Monday, June 18, 2007

LDS Fiction

I’m about to get myself into a whole lot of trouble with what I’m about to say, but I’m prepared to roll with the punches.

The LDS market has had its ups and downs. Some fabulous books have been published, and some not-so-fabulous books have been published.

I’ve spoken with many a reader who has told me they are disenchanted with the LDS market. “I tried such-and-such book,” they tell me. “It was so poorly done, I couldn’t read it.”

That, my dear bloggy friends, is a problem.

The LDS market is very small still. We need to be holding ourselves to a higher standard so that when people hear the words “LDS fiction,” they aren’t immediately fighting a gag reflex.

The main issues readers seem to have fall into these categories:

1. Predictable plots – girl meets guy, one or the other of them isn’t a member, so they join, and they live happily ever after.

2. Bad editing.

3. Lots of preaching.

4. Cheesy dialogue.

5. Too froo-froo – the books don’t address real-life issues.

6. Problems are solved too coincidentally.

Today’s readers want meat. They want to sink their teeth into a story, not nibble around the edges of the frosting. This is not to say that they don’t want entertainment – they do. But they want intelligent entertainment.

As I see the potential the LDS market has, I get all excited to think about the amazing books we can turn out in the future. We have already done a lot to increase the quality of what’s available. I mentioned in today’s earlier blog that LDS authors are researching more thoroughly, editing more meticulously, and stretching themselves farther than ever before. That’s what we’re going to have to do in order to stay competitive with the national market.

Now, to you readers – there are scads of good LDS books out there. We now have authors that compare with nearly every nationally bestselling author there is. If you’ve read an LDS novel and been totally disenchanted with the market because of it, please, give it another go. The bar is being raised. New authors are coming on to the scene all the time and the established ones are honing their talents like never before.

It’s important that we support the LDS market as much as we can. The publishers need to see that there’s an interest in quality fiction – they are already putting most of their money into nonfiction because that’s what’s selling. Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about nonfiction. But if we want to keep seeing LDS fiction published, thereby making a way for talented authors to continue to make it to the shelves, we’ve got to get out there and show the bookstores what we think. Buy LDS fiction. Talk to your friends about it. If you find an author you really like, pass the word along. We can build this up to where the funds are present and the motivation is flowing. LDS fiction is still relatively new, and every new endeavor needs time to grow and develop. I think it’s starting to come into its own, and I’m excited to see it happen and to be a part of it.


Anna Maria Junus said...

I have some comments, having been burned by the LDS fiction world but I'll refrain from most of them.

The main problem I see is the stores themselves. They want bland fiction. They don't want to deal with real people with real problems and they want the fiction tied up in neat little bows.

That's not to say there hasn't been some good stuff. "My So-Called Fairy Tale Life" was excellent.

I love LDS fiction, but the constraints that the stores have to get on their shelves is brutal.

Added to that, the LDS publishing world is very very small. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing and saying.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I completely agree with you on that. The readers want more realistic, edgier books, and yet the stores feel better carrying the safe ones. I've spoken with readers and I've spoken with publishers and I've spoken with store employees. The publishers are worried about publishing anything too edgy because they're worried the stores won't carry it, and the stores are worried about carrying it because out of 100 customers, they'll have 2 that might get offended. It's that 2% that are calling the shots here.

Now, keep in mind, when I say "edgy," I'm not saying we should all be writing about apostate aliens who set up communes all over the place and take marijuana. I'm just basically referring to the tough questions that do come up in our lives today.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Agreed Tristi, that was my experience exactly! All it takes is one irate customer who didn't like the book to get it pulled from shelves.

It's crazy. I can't imagine publishing in the rest of the world behaving like that.

Added to that, there's a hush hush mentality because everyone knows everyone. If your book is pulled you best not say anything because you're percieved as a trouble maker and no publisher want's to touch you then.

I guess I should keep my mouth shut now.

Josi said...

Shut mouths never got anyone anywhere. I agree with both of you, and one of the frustrations I have is that there is no way to know if a book is great or if it's the same-old-same-old. Because the industry is so small, few people are willing to be be truly honest in reviews about the books written in this market. I find that so frustrating and wish there was a way around it--but the authors don't hear the negative feedback and hence they keep going the way they've gone in the past.

Great blog, Tristi. I do think it's getting better, but it needs to be great--BETTER than national books in order to get back the readers that have been lost and I'm not seeing a lot of that.

However, I agree My Not So Fairy Tale Life was fabulous--and there are a few other beauties out there that show there is hope.

Julie Wright said...

I agree with Josi . . . no sense in keeping your mouth shut on what you want to read. I have to be honest, I've read enough books that I haven't liked--both LDS and nationall--that I seldom read a book any more unless someone whose opinion I trust recommends it to me. Last year I read some real stinkers nationally and was so disappointed since they received such glowing reviews. The one that comes most to mind is Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. See the play . . . avoid the novel unless you want to be bored with both character and a rather lame plot, and preached at about the political fallacies in government. Oy
Happily last year, I read some really great LDS novels.

Stephanie Black said...

I wonder what percentage of English-speaking church members have ever read an LDS novel besides the Work and the Glory. I'll bet the percentage is very small. How do we reach out to those potential readers who don't even glance at the fiction section when they walk into Seagull or DB? We've got our work cut out for us in getting the word out.

Here's my theory about fiction/non-fiction--I suspect people are more willing to spend money on LDS non-fiction because they regard the books as keepsakes or resources, books they will refer to again and again. Fiction is more "disposable"--you read it once and unless it just bowled you over, you don't open it again. Thus it's tougher to get a potential reader to drop ten or fifteen dollars for a novel. I confess that if I lived in an area where LDS fiction was available at the library, I'd only buy a fraction of the books that I do. In the national market, I rarely buy novels unless it's Harry Potter, I'm going on vacation and don't want to take a library book or it's a book I already read and passionately enjoyed.

Heather B. Moore said...

Fiction in general has had a bad wrap since inception. But in regards to LDS fiction, I read my first LDS fiction in 2000. It made me ill. So I decided not to read any others. Then I met Annette Lyon and Jeff Savage in person at a writers meeting. I thought, hey they were pretty nice, maybe I'll pick up their books. And I was surprised that I liked their books & writing style. So I've been happily going along, reading other LDS authors and enjoying most of the recently published stuff. Until last week. I picked up another LDS book from one of the biggest-selling authors. I purposely picked one of the recent releases from the author who had at least a dozen published. Sadly I was disappointed by the third page. I don't think there was any dialogue until page 8 and the entire beginning was a huge info dump of backstory. The set up was also a major cliche. It had 3 components of the list that Tristi put together. But there are MANY LDS novels that I have really enjoyed. Yes, they aren't quite as edgy as national fiction because an LDS writer has to write within parameters set by the LDS publisher. But that's okay. Not all fiction needs to be cutting edge. Some can be just a good straight-forward romance, or a suspense novel that includes characters with moral values. But overall I think that LDS fiction is getting a lot better written and dealing with real topics. So if you can't stand one author, try another one.

I remember Annette Lyon telling that her most "edgy" book is her worst seller. (At The Water's Edge--deals with a violent father and a controlling boyfriend). So yeah, Tristi, there are readers out there who only buy non-fiction LDS because they don't want to experience angst or any emotions that a character might face.

Some of the recent LDS books I've read that deal with serious issues are "Sheep's Clothing" (internet predator) and "Counting Stars" (terminal cancer). Both are also well-written.

I think the author of My Not So Fairy Tale Life needs to write a sequel and make the main character the adopted child (16 years later or something).

Michele Holmes said...

Excellent blog, Tristi. And I couldn't agree more. For years and years I wouldn't read LDS fiction--having tried it and found nothing to relate to with my own life. It is thanks to the work of several talented authors, previously mentioned in these comments, that I did give LDS fiction another chance.

But there are many who still don't. At a book signing on Saturday I had a woman return a bookmark to me as she said rather disparagingly, "I don't read LDS fiction."

Sigh. We have a long way to go.

It is tricky business though. Being on the other end of things now---having just wrested a book through the editing process with Covenant---I have to say that LDS publishers are leery of the more edgy (I prefer the term realistic)fiction. The publishers feel a responsibility to make certain that all fiction published could be read by anyone---age fourteen to forty or beyond. This makes it difficult to tackle tougher issues geared toward mature audiences.

I credit my wonderful editor---who went out on a limb repeatedly for me---with the things I was able to get through in my book. That said, there were still cuts I didn't agree with. But maybe next time those things will get through. . .

Fortunately, we have Josi paving the way with her brilliant, timely stories.

Melissa said...

I haven't read an LDS fiction book since I was in high school about 13 years ago. They felt too cookie cutter. If you had read one, you had read them all, so what was the point? Maybe I'll have to give it another go. We don't have an LDS book store here, but that is why I love the Internet so much :)
So, what are your suggestions? Where should I start? Maybe I'll start with one of your books Tristi...

Tristi Pinkston said...

Hi Melissa,

Sure, you could start with my books. :) You can get them through my site -- for some reason the stores think they're out of print and I'm working on getting that straightened out right now.

Let me point you at some LDS fiction I've read recently that broke the norm and was enjoyable:

"Sheep's_Clothing" Josi Kilpack
"Tempest Tossed" Josi Kilpack
"Faraway Child" Amy Maida Wadsworth
"Counting Stars" Michele Paige Holmes

That ought to get you started -- and I'm pretty sure you can get all those online.

Maybe I should do a regular blog on favorite LDS fiction titles -- that's an idea.

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