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For a company that was started on a shoestring, Bookcraft is doing well and this year celebrates its 50th an-ni-ver-sary.

Russell Orton, Bookcraft president, said his father, John Kenneth Orton, and two officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started the company in 1942. Russell Orton said he assumed his father had to borrow money to start the enterprise "because he didn't have any."From that rather humble beginning, Bookcraft, 1848 W. 2300 South, has grown into a company with more than $5 million in annual sales with its 50 products produced annually and distributed by more than 550 outlets in many locations.

"It was a real family business in those days," recalls Orton. "Dad made the publishing decisions, mother processed the orders and my brother and I helped with the packing and mailing after school."

The idea for Bookcraft came from LDS Church President Heber J. Grant. In 1940, he called the staff of the Improvement Era to his office and said he wanted them to edit a collection of his conference talks into a book called "Gospel Standards."

The book was to be published by the Era and sold primarily through advertising in the magazine.

The staff of the Era at that time consisted of Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Richard L. Evans of the First Council of the Seventy as editors, and John Orton was the business manager.

Orton said that during the meetings held in connection with the book, President Grant suggested there was a need for another LDS publisher in addition to the church-owned Deseret Book.

He believed in the free enterprise system and was convinced that competition would be good for Deseret Book. He encouraged the three men to begin a second publishing company.

As plans progressed for the second book publishing company, it became clear that Elders Widtsoe and Evans wouldn't be able to take an active part, so the burden for the enterprise fell on John Orton. The church officials, however, continued their support for Bookcraft and provided some counsel.

Bookcraft started at 18 Richards Street, where Crossroads Plaza now sits, in a small store barely 10 feet wide but very deep. John Orton was still managing the Era when he started the publishing company.

The second book published by Bookcraft was "The Gospel Kingdom," which was adopted by the church as the course of study for the priesthood holders. It was compiled by G. Homer Durham and consisted of talks given by President John Taylor, third president of the church.

"This book really launched Bookcraft," said Russell Orton, noting that this book and "Gospel Standards" have been reprinted more than 30 times each.

In 1946 John Orton sold the motels he owned in Salt Lake City and wanted to retire in Arizona. Although he retained ownership in Bookcraft, he turned the management over to Marvin Wallin, who remained as general manager until 1983.

Carolyn Olsen, Bookcraft general manager and veteran employee, said the company moved into a new building at 1186 S. Main in 1947, then moved to its present location in April 1969. Because Bookcraft doesn't print the books itself, it relies primarily on Mountain States Bindery and Publisher's Press, located on each side of Bookcraft, for printing and production services.

Orton said Bookcraft has 19 employees, including editors and art ists who design the covers and illustrations in the books. Bookcraft also hires free-lancers to read manuscripts and do some of the artwork and editing.

When John Orton was in Arizona, he got back into the motel business, Russell Orton recalls, and Russell also worked in the motel and entertainment businesses in production capacities.

After John Orton died in 1959, his widow, Frankie Graves Orton, ran the company and Russell consulted with Wallin. Wallin was called on a mission in Australia in 1977, so Bookcraft hired Paul Green, manager of Publisher's Press, to oversee the Bookcraft operation, too.

Wallin returned from his mission in 1980 and retired three years later, so Russell Orton took on more of the "hands-on" responsibility for the company. His mother died in 1980, and Orton moved back to Salt Lake City in 1987 to run the company with his sister-in-law, Diane Orton, who is vice president.

Bookcraft produces only LDS books and games that come to the company in three ways. Unsolicited manuscripts are submitted by people who haven't had anything published before; other manuscripts come from people who have been published before; and manuscripts come from writers Bookcraft contacted and asked to write on a certain subject.

In addition to books, Bookcraft publishes videotapes, children's products, coloring books, games, journals, genealogy binders, baby books and wedding books.

Orton said Bookcraft receives more than 500 unsolicited manuscripts annually that go to Diane Orton for reading. She decides which the company might want to publish. If not, rejection slips are sent to the authors. Other manuscripts go to Cory Maxwell, editorial manager, who talks to Orton about the work.

They work out the details of a contract, illustrations and cover for the book with the author. The manuscripts could be farmed out to a freelance editor, and any changes are worked out with a senior editor and the author. The manuscript is set in type, then galley proofs are pulled and reviewed by the editor and author.

Back and forth go the corrections until all involved are satisfied the book is what they want. Orton said one of the final steps is determining a price for the book so the company can make a profit, and then the book is published by a company selected by Bookcraft.

Once the books are printed, they become part of the price list of 550 dealers who handle LDS books in various parts of the world. The books can be published in languages other than English, Orton said, but if that is done Bookcraft receives a royalty.

It takes about five months from the time a manuscript arrives at Bookcraft until the book is published and distributed. Bookcraft currently has 700 titles on its order form.

With more than eight million members of the LDS Church now and good prospects for more members, Orton believes there is an expanding market for his products that could mean another 50 years for Bookcraft.