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Heather B. Moore
Thursday, October 27 2011

Do we have “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own”?

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I’ve had people approach me numerous times and ask what I recommend they do in order to get published. The easiest response is “write a good book,” but that is not so easy to put into action. It can take years to learn the craft of writing, and even when it’s learned well, there are many discouragements along the way.

In 2008, with the downward turn of the economy, the book industry was also greatly affected. Publishers downsized dramatically and many went out of business. As people across the nation and the world lost their jobs, their interest in writing a book increased—it seemed that many of us had more time on our hands (even though our bank accounts were dwindling).

A great influx of submissions took place over the next 18 months, yet the publishers were smaller and they were publishing fewer books. Self-publishing became more favorable (and sometimes, the only option). Once the ebook industry developed, publishing exploded again in numbers of books published, although this didn’t necessarily translate into healthy sales for each author.

Despite the turns in the economy, it’s always been difficult to get published, whether it’s through submitting to a traditional publisher and waiting on their timeline, or self-publishing and doing all the work yourself.

The advice of “write a good book” still holds true. But how do you know if your book is good? My advice is to “read” good books. Of course that would be my advice even if someone didn’t want to become an author.

Books have shaped my life. I’ve learned about different cultures, peoples, and countries, through reading both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve learned about being a charitable person through reading the parables that Christ taught (i.e. fiction based on plausible events). I’ve learned varying points of view of those who experienced World War II by reading the young adult novel The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), the historical work The Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson), and the unforgettable memoir, The Hiding Place (Corrie Ten Boom), as a youth.

President Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. said, “Home libraries should be provided. It is within our power to guide our youth in their reading and to cultivate in their hearts a desire for good books. It is most unfortunate where a person is not possessed with the desire for good reading. The reading habit, like charity, should begin at home.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, p.204)

Reading good books cultivates our minds. For aspiring authors, reading teaches us how to pen a good story, develop characters and plot devices, and create and resolve conflict.

It’s no surprise that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made up an eclectic group of bestselling authors. LDS authors hitting the New York Times bestselling list and other local and national bestselling lists is a testament in and of itself that there is incredible talent among us.

In fact, this may also indicate that Elder Orson F. Whitney’s, an early apostle in the Church, prophesy has come to pass: “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God's ammunition is not exhausted. His brightest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God's name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven . . .” (The Contributor, July 1888).

In 2007, author Robison Wells, took this prophesy to heart and founded The Whitney Award Academy, naming it after Elder Orson F. Whitney. The mission statement of the academy is to honor LDS authors who excel and continue to raise the bar in literary arts. Now in its fifth year, the Whitney Academy currently honors novels in the following categories: General Fiction, Romance, Suspense/Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Youth Fiction, Historical, Best Novel of the Year, and Best Novel by a New Author.

The best thing about the Whiney Awards is that novels can be nominated by any reader (through the website: www.whitneyawards.com). Eligibility requirements include that the novels must be written by an LDS member and be published in the current year. Self-published and traditionally published novelists are eligible and most fiction genres are represented. Once enough nominations are received (5), the book will go to a panel of judges who whittle down to five finalists. The five finalists are then voted on by the Academy, which is made up of hundreds of industry professionals, including authors, publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, and critics.

The Whitney Awards offer just one source of tracking down the best books. Other sources include visiting your local library for their Recommended Reading Lists. Also, Junior Highs, High Schools, and Colleges all have recommended reading lists, which are for the most part easily accessible, many times on-line.

In our world of high-tech everything, even books have become digitized and it’s easier than ever to carry around our personal library on a device smaller than our hand. President Spencer W. Kimball said it well, “Read in your spare time. Numerous leisure hours have been made available to men. . . . Certainly an increased part of it could profitably be used for gaining knowledge and culture through the reading of good books.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.383)

Let us follow the admonition in D&C 90:15, “And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.”

Heather Moore is the author several historical novels, the most recent title Ammon (2011), and the non-fiction work Women of the Book of Mormon (2010). Visit her website for more information: www.hbmoore.com

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