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.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...
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?
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.