Why are there so many Mormon writers?

Over on the Monster Hunter fan page someone asked about why there were so many Mormons in science fiction and fantasy writing. Jokes aside, that’s a good question, and it’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot (because I am one) so I started responding and it got long so I decided to turn it into a blog post. Note, I rarely talk about my religious beliefs on the internet, because A. the internet is a cesspool filled with idiots and I don’t want to hear their dumb hot takes about my religion in the comments, and B. I don’t claim to be a good example of my people either. So this isn’t a religion post, this is a writer demographics post.

First off, Mormons are disproportionately successful in the writing business. Somebody asked if that was confirmation bias. Nope. That’s pure numbers. For it’s tiny population Utah produces more writers and especially successful bestsellers than states with vastly larger populations. Even the ones that are supposedly “artistic”. However there are two separate things at play here though. There’s more Mormons, but there is also more Utah. (Utah is only about half Mormon). These Venn diagrams overlap a lot, but they aren’t one circle. Utah also produces a lot of non-Mormon writers, and there are lots of Mormon writers from outside of Utah. But basically, they’re connected in that lots of Mormons love writing so they created a writer scene in the place with the most Mormons per capita and it’s kind of grown from there.

One note, the real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but I’m not going to keep typing that so the colloquial term of Mormon or LDS will do. The BYU grads who get butt hurt by this can go fly a kite.

Okay, big philosophical reasons first:

Compared to most groups, Mormons like to read a lot. That’s the biggest one. Across the board groups with more readers create more writers. As a culture, we read and promote reading. Where I came from reading was for pussies and a great way to get your ass kicked. I grew up rural poor, immigrant Catholic farmer community in the California sticks, and it is totally different than how my kids have grown up Mormon in Utah. Reading isn’t shunned here as uncool. Even a lot of the jocks are nerds.

Sure, there’s some shunning still. The most annoying stage kids go through is that one where they think it’s cute to be stupid. Luckily the kids in Utah seem to grow out of that faster than the other places I’ve been.  Being an idiot isn’t considered an achievement here. 

When you read a lot, inevitably your horizons expand across non-fiction and fiction, and then across multiple genres. Exposure to more types of books helps readers find things they click with. Click with it enough, and inevitably people are going to try writing that thing themselves.

Next, there are a bunch of surveys that show that Utah is the “geekiest” state. I believe it. All that reading leads to genre fiction and an appreciation for nerdy stuff. Whether it is super heroes, or Lord of the Rings, or anime, or video games, or Magic the Gathering, there’s a big bunch of people who love that thing in Utah.  

Utah’s got a great gaming scene. Not that it correlates as much with writing as reading, but it certainly helps. When I was first starting out as a writer, I was at an event and about a dozen writers were sitting around talking. The subject turned to RPGs (role playing games, not the other kind of RPG that I used to work with!) and I was surprised how everybody seemed to be on the same page. So I asked who there had not been a gamer. One writer raised their hand. The only writer there who hadn’t played something like D&D was L.E. Modesitt. 

When Utah started its own ComicCon it quickly blew up to where it was threatening the supremacy of San Diego, so San Diego sued them. Now it’s called FanX, and it’s still one of the biggest ComicCons in the world regardless what they legally have to call it now. 

Besides being nerdy and well read, Mormons tend to be better educated and more financially successful than average (contrary to the stereotypes of our enlightened coastal elites) and I’ve talked about before how one of the things that lead to groups producing writers is them having enough leisure time and resources to be able to spend time learning to write without being in danger of getting evicted/starving. 

One thing that got pointed out in the comments that I didn’t mention was work ethic. (ironically, this wasn’t pointed out by my co-religionists, but by outside observers… probably because all the Mormons think we’re still too lazy and should be working harder 😀 ) But yes, culturally most Mormons still believe in hard work and putting in effort. I know that’s an old fashioned idea now in our glorious age of just expecting the government to do everything for us (a practice which will obviously have no downsides or long term negative repercussions for society!)

But working hard is a huge part of making it as a writer. Lots of people want to write a book, but they don’t want to do that pesky sit in a chair typing for six months to create the book part.  Anybody who thinks this job is easy is a sucker. It’s physically easy (says the guy who grew up milking cows) but it is mentally taxing and requires good time management skills. 

I guess this question could have been “why are Mormons so disproportionately represented at NASA?” and you’d get similar answers. 

Also contrary to dumbass stereotypes, Mormons are pretty open minded. Yeah, spare me the bullshit comments from people who hate all religion or just mine in particular. You can’t send all your young adults to live for two years all over the Earth, embedded in nearly every culture, and have them all come home  and be a bunch of hicks like the media portrays us.

On that note, don’t get me started. There’s as many of us as there are Jews in the world, yet the media portrays us as a bunch of friggin’ morons chewing on our straw hats while our women wear their floral butter churning dresses, as if we magically froze in the mid 1800s and haven’t changed since.  But that’s because Hollywood is a bunch of lazy elitist assholes. 

Utah is the most bilingual by non-immigrants state with the widest variety of spoken languages in America. I can walk into a random ward in rural Utah and ask if somebody there speaks Tagalog and have a really good chance of success. When your immediate family has lived in Brazil, France, India, South Africa, and (best of all) Alabama, it’s amusing to be told by people who’ve never left a 15 block radius of Manhattan about how we’re so amusingly provincial, with our weird accent on quaint concepts like “family” or “work effort”.

Again, this isn’t just Mormons. There’s atheists, agnostics, other religions, and even disgruntled ex-Mormons working in these same Utah writer circles. People with wildly different personal beliefs can still build on the underlying framework of a bunch of geeks who like to read books. 

Now, past the philosophical, let’s get to the practical nuts and bolts logistical reasons.

Somebody brought up BYU. Yes, and no. BYU itself sucks when it comes to treating genre fiction with any respect just like most other universities. Their English department has a bunch of snoots to rival any other snooty university. However, long ago they hired a guy named Dave Wolverton (pen named Dave Farland, who wrote stuff like Runelords and Star Wars for example) who ran one of the most successful creative writing classes in American history.

Dave had several hundred students become published authors over the decades he taught this class. He’s also had a ton of those become bestsellers. It is because Dave was a working writer who kept the class about realistic business practices instead of the usual artsy navel gazing most English departments love. (but what do the blue curtains mean?!?) 

Then there is LTUE, which began at BYU (no matter how much that annoyed BYU) created by sci-fi fantasy lover, David Brian Doering. LTUE was a pure writing conference, by writers, for writers, and it was CHEAP. So that regular people who work for a living could attend it. Bang for the buck, LTUE smokes every other writing event out there.

LTUE started at BYU, went to UVU (briefly), and then has been on its own ever since. Why did it leave BYU? Because BYU sucks. (well, at least that’s my take, but it was more complicated than that). But leaving the university environment was the best thing ever in my opinion. College is a bubble. You want to be successful in the real world, you need to get out into the real world. 

That event has been a fundamental way for locals to network and pick the brains of those of us who do this for a living. (I’ve been doing panels there for I think 11 years now)  A giant percentage of those authors who’ve come out of Utah, Mormon and not, attended LTUE first.

It’s also why when the Woke tried to muscle in on LTUE a couple of years ago, locals got righteously pissed. The last thing the Utah writing community needs is to have those vampires destroy it. The Woke are a bunch of communist puritan locusts who won’t be satisfied until they suck all the fun out of life. 

When you take this conflux of lots of aspiring authors in an environment that promotes that sort of thing, with lots of working professionals who are happy to help them learn and get better, success breeds success. 

On the dark side Utah also has some really shitty little publishing houses who like to prey upon this talent pool. Some of Utah’s little publishers are so bad that they are internationally famous for their predatory contracts. I was eating dinner after the London Book Fair (at a restaurant so nice that Mick Jagger was sitting a couple of tables over!) with some British publishers and at one point they said “You are from Utah? Are the publishing house contracts there as stupid and evil as everyone says? Surely that is exaggerated!”

Nope. There’s some bad ones. Read those contracts, kids. You are signing away the rights for them to publish your book, not giving them the rights to own you and everything else that may originate from your brain forever. 

Utah also has a lot of parasitic hanger-ons in the writer community, people who are in love with the IDEA of being a writer, but not with all that icky work part that it takes to actually be one. But that’s normal everywhere with a writer scene. You can always spot those types because they’re the loudest and bossiest telling all the other artists how to create art, yet when you check their resume they’ve created jack and shit. Those you can safely ignore. 

However, I think that is one more thing in Utah’s favor. There are so many successful working authors around here that the usual loser mope nobodies who normally install themselves on pedestals in other writer communities just get bulldozed here (and us sharks don’t even really notice the minnows). 

To clarify what I mean by that, I’ve seen lots of writer events where the established king boss expert head honcho, is generously speaking a relatively meaningless entity when it comes to actual book sales. But people like that love feeling powerful while pontificating to a bunch of unwitting newbs (I think I just accidentally described most of the college creative writing classes in the country), but in the Utah/Mormon writer scene those types can pontificate all they want because right around the corner are ten other people who actually make a living at this stuff, and you can just ask their professional advice instead. 

Not everybody who falls into this group comes from this background. Like me for example. I’m not from here and didn’t grow up Mormon. I had self published my first novel and had my first publishing contract before I even knew the Utah writer scene existed. However, I gained a lot of knowledge about how to grow my career from that point. 

I went to my very first sci-fi con only because I had a contract and a book coming out from Baen, and I figured it would be a good chance to network and meet some other authors. I met this guy named Brandon Sanderson, who back then wasn’t nearly as famous (they had just announced he would finish Wheel of Time). However, when he heard I had a book deal from a real publisher, he took me out to dinner to tell me all the stuff he wished he had known when he was starting out.

Earlier I mentioned Dave Wolverton, but after he retired, Brandon (who was one of his former students) took over teaching that class. And Brandon sells so many books that he sleeps in a house made of solid gold bars, on a mattress made of DogeCoin, so I can only assume that his class was pragmatic too. 

That’s how the Utah writing community works. I’ve seen other places where it is more dog eat dog, and someone else being successful is seen as making you less successful. Like if you make a dollar, then that’s one less dollar they’ll have. It’s the old finite pie fallacy. Around here, the vast majority of writers understand that you can just make more pie. So they help other authors rather than step on them. 

Or alternately, I’ve seen other parts of the country where the writing scene is more artsy-fartsy and the accent is on literati snooty academic sort of writing. That’s great for the Oprah Book Club contingent, but as far as actually making a living, genre fiction is where it is at. 

Personally I like helping aspiring authors learn to write better, or help new authors navigate career stuff. I’m not alone either. I think most of us around here are wired that way. So Utah’s got a lot of writers who received help, who are happy to pay it back. And since we’ve got such a glut of writers, you aren’t getting advice from just once source (because how they did it might not be the best way for you to do it).

Put all this stuff together, baseline cultural and then nitty gritty practical day to day reality, and it explains why this one particular place/group has so many working writers.



EDIT: and an addendum for the bigots, I’ll save you some typing, because if you post anything talking shit about anybody’s religion in the comments I’m just going to delete it...

EDIT 2: Okay, making fun of Mitt Romney is fair. That dude is such an invertebrate he’s basically just hair gel in a ziplock bag. 😀

EDIT 3: to clarify, there’s a difference between Mormon Authors and Authors Who Happen To Be Mormon. This post is about authors who write regular books for everybody and the regular market. Not specialty press stuff by Mormons for Mormons. I’m the last person to ever comment on how to work in that market because I swear way too much to ever show up in a Deseret Books. 😀

Writer Advice: How to deal with Review Assassins

Note- this post is about writers dealing with attack dog bully critics, not legit critics who read your stuff and don’t like it. Bad reviews happen to everyone. But you don’t have to put up with the assholes who weaponize the review system just to screw with writers. This is about the scumbags who want to financially hurt writers just because the broken system makes it so they can.

This discussion happened elsewhere yesterday, but I thought I’d compile my comments (and clean them up because I typed this on my phone!) because I think this topic is important for writers to know how to deal with.

It started with a screen shot of some author’s emails, where a bully extortionist was threatening to spam their book with one-star reviews (this one was interesting because it was straight up extortion, as opposed to the usual social justice crusader bad review campaigns). Of course this new author was really scared by these threats, and other authors were sharing it (which is actually a very good thing, as I’ll talk about below)

So I quipped:

“Oh no! Someone is threatening to give me an unfair negative review! Help!”
Lol. They must be new at this.

##
The author who shared the screen shots responded and said that of course I wasn’t worried about it because I had sold millions of books and had thousands of reviews already so I was immune. She’s very talented and will probably have a great career, and I hate to see people like that fall into the bullies’ trap, so I expounded.
##

What? You think I sprang onto the scene fully formed with all those thousands of reviews and millions of copies sold?

Nope.

Real Talk time.

Whoever wrote this needs to learn to not negotiate with terrorists. Then when the attacks happen (and they will) you learn to use those attacks as a marketing weapon yourself and turn that energy around for your own benefit.

I’ve had repeated organized review bombs against me. That’s one reason I got to those millions of books sold. Obvious bad spam reviews motivate your fans to counter them and spread the word.
When you get those bullshit reviews, embrace them. Mock them. Celebrate them. Because it means you pissed people off. When you panic, it just makes the attackers stronger. When you point and laugh and bring your fans in to point and laugh, they tell their friends and it turns into something fun.

Plus, Goodreads is a cesspool of SJWs. I always have one star reviews trashing my books as soon as they are listed on there. Well before anyone has read it. Sometimes including me because the book isn’t done yet.

It don’t matter. The harder the attack, the more energy you can use to turn it around on them.

##

When I did the first Tom Stranger on Audible, I got over TWO THOUSAND one star reviews. (let me tell you, that’ll lower a rating average!)
But it didn’t matter. I’ve made a metric fuckton of money off that series. I actually weaponized the funniest one stars and wrote a scene responding to them in the sequel!

I took those one stars and spammed them across the internet. The more they push, the sillier it gets. The more people talk about it. The more people respond. The more people BUY YOUR STUFF.

The bad reviewers don’t understand that the harder they push, the more buzz words they use, the fiercer the scolding and condemnation, the more regular folks want to check it out. Nothing makes a real American want something more than being told they shouldn’t have it.

If I was this author (and I have been, probably 20,000+ times) I’d tell this anonymous critic “fucking bring it” in the hopes of provoking them to sputtery rage. Because then it is comedy gold.

##

Then I started getting questions about how to flip this kind of attack around.

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Back when I started (pre-social media) it was via blogging. But the extortionist reviews really didn’t explode as a threat until Twitter and Facebook became a cesspool of scum and villainy. And then at that point I’d take the really stupid reviews, and cherry pick quotes from them (almost like cover blurbs) and I’d post them in order to mock them.

The key is not coming across as whiny or victimized. People hate that. It makes you look weak. As an author you want to come across as happy and successful. So the key is making it fun. The beautiful thing here is that most one star reviews aren’t honest at all, so they’re easy to pick apart to find nuggets of hilarity.

##

But what about genre? (it was felt my “Real Americans” comment might apply to my fan base, but not something like the genre in question, which was romance or erotica or something.

##
Genre doesn’t really matter. It’s always the same thing. Terrorist sees a target. Tries to threaten. Says mean bully shit.

Take that, flip it around back on them. If you wrote a good erotica or romance or whatever, there’s an audience out there for it. And that audience doesn’t like being lied to. The harder the reviewer reaches, the more obvious it becomes that it is a grudge review. And regular decent people hate bullies.

The biggest danger is if your publisher is a candy ass who caves to outrage mobs.

But as far as readers go, for every reader scared away by an angsty bully throwing a tantrum, you can pick up two or three who are curious about why an angsty bully is throwing a tantrum.
You get enough angsty bullies throwing a tantrum, and it gives you an incredible opposite effect. Get half the internet screaming at you, and it causes exponential fan base growth.

##

It’s like how Rotten Tomatoes the audience reaction is often diametrically opposed to the critic reaction. The more the critics rail against something (especially when it is loaded with political buzz words) the more it causes regular people to check it out in backlash.

If the terrorists were smart they wouldn’t do blistering one stars loaded with PC buzz words. They’d keep it vague, oatmeal, and two stars to lower the average, without drawing attention to themselves. But bullies aren’t usually that clever.

##

Then there was some more responses about how it’s not that easy, and how most writers aren’t combative. Absolutely true. It isn’t easy and most artists aren’t fighters. Bullies count on that.

##
“I think one thing that has changed dramatically is that blogging isn’t really an option if you’ve not already been doing it for awhile.”- Don’t matter. You respond on whatever regular marketing channels you do use, in whatever manner best suits you.

” So while it might have been easier to build a following of loyal readers willing to go to bat for you when social media came along, that’s now gone.” – Totally disagree. It was HARDER back then because we could reach 1/10th the people with the same amount of labor.

If she doesn’t want to fight back, good for her. Then she can be a victim. Because this business is cruel, there are lots of bully assholes out there, artists are easy targets for bullies, and nobody is going to come to save you.

You see her problem. I’m offering one potential solution. That way might not be for her. Oh well.

But this stuff isn’t insurmountable. I’ve taken probably a thousand times more hate and heat than most authors ever will, and I’ve used that like pouring fertilizer on a weed. Your mileage may vary.
But either way, bullies are going to come for you.

##
Then a couple of other authors who’ve been through this sort of thing chimed in:

Jason Cordova
It’s like the woman who was bullied into pulling her book after landing a huge contract a few years ago. They kept attacking her even after she pulled the book, made changes, etc etc. Once they smell weakness they continue to attack and, as Larry said, seek to terrorize and exploit this weakness.
##
Brad R Torgersen
Yeah, never, ever let them bully you into making a decision. The reason this so often works is because writers (as a class of people) tend to be sensitive, often introverted, and anything which looks even a little bit like barbed criticism can be a real emotional killer. The trolls know this. They depend on it, in fact.
##

Jason and Brad are right. Artists tend to be sensitive, which is why they make great targets for bullies. They count on it. They love it. (and it’s why they extra despise those of us who don’t fit their victim selection stereotype)

So your friend might not care for the fight, but that’s exactly why they’re going to go after her. So she can either learn to respond, cope, or ignore.
As for how to use/reach her audience, whether it is social media and what kind, it doesn’t matter. She’s selling books somehow. Whatever that channel is, whether there is ten fans or ten thousand, that’s who you care about reaching. That’s who you flip this stuff on.

It is a great and universal truth of human nature that when someone attacks something, the fans of that thing also feel personally attacked. Humans put some measure of their self-esteem into the things they like. So you make fun of a sports team to a hard-core fan of that sports team, they’ll want to kick your ass. I learned this back when I sold guns for a living. When I was behind the counter, I never insulted a customer’s choice in gun, because that customer would take that as a personal insult. (now I don’t sell guns, I don’t care, so Taurus isn’t very good, sorry, BRAD) The customer picked that brand, so by insulting it, you insulted them.

Writer fans are the same way. If their writer gets insulted. THEY feel insulted by proxy. (if the bully critic declares that a writer is gutter trash that only stupid people would like, the people who like that gutter trash understandably don’t like being called stupid) So when somebody goes all one star attack dog and talks trash, the people who liked it are now a thousand times more motivated to post reviews in response, and go to bat for their choice, and most importantly of all TELL THEIR FRIENDS.

Because word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool on Earth. So weaponize your tribe.

##
Heh. I never look at Goodreads because it is fucking trash.

I just checked. Monster Hunter Bloodlines already has a bunch of one star reviews. It doesn’t come out until August.
I’m pretty sure those morons didn’t purchase the eARC.

(note on this one, best one star was somebody whining that the cover was too sexy and blah blah blah feminism evil male gaze and whatnot. The character in question is a literal succubus!) 😀

##
At this point the author who started the thread posted a link to another discussion about this, that had more screen caps from the extortionist. However, the really interesting part was the comments afterwards. The discussion here had been a bunch of writers. That linked discussion was a bunch of regular internet denizens seeing this nastiness in action. And the extortionist’s shitty behavior really made them angry.

##
Yes! Absolutely! Read the responses under that post!

What are the regular people saying? They’re offended. They’re pissed. They’re going to buy her books. They’re going to go post reviews. If they bring a knife we’ll bring a gun. THEY ARE GOING TO WAR.
WEAPONIZE THAT TRIBE.

Right there, that’s using social media right.

That one new post already has 36 comments and 44 shares. Each of those people are going to see that and be like WTF. Because regular people HATE BULLIES.
This is what I was talking about. When you get attacked, respond, expose, adapt. For every scumbag hater you can pick up a few normal decent people to check you out. The harder they hate, the better. The more fire, the more light.

Every time these assholes have come at me, for 12 years now, I’ve come out stronger. That same time I’ve watched dozens of other writers roll over meekly, and that never works out. They just keep getting picked on.

Embrace the suck.
##

So that’s what I wrote yesterday. Only thing I’d go back and change is to say that ignoring them is also a perfectly valid tactic sometimes, but that depends on scale. Most of these bullies aren’t that motivated. You are the temporary focus of their hatred, so they’ll post some one stars about a book they haven’t read because you’ve got the wrong politics, said something that hurt their feelings, or they just want to watch the world burn… But then they’ll move on to the next person they’re supposed to hate.

But if you’re getting a ton of them coming at you because you pissed off some moron collective, ignoring them just leads to you getting buried. That’s when you dump this stuff out there for the people to see. Just remember, make sure to have fun with it. Don’t come off as whiny. People root for under dogs, but they hate whiners.

Social media has empowered a whole bunch of dumbshits to sound a lot more powerful and numerous than they really are. Artists/companies listening to them has led to some really lame choices in movies, books, video games, and pretty much all of society. And artists keep caving to these mopes and tweaking their art to suit them, which leads to bad art, which annoys regular people who then buy less of it. Meanwhile, the artists like me who just make whatever art we want are considered obnoxious dicks by the mopes and the snoots, yet we keep our audiences happy and make money, just like how the “un-woke” movies and TV shows and games get mocked, but are financially successful, while the proper approved woke stuff goes broke. Or in the case of the multi-billion dollar IPs that are Too Big To Fail, have super disappointing ROIs.

It ain’t complicated people. Just make your art your way, have fun, and get paid.

The eARC for World Breakers is out now

https://www.baen.com/world-breakers-earc.html

This is an anthology of sci-fi tank stories. I’ve got one in here that I really enjoyed writing. My story, A Tank Named Bob, is one of the free samples so you can get an idea what the rest of the anthology is like.

Bob was once a man. Now he’s a 200 ton killing machine. He’s got some issues to work out about that. 😀

This one is also set in the Gun Runner universe, but no relation to the events of that novel (it takes place on a totally different planet). Come to think of it, with the upcoming Lost Planet Homicide I’ve now got multiple stories set in that same universe, so it’s now become my go to setting for sci-fi stories.

Plushy Wendell, available limited time only

There seems to be some confusion after the last SWAG update from Jack. To clarify, Plushy Wendell is LIMITED TIME ONLY. We’re taking orders for the next week and then doing a run of them. That’s it.

https://mhiswag.myshopify.com/

So if you need more eloquent manatee in your life, immortalized based upon my artistic sensibilities (it’s hard to capture such gravitas) order now!

After we close the orders it will probably take about 10 weeks to get them made and shipped.