High Risk Manuscripts

Hi LDS Publisher,

How much impact does a first-time author’s sales from their first novel have on your decision to accept another manuscript from them? If a book sells only about 600 copies in the first year, would you be hesitant to accept their next manuscript, if that manuscript was good?


Unless I am personally committed to your cause or career, or I’m trying to impress you for some reason, sales of a previous book has a HUGE impact in whether I accept your next manuscript, because in that scenario I will have lost a ton of money.

Exceptions to this would be:

  • I made some type of marketing mistake and it’s my fault they didn’t sell (highly unlikely, and I’d never admit to it publicly, but it could be possible).
  • Your next manuscript was much better or would appeal to a different market.
  • You were published by another publisher and I thought perhaps I could do a better job at promotion and marketing than they did.
  • I can lock in 1,000 pre-sales before I go to press (and you would need to be the one creating the buzz for those pre-sales, because I will be thinking it won’t happen).
  • You’re willing to share the expense of publishing–but I would only consider this option if the manuscript was significantly better.

In Search of the LDS Masterpiece

In my experience, LDS publishers and critics repeatedly ask “when will a mormon author produce an LDS masterpiece” meanwhile, back at the office they’re nickel and diming those “run of the mill” mormon authors to death. Is if fair to ask when will LDS publishers begin treating LDS authors like professionals?

The flippant answer is: when LDS authors start submitting professional quality manuscripts and when LDS readers start demanding it.

As rude as that sounds, however, it is also the true answer.

There is a customer base that is demanding LDS literature. There are not enough quality LDS manuscripts being submitted to meet that demand. Publishers fill the gap with “run of the mill” books, which the customers accept. Publishers will increase the quality of their output when they have a greater selection of high quality manuscripts to choose from. No publisher ever says, “I think I’ll publish this mediocre manuscript even though I have several really high quality ones here on my desk.” They always pick the best from what they have.

It takes a lot more money and effort to take one of these “run of the mill” manuscripts and really polish it until it shines. Unfortunately, an increased investment of money and effort rarely pays off in significantly increased sales.

Let’s say that if you spend $200 for editing, you can sell 2,000 books. Or you can spend $1,000 in editing, and sell 3,000 books. The investment just doesn’t pay out. Publishers will start putting their money into editing when it becomes cost effective–for example, when that $1,000 corresponds to sales of 10,000 copies.

As long as the customers continue to buy mediocre books at acceptable levels, publishers will continue to accept mediocre manuscripts. And unfortunately, some publishers don’t care as much about quality as they should. They crank out really bad books, slap a pretty cover on it so it will sell, and they don’t care that it’s embarrassingly sub par. Other publishers think they’re putting out high quality product, and they’re really not.

On the other hand, there are some publishers who are really committed to raising the bar for LDS fiction and fortunately, the industry as a whole is moving in that direction. It’s just moving slower than some of us would like.

Can You Make a Living Writing LDS Fiction?

Hi there again LdSP!

You follow the blogs so I’m sure you’ve already seen this one. I thought it was an excellent rundown of the different kinds of published authors out there in the big wide world.

So let’s take this info and relate it to the infinitesimal world of LDS publishing.

The way I see it, you have the Jennie Hansens, the Michelle Bells, the Chris Heimerdingers, people like that whom I would assume would be in the # 2 tier. Not criticizing their writing; it’s just that I can’t say (and I’m sure we all know) there aren’t any Pulitzer-Prize winning LDS-themed books out there.

Then you have the little people in the #3 tier like me who are scraping the bottom of the mid-list barrel hoping to find the widow’s mite.

As for #4, I don’t know what to say about the one-hit wonders other than I am working very hard and hoping I won’t be one of them.

I’d love to hear your two cents clinking as they hit the bottom of the think tank!

Merry Christmas!

I wish you a Merry Christmas too–although my comments are going to sound very Scroogey.

Take the income levels hinted at in that post and reduce them down to 1/10th and that’s about what you can expect LDS authors in those various tiers to be earning.

Can an LDS fiction author live comfortably off their royalties? Depends on how you define comfortably. There are a few who have enough titles in print selling well that they are making $40,000 plus a year on royalties. But it’s a very small group. [And just between the two of us, sometimes I am very surprised to learn who they are because they’re not always the best writers.]

It is almost impossible to support yourself (with or without a family) when writing exclusively for any small niche market (including ours)–unless you are able to position yourself as one of the top 10 highly recognizable names in the industry. It’s easier for non-fiction writers, but not much.

So, if you want to write LDS fiction AND make a living at writing, you have to branch out and be willing to write in other areas. Write LDS and national. Ghost write or co-author. Write for magazines. Write ad copy or business writing. Do technical manuals or text books. The more you limit your focus, the more you limit your income potential.