So you want to publish a book. It's an admirable goal, to be sure, but the road to authorship is seldom downhill. Before you fire up your word cruncher, listen to some friendly advice from Eleanor Knowles, vice president, executive editor and a 17-year veteran of Deseret Book Co.
The first thing to know, said Knowles, is that the odds of getting your unsolicited manuscript published are not good. Deseret Book received some 800 manuscripts out of the blue last year and published just 40 of them, a success rate of only 5 percent.It could have been worse for the luckless 95 percent. Yes, assures Knowles, all manuscripts get a full reading and, no, their authors don't get a cryptic form note saying "This doesn't meet our needs at this time." Each, she said, receives a personal letter of explanation.
A turndown, said Knowles, doesn't necessarily mean that the book is poorly written. It doesn't even mean that the subject matter is not relevant or well researched. It may simply mean that there is no current market for the book.
"I would tell people that they can save themselves a great deal of trouble if they would simply contact us before beginning their book to see if there is a market for it. If there isn't, we cannot afford to publish it no matter how well written it is."
Having said that, Knowles adds, "We are always looking for good, well-written, original ways of saying the old, tried-and-true things."
The key, then, is to talk first, write later.
As with any publishing house, Deseret Book has its established authors whose work almost always sees print - but not without prior consultation, editing and sometimes extensive rewriting. (Don't confuse publishing with printing, which the company does not do. Deseret Book contracts all of its printing to various jobbers in and out of state on a bid basis.)
The most visible and well-known authors, of course, are LDS General Authorities whose works usually create a lot of attention and sell well. But those books, perhaps surprisingly, represent only 15 percent of the company's total publishing business, said Deseret Book President Ronald Millett. And with increasing demands on their time as the church expands worldwide, the number of books by General Authorities is expected to decline even further.
Among Deseret Book's standbys - the company's version of Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy - is novelist Jack Weyland, a professor of physics at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D., whose books help young people deal with today's problems.
Dean Hughes, a Provo writer of children's fiction and non-fiction who has 20 titles out, half of them published by Deseret Book, is another major writer for the company.
Deseret News columnist Dr. Brent Barlow has published a number of successful titles on marriage and family through Deseret Book.
In total, Deseret Book published about 60 new titles last year, along with revisions of previous works, paperbacks, tapes and other items.
Most of the company's best authors pursue other careers during the day, said Knowles, writing at night and in their spare time. Unlike the big New York publishing houses, author advances are very much the exception rather than the rule at Deseret Book.
As for the six and seven-figure fees and royalties commanded by such prolific best sellers as Stephen King . . . dream on.