Notes on The Mormon Publishing Panel at the 2009 Sunstone Symposium, Featuring Jana Riess, Tom Kimball, Greg Kofford, and Chris Bigelow

By August 16, 2009

Session on Mormon Book Publishing [As always, this is not a transcript, but my imperfect, typed notes of the session which I have reworked for readability and does not presume to accurately represent the totality of the conversation.]

[Jana Riess] I came to publishing through grad school, if you think of the amount of people in academic programs and how many jobs are in academics, the extra has to go somewhere. I?m one of those. I worked for publishers weekly, book review editor. During the course of that decade, every religion book published in N. America came to my house, that was a great experience, to see what was going on in publishing across the board, major presses, evangelical publishers, small publishers. I left PW because of the economy about a year ago. I saw the writing on the wall.  If you see PW, it?s getting smaller, ads disappearing, not unusual to PW but epidemic in the magazine industry. I decided to work as acquisition editor for Westminster John Knox press, which has a diverse offering ranging from biblical studies, books for laity, pop culture, you might have heard of the Gospel according to The Simpsons, etc. In publishing right now, if you are an author, it?s a very challenging time. Especially to be a first time author, more than ever before a it?s a given that you need good content, but you also need a platform, which is you ability to sell the book: speaking engagements, teaching, blogging, workshops, promoting your books. For successful authors this is a full time job. More than ever before, the economy has put a squeeze on the author for promotion, another thing going on is lists are getting smaller. At the publishing house I work at, we publish between 85 and 100 books per year. Next year it will be 70. That?s 15-30 authors by us, multiply that by other publishing houses, and you see how much more challenging it is. That?s what?s going on on the publishing side. There are also huge problems in retail book sales, which affects everything and is something authors don?t usually see. You walk into Barnes and Noble, you don?t think about all the books that are not on the shelves. ½ million books this year will be published, double what it was 5 years ago. Why?  Self publishing and vanity presses are an increasingly viable option, the technology is amazing and quick. But they don?t get into stores. It?s hard to get a small press book into a chain store like Barnes and Noble. Chains have trouble because of online retailers like Amazon, with huge discounts. Those discounts come from somewhere, that?s from the pockets of publishers and authors. Where does it shake out?  I don?t know. My best guess after a decade in the business 1)Content-more and more small niches for content, which is really good for Mormon authors. We?ll hear issues in the Mormon market about the complete domination in the retail side of DB and the monopoly that they have is unparalleled in religious publishing. That?s great for Deseret Book. It contributes to a sense of uniformity, but the uniformity that appears on the surface is more complicated. It?s difficult for other voices to be published cuz they?re not in the stores. Rise of niche-ing, first major trend. Second trend, I think, is going to be the democratization of publishing, come out in a  lot of formats, people just publishing online, charging directly. It is a successful business model for some authors, especially those with niche offerings as it is.  One, a gardener, region specific, developed a following, published a book, because of the blog it already had a built-in audience. It was more economically viable to do it herself. Different books have different expectations, book like that (gardening) are very dependant on photographs, which is very expensive to do traditionally but not very expensive to do online. Niche markets using smaller presses, small print runs, print on demand to their advantage.

These are our three panelists today, Chris Bigelow is the founder of Zerahemla books, which publishes mostly fiction and memoir.

My agent sent me a memoir that was having trouble getting published, she knew I was LDS, the manuscript was from an LDS author, I read it, it was so beautiful and fresh, funny, intelligent. I took it to Zerahemla books.  I think the big thing that came out was the friendship. Maybe you?ve seen Mormonism for Dummies, I had been in contact with publishing houses for a while, finally, one wanted the whole book within 9 months. I said, there?s no way, it was suggested I work with Chris, so we wrote a book that was better together. Chris has gone on to other projects, written a novel, just amazing.

Greg Kofford is the founder of Kofford Books, had experience working with Seagull Book, which is now owned by DB because they?ve been slowly gobbling everyone up.

Tom Kimball?

[Tom] Waiting to be gobbled by Deseret Book [Laughter]

[Jana] [chuckles] Of course, DB is not the enemy here, there are some really wonderful products that come from them, they?ve found that one way to survive is to offer individual retailers the brand name, so it?s not a super evil bad guy.

Tom Kimball is with Signature Books, a small press, has produced some alternate history, some controversial, but tom cultivates friends on all sides of the equation, hanging out with DB and Sunstone folk.

Greg was the one that brought Tom into Publishing?maybe he?ll tell the story?[Tom shakes his head, Kofford grins] [They never did get to that story]

[Chris] We?ve been doing this publishers panel for years, you and me, Tom mostly, we usually get 6 people, Janna you have a magical personality. I?m doing Zerahelma Books, I consider it a small alternative publisher, key to success for me has been low over head and low expectations [laughter]. Because of digital printing, it?s possible to do one book at a time as well as a lot with digital printing. Those that would pick up an ink and toner book wouldn?t? notice a lot of differences straight off. I was involved with the Assocition for Mormon Letters, it?s a great resource. Through my connections with that organization, I was aware of some manuscripts that weren?t finding a home, a little too edgy or raw for DB, Signature was doing some, but not a lot, one for two slots a year for novels. Limited opportunity with Signature, so it was hard to place a Mormon-flavored manuscript with a national publisher. So I started Zerahemla Book to get some of these manuscripts out there, and we?ve done about 10 books so far, and I say low expectations, if we sell 100 copies, we can break even and feel satisfied that that?s better that nothing, sounds low, but a lot of fun. You can still get reviewed in regional newspapers, alternative publications, and feel like you?re making a real contribution to Mormon letters. We have a few titles that have taken off, we?re talking 2000 copies, that?s big for us. I?m here as a resource if you have questions about this niche market I?m trying to serve, digital publishing, how to get distribution in the Mormon Market, or direct to Mormon readers just.

[Greg] I grew up in Mormon publishing, my father when I was making the transition from cub to boy scout, he got involved with Covenant, number 2 now in the LDS market, went to work for them, at the time they were doing some real cutting edge stuff like transitioning the Book of Mormon from 33 1/3 records to tapes [laughter], also talk tapes from people like Paul H. Dunn. I grew up with the idea that DB was the arch enemy, but it also determined whether you had a Christmas or not [chuckles]. I came back to Utah after a career in finance in the early 90s, my father, in an attempt to increase Covenant distribution started Seagull Book, had a couple of stores, he started talking about bankrupting Seagull because it wasn?t working out the way it was expected. I took over management of Seagull and over the next few year worked it up to ten stores, got revenue up, into profitability, was able to build a solid foundation for Seagull?s continued growth and pull Covenant with it.  A some are aware, almost two years ago, my father sold both Covenant and Seagull to DB. I want to thank you for your tithing dollars that have gone to my father?s retirement [laughter]. But in the process, watching that, it was interesting because as Janna mentioned DB was a virtual monopoly in publishing and retailing especially when they purchased Covenant and Seagull, as a wholesaler they get 80-85 percent of the wholesale market on retail, probably the same number. Interesting because they are in essence a bureaucracy owned by a bureaucracy and in the spirit of that, they don?t know how to make money [laughter]. They struggle, counter to reason. Usually a monopoly tries to figure out how not to make so much money so people don?t get upset, but DB has figured that one out.  When the discussion first started about buying Seagull, that was precipitated by DB?s decision to stop selling products to Seagull. Their reason, got media coverage, was that Seagull was not properly displaying the promotional material DB was distributing, not having up the posters, not enough book marks by the cash register. Although I?ve seen them selling DB books to Sam?s Club and Wal-mart, and I never saw any of that at Wal-Mart, but it became apparent that they believed that cutting off Seagull, they could push Seagull into bankruptcy and get rid of this thorn in their foot. Shortly it became obvious that that wasn?t going to work they didn?t realize this operated on a different retail philosophy, a brick and mortar bookstore has basically two philosophies under which you can stock you stores, like Barnes and Noble, you can stock what the customer wants. We recognize there are about 20 best sellers, that makes up 80% of sales, but we need the appearance of variety. Significant sales in those top titles and drips off slowly, but a fair amount of times you get reasonable sales for the other titles. The other philosophy: You?re gonna come to the store, and if we only have whatever we have, your gonaan buy what we have.  Dramatically affects what occurs. DB is constantly having that mentality in one way or another in retailing, which I believe is a determining factor in profitability. You have to also sell what people want not just what you want them to buy.  I could go on for a while, but the industry which is a niche within a niche, is going through some dramatic changes. The final indicator on this, at the LDS booksellers convention, it was literally 2/3 the size of previous years, dramatic contraction in wholesalers that can pay 425 buck to get a booth, number of retail stores in there has dropped form just under 500, and if you count DB as one retailer, just under 100 retailers this year from 500 just a few years ago.

[Tom Kimball]  [plugs the Thurston book on Breathing Life into Your Life?s Story] Ask yourself as a potential author, why are you writing the book, are you a student, just want critical feedback? Do you want to present yourself as the authority on the subject, why are you writing the book? To me when I wrote my little book on book collecting, the first time I wrote it, distribution of 30 copies, I gave them to a few guys, it had the terms of bookselling, an awful little book, I wrote it as a student, I got trashed, it was lovely. The question why are you writing the book? The second time, I took the critiques, and did a grand total of 100 copies, gave most of them away, cuz no one?s gonna buy it, only a few critiques this time, felt like I?m starting to get a feel for the craft. I wanted feedback, I think that?s what a lot of people trying to do with their books, writing cuz they want to learn and know, Something to think about, the issue of an editor, You can publish a book?the question is what are you doing before and what to you want to present, without an editor on you, the book will suffer in quality, that?s where publishers come in, if you do a historical or biographical piece, one strategy we recommend is to take a chapter and turn in into an article and submit it to the Journal of Mormon History or something and when they send you back the manuscript with all the margin notes, what you did wrong, this is good news, they?re helping you, don?t be afraid to hear what you did wrong, they?re not telling you your stupid, they?re trying to help you. We want you to get better as an author. We have a heavy editorial hand, you?ll not have a happy time if you?re too tied to your work. Even our own employees have the crap kicked out of their stuff.  That?s one of the problems of self publishing, you won?t get the kind of feedback an editor can give you. The Signature Books Catalog. I?m not a greay writer, but when the editors got a hold of it, there?s some pretty good writing in here, not cuz I?m a good writer but I have good editors and critics.

[Jana] Each panelist to speak a few minutes on Mormon publishing, what?s going on in Mormon publishing, Greg and I have talked about the 85-15 rule, elaborate on that, Tom and Chris if you?ll talk about your time as a bookseller, experience getting books into stores, and the challenges facing Mormon Publishing right now.

[Tom] The best way to hide things from Mormons is to publish them.  Big problem is distribution, which goes hand in hand with the issue of whether you?re going to self publish. Book stores what a handful of receipts [only want to order from a small number of distributors]. Someone proposes a book for the store, the store wants it, but book store say, I don?t want another invoice, so if you can get to a distributor and so I can order it among a lot of other things, I?ll take it, but I don?t have time to deal with your invoice.  The other problem is that it?s hard to get your stuff distributed. DB has taken over the role of distribution, distribution is dismal. Our best distributor can be less than 10 vendors and a handful of really small ones.

[Greg] The 85-15 thing is as I mentioned, DB will have flavors of this, we?ll sell you what we want you to buy. Earlier this year, I was told by some DB employees, that they institutionalized a policy to have 85% of their inventory be stocked of DB/Covenant titles and 15% other. Lately they have curtailed the amount they order from publishers like us, but the buyers have denied that. However, there has been an uptick in our product line as they hired my brother to be head of internet marketing, which just goes to show, it?s true that it?s not what you know it?s who you know [laughter]. The thing to remember about Mormon publishing as an author, the reality is that the odds of making a modest living, even a vacation money, are extremely low, in the Mormon world, a best seller is 50,000 copies, it will be fiction and odds are, it was a Mormon romance novel. I know, it sounds like an oxymoron [laughter]. A fellow worked for me for a while, he was still in college, I explained a Mormon romance novel to him, he couldn?t picture it.  I said, the typical plot line is that a woman is married to a good man, decent marriage, but he?s not bishop or stake president material. So she?s frustrated, extremely, he fortuitously is killed in a car accident, and at the funeral she meets a man who has just gotten a call to be mission president, but has to turn it down because his wife died of cancer, so they unite and march off to be mission presidents together. He said, My mother would buy that book! [Laughter]. So the amount of titles sold are predominantly fiction, that doesn?t mean there is not a market for other types of books.  Chris mentioned looking at national publishers, that?s an uphill road. There are a few LDS titles, by Pres. Hinckley for example. Published by national imprint, but the dark side, they were a type of vanity publication, even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, all the Hinckley titles were published on the condition that DB issue a large order for a vast majority of the print run that was nonreturnable, if you could peek into DB?s warehouse, you?d find a large amount of those Hinckley titles. I don?t know what they?re gonna do with them. So the impression that we?ve broken out into the national market, is not quite what it appears.  The most sold nationally was Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman, has done really well, was a straight up deal Knopf took the risk on that.

[Chris] Let me tell you a bit of what I?ve done with Zerahemla Press.   To be a real publisher, it doesn?t take a lot, if you have your own ISBN number, you can buy them in as low as 10 ISBN numbers so it looks that you are a publisher, that?s $250 bucks for 10 ISBN?s and you?re a publisher, you can use digital printers, any bookstore can order your book, that?s the route I?ve taken, but getting into the Mormon market I?ve tried to make sure the books are on Amazon. Mormons do buy through those channels that?s good, but you want to get into stores if you can and I?ve jumped through a lot of hoops as a publisher getting into the bookstores. I paid to get into the Mormon booksellers? Association. You can then get a list of retailers and I got that with their contact information. I printed up extra copies, mailed out sample copies to independents and DB, then do a lot of grunt work calling to follow up. Did you get the book this is what we?re doing with promotion, here are some reviews, takes a s a lot of work but it?s doable. When I say it?s doable, you can do it, but at some point you want to get a distributor and there are a few two or three beyond DB, Granite, Sounds of Zion and Brigham Distributing, three independent distributors, Granite and Brigham say they want to help small publishers, so if you can invest in a decent cover, have the book well edited, they will do their best to help you out, but still may only sell a few dozen or a hundred, so it is positive, but keeping expectations low is key. It can be discouraging with the actual numbers but you can keep going, any progress is good progress, something may break through that keep you going for a few more years.

[Jana] Thank you, I?d like to ask each of you again two to three minutes, worse challenge in this economy?

[Chris] Mine is that I got a bunch of books back from a distributor. They said we?ve had them and we?re ready not to have them in the warehouse anymore. They hadn?t paid for them they were on consignment. I get all these books back and have to figure out what to do with hem, a few hundred, if they did pay for them, you have to give them their money back, one bad move over printing a book and over shipping can totally sink a small company.

[Jana interjects] Greg referred to returnable merchandise. When a bookstore orders a book, no obligation to actually pay for it, can return anytime, but often author or publisher pays for shipping also, unless there is some contractual agreement on nonreturnable merchandise (Like with the Hinckley books).

[Tom] I had a buddy that sold sunglasses, buys them for 3 bucks, sells for 20 or 40, margins are huge. Publish a book, the publisher is in 20 bucks, retailing for 30 bucks, margins small. If the books are returned, maybe you get back 1000 books and they come back damaged, that could put a company under. And anther issue, good independent bookstores who are not in the business for money, but are in the business cuz it?s fun, those shops are all closing. In my work at DB, I couldn?t read everything, but I liked to read. There was a DB title by Heidi Swinton, Pioneer Spirit, short vignettes of pioneers, modern pioneers, cool little book. People would come in and ask me, What?s new? I?d read a story out of the book to them, they would buy the book. I had sold 300-400 copies of the book. It was fun, inexpensive. We ran out so I went and looked at inventory from the other 30 stores. I was surprised that out of the other 30 stores, only 5 copies was the most anyone sold in any other store. If you have one kid in a store that likes your book it?ll sell there. [But you don?t have that kind of product knowledge at big chain stores.] So, you know, in my mind, the loss of the independent bookstore with people who knew the books and could recommend them to people coming in.  I remember Bruce McDaniel at the desk in Pioneer Book once, he put a book down and said, I?ve read a hundred books this year, and that?s the best of them.  I said, can I buy one? And it was a great book.

[Greg] I have an advantage of doing Kofford books as a passion, I don?t want to pay for it, so I have figured out how to run it with marginal profitability, with the downturn, got some returns, mostly from national guys, Ingram, Baker and Taylor. These national distributors will buy the book at a horrendous discount, get around to paying you later, look at it in 90 days, they want proof of delivery, maybe 20-30 days later. Maybe 120-150 days and you get a check, but they take invoices that are old and do a return, so they may apply a return you shipped them months ago. So I got a big wave of returns and went through their game, for the first half of the year they wanted to return, but they ran down on inventory, so that evened out now and now they want more books.

Seagull and DB buyers are more in tuned to inventory terms.

[Jana] Last question, when you?re receiving manuscripts, what is it that authors are doing that is utterly stupid, greatest mistake that authors make in contacting you. One, I will tell you, don?t ever tell me your gonna be on Oprah [laughter].

[Tom] I?m the marketing guy, not the manuscript guy, I can say that people are calling, they say they have a history of Grandma or Grandpa. People should understand that a publisher is spending a lot of capital on a book, if you haven?t gotten a section already published or getting experience before coming to us, it?s really wasting our time.

[Chris] I?ve started a lot, starting as an author, getting in to publishing, I understand a lot more about how I was treated as an author now that I?m a publisher. Those unsolicited submissions coming in have been the least favorite part of the enterprise, so many of them add up a lot of time if you consider them thoughtfully. Be careful to consider the position of the company you want to submit to. The company may say, we?re not going to do this type of book, or this or this. But people say, I?m gonna send them my Mormon cookbook anyway cuz maybe they?ll like it. So, sending things in the company has already said they don?t want, that?s one of the biggest mistakes. Don?t take the time and effort to send it in to somewhere where they don?t want it.  I have some volunteer readers to screen manuscripts, but the it?s getting to the point that to get it on our radar we need outside experts to vouch for it, need a email from someone with reputation, someone who will say, I know of this manuscript or you need to read it, maybe a prominent blogger, saying this is worth consideration, so that?s what I?m giving time to now.

[Greg] Biggest mistake? Send a manuscript with a cover letter saying it?s been revealed to you that I?m to be your publisher [Laughter]. Well, I had a woman adamant on her manuscript, managed to get through my call filtering, said every word was revealed to her in the temple. Finished the book, prayed for guidance, certain things had happened, I was to be the true publsher, I responded, said that was very interesting, I would assume it would be natural protocol for God to let me know that too [laughter]. She concurred and I mediated on it very briefly,  and when she called back I felt  very inspired that I was to be her publisher but I was inspired that she should contribute $10,000 toward publication [laughter]. It didn?t work how I hoped. She called back, said she got confirmation of the 10G, but her husband hadn?t [laughter].

[Tom on Self Publishing] If you have a family history you?re going to do by yourself, know a publisher won?t be able to do it, an alternative is Lightning Source, in Lavern Tennessee. You submit your book, typeset with a cover in their format, quite cheaply, submit the PDF files, and you send the $300 they?ll print one copy at a time.  It will be set up on Amazon as part of the fee, Uncle Ernie can order the book, the order goes to Ingram, Ingram prints the book that day, walk it across the street, goes to Amazon and the customer. They print 30,000 books a day with an average printing of 1.8 copies. My brother had a book a while back, had 10,000 copies printed, got on a UFO show, got 50,000 orders, probably more, Had to produce that to feed Amazon, but had he had it set up on Lightning Source, all the orders he missed with the long delay in replenishing Amazon?s stock, within 2 days on Lighting Source those books could have been made and he would have been cut a check, no books in your garage, before he had 10,000 in his garage. That?s one strategy and a good one if you fit their format.

A company in N Salt lake, DMT Press, very small runs, they?ve done as small as 6 for us.  300-400 bucks for a few copes at Kinko?s, but about a hundred or so for the same price there. They can do typesetting for you too, good set up to do a nice little paperback. One guy did a book on tithing houses, 20-30 pages, got a few books made, gave them away, good way to get self published.

[Chris] I?ve used lightning source.

[Jana] Amazon got in trouble cuz they want their fingers in every pie. They hit on self publishing, and has been squeezing those who are self publishing in other venues. Some of the other companies, Amazon refuses to carry their stuff. So people wonder if they need to use Amazon exclusively cuz if you self publish you need to have Amazon on board.

Audience questions:

Q: What?s happened to Random House and the classic publisher where are we today?

[Jana] Random House is the umbrella company of Doubleday, Phantom, Algonquin, etc. With all this, Random House actually has a flow chart to show how these are different imprints. There is enormous pressure, commercial pressure such that if an author has a book published in a major trade house, it can come back to bite you, cuz if you don?t meet the sales expectations on the first book, you?ll be dropped like a rock. In the past, up to 15 years, the company would be committed to building an author over time, they understand you?ll start slow and work up, but now has to be a hit and that in a few months, maybe shelf life only as much as 6 months for a book, so pressures are enormous.  No more Hemingways, no more Moby Dick. There were 200 copies in existence at Melville?s death, imagine all that is being lost to us. Depressing thing to imagine.

Q: When people walk into a Mormon bookstore, DB, I know they buy something, a gift, ends up at DI still in shrinkwrap. Then they give it to someone who won?t read it. When they walk in, are they going to buy a title or just looking around. Are they really attracted by the advertising or are they thinking they have something in mind.

[Greg] When I was running Seagull 70 % of shoppers were female and 60% of them were buying a gift, males predominantly coming after a title or genre. So at least half not having something specific in mind, someone going on a mission.

[Tom] When I was at DB people came in looking for a safe gift that was appropriate, So yea, if you want a book that will be read, the reality is that you?ll have to do your own marketing and promotion. One guy at DB had his own independent book, I thought it was cool then. He?d come in and I knew him on site, he?d come in and say can I set up a book signing up front? I would say yea, because you?re gonna pay all my employees? salaries tonight. He?d wade into the mall, bring people in and sell all 100 books he brought it. He knew how to talk to people about his book. I?ve had plenty of people sit for an hour and a half, with pen in hand, not talk to anyone, not sell anything.  If you?re not willing to talk about your book you might not get it sold.

[Jana] Question about consumer behavior. A lot of people do have something specific in mind but many are open to persuasion. Customers need to know that a publisher has paid a pretty penny to put a book up in prime advertising space. Getting a book into an airport terminal book store is expensive. Each of those boos has paid to be there.. Consumer behavior is studied endlessly, but it?s a mix on whether they?re looking for something specific or not.

Q: I did this inadvertently in my first book. I was a commenter online on rock climbing, two years before I published.  I told the people online that I have a book coming out, there was a built in audience. They took the first 2000 sales, and that?s something any author can do. But I don?t see Mormons connecting on blogs establishing themselves for books. So I?d encourage that. What?s the next level?

A: That?s where Irreantum and some of these come out.  There?s a broader audience of mountaineering and rock climbing than for Mormon fiction.  But already groups gather talking about stuff, blogs, etc, built in audience. How do you get that to the next level, let me know when you find out.

[Chris] Mormon Fiction, one problem is that if it has any kind of ?worldly? element, people don?t want you to call it Mormon fiction any more.  I have a book coming out, a novel, first gay Mormon coming of age, real opportunity to become a go to guy on that area and I?m interested to see what he can do reaching out to blogs, offering to be interviewed, newspapers, blog tours, contests, I think that the most success I?ve seen is on blogs, one good blogger gives a good review, you can sell a hundred copies.

[Jana] Critical to have a platform from a beginning, Douglas Hunter was already known. A book to read, Get Known Before A Book Deal [title?]. Get known and you?ll have a platform.

Q: I?m curious if you see any genre where there?s still space in this Mormon niche, women?s issues, etc? And do you ever solicit from the bloggernacle community?

[Tom] I hope Mormon erotica will grow [Laughter].

[Jana] Do publishers solicit from blogs? It happens all the time. I don?t solicit in Mormonism, we don?t do Mormon studies [at Westminster John Knox Press], but I do solicit from evangelical bloggers. Get your name out there; blogging is a cheap way to do that.

[Chris] I still read Irreantum and the print journals, and just this week a story in Irreantum I liked, sent a query to the author, she sent me a novel msanuscipt and I?m excited.

[Tom] My secret, Sunstone does Cornucopia. I?ve written few quick and dirty pieces, he?s accepted them and printed them the next month, good way to get a few 4-500 word pieces published, get some experience with editing.

Q: Niche market. I have a manuscript on Eskimo Mormon transvestites, would Signature consider it? [Ron Priddis: Absolutely!] [Laughter] A question for every one in this room, everyone on the panel has said that Mormon publishing small press publishing and bookselling is in a crisis. And I would like to know, what is it that we should be doing as publishers and booksellers and people that love the printed word. What can we do? What are you looking for in a bookseller and a publisher.

[Tom] Support your independent bookstores.

[Greg] I don?t know if crisis is the best word, but the typical Mormon doesn?t even know Mormon studies exists. The radical stuff for them is FAIR cuz its not sanction by BYU?s religion department. The dilemma in working with DB, there are glimmers of hope, they recognized there?s a market for the kinds of stuff we publish. I think there is a market for this stuff and the internet has done an incredible job of making it available to those willing to look. But the average Mormon doesn?t know what I put out. I?m not passing things out at church cuz my wife won?t let me [laughter]. But that is the trickiest part, how to let a large market know this stuff?s out there. I don?t have a solution, but when we can break through the clutter, we?ve had a few books make it on the font pages of the Deseret News or Salt Lake Tribune and the sales are off the charts, that s with limited distribution with the independents. We are close to cutting a deal to have Sam?s Club, Costco, and Walmart get a few of our books. We?ll have dramatically higher sales with that especially if we can get on a newspaper.

[Comment from the audience] When you put your books at Walmart between the gin and tires you put an independent bookseller out of business.

[Jana] There?s a lot of truth to that. You get hot chocolate, order a book from a Kiosk, that?s where we?re headed, people publishing books at home. It?s a time of opportunity, never been a time when authors have had access to the whole publishing process yourself. Tons of sites, you can buy a package, this might include production, cover design, etc. Well, we?re out of time. Thanks to our panelists.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thank you for the write up. I found it very interesting.

    I was lucky enough to get one of my family histories (The Mormon Drapers) “reprinted” and leather-bound for $40 by Higginson Book Co. I advised the Draper Message Board on, and eight more books were ordered!
    I now have six such family history books of different sizes. I gave up on doing such a book myself. But I do have a website at It’s great for me, saved me years of work, and it’s Free!

    Comment by Bob — August 16, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  2. Thanks for the write up

    Comment by Matt W. — August 16, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

  3. Bob, that’s cool. I was also interested in hearing about the self publishing option. I think there will be family collections I will want to do this with as well.

    Matt, thanks!

    Comment by Jared T — August 16, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  4. Another thank you for this excellent and informative write up. I was aware the publishing industry is going through a crisis not only because of the recession, but also changes brought to it by the Internet and self-publishing.

    Now I’ve got to get back to the book I am writing . . .

    Comment by Phoebe — August 17, 2009 @ 12:27 am

  5. I love these sorts of discussions. Thanks for hooking us up.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 17, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  6. Greg’s story about the woman who was inspired in her book and her choice of publisher is a howler. I’ve run into that kind of client in research, too — A woman’s ancestor could have been either one of two men in the same county with the same name. I dug out documentary evidence demonstrating which was her ancestor. “I don’t know …” she said. “I prayed about it, and I’m sure it’s the other one.”

    I don’t know why it should seem worse, but that kind of thing on the scale of involving a publisher does seem more cringe-worthy.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

  7. Yeah, this was a good read. Thanks for transcribing it.

    Comment by Hunter — August 17, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  8. Jared,

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to provide these notes. I wanted to attend this session but couldn’t. I found Kofford’s comments about Deseret Book’s acquisition of Covenant especially interesting. I often wonder about how DB operates. Hearing an insider’s take is helpful as I try to understand where DB came from, why it is here, and where it is going. It also makes me very grateful for Benchmark Books where I can almost always find what I am looking for right there the shelf — no special ordering needed.

    Comment by Sanford — August 17, 2009 @ 11:07 pm

  9. Phoebe, thanks and good luck on your book.

    J, Ardis, Hunter, and Sanford, thank you.

    Comment by Jared T — August 17, 2009 @ 11:21 pm

  10. Thanks for the notes.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 17, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

  11. Whoa, Jared, Matt wasn’t kidding about your typing prowess! I am officially impressed.

    Comment by Carey — August 18, 2009 @ 12:38 am

  12. Thanks Edje and Carey. It may be fast, but the error rate is high. This is a section from the unedited notes. As you’ll see, it’s a long way from the raw product to what I have in the original post:

    Greg: Gibbest mistake, send a mss and with a cover leterr saying its? been revealed to you that I?m to be yoru pbuisher laughter. Well, I had a woman adamant on her manuscript nanaged to get through my call pfildtering, said all the wevery word reavealed int eh tempe l, epfinsihed, prayed for guiacne, cerian things had happned, I was to tbe the true pushiers, I rexponced, said very interesting, I woud assume it would be natural protocoal for go gd do tle me know that too. She concurred and I mediate dion it very briefly and when she called back I felt ery sinpred that I was to be her pbuisher but I was inspred that she should contribute 10000 toward pushiohgcation, Dind?t work how I hoped, outcome ok, she called back said it as cnofirshe dgot cnofiraiation of the 10g but her husband hadn?t.

    Which became this:

    [Greg] Biggest mistake? Send a manuscript with a cover letter saying it?s been revealed to you that I?m to be your publisher [Laughter]. Well, I had a woman adamant on her manuscript, managed to get through my call filtering, said every word was revealed to her in the temple. Finished the book, prayed for guidance, certain things had happened, I was to be the true publsher, I responded, said that was very interesting, I would assume it would be natural protocol for God to let me know that too [laughter]. She concurred and I mediated on it very briefly, and when she called back I felt very inspired that I was to be her publisher but I was inspired that she should contribute $10,000 toward publication [laughter]. It didn?t work how I hoped. She called back, said she got confirmation of the 10G, but her husband hadn?t [laughter].

    Comment by Jared T — August 18, 2009 @ 12:56 am

  13. I didn’t know you knew how to type in the Deseret Alphabet, Jared. Thanks for the notes, it was an interesting read.

    Comment by BHodges — August 18, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  14. I do have a question. I am not sure on this claim that Deseret Book is unprofitable. Anyone know of supporting/contradicting data?

    Comment by matt w. — August 18, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

  15. Matt, I didn’t understand Greg to have said that DB is “unprofitable” but that it struggles to make a profit when by all accounts it should be raking it in. Maybe that’s what you meant. Either way, I don’t know of any data one way or the other..

    Comment by Jared T. — August 18, 2009 @ 8:43 pm


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