Inside Bethany House: Fun with Grammar!

To prove how nerdy we are here at Bethany House, I could tell you about the time a cake arrived to a work celebration bearing the word “Congatulations,” and how one of the editors had inserted the appropriate letter complete with proofing mark, using frosting stolen from one of the decorative rosebuds.

I could mention the number of charity pamphlets, flyers, and yes, even an out-of-order bathroom sign that have been marked up with red pen within the Bethany House walls.

I could even link to the article that was circulating around editorial last week to add fuel to a heated debate on the Oxford comma.

But I figured I’d ask a few co-workers some grammar-nerdy questions and share their answers with you instead. Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite punctuation mark, and if so, what is it?

Elisa, editorial: My favorite punctuation mark is the em dash—it’s so versatile! My runner-up might be the period. It’s not fussy and packs plenty of meaning. It’s also very hard for people to misuse, which makes my job easier.

(Note: the em dash was recently discussed at the Bethany House lunch table, and many people spoke in glowing terms about how much they loved it and why. “It’s like a miniature cliffhanger,” “Sometimes I catch myself using three in one sentence,” and “Are we really discussing this?” were all actual quotes from the conversation.)

Noelle, marketing: For sure, the semi-colon. Correct usage for it is so little understood (even fully by me), but I somehow feel cooler attempting to use it. Only real grammar nerds try to use it over a plain old regular period. I am also a huge Dickens fan, and boy does he work those semi-colons.

Jessica, editorial: I really love parentheses. I use them a lot in casual, personal correspondence (reading my emails is basically like reading The Princess Bride). However, parentheses are not really allowed in formal fiction, so I have to fall back on my second favorite punctuation mark, the em-dash, which lets you sneak in parenthetical phrases without using parentheses. Score!

Is there a mistake you find yourself making over and over again?

Sharon, editorial: Hors d’oeuvres. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes wrong—but I always have to double check to be absolutely sure, because sometimes I transpose the e and the u. (And yes, I just looked it up before writing it here!)

Amy, marketing: I can never remember how to spell medieval. Also, I’m pretty sure I have yet to correctly format an ellipse, including on this blog.

Is there a grammar or usage mistake that is particularly painful for you?

Anna, marketing: YES! The Oxford comma should always be used. That’s all I have to say about that.

Jessica, editorial: This isn’t really a question of grammar, but one of my greatest editorial pet peeves is people referring to characters as “the man” or “the woman” instead of just using a pronoun. Especially when we know the character’s name! For example: “She opened the door to find Jake standing on her doorstep. Today the man wore jeans and a plaid shirt…” It’s SO AWKWARD. Just say “he”! Please! For me!

Elisa, editorial: I cringe when I see “apart” when the writer means “a part,” especially in situations where the writer is thanking people for the opportunity to be a part of something, because it comes across as being grateful for the opportunity to be standoffish.

Are there any grammar rules you don’t think should be rules?

Noelle, marketing: Let’s talk about smart quotes. They are like the Kim Kardashian of grammar—newsworthy for who knows why but always mentioned in copy editing. What’s wrong with my non-smart quote quotation marks and apostrophes? They get the job done.

(Note: If you want to know what smart quotes and straight quotes look like and why copy editors care, take a look at this explanation.)

Not something posted at Bethany House, thank goodness, but it still made me laugh.

 

Bonus round! Many of our editors save amusing typos from manuscripts and proposals. Here are a few collected by Charlene, a former acquiring editor for Bethany House:

She’d left the backpack containing her personal values in a locker at the Y.

When his wife died, he was housebroken.

Thank you for taking time to read my letter and your deep consideration on my behind.

There’d been a rumor she was loose and a maybe a trumpet.

Logan and his friends would drive to Pizza Ranch to gouge themselves on the buffet.

Our family is invisible if we stand together and believe the same things.

He ran across the street cat corner, still dogged by the man in black.

Even as a publicist, I see some funny ones. Here are two of my favorites:

  • A Facebook message with this query: “I had a dream about the raptor and I think it would make a great book.” (When I read this—it was early on a Monday—I was actually picturing a Christian dinosaur book for a second.)
  • A woman who spent three paragraphs criticizing the dress on the cover of one of our books as “horrendously inauthentic,” then ended with this: “Would you like to employ me to poof your cover designs for credibility prior to publication? I would do it for very low rates, just to keep from cringing in horror at most of your inept art.” I almost replied, “Thanks for the offer, but you might want to poof your email before sending.”

Needless to say, if we took a poll of Bethany House staff based on last week’s checklist, everyone would score pretty high, even those of us who don’t edit books on a daily basis.

Okay, grammar nerds out there, time for you to chime in! What grammar or usage error makes you cringe? Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?

Ten Signs You’re a Grammar Nerd

Confession: I almost, almost put “Ten Signs Your a Grammar Nerd” as the title of this blog post. Intentionally. Just to see how many people came over to decry my atrocious abuse of the English language.

Better counsel prevailed, and instead I want to welcome you to Bethany House’s little corner of the Internet, where you can be surrounded by fellow lovers of proper usage and punctuation, with nary a stray apostrophe or comma in sight.

Not sure if you belong? Here are a few signs. You know you’re a grammar nerd when:

One: You have a favorite punctuation mark. Probably a least favorite one as well. And you are fully equipped to explain why to anyone who wants to know (and quite a few who don’t).

Two: You can spot errors everywhere—Facebook posts, graduation programs, flyers on the bulletin board, lyrics for your church’s worship music—and once you see them, you can never un-see them. Never.

Three: You feel the need to look up every oddly-specific rule before sending an email or posting a Facebook update (“Does the question mark go outside of the quotation marks in this case?” “Is it an en dash or a hyphen?” “Is that the British spelling, or am I just wrong?”).

Four: You have an opinion about the Oxford comma. In fact, you might be willing to challenge someone to a duel over it. (I’m not 100% sure how this duel would proceed, but I picture two people bashing each other with Chicago vs. AP style guides until someone capitulates.)

Five: You physically twitch when spellcheck underlines something that is perfectly correct.

Six: You sometimes have nightmares about sending a text without noticing that autocorrect mangled your message.

Seven: You have corrected errors on printed materials in public, occasionally to the point of defacing private property, without getting caught.

Eight: You own red pens that vary in style and thickness. After all, every occasion demands a different correcting tool!

Nine: You understand the punch lines for all of these jokes:

“Past, present, and future walk into a bar. It was tense.”
“What do you say when comforting a grammar nerd? There, their, they’re.”
“There are three things that I love: the Oxford comma, irony, and missed opportunities.”
“What’s the difference between a cat and a comma? One has claws at the end of its paws and the other is a pause at the end of a clause.”

Ten: You have located a mistake of some sort in this post and feel ridiculously triumphant about it. (I’m sure some exist. That’s why I’m in marketing, not editorial.)

Next week on the blog, I’ll share some grammar nerd stories from our editing and marketing team members here at Bethany House, including their pet peeves and a few rules they don’t think should really be rules.

How would you finish the statement, “You know you’re a grammar nerd when…”?

Ask BHP: Who Starts Trends?

Back to BHP’s virtual mailbox to answer questions today! Here’s the one I chose for this month: “Do publishers purposely start trends (setting, genre, issue, etc.) or does one book with a unique angle get large sales, so others jump in with similar books?”

And the answer is…drumroll please…both. And sometimes neither. And sort of, but it’s complicated.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Sometimes publishers start trends by what they choose to publish, though not always intentionally. For example, Beverly Lewis grew up in Lancaster County and thought it would be interesting to write a novel that introduced readers to the Amish. The Shunning became a huge success, and since readers couldn’t get enough of the journey to a simpler lifestyle, other authors began writing Amish fiction. Beverly Lewis and Bethany House started the bonnet novel trend…but without meaning to start a trend, much less a whole new sub-genre of Christian fiction. The editors just enjoyed the intriguing story and responded to it.

There are times when publishers see an existing trend early on and want to publish something in it by requesting manuscripts of a certain kind. For example, one of our acquisition editors might tell her contacts in the industry that she’s looking for say, romantic suspense. That lets agents know which queries are the best ones to send that editor’s way.

Other times, writers, agents, and editors will see something that’s taking off in the general market and see if it can translate to the Christian market. That doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes, certain categories don’t “take off” in the CBA. For example, there are some Christian YA dystopian series, but they didn’t find nearly the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the rest of their ABA counterparts. And some trends just don’t have a chance—you didn’t see any Christian publishing houses dying for novel similar to Fifty Shades of Grey, for obvious reasons.

Sometimes, though, this strategy does well. For example, with more Americans watching British period dramas and TV series like Downton Abbey, British-set books increased in both the ABA and CBA, especially in the Edwardian and Regency time period. Julie Klassen was one of the first Christian authors writing Regency, and Bethany House has added several new authors whose tales are set across the pond, including Roseanna White and Kristi Ann Hunter.

Other trends seem to go through ups and downs—military novels are all the rage, and then you can hardly find a uniform anywhere. Biblical fiction is popular, then sparse, then swings a comeback. Chick lit is everywhere, then nowhere. One year middle grade books about horses see a surge in popularity, the next year…no, let’s face it, elementary-aged girls will probably always buy horse books. But you get the idea.

Maybe an experienced sociologist can parse the evidence and determine just what led to the rise and fall of these trends. (And some have—for example, comedies tend to do better in times or war or economic hardship because people want to be able to forget their worries and laugh.) For the most part, though, many factors contribute to why a theme, setting, or plot rises or falls in popularity.

(Incidentally, this is why it’s not always good for writers to “write to a trend.” They might be getting on a bandwagon just as readers are getting off. It’s better when writers write the stories they feel most passionate about, because they’ll usually be better at writing those anyway…and no matter what’s trending, a compelling, well-written story is always going to appeal to readers.)

Occasionally, trends just happen by sheer coincidence, even when the authors are from the same publishing company. At Bethany House, we tend to notice them and shake our heads: a season where fully half of the leading ladies are redheads, for example, or two new fantasy series releasing within a few months of each other where the heroes names are Wilek (KINSMAN CHRONICLES) and Wilet (THE DARKWATER SAGA). At that point, you just shrug and say, “Great minds think alike!”

What are some trends you’ve seen in Christian fiction lately? Any trend you’d like to see but haven’t yet?

Prayer for Authors March 2017

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in March:

Mary Connealy
Tracie Peterson

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.–Psalm 73:25-26 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For a great contentment in the Lord, and strength to face any difficulties that arise.
  • For patience with frustrating circumstances (or people) during a busy month.
  • For any future books the authors are currently in the process of writing and revising.

Once again, many thanks for joining me in prayer for these wonderful authors, readers! Have a wonderful Sunday.

Quotes and Themes: March 2017 New Releases

I love finding quotable gems in our novels, ones that hint at the conflict and themes of each, so I’ve created a few to give you a sneak peek into this month’s books. (For a longer sneak peek, click on a book cover to read an excerpt.) Feel free to share the memes if you’ve read either of these books or they’re on your To-Be-Read pile!

Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson

treasured-grace

On the grueling trail west, Grace Martindale loses her new husband and her last vestige of security. Upon arriving in Oregon Country, she uses her midwifery skills to help the other settlers, and—with the aid of fur trapper Alex Armistead—the Cayuse tribe. But peace between the groups is fragile, and tension soon leads to violence.

petersonmeme-1

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

long-time-gone

The Boden clan thought their troubles were over with the death of a dangerous enemy. But with new evidence on Cole’s shooting, Justin can’t deny that the plot to take their ranch was bigger than one man. While the doctor and his distractingly pretty assistant help Cole, Justin has to uncover the trail of a decades-old secret as danger closes in.

connealymeme

 

Is there a quote you especially enjoyed from a book you read recently?

Novellas and Harper’s Station with Karen Witemeyer!

I have the lovely Karen Witemeyer with me today to chat about her latest series! The setting is an unusual one: an all-women’s colony in rural Texas called Harper’s Station. No Other Will Do and the upcoming Heart on the Line are full-length novels in the series, but this month, Worth the Wait released, a novella-length romance of fiery general store owner Victoria Adams.

worththewait

I asked Karen to share more about the story and her writing process for it with our blog readers.

witemeyer_karen1

Amy: What’s the hardest part of writing a novella? The most fun part?

Karen: The hardest part is also the most fun. Fitting a complete story into a word count that is one-fourth of a standard novel is a challenge, but it is also what makes it so much fun because I get the satisfaction of reaching The End in a quarter of the time! By necessity, I keep things simple and focus on the main story line. With Worth the Wait, the entire novella actually takes place in a single day—the pivotal day that transitions a platonic business relationship into one of romantic courtship. Secret revelations, life-threatening accidents, and little boys with adopted puppies all play a role in bringing Tori and Ben together.

Amy: I hear readers had a role in helping give you idea for the novella. How did that come about?

Karen: Because I’m a rather slow writer, I have very little wiggle room between deadlines. So, as soon as I turn in one manuscript, I must immediately start on the next. Usually, I try to have an idea of the main plot points before I begin, but with Worth the Wait, I was missing several key pieces. My tired brain could only come up with ideas that I’d already used in previous stories. I needed something fresh, but my creative well was dry. So I turned to my readers. I wrote a blog post on August 20, 2015 asking for help. I gave the background of the main characters, then opened it up for brainstorming. Comments poured in and sparked my creativity. There were four ideas in particular that helped shape my final plot. In thanks, I dedicated the novella to the four people who left those comments. Love my readers!

Amy: I saw that original post and thought that was a great idea. Hooray for brainstorming! So, about your main characters. If Tori and Ben had a day entirely to themselves with no obligations, how would they spend it?

Karen: I picture them having a quiet picnic down by the river. Ben teaches Lewis to fish while Tori lays out the blanket and food. After eating, the adults will laze around, cuddling on the blanket while Lewis romps with his pup. When they eventually get back to the store, Tori will put her son to bed then retire to the porch with Ben. They’ll snuggle up together on the bench outside the store—him with his coffee, her with a cup of chamomile tea—and they’ll talk of the future as Ben’s large hand comes to rest on Tori’s rounded belly.

Amy: Do you have any pictures of what you imagine Harper’s Station or Tori’s store to look like?

Karen: Tori’s store isn’t large, since Harper’s Station itself is such a small community. But since it’s the only store, it is filled with a large variety of items. I found a few pictures that fit fairly well with what I had imagined.

store1

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How fun! Thanks so much for joining us, Karen! If you’d like to find out more about how Ben was able to win the headstrong general store owner’s heart, check out Worth the Wait.

Readers, what are some interesting elements (plot, character, setting) that you’ve always wanted to see in a novel? Maybe one of our authors will use your comment as inspiration for a future story!

Ask BHP: What Should Authors Post on Social Media?

Welcome to our monthly Ask BHP series. Here’s a fun question: “As a marketing person, do you ever advise authors on what not to post from their author pages on Facebook, especially on controversial issues? I’d be interested to hear what you think is wise for authors to say online.”

I often see agents writing blog posts on this topic, since they’re very focused on the authors’ careers and the choices they make that can alienate readers, but that’s not really my role. Occasionally one of our authors will run something by me and say, “What do you think about this?” And at that point, I give my honest opinion. But otherwise, I don’t like to meddle in what our authors are doing, because it’s up to them to use their own best judgment.

That said, here’s a good principle for Christian authors when considering what to say on the Internet (or, hey, Christians in general).

It comes from a Bethany House potluck.

chili

We recently had a chili cookoff, complete with miniature testing cups, fancy voting scorecards with different categories, and fabulous prizes. I’m not much of a chili person, so I decided not to enter and made bread instead. (Don’t overestimate me as a chef—bread is one of the few things I can consistently make well.)

As I sat there trying my fourth sample of chili, I had a revelation: there are two ways to win a chili cookoff.

The first is to be the best at making chili among several tough competitors.

The second is to be the only one who brought homemade yeast rolls.

If you aren’t seeing parallels between that and social media posts, here’s how it relates: there are two ways to win the Internet.

The first is to be the best at the contest everyone else is having—shouting the loudest, posting the most articles, responding to comments that disagree with you with the best arguments and shutting everyone else down.

The second is to be the only one entering a different contest. Continue reading

What to Do If You’re in Love with a Fictional Character

Hello, readers! As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m happy to answer the following question I was sent through our Ask Bethany House survey.*

Heart inside a book

Dear Amy,

The heroes in my favorite novels are so perfect, I think I’ve developed a bit of a crush on several of them. My friends think this is a problem since they’re not “real.” (Who cares?) But I’ve found that ending every book is difficult for me, since I always have to say goodbye to a man of my dreams. Do you have any advice?

Yours Brokenheartedly,

Recovering Romance Reader

(If you need help deciding if this letter also applies to you, check out a post from last year: 10 Signs You are in Love with a Fictional Character.)

Ah, love. It can be a complicated thing, especially when the man you’ve fallen for is seeing another woman. And fictional. And two-dimensional…literally. He’s printed on a page.

But those details aside, I’m here to help you cope with that deep feeling of loss when you finish the last page of a heart-pounding novel. The following are just a few suggestions for moving on after a book boyfriend leaves you for the fictional heroine:

Start a fan club. You can interpret this in two ways. First, it can be therapeutic to giggle and sigh with other readers over the merits of your chosen hero. There might be some heated banter over who is the best fit for said fictional hunk, but all in good fun. Second, it might be helpful to actually have a fan nearby while reading to avoid swooning.

valentine2

Journal the angst. This can be on Facebook or a blog—just get it out there. Tell everyone about the books that stole your heart (or broke it). You can even start it, “To All the Books I’ve Loved Before.”

Eat chocolate. Does this actually help? Probably not. But I feel like a point on just about every how-to list should be “eat chocolate,” so there you go.

Book-stalk the hero’s friends. After all, they’re probably just as witty and charming and attractive, right? So find out if that author has written any other books. A reader can never give up hope.

Appreciate the real men in your life. Even if you haven’t yet found “The One,” once you’ve had a few day’s distance from the latest novel, you’ll find there are several advantages actual people have over their fictional counterparts. Becky Wade has compiled a list of some of those merits—enjoy!

Send the happy couple a congratulations card. Nothing helps you get over your lost love than telling the object of your affections that you enjoyed watching his journey toward a happily-ever-after. But where to address it, you ask? I’d suggest the book’s page on Amazon or Goodreads. Turns out, other readers (and authors) like to hear that you found a romance sigh-worthy. (Just be careful not to reveal the ending…after all, maybe other readers want to have hope they might get the guy instead of the heroine.)

Start a new book. Will this make the cycle continue indefinitely? Probably. But we’re readers, after all. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wishing you the best of luck, Recovering Romance Reader. We here at Bethany House understand your dilemma…that’s why we keep publishing books from authors who create the best fictional romances around!

One bonus recovery tip: admit your latest book crush in the comments below. Misery loves company!

*Okay, fine. No one actually sent me this question. But I can read minds—lots of you were wondering this, weren’t you? Admit it! (But never fear, the real Ask BHP post will come later this month.)

Prayer for Authors February 2017

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in February:

Tamera Alexander
Julianna Deering
Dani Pettrey
Jill Williamson

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.–Psalm 59:16 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the ability to prioritize time with friends and family members during a busy season, and to know what to say no to.
  • For unexpected acts of encouragement or help that can only be credited to God’s work.
  • For readers to think about their faith differently after reading these books.

It’s always delightful to know that there are others joining me in praying for these authors, so thank you for stopping by the blog today!

Meet Our February 2017 New Releases!

Technically, these are January books because they released on the 31st of January, but we’re celebrating them this month. Between their pages you’ll find murder and music and mystery and everything in between! Just for fun, I’m sharing a fun fact about each title so you have the inside scoop. To read an excerpt of each novel and see if it’s a good fit for you, just click on the cover!

King’s Blood by Jill Williamson

kings-blood

Quick Look: After the foretold destruction of the Five Realms, the remnant that escaped by sea searches for a new home. As the king’s health worsens, Sâr Wilek assumes command and struggles to rule the disjointed people, while assassination attempts and dark magic endanger his life. One prophecy has come to pass, but another looms in the future: Who is this Deliverer?

Behind-the-Scenes Trivia: This is officially the longest novel Bethany House has ever published! (At least until Book Three releases…)

A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander

NoteYetUnsung_cover-4color-SIM.indd

Quick Look: Despite her training as a master violinist, Rebekah Carrington was denied entry into the Nashville Philharmonic by young conductor Nathaniel Whitcomb, who bowed to public opinion. Now, with a reluctant muse and a recurring pain in his head, he needs her help to finish his symphony. But how can he win back her trust when he’s robbed her of her dream?

Behind-the-Scenes Trivia: The Stradivarius violin in the novel that is (fictionally) owned by Adelicia Cheatham, is currently owned in real life by violinist Anne Akiko Meyes. Tamera listened to her music often while writing.

Still Life by Dani Pettrey

still-life

Quick Look: Work hits too close to home for crime scene photographer Avery Tate when her best friend disappears. The only lead is a chilling photo of her—apparently dead. As Avery, her ex-boss Parker, and his friends in law enforcement dig into the case, she’s forced to confront her feelings for Parker when they come face-to-face with a dangerous criminal.

Behind-the-Scenes Trivia: Many of the locations in the story can be found in real-life Baltimore, including the Fells Point neighborhood, a favorite of the Pettrey family.

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

murder-on-the-moor

Quick Look: When mysterious incidents begin occurring on a moor in Yorkshire, an old friend begs Drew for help. At first it seems to be simply bad luck—fires started, livestock scattered—but then the vicar is murdered. As danger closes in, Drew and Madeline must determine what’s really going on and find the killer before it’s too late.

Behind-the-Scenes Trivia: Julianna insists that Aidan Turner, star of Poldark, looks just like her character (and mystery suspect) Rhys Delwyn. Imagine that!

Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, what’s the best romantic novel you’ve read in a while?