Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, May 01, 2006

Five Truths About LDS Fiction

by Jeffrey S Savage

(First of all, a quick HI and WELCOME to Kerry. You are so awesome. I've had a bunch of friends read MUMMY and everone loved it. Great job!)

Okay now back to work.

There has recently been quite a bit of back and forth about LDS fiction on this board. LDS fiction stinks. It does not. People who read LDS fiction are dolts. People who don’t read LDS fiction are bald. (Wait, was that right?)

None of this criticism is new to any LDS author. We hear it often, from friends, family, co-workers, ward members. And we all have varying responses to it. But it’s out there and it isn’t going away soon. So with that in mind, I’d like to post my five truths about LDS fiction. Bear in mind that these “truths” are solely my opinion, but if you disagree, you are a bald dolt.

Truth #1

As a whole, national fiction (e.g. top six publishers) is better written than LDS fiction.

“What?” you ask, disbelief printed across your face. “How can you say that when you are an LDS author?” It’s only because it’s true. Random House, Penguin, or Bantam can pay authors hundreds of thousands of dollars in advances. They have editors who make more than most LDS authors. It would be a shock if they didn’t have some of the best writers around. It’s like comparing pro sports to amateur sports. Even the worst pro basketball team will consistently beat the best college team.

Of course this doesn’t apply to just to LDS publishers. It applies to every regional or niche publisher there is. When you have enough money, you can hire the best. A smaller publisher has a tougher time competing.

So you shouldn’t bother with LDS fiction right? I mean if it isn’t the best why read it? There, my friends, (okay I admit it, I only have one friend.) There my friend is the flaw in your thinking. First of all, national publishers are constantly looking for the next big thing. In that quest, they publish a lot of garbage. Tell me you haven’t read a national book and thought, I could do better than that. Smaller publishers must be choosier. They can’t afford flops. So while the best of national writers may be better than the best of LDS writers, the best of LDS writers are better than many of the national writers.

Additionally, why do people watch college sports over pro sports or Community Theater over Broadway? It’s because they get something out of the amateurs they don’t get out of the pros. In LDS fiction, you get family appropriate content, dilemmas similar to your own, original voices, clean humor, people who will respond to your e-mails, in general people who still care. And some very good writing.

Truth #2

LDS fiction is improving almost daily.

This is not a knock on the authors who for all intents and purposes invented popular LDS fiction. They were great and many of them still are great. But as the level of competition increases, everyone has to up their game to stay competitive. It’s exciting to read an LDS novel and marvel at how far we’ve come. It’s exciting to see the new genres and the fun things LDS authors are trying. If you tried an LDS novel or two several years ago and hated it, try again—or else you really are a dolt.

Truth #3

LDS authors write because they love what they do.

I watched a final eight NCAA basketball game in March where a player fell to the floor in tears when his team was eliminated. Ever see that in pro sports? This guy CARED. That’s the same thing for LDS authors. An average first commission check for a first time LDS author is about $3,000 and many authors make MUCH less. I’m a pretty fast writer, and I estimate that a novel takes me roughly 350 hours to write and edit. That comes out to less than $10 per hour, not counting gas, time spent marketing, websites, etc.

If you want to make an author’s day, do two things. E-mail them and tell them how you liked their book, then go to, or, or, or, and write an honest review of what you thought of the book.

Truth #4

Most LDS people do not read LDS fiction.

Weird huh? Here we are, a people told to seek out anything praiseworthy or of good report, and we don’t even read what our own people write. By my completely non-scientific survey methods, I’ve found that roughly 2/3rds of all Mormons read little or no fiction at all. They see it as some kind of sin to “waste their time” on fiction. That really frightens me. Maybe sometime they should read the studies on what reading does for both the young and old. I love the scriptures and non-fiction, but fiction stimulates a different part of the brain than non-fiction and in my opinion it makes more well rounded people.

Of the 1/3rd who do read fiction, only about 25% read LDS fiction. And many of them haven’t gone past The Work and the Glory. That’s why it so important that LDS authors spread the word. When a reader discovers how good LDS fiction is becoming, they are likely to try more, which increases over-all LDS sales, which increases the quality of writing because an LDS author can afford to write the next book, which provides better LDS books. See it’s all a big circle.

Truth #5

This ain’t your mother’s LDS fiction.

Think LDS fiction is just stories about finding true love and crossing the planes? Think again, we have fantasy, SciFi, westerns, mysteries, international thrillers. The romances of old have themes that fit today’s problems—adoption, drugs, pornography, abuse. There are dozens of different styles, but they all have appropriate language, strong messages, and are free from graphic violence or sex scenes.

Try reading an LDS author or genre you’ve never experienced before. Or better yet, write one. There has never been a better time.


At 5/02/2006 2:26 AM, Blogger Darvell Hunt said...

You forgot to mention Truth #6: Jeffrey Savage writes some of the best LDS fiction available. How could you miss that one?

I recently read House of Secrets. Omigosh, what a great book! I'm now a big Shandra Covington fan.

Oh, yeah, and a Jeffrey Savage fan, too.

Keep it up, Jeff!


At 5/02/2006 10:31 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Jeff -- fantastic article. Intelligent, enlightening, articulate. I wish I'd written it.

At 5/02/2006 10:58 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Thanks guys. My head is swelling. BTW, Robison, awesome interactive gig! I'm way impressed.

At 5/02/2006 12:54 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Jeff, very well put. Someday perhaps our own people will recognize that both reading and writing LDS fiction is a respectable pastime. Dare I hope that some will recognize LDS fiction as not only clean entertainment, but educational and spiritually mind-expanding? I wonder how many non-readers even recognize how much fiction President Monson consistently refers to or quotes.

At 5/02/2006 3:40 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Exactly right, Jennie. I can't even imagine what my life would be like without fiction. I've read to all of our kids as they grew up, everything from To Kill A Mockingbird to A Wrinkle In Time. Those are priceless memories and great bonding moments. My kids all know that I can't read the end of Where the Red Fern Grows outloud without crying--very embarassing.

At 5/02/2006 3:45 PM, Blogger Darvell Hunt said...

Hey, my wife is reading A Wrinkle in Time right now. She says it's getting pretty weird. I haven't read it yet. I guess I need to.


At 5/02/2006 3:51 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Oh, you have to read AWIT. Her later books get a little bizarre. But that one is a classic.

At 5/02/2006 8:15 PM, Blogger KB said...

About 20 years ago, I wrote LDS fiction reviews for a local paper. The paper is now defunct and most of my reviews never saw print because I said LDS books did not meet quality standards, the editors were asleep on the job, and the publishers felt they could print drivel and we'd lap it up because there was nothing else out there "guaranteed" to be clean.

For a long time after I stopped writing reviews, I just could not bring myself to read LDS fiction. But then Julie Bellon guilted me into giving it another try--and I have to say, she's right. There has been a LOT of improvement.

In the past 4 months, I've actually PAID MONEY for about a dozen LDS novels. And I plan to read every one of them this fall, when it slows down at work. (Yes, Jeff, one of them is yours. And Robison's is on the list to buy when it hits.)

At 5/02/2006 9:20 PM, Blogger annegb said...

Good job, Jeff.

There is a new blog called Popcorn Popping that is specifically for LDS writers. Some is fiction, some not.

It sounds hokey, but you will find some of the best writing and the most intelligent analysis of the writing anywhere.

I think you'd enjoy it.


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