What Are Your Personal Favs?

What are some of your personal favorite LDS fiction books? What did you like about them?

I don't feel comfortable answering that because I don't really want to promote one LDS book over another.* But I'd love to have all of you blog readers answer that question.

In the comments trail, list your three favorite LDS books (with author names) and give us at least one specific reason that you liked them.

*I'm really just afraid it will give away my identity...and you know how paranoid I am about that, right?


Timing Your Submission? Don't Bother

Are there times of the year that are better to submit than others, or
There's not a huge difference in when you submit, it just may take longer to get a response.

Timing is more important with the smaller publishers than with the bigger ones because the small ones have each of their employees wearing several hats (ex: editor also does marketing). For those smaller publishers, the big LDSBA is in August, so July and August might take longer to get through the process. Also Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years--give or take a week on either side. Then there's summer vacations--and there's no way you can know when that will hit.

Many publishers will create a budget for a specific time span--usually yearly, quarterly. As it gets closer to the end of those time periods, they may have used up their budgets and not really be looking hard until the beginning of the next time period. Or, they may have extra money and be a little less picky just to get something out there. (Not a good plan, but it happens.)

However, regardless of when their budgets begin and end or when they take their vacations, if your book is good enough, it will overcome those obstacles. If their budget is spent, they will hold it over until they have money again.

So, long answer to a short question, No, it doesn't really matter when you submit.


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.


Plot Traps

What are some of the common plot traps that you have noticed in LDS fiction that you wish authors would avoid?

I don't know that I find any plot traps that are specific to LDS--except for the one where the bad guy/girl needs to turn good so they can marry the good girl/guy, and so the author throws in some lightweight spiritual experience and they are converted in a matter of days. I just don't buy that--ever. (I know, I know--it happened to Alma and to Paul, but their experience involved angels. I don't believe it in a romance book.)

The most common plot traps, or holes, in fiction, LDS or otherwise are:
  • an author sends a character off to do something and then we never see or hear from them again
  • the character arrives faster or does something faster than it would take in real life (like fly across the country in an hour)
  • creating a character that is too evil or too good, then having them change too quickly (as in example above)
  • painting their protagonist into a corner that is too hard to get out of, then having someone swoop in and save them for the sole purpose of getting them out of that situation
  • bringing in characters that have nothing to do with the story, but the author needs to add more people or more pages to the book
  • forgetting to tie up loose ends (example: Premonition movie with Sandra Bullock; the whole thing with her daughter's face and when it gets cut, etc. That was never really explained.)
  • having a character really stress over something, then suddenly it doesn't bother them anymore, with no explanation
  • having characters do things that it's been set up they're incapable of doing, or wouldn't choose to do, without having some strong initiating factor or explanation
  • in fantasy, setting up the rules for the world your characters are living in, then breaking those rules

What are some of your favorite plot holes? Give specific examples if you want.


Ripples in the Market

Have you seen any ripples in the market since Deseret Book took over Seagull, or are things still pretty much the same so far?

Things are pretty much the same from my side of things.

Ordering: Still getting orders from Deseret Book at the same level as always (maybe a bit more). Still getting orders from Seagull same as always.

New Books: If I can get my books into Deseret Book stores and on their website, they sell pretty well. If I can't, then 90% of the LDS readership doesn't know my book exists. Getting my books into Seagull only helps the UT and surrounding market.

As for authors, I have one friend who was just rejected by Covenant, but I don't think it was because of the change in ownership. (Nor the quality of her writing.)

What about all of you? Have you noticed any changes?


Would You Publishers Make Up Your Minds Already?


I submitted a manuscript according to the directions of the publisher. Shortly after my submission, however, the directions changed and the publisher now requires additional information. Will the publisher consider my submission under the old requirements or will it get trashed because it doesn't have all of the components? Should I contact the publisher and offer to send the additional information or keep waiting it out and hope it still might be considered?

Thank you.

Assuming your publisher is reasonable and rational, they will know when they changed their submission guidelines and will allow for a grace period. If they need the additional information, they will let you know. If it will make you feel better, you could send them a short e-mail (no longer than what you just sent to me).


Royalties Paid on Cover vs Wholesale

I have a question regarding royalties. My publisher pays by value sales. Are there some publishers that pay a percentage of the cover price or do most of them sell according to value sales?

Value sales refers to the publisher's receipts, or the price at which they sell the book. It will be somewhere between 40 and 80% of the retail price. In this industry, the average discount is 40%.

Cover price refers to the suggested retail price printed on the cover of the book.

Some publishers pay based on cover price, others on wholesale. Some will pay cover on some books, but wholesale on others. Sometimes this is negotiable, sometimes not. Royalty percentages based on cover price are usually lower than percentages based on value/wholesale price.


Looking for Romance? Call 566-0000...

I'm teaching a writing class on romance next week and enjoyed your blog reply where you said what you wanted and what you didn't want. I wonder if you could share with me your opinion on specifically romance so that I could include it in my presentation. What you want to see and what you don't want to see. Thanks.

Please keep in mind that each publisher will have a slightly different take on this, so what I like, another won't, and vice versa.

What I don't want to see is the rebellious or non-LDS man who falls in love with the LDS woman, who is attracted by her goodness, converts to the gospel and they live happily ever after. That is too predictable, too shallow and has been done to death. I don't want to see the tragic romance where one of the key characters dies at the end. I don't want to see anything like the traditional "Harlequin" romance stories, with mindless women ruled by their emotions, who know they're in love with a rogue but just can't help themselves. I don't mind some of the traditional romance elements in the story, but that can't be the whole story.

What I'd like to see is some emotional depth to human relationships, some struggle--something more than love conquering all trials quickly and easily. I'd like to see realistic handling of real life issues. I like to see romantic suspense and historical romance with strong non-traditional women who have half a brain. I'd like to see some average women involved in romance, rather than just the love stories of the slim, young and blond.


What You've Taught Me

Question from comments trail:
So what have you learned from us? And what thought processes have you changed because of our posts? Just wondering....
Among other things, I've learned that I really need to speed up my response time to your submissions. I am not so hung up on whether or not I get a SASE. The company has changed our preference from paper submission to electronic submission. We've reworded our ROFR clause, limiting it by time, quantity, and genre. I take more time explaining our contract to new authors. I read further before rejecting. When I'm rejecting for reasons other than quality of writing and/or appropriateness of content, I try to make that clear so the author understands it's nothing to do with them. I try to think more deeply about my posts here and when I respond to a particularly idiotic question or comment (not yours), I imagine that I'm answering someone I care about, like my mother, and I try not to be too much of a snotty smarty pants.


General Submission Standards, According to Me

Response to Josi from the comments trail:
I've heard the same thing from up and coming writers--just sure that they need to stand out to the publishers and that submitting is just a formality anyway. Maybe you could blog about what a publisher expects to receive. I know there are details that vary between publishers but there are some general standards and maybe knowing those things would give submitting writers something to build on as they research specific publishers.

1. Finish your manuscript. Have it reviewed and critiqued by readers who know something about books and grammar and plot, etc. Make changes.

2. Research publishers and make a list of those that publish the type of book you've written. Prioritize them according to which you'd most like to publish your book.

3. Do in-depth research on each of the publishers on your list. Go to their websites and carefully read their submission guidelines.

4. Divide your list according to who takes simultaneous submissions and who requires exclusives.

5. Decide if you want to send out multiple submissions first (to all those who accept them) or if you're going to submit one at a time.

6. Prepare your submission according to the publisher's guidelines. Most of them will be similar with only slight customization needed.

7. If they ask for query only, send only a one page query letter. If they ask for query plus partial, send your query and however many pages they ask for. If they don't say, send 10 to 40 pages/1 to 3 chapters. If they ask for entire manuscripts, send your query letter and the entire manuscript. If they don't specify what they want, I suggest the middle of the road--a query and pages. That will give them a taste of your writing ability, but won't cost you as much.

8. I also really appreciate a brief summary outline that gives me a one or two sentence description of what happens in each chapter. Briefly describe the plot twists and give away the ending. Most publishers won't mind if you include this, even if they ask for query only. (This will save us both time if it's not something I'm looking for. If the concept is good, but the first chapters are slow or need work, I may ask you to fix it and resubmit. If I don't have an outline, I'll quit reading and just reject. I won't read through to the end of a mss that needs work just to see how it ends.)

9. Query: One page, white paper, standard business style, 10 or 12 point type, standard font (Times), single spaced. Read up on this online or at the library. Try to find some samples of successful queries. (Kristen Nelson posted some a while back.)

10. Pages and/or full manuscript: White paper, single-sided, 10 or 12 point standard font, double spaced. Center the title and your full name, address, phone and e-mail on the title page. Also include the word count. On the rest of the pages, put your last name, abbreviated title in the top left; page numbers in the top right margin. Read up on this too.

11.Unless they specifically say they accept electronic submissions, submit on paper via snail mail. If they accept queries by e-mail, they will usually ask for them to be included in the body of the e-mail, not as attachments.

12. If they ask for a SASE, include one. If they don't ask for a SASE, include one. This is standard protocol. A SASE is a self-addressed, stamped, #10 envelope.

13. If you want you manuscript back, send a larger SASE with enough postage for the return trip instead of the #10 envelope. However, most of the time it is not worth the expense to have it returned. It will usually not have notes and it will be beat up and unable to be sent to another publisher.

14. Be polite. Be professional. Spell check everything before printing. Check to be sure your personal information is correct. Check it again. Make sure the editor's name and company name is spelled correctly.

15. Be patient. The process takes some time.


SAE (yes, you read it right)

I was slammed at work yesterday. Never even made it to the computer to turn it on. I was glad to see that some of you carried on the conversation without me. I really appreciate that. I think that as writers, you learn a lot from each other. I know as a publisher, I've learned a lot from your comments here on this blog. I've changed some of my thought processes because of you guys. Thanks.

So, in the comments trail, Keith said:

I have been troubled about a submission I made. I may have made a boneheaded mistake.

I sent a SASE with my manuscript but I cannot remember whether I stamped it or not. It may have been a SAE. if that is the case and you received it, would you reject it and would you not send word about it.

Don't worry about it. I would see the envelope and go "Oops!" and that would be the end of it. If I accepted your manuscript, I probably wouldn't even use the SASE. I'd call or e-mail. If I rejected, and it was a #10 envelope SAE, I'd just stamp it and send the letter in it anyway. If it was a larger envelope, indicating you wanted the entire manuscript back, I'd have my secretary call you and request you send postage or ask permission to toss it. (Unless I'm sending you notes, there's no reason for me to mail the mss back to you because usually it's too hashed for you to send it to another publisher.)

I never accept/reject/read/not read based upon the presence or lack of a SASE. It's only when no SASE is combined with several other things (attitude, weird font or paper, 4 pg query letter, etc.) that I start thinking mean things about the author.

[Will respond to Josi's comment another day.]


Rebel Without a Cause

Why are there so many rules for submitting and publishing a book? It seems I can't even keep track of all of them. So I've decided to rebel. I'm going to write the best book I can and submit it however I want. What do you think about that??

If your book is really, really, really, really, really, good (to the nth power), then eventually, someone will probably publish it.

But it probably won't be me. And it probably won't be your first choice(s) in publisher.

Here's the thing--we get so many submissions that DO follow the rules that when we get one that doesn't, it usually doesn't even get a serious look. What a submission that doesn't follow the rules tells us is that either 1) you don't know the rules and you can't be bothered to do the basic research to discover what they are--in which case, publishing your manuscript will take a LOT of instruction and hand-holding on our part; or 2) you do know the rules and you think you're too good for them--in which case you're going to be a pain in the neck to work with and it's going to be a fight on every point. Either way, an editor will probably decide that your book will just take too much time, energy and frustration to publish.

If you're going to keep this attitude, I'd suggest submitting to a publisher who also doesn't follow the rules. Maybe you can win them over with the force of your personality, or kindredness of spirit. Either that or self-publishing. But you'd better look for a distributor who doesn't follow the rules too.


Writer's Notebook

(I'm out of questions. Please send more.)

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to keep a writer's notebook and to WRITE IN IT EVERY DAY! (Yes, I'm yelling.)

Write anything. Write stream-of-consciousness. Write descriptions of what you're looking at. Go to the mall and eavesdrop and write down the conversations. Or watch the people as they walk past and describe the scene as they interact non-verbally. Or go to the park and make up stories about the people you see there. (My daughter and I do this all the time. You'd be surprise at the number of master criminals roaming through our city.) Write letters. Write e-mails. Write anything, but do it creatively. And do it every single day. Religiously.

I didn't always believe this. I thought if I wasn't writing on a story, it didn't count. And I thought I could write two or three days a week and that would be just as good. But many moons ago I wrote user manuals for software companies. My boss made all of us technical writers keep a writer's notebook. We were required to write creatively for 15 minutes a day, on company time. Within just a few weeks, I noticed a marked increase in the speed of my writing AND much less need for rewriting. I was training my brain to think faster, to pull descriptions and words more quickly, to translate what I was feeling with my physical senses more accurately into word images. Never again will I poo-poo the value of daily writing and a writer's notebook.

Have you tried this? What was your experience? If you haven't tried it, experiment for a week and then come back here and tell us about your results.


Selling vs Retaining Rights

Can I ask another question about contracts? Why do publishers want all the rights to my book, worldwide and in every possible format, even when they say they probably won't use them? For example, my publisher wanted the audio rights even though they said they probably will never put my book on CD. What if I really want it on CD? Do I have any say in this?

One reason publishers ask for rights they probably won't use is for quality control--to prevent you from selling those rights or exploiting them yourself in a way that would be detrimental to the sale of your printed book.

Since you mentioned audio rights, I'll use them as an example. Some publishers automatically create an audio version of books they expect will sell reasonably well. Other publishers wait to see how the book is selling before they commit to an audio version. If sales don't reach a certain level within a certain amount of time, no audio book. But they don't want you to go out and create your own audio book because if you don't know what you're doing and you don't do a professional quality job then that will act as a detriment to the sales of the printed book.

In addition to quality control, publishers want to control the public's access to your book in a way that will boost sales, rather than replace them. They want to make back their investment and make money for you. Having your book out there as an uncontrolled e-book or in rampant serialization is not in your best interest.

Bottom line, unless you're really familiar with the industry and a whiz at contract negotiation, you're not going to be able to sell these other rights yourself anyway. So in most cases, it's in your best interest to go ahead and give these rights to your publisher--who may be able to sell them for you. Most contracts have a clause addressing this, splitting the revenue from the sell of rights 50/50, after expenses.

Now, it's a little different on the national market when you have an agent to represent you. In that case, the agent negotiates for you and separates the various rights, selling them to different entities.


Improving Your Writing

I have a question. LDS Publisher, I would like to see you post a blog about what, in your opinion, LDS authors can do to increase their quality of writing. I'm whacking my head against the wall to drag the very best of myself onto the page, and yet I still seem to be falling short. What does a publisher look for that they're not finding?

1. What can LDS authors do to increase their quality of writing? This is a hard question to answer because everyone is at a different skill level and what I'd suggest to a beginning writer is different than what I'd suggest to a more experienced writer, but I'll try to cover some very general areas.

First, increase your basic writing skills. This means grammar, spelling, and the other technical parts of writing. Many people believe their skills in this area are higher than they really are. They get feedback from family and friends who have similar skill levels and so they do not catch the mistakes. I've had writers go into shock when I point out the grammatical errors in their manuscript. (I've had published authors go into shock when I point out the errors in their published books.) Take some brush-up classes, review some basic grammar texts or find someone with editing experience who is willing to go through your stuff and help you learn. If you use Word, it will underline your grammar errors in green. Word is not always correct, but if you don't know why that green line is there, you need to find out why.

To increase the quality of crafting your story, there is nothing like practice. Write every day. There are so many books out there with writing prompts and other exercises to help you improve. Read some of them and do the exercises. Get in a good writers group, either face-to-face or online, where you can get feedback on your work. Then listen to that feedback.

Read a lot of books, particularly ones that are selling well or those by your favorite authors, but don't just read for fun. As you read, ask yourself why this book works. What are they doing? What is the structure behind the writing? What techniques do they do well? Where did the story slow down for you and why? How could they have done it differently? If you don't know why a particular books works or doesn't work, take a class or read some books on analyzing literature. Study plot building, characterization, dialogue, scene development, descriptive language, foreshadowing, etc.

Learn about genres. Try writing in several of them and decide what you like best. Then learn the rules for that genre. What elements must be included in a good mystery? What in a good romance? They're different.

Learn the basics of manuscript formatting and the usual guidelines for submitting. Again, there are lots of books and magazines on this topic. Read, read, read. Take notes. Learn.

2. What does a publisher look for that they're not finding? Another hard question. It's much easier to tell you what I'm getting that I don't want. I want stories that speak to deep, universal themes--things we can all relate to--but told with a bit of a twist, so it's not just another book about whatever.

As an LDS publisher, I want stories, characters and topics that speak to our unique culture. I want historical fiction, modern fiction, women's stories, mystery, romance. I personally want to see YA and stories for boys, ages 12-18, but the PTBs here at my company aren't very enthusiastic about them because they don't sell as well as adult fiction.

Okay, I just noticed how very long-winded I'm being today, but I don't have time to go back and be more succinct. Have to get back to work. Sorry.


Critique for Charity

An author named Brenda Novak hosts an annual online auction to fund the search for a cure for diabetes. A lot of her author friends offer their books and other stuff for sell at the auction. There are a few who are offering manuscript critiques. The one that I think would be very valuable is the one offered by Kristin Nelson, national literary agent who specializes in women's and speculative fiction (but also does others). If you write in that area, you might want to keep an eye on her item.

I've never tracked this auction before, so I have no idea how high the bidding will get. But what an opportunity!


It's a Small World

One of the comments on my post suggesting you seek legal advice on publishing contracts lamented the lack of experienced attorneys in Utah. That may be the case, but we live in a world connected via the Internet and your options are not limited to the state where you reside.

I did a quick Google on "publishing contract attorneys" and found a long list of sites to peruse, including this site. I'm not promoting or endorsing the site or the firm, but if you'll note, the site was listed in Writer's Digest as a good resource for authors. They have a long list of legal articles that contain some good information. Again, I'm not endorsing this, nor giving it a blanket stamp of approval, but from a brief skim of a few of the articles, it seems to be legit and on target.

I also found this site. I entered "publishing contracts" and selected Utah and came up with a list of 42 attorneys/firms; 26 sublisted under Entertainment Law, and 28 under Intellectual Property. If I personally felt I needed legal help, I would start by calling each of these firms and asking if they have someone experienced in publishing contracts. Ask how many they've negotiated, how many they've broken, and for a list of happy clients that you can call to talk to. All it costs is your time.

Then I went to Publishers Marketplace and did a search for contract attorneys. This produced a list of attorneys who say they specialize in publishing contracts. While they may not be familiar with Utah law, they will understand publishing contracts in general. You could fax them your contract and they can advise you on potential problems. They may also be able to work as counsel in an advisory relationship to a Utah attorney.

I found all this--and much more--in a quick 15 minute perusal of the Internet.

Note: I have a concern that all this talk about contracts and suing is going to have authors rushing to review their contracts and looking for problems, causing fear and anxiety without cause. Let me say that in my experience, most LDS authors are pleased with their publishers and even if they wish they earned higher royalties (who doesn't?) they are satisfied with their contracts. Most authors that I know who have had concerns have been able to re-negotiate with their publishers or have been released from their contracts.


Word Count

Beulah, who is fast becoming one of my new best friends because she leaves nice comments and also helped cure me of various aches and pains asked this question:
What is the average word count for the different genres? What would you consider too long/too short?
First let me say, the word count on a book is less important than tight, good writing. You need as many words in your book as it takes to tell a good story. Of course, you can go overboard with this. A 200,000 word romance is going to have a hard time finding a publisher, as is a 7,000 word historical fiction. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts.

There is no hard and fast rule on word count. It will differ between publishers and between authors. For example, books for children and teens usually top out around 40,000-50,000 words. But how long was JK Rowling’s last book? It also depends on the font size your publisher uses and whether they average 250 or 300 words per page.

Here are a few basic guidelines:
Short novel is 15,000 to 40,000
Adult novel is 50,000 to 110,000
Literary novel can be 125,000

As for differences in genres, go to the library or bookstore and take the average number of pages in books for that genre. Subtract about 6 pages for title page, acknowledgments, blurbs, etc. Then divide that by 250 and you’ll be in the ballpark.

Here are some approximates based on page count:
40,000 = 160 pages
62,500 = 250 pages*
75,000 = 300 pages*
90,000 = 360 pages
100,000 = 400 pages
125,000 = 500 pages**

As you can see, this is NOT an exact science.

*Best range for new authors
**Need to be an experienced author or really, really good to publish a novel that’s over 125,000 words.


If You're Unhappy...

Geez, I go away for the weekend and you all go crazy on me! I love it. And I thought I'd hit a hot button when I got 6 comments on a post. But we've set an all-time record here. And my hit stats are through the roof. Thank you.

A lot of the comments were tangential to my post, and that is just fine. But they did bring up a good question:
What do you do if you're really unhappy with your publisher but you're locked into a contract?
I wish the LDS publishing industry was big enough to support agents. An agent's job is to negotiate with the publisher in YOUR behalf. They are the Doberman whose job it is to protect YOU. Good agents "get" the legal talk found in contracts and can predict how that language will effect you, given various scenarios. They also work with attorneys who specialize in publishing contracts. A competent agent won't let you sign something that is patently unfair or detrimental to your long-term career.

But we don't have agents because the industry is too small and so authors are left to fend for themselves. Many LDS authors think that since they're dealing with LDS publishers they will automatically be treated fairly and honorably, as our religious tenets demand. Many times (I would hope, most times) they are. Sometimes they are not. To be safe, smart authors will have an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry review their contract before they sign them.

If it's too late for that and you're really unhappy with your publisher and your current contract, the first thing you do is try to re-negotiate your contract in a professional manner. Most publishers are reasonable people. If you've sold well for them, they're more likely to work with you to come to some mutually acceptable agreement.

If they're resistant to your attempts, perhaps you can find another author within the same company who has successfully negotiated their contract and have him/her mentor you. Or find another author who has successfully broken or nullified their contract with your publisher, and discover how they did it.

If you've really exhausted all your options for peaceful negotiation, and you're sure you're being reasonable* and the publisher is a tyrant and just won't budge, contact an attorney. Many in the LDS culture are hesitant to sue but if that's your only recourse then seriously consider it--especially if you've been a productive, well-received author and this contract is effectively ending your career. Find a good attorney who specializes in contract law and who has some experience in the publishing industry.

Since ROFR was specifically mentioned, let me say that most ROFR clauses, like most non-compete clauses in the rest of the business world, are unenforceable. Legal ROFR clauses must be reasonably limited by time and/or number of books and/or genre. If yours is not, seek legal help. You may be able to force them to delete the ROFR or the judge may nullify the entire contract. If you know other authors who have that same clause in their contract and are equally upset over it, you might have grounds for a class action suit.

However, a word of caution. If you are not the reasonable one, even if you succeed in breaking your contract with your publisher, other publishers might be leery about signing you. You might want to speak with a couple of other publishers to see if: a) their contract is different; b) they are outraged at the terms of your contract or at least think you have a legitimate complaint; and c) they'd be willing to take you on when you get out of your current contract.

*You have a reasonable complaint if their ROFR commits you to more than two years and more than the next two books. You are unreasonable if you think you should get 20% royalties, or a 50 city book tour paid for by the publisher, or that they will accept your next manuscript without edits, or...


100 Days

Here's another site to check out--How to Write a Novel in 100 Days or Less. Sometimes we all need a little kick in the pants to get us motivated again.