Friday, February 27, 2009

Goodbye bad decision

Years ago my impression of Mormon books was that they are all heavy on the heartstrings (read: emotionally manipulative but generally spiritually weak) and light on the quality (read: poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly produced). I realize cognitively that the mormon publishing industry has been aware of these problems and working to fix them for the past 10 or 15 years, but the initial impression stuck with me.

I decided back then that I was NOT interested in publishing in the Mormon Market. Ever. Period.

Besides, I wasn't interested in writing books with the Mormon experience being the focal point of the plot. Or in writing inspirational books. And I still am not.

More recently, I have seen that more 'stuff' is being published--not only inspirational lit. More precisely, the Mormon Market has expanded to include romance, historical fiction, and fantasy, but my impression of it was still that it is stuff that couldn't be published for 'real' markets, so the authors went a step down to the 'mormon market', which isn't as discerning (look at all the "mormon" films that have come out for evidence to support this...."Sons of Provo" anyone?)

Nevertheless, I still was following (but not reading) the "LDS Publisher" blog, ever since she acknowledged that many lds books are poorly edited. At least she was aware of the limitations, you know?

Then she posted that there were some holes in LDS Literature--namely, books for 10-18 year olds that aren't fantasy (for boys) or romance (for girls). And that's what I write. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen a lot of stuff outside those categories for adults, either--where are the mormon thrillers and mysteries? Sure there are some, but not tons.)

Anyway, my first thought was, "That's what I write!"

Two days of not being able to forget about it later, I looked up Deseret Book (why not go with the biggie in the first place, right?) and rediscovered Shadow Mountain, their imprint that focuses on mass market fiction with LDS sensibilities (That's what I write!). I also discovered a key phrase on their website that wasn't there 10 years ago, when I last looked them up. That phrase, which I seem to think replaced "not accepting submissions", was "expanding our list." In other words, they're still actively signing new authors.

So I swallowed my pride and sent them a query and 3 chapters.

Then I started thinking: Deseret Book isn't going to be having the same financial troubles as other publishing houses. Why? They don't have the same massive problems with returns because a big part of their sales come from their own bookstores, and they have a built-in audience already identified, and they know those people are culturally inclined to be readers (more so than the regular public) because the prophets have long said "read". So they are probably a good press to publish with right now.

And then I started thinking more: I wouldn't have to worry about putting my (and my characters) Mormon culture into the books. Nobody would say "avoid religion at all costs" like the agent who worked for a Christian agency did. I could write my ex-cia mormon housewife who uses mommy skills as well as cia skills to solve problems without worrying about the fact that the main reason she quit her job at the cia was conflicts between her job and her beliefs that I couldn't explain but that Mormons would understand--and that form a central part of the emotion part of the plot (versus the action part of the plot).

And then I thought some more: I have always identified my audience as mass market with mormon sensibilities. So why shouldn't I try to sell my book to a publisher who specializes in that? And an agent would never go there because the market wouldn't be financially viable for them, so an agent would likely ask me to change the sensibilities of the book to be more 'mass market' so they could sell it.

I am glad I spent years pursuing mass market publication, really, because I have learned TONS about writing and about publishing. But now, all of a sudden overnight, I've come to the conclusion that maybe I belong in the Mormon market, although I still need to be convinced that that's not an insult to my abilities as a writer or to the intelligence of the readers I think would enjoy my books.

The idea of writing to intelligent Mormon women who don't want to read inspirational or romantic fiction (but still love to read) is actually quite liberating for me, now that I've accepted the possibility of it. I KNOW that audience. There's no guessing involved. I can have fun with books and know when I'm crossing lines, or what jokes they'll get, etc. It's like asking me to teach junior high instead of 3rd grade. I know that audience, and I can almost guarantee a slam-dunk.