Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, March 02, 2007

What LDS Readers Want

This article by long-time reviewer Jennie Hansen was first published by Meridian Magazine a couple of weeks ago. I am reposting it here (with permission) because I'd like to hear your thoughts on it -- and LDS fiction in general.

What Readers Want

by Jennie Hansen

Responses to the three questions posed last month concerning LDS fiction came from as far away as Russia and as close as my own hometown. I asked what readers like about LDS fiction, what they dislike, and what they want to see in reviews. Those letters were both fun and enlightening. Now it’s time to share what I learned.
First, I found an overwhelming vote of support for LDS fiction. Most of you listed favorite books and authors. Many respondents qualified their support by saying there are only a few “really good” LDS novels available and that they would like to see more. Others said that while they enjoy LDS fiction and find it better with each passing year, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Still others said their only complaint is the difficulty in obtaining enough LDS fiction when there are no convenient LDS bookstore near them and a lack of advertising outside of the Mountain West alerting them to new titles. Several readers said they enjoy LDS fiction, especially the action-packed stories, on CD that they can listen to while commuting or traveling.
Positive points mentioned most frequently were adherence to LDS standards, clean language, absence of detailed love scenes, and the omission of gruesome details. Elements most disliked included poor copy editing, preachiness, convenient miracles, and amazing coincidences.
Those qualities readers liked in the books they’ve read that go beyond “clean” included having more genre choices, stories of LDS people coping with contemporary issues, characters who face trials and spiritual conflicts, romances readers can identify with, good, gripping stories, a good selection of books available on CD, books that make the reader laugh or cry, series that use the same main character, but each story is unique and can stand alone, writing that is intelligent without the use of an inflated (show-off) vocabulary, real characters with real reactions.
Areas of improvement readers want to see in LDS novels include more high quality books, greater character development, characters who grow and become better because of their faith and hard work, characters who discover they are capable of greater things than they knew, less preaching (particularly in young adult novels), more men as main characters, intelligent young adult books for boys, more stories that really move, a greater number of new fiction releases, fantasy and science-fiction novels, more good general fiction that maintains LDS standards (but is not specifically LDS), complex plots with greater depth, novels that target the over-thirty adults, and stories the reader can connect with and lose themselves in. One respondent asked for more literary novels and one said he liked the more “edgy” novels with small amounts of sex and vulgarity.
Readers made it clear they want no more stories that end with everyone getting baptized. They’re tired of the same story told over and over, copy-cat stories, and cheesy, predictable romances. They don’t want detailed love scenes or long-suffering heroines who cry at the drop of a hat. They don’t want miraculous, unrealistic rescues or husbands who conveniently die so the poor heroine can marry her true love without getting a divorce. They don’t want convoluted soap opera style series, gruesome details, or anything too “far-fetched.” Many expressed their annoyance with typos, misspelled or omitted words, and poor grammar.
I found it interesting that twenty-four authors were listed as favorite authors and five of those favorite authors were also listed as least liked authors. A couple of authors who are LDS but write for the general market were also listed as favorites. Note from Kerry: I apologize for the formatting, but no matter what I do or how many times I cut-and-paste, I just can't get the paragraphs to separate. (I feel lucky to have spaces between words at this point.) I've been fighting with this program for more than an hour now and really need to get on with my life. Does anybody else hate this new version of Blogger as much as I do?


11 Comments:

At 3/02/2007 1:07 PM, Blogger robisonwells said...

I read this in Meridian when it first appeared, and I'm glad to see it posted here. Thanks Kerry.

I actually think this article is extremely interesting. At first glance, I thought it was a fairly useless survey: the results were all across the board, and there was no single thing people agreed upon. But I think that's the most important part of all--that LDS fiction no longer is a genre unto itself, but it's grown and spread. It used to be that when people thought about LDS fiction they'd usually imagine an inspirational romance, or a fictionalized church history. Now, however, you never know what you're going to get when you pick up an LDS book. The reason that Jennie's article cites so many disparate viewpoints is because our readers are getting more and more varied. It speaks volumes about the progress of the market.

 
At 3/02/2007 3:12 PM, Anonymous Julie Wright said...

What a very cool article to have reposted here. Thanks for that. I love that the market hass become as diverse as the people in the church and foresee this trend growing. Nice information.

 
At 3/02/2007 4:51 PM, Anonymous Josi said...

Great article, thanks for posting it here as I hadn't seen it yet.

I agree that LDS fiction has come a long way, but could still do better--both as a reader and a writer I want books that rival the national market in quality and storyline. As anything this market is still evolving. To keep it going we need more readers though. I'm surprised how many people don't read LDS fiction, or did once, didn't like it, and wont' bother with it again. The only way to fix this is good books--well edited and available to readers. That we do have so many genres doing well is HUGE and will make a big difference, but we still need a bigger reader base.

I'd also love some ideas on how to market outside of the Mt. West. Other than book catilogues that go right to peoples homes and fliers
what can authors and publishers do? LDStorymakers sends out a new release newsletter to our mailing list, though we're just catching up, but outside of online options it's hard to knwo where to send the marketing dollars when the audience is in a minority. I'd love some suggestions on that.

And yes Kerry I hate this new blogger too--it's taken me the better part of the day to get this to post and I've still got my fingers crossed this one will work .Grrrrr

 
At 3/02/2007 5:58 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Re: advertising

I'm personally not a subscriber, but I know there's an email newsletter called GEMS that apparently has a pretty widespread readership. I wonder if it would be possible to get advertising with them?

Of course, the real kicker would be to get some adtime during General Conference (is it as expensive as the Superbowl?) - even just a URL to an LDS Fiction website would reach a LOT of people. Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it's just local ads we see.

(*forehead slap d'oh*) Or just get a nice article printed in the Ensign that mentions all the nice LDS fiction that can be found on www.(insert URL here).com


Loved, loved, loved the penultimate paragraph about what readers don't want to see any more of. Particularly "cheesy, predictable romances" - does another kind exist? *FHL ducks and runs for cover*


So, uh, did any of *our* favorite authors end up on the list?

 
At 3/03/2007 7:32 PM, Anonymous musicnurse said...

I would like to see some international LDS fiction. Our church is all over the world and I think it would be educational especially to have children's lit from around the world as well as novels that include the various lifestyles around the globe.

 
At 3/04/2007 12:12 AM, Blogger Gamila said...

I thought the same thing as music nurse. I just finished taking a multicultural education class and realized how narrow the LDS market is in terms of cultural diversity. The majority of LDS books deal with white, middle class, Utah mormons, because that is the basically the audience. I know that there are several books out on the market that deal with multicultural issues, but there is huge room for improvement. This was an interesting thing to realize. Funny how classes change the way you view things. :)

 
At 3/04/2007 10:45 AM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Jon, I don't feel comfortable releasing the list because only about half of the people responding to my questions mentioned "best" and "worst" authors, but I will tell you Kerry, Rob, Jeff, and myself were listed on the "best" list and we entirely escaped the "worst" list.
Also to respond to the multiculturalism remarks. I am seeing a few novels featuring races other than American white, but for the most part they're poorly written. A number of good writers are producing books with international settings and excellent secondary characters from other cultures. Willard Boyd Gardner, Robert Markum, and Julie Bellon are writers that do very well with international settings. There are several writers who delve into cultural differences within the United states between the various races.

 
At 3/05/2007 9:48 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I agree that we need more multicultural flavor in LDS lit -- especially being a worldwide church -- but I think it's very difficult for born-and-bred American Mormons to write it. Believably.

Anna Jones ("Haven" and "A World Away") and Sian Bessey ("Forgotten Notes") brought Wales to life for me in lyrical beauty, but Sian was born there and Anna lived in Wales at the time of writing. Jeri Gilchrist has a new romantic suspense coming out soon that is set in Denmark and it's lovely, but the main characters are visiting Americans.

The point is, it's hard to write outside one's sphere. At least it is for me. I'd love to finish a book that I set in Mexico -- with primarily Mexican characters -- but I know I'm not hitting the right note to ring true. Alas, Arizona is about as exotic as I can get, world traveler that I'm not . . .

 
At 3/05/2007 10:36 AM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry is right. It is difficult to write believably about characters in a setting outside our own experience. Some writers manage this better than others, but generally not as well as natives or long time residents of those countries. Pamela Carrington Reid from "down under" has a new book coming out soon. Her books are all set in New Zealand or Australia and reflect her homeland. Remember No More was particularly good. I think we'll see more of the LDS experience in other countries as LDS writers in those countries begin to write more. Look how long it has taken for LDS fiction in America and other English speaking countries to take off.
In response to my Meridian article asking what LDS Readers want, I heard from Russia, Australia, Germany, England, and Canada as well as most of the US states. I think it's only a matter of time until publishers begin getting more marketable manuscripts from outside the US.
If anyone is interested in reading both of my columns on this subject you can find them on Meridian WWW.ldsmag.com or on my web page www.jennielhansen.com

 
At 3/05/2007 10:37 AM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry is right. It is difficult to write believably about characters in a setting outside our own experience. Some writers manage this better than others, but generally not as well as natives or long time residents of those countries. Pamela Carrington Reid from "down under" has a new book coming out soon. Her books are all set in New Zealand or Australia and reflect her homeland. Remember No More was particularly good. I think we'll see more of the LDS experience in other countries as LDS writers in those countries begin to write more. Look how long it has taken for LDS fiction in America and other English speaking countries to take off.
In response to my Meridian article asking what LDS Readers want, I heard from Russia, Australia, Germany, England, and Canada as well as most of the US states. I think it's only a matter of time until publishers begin getting more marketable manuscripts from outside the US.
If anyone is interested in reading both of my columns on this subject you can find them on Meridian WWW.ldsmag.com or on my web page www.jennielhansen.com

 
At 3/06/2007 10:07 AM, Anonymous kerry said...

Jennie, I'm sorry I didn't make the contact information clear. In the original blog, if you click on "Meridian Magazine" or "Jennie Hansen" it will take you directly to those web sites. I'm so grateful for permission to reprint it; wish I'd made it easier for everybody to find!

 

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