The written word has been an important part of the culture of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and text that is designed to appeal to the LDS reader began its published life over 100 years ago.
Deseret Book had its beginnings in 1866 with the first edition of “The Juvenile Instructor,” published by George Q. Cannon. Elder Cannon was troubled by the rise of what he considered trashy magazines and books. To solve the problem, he launched the semiweekly magazine. The cost was $3 per year, to be paid in cash or produce.
At that time, George Q. Cannon & Sons was established as a retail bookstore and publishing business. In 1871, Deseret News Publishing Company began publishing books. In 1901, When George Q. Cannon died, the bookselling division of George Q. Cannon & Sons was sold to Deseret News and “The Juvenile Instructor” was sold to the Deseret Sunday School Union. Eventually, the two companies merged and, in 1920, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve of the LDS Church approved the name “Deseret Book Company.”
Now, Deseret Book publishes about 70 to 80 book and audio titles each year, according to Haley Lundberg, Communications Manager. Additionally, music albums, films, fine art, jewelry, home décor and other products are produced by the company. Some of the company’s best-selling authors include Thomas S. Monson, Gordon B. Hinckley, John Bytheway, Sheri Dew, Gerald Lund and Neal A. Maxwell, according to Lundberg.
Deseret Book always publishes about two Christmas children’s books and two religious children’s books each year. The company’s Shadow Mountain label produces two to three children’s/teens’ books each year. These are usually in the contemporary, fantasy and science fiction genres.
Literature in Utah County
Since that first magazine came out in 1866, many more books have been published, geared toward the LDS reader. Books written for an LDS audience are not difficult to find in Utah Valley and they are no longer coming from just Deseret Book.
Covenant Recordings was founded in 1958. At that time, the company sold gold LP records of the Book of Mormon door-to-door, according to Managing Director Robby Nichols. In the late 1970s, the company changed ownership and expanded its offerings to include talk tapes and other audio products. The company began publishing books in the mid-1980s and changed its name to Covenant Communications in the early 1990s. Covenant was sold to Deseret Book in late December 2006.
Several authors and artists that are published through Covenant Communications have sold more than one million copies, including Chris Heimerdinger who writes the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. This young adult fiction series includes titles such as “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” and “Tennis Shoes and the Feathered Serpent.” Another author who has sold more than one million copies is Anita Stansfield, who writes LDS romance.
Covenant Communications publishes 90 to 100 books each year and almost that many audio books. Covenant publishes about 10 children’s books every year. According to Nichols, physical book sales have decreased since the advent of digital publishing roughly a decade ago, but the company is selling many more e-books.
“Fiction continues to sell well, with Regency romance being a very popular genre,” said Nichols. “When I started working at Covenant 28 years ago, it seemed like almost all of the LDS fiction had a conversion element in the plot,” said Nichols. However, that is no longer the case. “Now we are publishing about as many wholesome historical romance novels as LDS-themed novels,” he said.
Inspired by his desire to publish virtuous and praiseworthy content into the world, Lyle Mortimer began Cedar Fort Publishing in 1986 in Springville, Utah. Cedar Fort currently publishes about 120 books each year. This is a decrease from previous years when the company published about 150 to 180 titles yearly, according to Vikki Downs, Marketing Manager. In order to follow the evolving industry trends, Cedar Fort has begun to offer self-publishing services as well as publishing manuscripts.
“While we still enjoy publishing both adult and children’s national content, we respect our unique role in meeting the demand for LDS content,” she said.
New and somewhat unique to the LDS publishing world is BCC (By Common Consent) Press, which has been in business for about a year. “Our goal is to contribute to the community of thoughtful Latter-day Saints, which could mean publishing great books of all kinds,” said Steve Evans, president.
BCC Press is a nonprofit and is structured so that more of the book revenues goes to the authors. “We hope this will encourage people to write more books, read more books and engage in the community in new ways,” said Evans.
Evans said he believes that the market for LDS reading material is prevalent because the religion is still young and small. “Each act of LDS literature gives our community some permanence, a place in the world,” he said. “Hopefully, these great books will give us a way to reach out and understand each other, strengthen the bonds between us and make us a better people.”
There are other publishers out there that have found a niche in LDS literature. For now, the desire for this type of reading is strong. Zarahemla Books, for example, has released about 30 books since its inception in 2006. Probably their most popular are memoirs or autobiographical novels.
“Literature helps us figure out what it means to be human, and Mormon literature helps us figure out what it means to be Mormon,” said publisher Christopher Bigelow.