LDS Fiction by Tristi Pinkston

I thought I’d be able to post today and tomorrow, but the best laid plans…Thankfully, I’ve already received a few guest blogs. But please send more. I’d like a variety of voices to pick from. I know there are lots of good ones out there because I read them regularly! (You should know who you are…)

I’m about to get myself into a whole lot of trouble with what I’m about to say, but I’m prepared to roll with the punches.

The LDS market has had its ups and downs. Some fabulous books have been published, and some not-so-fabulous books have been published.

I’ve spoken with many a reader who has told me they are disenchanted with the LDS market. “I tried such-and-such book,” they tell me. “It was so poorly done, I couldn’t read it.”

That, my dear bloggy friends, is a problem.

The LDS market is very small still. We need to be holding ourselves to a higher standard so that when people hear the words “LDS fiction,” they aren’t immediately fighting a gag reflex.

The main issues readers seem to have fall into these categories:

1. Predictable plots – girl meets guy, one or the other of them isn’t a member, so they join, and they live happily ever after.

2. Bad editing.

3. Lots of preaching.

4. Cheesy dialogue.

5. Too froo-froo – the books don’t address real-life issues.

6. Problems are solved too coincidentally.

Today’s readers want meat. They want to sink their teeth into a story, not nibble around the edges of the frosting. This is not to say that they don’t want entertainment – they do. But they want intelligent entertainment.

As I see the potential the LDS market has, I get all excited to think about the amazing books we can turn out in the future. We have already done a lot to increase the quality of what’s available. I mentioned in today’s earlier blog that LDS authors are researching more thoroughly, editing more meticulously, and stretching themselves farther than ever before. That’s what we’re going to have to do in order to stay competitive with the national market.

Now, to you readers – there are scads of good LDS books out there. We now have authors that compare with nearly every nationally bestselling author there is. If you’ve read an LDS novel and been totally disenchanted with the market because of it, please, give it another go. The bar is being raised. New authors are coming on to the scene all the time and the established ones are honing their talents like never before.

It’s important that we support the LDS market as much as we can. The publishers need to see that there’s an interest in quality fiction – they are already putting most of their money into nonfiction because that’s what’s selling. Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about nonfiction. But if we want to keep seeing LDS fiction published, thereby making a way for talented authors to continue to make it to the shelves, we’ve got to get out there and show the bookstores what we think. Buy LDS fiction. Talk to your friends about it. If you find an author you really like, pass the word along. We can build this up to where the funds are present and the motivation is flowing. LDS fiction is still relatively new, and every new endeavor needs time to grow and develop. I think it’s starting to come into its own, and I’m excited to see it happen and to be a part of it.

Tristi Pinkston
LDS Historical Fiction Author
Media Reviewer

LDS Content, National Market

Suppose an author has a finely written, solid manuscript that that deals with universal issues (family, friends, self-worth, love, etc) and is set in an LDS community and has mainly LDS characters. Assume you believe the story would sell well in the LDS niche, but would also have some appeal to the mainstream market.

In your opinion, would it be better to focus on the LDS market, where the book would be seen as a great success, or try for the mainstream press, where even double the sales volume might be seen as a lackluster performance? Is there a point where you would recommend one path over the other?

Most of the time when authors tell me they have a cross-over novel, they really don’t. Either they have an LDS book or a national book, and it seems clear to me which it is. But assuming it really is a story that could sell in either market…

This is one of those questions that you’ll have to answer for yourself. It really depends on what your goals are, the type of story it is, and which audience (LDS or national) you feel an allegiance to. There are valid reasons for choosing either approach.

If it were me and this was my first novel and the setting and characters were LDS, I would go with an LDS publisher simply because it would be easier to make the sell. After I had 4 to 6 LDS best sellers under my belt, I would strategically plan the best way to create a cross-over novel—whether to have the LDS publisher take it national or to use my LDS market best-seller status as a springboard to getting a national agent/publisher. (If this was my long-term plan, I’d make sure there was nothing in any of my contracts that would prevent this.)

Having a novel with an LDS setting and characters published nationally can be done; it has been done. Two that immediately come to mind are Saints by Orson Scott Card and Charlotte’s Rose by A.E. Cannon. However, both these authors took the opposite route—they were successful as national, non-LDS content authors first, then wrote an LDS content novel.

I know there are some readers of this blog who are making that cross-over to national publishing right now. What I don’t know is if those national novels will have LDS characters or settings. I’d love to hear some of your opinions on this.

LDS Fiction Market

Spring Creek announced it no longer accepts fiction submissions and will only consider nonfiction. Millennial Press also only accepts nonfiction. Statistics seem to favor nonfiction publication over fiction. Do you think the LDS fiction market will continue to grow and new writers still have a chance at publication or do you think the nonfiction market is pushing out the fiction?

Non-fiction sells better than fiction. By a long shot. If you’re a small publisher, like Spring Creek and Millennial and several others, you have to make every penny count.

If you publish in the traditional way, you’re looking at an investment of $8,000—10,000 per title, or more. If your fiction titles aren’t selling fast enough, then your resources get tied up in inventory. If enough of your resources get bogged down in slow moving traffic, then you go out of business. It’s not always a question of what we would prefer to publish, it’s what we can afford to publish.

Having said that, YES, I think the LDS fiction market will continue to grow. The larger publishers seem committed to producing LDS fiction.

And YES, new writers have every chance in the world. Write a good book. It will get noticed.

Taboo Topics

What subjects are “off limits” that you would not consider publishing, no matter how well written?

This is going to vary from publisher to publisher. However, in the LDS industry, there are some basic standards–for example, most are not going to publish books that celebrate or glorify lifestyle choices contrary to the doctrine of the Church. Most will not publish books that bash Church leaders or policies. Most will not publish novels with graphic sex or violence. Most will not consider books on the occult.

After that, you’re looking at individual preferences. Some won’t touch novels with polygamy in any form; others don’t mind it in historical novels. Many won’t publish “contemporary” topics (addiction, unwed pregnancy, homosexuality) in any form; others will, if it’s done tastefully and shows the consequences of poor choices.

I won’t accept anything that I think will upset or tick off the average LDS reader, even if I think it’s well written or it’s something that I personally like. For example, I received a submission a few years ago about an addict who turned their life around. I thought it was well written, had a great message, and that some LDS people would be touched by it. But I rejected it because too many people would be upset by its grittiness and I cannot afford to offend my readers. Other taboo topics at my company include homosexuality, child abuse, incest, the occult, gratuitous violence, descriptive intimacy, murder of children or real-time description of the death of children. Topics that would raise a flag, but might not be an automatic rejection are addiction, spouse abuse, infidelity, unwed pregnancy, loss of testimony.

Age is Relative

I recently attended the LDStorymakers Conference and received a recommendation from a couple of authors that I increase the age of my main character (it is a romance novel). At the beginning of my book, she is 19 but the bulk of the book transpires when she is about 23-24. What age range would you recommend? Is 25 still too young? Thank you.

I generally don’t like to have a character introduced at one age, then jump forward in time five years to where the story actually takes place. You can sometimes get away with this in fantasy by using a prologue, but prologues aren’t really the “in” thing right now. Maybe it’s tolerable if something happens to the character as a very young child, and for some reason it needs to be described in real time, and then you jump ahead 20 years. But even then, it usually is going to be better to start the story at her current age, then fill in the backstory at appropriate intervals.

As to what age your main character should be, it depends on the story you’re writing. Teen romance is fine, if it’s not explicit or too sensual and follows LDS dating standards and guidelines. Romance in your early 20s is fine, and generally this is when most LDS girls fall in love and get married so I don’t see a problem with it.

Not knowing anything about your story, I can’t say why the authors thought your character needed to be older or if they are correct in that advice. But if those advising you are successful published authors in your genre, I’d probably listen to what they had to say.

LDS Content in the National Market

Why are national publishers so reluctant to publish anything with LDS content? It seems like when you do find mention of Mormons…someone is commenting on how odd they are. Do you think we’ll ever see serious LDS content in the national market?

Yes, I do think we’ll see some serious LDS content in the national market. Aside from the fact that Brigham Young prophesied it, and so I believe it, there are indications that we are moving that direction now. Our prophet has been interviewed by Mike Wallace and positively received on prime-time national television. The Other Side of Heaven, a movie about an LDS missionary, was nationally produced and did okay. The Work and The Glory movies get national distribution. LDS artists, illustrators, musicians, and authors are getting national attention. So yes, I think it’s only a matter of time before a novel with LDS content makes the national market.

I hope I get to publish it. And perhaps you’ll be the one who writes it.

What Floats My Boat

What types of projects do you get the most excited to produce and

When I am reading through a manuscript and I laugh out loud (because I’m supposed to, not because it’s awful), I know I have a winner.

When I realize I’ve just read several pages and forgot to edit, I know I have a winner.

Other than that, this is a tough question to answer because I can get excited over any genre, fiction as well as non-fiction, that is really well written.

In fiction, I want something that tells a good story. I like something that touches me deeply, that speaks to common issues and core fears that most of us deal with. I like things with a positive ending–notice, I did not say happy. The book can end on a tough note, but there needs to be the promise that all will be well eventually.

In non-fiction, it has to be supportive of gospel principles and teachings. It needs to make me see something old in a new light or help me to understand something new. It needs to be a topic that a significant number of people would be interested in reading (like LDS history, marriage & family, etc.), or that a small group really, really needs or wants (like addictions, abuse, etc.).

And it always helps if the author is really pleasant and easy to work with.