Editor's note: A fictional character attends an actual class at the LDStorymakers Conference.
PROVO, Utah — Veranda Bella Pratt sat in the back of the room at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference in April. Her dream was simple: Write the perfect Mormon novel and convince an LDS publisher to publish it.
Veranda mistakenly believed that only one person stood between her and her dream: Kathryn B. Jenkins, managing editor of Covenant Communications.
Veranda watched as Jenkins began a presentation titled \"A Guide to Getting Published in the LDS Market.\"
\"I can't believe she's actually going to tell us all the secrets,\" Veranda said under her breath. \"This has to be some sort of trick.\"
It wasn't a trick, but Jenkins did have an agenda. An agenda that unwittingly was playing right into Veranda's plans.
Jenkins had prepared for her presentation by surveying other major and minor LDS publishers. Jenkins' goal was to improve the quality of book submissions.
Veranda held the tip of her Ticonderoga yellow No. 2 pencil over the first page of her Ampad Efficiency steno notebook. Her fingers trembled.
Jenkins said every one of the LDS publishers she interviewed used the same term for what they didn't want: \"fluff.\"
\"Fifteen, 20 years ago, most of what was in the LDS market was fluff. Today I think we have compelling, thought-provoking novels,\" Jenkins said.
The quality and quantity of LDS novels has increased, but something hasn't: the market. Most LDS novels are still purchased in Utah. \"The number of LDS novels being put into the LDS market is about 20 times greater per month than it was about 15 years ago,\" Jenkins said.
But there are not 20 times more LDS readers in Utah.
Veranda knew what this meant: More competition. She looked up and glared at the woman sitting next to her. \"We haven't got a chance,\" Veranda told her. The woman hung her head, dropped a few tears on her conference syllabus and suddenly ran out the back of the room. \"One less 'competition,'\" Veranda thought with a wicked smile.
\"Back in the day,\" Jenkins continued, \" Blaine Yorgason, Shirley Sealy — they were about the only show in town. And so when one of them came out with a book, they might sell 100,000 copies.\"
Today about 25 books compete for virtually the same number of readers. Jenkins said a piece of fiction is considered a real success if it sells about 5,000 copies.
\"Back in the day\" there were also only a few publishers. Today there are 11 publishers. \"Your chances of being accepted and published have increased,\" Jenkins said. \"You'll likely sell fewer, but your chances of being accepted are greater.\"
A grin spread across Veranda's face. \"I WILL be published,\" she wrote in her notebook.
\"Stephenie Meyer is LDS. Do you think the 'Twilight' series is LDS fiction?\" Jenkins asked.
\"No!\" Veranda shouted with the crowd. It felt good.
LDS fiction was something different. Veranda wrote down Jenkins' points:
The main character is a Mormon, grapples with issues that come from being Mormon, relies on Mormon qualities and virtues to solve problems and is trying very hard to live by Mormon standards.
\"That is LDS fiction,\" Jenkins said. \"Even Zarahemla (Books), which describes itself as being the edgiest, insists on LDS content.\"
Some LDS publishers do publish non-LDS fiction, Jenkins said — Deseret Book, for example — but it still has to have LDS values.
\"I'm all about LDS values,\" Veranda said to herself.
Jenkins said the things that make national market books popular are the same things LDS publishers want: \"well-written,\" \"interesting,\" \"great conflict,\" the characters are like \"real people,\" \"thought-provoking,\" \"changed my world view,\" \"unique plot\" and \"gripping.\" Someone in the audience said she liked one national market book because it was \"Christian — you can read it and still hold a temple recommend.\"
\"We would love to see novels that are gripping,\" Jenkins said. \"We would love an ending that blows our socks off, that surprises us so intensely that it takes us the rest of the afternoon to recover.\"
\"Easy,\" Veranda said to herself as she wrote in her notebook: \"Take off socks when writing the ending.\"
\"We are looking for unforgettable characters who are spunky, who are intelligent, who are real,\" Jenkins said. \"Nobody likes a character who is too perfect. We as LDS publishers want a character who has a flaw. We want characters who have the room and ability to grow throughout a story.\"
\"Don't make characters perfect,\" Veranda wrote.
\"All of the publishers that I talked to … want to be captivated, captivated in the first five pages,\" Jenkins said.
Covenant Communications' submissions editor, Eliza Nevin, was sitting in the audience. \"How much time do you think that she has with each individual manuscript?\" Jenkins asked.
About 10 minutes. \"Unless something catches my eye,\" Nevin said.
Veranda leaned forward. So LDS publishers want the some of the same things national publishers want. But what do they want that is different?
Jenkins, almost as if reading Veranda's mind, revealed three areas where LDS publishing is different:
\"There goes half my book,\" Veranda moaned.
\"Our books need to be clean,\" Jenkins said. \"We also don't tackle certain topics that the national market can tackle without any problem whatsoever.\"
\"Oh, there goes the other half,\" Veranda moaned again.
But LDS publishers other than Covenant and Deseret Book may have different rules, Jenkins said. Cedar Fort, for example, will consider a broader spectrum. One of their current books has a woman who committed adultery, but talks about her repentance and anguish.
\"Maybe I don't need to get rid of my book idea,\" Veranda said to herself. \"All I need to do is add repentance.\"
Nevin jumped into the presentation to add that these prohibitions chiefly apply to the main theme and characters of the book.
Jenkins said that there is a wide range among publishers — from very conservative all the way to PG-13.
Jenkins said that author Jeri Gilchrist told her that her first editor said to be \"sensitive to the most sensitive reader.\"
\"I am all about sensitive,\" Veranda said aloud.
\"We publish books that we think are squeaky clean, and we hear from people,\" Jenkins said with a laugh, \"They want to be able to hand it to their 13-year-old daughter and recommend it and have her read it and not be worried about what she's reading.\"
\"None of the publishers … want or will accept gratuitous profanity,\" Jenkins. \"Nor do we want very much substitute profanity.\"
But a few publishers do allow a few mild, context based profanities. All of them said no vulgarity.
\"Check if 'criminy' is profanity,\" Veranda wrote in her notebook.
\"None of the LDS publishers will accept gratuitous violence,\" Jenkins said. There can be violence, but no graphic description. General violence, like war, is acceptable. But, like other things, there is a slight sliding scale of what the different publishers will accept.
\"Look up the word 'gratuitous,'\" Veranda wrote.
\"We don't want a main character who's an LDS serial killer,\" Jenkins said.
\"Criminy, there goes half my book again,\" Veranda said. \"Maybe I can just make my main character something equivalent — like a lawyer or journalist.\"
Next, Jenkins tackled sexual and romantic content. \"Your language may be Clorox clean, but if you are constructing a scene that would lead the average reader to go someplace else in his or her mind, you've crossed the line,\" Jenkins said. \"Please don't push the envelope. We go to battle with more of our authors than I would care to.\"
Deseret Book, Covenant and Valor publishing don't allow any sexual content except kissing — even between a married couple. Granite doesn't even want any reference to misconduct such as adultery. Zarahemla allows non-gratuitous content if it is directly related to the story. Cedar Fort has no boundaries, per se, but they want repercussions for characters' misconduct.
An audience member, Joni Hatch, who writes under the name Jaclyn M. Hawkes, put the discussion in perspective when she talked about her children, \"If I can let my 16-year-old son or my 18-year-old daughter read it, then I know that it's OK, because they are my treasures and they are the ones I want to keep safe.\"
Jenkins recommended having a very conservative or sensitive family member read a manuscript and see what they say.
\"Above all, bring us books that are thoughtful, thought-provoking, compelling, captivating, exciting, unforgettable plots and characters,\" Jenkins said.
Veranda smiled as the class applauded. \"Maybe,\" she said to herself, \"just maybe, I could self-publish. Once I write the book, that is.\"