Why Your Favorite Author Probably Can’t Give You a Free Book

It’s a dilemma that many in my circles are puzzling over: in today’s world, authors have nearly limitless creativity and research sources and opportunities to get their stories out to a wider audience…but fewer people are willing to pay for them.

I’m an administrator for a few dozen authors’ Facebook pages, and from time to time I glimpse notifications of another message with the same question, phrased in a few different ways: “Why is your book (or ebook) so expensive?”

If you’ve ever wondered that yourself—and I don’t blame you, because I did too before I started working in publishing—here are a few thoughts that authors probably want to say but feel they can’t, because it seems a little too direct, a little too self-serving (even though it really isn’t).

It’s the same reason restaurant owners can’t give you a free dinner: because that’s how they make a living. Sure, a chef might comp a meal for a celebrity or a food blogger who will recommend the café to a large audience, but for the most part, they charge for their product both because it’s worth the money and because doing so allows them to continue making five-star creations.

Before I go on, let me first say: this is not intended to make you feel bad if you’ve ever requested a review copy from an author, talked about how ebook prices are too high, or can’t buy every new release that catches your eye. Not at all. You don’t have to feel defensive, because I’m also a reader who loves a good deal and lives on a budget.

This is just a different perspective, written in consideration of some people I care a lot about: our authors. It’s easy for them to get discouraged when hearing about general trends—readers buying fewer books at lower prices—or getting direct messages from readers concerned that their books are priced too high. My goal isn’t to scold anyone, just to ask questions that might be helpful when thinking about this issue. Continue reading

10 Book Small Talk Questions

Most of us here at Bethany House are admitted book nerds. (There was a lunch conversation where we discussed our favorite punctuation marks.) I actually own a game called Jenga for Book Lovers, which is your typical pull-out-a-block-from-the-tower game, but with reading-related questions on each of the pieces that you then read aloud and discuss. Most of the questions are fairly general, asking you to name a favorite genre or character or asking if you prefer ebooks or print.

It did get me thinking, though: what are some interesting conversation starters among readers? If you’re having a social event with your book club, need inspiration for a book blog post, or just want to quiz your fellow reading friends, here are some that I came up with.

One: What sort of stats would you have to track if you formed a version of Fantasy Football, but with authors instead of sports figures? (Character deaths? Vocabulary choices? Bestseller status or just number of tissues needed for the ending?)

Two: Name a classic you feel is overrated and should never be required in schools.

Three: What genre, character type, or trope that most people go crazy for do you secretly (or not-so-secretly) hate?

Four: Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you have never read? How about one that you’re embarrassed you have read.

Five: What would make you enjoy a book that didn’t have a traditional happy ending? (Or do you actually prefer those?)

Six: Pick an author, living or dead, who you would want to meet. What questions might you ask that person?

Seven: What is a book published in the last few years that you think will be considered an enduring classic in one hundred years? Why would you say that?

Eight: Have you ever actually thrown a book across the room? Why? (Or why did you consider it?)

Nine: You can live in any book’s world for a day, but only as an observer. Which book do you choose, and what day?

Ten: Can you remember a particular childhood book, series, or author that made you love reading?

Pick your favorite question above and answer it in the comments. I’d love to get to know some of the frequent readers of our blog by hearing your answers!

Prayer for Authors: November 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 November:

Julianna Deering
Sarah Loudin Thomas
Jen Turano

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.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.–1 Chronicles 16:10-11 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For mental energy for multiples tasks and decisions that may need to be made.
  • For readers to be surprised by unexpected truth and encouragement in these stories.
  • For future writing projects–the creativity for starting them and the dedication for finishing them.

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy days to pray for these authors and their books. We appreciate having you join with us!

November 2017 New Releases!

Happy November, everyone! One thing I love about this month’s round of books (besides the great stories, of course) is how they’re all historical fiction, but even the covers give you glimpses of how they’re different in tone. From the sassy glint in the eyes of Jen’s heroine to the lovely atmosphere of Sarah’s to the crisp pop of color and drama on Julianna’s, they each hint at the humor, romance, and mystery inside. If you’d like to test them out, click on the covers to read an excerpt of each!

Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano

Plot: When shipping magnate Harrison Sinclair’s mother catches Gertrude Cadwalader, paid companion to the light-fingered Mrs. Davenport, returning a pilfered item, she comes to the wrong conclusion. However, Harrison is eager to mend fences once he realizes the error. After a real thief starts preying on society, can Gertrude and Harrison catch the culprit?

 

The Sound of Rain by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Plot: After a terrible mine accident in 1954, Judd Markley abandons his poor Appalachian town for Myrtle Beach. There he meets the beautiful and privileged Larkin Heyward, who dreams of helping people like those he left behind. Drawn together amid a hurricane, they wonder what tomorrow will bring—and realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.

 

Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering

Plot: Drew Farthering finds a new mystery on his hands when he arrives at Thorburn Hall in Scotland for the 1935 British Open. His host, Lord Rainsby, asks Drew to investigate a suspected embezzler—then dies in a suspicious accident the next day. However, the house is full of guests with potential motives. Can Drew discover the killer among them?

What stands out to you about the covers of any of these books? (I’m a fan of all of them!)

Ask BHP: What Are Some Tips for New Writers?

From our Ask BHP Mailbag, here’s a great question that several people asked in various ways. “I’m an aspiring author and hear that it can be difficult to ‘break in’ to the world of Christian fiction. Any advice for a newbie?”

One of our acquisition editors, Raela Schoenherr, just answered this question from a different perspective, so take a look at that too. But I wanted to share the answers that Noelle, fiction marketing director, and I gave at the Bethany House Spotlight at ACFW. So you get three related questions and answers for the price of one! (Which, since the price was free, might not be that much of a deal.)

A recent picture from an author visit! Noelle is in the center wearing yellow, and Amy is next to her wearing pink.

Question 1: What would make a proposal from a new author stand out to someone in marketing?

Amy: The first thing I look at is always the writing quality. If the story isn’t compelling, even an interesting marketing angle isn’t going to be helpful. After that, though, I love to see that an author has an understanding of their audience. If a proposal tells me why this book will stand out to readers—whether that’s answering the question of what need it’s filling in a compelling way, showing other recent similar titles that sold well, or describing other ways Christian readers have demonstrated interest in this topic/era/theme—then I can picture how to position and market it.

Noelle: I agree. If reading the story makes me forget that I am “doing it for work,” it becomes natural to be an advocate for it. I’d say more but that gets me talking about our next FAQ.

Question 2: Is a large platform necessary for a first-time fiction author?

Amy: For me, what’s more important than the numbers is an author who shows that they understand and are willing to be a part of the marketing process. A list of potential marketing strategies can be helpful with this—it might include endorsements and author connections who would help in telling others about your book, knowledge of practices used by authors to connect with readers, and any ways the author is already connected to readers, especially if there’s a niche community related to the book or the author has made him/herself an expert in an area related to the book.

Noelle: A year or two ago, we would have said “for fiction, platform doesn’t matter. All your effort will maybe sell a few hundred copies. We work in a world that aims to moves thousands at a time.” But with the decline of retail space and the abyss of Amazon that makes discoverability increasingly hard, I would say it is beginning to matter. Still not to the extent of a non-fiction author, but you do need to be active in the book world. Not a marketing master, but at least engaged and aware.

Question 3: What’s the difference between “chasing a trend” and noticing that readers are drawn to a particular topic/era/genre and writing to meet that need?

Amy: The quality of the story plays into this a lot as well. It’s easy to tell if a writer dashed together a story to fit a trend—the research is often sloppy, the characters don’t feel real, and the story as a whole isn’t compelling. But if a particular genre or theme is popular and it seems to be a natural fit for your writing voice and what you’re passionate about, go for it. Just know that you might be building a career around that type of writing. (Some authors successfully jump around genres and styles, but often what you first write about becomes your brand. Readers want more of the kind of story they’ve come to love for you.)

Noelle: It’s probably also good to think about what trends have longevity. A ripped-from-the-headlines issue as the main focus of a book likely won’t be timely in a year or two when the book comes out (although some conflicts and issues, used as part of the plot and not the whole basis of the book, are perennial). Some genres and trends “cross-over” from the ABA into the CBA. Regency romance is an example. Others don’t, at least not with the same kind of widespread success, like young adult paranormal. It’s also interesting to note that a lot of the mega-bestseller trends of the CBA started in the CBA (from Beverly Lewis’s Amish to Frank Peretti’s supernatural to the Left Behind apocalyptic that lives on in Jonathan Cahn and others). All of those things should go into consideration when thinking about trends.

Can You Judge a Book by its Cover? Guest Post from Elizabeth Camden

It’s an old question: Can you judge a book by its cover?

My answer: Yes! Especially if it is a book by Bethany House.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see and it should make a lasting impression within the space of a few seconds. A great cover will help the reader instantly recognize the genre, tone, and setting of a book. For example, if you look at the covers below, you can probably tell which novels are in a genre you are interested in:

An Elegant Façade is falls directly into the regency romance category and is likely to appeal to Jane Austen fans. A Dangerous Legacy is still a historical, but the tone is a little more turbulent and promises a stormy romance. A Love Like Ours is clearly a contemporary, with a vibe that blends both humorous and a down-home western feel. Return to Me communicates a traditional biblical fiction novel with an epic feel to it.

Once upon a time cover designers could pour a lot of detail into the cover image, but with the rise of online shopping, it is essential a book cover look good both on a bookstore shelf and a thumbnail image on a smart phone. The physical copy of a Bethany House novel is 8 ½ inches tall. If a potential reader is looking at the same book on an iPhone, the cover will only be ¾” tall. That presents a huge challenge for the designer. It means the titles need to be shorter, details are streamlined, and backgrounds can’t be too busy.

With all those limitations, it is amazing that designers can still produce such diversity that communicates a genre and vibe so quickly.

Although authors rarely have much say in our covers, the team of professionals in a publishing company are experts in picking out color palettes, symbolism, and design elements to convey these messages in the space of only a few seconds. The cover is making a promise to the reader about what sort of experience they can expect once they open the page, which is why Bethany House puts so much attention on designing that image. People really do judge a book by its cover!

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! (Here she is becoming part of her latest cover.)

What about you? What is your favorite book cover in recent memory?

Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway!

Who doesn’t love a good party? Especially a party that involves talented authors and lots of amazing books? That’s basically what the Christy Awards is: a celebration of the best in Christian fiction.

This year, I’m excited to be on the Christy Awards board representing Baker Publishing Group and helping organize an event for authors before the awards. I’m beyond excited, and it’s only a month away now! Since I know that many of you live too far away to come (although see the invite below if a trip to Nashville sounds like fun), I decided to host a giveaway to get you in the gala spirit, and to draw attention to the finalists and their books, representing many different publishing companies.

Here’s how it works:

  • Leave a question at the survey posted on By the Book. (We might use your question for a panel.)
  • Then take a look at the 2017 Christy nominees and comment on this post with one that you’ve read and loved.
  • You’ll be entered to win your choice of a Christy-nominated book from 2016 published by Bethany House (Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey, A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter, Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden, or The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White).
  • I’ll announce and contact the winner next Thursday, October 19.

That’s it! Except for one last thing…if you live near Nashville (or want to make a road trip), we’d love to have you join us for the awards! Readers, the gala dinner is not-to-be-missed, and if you’re also an aspiring writer, there are workshops beforehand that you’ll want to check out as well.

You can find out more about the event below, or if you’re already convinced, you can register here.

About the Art of Writing Conference: The Art of Writing is designed to bring Christian creatives and publishing curators together for a half day of intensive seminars that celebrate the creative life, provide practical tips for overcoming challenges in a rapidly-changing industry, and answer questions authors are asking.

The speakers represent a wide range of roles and areas of expertise. Andrew Peterson, young adult writer and founder of the Rabbit Room, will give advice on how to create and benefit from a vibrant creative community, while Wheaton College professor Theon Hill, Ph.D. will present a survey of the obstacles and opportunities of diversity in Christian fiction. Authors will receive encouragement for the ups and downs of the writing life from blogger Carrie Schmidt and author, agent, and ACFW public relations liaison Cynthia Ruchti. Finally, a panel of representatives from major ECPA publishers will share insider information on where the genre has been, where it’s going, and the exciting changes they see in today’s market for writers. Learn more about the speakers and sessions here.

About the Christy Awards: The Christy Award™ is designed to nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview and showcase the diversity of genres. The award is named for Catherine Marshall’s enduring bestselling novel, Christy, published in 1967 and inspiring a continuing book series and a CBS television series starring Kellie Martin. The novel will be re-released in 2017 in a 50th anniversary legacy edition by Gilead Publishing in partnership with Kregel Publications.

Hosted by award-winning author and radio host Chris Fabry, this year’s celebration gala dinner will feature New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury as well as musician and writer Andrew Peterson. You can view the finalist list here.

Be sure to check out the fun on the rest of the tour!

Christy Award Celebration Blog Tour

Monday, October 9: Top Ten Writing Industry Issues at Seekerville
Tuesday, October 10: Give Us Your Best Questions at By the Book
Wednesday, October 11: Interview with Dr. Theon Hill at Reading is My Superpower
Thursday, October 12: Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway! at Bethany House Fiction
Friday, October 13: Quiz: Pick Your Gala Dress at Dani Pettrey’s blog
Saturday, October 14: Eight Reasons to Come to The Art of Writing at The Power of Words
Sunday, October 15: Interview with Carrie Schmidt at Bookworm Mama
Monday, October 16: Interview with Cynthia Ruchti at Just Commonly
Tuesday, October 17: Christy Nominee Bingo and Giveaway at Faithfully Bookish
Wednesday, October 18: The Unofficial Readers’ Choice Cover Awards at Singing Librarian Books

October 2017 New Releases

Happy fall, readers! You’ve come to the right place for five amazing new book suggestions. Go ahead and add them to your TBR pile, Kindle list, or Christmas gift suggestions. (Yes, it’s far too early to start thinking about the holidays, but I know many overachievers who like to get their shopping done long before Thanksgiving. It’s crazy.) For a look at what’s inside, click on the cover of each to start reading a first chapter.

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey

Plot: When a terrorist investigation leads FBI agent Declan Grey to a closed immigrant community, he turns to crisis counselor Tanner Shaw for help. Despite the tension between them, he needs the best of the best on this case. Under imminent threat, they’ll have to race against the clock to stop a plot that could cost thousands of lives—including theirs.

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Plot: Despite Victorian society’s strict rules for women, Rebecca and Flora Hawes’ desire for adventure has led them to the Sinai Desert. Accompanied by their young butler and their maid, the sisters search for a biblical manuscript. On their exotic journey, they experience challenges and wonders, and recall the events that brought them to this time and place.

A Plain Leaving by Leslie Gould

Plot: Returning for her father’s funeral, Jessica faces the Amish life—and love—she left behind years prior. Struggling with regrets, she learns about the life of a Revolutionary War–era ancestor who confronted some of the same choices she has. Will Jessica find peace during her visit, along with the resolution she hopes for?

A Dangerous Legacy by Leslie Gould

Plot: Telegraph operator Lucy Drake is a master of Morse code, but the presence of Sir Colin Beckwith at a rival news agency puts her livelihood at risk. When Colin’s reputation is jeopardized, Lucy agrees to help in exchange for his assistance in recovering her family’s stolen fortune. However, the web of treachery they’re diving into is more dangerous than they know.

Too Far Down by Mary Connealy

Plot: When an explosion at the mine kills workers and damages the CR Company, the Boden family is plunged deep into the heart of trouble yet again. As they try to identify the forces against them once and for all, Cole Boden finds himself caught between missing his time back in the east, and all that New Mexico offers—namely, his family and cowgirl Melanie Blake.

Question for you, readers: with cooler weather on the way, do you drink coffee, tea, or another warm beverage while reading?

Prayer for Authors: October 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 October:

Lynn Austin
Elizabeth Camden
Mary Connealy
Leslie Gould
Dani Pettrey

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.

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.–Isaiah 40:28-29 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For direction for any choices that need to be made for the future, and diligence in the daily tasks during release month.
  • For the ability to fight comparison to other authors.
  • For those here at Bethany House (and other publishing companies) to make wise choices and have a renewed ability to get quality books out to readers.

This Sunday, I’m so glad to have a group of readers who love to pray for our authors and be involved in their lives. Thanks for joining us!

Five Bookish Mysteries to Solve

Last week, I received the following Facebook message to the Bethany House Publishers page: “HI! I want all your pictures also the questions and mysteries you have.”

There are a few ways to interpret this cryptic message:

  • Someone used Google Translate and it went badly wrong.
  • A spam/robot account is sending me auto-generated messages.
  • This is a legitimate question that I should answer on the blog.

Being the reasonable person that I am, I’ve decided that Option 3 is clearly the correct one. The following are a number of mysteries, solved and unsolved, from my experience in Christian publishing (with pictures, though not all my pictures).

Mystery One: The Bethany House Logo

Is it a flame, possibly on the page of an open book? Is it an ink quill tip? Is it supposed to be both at the same time? And if it is both, does that mean that our authors are lighting the world on fire, or is it symbolic of the Holy Spirit?

Staff members are divided. You decide.

Mystery Two: Faceless Women

By which I mean the type of cover that shows only part of a woman’s face/head or none at all.

While there’s no hard evidence of why this trend exists, popular explanations include:

  • Some readers like to imagine the heroine’s face themselves, and the cover model could never be exactly what everyone is picturing.
  • There’s a certain mystery about a half-hidden face that intrigues people.
  • Something design-speak about proportions and lines and large faces sometimes distracting from the title and author name.
  • And, of course, Regina Jenning’s conclusive research into this issue from a few years ago, my personal favorite explanation for this one.

Mystery Three: Disproportionate Genetic Distribution of Redheads

Someone* at Bethany House actually counted the number of red-haired heroines in our books one year and found that it was 18% of main characters, vs. approximately 1.7% percent of the US population.

This is a startling genetic anomaly that clearly indicates that gingers are trying to take over inspirational fiction. (Or maybe it’s because in three-book series, authors sometimes like to have at least one redhead. That might be it too.)

Mystery Four: The Traveling Felt Art Disaster

At Bethany House, we have a monstrosity of a craft project that makes its way into the office of the newest employee to celebrate their first day. (I had to keep it up for 16 months, a new record partially because it was a long time before we hired someone new and I could pass it along and also because apparently editorial doesn’t make people display it the whole time because they’re interior design cowards.)

There are legends surrounding the original creator of this artifact. Trend-dating, indicated by the atomic tangerine flowers and gold sequins, edges the date of origin toward the 1970s and early 80s. (For reference, that’s when Janette Oke published Love Comes Softly and the rest of the series.) But no one really knows for sure, much like blurry photos of Bigfoot or unsolved cold cases.

Mystery Five: Unnamed Scrolly Things

What do you call those pretty decorative things? At a recent cover meeting, I was brutally and unfairly mocked for referring to them as “ those lovely doodly-doo whatchamacallits.”

I say unfairly because, in fact, no one else in the room could agree on the right answer. “Flourish,” “dingbat,” “decorative element,” “filigree,” “ornament,” and “embellishment” were all suggested as alternatives. Since all of these are either boring or just as odd-sounding as “lovely doodly-doo whatchamacallits,” I will continue to use my term of choice.

Side note: Ever since I found out that the Morse code on Karen Witemeyer’s Heart on the Line and the various languages on Connilyn Cossette’s Out From Egypt series all actually say something, I’ve been wondering how many of our covers contain secret messages.**

I could go on with more specific examples like The Case of the Plagiarizing Blogger with Three Names or the Mysterious Affair of the Red Pen Corrections on Public Signage, but this will have to do for now.

And to the person or robot who sent that original Facebook message…thanks for the laugh.

Do any of you have theories about these mysteries that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.

*It was me. I did that. Clearly, I need more to do to occupy my time.
**Probably all of them. You should be at least half as paranoid as me—it makes reading more fun.