Submission Advice and Love Stories by Jeffrey S. Savage

Wow. Three weeks on the job and already I’ve been late on two of them. Wonder if LDSPublisher leaving the help wanted ads folded next to my laptop is a hint. I really did have an excuse though: a six state business trip in five days including visits to Little Rock, Atlanta, Hartford, Salem, New Hampshire, Detroit, and Utah. I also got to add to my weird flight stories with the first time I’ve ever had the oxygen masks drop on a plane. Fortunately the pilot had accidentally hit the wrong button. But it still took two hours to get the masks all repacked.

It reminded me a little of the way we as authors can make mistakes no matter how experienced we are. I’m sure the pilot knew to keep his finger away from that button. He’d flown plenty of times and never made that mistake. But one moment of carelessness required everyone to get off the plane and created a long delay that ended up making many of us unable to get rental cars, find taxis, etc.

Jaunting around the blogosphere, I noticed several great posts on avoiding mistakes in our writing and submitting.

Frank Cole had an insightful interview with CFI acquisitions editor Jennifer Fielding. Lots of great information here, but one of the things I liked best was this piece of advice.

“Present your premise as succinctly and desirably as possible.

“If you can tell us in the first (short) paragraph of your cover letter what your book is about and why we should be dying to read it, you may grab our attention enough that we decide to put it on our desk instead of on the shelf to read later. You don’t need to tell us the story, just tell us why we should be interested. Also, don’t waste time telling us that you were nervous to submit to us for whatever reason, let us figure that out for ourselves.

“Telling your story in one paragraph is so hard for most authors to do. We want to give the background, explain the setting, introduce every character. But editors are good enough to realize there’s more they will learn on a full reading. What they want is a snapshot. Who is the protagonist, what is she trying to do, and what stands in her way? The key is to create a vivid image that makes the editor want to learn more.

Rob Wells has a very interesting interview with his editor, Erica Sussman.

At one point in the interview, he asks her, “When Sara first sent you Variant, you initially passed on it (though you wrote a very helpful note, and offered to take a second look if revisions were made). Could you walk us through that whole process? What made you reject it at first, and what caused you to look at it again? (That seems pretty unusual in the submission process.) And, of course, why/how did you decide to accept it after the revisions?”

Erica gives a very helpful answer where she describes how the acquisitions committee works and what an editor needs to get a book through that process even if she loves it herself.

“First impressions are absolutely the most important in our process. If I’m concerned that a manuscript won’t be able to immediately wow the room in its original state, but I love it and see a place for it, the best thing for me is to be able to take it through a revision and then show the even-stronger-manuscript to the team at Harper.”

I think this is true all the way through the writing process. First impressions are huge and you need to do everything you can as an author to make your first impression great. Yes, you can always go back and polish later. But if the first impression you make isn’t great. You might not get another chance.

Finally, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Jennie Hansen wrote an interesting post on the difference between a romance and a love story. Here’s a quote.

“If the story is primarily boy meets girl, they are attracted to each other even if they deny that attraction, an obstacle keeps them from getting together, they overcome the obstacle and live happily ever after, that’s romance. If boy meets girl, their relationship deepens as they get to know each other, trust and respect for each other grows, they each make significant sacrifices for the other, they become stronger, better people because of their relationship, and they develop a lasting commitment to each other whether they foresee being together in this life or not, the story is probably a love story.”

And later in the same post. “There are still a few romance novels around in the LDS market, but real love stories have almost disappeared. Recently a few authors have produced stylized romances which are fun to read, but leave no lasting imprint.”

Interesting stuff. I understand what she is saying, and I agree that there is a difference between a fluffy romance and a love story. Right off the bat, I think about a post I did at my blog recently on my favorite romantic movie scenes. Fifty First Dates would definitely fall into what Jennie calls the romance category. While I think The Notebook is a true love story.

I’m not sure that I buy that there are no more LDS love stories though. I think the style of writing them may have changed. Publisher and readers ask for different things from their authors, and sometimes those constraints require the author to take a slightly lighter or more humorous approach. But I think there are still LDS authors writing stories about enduring relationships.

I’m a guy though, so what do I know? But I’d love to hear what you think. Do you see a difference between romance and love stories. And if so, what books written in the last couple of years by LDS authors do you think fall into each category?

Whitney Judging by Jeffrey S. Savage

I apologize for being so late with this. (And not just because I fear the wrath of an angry LDSPublisher.) Between my day job and the last two days at LTUE, I haven’t had a spare second. Then Rob Wells and Daron Fraley forced me to eat sushi with them and carry on long conversations about the future of LDS novels.

I highly recommend LTUE to any Utah writers—especially if you enjoy fantasy and Sci-Fi. Where else can you get a three day conference with tons of awesome authors for $25? Nowhere, I think. I wish I could say the same for eating sushi with Rob and Daron. Daron does embarrassing tricks with fish eggs and Rob flings rice everywhere.

But I am here and excited to discuss what I consider to be a very intriguing controversy. Or maybe controversy isn’t even the right word. Examination? Comparison? I’ll let you decide.

As I mentioned last week, author Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen asked the following question regarding the upcoming Whitney Awards.

In the past, I’ve created my own rubric . . . but who’s to say what I feel are the important elements in a book are the same as those chosen by another author/reader? I absolutely love the Whitneys, and I will continue to support and help with it as much as I can, but I feel its current, unregulated judging process is much too subjective to really MEAN anything more than a popularity contest. But maybe popularity is what we want it to mean?

First of all, let me say that this discussion isn’t unique to LDS literature. Nor is it even limited to literature. There has always been the question of who should decide what is great art and how. Critics? Other artists? The buying public? Obviously a book that sells millions of copies isn’t necessarily a better work than one that sells only a few hundred. But at the same time, is it fair to ignore millions of people who show their appreciation for a movie, movie, or piece of art? That is the very why there are different awards in the movie industry.

In this case though, I don’t think the real question is about sales vs. quality as much as it is about how to judge a book. (Other than by its cover which you’ve already done here.)

When you read a book for enjoyment, you notice the characters, the voice, the plot, and, yes, the writing. What you don’t normally do is break it down and rate it on a scale of one to ten for clarity, character, beginning, grammar, etc. You either think, “I like that,” or, “that didn’t work for me.”

When you enter your work in a contest, you often expect the rubric, Ronda mentions. You know that your book will be judged on certain set criteria. If your plot is great, you may get ten points out of ten on plot. If you don’t understand basic grammar, you may lose ten points.

Which is better for an award like the Whitneys? Let’s start with a wonderful background on how the process works on Annette Lyon’s blog. And a great two part examination of one Whitney judge’s experience judging romance novels by Michele Holmes.

Notice that a book can be nominated for an award by anyone without a monetary stake in the book. (So no spouses or publishers.) Since it only requires five votes to be nominated, any LDS author with five friends and a qualifying book can get on the list.

In order to become a finalist, the book has to make it past a panel of five judges. Here’s where things get a bit tricky though. The five judges are not given a rubric by which they should judge the book. They must read all of the entries, and then they are asked a series of online, one-on-one caparison questions. Do you think book A is more deserving of a Whitney than book B? Do you think book B is more deserving of a Whitney than book G. Etc.

Because the judges are not composed of any one group or publisher, there is no inherent bias. Finalist have come from nationally published titles, self-published titles, and virtually every LDS Publisher. But because the judges are not given a set of standards or guidelines, they must choose the books that they find the most deserving. If they are offended by one aspect or another of the book, it can affect their voting.

This issue was brought up when The Lonely Polygamist was not selected as a finalist despite the fact that it was critically acclaimed by national reviewers. No one knows how and why each of the judges voted the way they did. But some have assumed that the graphic sex and language in the book were a major factor. There was an interesting discussion on the AML blog. Read Josi Kilpack’s response here and the ongoing discussion above and below it. On the other hand, there have been complaints in the past that some books that were voted in as finalists were too violent or graphic, or that subject matter was questionable.

Once the five finalists have been chosen, they are voted on by LDS authors, publishers, book store employees, etc. Again there are no guidelines other than that you must read all of the books in any category to vote in it. It’s up to you to decide which book you think is most deserving.

Is this a popularity contest? And if it is, is that bad? Here are the thoughts of a few LDS authors.

Annette Lyon:

Sure, it’s impossible to avoid all subjectivity, but to say that an award is meaningless w/out a rubric is like saying the Oscars mean nothing. Or the Hugos or the Nebula or the Edgar or the Pulitzer any number of other awards, literary and otherwise, that have no rubric for the voting academy.

Granted, no system is perfect, but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better system. The Whitneys take the best elements of several awards programs and combine them into something pretty cool.

Rob Wells:

The assumption that is built into the voting process is that, while it may be a popularity contest, the people who are voting are all experts (whether they’re writers or retailers or publishers). So, while it’s completely subjective and up to the whims of the voters, those voters are smart people who know what constitutes a well-written book.

So, yes, it’s not perfect, but I think it’s pretty darn good.

(On the flip side, I’m kind of horrified by the thought of a non-subjective measuring stick for novels. That kind of reminds me of the opening scene of DEAD POETS SOCIETY, where they are instructed to mathematically graph a poems greatness.) 🙂

Heather Moore:

I agree that the Whitney is way above a popularity contest. NY Times Bestselling authors are beat out all of the time. . . . It was really cool that GRAVITY VS THE GIRL won last year–a self published book that was just a gem to read. Also, in 2008, TRAITOR by Sandra Grey won Best Novel. It was her first book! So there was no popularity in that. I don’t think any of the Storymakers even knew who she was, but she wrote a dang good story and was recognized for it.

I really, really think the Whitneys are about literary achievement and not necessarily a people’s choice award. The books aren’t voted by a bunch of raving fans, but professionals in the industry who make books their livelihood, and take it seriously.

Deanne Blackhurst:

. . . if I’m understanding it right, we sort of compare each book in a catagory in basic writing skills. So feasably I might not really enjoy a particular book but find that overall its writing qualities are the best of the five. Is that right? And the areas of writing skills that I use may not necessarily be the same another judge uses but that’s okay because the idea is that with the number of judges it should end up being fairly well balanced.

What do you think? As a reader, would you rather know a book got an award because it scored highest in set areas or that more people liked it? As an author how would you like your book to be judged? Would you prefer more of a People’s Choice type award, or the favorite of the critics? And how do you feel about a book that might have incredible writing, but content that would probably offend most Mormons?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and remember there is still one more day of LTUE tomorrow. It’s not to late to come by.

Next week, how LDS authors and readers are using technology to connect with one another. And whether that’s a good or bad thing.

Friday Muse-ings by Jeffrey S Savage

I’m excited to announce a new column here at LDS Publisher. Jeff Savage will be visiting every Friday with his take on writing and other aspects of the publishing industry. Welcome, Jeff!

A little over ten years ago, I received a phone call all unpublished authors (and even most published ones) dream about. It was a publisher calling to tell me my manuscript had been accepted and would be coming out that fall. The moment you’ve always imagined, right?

Except the thing was, I hadn’t imagined that moment. I was the CEO of a demanding internet company. I’d never attended a writer’s conference, learned how to write a query letter, seen a publishing contract, tried to acquire an agent. I’d written a book, but that was as far as it went. I was excited, but also more than a little terrified.

Fortunately, I managed to contact one of the biggest names in LDS Publishing. No not LDSPublisher. She wasn’t around at the time, or at least her blog wasn’t, though I could really have used it. I e-mailed Chris Heimerdinger and he was incredibly helpful and gracious. He saved me from stepping into several major pitfalls.

Fast forward to now. There are so many more resources for LDS writers than there were back in the day. Blogs, columns, conferences, writers groups, critique groups, classes. It’s so incredible to realize what we have access to. And, if you don’t mind me saying, it’s also a little scary. Right now I can Google (a word that wasn’t even around back then) “publishing tips” and get more advice than I could probably read in a lifetime. And at least half of it will conflict with some other piece of advice.

And here I am adding another weekly column? Why?

A good friend asked me that last week, and I didn’t have a perfect answer. There is no one clear reason. But there are several little ones that led me here.

As LDS writers it sometimes feels like we are happy little goldfish swimming in an ocean full of sharks, eels, barracudas, and other menaces. (I know, I’m combining my freshwater and saltwater metaphors. Blame my researcher, Igor.)

Do I write for the LDS market or the national market? Do I get an agent or not? Is my writing too smutty for the LDS market? Is it too tame for the national market? What publisher should I talk to? What should my contract look like? Should I join a critique group, go to a conference, hire an editor, send a box of chocolates to LDSPublisher? (Always a good idea.)

It can make you crazy.

The awesome thing is that the answers to all of those questions are out in the blogospehere.

A few months ago, I was thinking how nice it would be if someone combed through all the great LDS author and publisher blogs and collected those answers. It would also be great if they could kind of summarize and comment on what was out there. And even better, what if they reached out to editors, agents, publishers, bookstore employees and of course, authors to get their advice and opinions?

I’d want to read something like that. Maybe a weekly column that came out every Friday so I could peruse it over the weekend. If I wanted to read that kind of thing, maybe other LDS writers and readers would too. Of course, I have my own blog at I post every Monday on the Six LDS Writers and a Frog blog with a group of wonderful and talented authors. But if I was going to do something like this, I wanted to do it on a site that wasn’t tied to one or more authors, or even a single publisher. I wanted a level playing field that was already established as an awesome resource for LDS writers. To me LDSPublisher made perfect sense.

This may sound crazy after publishing eight books and being represented by two national agents, but I was more than a little nervous to approach LDSPublisher with my idea. Of course, she is charming, witty, smart, and, from what I’ve heard, quite the babe. But she is also a one woman wonder. Would she want me as a regular guest poster? Getting her e-mail answer of yes was almost as exciting as my first book contract. (And only slightly less lucrative.)

So here I am. My name is Jeff Savage. I’ve published six novels as Jeffrey S. Savage and two as J. Scott Savage. I’ve published with Covenant, Deseret Book, and Shadow Mountain. I was previously represented by Bookend Literary, and am now with Dystel and Godrich. I’ve taught dozens of workshops and lots of classes. I love the life of an LDS author and hope to keep doing it until they pry the keyboard out of my lifeless fingers. I get cranky if I haven’t written in a few days and am opinionated to a fault. But if there is one thing I am committed to, it is paying back to new authors the help Chris gave me back when I needed it.

Now that I’ve used all my ink and space on who I am and why I’m going to be here for hopefully many more Fridays to come, I don’t have a ton of space left for the column itself. But I will give you a taste of what’s coming next Friday.

Recently on an author list I am a part of, LDS author Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen asked the following question regarding the upcoming Whitney Awards.

“In the past, I’ve created my own rubric . . . but who’s to say what I feel are the important elements in a book are the same as those chosen by another author/reader? I absolutely love the Whitneys, and I will continue to support and help with it as much as I can, but I feel its current, unregulated judging process is much too subjective to really MEAN anything more than a popularity contest. But maybe popularity is what we want it to mean?”

I absolutely LOVED this question and I asked Ronda if I could use her quote here. It really is a great question. What makes a novel award-worthy? Is it the quality of writing? The story? How it makes you feel when you get done? What if a novel up for an LDS award is incredibly well crafted but contains elements that might offend many LDS readers? Does not creating specific judging criteria lessen the award? Should we vote with our hearts or our heads?

Next Friday I will link to some interesting and controversial opinions, as well as posting the comments of LDS authors, publishers, and bookstore employees. So start thinking about how you judge books and see if your ideas agree with what I find out. Until then, have a great writing week and I’ll check back in next Friday.


Sara Megibow is an Associate Literary Agent with the Nelson Literary Agency. She writes a regular article in Kristen Nelson’s monthly newsletter. If you don’t get this newsletter, you should. You can sign up here.

The article below was from the last newsletter. I hope I don’t get in trouble for reposting it here. But I thought it was very, very good—plus I’m telling you to get the newsletter.

This year I will be attending the Romance Writers Convention in Nashville (July) and World Fantasy in Columbus (October). Some other conferences may yet come up, but that’s my schedule for right now. Amazingly, I am already preparing for RWA even though summer feels light years away. At these conferences, I hope to meet writers shopping for an agent and I’ve been thinking of ideas to help smooth that process.

1. If you have a completed work of fiction ready to submit, prepare a two sentence blurb that you can rattle off at any time (in the elevator, after a workshop, in a pitch session – whatever). Know your word count and your genre (and subgenre) and practice reciting these things out loud. (Example “FRANK is a completed historical romance at 100,000 words. It’s about a hero who is driven to shun society at the impetus of a mysterious and sexy bar wench.”) (I just made that up, no laughing please.)

2. Have access to your work. Who knows, I may be impressed with your pitch (the one you’ve just successfully rattled off to me while waiting in line for coffee). If I ask for 30 pages, it would be great if you could say – “heck, I have them right here on my iPhone – can I send them to you?” Have two versions ready to send electronically – the first 30 pages as one document (labeled with your name, the title of the work, genre, word count and your contact information including email address). Also, have the full manuscript ready to go (with same info attached at the beginning of the document). Save them and have them in microsoft word format (no pictures, no headshots, no weblinks) and at the very least have access to them in your hotel room.

3. Update your writer website and blog before the conference and include the addresses of those tools in anything that you submit. Yes, that means you should have a website and a blog – make sure they are professional, accurate and engaging. An update doesn’t have to be fancy – just make sure you have a recent blog entry (example, “I’m off to RWA – looking forward to finding an agent for FRANK”) and that your website mentions your writing (better yet, there is a blurb on your completed manuscript already loaded and accessible!)

I am looking forward to this year’s conferences. I enjoy meeting and talking to writers and am actively looking for new talent to represent!

Sara Megibow
Associate Literary Agent

Guest Post: Enjoy the Ride, Avoid the Wreck by Krista Lynne Jensen

Today’s guest post comes compliments of Krista Lynne Jensen who blogs at Krista Lynne Jensen.

In her own words, Krista is, “an outdoor loving, garden-craving, cuisine enjoying mother of 4, living and loving in Wyoming.”

Krista is currently working on a novel titled The Orchard. You can read a very short excerpt HERE.

Do not put statements in the negative form.

And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.

If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.

De-accession euphemisms.

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

Writing a good story, or even a great one, is a kind of train ride: an adventure, an escape, with momentum and trudged hills and breathtaking descents, worrisome ledges and delicate bridges, some stops to refuel, passengers to board, some to depart, and some to throw off. Sometimes it is sad to reach your destination, sometimes it is a relief… but then the brakes squeal with effort, there is a tremendous lurch, and you are thrown into the re-write.

The ride has been an effort of one kind, but now you must start at the beginning, and tear it apart, piece by piece, becoming a conductor instead of the engineer, making sure everyone has the proper tickets, seeing that the right compartments have been found, that safety precautions are met, that the ride is enjoyed as it is meant to be.

I found the following list of words to avoid in 10 Easy Steps To Strong Writing, by Linda George, The Writer, Jan 2004. When writing that first draft, let ’em fly… then throw ’em from the train.

a little
at the present time
began to
by means of
considering the fact that
in order to
in spite of the fact
in the event
proceeded to
owing to the fact
sort of
started to
such that

Using these words in narration draws the reader another step away from the story, pulls them out, reminds them of the author lurking behind the pages. Of course, some of these words would be used by characters in dialogue… it is, after all, language. But, find some, and try to rework the sentence, the scene, with as few as possible.

Here is an example of an edit from The Orchard.

“Naughty Jane”, Alisen whispered and smiled wryly as she opened the door and let the cat into the long, narrow mudroom. This was as far as the cat was allowed. She purred around Alisen’s legs as she opened a cupboard and scooped out some food to place in a dish, and filled the water bowl from the utility sink. She crouched down and rubbed Jane’s neck. The purring grew a little louder.

“We should have named you Motor,” Alisen observed.

Now, edited.

“Naughty Jane,” Alisen whispered and smiled wryly as she opened the door to the long, narrow mudroom, as far as the cat was allowed. Purring rose around Alisen’s legs as she scooped cat food into a dish and filled the water bowl. Alisen crouched down and rubbed Jane’s neck. The purring grew louder.

“We should have named you Motor,” Alisen observed.

There are numerous ways this could be edited, but this is the combination I chose. The editors may have other ideas.

LDS Fiction: Does Good Writing Matter? by Emily Milner

Emily Milner writes, edits, and blogs for Segullah:Writings by Latter-day Saint Women. You can also find her at her personal blog, Hearing Voices. She spends most of her time lately reading Whitney finalists and nursing her broken leg.

Does good writing matter? I’ve read a couple of interesting perspectives about this, from Shannon Hale and an anonymous poster at LDSpublisher. Shannon Hale holds that the quality of a book is far less important than whether it speaks to a reader. She gives the example of young readers, who might find a lesser-quality book engaging, a kind of gateway book, that could help them appreciate other works later on. Anonymous explains that books speak to different people different ways at different times; one story might engage someone at one point in their life, but bore them at another.

I think there is validity in both of these points of view. My kids love the Magic Tree House books, and they do not boast superb writing. But for my son, these were the books that helped him transition into chapter books. Hooray! There are many books I loved as a teenager, that spoke to my angsty soul, which I don’t care for now. And vice versa–I don’t think my teenage self would enjoy the all books I like now. My tastes have changed.

However, while the reader’s response does matter, I also believe that good writing matters in and of itself. There are at least two reasons for this, both of which should be crucial to Mormons. 1-Good writing is honest; bad writing is dishonest, and 2-Good writing allows the reader his/her own agency; bad writing takes away the reader’s agency.*

Arthur Henry King (1910-2000)
, scholar and BYU professor, explains that the best, the greatest writing, is absolutely honest. In fact, it was the stark honesty of Joseph Smith’s personal writing that led directly to Arthur Henry King’s conversion:

When I was first brought to read Joseph Smith’s story as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, I was deeply impressed. I wasn’t inclined to be impressed. As a stylistician, I have spent my life being disinclined to be impressed. So when I read his story, I thought to myself, this is an extraordinary thing. This is an astonishingly matter-of-fact and cool account. This man is not trying to persuade me of anything. He doesn’t feel the need to. He is stating what happened to him, and he is stating it, not enthusiastically, but in quite a matter-of-fact way. He is not trying to make me cry or feel ecstatic. That struck me, and that began to build my testimony, for I could see that this man was telling the truth.

…Joseph Smith begins his story in his matter-of-fact way, setting out carefully the reason that he is writing this history and the facts about his birth and family. Then he moves from the matter-of-fact to the ironical, even the satirical, as he describes the state of religion at the time—the behavior of the New York clergy in trying to draw people into their congregations. He tells about reading the Epistle of James. He doesn’t try to express his feelings. He gives a description of his feelings, instead, which is a very different thing. Look at verse 12:

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” [JS—H 1:12]

I am not good enough to write a passage as good as that. That is beautiful, well-balanced prose. And it isn’t the prose of someone who is trying to work it out and make it nice. It is the prose of someone who is trying to tell it as it is, who is bending all his faculties to express the truth, not thinking about anything else—and above all, though writing about Joseph Smith, not thinking about Joseph Smith, not thinking about the effect he is going to have on others, not posturing, not posing, but just being himself.

According to King, the best writers in history have worked to tell truth. Great honesty=great writing. I think the issue of honesty is an important factor in evaluating current LDS writing. For example: in an LDS novel I finished recently, the female protagonist is in peril, in a challenging, life-threatening situation, which she accepts with very little complaint.

But it felt like a lie to me. She didn’t demonstrate the normal range of emotion. I think the author wanted to set her up to be a good person. That’s nice. But this protagonist was just too good. She didn’t feel real. She didn’t feel honest. I felt deceived as a reader–was I really supposed to believe that she was as amazing as all that? I wasn’t given enough depth, enough layers, to feel like it was true.

Also in this book, there were several opportunities for the male and female protagonist to get very upset at each other. And they never did. I assume this was because they were supposed to be falling in love. Okay. But don’t you get extremely upset at the people you love sometimes? Isn’t that kind of conflict worth digging into and exploring? In this book, it was never explored in depth. I believe in love more if the romance includes real obstacles, thoroughly explored and then overcome. Again, it felt dishonest.

Character arcs are a crucial part of being an honest writer. If the main characters do not grow or change, the novel is dishonest. Why? Because events as important as the ones worth writing about in the novel would surely change the characters, and cause them to grow and develop. A novel in which the only change in the character’s status is from single to in love, or from in peril to out of peril, is not an honest book.

On to agency. Arthur Henry King explains that an important aspect of Joseph Smith’s writing was that he did not care at all what the reader thought of it. Joseph’s story was true, and he was going to tell it exactly as it happened, without being sensational or trying to convince the reader of anything. Joseph Smith respected his readers’ agency, to believe or not. He did not use writing to manipulate the reader.

A great practical application of this principle of respecting reader agency is the old-but-true standby, “show don’t tell.” Sometimes you do need to tell; it moves the action along. But whenever I’m told too much about a character, instead of shown what they are like, I’m being being forced to believe who they are, instead of allowed to discover them for myself. Whereas, if the author works in character traits through a nice showing scene, my agency as a reader is respected. The more the author tells about a character instead of shows, the less he allows me agency.

I love the way the Whitney website phrases the objective of the Whitney Awards:

Elder Orson F. Whitney, an early apostle in the LDS church, prophesied “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” Since we have that as our goal, we feel that we should also honor those authors who excel and continually raise the bar.

I feel that many of the finalists have raised the bar, and I am grateful for that. I also think that an ongoing conversation about what constitutes good writing in LDS fiction is important. In my opinion, what we as a people should be seeking is honest writing, writing that respects readers’ agency. Asking for writing that follows these ideals isn’t being mean. It isn’t being overly critical or too picky. Instead, it’s seeking to apply fundamental principles of the LDS faith in our literature.

*These ideas concerning honesty, agency, and Arthur Henry King are from writer and writing teacher extraordinaire Tessa Meyer Santiago.

Laundering the Whitneys

Anonymous (et al) is a frequent commenter here. Sometimes the comments are wonderful and sometimes they’re a little off point but overall, I love them. This particular anonymous comment was exceptional and I thought it deserved special attention, particularly given the popularity of its subject matter right now. Thanks, Anonymous. Comment any time you want. And if you want a byline, you can either take credit in the comments of this post, or send me an e-mail.

The titles of my favorite novels come and go, but laundry duty will always be with me.

I read a novel about an elderly man and decide its meh, okay. Not a classic. The writing is good, far from brilliant, but transparent enough not to annoy me and that’s okay if only the story were more engaging. It’s the kind of novel where the wash gets done on time, the dishes never pile up, and the kids can count on three square meals a day. That’s a fair review to share with my friends, but it probably won’t get published in the New York Times. But, hey, I’m not a critic, just a reader.

The story didn’t grab me. I didn’t relate. The main character is forty years older, male and he’s dealing with the complications of old age. What kind of plot is that? I need something a little more appealing. Exciting. I’m a happily married housewife with four kids. My husband and I are trying to pay the mortgage, put a little away for the future, and raise sane kids without killing them. The demands of life make the romance of my college days difficult to replicate. In fact I’m not even sure if replication is the right approach. I tried that with my kids and look at how they turned out. I love a good romance novel and I’m not going to give up my thing no matter what my weird, nosy, self-taught psychologist, neighbor friend tells me over the backyard hedge about romantically obsessive thirty-something novel readers.

Then I get the call. It’s about my father. He’s in trouble. He can’t afford special care. Neither can I. And could I put him up in our extra room until we figure out something better? The first things I notice are his frequent slips of memory. It’s part of the degenerative disease that brought him to me. His seemingly insignificant fears are me frustrations. His idiosyncrasies become my aggravation. How is this going to play out for me? For my family? I put off wondering how it’s playing out for him and I pray for a solution. A cure. That’s a faith-filled prayer, isn’t it? The faith to heal. That God has power to cure my father and relieve me of this terrible burden.

But the relief I’m praying for has already been delivered. It’s occupying the spare room. I just haven’t prepared a place to receive it. Yet.

I begin to notice my father’s anguish. He’s losing his sense of purpose in a life that was, until recently, filled with purpose. His childlike questions are, at first, annoying, but in his innocence I find terms for endearment. A smile on his face is worth a hundred prayers and I begin wearing my knuckles thin on heaven’s door, begging not for my happiness, but for his, searching not for my escape but pleading for his welfare. The mathematics of life, seen through his eyes, becomes a simple equation. The totality of his blamelessness, his virtue, his incorruptibility, his pure love communicate a cure. God didn’t anoint me his savior. Somehow, in the imperceptible sum of eternity’s calculus, I understand. God anointed my father the healer.

It’s been over six years now. My father is still with me. One son is on a mission. A daughter is in college in another state. There are two teens at home. I come across that novel about the elderly man and I remember it barely registered at “meh, okay” on the likeable-ometer. But heck, I’ve got some time, and nothing better to read. I’m surprised by how I’m riveted to every detail. The story is palpable. The human interaction enthralling. The hope ennobling. The poignancy plumbs the depths of my soul. It’s the kind of novel where the wash builds up, the dishes don’t get done, and the kids have to forage for their own food. I hold the novel and cry. What was I thinking when I assigned this masterpiece to the trash heap of mediocrity? It’s a classic. It’s touching. Every word poetically penetrates my heart.

I discover that I’m not ground of the same optical prescription I was when first I read this timely work of art. The novel didn’t change. I did. And that is the secret garden of novel reading. I see myself seeing through a lens of a different color and over the course of my reading life I accumulate an eyeglass case bursting, filled with spectacles for blocking the sun, for farsightedness and shortsightedness, one with a feminine touch and another for my husband’s masculine keenness. There’s one prescribed for youthful impatience, and another for childlike innocence, and all of the glasses ground for the purpose of helping me read. In focus.

The laundry still piles up, but for a very different novel today than yesterday. And tomorrow it will back up behind yet a very different story.

Best of luck laundering the Whitneys.

Credibility in Writing by Rebecca Talley

Rebecca Talley is guest blogging today. I read the following post over on her blog, Rebecca Talley Writes, and thought she brought up a great point when considering the setting of your story. Rebecca is the author of the novel, Heaven Scent.

This is a rant of sorts. I was watching a TV show on USA called, Psych. It’s about a guy who pretends to be psychic and works with the police. He actually has a photographic memory and amazing observation skills, but uses the psychic thing as his cover.

The premise doesn’t bother me–it’s the setting. The show is supposedly set in Santa Barbara, CA. A city with which I’m intimately familiar because I grew up there and return to visit every year. When Psych shows the police station, for example, it is definitely not the Santa Barbara Police Station. No, I’ve never been arrested or spent time in the police station, but my best friend’s father’s law office is a block away from the police station and I used to spend time with my friend at her dad’s office.

The city streets shown on Psych are not the city streets of Santa Barbara. Nor are the beach scenes. Santa Barbara has a very distinctive style.

On an episode yesterday, one of the characters was telling the police he’d eaten at a restaurant on On-new-paw-moo. The name of the street is actually Anapamu, pronounced Anna-pu-moo. See the difference? If they’re going to pepper the show with the names of actual streets in Santa Barbara they should at least get the pronunciation correct.

On another episode a character is tossed into Cachuma Lake, except not. The lake they used wasn’t even close to Cachuma–I know I spent several summers attending camp at Cachuma Lake.

Turns out the show isn’t even filmed in the US. Now most people wouldn’t notice the discrepancies. But, for me, it completely loses credibility because I know what it’s showing is false. They should’ve set the show in a fictitious city.

My point? When writing fiction, it’s important to have facts straight to have the credibility factor. Not all readers would pick up on a discrepancy in setting, but for those who do, you’ll lose them as readers. So, for me, I need to get my facts right when I set a story in a real town.

As for Psych? The discrepancies about the setting bug me enough that I’m not interested in watching it again. See how that works?

Don’t Take This the Wrong Way . . . by Tristi Pinkston

It seems that everyone I know has had the flu this year. Apparently it is my turn to entertain these little germies. I’m going to bed. I’ll be back on Monday. In the meantime, enjoy this guest blog by Tristi Pinkston.

I was thinking just now about the importance of honest criticism. Not the kind offered with an upturned nose and a jealous sniff (given by said upturned nose) but instead the kind that is given when someone genuinely wants to help you succeed. So often, we take offense when someone criticizes our work. It’s understandable — for a writer, to truly write is to open up a portion of our guts and expose them to the world, making us all that more vulnerable to criticism when we get it.

But it’s so important to listen to feedback from others. I know I’ve said this before, and chances are I’ll keep saying it because it’s so very important. I have been saved from silly mistakes countless times by friends who had the courage to point them out to me. It doesn’t matter how good you are — there’s no such thing as writing a book without flaw. You must ask others to help you hone and perfect it. After spending so many hours/days/months and even years staring at the same words, you get blind to them.

I was thinking tonight about the poor critic, how they are essentially taking their lives in their hands by virtue of the fact that they have chosen to share their honest opinion. Often they are the recipient of harsh words. They’re told that “they just don’t understand.” And yet, how often is their advice exactly what the writer needs to hear?

Three examples from the movies come to mind immediately, and while they are all fictionalized, they are familiar enough to all of us that I feel they make my point easily.

1. Little Women (1994) — Jo has gone to New York to put some space between herself and Laurie after turning down his proposal. She has been writing sensational stories to sell to the newspapers, and has brought in enough money to supplement her family’s dwindling income. She’s proud of her work, but when she shows it to Fredric Baher, the German professor who lives in her apartment building, he expresses his sorrow that she’s not writing about herself and from the heart. She lambasts him, telling him that her family needs her income and that the newspapers want the kinds of things she writes. His words cut her deeply, because he touched on a truth she already knew — she needed to write something serious. Not too long after that, she begins the manuscript for “Little Women.”

2. Anne of Avonlea (1987) — Anne Shirley has always wanted to be a famous novelist, and she has been working for a long time on a romantic novel. Her good friend Gilbert Blythe teases her, telling her that she should stop writing all this high-falutin’ mumbo jumbo, stories where the men pitch and moon and never really say what they’re trying to say. Anne is furious and refuses to speak to him, but by the end of the movie, she has written a book about Avonlea, realizing how right Gilbert was.

3. Becoming Jane (2007) — Jane Austen writes long-winded poetry that, while beautifully crafted, puts Tom Lefroy to sleep. He tells her that she needs to experience more of life before she can truly write, and tries to corrupt her (in a very charming way). He gives her a copy of Tom Jones to read, and while it shocks her (as it should) she realizes that she can’t pretend knowledge of things she knows nothing about. Later in life, as she becomes famous for her work, there’s a moment of recognition that Tom had indeed helped her learn those lessons she was sadly missing, even if it was to add poignancy to her stories through loss.

Never discount the importance of someone’s honest opinion. You may choose to reject it, and it’s your right to do so. But weigh it. Decide why you’re rejecting it. Is it out of pride, or do you truly not think it will work for your book? Good criticism, given with the intent to help and not hurt, is a writer’s best tool to smooth out the rough patches and create a fabulous work of art.

Tristi Pinkston
LDS Historical Fiction Author
Media Reviewer

The Quality of LDS Fiction by Jeff Savage (Guest Blog)

Comments on a recent post complained about the quality of mainstream LDS novels. While one author in particular was mentioned, I would tend to believe that in general the feeling of the commenter was that the quality of novels by most mainstream Mormon authors was substandard, and not worthy of his/her book club. First of all, let me say that this is in no way a new or isolated sentiment. I just came back from a writers conference where another author said in all sincerity, “But Covenant authors aren’t very good are they?” My answer was pretty straightforward. “Some are. Some aren’t.”

In order for this discussion to have any validity, we must first differentiate between two very disparate measuring sticks. You and I may read the same book and while you may love it, I may despise it, or visa versa. Many readers think Levi Paterson is the greatest thing since ziplock bags. Yet Scott Card, speaking at the LTUE conference last weekend, specifically pointed out Patterson as a writer he had very little respect for. There is nothing wrong with this at all. But what we are discussing is “taste,” not good or bad writing.

The phrase, “There is no accounting for tastes” hits the nail on the head. We can measure sales numbers. We can measure awards. We can even measure satisfaction of readers through book ratings. But what we can’t measure is whose tastes are better. Is the taste of the woman who adores sushi better than the guy who buys a Big Mac on his way home from work? Well, in this case, yes it is. I just can’t prove it.

But that’s the thing with tastes. Mainstream Mormon novels typically can sell 5-10 thousand copies or more. People who hate these novels would say the people who buy these books have no or poor taste in books. But I suspect that if you had those same readers who are complaining offer the books they like to the 5-10 thousand people who buy LDS novels, they wouldn’t like them any better. That being the case, we must come to the conclusion that taste is so personal, it really has no place in the discussion, other than to agree that everyone likes what they like.

Quality of work, however, is another matter entirely. Here we can be a little more objective. I recently read a self-published book that was quite highly acclaimed. I liked the story, but I constantly found myself pulled out by typos, grammatical error, abrupt POV changes, and other issues that most authors, and many readers, would consider bad writing. While the author might say I was being nitpicky, I consider technical mistakes to be bad writing. Multiple POVs is a question of taste right up to the point where the reader has to backtrack to figure who is talking. Then it becomes bad writing. Clearly this book was not as well edited as it should have been.

So who is to blame for bad editing? The easy answer is the publisher. But here again, we have to take a look at the resources available to the author and or editor. Let’s say you attended the Sundance film festival. There you viewed a number of independent films. Would you complain that the films produced on a budget of often less than ten thousand dollars should have the same quality of music, sound editing, camera work, and special effects as the blockbusters? Or would you look for the quality of the script and recognize the story despite the somewhat cheaper quality of the sound?

For the most part, LDS publishers operate under the same constraints as any small regional publisher. They have a limited cover budget, limited editing staff (and time), and limited money to pay their authors. You can no more compare their work to the latest James Patterson novel than you could compare $50 million special effects to the guy creating an explosion on his home computer. That does not by any stretch of the imagination make the stories any less quality though. If that were the case, Sundance would not exist.

You could rightfully assume that the publishers who have the biggest budgets would have a bigger pool of authors to choose from. That should mean that the bigger the publisher, the better the quality of writing, correct? I mean, after all, Grisham isn’t going to suddenly move to a publisher who can only afford to pay him a $500 advance. But even that logic has flaws.

By this reasoning, JK Rowling should stink. Her first print run was 500 copies. This logic would say that Richard Dutcher is a much worse director than the guy whoever directed Blades of Glory. What we find is that there are many reasons why a good author may publish with a small press.

Another issue often brought up is the topics of mainstream LDS books. I hear comments like, “I’m sorry. I just can’t stomach another book where a perfect Molly Mormon girl converts a supposed bad boy, whose worst sin is that he sleeps in late. I want books with issues.” Let me just say for the record that people who make these kinds of comments have not browsed the fiction section of an LDS bookstore in the last ten or more years. I say that with 100% confidence, because LDS fiction deals with virtually any topic you can imagine.

Lastly, let’s look at the author and book that was specifically mentioned. Betsy Brannon Green writes cozies. She’s published tons of them, and in my opinion she does them very well. People solve mysteries in a small town. People have faith promoting experiences. Yes, people check to see if the other person is wearing garments. That’s what her books are. And the truth of the matter is that they are very typical of the small town Mormons she is portraying. They are what her readers expect and want when they buy her books. If you didn’t want this type of story, why in the world did you buy the book? Haven’t you ever heard of checking the synopsis?

It’s like a bunch of Stephen King fans (of which I am one) ripping an Agatha Christie novel because there aren’t enough walking dead. A cozy mystery is like putting together a puzzle. It is safe, fun, and a little challenging. It is not meant to be literary. Scott Card hit the nail on the head when he said that genre fiction features the story as the hero and literary fiction features the author as the hero. If Betsy Brannon Greene wrote like Alice Sebold, it would ruin her stories, not enhance them. Because now the reader would be concentrating on the words, not the story.

LDS fiction is what it is. Are there authors that have not mastered their craft? That use too many clichés, infodump, include too much back story, and all the other things that pull readers out of the book? Of course there are. Just like there are with every other publisher in the world. Including the big boys. But to say that LDS fiction is inferior to what you read is ignorant, short sighted, and clearly shows that you have not read enough of the works out there to make an informed decision.

That’s why the Whiney Awards were instituted. So people could choose the genre they like and read what LDS readers, publisher, and booksellers, have deemed the best of the best. Nationally published books are nominated, books by big LDS publishers are nominated, and books by smaller and newer LDS publishers are included. And in this case, brand new LDS authors like Michele Holmes are competing head to head with megasellers like Stephenie Meyer. May the best book win.

Jeffrey S Savage is the author of four LDS novels including Cutting Edge, Into the Fire, and the Shandra Covington mysteries. He also has a national YA fantasy series coming out this year called Farworld, under the pen name of J Scott Savage. He blogs at and

LDS Authors in the National Market by Tristi Pinkston

[Thanks again to all who have sent guest blogs. I will eventually post all of them. Please feel free to send a guest blog at any time.]

As an LDS author, I’ve been very intrigued by the rise of national, although LDS, authors such as Stephenie Meyer and Shannon Hale. At [a recent] literacy fireside, my fellow authors and I answered a question that dealt with our take on the Meyer books. I find it very interesting that the books came up — no other book series was specifically questioned. Why is that? Because they were written by a Mormon. That’s what puts them on the radar.

Stephenie Meyer has done something phenomenal. She went out there, got her agent, got her publisher, is selling books like crazy, and is being talked about left and right. From a business standpoint, she has done everything right. There are few people in this country who don’t know who she is. She also just happens to be a graduate of BYU.

When you look at her books and compare them to the national standard, they are very clean. The things being published for our consumption today run the gammut from slightly questionable to downright raunchy to outright erotica. Meyer’s books would land on the innocent side of the equation.

When you look at her books from an LDS perspective, they are steamy. We would never allow our daughters to snuggle up in bed with their boyfriends. We certainly would never allow them to cavort with werewolves.

There are, however, a few points I would like to make.

The first is that while Meyer is Mormon, she didn’t write these books specifically for the Mormon audience. She targeted the national market. She gave the national market something relatively clean to read. In addition, she’s not writing about Mormon characters. A Mormon character will, of course, have stricter values. A non-Mormon character might not have been taught the same values. Perhaps they’ve been taught to wait until they’re in love, rather than waiting until they’re married. We can’t judge a non-Mormon character by the same yardstick we would a Mormon character, any more than we would expect a non-Catholic to behave like a Catholic or a non-Protestant to behave like a Protestant.

Secondly, this is a fantasy. Be honest, now — how many of us have daughters who are dating vampires? We can’t say, “Well, my daughter would never be allowed to act like Bella,” because no one can. Her situation is entirely made up and I find it a little bit funny that people keep saying, “If my daughter …” Believe me, if my daughter was dating a vampire, a lot of things would be different. But this is fiction of the most imaginative kind. Trust me — it’s all pretend. You’ll never have to face this in your own life.

Now, we do know that Mormons are reading these books like crazy. I’m going to give you my absolute honest opinion here — and you all know that I don’t prevaricate. Are these books too steamy?

I actually found Bella’s advances toward Edward to be a little immature and embarrasing. He tells her no over and over again, and when she keeps pushing the issue, it becomes almost annoying. I didn’t find those scenes to be particularly “steamy,” I found them to be pushy.

Would I want my eleven-year-old daughter reading them? No. While they’ve been labeled as young adult, I would say these are books for an adult population. Just because the main character is a teen does not mean that the book is good for all teens. Take, for example, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The main character is a six-year-old girl, and yet I would never have a six-year-old read it. The age of the character does not always equate the age of the reader.

I’ve heard many parents say, and I completely agree, that the Meyer books present the perfect discussion platform for parents and their teen readers. You can talk to your daughters about why Bella’s behavior is not appropriate and the consequences of her actions. You can discuss with them why they should be careful to avoid too much physical contact. Point of fact — there are a great many bad young adult books out there, books that encourage mast*rbation, or*l s*x, abortion, and on and on. Our teenagers are picking up these books in their school libraries. They are reading them on their own time, and we don’t know what is being introduced to their brains. We need open platforms to discuss what they are reading so we can help them make wise decisions.

This may sound like I’m 100% advocating these books for everyone. This brings me to the next point of discussion.

Every person has their own setpoint when it comes to reading. There are certain things that will offend me and won’t offend you, and vice versa. I have seen LDS bloggers recommend books that I’ve picked up only to be shocked. You need to decide for yourself whether these books are appropriate for you. Again, I submit that they are cleaner than most everything else you’ll find on the national market. I also remind you that they aren’t written about LDS characters, and that has to be taken into consideration whenever you’re reading a book by an LDS author.

I do know whereof I speak. In my first novel, my main character fathers a child out of wedlock. He was not LDS at the time and he was acting according to his teaching, which was that he should wait until he fell in love before he became intimate, and he did. Because of the limited light he had been given, he believed that he had behaved in a moral fashion. When he did join the church later in the book and came to understand the gravity of his sin, he went through a full repentance process and was baptized and then endowed. You cannot hold a person accountable for committing a sin they don’t know they are committing.

I’d like to move this discussion on to “Austenland,” by Shannon Hale. This book had a few steamy moments in it as well. For me, they were a little steamier even than the Meyer books. However, many of the same principles apply — it was written for the national market, and Hale gave the national market something cleaner than it’s used to seeing. The characters were not LDS and were not raised with LDS standards, and so we can’t expect them to behave in an LDS fashion.

Many have argued that these authors have betrayed their beliefs by writing these books. I’d like to ask, how can we judge what these authors believe? We know that they are LDS, and so we know what the tenants of their religion are. But how can we say that they aren’t living up to their beliefs when we can’t ascertain their own unique way of looking at their religion? Each of us has our own special way of relating to God and of looking at the gospel. I can’t say whether or not you’re living up to your beliefs any more than you can say I’m not living up to mine. I can’t judge your relationship with God and I wouldn’t care to. I’m certainly not going to try to determine whether or not these ladies are still “good enough” to be Mormons. That’s completely wrong and it’s not my job. I would sure hate for someone to follow me around for the day and then proclaim my level of spirituality based on how I spread my peanut butter when they can’t see what’s going on inside me. That’s invasive, insensitive, and holier-than-thou.

Another question to be posed. Let’s say you’ve decided you’d like to go on a mission to the jungles of Africa. Can you do an effective job from your living room, or would it be best for you to go out into the jungles and find the people you’re trying to reach? I’d like to plant the thought that perhaps Hale and Myers, by writing for the national market, are doing some missionary work in that market to introduce people to cleaner fiction. They couldn’t do that sitting on their couches — they had to go out there and find the people who needed reaching. That meant making a foray into the national market, playing with the big boys and showing them a whole new game.

If these books had been written by any other author, we’d be judging them based on the books themselves. If someone named, say, Jenny Smith, had written Twilight, Jenny Smith from Oshkosh who was perhaps Episcopalian or Baptist, we wouldn’t even be sitting here having this discussion. But because Meyer is Mormon, suddenly she’s under all this scrutiny. People are questioning her morals. They’re wondering if she’s a good Mormon or a bad Mormon. They’re saying that she’s trying to teach our youth questionable behavior. Isn’t it just possible that she wanted to tell a story? Isn’t it possible that all this hoo-hah has been created by us rather than by her?

Tristi Pinkston
LDS Historical Fiction Author
Media Reviewer

What the Market Needs by Josi Kilpack

Writer’s are always trying to figure out what a market needs, what they should write to insure they get a publishing contract? They watch trends, talk to publisher representatives, and in the LDS market, they pray a lot. All in pursuit to the Great Mormon or American Novel, all in pursuit of giving the market what it needs. So what do YOU think the market needs?

Real issue conflicts?
Picture Books?

I know the answer 🙂


What the market is absolutely and completely hungry right now–today–is . . . all of the above, or, well, maybe none of the above.

All of them if the publisher can a) sell it and b) It’s well written. None of them if a) You’re the only one that thinks people will buy it and b) It’s poorly written.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Of course a publisher needs to sell the book to make it worth their time and money investment and obviously, it needs to be well written if it’s going to sell. So, seeing as how obvious it is, here are a few things I’ve heard from writers in the last six months:

“I knew it still needed work but I had spent so much time on it I just had to finally send it in, ya know, like when you get to the point in a relationship where you either get married or break up.” “I know I should have revised it, but I was sick of it and had another idea that was begging for me to get started, so I just sent it in. That’s what they have editors for, right?” “I just need one of the editors at (publishing house) to take me under their wing, show me what I need to work on. If they would just give me a little time I could figure out what my weaknesses are.” “I find that letting other people read my work before I submit shows a lack of confidence in my own ability. The most important person to believe in me, is me.”
I know I’m beyond objectivity for comments like this, since my life has become completely entangled with submission guidelines, knowing the market, and presenting about the overall world of writing and submitting, but honestly I hear this and I say “Really?”

Would you go to a bank for a mortgage if you were unemployed and had no credit?

Would you show up for your first day on the job with a suitcase full of clothing and ask your new boss to help you pick out the outfit?

And would you ever marry the guy that says “Hey baby, I either need to dump you or finally give in and make you my wife?”

It seems obvious in those cases, doesn’t it? And yet dozens of writer’s feel they are the exception, that their story is good enough that their grammar-defect won’t be an issue. They continue to see editors as employees rather than employers. They continue to think that they are the exception to the rules repeated to them over and over and over again.

Getting published is a three point plan:

  1. Write your best work–this means making sure other people agree that it’s your best work. Hire an editor, trade with other writers, take a writing class. Don’t THINK it’s good enough, learn enough and get enough feedback to KNOW it’s good enough. Keep learning, don’t ever rest upon your laurels and assume you know enough.
  2. Submit the right way–you’re expecting an agent/publisher to respect you and your work enough to produce it. Respect them enough to submit the way that works best for you. If you’ve written your best work, don’t screw it up by going slacker-face on the submission guidelines. With the internet and ease of getting the right info, don’t flush it.
  3. Don’t give up–You’ll have lots of reasons to give up. Even as you begin achieving success, you’ll wonder if you should stop. You’ll get rejected, you’ll get bad reviews, you’ll get frustrated, and discouraged, and get tired of seeing other people’s success. But if you give up, you’re guaranteed that you’ll never get published. If you write your best work and if you submit the right way and to the right houses, you will eventually find publication. If might not be your first book–my first book is still on my hard drive as are many other writer’s first attempts. Keep writing your best work, submitting the right way, and not giving up.

And remember, the longer the process takes, the better success story you get to tell later.

Find Josi at and

What All Stories Are About by David G. Woolley

There was a time in my college days I didn’t believe the script writing professor. He said all stories were ultimately about birth and death. The man was an ad director who retired from his Manhattan agency for a career in teaching script writing. Not that you can’t trust ad people and their creative attempts to convince me I need a hand sewn magnetic head warmer to promote brain wave function, but they’re the ones who hype high fructose corn syrup to reduce the risk of type four diabetes–the type of diabetes the coroner diagnoses. Can you really trust a professor who makes a comment using the word all?

I don’t remember everything I learned in my college statistics courses, but when a lecturer said it was statistically possible to know if a question was true or false based on how it was phrased, I perked right up. You mean there is a real-world application for standard deviations? I admit my perkiness was more about not having to study the course material too deeply and still have a statistically significant chance of acing the test. It was the greatest find since Columbus used a time machine to transport the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. History is my best subject. My statistics professor was also the same scholar who advised a local frozen food packing company that the best way to insure lower rates of employee turnover was to hire applicants who scored below thirty percent on the company’s entrance exam. Apparently exam scores predict a reverse correlation between the repetitive work of stuffing pasta into plastic freezer bowls and job satisfaction. Based on those findings I was willing to suspend my disbelief and I took copious notes to preserve forever the knowledge of how to divine which test bubble, A or B, to darken with a #2 pencil.

Turns out it was a pretty simple matter of semantics. If the question uses the words all or always, you can be 95% certain that the answer is false. When my script writing professor insisted that all stories are ultimately about birth or death, I was statistically skeptical. It wasn’t until after he explained the nuances of his claim that I learned he fell into that narrow 5% category of being always semantically false while at the same time remaining true to the art of storytelling.

I said, “Where is the story of birth or death in the Sound of Music?”

He pointed out that when characters change they essentially let their old way of thinking or behaving die in exchange for a birth into a new way of behaving. What he called a new life. Maria, the Captain, all the Von Trapp children, the blond-headed telegram delivery boy of going-on-seventeen-fame turned Nazi. Even Max the freeloader who loved rich people ephiphanized new wine and stored it in a new bottle. There’s something to that Jewish parable. It was Max who said he loved the way he lived when he was with rich people, but finally exchanged his greed and let his new-found Von Trapp Family Singers escape over the Swiss Alps.

Okay. Maybe my script-writing professor was right. There are metaphorical births and deaths in that rerun-of-a-drama, but that was an old story lost among millions of newer stories.

I said, “What about Ground Hog Day?”

I was willing to concede the stories of romance, drama even documentary. But comedy? I figured I had him until he pointed out that the main character in Ground Hog Day, when he discovered he was living in a repetitive day that re-cycled every twenty four hours, searched for happiness in the base pleasures of the world. When that didn’t make him happy, he gave away his former life, essentially letting it die. It wasn’t until he was reborn into a new life did the repetitive daily routine break and the story end with a satisfying conclusion.

Darn. I was forced to concede comedy too.

This is the point where I should limit my analysis to storytelling and declare that birth and death act as metaphors for character change. But its deeper than that. Character change just may be a metaphorical death and birth equivalent for salvation. The spiritual connections are obvious. Faith. Repentance (and its corollary forgiveness). Baptism. Atonement. Maybe what my script-writing professor was teaching me without actually mentioning it was that all things are spiritual. Even all our stories.


David G. Woolley is the author of the Promised Land series published by Covenant.

A Tale of Two Writers by Allyson Braithwaite Condie

Five years ago, in 2002, my dad and I both started writing our first books. I started writing mine almost as a knee-jerk reaction to his. He would send me portions to read and critique. I enjoyed it and I thought, “Hey, if my dad can write, maybe I should give this a try, too.” We both had a little more time on our hands than we had before or have had since—he was retiring, and I had just finished teaching high school and was awaiting the birth of my first child.

So, we were both writing…We called each other to talk about our books. We drove our family members crazy talking about our books. We inflicted multiple drafts of our books on each other.

My father and I share the same genes, and we are a lot alike. …We both want people to like us. We both hate rejection.

We are also very different. His first book is a non-fiction account of traveling through America with my younger sister; my first book is an LDS young adult novel. He is agnostic; I am a devout Mormon.

But, as we walked down the path of writing and marketing a book together, we had many shared experiences, and our similarities came into play much more than our differences. We joked about who had the most rejection letters. When a new one came in, we’d forward them to each other or read them to each other on the phone. At one point, the same agent was considering both of our manuscripts. (He ended up rejecting both of us– another shared experience.)

And then, about two years ago, our path diverged.

My first book (Yearbook) was accepted for publication by Deseret Book and was published last September. My second book was published in June. My father’s book is still not published, although all the bigwigs (Penguin, etc.) have had him under consideration at one time or another. So, he waits and sends out more queries, and hopes. …

At one point early on in our journey, he sent me copies of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing, both memoirs about the authors’ writing. In Lamott’s book, she mentions the movie Cool Runnings, in which the coach of the team says, “If you’re not enough without a gold medal, you’ll never be enough with one.”

My father is a capable man, he excels in his career, and he is an exceptional father and husband. I think he knows that he is enough.

But just in case he has those moments, as I do sometimes, where you wonder if you are enough, I want to remind him (and perhaps myself) of a few things:

The publishing industry is subjective. We all know that money must be made, that people’s opinions may differ, that the gold medal of publication doesn’t always go to the one who should get it.

And, as any published author can tell you, even getting published—being lucky enough to grab that gold medal—doesn’t mean you feel like enough. You are still scared when you have a book signing, and worry that no one will show up. (And sometimes, no one does.) You worry that people will make fun of your book or have something negative to say about it. (And sometimes, they do.)

But ultimately, our worth is not measured in sales numbers or books in print. It is measured in whether we were good to those we loved, and whether we were loved. And, on all those accounts, my father is more than enough.

Allyson Condie’s books, Yearbook and First Day are available at Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores.

Editors Are People Too by Ronda Hinrichsen

Several years ago, I wrote a profile piece for a national children’s magazine. To make a long story short, the photographer they’d hired fell through, and the magazine’s art director called and asked if I could take the required picture instead. I agreed, but since I am not a photographer, I asked if he would tell me exactly what he wanted while I recorded it on my answering machine–just so I wouldn’t make any mistakes.

To my surprise, he cleared his throat and haltingly said, “Uh, I, uh, I have a cold.”

From that experience, I learned editors REALLY are people. Like me, they have difficult, yet hopefully fun, jobs to do; and yet they also have insecurities. The only problem is they hold the fruit of my dreams in their hands. But still, knowing they’re people helps me navigate the publishing maze with a little less trepidation.

In many ways, it’s like working with a well-meaning but not all-knowing building contractor. Most of the time he’s c orrect and knows exactly what he’s doing, but not always. Sometimes a laundry drain doesn’t work right or a wall isn’t perfectly square. And sometimes an editor rejects us. But, hey, he’s (or she’s) only human. They make mistakes, too.

I just hope I can always tell the difference between a mistake and an opportunity to correct–or rebuild, as the case may be.

You can read more of Ronda’s writings over on TheWriteBlocks.

Guest Blog: Ryan Bott, Millennial Press

(I don’t usually do two posts in one day but I’d already promised Annette I’d post her photos today. Then when I checked my mail, Ryan Bott of Millennial Press had sent a reply to a comment on another post. Since I think it’s always great to hear the publisher’s side of things, I decided to give you a two for one. I will address the questions about marketing that have been e-mailed and posted in the comments later this week.)

Anonymous comment on this post:

Thanks for the pictures, I wish I could have gone. I don’t know how I honestly feel about Millenial Press, however. Their new series, a continuation of the same ideas that were presented in Mormons and Masons seems a little unecessary and could become offensive to some. Any thoughts?

Hello everyone, Ryan here with Millennial Press. I have some insights that may help “Anonymous” and others to better understand our new Setting The Record Straight Series.

1. “…a continuation of the same ideas that were presented in Mormons and Masons…”
Just one question: Have you read the any of the new books? Every book in the series covers a different topic. The only similarity between books in this series is their layout/format.

2. “…could become offensive to some.”
Could you please expound on this a little more for me? We solicited the experts of each topic to expound on their area of expertise.

  • Susan Easton Black – Joseph Smith
  • Jack R. Christianson – Book of Mormon
  • Marcus H. Martins – Blacks & The Priesthood
  • Jessie Embry – Polygamy

If you care to research these individuals, you will find that each is VERY qualified to write on their area of expertise. I guess that if you find the documented truth to be “offensive,” then we are guilty as charged. Extreme measures were taken to make sure that this series wasn’t offensive. That is why I have a hard time understanding your comment.

3. “…seems a little unnecessary…”
I find this comment quite interesting. Here is a link that I think you will find insightful.

Quote from the link: According to the bookstore’s C.E.O., Sheri Dew, “The big-box retailers are saying, ‘What else do you have? Give us more.’ And ‘Yes, if you’ve got values-based fiction, we love that. And by the way, your other fiction is selling. And what other books do you have that will really explain your faith, because people are coming and asking.‘”

You may also be interested to know that Mormons & Masons recently appeared on Deseret Book’s Bestsellers List.

I think if you understood the purpose behind this series, you would look at it differently. Before I share that purpose with you, allow me to quote another quote from the link.

Kirk Jowers of the Hinckley Institute of Politics says, “I talked to people in Boston and D.C., in Florida, who are members of the church and that [the LDS religion] is now water cooler talk. People want them to talk about the church, and Mormons are famous, or infamous, for wanting to do that. So it’s a great moment for the church.”

This series presents historical timelines, and addresses questions that are typically (and not so typically) asked to Latter-day Saints about their religion. Our first goal is to better educate Latter-day Saints about their religion, so that they are better prepared for their “water cooler talks.” I have been a member of the church all my life, and there are questions in these books I have never even thought of. It is only by the authors being the “authorities” on their topics that these unique questions are presented to them.

Our second goal that we hope to accomplish, with the national push of this series, is to educate Non-Members about what LDS people believe. People have heard enough about “what Mormons believe” from their pastors, preachers and ministers. Now it is time for them to hear the truth. And who better to share the truth than someone who has put many years into becoming an “expert” on certain topics?

“Unnecessary,” “a continuation of the same ideas,” “could become offensive to some.” I hope I have convinced you otherwise. I am honestly VERY interested to find out which books you have read, and in what ways you feel they can “become offensive to some.” Feel free to email me directly.

Kindest Regards,
Ryan L. Bott
Director of Operations
Millennial Press, Inc.

No Brainers by Marlene Austin

Thanks, Marlene for being a guest blogger and describing your experiences as a new author. Marlene is the author of Grave Secrets published by Covenant.

I thought it would be a no brainer. They said that if you are a decent LDS writer you’ll be able to sell as many books in the LDS market as you’d be able to sell in a national market because there’s so much more competition in the larger market. I listened and agreed—meaning I understood the concept, not meaning that I was giving up my idea of trying to sell my first novel in both markets. If I sold well in the LDS market, then sold as many again in a national market, I’d total twice a many sales. And why not?

You can think that way if you live in Massachusetts. Along with LDS friends I’d had half dozen non-members read my book and their responses had been as enthusiastic as the praise from my member friends. “Your book could sell in a Christian audience or even a national market.” one woman who had headed writers groups for years assured me. And a really good book should sell to anyone, LDS or Lutheran, in fact, Mormon or Moroccan. Hey, what percentage of Harry Potter’s readers are witches or warlocks? I was determined to sell to the Mormon market and the history lovers of New England.

I didn’t think about marketing. I should have.

I’d hoped to get some book signings and marketing events calendared near me in advance so I could focus on the western market when the book was released. Right. My first excursions were unplanned side-trips from my grocery shopping to local book dealers. Book buyer weren’t in but I was told I could leave a book so the owner could make a decision on setting up an account with the publisher. Leave a book? Since the book hadn’t been printed yet, that wasn’t going to happen. Account? I hadn’t thought about that. Curious, I emailed my editor about setting up accounts in non-LDS stores. The answers stunned me. In order for the publisher to ship directly to a store, they must have an account—which required an initial order of $1000. To keep the account the store must submit additional order for that much each succeeding year. That wasn’t going to happen either.

At least I could get some books placed in my local library—but not, I was told, until I had a legitimate review to show them. They did accept one free copy.

I couldn’t travel to Utah for the typical signings because of my health, so I sent cards and wondered if that had done any good when they began reappearing in my mailbox, a small black hand stamped near the address.

Pretty much discouraged, I whined on Six LDS Writers and a Frog. The responses were extremely helpful (Thanks, guys) in two ways: I learned about some new marketing strategies and I felt I’d been accepted as part of a family. I realized a computer is useful for more than just writing. With their encouragement and help, I’m entering cyberspace!

I’ve worked from manual typewriters to computers and email, but googling and blogging? I first saw a blog and tried using Google about three or four months ago. I felt like Rip Van Winkle. I hadn’t thought I needed to keep up with the new gadgetry; I was concentrating on writing.

I didn’t think about marketing. I should have.

But I’ll catch up. I’ll have a website soon. I Google all the time. Blogging is harder—there’s nothing like having an audience watch you learn something they’ve done for years. I doubt the spelling of every word, the placement of every comma, then I am so frustrated as I watch the whole thing disappear for no reason I can figure out. I guess I’ll get over that, too. I’ll have to. I need the techniques for long distance marketing and getting some name recognition—and to learn from my new friends.

Traversing cyberspace should help the long distance marketing problems, but I still have no way of showing local shoppers the book. No non-member would recognize any of the website it’s listed on. Any potential buyer has to hear about Grave Secrets from some other source and make an effort to find out how to buy it. There’s no glancing through a shelf of books or a catalogue to find a book attractively beckoning to them. If I make it here it won’t be because it is easy.

It seems that getting name recognition is all important in non-member marketing. One expert suggested finding a newsworthy angle and getting your name in the news. That didn’t seem like me, but after finding a clue that led to the identification of several important ancestors and conversing with several Historical Society presidents this may give me some opportunities later on and possibly some good newspaper coverage. I guess it’s the old adage slightly changed. “If you can’t open one door wide enough, you’ll find one that opens wider.” It’s long term marketing, but it is marketing.

Writing is a joy, marketing—not so much. Or at least not here and not yet. Maybe it is in those, “not here”s and “not yet”s that my real growth and rewards will come. The transition from typewriters to computers has been worth the effort and more. So, I trust, will be a leap into cyberspace. Will I find a healthy non-member market for Grave Secrets? I purposefully wrote the book showing an LDS woman in New England to work for both groups—using a plot line both will enjoy, hoping that each group will learn a little bit more about the other and family history. I don’t doubt that the book can be successful in both groups, but marketing definitely remains the major problem in the non-member market. I think changing my focus, concentrating more on the LDS market initially and getting my own acreage of cyberspace established, then really focusing in on the non-member New England market will be helpful.

And why not? If good people can become more familiar with the universal desires and needs of each other, maybe some of the divisions that split us will blur. Will that help us all? There’s the no brainer.

Thanks for letting me blog. And good luck to us all!

Marlene Austin

Just Do It by Rebecca Talley

It’s approx three weeks until LDSBA and I have way too much on my plate. So thank you, Rebecca, for being today’s guest blogger.

I’ve always loved to write, but life has had a way of getting in the way.

I wrote poems and short books as a youth, but placed writing on the back burner while I attended, and graduated from, BYU, married, and began having a multitude of children. During this time I took piano lessons, learned to knit and crochet, redecorated my house(s), studied how to raise horses, and chased my kids from one end of the day to the other.

One day, I told my husband that I’d like to get back into writing. He encouraged me to pursue it, but, once again, I let life get in the way. I figured that when I stopped having kids, I’d have time to write. Or, when the laundry mountain wasn’t as big as Mt. Everest. Or, when I could cook and freeze several meals so I could get ahead of the cooking. Or, when the dishes grew legs and walked themselves to the sink. Or, when life slowed down. Or . . . .

Then, my epiphany. Life would never slow down and I would never stop having kids (okay, maybe that will happen someday). If I truly wanted to write, I needed to stop making excuses why I couldn’t write and just do it. I needed to focus on the one thing, besides my family and the Church, that was most important to me.

I stopped taking piano lessons, put away my yarn and needles, suspended the redecorations (my husband was quite thankful for this resolve), gave the foal to my daughter for her to train, and tried to stop chasing my kids all day long (well, that hasn’t happened, yet).

I focused the little time I had on writing. I read books, took classes, attended conferences, joined email groups, asked thousands of questions, and surfed every writing-related website I could find. Oh, and I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I have notebooks filled, and many half-filled, with things I wrote—I kept misplacing the notebook I was using and had to keep finding other ones. (Important safety tip: keep your notebooks in obvious places and/or ban your children from ever using any of your notebooks as an artist pad).

I still had babies. I even homeschooled my other children for a time. I served as Primary President. I attended my children’s activities and cooked and cleaned and regularly climbed Mt. Everest, but I made time to write because it became a priority. With my newfound focus, I managed to publish a children’s picture book (Grasshopper Pie, Windriver, 2003) and sell stories to online and print magazines, including the Friend.

No, I didn’t learn to be Wonder Woman (though I’d love to look like her in that costume and have her lasso of truth); I learned to focus on writing. I learned to make writing my priority over knitting, playing the piano, and repainting my house. I learned I couldn’t do everything well, but, maybe if I put all of my effort into that one thing I enjoyed the most, I might be able to learn how to do it well enough to share it with others.

We’re all busy. We all have demanding lives. Writing should never become more important than our spouses, families, or fulfilling our duties in the Church, but, if we truly want to write, we can find the time to just do it.

Rebecca Talley