Sunday, December 21, 2008

Comments on Mormon Publishing

Here are some thoughts I shared with an AML-List guy who does a year-end report on Mormon publishing:

The main reason why Zarahemla slowed down in 2008 is not financial—with over 1,000 copies sold, Thayer's Hooligan refilled the coffers nicely—but because I got caught up in a lot of freelance work for other publishers. I was hired by Wiley to edit Power Boating for Dummies, and I'm working on several Mormon-themed titles for a publisher in England that wants to start a Mormon imprint, tentatively named Liahona Press. The books are not literary, but they are lucrative. They're in full color and suitable for stacking deep and cheap at Costco, which has already placed some very large orders.

Fortunately, 2009 looks like several excellent things could be published by Zarahemla. Todd Robert Petersen's novel is under contract with Zarahemla and undergoing final revisions, with Brady Udall on board to blurb (whose own next novel was just delivered to Norton this month, I'm told, where Udall's champion Carol Houck Smith recently passed away, unfortunately). Serious discussions have taken place with Angela Hallstrom to put together a Mormon fiction anthology, Mahonri Stewart to put together an anthology of play scripts with an introduction by Orson Scott Card, Darin Cozzens (whose writing I love) to publish a story collection, Stephen Carter to publish a collection of personal essays (some contest winners and/or previously published in reputable Mormon journals), and a few others. Also, Zarahemla will likely publish volume two of the Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer, a collection of satirical Mormon news from the old Sugar Beet website and other sources.

Zarahemla has also made well-received overtures to two well-established authors with exciting, promising Mormon-themed projects that these authors are still trying to sell to national publishers, and we hope that one or both will choose Zarahemla if national publishers don't pick them up. I probably better not say who, since talks are so preliminary.

I hope many of these projects will come to fruition in 2009; it's the most exciting stuff we've had in the pipeline at one time since Zarahemla started, and more than one author has commented to me that he or she undertook his or her project because Zarahemla, in fact, exists.

I find that Zarahemla is negotiating only with writers with whom we are already familiar through their previously published writing or through literary circles. While we receive a steady stream of unsolicited manuscripts, very few of these manuscripts are even reviewed anymore, and we generally won't invest time in anything unless, at a minimum, it comes with recommendations from people we know and trust. In other words, if Orson Scott Card forwards us your novel and urges us to consider it, we will.

As is likely the case with many publishers large and small, sales are way down for Zarahemla in this last quarter. As soon as the stock market started getting wonky this past autumn, people seemed to stop ordering books from our website, and things picked back up only a little for Christmas. I know that Cedar Fort recently held an emergency liquidation sale at their warehouse because they've received so many returns of unsold merchandise from retailers. So that might make 2009 a bad year for introducing books, with new titles certain to sell fewer copies than if they had been published, say, a year earlier.

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