Friday, December 17, 2010

Status Report on Zarahemla Books

Someone asked me for some thoughts on Zarahemla Books and Mormon publishing, and I ended up typing more details and personal thoughts than he probably needed, so I'm posting it here as a personal blog/journal entry.

My little Mormon-themed publishing company Zarahemla Books published three titles in 2010. Angela Hallstrom's story anthology Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction has sold nearly 300 copies, Stephen Carter's personal-essay collection What of the Night about 50, and Darin Cozzens's story collection Light of the New Day about 60 copies. I knew none of these titles were particularly commercial, especially the latter two, and they have performed exactly how I expected.

For 2011, right now I am editing a huge Mormon play anthology put together by Mahonri Stewart. I don't have much mojo for Zarahemla work anymore, so it's taking me a long time, and I don't know exactly when it will be done but hopefully this next year. In 2011 we will probably also put out a new Doug Thayer story collection, if he gets it done and still wants us to, and volume two of the best of The Sugar Beet (satirical Mormon news), if the compiler and designer get it done.

If we do three titles in 2011, I will still have four ISBN numbers left with Zarahemla, and I would like to see these ISBNs well used (of course, if needed I can always buy an additional block of 10 ISBNs for about $250). However, I'm a little burned out and don't see myself personally doing much else with Zarahemla beyond 2011, except perhaps publishing another one of my own novels if I ever finish one and can't sell it elsewhere. This is par for the course for me on volunteer things: I tend to last five solid years and then feel ready to move on (I did Irreantum and The Sugar Beet each for about five years). I started Zarahemla in about August 2006, so I'm coming up on five years.

That said, there's no reason to ever shutter Zarahemla. I would like to keep it open for qualified editors with book projects that they have already perfected with the authors and that sound like they would be good to publish. When the text is ready for publication, then I don't mind using the Zarahemla pipeline to get it out: page layout, proofreading, cover design, printing, distribution through Ingram, and notifying some potential book reviewers. But it has to be an editor whose editorial taste and skill I know and trust. This has actually already happened several times in the past, and it's probably the only way much is going to get done with Zarahemla in the future. The problem is, I have to like it too, of course.

Personally, I just don't have that much time and energy to review manuscripts and do developmental editing with authors. I mean, I would if the books sold better and I got some personal payment from it, but it's all just essentially volunteer work, and I have my own family and creative projects and TV shows to keep up with. At the same time, if the right manuscript came my way that was highly recommended and sounded interesting and, most importantly, gripped me enough that I couldn't stop reading, then I could get excited about it, perhaps even to the degree of doing developmental editing with the author, as needed. But I would have to be really into it, enough to set aside my own pleasures and pursuits.

What it boils down to is that, for the last seven or eight years or so, I have been too workaholic, doing a full-time corporate day job, writing and publishing my own seven books with five different publishers, teaching a night freshman-composition class at Utah Valley University every fall and spring semester (and now two online sections every fall and spring too), and launching and running Zarahemla Books, which has put out 13 titles so far. I'm 44, and this is not the way I want to live my life anymore. I am now turning away even paid nonfiction book projects and otherwising trying to reduce and simplify my life. Seriously, I am finally starting to watch some TV shows I've been wanting to watch for years.

As far as the state of Mormon publishing, I don't really see any significant progress. Frankly, I don't really care at all what Deseret and Covenant are doing with fiction, because I know their fiction will always be too sanitized and contrived for my taste. I think it's cool that so many Mormons are breaking into national young-adult books, from Twilight on down in terms of sales impact, but I'm not personally interested in reading any of them. I still think it's lame that believing, practicing Mormons can't produce nationally engaging adult work because they are too timid and squeamish and uptight about presenting real life, but even if they did I think national publishers and critics would be prejudiced against any adult novel that portrayed Mormonism as being at all reasonable or worthwhile. I think book publishing in general has gotten harder just in the four-plus years I've been doing Zarahemla, and I don't see any indications that the Mormon culture will ever really become open to alternative Mormon literature. For me, the decline of AML-List has detached me quite a bit from the Mormon literary world (or from whatever community the AML-List allowed me to imagine existed).

Despite this lack of belief in a real Mormon book market that interests me personally, I am still working occasionally on my own supernatural postapocalyptic horror novel based on Mormon scripture and folk beliefs, tentatively titled Master Mahan Avenged. I'm about 30,000 words into what I consider a solid draft, and I would like to finish by the end of 2011, although I'm not going to stress over it. I will try to sell it nationally, but even if it turns out good enough to publish (and that's a big if), it will probably be too Mormon, so I'll have to run it through Zarahemla for glorified self-publishing, bypassing the so-called Mormon publishing world because there's really no place in it for fiction like mine.


Course Correction said...

Non-faith promoting Mormon lit won't sell to mainstream Mormons who worry about having their testimonies damaged if they access realistic stories based in Mormon culture.
And non-Mormons won't read realistic Mormon lit because--non-Mormons don't like Mormonism.
All things considered, it's remarkable Zarahemla has done as well as it has.

c5 said...

I just came across this post in a search, and wanted to say thanks for setting up Zarahemla Books. I didn't realize until just now how many titles I owned with that Z on the spine. Books like Dispensation and Thayer's The Tree House really deserve more attention than they receive.

Patrick said...

I remember watching you producing Dugeons and Dragons news letters on your dad's xerox copier. Things haven't changed in all these years.

You were and are a publisher at heart.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Hey, hey, a voice from the distant past. Stewart or Lemmon?

Patrick said...