7/22/08

Hornet's Nest #3: LDS Authors with Objectionable Content

Should LDS authors who include objectionable content in their books go to H-E-Double Toothpicks? (Read original question here.)
Okay, that wasn't the real question, but isn't that the crux of it? And you noticed, didn't you, that I said should, not will?

And here's a corollary question: Am I now doomed because I dared to even refer to "the bad place" in this post? (Now here's an idea for a future contest. How many ways can you refer to "the hot place" without actually using it's real name??)

But let's get serious. Today's issue breaks down into two parts:

1) Do LDS authors have a responsibility to write books without objectionable content? and

2) should we doom them to heck when they include content that doesn't match up with LDS teachings?


Answers:
1) Yes and no.

2) Yes and no.

The whole point of the gospel according to LDS theology is to teach people correct principles and then allow them to act according to their own agency. I believe someone important, like maybe Joseph Smith, said that. (Journal of Discourses 10:57,58)

Interpreted into this scenario, authors, LDS or otherwise, are free to write about whatever they want to write about, and readers, LDS or otherwise, are free to think and say whatever they want to think and say about what they read.

The problem occurs when someone tries to guess what others are going to find objectionable. I've heard of words that are on the taboo list for other publishers that I wouldn't even think twice about. I've also read words in books published by DB & Covenant that I would edit out.

Even when faced with the issue of pornography, there's disagreement. We all (hopefully) agree that pornography should not be included in books published to and for an LDS audience (or anywhere else, for that matter), but shockingly, we wouldn't all agree on what should be labeled as pornography. I know some people who put Michelangelo's David in this category. Some people will be offended at the mention of this statue, and highly offended that I included a link to an image of it. Other people are going to read this and think I'm making this up; that no one seriously defines this piece of sculpture as pornography. (I am not making this up. I used to regularly argue with a neighbor over this very thing.)

Bottom Line: It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to define objectionability for an entire community of readers. All I can do is define it for myself and then share that definition with others. (See yesterday's post.)

For me, it's not the subject matter in a book that is objectionable, but the treatment of it. Someone in the early days of the Church (I'm thinking Brigham Young, but I'd love it if someone could find me the exact quote with source and reference), said something to the effect that the evils of this world should be addressed on the stages of Zion. I believe that also applies to the pages of our books. We can learn vicariously through watching others, even if those others are completely fictional.

I believe that all authors, including LDS authors, have a responsibility to express the truth of their world view. If you are LDS, I believe you have a responsibility to write to the level of your testimony and beliefs; the overall theme and message of your stories should support what you believe to be true. As long as an author is true to what they believe, I will not condemn them. I may not read them, and I may pray for their soul, but I won't say that they should have done it differently. That's between them and God and none of my business.

The truth of my world is that we all struggle with issues that are sometimes dark and difficult. Exploring those struggles in fiction, using the tool of metaphor, can be very, very helpful to those still in the fight between good and bad choices. I believe that is the purpose of story—even in the fluffiest, most escapist, let's-just-have-a-fun-read forms of fiction.

I believe the reason some stories are beloved by so many people, is the author has successfully used their metaphor to tap into a need, a dream, a desire, or a struggle that speaks to the heart of others, and that in some way, it helps the reader to resolve or to cope with that issue.

Within those guidelines, I also have a list of personal Dos and Don'ts. I have the same set of rules for LDS fiction and authors, and non-LDS fiction and authors:
  • I may need to know that two someones have gone into their bedroom, but don't want to peep in and watch.

  • I may need to know that terrible things have happened to someone, but don't want to watch it as it happens.

  • I may need to know the level of someone's frustrations, and the fact that they may use a word that I won't admit to using myself, but I don't want to listen to every single expression of someone's anger or outrage.

  • I want enough information to understand what is happening and why, and I can fill in the details myself.

  • I want my life view supported and confirmed: that when people make poor choices and behave in ways that hurt others, they pay a price, eventually; that when people make good choices and are kind and loving to others, they are blessed, eventually.

  • Whether God is addressed in a book or not, when I finish the last page, I need to still know as firmly as when I read the first page that there is a God in heaven who has established rules of right and wrong, that He loves us, and that He is sure and in charge; I do not want to be left with nagging thoughts of question or doubt.

This is my opinion. What is yours?

40 comments:

Annette Lyon said...

I agree. Well put.

DB and Covenant try very hard to anticipate what will offend, and they a pretty good job of it, but sometimes they err on the side of being too afraid, and things get cut that probably didn't need to be.

For one of my books, my editor and I fought the committee for one single word to stay that they worried about. They weren't offended by it, but what if some readers would be, they argued. In the end, I got to keep it, and not a soul has complained (and every person I tell the story to thinks it was crazy that I had to fight for it).

Every reader brings different life experiences and a different lens to each book they read. You're right--"offensive" is so subjective it can't be accurately defined.

Sue said...

So tricky. I'm still shaking my head over the whole idea of people being offended by the David statue. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Ly Here:

Well done LDSP. I like it. A lot. Your opinion, that is, not the book in question.

And I should add that the unutterable word watch at the big LDS publishers is a business decision, not an artistic one. For the most part. You want to engage the most readers possible, so you consider allowing the author to create a character or a scene which will do just that. And if there is some anger or some conflict that requires some outrage (and some questionable language) you may allow a little of it to show its ugly head. Just as long as it engages the largest, widest, book-buying demographic.

The moment that the same language may possibly hurt sales, decrease the size of the book buying public, it will be gone.

It has much less to do with salvation and everything to do with sales.

Know your audience.

Publishers are not responsible for your salvation. You are.

Ly

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I love your Dos and Don'ts. Well said.

Tristi Pinkston said...

For me, it's a question of genre terms. I believe that we all have the choice as to what we'll write, and I'm not going to comdemn someone for writing something I don't approve of. But when we think of LDS fiction as a genre term, the books that call themselves LDS fiction should stick to those genre parameters. I don't like to pick up a romance and find that I've gotten a cookbook instead. If I want a cookbook, I'll get a cookbook. The readers should have an understanding, from a genre perspective, what they're getting. Go ahead, write about whatever you want to write about. But put a different genre label on it.

Rebecca Talley said...

My son is serving in Italy. His younger brother had a school project (based on the Flat Stanley books) in which he asked for information about Italy and some photos. My oldest son took a photo of David but didn't want to offend anyone so he made a pair of boxers (with hearts on them) and glued them to the picture of David. So, no one in my son's first grade class could say the statue of David was pornographic.

I agree that we should never dictate to others how they will express their art (we don't have to read or support it), but I also agree with Tristi that labeling something as "LDS Fiction" should mean it adheres to certain standards. If an author wants to write something outside of LDS standards, by all means, go for it, but don't label it as LDS fiction.

As for should someone go to that deep, dark abyss, none of us are in the position to judge others. We can judge their work as to whether it merits our attention, but we need to leave their salvation to the only One who can make that call.

storyengineer said...

I tried to search for that quote on LDS.org, but couldn't find it. It could be that's one of those myth sayings, like "Unmarried men older than 25 are a menace to society."

Still, I thought your standards were very well put. I will say, that when I see an LDS author break the standards, I lose respect for them. It may be their choice, and I will not condemn them, but I lose respect, and am reluctant to read anything else by them. Orson Scott Card is an example of this. This is the same if I see an LDS girl being immodest. I lose respect for her.

Anonymous said...

Everybody has different ideas of what is offensive, so I like warnings that are specific. "some sexuality" or "graphic sexuality" tells me about content without deciding for me whether or not to read it.

Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle said...

I agree, if I pick up a LDS novel I expect certain things. Unfortunately there is an expectation for non LDS books too. I love action, romance, sci fi and fantasy and I put alot of books down because it goes too far. It is a shame that there seems to be no market for S/F-F in the LDS realm because I would buy them as well as write them. It isn't hard to write a good book w/o the smut I know, I do it all the time.

Thanks for the thought provoking post, it has been interesting to follow.

Michelle

Christine Thackeray said...

It has been a hard pill for me to swallow- the idea that LDS publishers don't only publish fiction with the church as an integral part of the storyline but also are a means of bringing censored fiction to readers who want their books "G" rated. I suppose that is one of the purposes of not only DB and Covenant but other smaller LDS publishers. In those cases to reach beyond the bounds of accepted decency isn't fair to their sensitive and careful readers.

On the other hand, for LDS writers who publish to the masses, it makes me sad when people judge them so harshly. I've heard comments about Stephanie Meyers, Orson Scott Card and even my own mother.

I was raised in the NYC area and LA during segregation and bussed to the inner city, which probably softened my shock-o-meter. But if I were to illustrate harsh scenes or emotionally injured people, describing how they got there, I might go more edgy to give it realism. As long as the message is one of character development, triumph or healing and not gratuitous voyerism, that is part of the emotional journey, the joy of discovery and the artform itself.

When you think about it, there are parts of the scriptures that are not G-rated too. Rape, incest, torture... Are you going to stop reading them and condemn the author?

Jennie said...

I too commend you for presenting a great set of guidelines. I also agree with Tristi. If I pick up an LDS book I have certain expectations such as no graphic sex scenes, no taking the Lord's name in vain, and no perverting LDS doctrine.

onelowerlight said...

I'm curious what you guys would think of On My Way to Paradise by Dave Wolveton. Dave Wolverton is a respected LDS author in mainstream science fiction, and On My Way to Paradise was his first novel (no longer in print).

A lot of you have said that you don't mind it when there are explicit and evil things in a book, so long as the overall message is about how good overcomes the evil. I agree with that, but I disagree with the guidelines that you set out because I believe that one of the best ways to condemn evil is to look it in the face and see it for what it is. If you are always avoiding this evil, masking it with weak euphamisms and pussyfooting around it all the time, it makes your story much weaker IMO.

On My Way to Paradise is one of the most brutally violent books that I have ever read, with some very explicit scenes of rape, murder, war, and genocide. It doesn’t glorify any of that stuff at all, however, and is all about the main character’s struggle to keep from becoming a monster in the face of a monstrously evil world. You come away from the book shaken and disturbed, but also with a resolution to NOT let these things--whether in real life or in fiction--turn YOU into a monster. There is meaning and metaphor on every page, and like all the best books I've read, this one taught me about the world I live in by reflecting it through the mirror of fiction.

I think that most of the self-appointed guardians of LDS fiction would dismiss the book offhand, however, and condemn both the book and the writer. They would take the approach that evil must be ignored instead of addressed. But if you can't address evil in all of its ugliness, how can you fully condemn it? This is why I oppose drawing up lines and setting forth rules in LDS fiction, and judging books based on isolated scenes taken out of context.

In fiction, rules are made to be broken, and the important thing is that the book stand for itself--not a chapter at a time, or a paragraph at a time, but as a whole, complete story.

LDS Publisher said...

Just a slight clarification, onelowerlight. My use of weak euphemisms above was meant to be tongue-in-cheek and poking a little fun at ourselves.

Sometimes evil needs to be portrayed in a way that we "get" how truly evil it really is. I'll give you that. However, I do not need to know where the rapist placed his parts nor do I need to know every cut a killer makes.

Betsy said...

Brigham Young did in fact say:

"Upon the stage of theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it" That is just one paragraph. Where the whole lesson is found in the Brigham Young manual.Lesson 26.

If that is outdated for some two modern talks I refer to are Filling the World with Goodness and Truth by M.Russell Ballard and the other Language in the Arts by Boyd K Packer. Those are my bibles when creating creative works. I am not published but I take very seriously the idea what I create whether or not the world sees it I still will account to my maker for.

MoJo said...

I can't add anything to what Christine and onelowerlight said, so I'll just say I agree.

Eugene said...

To Brigham Young I add this by John Milton: "Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely and with less danger scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read."

Gamila said...

You know in some ways I agree with onelowerlight. Evil has to be portrayed in fiction, after having just seen Dark Knight, a very dark film that does show evil in very dark hues. Yet, I can't remember one swear word in that movie. There are no graphic sex scenes. The violence is not gory or graphic, but you do see the true face of evil in that movie, and it is disturbing. Yet, the fact that there is so much darkness in this movie only hightens true heroism and that human nature really does have a good side, as well as dark. I think it is possible to portray evil in a way that is not gratuitous or graphic. I believe that authors can write and portray evil in a way that does not make me feel dirty and cheap afterwards. No, matter how we justify it we all know that there is a line that we cannot cross or we will offend God and grieve the spirit. The problem is that line is different for each author and reader. I could never write anything as dark as Dark Knight. I could never write anything as dark as Dave Farland either, who said that he had a very dark childhood. In this, I cannot judge him because his experiences are different than mine. What offends someone who has lived a harsh life would not compare to what would offend me, who has lived a fairly sheltered life. Yet, despite whether you are sheltered or not we all know what it is like to feel pain, anguish, and fear. We all know how to recognize evil. The books that I personally will seek after will be the ones that deal with sin, death, and evil in way that is not graphic, gratuitous, or for shock value. For if they can successfuly respect that line, which we cannot cross, and portray evil. Well then, they will truly be the best books.

CatherineWO said...

I understand the way several of you have defined LDS fiction, but that still leaves the question of how to define (or categorize) books by LDS authors, which may or may not have LDS characters, which don't fit the confines of what you consider (acceptable) LDS fiction.
It appears that some of you are saying that LDS writers just SHOULD NOT write books that don't fit within your difinition. The problem is that none of us has the option of telling LDS writers what to write or not write. They will write what they want to write, and if they can find a publisher, it will show up on the shelves of bookstores (or at Amazon, where you can find anything that is in print).
So, I am asking honestly, would you come up with some new genre to describe these books?
I was assistant manager of a bookstore for ten years, and there are always some books that don't quite fit into a genre. SF can be particularly sticky, with crossovers into horror or mystery. If you worked in a bookstore that exclusively sold only books by LDS authors, but sold any and all books by LDS authors, where would you put these books you think shouldn't be called "LDS fiction"? Because you can't make them go away. They are out there and there will be more written. Does there need to be a new genre? Or a new definition of the existing one?

J Scott Savage said...

I think the key is to call it what it is and market it as what it is. Shadow Mountain publishes fiction. It is not marketed as LDS Fiction, regardless of the fact that most of their authors are LDS. It is sold the same way any nationally marketed book would be. It does not focus on any Mormon elements or Mormon audiences.

On the other hand DB and Covenant (among others) are clear that they are selling books for and by Mormons. The content is carefully vetted for things that most mainstream Mormons might find offensive. (I say most because someone will always be offended by something.)

Where I think you walk a fine line is trying to sell a book as "by Mormons for Mormons" knowing full well that the content will be offensive to many Mormons. This is especially offensive when you mock the very publishers that built up the LDS fiction space.

So my comment would be to write whatever you want for whoever you want. But don't say, "This is LDS fiction" and then be upset when readers are surprised and offended by the content.

A. Morgan said...

If you are LDS, I believe you have a responsibility to write to the level of your testimony and beliefs; the overall theme and message of your stories should support what you believe to be true. As long as an author is true to what they believe, I will not condemn them. I may not read them, and I may pray for their soul, but I won't say that they should have done it differently. That's between them and God and none of my business.

This sounds VERY reasonable to me. It just makes sense that every one not only have their beliefs but they SHOULD have their own ethics as well. While we expect every one to have the same LDS beliefs, I think we forget that every one is free to choose their own ethics in what they choose to do for a living. Or in this case, put in their living. [LOL]

It's just like the whole speeding debate. If you are LDS and you believe in obeying the laws of the land, do you speed? Thing is, it is easy to get away with and no one will know, but people still nod like they need to do better when you mention it in Sunday School. Now lets apply that to taxes, cola... I'm sure we could all find the little grey areas that people need to do better on.

It's wise to remember:
1. You can't always please everyone.

2. While I think it is important for LDS Publishers to have "a" standard on what they will or will not publish, there may be times when something is acceptable. Publishing companies are still run by imperfect humans and I would expect them to allow certain things that others MAY be offended at because we all have varying tastes and tolerances.

3. When in doubt don't. If you don't know for sure if a book may have something in it, don't read it, or get a second opinion from someone who has. Lastly if the story looks questionable or really out there and that does not attract you, avoid it.

I mean it isn't that hard. Worldly standards are much lower than LDS ones BY FAR. This is the world we live in, we've been doing it our whole lives and have practiced well enough on some formats to get a sense on what seems okay and what is a definite out. That isn't going to change, unfortunately that is the world we live in.

While I wish I didn't have to always use my discerning powers to figure out if something may be bad for me or okay for me, even if it is from a LDS source, that is the reality of living today. So I tread lightly, and if I mistakenly pick something up that isn't good, I walk away, put it down, and try not to be too hard on myself for it. Or on them. Just because I'm not walking in their shoes, I'm not their judge either.

I can hope for a perfect world but if I keep on expecting it, I'm only going to have disappointment after disappointment to look forward to. That's not encouraging.

I think the answer is to just communicate. With the internet, a FABULOUS RESOURCE, it isn't that hard to do a little digging to find out and feel safe. Who knows, I've been hoping for years that a literary version of screenit.com would be developed. And no I don't mind if someone reads this, makes it, and earns a ton of money. I won't feel cheated even though I thought of the idea first. I'll be grateful that I have that resource to help discern what works for my tolerance level. [Winks]

Eugene said...

Indeed, Zarahemla Books has a website. The listing at Zarahemla points to my website, which in turn points to my blog. Google my name and both come up at the top of the list. It's not like we've been hiding behind a rock waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting public.

I would also like to point out that nowhere in Zarahemla's listing or anywhere on my website is Angel Falling Softly described as "LDS fiction."

Annette Lyon said...

Although it's a little hard to NOT consider Zarahemla a press that does LDS fiction based on not only its name (what other people on the planet would that name have any meaning for?) and based on the tagline about being "edgy but not apostate"--which refers directly to the Church and Mormons.

I totally see what you're saying from a marketing standpoint, but you have to see what the public sees--an LDS press putting out a book by an LDS author. It's not a huge leap to assume that thei titles would be LDS fiction.

Re: the vampire lore--for millions and millions of people (and thousands of LDS readers), the ONLY vampire story they've ever read to this point is Twilight, so they'll take along assumptions they got from that and apply them other LDS authors. These readers are going to be unfamiliar with all the sexual nuances that go with Dracula et al.

Anonymous said...

I read the blog. I went to the website. I was unimpressed with the author's presumptuousness over BYU students, Utah Mormons, the whole attitude about dividing members of the church into intellectual races for the mocking. There is so much of that among the lit crowd. Is there never room to appreciate the kid who doesn't understand the finer points of grace, but knows when he needs the atonement. Is there no room among the intellectually hip for finding depth among those who are just interested in making a living, putting food on the table and sitting on the back porch on a summer evening?

What distresses me most about Angels Falling Softly, isn't the content. Its the presumption of the author and those who promote this kind of work.

And another thing. Have you ever read shorter chapters than in Angel Falling Softly? I mean really. Couldn't the author at least get a little something going before we cut to another chapter.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a bit of snobbery with some readers of LDS fiction who insist that if we don't "get" a certain book it's because we are simply not intellectual enough to understand it. They snub their noses at DB and Covenant and claim they don't publish books that speak to the human condition. They mock those of us who choose to walk away from certain books and accuse us of not making up our own minds. I say, "Get over yourselves." Don't think for a minute that I don't "get" these books. I do, I just don't want them.

I also think the publisher and author knew full well what would happen when they placed this book for sponsorship here and are hoping to cash in on it.

If it's not targeted at LDS readers why was it placed on this blog, one whose readership is predominantly LDS? Why bring it here at all? Target it at the national market, most of us here would never have known it even existed had you done that--but that's the point, isn't it?

Come on, admit that you're pushing the boundaries and quit complaining that the bondaries are pushing back.

Joe said...

I think there is quite a bit of snobbery with some readers/watchers of LDS fiction who insist that they know what is best for everyone else. They claim to have some sort of market on knowing what is or isn't offensive. All to often, they don't even bother reading, viewing or listening to materials they criticize.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm finding it intersting that . . .

Some people are unhappy that their books aren't considered LDS fiction. If you wanted it to be called LDS fiction, write an LDS fiction book!

Some people think that "others" are trying to determine what is and is not offensive to them by labeling with the term "LDS fiction." It's a genre term, people, not a mark of superiority. Get over it!

I do agree that Zarahemla has not marketed the book as LDS fiction, per se. But does not one of the endorsements call it LDS fiction? When I pick up a new book, I like to read the endorsements. When I see that it says "LDS fiction" in the endorsements, which, by the way, were put in there by the publisher, in my mind I'm thinking that the publisher is agreeing that it's LDS fiction. If the publisher disagreed, those words can be taken out.

I'm also bewildered at how bloggers all over the Internet right now are talking about how villified Zarahemla now is, and how maligned they are by the rest of us. Um, it was Chris himself who brought up his temple worthiness -- I didn't see anyone else bring that up. Yet suddenly bloggers all over the place are talking about how Chris's worthiness is in question. First off, he said himself he brought it up tongue-in-cheek. Secondly, what on earth does that have to do with anything? It's not our place to cast aspersions on someone and question their worthiness -- that's between them and the Lord. But just because someone carries a recommend also doesn't mean we should just blindly trust them. You've got to use your own best judgment here, people.

So -- to summarize.

LDS fiction, whether you like it or not, is a genre term.

Someone's temple recommend status is their own personal business and not something to be bandied about on the Internet.

Writers have the right to create whatever they want. Publishers have the right to publish whatever they want. Readers have the right to read whatever they want. It's called free agency. We don't all have to get along, but at the very least, we should disagree with respect.

Kent Larsen said...

LDS publisher, I think this has reached a very touchy subject in the market for Mormon materials. "Appropriateness," whatever that is, causes a great deal of trouble. For me the most troubling is simply the fact that it has become a stumbling block that turns off a huge proportion of the potential readers of fiction for an LDS audience.

I think your guidelines represent a basic part of the problem well. You say, "I want my life view supported and confirmed: that when people make poor choices and behave in ways that hurt others, they pay a price, eventually;"

This flies in the face of verisimilitude. It simply doesn't ring true to the sensibilities of many (if not most) people, because it doesn't always happen. We don't always see confirmation in this life that we pay the price for evil. Many evil doers are just fine -- not everyone who smokes dies of cancer.

IMO, this is what the plan of salvation requires. We walk by faith. Insisting that fiction always demonstrate that good will triumph is inherently in conflict with the evidence we are presented. Were this not true, we wouldn't have to walk by faith.

Kent Larsen said...

Bro. Savage makes, I think, a very good point about the market for LDS Fiction. The problem is that the term seems very generic -- LDS Fiction sounds like it is simply fiction by LDS Church members or that talks about LDS issues.

Instead, as used among those active in the market for Mormon materials, LDS Fiction is, as Bro. Savage makes clear, works that are carefully written so that no LDS Church member could be offended.

What needs to be addressed, however, is what are the consequences of limiting fiction in this way.

My own feeling is that there is a large portion of active LDS Church members who are turned off by the whole business. They don't go to LDS bookstores, because they believe that everything there is boring pablum, material that no national US publisher would touch, not because of a lack of sex, profanity and graphic violence, but simply because it wasn't good enough.

I have read plenty of "LDS Fiction" where that isn't the case (and I do go to LDS bookstores). I agree that these people have painted the material in LDS bookstores with a broad brush -- they aren't being fair.

BUT, that doesn't change the fact that the current LDS market isn't serving the needs of a large portion (perhaps even a majority) of the potential market.

Without some kind of change, some effort to expand, the Mormon Market as it stands will continue to serve perhaps 10% - 25% of active Church members, and less in the future as the Church grows outside of the Intermountain West.

One of the principal ways to fight this is to change the definition of what is "LDS Fiction." Kudos to Zarahemla Books for trying to present an alternative.

MoJo said...

LDS fiction, whether you like it or not, is a genre term.

I agree with that. See this post for the rationale, especially the part where it says, "whether it's consumer-defined or supplier-defined makes no difference." It's been defined already so codify it for those who wish to write it or to avoid it or to make waves. LDS fiction, unlike, say, "inspirational romance," is too broad a term but, again, the consumer has already defined it in his mind. LDS fiction has no subgenres and no wiggle room, again, according to the consumer.

Instead, as used among those active in the market for Mormon materials, LDS Fiction is, as Bro. Savage makes clear, works that are carefully written so that no LDS Church member could be offended.

To wit. Unless somebody wants to launch a major PR campaign, it's never NOT going to mean that.

...a large portion of active LDS Church members who are turned off by the whole business. They don't go to LDS bookstores because...

No. A large portion of active LDS Church doesn't go to LDS bookstores because there aren't any east of the Rockies. There's a little enclave in the intermountain west that lives an entirely different Mormon lifestyle than the rest of us in the US do—and that's where this sort of shortsightedness gets exposed. We have Borders. We have Barnes & Noble. We have Amazon. That's it. You want us? Get your books there, then tell us that's where they're available.

BUT, that doesn't change the fact that the current LDS market isn't serving the needs of a large portion (perhaps even a majority) of the potential market.

Your potential market east of the Rockies is sewn up by CES. We congregate at church and activities. None of the advertising reaches us. None of the books reach us. We don't know you (meaning, LDS fiction publishers other than DB and Covenant) exist and if you don't make it into DB online, you aren't going to get exposure out here.

less in the future as the Church grows outside of the Intermountain West.

It has already. It's done that. Mormondom doesn't fall off the face of the US at Denver going east on I-70. Really. It doesn't.

The problem isn't that LDS fiction readers think LDS fiction is all those Bad Literary Things. It's that we don't think of it at all. We don't know it exists.

Kent Larsen said...

Mojo:

I'm at a loss to understand exactly what you are trying to say. Are you saying I'm wrong? Or just nitpicking?

You do know, I hope, that I'm in Zion (i.e., New York City), right?

I've been writing about the issues that the LDS market faces outside of the Intermountain West for three years now on A Motley Vision. In a few words, I believe the LDS market is broken. It is so caught up in its own little world with its own rules, that it is stepping on its own toes and failing to serve the Church.

But, I do think we have to recognize that there are LDS bookstores east of Denver. I was near one growing up in Washington DC, and I believe most Temples manage to have a bookstore somewhere close. Yes, they aren't as convenient, but they do exist.

What do you mean by "sewn up by CES?"

There is a difficult problem, as you allude to, with Deseret Book not carrying everything, when large proportions of Church members assume that it does carry everything LDS. Unlike the national market, which has Amazon.com -- a kind of retailer of last resort that carries everything, the LDS market doesn't have that, and the smaller publishers suffer for the lack of it. More importantly, the LDS market suffers for the lack of it, because consumers go to Amazon.com instead of an LDS equivalent!

And don't get me started on the LDS market's failures with other languages.

The problem isn't that LDS fiction readers think LDS fiction is all those Bad Literary Things. It's that we don't think of it at all. We don't know it exists.

You're right. That's why I say that those outside of the West, when they hear the term LDS Fiction, think that it refers to fiction by LDS Church members, or fiction for LDS Church members. The baggage with the assumptions made on the Wasatch Front is completely foreign to them.

The sad part is that the current LDS market doesn't seem very interested in changing any of this. They don't seem to care about those who speak other languages, or that the number of LDS bookstores is decreasing, or that the majority of Church members don't have easy access to a bookstore outside of the Internet.

I don't see this adding up to anything but a failure. The LDS market is broken.

MoJo said...

I'm at a loss to understand exactly what you are trying to say. Are you saying I'm wrong? Or just nitpicking?

No, forgive me. This is an irritating topic for me and I popped off without thinking.

You do know, I hope, that I'm in Zion (i.e., New York City), right?…But, I do think we have to recognize that there are LDS bookstores east of Denver. I was near one growing up in Washington DC, and I believe most Temples manage to have a bookstore somewhere close. Yes, they aren't as convenient, but they do exist.

IMO, if you’re in NY and your nearest LDS bookstore is in DC, you DO NOT HAVE an LDS bookstore. If I’m in KC (which I am) and my nearest LDS bookstore is Omaha, Nauvoo, St. Louis, or Tulsa, I don’t have an LDS bookstore.

This involves several hours’ travel and a great deal of money to get to one; in my case, this involves a babysitter so we can do a temple session while we’re there because we certainly aren’t going to go to any of those cities because of a bookstore, so I think saying, “Yes, they aren’t as convenient, but they do exist” is a bit disingenuous.

In a few words, I believe the LDS market is broken.

Well, I would agree with that, but not because of what it’s producing or not producing. It’s broken because the general membership east of Denver (yeah, I’ll keep harping on that) doesn’t know what’s there.

What I mean by "CES has it all sewn up" is that when, say, my ward or any ward I’ve been in as an adult, has a book/reading club, there is no LDS fiction on the list. Period. Uplifting work? Sure, no problem, but no LDS fiction. LDS-type literature includes the lesson manuals and the Ensign, nonfiction and self-help and prophets’ biographies from DB.

Further, I’m not even sure many of these ladies read for pleasure; too much time is taken up in the aforementioned reading plus working plus fulfilling their church callings plus tending their households whilst the men are out doing their priesthood business. They might actually take time to read LDS fiction if they could get their hands on it, but if they don’t know it’s there, not likely, eh?

It is so caught up in its own little world with its own rules, that it is stepping on its own toes and failing to serve the Church.

I wasn’t aware that the primary goal of LDS fiction was to serve the church. I’m not even going to begin to try to unpack that.

Amazon.com -- a kind of retailer of last resort that carries everything, the LDS market doesn't have that, and the smaller publishers suffer for the lack of it.

I don’t see Amazon as a retailer of last resort. I see it as a retailer of first resort and credibility and “having arrived.” If it’s freely available to members, if only they knew! It’s accessible and they don’t have to drive hours and hours to get to a bookstore or depend on DB's censorious offerings. If only they knew!

And how do small publishers suffer? I know the procedure for getting work onto Amazon. Zarahemla knows how to do this. Outskirts does. A quick Amazon search of “LDS fiction” shows me there’s quite the little collection of LDS fiction by small publishers. If only they knew!

those outside of the West, when they hear the term LDS Fiction, think that it refers to fiction by LDS Church members, or fiction for LDS Church members.

With all due respect, so do those inside the west and Wasatch Front. The point that I made in my post about genre is that the definition has already been made and cemented—by the consumer. That is a done deal; it’s not going to change; bemoaning it is useless. A simple read-through of the substance of the reviews on Amazon for AFS will confirm that.

The sad part is that the current LDS market doesn't seem very interested in changing any of this.

They’re too busy thinking about not offending the readers who “know” what LDS fiction is/should be/what they expect it to be and otherwise “serving the church.”

Woodbury’s book doesn’t serve the church. It doesn’t harm it, either. It is what it is and we as a culture just can’t be what we are most days. Why can’t it just be what it is? Why can’t people just be LDS without all the attendant expectations?

This quote from a review of AFS on Amazon just blew me away:

I would've liked to have seen Milada change her ways and life and gotten forgiveness and embraced the Gospel and a different miracle occur than having the young daughter leading a condemned life, living forever as a vampire.

You know what I would have liked? I would have liked to see Rachel struggle with whether to have sex with Milada because that would have been the true test of Rachel’s faith: sacrifice her virtue to save her daughter. How much did she want to save her daughter? How much faith did she have in the gospel of Jesus Christ to let her daughter go? Rachel really made no sacrifice except step into the great unknown with Milada. Either way, she was going to lose her daughter. And YET we do not know if the girl is condemned. We don’t know if Milada is condemned. The nuances of how much we don’t know (ah, assuming vampires are real) seem to have flown over the heads of the people who got their feathers ruffled.

Is it LDS fiction? Not by the people who consume LDS fiction and like it or not, they have set the standard.

They don't seem to care … that the number of LDS bookstores is decreasing, or that the majority of Church members don't have easy access to a bookstore outside of the Internet. I don't see this adding up to anything but a failure. The LDS market is broken.

Yes, it is.

And as long as readers of it expect it to serve the church, it will remain so.

My suggestion is, if you write/publish a book that cannot be labeled “LDS fiction” as the consumer expects it to manifest, write/publish the book you want and ambush the mainstream with LDS characters. I guarantee they’ll be a lot more forgiving of an LDS character doing interesting but normal-person things than a consumer of LDS fiction will be about anything that deviates in the slightest from the current incarnation.

Label it fiction, label it romance, label it literary, label it science fiction, label it fantasy, label it mystery, label it whatever you want, but don’t label it LDS fiction. That label is taken, never to be redeemed.

I seem to have popped off again. I hope you understand this is not directed at you, personally, but at the situation. I think there is a great misunderstanding going on here as to the causes and this is where the disconnect is.

MoJo said...

Kent, I wouldn't mind taking this to email if you're agreeable. This little blogspot box is starting to make my eyeballs bleed. Plus, I'm sure everyone's sick of my rantings by now.

moriah at moriahjovan dot com

Kent Larsen said...

IMO, if you’re in NY and your nearest LDS bookstore is in DC, you DO NOT HAVE an LDS bookstore.

Well, I didn't say that DC was the closest bookstore. I said that when I was growing up (in the 70s in the DC suburbs), DC was the bookstore.

But, you are completely correct. A bookstore more than 20-50 miles away is not useful.



I said: In a few words, I believe the LDS market is broken.

Mojo said: Well, I would agree with that, but not because of what it’s producing or not producing. It’s broken because the general membership east of Denver doesn’t know what’s there.

My point was indeed that it was broken because of where the industry is.

BUT, if you think content isn't part of the problem, you're wrong. If 50% of the potential audience doesn't go into LDS bookstores because they don't think anything of value can be found there, content is the reason.

Yes, the LDS market is broken because of access. BUT its also broken because of content.


I wasn’t aware that the primary goal of LDS fiction was to serve the church.

I'm not saying that it is. I was referring to the LDS market -- the bookstores, distributors, publishers and authors that make books available to readers. The goal of any business is to serve its audience and get paid for doing so. In this case, the audience is active LDS Church members, or, in other words, the Church.


I don’t see Amazon as a retailer of last resort. I see it as a retailer of first resort and credibility and “having arrived.”

I probably should have used a clearer term. I meant last resort in the sense of the place where you can find a book even though other places don't seem to have it.

But, to be honest, its so easy to get your book listed on Amazon, I can't see it really being a retailer that lends "credibility" or "having arrived." My point is that they list everything. All you have to do to get listed is be distributed properly. Its really easy.


I said: those outside of the West, when they hear the term LDS Fiction, think that it refers to fiction by LDS Church members, or fiction for LDS Church members.

You replied: With all due respect, so do those inside the west and Wasatch Front. The point that I made in my post about genre is that the definition has already been made and cemented—by the consumer.

Hmmm. I'm getting confused as to what you think the definition of LDS Fiction is -- what definition has been cemented in place. My point was that those unfamiliar with the LDS market would take the words "LDS Fiction" at face value: fiction by LDS Church members, or fiction for LDS Church members. In contrast, the LDS market defines "LDS Fiction" as fiction that meets LDS standards and supports the LDS worldview (although when I dive into it, I'm not sure it does that even). Which definition are you saying "has already been made and cemented—by the consumer?"

My perception is that the latter has largely been cemented in the LDS market as it currently exists. The former is what is in the minds of those not as exposed to the LDS market.


Woodbury’s book doesn’t serve the church. It doesn’t harm it, either.

Again, I'm not worried about the fiction serving the market, or about any particular book serving the market. I'm worried about the bookstores, publishers and distributors serving the market. Doing what they are supposed to do -- selling books to LDS Church members. If they do that, then they are serving the LDS Church, IMO.


As long as readers of [LDS Fiction] expect it to serve the church, it will remain so.

I'm not saying that readers expect that. I'm saying that LDS Retailers, Distributors and Publishers should expect to serve the Church -- because the members of the Church are the audience.

label it whatever you want, but don’t label it LDS fiction. That label is taken, never to be redeemed.

I'm not quite as pessimistic as you are about this. I can see scenarios underwhich the definition might change -- but mainly because the LDS market isn't reaching the majority of the market. If that majority defines the term "LDS Fiction" differently than it is now, then the definition could change.

But I admit that I'm not holding my breath for it to happen.

MoJo said...

I need to think more about what you've said here, although what's kind of forming in my mind is a chicken-and-egg problem.

MoJo said...

This is going to be a long post.

I said: Well, I would agree with that, but not because of what it’s producing or not producing. It’s broken because the general membership east of Denver doesn’t know what’s there.

Kent said: My point was indeed that it was broken because of where the industry is.

BUT, if you think content isn't part of the problem, you're wrong. If 50% of the potential audience doesn't go into LDS bookstores because they don't think anything of value can be found there, content is the reason.

Yes, the LDS market is broken because of access. BUT its also broken because of content.


then

I can see scenarios under which the definition might change -- but mainly because the LDS market isn't reaching the majority of the market. If that majority defines the term "LDS Fiction" differently than it is now, then the definition could change.

This is where my lightbubb came on with regard to what you're saying and is what I meant by chicken-and-egg problem.

If there's more exposure, then people can see what's there. But if they browse and see what's there and it's not to their taste or not what they'd really like to see or it's more of the same old-same old, they won't spend the money.

Gotcha. And as you have already rightly pointed out, it would take a concentrated effort of both retailer and publisher to overcome it.

Kent said: My point was that those unfamiliar with the LDS market would take the words "LDS Fiction" at face value: fiction by LDS Church members, or fiction for LDS Church members.

Do you mean members unfamiliar with the LDS market or nonmembers unfamiliar with the LDS market? I personally don't believe members would stop with the simplest definition and would actually make the leap from "fiction by and for" to "fiction that upholds the church standards and LDS worldview."

In this article about
Mormon romance author Anita Stansfield
from March 2003, the definition is clear (gosh, I could quote that whole article, but it's long and it's all pertinent to the discussion of the definition):

Stansfield is quoted as saying: "I have always felt the long detailed sex scenes are an insult to our (women's) intelligence because we all know how it works," Stansfield said. "The women I talked to ... they want the romance, but they don't want to read all the pornographic details." Okay, that's fair, and she's made a killing out of it serving a market that was there and needed it, blazing the trail, but then the article goes on to say,

Some say the LDS-book market is creeping toward an even stronger conservatism. The largest LDS bookstore, church-owned Deseret Books, recently refused to carry a book by a well-known Mormon author that violated "their core values."

The book by Richard Paul Evans, "The Last Promise," is about a woman who, caught in an abusive relationship with her husband, turns to another man for emotional support.

Deseret Book says the books it stocks should reflect customers' values.

"Our customers are looking for books that build faith," said Keith Hunter, vice president of marketing and sales for Deseret Book. "They are looking for things that strengthen individuals and families. Things that are a disconnect are things that glorify immorality or that present the consequences of negative choices in a positive way. We sell values-based literature."

In turn, publishers such as Covenant Communications may also be heading toward more strict standards in romance novels.


Having never read a Stansfield novel, I can't gauge the level of "sensuality" in her stories, but it doesn't seem to me like it could get any more conservative than what was reflected in the article--by Stansfield herself. Thus, judging by that and the reaction to Woodbury's novel, I make the statement that the definition of LDS fiction has been written in stone. There is an expectation amongst the readership that they will get a certain level of astringency in their reading.

Also, my point about the lack of LDS fiction subgenres and therefore, lack of wiggle room, has its place here. I keep comparing "LDS fiction" to "inspirational romance," which on its face is a bad analogy. I've compared a broad class of writing (fiction, as opposed to nonfiction) to not only a genre (romance), but to a subgenre (inspirational). But the analogy works--and it shouldn't.

If we take your assertion that an LDS reader doesn't go looking for LDS fiction because of what he already thinks he will find, then it doesn't matter if it's tagged as a subgenre of "LDS fiction." LDS fiction already means something as its own genre no matter how many which ways it's broken out. I believe, and very firmly, that the restrictions make the genre and is, therefore, the definition. The authors self-censor (aka "targeting the market") so they can sell a book that will actually make it to the shelves of DB.

The ones who veer a little off the beaten path (Woodbury and, apparently Evans) not only can't get stocked at DB, but they get their worthiness to be a member (yea, even their salvation) called into question. The definition of LDS fiction is carved into stone and those who venture beyond it will get dashed upon that stone. No matter his book wasn't billed as LDS fiction, people read his bio, saw who the publisher was, made assumptions and then felt like they'd been ambushed. Their assumption did it for them, but that assumption is the definition of LDS fiction.

LDS Author = Author who can be counted on to write to the standards of Deseret Book.

Oops, sorry. Surprise!

Kent said: Again, I'm not worried about the fiction serving the market, or about any particular book serving the market. I'm worried about the bookstores, publishers and distributors serving the market. Doing what they are supposed to do -- selling books to LDS Church members. If they do that, then they are serving the LDS Church, IMO.

They are selling books--hand over fist. People wouldn't buy them if they didn't want them and obviously they do because somebody's making money. Who's not being served?

If I look at the situation strictly from a business viewpoint, nothing's broken. DB makes money, Covenant makes money, books get sold, authors' names turn into brands, everything's hunky dory. So...now I'm confused. What market is not being served? (I know the answer to that, but I'm curious if I'm the only one around here with the markedly deviant mind.)

Kent said: Again, I'm not worried about the fiction serving the market, or about any particular book serving the market.

I think you should be. It's always going to be a single book that a publisher takes a chance on, then a distributor (although at this point in our technological evolution as a society, distributors of all stripes should just go jump in a lake), then a retailer. That takes GUTS, because somebody has to blaze the trail. The market isn't defined, the only distributor/retailer in the business won't touch you with a ten-foot pole, and the market from which you could draw is pocked with the quicksand of consumers who aren't going to like what you give them.

Zarahemla's taken a big step in the right direction, but it's going to take more than one publisher to take a chance on more than Woodbury and his ilk. And it's going to take some authors out there stepping up to the plate and writing the book of their hearts in the first place, knowing they don't have an outlet for their work and setting themselves up for years of rejection regardless how fine a work it is.

It takes an author to write outside the expectation of the DB-reading crowd, knowing he probably won't find a publisher for it.

It takes a publisher to hold her breath and publish it, knowing she probably won't find a store that will shelve it. (Ahem: That would be me.)

It takes a store to shelve the book, knowing it probably will A) never sell but one or two copies and B) probably get lambasted for having the chutzpah to stock it in the first place.

The odds are just not there.

All that said:

There are other business concerns that the whole book/publishing industry is dealing with at the moment and is absolutely not the sole concern of LDS authors/publishers/distributors/retailers. The whole biz is undergoing a seismic shift that, in my opinion, could be capitalized on by courageous authors/publishers.

(For example, Hachette following the ebook publisher model of no advance but higher royalties to authors AND Barnes & Noble attempting to put an end to the traditional "consignment" way of selling books.)

The LDS book market doesn't exist in a vacuum and as the rest of the industry goes, so will they. I say, be ahead of the curve.

This would involve the publisher to become the retailer and brand itself as a retailer. It would involve listing your book at Ingram's and Baker & Taylor and Amazon as non-returnable. It would involve offering other formats. It would involve being on the cutting edge of technology and the way people read and buy books (ahem, look to genre sf/f and romance to get a clue). It would involve taking risks not only with what you write, publish, and sell, but how you get it to the world. (Ahem. That would be me. Again.)

I guess my whole point is that DB already satisfies the "LDS fiction" market and therefore, the church as you define it. The people who don't know it's there aren't missing anything and the people who do know don't want much different.

It's going to take growing a whole new market that fearlessly incorporates LDS characters and makes their world accessible to nonmembers who just like a good story and won't mind reading about characters with a worldview unfamiliar to theirs.

What I'm saying is that the status quo doesn't need to be fixed or adjusted to reach a potential market; it's making money, it doesn't need to be fixed, and it meets its market's needs. What I'm saying is that a whole new market needs to be carved and don't call it LDS fiction.

Heh. I'd suggest calling it "Mormon fiction," but that opens up a whole new can o' worms.

Kent Larsen said...

Mojo, I think we're finally getting to where we mostly agree. You can assume I basically agree with you when I haven't replied to something in your last post.

But I do have a few comments on some of what you said:

I said: ... Doing what they are supposed to do -- selling books to LDS Church members. If they do that, then they are serving the LDS Church, IMO.

You said: They are selling books--hand over fist. People wouldn't buy them if they didn't want them and obviously they do because somebody's making money. Who's not being served?

The LDS Church members who can't get books either because there aren't venues for purchasing them in their area or language, or because the market doesn't publish the kind of books that they read.

As I said before, the current market serves somewhere between 10% and 25% of active LDS Church members. WHAT ABOUT THE REST!!!

The market is broken if they don't get service.


at this point in our technological evolution as a society, distributors of all stripes should just go jump in a lake

I'm not so sure on this one. Its probably off topic for this blog, but there is a role for a middleman to make it possible for smaller retailers to find everything available. But if we don't agree, let's agree to disagree and find another venue for this one.


There are other business concerns that the whole book/publishing industry is dealing with at the moment and is absolutely not the sole concern of LDS authors/publishers/distributors/retailers. The whole biz is undergoing a seismic shift that, in my opinion, could be capitalized on by courageous authors/publishers.

I absolutely agree with this. It remains to be seen how things will shake out, and I believe it could be very, very helpful to the LDS market. However, IMO, the current LDS market is clearly in the way of taking advantage of these changes. And Deseret Book is probably the chief stumbling block to progress.


What I'm saying is that the status quo doesn't need to be fixed or adjusted to reach a potential market; it's making money, it doesn't need to be fixed, and it meets its market's needs. What I'm saying is that a whole new market needs to be carved and don't call it LDS fiction.

I guess our semantics are probably a little different -- but we are saying very similar things. I agree that creating "a whole new market" as you suggest is likely to "fix" the problem that I see. And it may be the only way to fix the broken LDS market.

MoJo said...

Yay! We're getting there!

As I said before, the current market serves somewhere between 10% and 25% of active LDS Church members. WHAT ABOUT THE REST!!! The market is broken if they don't get service.

I had to go back to see if you had said that LDS publishers weren't aware of this or didn't care.

The sad part is that the current LDS market doesn't seem very interested in changing any of this. They don't seem to care about those who speak other languages, or that the number of LDS bookstores is decreasing, or that the majority of Church members don't have easy access to a bookstore outside of the Internet.

:sigh: I guess that says it all. If they don't care, then they must be happy with the status quo and they can't be counted upon to change.

And yes, I do see now that we are simply using different words to say the same thing.

I agree that creating "a whole new market" as you suggest is likely to "fix" the problem that I see. And it may be the only way to fix the broken LDS market.

Do you envision this fix to include nonmembers? What I mean is, do you think it's feasible/reasonable/appropriate to try to get such work into the mainstream, i.e., you target members specifically, but you position it so nonmembers can easily stumble upon it?

Kent Larsen said...

Do you envision this fix to include nonmembers? What I mean is, do you think it's feasible/reasonable/appropriate to try to get such work into the mainstream, i.e., you target members specifically, but you position it so nonmembers can easily stumble upon it?

In some ways, yes. I suspect that the solution is really very multifaceted -- involving both those inside and outside the LDS world.

The technology and structure of the book world is evolving to one that will REQUIRE that LDS books be listed in national and international markets. For example, most LDS books can be found on Amazon.com, because it tries to list everything, and because it is a good way to allow those that don't live near an LDS bookstore to find books that they hear about.

BUT, national and international retailers do a lousy job defining just what is an LDS book or making any kind of Mormon connection to books. They don't even distinguish between anti-Mormon books and those published by the Church, let alone inform customers about the standard we've discussed above.

I'm certain that LDS books will continue to appear in national and international booksellers and other venues not specific to Mormons.

BUT, there is a crying need for more, and more inclusive, venues specific to Mormon books. We need venues that help customers know everything that is Mormon, what fits the "LDS Fiction" standard, and that categorize books in a Mormon-specific way. We can not expect nonmembers to be capable of doing these latter tasks, and without these tasks, it will be very difficult for books that are not obviously Mormon to reach the majority of LDS Church members.

MoJo said...

In some ways, yes. I suspect that the solution is really very multifaceted -- involving both those inside and outside the LDS world.

As a consortium or individually with some standard? How would that manifest?

BUT, national and international retailers do a lousy job defining just what is an LDS book or making any kind of Mormon connection to books.

First, I think this is where the concept of "tagging" and "keywords" comes in, which should be done by the publisher. (I can't help but envision a tag cloud on the first page where a small excerpt or summary would go. :big grin:)

Second, I think it would be helpful for publishers to pursue Library of Congress cataloging and getting the cataloging information in the copyright page. It's a very small thing, but it would go a long way with legitimizing the category(ies). I did this with mine. The library cataloging service did catalog it that way, though as the third category, not the first, as it wasn't the focus.

Third, put it (whatever IT is) on the spine, whatever it is, where the "fiction" or "historical fiction" or "romance" would go, e.g., "Fiction - Historical - Mormon" You know, some spines have double- and triple-decker genre specifications.

Fourth, give it a rating of some sorts, G PG PG-13 R NC-17 whatever. I'd do that willingly. E-publishers in romance give their books a sensuality/heat rating, 1 through 5, and they do it across the board. Almost all of them have "category" lines in which they explain what its nature (subgenre) is and what you're getting.

These kinds of things can be done on sites like Amazon and B&N and Borders, by the publisher.

It starts with the publisher and is the publisher's responsibility to follow up to make sure it's done. If there is to be any standardization and differentiation in LDS work, though, other publishers need to care, need to talk to each other, need to have some standardization for it to work. Otherwise, it's each publisher for himself.

BUT, there is a crying need for more, and more inclusive, venues specific to Mormon books. We need venues that help customers know everything that is Mormon, what fits the "LDS Fiction" standard, and that categorize books in a Mormon-specific way.

mormozon.com

We can not expect nonmembers to be capable of doing these latter tasks, and without these tasks, it will be very difficult for books that are not obviously Mormon to reach the majority of LDS Church members.

No, we can't. We're the ones with the vested interest, so it would mean publishers of LDS/Mormon books getting together to hammer out some standard of categorization/ rating/whatever.