Business of Writing

Post image for A New Renaissance in Literature by Karen Jones Gowen, WiDo Publishing

One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance of the 15th century was that new voices were heard in the areas of art, literature, religion and basically all aspects of cultural life, touching and influencing thought from the highest levels of power down to the lowest, allowing the common man to finally realize his potential.  William Tyndale, who translated the Bible to English, was key in this transformation. He captures its essence in these few powerful words to a noted clergyman:  “If God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

For the past five decades, the publishing industry, represented by what is commonly known as “the Big Six,” have been the ones controlling what books were available in bookstores and libraries. When the offerings were the best literary voices of our time, nobody complained; but when it veered to commercial garbage that sold in huge numbers (think Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann and their copycats), then people wondered where all the good books had gone.

Small niche publishers emerged to offer books not available through the large publishers. The self-publishing movement is often seen as a backlash, not only to the power held for so long by the big publishers, but also to these small independents  with their choosy submission guidelines. By self-publishing, you can write what you want, how you want, publish it immediately, and avoid the gatekeepers altogether. This movement is quite accurately referred to as the “self-publishing revolution” because its proponents are revolting against all the old rules of publishing.

Although William Tyndale revolted against the rules of the Pope in his day, and subsequently gave his life for his principles, I believe his role was more Renaissance than Revolution. The word renaissance means “rebirth,” the word revolution according to Wikipedia is “from the Latin revolutio, a ‘turn around’, a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.” The Renaissance took centuries, a revolution happens quickly.

There’s no doubt that a publishing revolution has occurred, and it has been a very exciting time indeed.  However, I believe it is time for writers and publishers to use these opportunities to create a literary renaissance, not just a publishing revolution. How to do that?

Think of men like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Were they simply revolting against the status quo, or were they contributing knowledge and truth through the medium of their art? Scientists like Copernicus and Galileo Galilei were first and foremost seekers of truth in scientific knowledge and methods.  Religious leaders such as Tyndale, along with Thomas More, Martin Luther, and John Calvin fit into the same category—not simply part of a revolution but because of their devotion to truth and the good of mankind, were part of something much more than a tirade against the Pope or the Church of England.

Millions of books are now available that could never have made it through the gatekeepers of old. To name just a few types: poorly written, barely edited “novels” written fast and published even faster;  10 or 20 page ebook summaries using widely searched keywords, like how to simplify one’s life or write a Kindle bestseller; erotica, basically pornography masquerading as romance for women.

In other words, if you can write it you can publish it; whether it’s any good or contributes to the literary culture is beside the point. The focus is on the selling rather than on the writing. Really, how is this any different than the era of The Valley of the Dolls? The publishers may have changed names from the Big 6 to one million ebook writers, but if the focus remains on churning out stuff for the mass market, where is the revolution? It’s just a whole lot of people now trying to get in on the action.  What the self-publishing revolution has done for writers is what the state lotteries have done for gambling. Remember when people had to go to Vegas to gamble? Talk about the old days! Now you can go to your corner convenience store, buy a lotto ticket and hope to win big.

As writers, why not turn this revolution into a renaissance? Let’s contribute to the literary culture, not just churn out stuff as quick as we can. Let’s write stories that are true, with characters who are “real,” using language that transcends common everyday speech. Let’s write books that, using the very best of our skills, polished and practiced, will carry our readers to a greater plane of understanding as we enlighten and entertain.

It’s time for writers who care about books to contribute to a re-birth of literary excellence. Opportunities abound. Let us take advantage of the many ways to make our voices heard as we do our best work, write meaningfully and well, and become part of a new renaissance in literature.

 

About Karen Jones Gowen: Born and raised in central Illinois, the daughter of a Methodist minister from Indiana and a school teacher from Nebraska, Karen Jones Gowen has down-to-earth Midwestern roots. Karen and her husband Bruce have lived in Utah, Illinois, California and Washington, currently residing near Salt Lake City. They are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen’s writing. She is the managing editor for WiDo Publishing and the author of four books, all of which fit loosely into the category of LDS Fiction. Karen’s website: karenjonesgowen.com. WiDo Publishing website: widopublishing.com

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Post image for An Unexpected Path to Publication by Darrel Nelson

LDSP Note: Normally, I don’t post personal stories of how a writer finally got published, but this is a unique case of an LDS author being picked up by a traditional Christian publisher. I get asked all the time if that can happen. It’s rare, but here’s proof that it’s possible!

My route leading to publication has been a thirty-year journey, culminating in a contract with Charisma House, a Christian publisher situated in Florida. An LDS author associated with a traditional Christian publisher? How did that come about? I could say accidentally, except that I believe I was guided to where I am today. Still, it’s been an unexpected path.

During my thirty-year journey I wrote ten novels, trying a different genre with each in hopes that one of them would be my “breakthrough.” I frequently queried Deseret Books and Shadow Mountain Publishing in Utah and every major trade publisher I could think of, but to no avail. Letters of rejection became a way of life for me, and I eventually gave up saving them because I ran out of storage space. But with my eleventh novel, the result took a pleasant turn.

It came about in this manner. One day my wife and I took our parents on a day outing to a heritage park. En route our parents began reminiscing about their courtships and how their friends had planned a shivaree on their wedding day. A shivaree was a local custom of friends separating the bride and groom after the wedding, as a prank, and keeping them apart for an hour or two. Harmless fun. Anyway, on the drive that day, our parents explained that for one reason or another, the shivarees intended for them failed to occur. But my mother-in-law reminded us that on her son’s wedding day, his bride was whisked away in a car by friends and involved in a car accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it got me wondering . . . what if ? So I grasped that thread of an idea and decided to see where the story led.

When I completed the novel, which was entitled In Due Season, I sent out the standard letters of inquiry. The result? Nothing! No one was interested. So I decided to take a leaf out of Richard Paul Evans’s book and turn it into a Christmas story, hoping to tap into that market. When the book (now retitled The Christmas Waltz) was done, I sent out more letters of inquiry—this time by email to literary agents. Within two hours, Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency replied: “This is such a beautiful story. I’ve got to have it.” I waited for more responses, but when none came, I decided to ride the horse in the direction it was going, so I signed with Joyce. I didn’t know at the time that she was a Christian agent who dealt exclusively with traditional Christian publishers. All I knew was that she was an agent who had expressed interest in my work when no one else had.

Joyce began shopping my book around, but after a year we had no nibbles. I decided that perhaps the book’s Christmas theme was too narrowly focused, so I took another few months and rewrote it again, changing the Christmas setting to an anniversary one. Now entitled The Anniversary Waltz, Joyce shopped it around for another year. And then, would you believe it, two Christian publishers expressed interest. Yes, two! In the end we went with Charisma House because they were willing to publish the book a whole year ahead of the other one.

This is the story of my journey to publication and how I ended up in the traditional Christian marketplace. The thing about the Christian marketplace that appealed to me from the beginning was a disclaimer Joyce posted on her webpage: If your book has bad language or sexual content or gratuitous violence, then I’m not the agent for you. The same standards apply to my publisher. Content is expected to be of a high moral level, which is exactly how I like it.

Now what about specific LDS content? I want my books to appeal to a broad cross-section of readers so that I don’t alienate anyone. Therefore, the religious content is presented in generalized terms. I use a recurring theme of love overcoming adversity in the face of overwhelming odds. People everywhere understand principles of love, faith, courage, and trials. I keep my message as inclusive as possible without compromising my personal standards. I don’t water down my religious beliefs, but I’m not “in your face” about it either.

Would I encourage other LDS authors to try the Christian market? Of course. My agent and my publisher have been nothing short of amazing. They are supportive and encouraging and have bent over backwards to help and guide me. Besides, most of us don’t have the luxury of being choosy. I mean, how many publishers or agents have come knocking at your door lately?

Having said that, I do believe that LDS readers accept general Christian ideals and standards more readily than Christian readers accept LDS ideals and standards. So personally I paint with a wide brush and am careful not to get “preachy” or “sneaky” in my writing. I don’t slip LDS doctrine in and then smirk to think I pulled one over on my readers. I have no hidden agenda. I simply want to tell a story that appeals to a broad base and makes my readers feel better for having spent some time with me.

Likewise, I hope those who read this article feel a little better for having spent some time with me too. We need to fulfill the Church’s clarion call for LDS writers, artists, musicians, producers, and composers to step up and make their voices heard. As standards continue their rapid decline, we can and must make a difference in this world.

Darrel Nelson taught school for 37 years and began writing full-time after he retired. He has two published novels, The Anniversary Waltz and The Return of Cassandra Todd. He’s currently working on a third novel, Following Rain, which deals with the saving power of truth and love. Visit Darrel at http://www.darrelnelson.com or email him at darmarn@telus.net.

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Why You Should Avoid Succeeding as a Writer by Michaelbrent Collings

March 14, 2013
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I am often asked questions about the business of writing – how to self-pub, how to market, how to amass a group of loyal fans – but the question I am most often asked (in some form or other) is this: “How do I become a successful writer?” For a long time I tried to […]

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How to Get Your Books Into the Public Library by Natalie Giauque

February 26, 2013
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Note: Natalie works for the Salt Lake County Library system and is speaking specifically to that. However, many of her tips will apply to any library system. Have you ever wondered how to get your books into the Salt Lake County Library system? Here is all of the information you’ll need, and a few helpful […]

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Dealing Positively With Negative Reviews by Michaelbrent Collings

February 14, 2013
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Okay, so, you’re published. Your book is “out there.” It’s “in the world” and “up for grabs.” People can “read it” and “peruse it” at their “leisure” (I like quotation marks). And at first, things seem all right. Fairly predictable. The book doesn’t become an instant bestseller, but it is selling. Your mom bought it, […]

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Guidelines for Writing LDS Fiction by Karen Jones Gowen, WiDo Publishing

October 17, 2012
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The LDS fiction genre encompasses everything from inspirational novels where characters accept the gospel and get baptized, to historical fiction about elements of Church history, and a whole lot in between. The LDS fiction label can be a fairly clean novel written by an LDS author, with no Mormon characters or references, somewhat like the […]

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3 Things Authors Should Know about Publicity by Josh Johnson from Cedar Fort

October 10, 2012
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First-time authors often think the biggest part of their work is done when they put the finishing touches on their manuscript with their editor and send it off to the printer. However, they don’t always recognize that they, as the authors, can promote their book and interact with fans and readers—in person and online—after their […]

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Ability vs Desire by Tristi Pinkston

September 27, 2012
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My seven-year-old son is a total hoot. The other day he came up to me and said, “Mom, people are always asking the question, ‘How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?’ I think the real question is, ‘How much does he want to chuck?’” Like any good mother, of […]

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Pen Names Anyone? by Rebecca Talley

September 24, 2012
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LDSP Note: I can’t believe I forgot to post Rebecca’s guest blog last week! Soooo sorry. And it’s a good one too. Enjoy! There seems to be two camps on pen names. Those who think an author should use his/her real name no matter what he/she writes and the other camp that believes when an […]

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Getting Your Writing Groove Back by Anita Mumm

September 11, 2012
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Kristin recently blogged about the fact that summer may not be your best time to query an agent due to the fact that no one wants to spend gorgeous days cooped up in an office with submissions. But with fall almost upon us, agents are going to start hunting for that next big project—just in […]

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What’s Hot by Sara Megibow

August 21, 2012
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I brought home 18 books from the recent RWA National Conference in Anaheim. … I also have TONS of great submissions from the pitch sessions and author meetings. Here are the notes I took over the course of the conference. Of course, Kristin and I are looking for good stories, well-told, but here are some […]

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When the Publisher Says No by Kristen Nelson

August 7, 2012
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[I know of several LDS authors who’ve been dropped—sometimes mid-series—not because their new manuscripts weren’t well-written, but because their books just weren’t selling quite enough for the publisher. What do you do? Digital publishing gives you options. Here’s what a national agency did for one of their authors.] Maybe a metaphoric “thumbing one’s nose” at […]

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Jessica Park’s Take on Traditional vs Self-Publishing

July 11, 2012

I just read Jessica Park’s recent blog post featured on Amazon.com’s front page on June 19th. Among other things, it lists her reasons why she would choose self-publishing over any traditional publishing deal nowadays. She also talks about publishing houses being out of date with the changing market. In your estimation, is the publishing world […]

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Writers, Do Your Homework!

July 9, 2012

I get emails like this one all the time: I can’t publish this as […] do to the fact that I cite Mormon scriptures. So I would like to copyright in with you. my work is far from done but I would like to see what you thinks.  [document was attached] At least once a […]

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