I also didn’t get a chance earlier this week to post about my experience at the LDS Storymakers conference, which I attended as a guest editor last Friday and Saturday. I spent much of my days in one-on-ones with authors, and the rest of the time I was out chatting with the conference participants and just talking to everyone in general.
I’d heard of this conference before, but hadn’t really paid attention to it. After all–or so I thought–it was only for authors working in the LDS market, a niche here in Utah. (It’s a worldwide niche through catalog and online sales and independent LDS bookstores that often operate in cities near LDS temples, but the bulk of the market is in the Intermountain West, through the LDS chain bookstores Deseret Book and Seagull Book and Tape.)
What I didn’t know was that in the last few years, the Storymakers have been expanding to include LDS writers in all markets, whether the LDS market or a more national market. Writers like Shannon Hale, Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Dave Wolverton, James Dashner, Jessica Day George, and many others have been honored by the Storymakers with their Whitney Awards recently (as nominees and winners), and the conference itself focuses more on craft than marketing, so the lessons about, well, storymaking, can be applied to whatever niche an author writes for.
While the conference does seem mostly geared for beginning to intermediate writers, I noticed that there’s a lot of networking opportunity for more experienced writers as well–it was great to see the number of published writers who were there giving back by volunteering for the committee, teaching a class, or helping out with the running of the bookstore. There were multiple book signings every day, and the bookstore was packed full of books by LDS authors in a number of markets.
I must say, it was one of the most well-organized, well-staffed conferences that I’ve ever participated in. It ranks right up there with BYU Writing for Young Readers (though Storymakers is for every genre–adult, children’s, LDS, secular, fantasy, realism, nonfiction, and so forth). And they’ve been growing–apparently they had something like 100 more people registered this year than they did last).
And of course, while BYU Writing for Young Readers is for a more general audience of writers, note that Storymakers is very definitely a venue for authors who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m sure they wouldn’t kick you out if you weren’t LDS! By any means! But it’s very much a cultural affair, an event that embraces Mormon culture, prays at sit-down meals, and welcomes references to church, being LDS, and all of the attendant topics that go with that. And I believe the Whitneys are only open to Mormon writers. It’s a safe place for LDS writers to come together with their fellows and discuss that intersection between the arts and religion that can sometimes get misunderstood on both secular and religious sides (just one example pulled from recent headlines would be Deseret Book’s pulling of the Twilight series from their bookstore shelves recently because of “mixed reviews”).
It was great to see how they do a first chapter contest every year too, honoring those who have been working hard at their writing. I’d like to see a “later-chapter” or something like that contest, too, though–sometimes a first chapter, no matter how good, is all that has been written in that book! I’d like to see something to encourage people to not only write the first chapter, but to keep going to the second, third, and so on. (One might argue that the encouragement is all the recognition of people at the conference who have just gotten book deals, and the awards given out by one writers’ group honoring the person with the most rejections from that year, though! The thinking goes that if you’re getting rejected a lot, it’s because you’re getting your work out there. One also hopes that those rejections are coming not because the rejectee just blasted everyone with their work, whether it was a good fit or not, but that comes from the cynical side of this editor who saw way too many picture books even when the submission guidelines said NO PICTURE BOOKS.)
The part that had me choked up the most: the Whitney awards. I never knew that they were named for LDS church apostle Orson F. Whitney, who championed “Mormon” literature and gave one of the best talks I’ve seen on the subject (note to my non-Mormon readers: it’s a talk very much aimed at early Mormons, kind of sexist in its speech compared to modern-day conventions; just remember that it was given in 1888). He said:
Our literature must live and breathe for itself. Our mission is diverse from all others; our literature must also be. . . . We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.
I really appreciated how the Whitneys are set up to honor those “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” It was great to see good friends and some authors I’d just met over the course of the conference be honored for the quality of their writing. Congrats to James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, Heather Moore [edited to fix the right last name–sorry, Heather!], and several others who won Whitney awards in their categories. It’s a little corner of the world, but it’s nice to see how it’s been growing.
Anyway, if you’re LDS and a writer, it’s a great conference. Check it out come next year.