

.

I'm still waiting for you to comment on the six books you purchased and, presumably, read. Your comments will mean more if you can place them in the context of what's already been published.

I only have one of ZB's books so far (Brother Brigham--review to be posted on my blog later today or tomorrow), but I intend to get more and read more. And I believe in Zarahemla and hope things work out well for them.

I have some selfish reasons for that hope, but I suppose Chris should like any reason that furthers his cause. Right, Chris?

Darvell Hunt said...

Good point.

Actually, though, with the media rate shipping and with me being out of town lately for work, I didn't get them until Saturday.

I unpacked them, read the blurbs, checked out the first pages, and then promptly left Utah again on Monday for another week away from home for work.

I am looking forward to reading them, tho.

Even so, I've been following Zarahemla since almost it's creation. At first, I thought things like, "Yeah, well, that's nice, but it's not going to work."

Since then, however, I've seen some very positive responses from the media and others on these first few books such that I'm starting to take serious notice. I find myself thinking "Hey, maybe this is going to work out after all! This could be really cool!"

But, this will only work out if LDS readers, like me, and LDS writers, like me, are willing to support it. I find myself believing in what Chris is doing, so I'm going to do what I can, if anthing, to try to help the cause.

I guess we shall see what happens.

Darvell

Rachelle said...

Darvell,
Great posts and very interesting information about Zarahemla. I liked your detective work as to why they are needed in the LDS market. I agree that I have read many LDS books that have left me less than dazzled but I don't want to risk being shocked by the mainstream market so I'm very careful what I read. Hopefully they can be successful without crossing the line or falling prey to justification.

Jeff Savage said...

Darvell,

Great blog. I'm all for more publishers if they can at least be self-sustaining. I'm not sure I buy the idea that a publisher that can't sell enough books to stay afloat (not speaking specifically of Zarahemla here, just in general) is really "needed." If it is needed, people should be buying its books. If they don't, was it really needed? If it does succeed, then it was needed.

You make a couple of assumptions here that I think are at least debatable. The first is that there are many topics you couldn't write about with the existing LDS publishers. What are those topics? So far the only one I know of is polygamy. Current publishers cover everything from adultery, to drug use, eating disorders, rape, falling away from and back into the church, etc. There is Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, Historical. I'm even doing a horror novel. So is it really topic or is it the language used to discuss the topic or the graphic nature of such scenes?

That is another matter entirely. I completely agree that most LDS publishers are very conservative on not only the language you can use, but also the types of things you can show. So in that case, Edgy but Not Apostate makes sense. But that's not how the publisher is being portrayed. Chris seems to focus constantly on "topics." Why not just say, we think most LDS publisher are too conservative in what they allow in their books are we are more open in that area?

As to why most LDS readers read national books, I think it is a simple case of quality vs economics. They best writers go to the place where they can make the most money (in general, not always) just like the best athletes play for the pro teams in their sports.

You read national fiction not so much because it covers topics LDS publisher couldn't or wouldn't, but because your favorite writers write nationally. At least this is my opinion. Hopefully as the quality of LDS writing goes up, more books will be sold which will inspire more writers.

But at the same time, as writers get better at least some of them will look to sell in bigger markets. Hopefully they can do both as OSC, Dean Hughes, and others have done.

I guess my final opinion is, I hope Zarahemla succeeds because they write good books that people want to read. Anything that gets more people trying LDS fiction is good for all of us LDS writers. But I think they are shooting themselves in the foot if their message is, LDS fiction pretty much stinks, so we are going to write what people "really" want.

Darvell Hunt said...

Thanks for all of your comments.

Jeff, I hope Zarahemla's stance is NOT "We are publishing these books because what exists in the LDS market stinks!"

Like I wrote in my blog, I think the quality of books published by the "big" LDS publishers has been steadily increasing over the past few years. That's great. I imagine Zarahemla helping with that.

I'm curious about your LDS horror novel. I have one, too, which has been rejected by Deseret Book. I don't think Covenant or Cedar Fort would publish it, either, but I haven't sent it to them yet.

I agree with you, though, that if Zarahemla cannot make it because they can't sell enough books, then there is no reason for their existence. I mean, a publisher is there to supply books to readers, and if the readers aren't buying, what's the point?

If Zarahemla turns out to be a vanity publisher to satisfy the wants of a very few select readers, it's not going to work, nor should it.

What I'm excited about, tho, is the possibility of getting new books out there that people WANT to read and WILL buy, but are books that no other LDS publisher is willing to take the risk publishing.

Yes, my favorite authors are national. Your stuff is pretty good, though!!! (Not brown nosing, but being honest. Your books are NOT shallow NOR sappy. Kudos to YOUR publisher to accepting you. LOL.)

Darvell

Jeff Savage said...

Darvell,

I’m not sure that’s exactly why Chris started Zarahemla, but he has made some comments similar to that in the past, which we’ve discussed on other forums. Still he’s entitled to his opinion, and I agree that a lot of LDS fiction is not that good. But I understand OSC stated at the LUW that most of all genres (including literary fiction) are pretty lousy. So I guess we can’t expect to buck the tide. That being said, there is always room for more fiction which is better.

As far as my horror novel. It’s called Dark Memories and it is the novel I got my national agent with. Unfortunately, despite quite a bit of interest from Bantam, it didn’t get published. A couple of months ago I was talking to my editor at Covenant and we discussed the idea of a mainstream Mormon horror novel, or supernatural thriller—whatever you want to call it. We both felt like there was a lot of interest in publishing a horror novel that was scary enough to keep you up at night, but not R rated in it’s language or gore.

I sent him my manuscript and he really liked it. We will be meeting the end of this month to go over edits, but the committee is excited about the idea of publishing it and I am both excited and a little nervous to see how well it will be received. On the one hand, every time I talk about it at presentations, everyone asks when it will be out. On the other hand, it’s never been done by a mainstream Mormon publisher. I know Brother Brigham and a few other LDS novels are in that general genre, but this is Covenant.

So we’ll see. I believe it will get a lot of attention. If the sales are good, I really think it opens the door to other Mormon horror novels. And if the sales are not so good, at least I’ll have something to tell my grandkids about.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Tell you the truth, I don't personally read enough Covenant/Deseret/etc. fiction to know if it's good or bad. I just know from many reports and SOME experience that it's overly sanitized for my taste and tends to pursue agendas that don't interest me much.

I've been toying with the Zarahemla mission statement. Here's the current version: "We publish provocative, unconventional, yet ultimately faith-affirming stories that yield new insights into Mormon culture and humanity."