Ask Bethany House: Do You Hate One-Star Reviews?

This month’s Ask Bethany House question takes a look at a somewhat-controversial subject: “As a publicist who works with reviewers, do you ever get mad when you see one-star reviews of your authors’ books?”

So, let me first note that while I love my Bethany House authors, I have a good deal more objectivity when it comes to reading negative reviews than the authors themselves. After all, I didn’t spend months (or even years) of my life lovingly crafting a fictional world and putting imaginary people through trauma to get to a happy ending.

To give you a glimpse behind their side of the desk, I’ve heard of authors who…

  • Don’t ever read reviews to avoid obsessing over them.
  • Find one-star reviews normal and sometimes even hilarious.
  • Feel completely crushed and stressed out when they first read a scathing review.
  • Ask a friend to read bad reviews and pass on any reoccurring themes that might be helpful as they write the next book.
  • Love to read five-star and one-star reviews of their books and others’ because it gives the whole spectrum of who the book’s audience is (and isn’t).

Back to the actual question. I admit, I’ve gone through pretty much all of those stages when it comes to our authors’ books. Where I’ve landed is this: not every book is for every person. That’s just the way it’s going to be, and one-star reviews are evidence of that.

Sure, there are times when reviewers will make a completely unsubstantiated claim or reveal that they were biased against the book from the start…but clearly, they weren’t the intended audience for the book in the first place, and if they want to disclose that to the Internet as a whole, fine by me. It’s only in an environment where people feel able to say anything about a book that you can trust the praise of glowing, five-star reviews.

(Although one clarification: I always recommend that book reviewers keep it classy and refrain from making harsh generalizations or personal attacks on the author. There’s a difference between critical and mean.)

To prove my point—one-star reviews are necessary and even a little bit fun—below are excerpts from one-star Amazon reviews of award-winning Christian fiction…along with some commentary by me. I’m leaving the titles off for all the authors out there who might still be a bit sensitive to these words. But trust me, these authors are all highly regarded and for each book included, there were hundreds of four- and five-star reviews.

“The chapters were a combination of jarring, illogical ‘bad’ events interrupting a dry litany of ‘Old West’ chores and Christian ‘values.’”
Do you know what I like in my fiction? Logical “bad” events in the “Old West.” Otherwise the “author” will lose my “attention” really “easily.”

“Formulaic. Too easy to predict. Less of a historical piece and more of just a disguised romance novel.”
[Another one-star for the same book] “This was classified as a romance novel and it just doesn’t seem like one to me. Nice story, wrong genre.”
Clearly, Bethany House got the genre wrong on this one. Twice. In opposite ways. Continue reading

Fiction Readers Summit Highlights

After mentioning that I would be at the Fiction Readers Summit last weekend, I got a few requests to share highlights. Well…if I really wanted to do that, I’d just start listing names. But since some of you would like to experience the actual event vicariously and not just listen to me gush, here are a few of my favorite parts.

Author panel selfie taken by Bethany Turner…such a great group, even if you can’t see all of them!

  • Watching at least four of the authors (possibly more too shy to admit it) declare that they came to the event to meet Lynn Austin and get a book signed by her.
  • Listening as readers shared answers to authors’ questions in the reverse panel—from humorous confessions of starting with the last page first to heartfelt tributes about why they read Christian fiction.
  • Surreptitiously taking notes on those answers because the reader panel was basically a focus group for what people are interested in seeing in fiction and I can’t shut down my marketing brain.
  • Greeting some authors I’ve appreciated from other publishing companies. (Yes, I do read books that aren’t published by Bethany House occasionally.)
  • Realizing that Jody Hedlund, Jocelyn Green, and I all graduated from Taylor University and posing for an alma mater photo.

  • Learning lots of behind-the-scenes research details, including how suspense writers convince people they’re not serial killers, which tiny historical errors have accidentally slipped into print, and what the brainstorming process looks like.
  • Hearing authors recommend books they love—including many written by other attending authors.
  • Meeting some of our fabulous bloggers who have seen my name in emails but found out that I am an actual person.
  • Laughing. A lot. Readers are a fun-loving crowd.
  • Enjoying breakfast burritos with readers who stammered and jaw-dropped their way through celebrity author sightings…and then eventually calmed down enough to hold a coherent conversation.
  • Applauding the amazing organizational committee and wondering what I have to do to become as awesome as Chris Jager (fiction buyer at Baker Book House).
  • Giving away books as door prizes! (Seriously, I love doing that.)
  • Seeing all the selfies from the book signing go up on social media, each one representing another autographed book on someone’s keeper shelf.

So, that’s the scoop on the Summit. There’s a second event planned next year in August, and we’d love to see you there! Check out the event website for the dates, with more details to come soon.

Have you ever gotten the chance to meet a favorite author in person? Tell us about it!

10 Ways to Be a Publisher’s Favorite Person Ever

Last week, I shared some pet peeves common among book industry people. (Except for a few that probably just bother me, but hey, still helpful information, right?)

Thankfully, very few readers fall into the categories I laid out in the last post, because people who love books are almost universally delightful. But there is also a small subset of readers who, as a publishing company employee, I especially appreciate. Read on for the ten things you can do to gain entrance into the elite, gold-star group of Bethany House’s Favorite Readers.

Defending an Author

Now, there are some people who are clearly trolling—saying something inflammatory just because they want to, and hey, fire is fun! Stay far, far away from those online conversations. Do not engage. Repeat. Do not engage. Over and out.

Also, this is not your moment to go all growling pit-bull over someone’s comments. (“I would never do that,” you say, but just you wait till someone calls your favorite book “sentimental trash,” my friend. Common sense can go out the window.) Remember, the person you disagree with might view the world differently than you do or just had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day. And regardless, there’s a really good chance that person is, in fact…a person, and thus infinitely valuable and deserving of respect.

All that said…nothing warms my publicist heart more than seeing a reader commenting on a review or Facebook post with a thoughtful and gracious “Have you considered this?” reply. Especially when I really wanted to say the same thing but felt like I couldn’t.

Being Understanding

This will shock absolutely no one, but sometimes I make mistakes. And sometimes another person on the marketing team makes a mistake. So, here is an open letter:

To Everyone Whose Copy Got Lost in the Mail or Was Sent Late, Who Got The Wrong Giveaway Prize or Never Heard Back or Otherwisely Has Good Reason to be Annoyed With Me or My Team:

I’m sorry. Really. And thank you for being gracious.

Because of my interactions with readers are sweet, considerate messages like, “I thought you might like to know about the typo on page 59 for future printings” and “If it’s not too much trouble, could you forward this email on to my favorite author?” and “When you get a chance, can you update me on the on the status of this?” All of that is very much appreciated by someone who has a thousand balls in the air and has never been a flawless juggler. (Okay, outside of the analogy I can’t really juggle at all.)

Supporting Your Local Bookstore

Obviously, not everyone lives near an actual physical bookstore, but if you do, make sure to stop in and buy there. Publishers and authors are thrilled about the access Amazon and other online retailers provide…but we also need stores to stay in business so there are multiple channels for books to get to the world. Plus, we like the people who own and work in bookstores—I’ve met dozens of them at author and retailer events and they are almost universally delightful—so we want them to be successful.

Commenting on Our Blog and Facebook Posts

I get it. Bethany House Publishers is more a vague-ish entity than a person, and it seems strange to have a conversation with an organization. Or, in the case of our logo, something that might be any one of the following, or a combination of two: book, flame, quill pen. (No one knows…take your pick.)

Since Facebook doesn’t show posts to most of the people who have “liked” our page, here’s one easy way to stay in touch. Go to our Facebook page, and under the “Following” tab, select “See First.” That way, you won’t miss the fun. (And don’t worry, I usually only post 4-5 times a week, so I won’t be spamming your feed.)

Then, if you see a question at the end of a blog post or on Facebook…answer! Engage! Talk to me! Otherwise I’ll feel like the lonely kid in middle school whose one friend was absent and she fled to the library so she wouldn’t have to sit alone at lunch. (Yes, that scenario is totally hypothetical. Totally.)

Beyond pity, it’s just fun to join in conversations like these. Readers need to stick together, and I hope we’re able to create a welcoming environment for interacting about all things bookish.

Thinking Deeply

If this is not your thing, totally fine. Enjoy reading! Love the story and the characters. Post a simple (hopefully five!) star review and one sentence about what you enjoyed. Seriously, that matters, both to an author’s confidence and for things like Amazon algorithms—and hey, I see your eyes glazing over when I talk about boring things like that, but seriously, they keep authors in business.

BUT, that said…I have a soft spot for the readers who just clearly get it. They know what the author was trying to do. They explain, either at a book signing or in a review or to their friends on social media why the suffering in the early chapters was critical to redemption later. They phrase an insight about a book’s theme or characters so well that I learn new things. They pick the perfect quote to capture the heart of the story. It’s beautiful and makes me ridiculously happy.

Gushing

This isn’t the opposite of what I listed above, but it is different. Maybe there’s not a single bit of analysis of how the symbolism relates to the theme or whatnot, but instead this type of review pours open the floodgates of reader-love emotion to explain exactly why you should visit the book’s setting right this instant, or how the cover of this book is frameable, put-above-your-mantle art, or why even if every other reader in the world falls in love with the hero, he is YOURS.

Super fun. I love it. And authors do too!

Encouraging Authors

Obviously, social media has its downsides, but one of the huge upsides is that authors can hear directly from readers. I can’t tell you how much that means to all the writers toiling away at their next book. Your kind words might arrive at just the right time to make a difference.

So, I’m declaring today “Go Give an Author a Virtual Hug Day.” Go ahead. Find an author on Facebook or through a contact form on their website and send a simple message of thanks and appreciation.

I’ll wait.

(This is not a cutesy rhetorical device. Like, I obviously have no way to check on you and make sure you do this…but you should. Right now. Before you talk yourself out of it, because it really is not painful, and it will bring both you and an author joy.)

Getting Excited About Winning

Seriously, I love getting delighted emails from book or prize winners expressing their enthusiasm. And if you want to know about more giveaways, join our brand-new giveaway group! In there, I’ll only post about giveaways so as not to clutter up your social media feed and to give you a one-stop place to find out about where you can win free books. (And to those of you who think you never win anything…I’m with you. The only time I won something was when I pulled my own test email address from a BHP contest and had to disqualify myself. Which just proves that you never know what could happen!)

Working on Your Own Writing

I know we have so very few publishing slots open, as a traditional publisher with limited capacity and lots of authors who continue to be part of our Bethany House family. That can feel very discouraging to a lot of aspiring writers out there. But do know that we are for you in your pursuit of knowledge about the craft and art of writing. Even if we aren’t ever able to publish one of your manuscripts, every person who works at Bethany House loves stories and seeing them reach readers with truth. So keep learning and growing and writing!

Saying Hi at Events.

I love meeting readers. Not going to lie, partly because it makes me feel like a celebrity in front of my boss, but mostly because it’s fun to put faces to names that I’ve seen online. Also I like giving hugs, so there’s that.

So if you’re at an author event, the ACFW conference, the Christian Fiction Reader’s retreat, or any other reader place I might frequent, be sure to introduce yourself. (I’ll be at the Christian Fiction Summit in Grand Rapids tomorrow, hint to anyone who’s attending!)

Okay, readers and writers! Anything that you see fellow readers doing, in person or online, that makes you sure you’ve found a kindred spirit? (I almost put “Loving Anne of Green Gables” as a bonus item on the list, but I’m sneaking it in here instead.)

Prayer for Authors: May 2018

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 pos

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in May:

Rachel Dylan
Jody Hedlund
Becky Wade

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.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.“—1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For an eternal perspective while writing (and marketing and prioritizing family and thinking of ideas for the next book).
  • For opportunities to connect with, mentor, and learn from other writers.
  • For readers to take the truth in these books and share that truth with others.

Thanks again for joining us in prayer for these authors and for other people in your lives. I love this particular tradition, and I know our authors do too.

May 2018 New Releases!

Welcome to May, everyone! We’ve got some new books (and lovely covers) for you to admire. All three this month are technically second books in series, but they all stand alone and are connected by setting or reoccurring characters. We hope you enjoy them…and to help you get a sneak peek, you can click on each cover to read an excerpt.

Together Forever by Jody Hedlund

Plot Summary: Marianne Neumann became a placing agent with the Children’s Aid Society with one goal: to find her lost sister. Her fellow agent, Andrew Brady, is a former schoolteacher with a way with children and a hidden past. As they team up placing orphans in homes in Illinois, they grow ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy changes one of their lives forever.

Lone Witness by Rachel Dylan

Plot Summary: When prosecutor Sophie Dawson is the lone witness to a gang-related double homicide, her world is turned upside down. Private security guard Cooper Knight is hired to protect Sophie from the gang, but she’s more concerned about prosecuting her latest case than the threat to her life. Sophie wants to stand for what’s right, but can Cooper keep her safe?

Falling for You by Becky Wade

Plot Summary: Willow Bradford is content taking a break from modeling to run her family’s inn until she comes face-to-face with NFL quarterback Corbin Stewart, the man who broke her heart—and wants to win her back. When a decades-old family mystery brings them together, they’re forced to decide whether they can risk falling for one another all over again.

 

Do you have a genre you find yourself drawn to more than others?

10 Ways You Could Get on a Publisher’s Bad Side (But Please Don’t)

Okay, readers. Let’s talk publisher pet peeves.

Now, I know none of you reading this are the sort of readers I’m going to talk about, because you all love authors. I’ve met many of you in person and enjoy watching your enthusiasm for all things books, so no worries, your names are written firmly in the book of “Bethany House’s Favorite Fans.” Still, I thought I’d share in case you ever see discussions about some of these topics online. You can now contribute with authority on some of the major no-nos for interacting with authors and publishers.

Harassing Authors Online

Maybe “harassing” is a strong word, because I’m including not just spammers and stalkers, but also people who find the need to go directly to an author to air their various grievances. These include, but are not limited to: why charging for an ebook is highway robbery, why the author’s latest Facebook post was SUPER OFFENSIVE, and how they are unsure about the state of the author’s soul/eternal destiny because of what was written on the fifth page of chapter 17. Authors tend to be a sensitive lot, and messages like this can send them into an existential crisis, so I’d recommend ranting to your friends instead and only messaging authors when you can say encouraging things.

Piracy

You know when I like pirates? When they are animatronic and part of a Disney World ride. That’s basically the only scenario. Frequenting sites that rip off authors by giving away their books for free is not only illegal, it’s maddeningly unethical. If you like books, logically you should want to support their authors so they can write more books. (Also, libraries exist and are totally legal ways of reading free books. Because we all know buying all the books we want would cost our annual salary and turn our homes into the library from Beauty and the Beast. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all bad.)

Missing the Point

This one may be personal, but when I see a Facebook comment or blog post that argues something I feel is hopelessly off-base—like saying that literary fiction is the only sort with value or all romance novels are emotional pornography or that a particular book affirmed something that it really didn’t or that the fantasy genre was probably started by the actual devil—I get really sad. Like, I just want to sit down and have coffee with that person and ask questions and calmly exchange opinions and circle all of their logical fallacies with a big red pen that I stole from editorial.

Pitching Your Book to Us Online

So, clarification: I never mind when readers politely ask on our Facebook page if our editors will be at a particular conference or whether we accept unsolicited submissions (no) or if we publish picture books (not at the moment), and so on, even if a bit of research would have given them the answer.

But don’t be that person who, after being sent a link to our submission guidelines, chooses to tag Bethany House on Twitter, link to the whole manuscript in a Facebook message with an attention-grabbing graphic, calls our receptionist multiple days in a row, etc. It won’t work. We still won’t look at the manuscript if you don’t follow the rules, and it only makes a bad impression.

Although I do have a file of hilarious typos from pitches sent to me via social media. Like the novel I was sure was the Christian version of Jurassic Park when it turned out that the “book about the army after the raptor” was actually supposed to the be “the army after the Rapture.” Disappointing. Very disappointing.

Being Entitled

Sometimes, due to trying to use the marketing budget or my time wisely, I just can’t open up a giveaway of expensive-to-ship items to international readers or send your book club autographed postcards or guarantee Dee Henderson’s latest novel will be published in Portuguese. If I say no, that really means I can’t, because I love saying yes, so please have pity on my people-pleasing little heart by being gracious and not telling me you’ll never buy another Bethany House book again. (Yes, that’s happened.)

Specifically on turning down requests for free books: trust me, if it was up to me, I’d be on a parade float shoveling out copies of our books to the waiting masses like they were literary confetti. I love readers and giving away books. But…I also love authors, which tempers my love for giving away books, because if I want them to make money and keep writing those books.

Burning Down a Library

Oddly specific? Yes. But on the last book tour, we stopped at a library where this had actually happened, and it made me so mad that I was almost shooting flames myself. (But not at the books in their temporary location.) Say no to arson!

 

That’s it for general readers. If you happen to review books (either professionally on a blog or informally on retail sites like Amazon or Goodreads), these next ones might sound familiar. Most of them apply with an extra exclamation point for those who are receiving review copies for free from the publisher or author.

Being Mean

I get the dilemma here. You picked up a book that you had every reason to think you’d like (see “Should-Have-Known-Better” otherwise), but you didn’t. It was boring or confusing or just not your style, and now the review is due. What should you do?

A. If you’re on a blog tour, ask if you can post an excerpt or feature instead.
B. Summarize the plot, say a few things you liked, and graciously explain the ones that you didn’t.
C. Talk about the sort of reader who would enjoy the book even if it wasn’t for you.
D. Rant about the book’s faults, insult the writer directly, or detail what you hated in painfully vivid terms along with supporting quotes.

(Hint: There is only one wrong answer here.)

Plagiarizing

Come on, guys, we’ve known since grade school that you don’t take others’ work and pass it off as your own. At Bethany House, we’ve caught a few people who get free books from us and then copy-paste a review from another blog onto their own. Nothing makes our marketing assistant madder, and you don’t want to mess with her when she’s mad.

Making Should-Have-Known-Better Book Choices

This doesn’t always overlap with the mean review, but usually there’s a flagrant red-flag that should have told the reviewer not pick the book up. Saying, “I hate this genre, but for some reason I hoped this book would be the magical exception” or “Every other book by this author has been on my Worst Book Ever list, but I decided to request this one anyway” is a clue that maybe you should’ve passed. Sure, if a fellow reader recommends “a romance for people who don’t usually like romance,” I get it. Or if an author is clearly changing directions in a way you think you might like, fine. But otherwise, it’s seems a little unfair to read a book you’re already biased against and then roast it in a review.

Reselling Review Copies

There may be different rules out there, but here is a fairly standard list of dos and don’ts when you receive a free review copy:

Totally fine: donating the book to a friend or the church library, using your copy for a giveaway, putting the book on your keeper shelf with large warning signs that even if it looks like you have too many books that is totally false and DO NOT TOUCH THIS ONE.

Not fine: reselling the book online, burning it (unless you’re snowed in and literally have no other fuel).

Why? By receiving a street team, influencer, or review copy, you’re signing up to help the author’s sales. Even if you end up not caring for the book, making a profit off of that free copy is both stealing a sale from the author and kind of just cheating.

 

Okay, that was all the negative stuff. Follow the blog (by entering your email in the box to the left under the list of posts) to read next month’s post where I’ll stop ranting and talk about all the delightful things that readers can do to make a publisher happy. Thankfully, there are many, many more items on this list, and more people who fit into them.

Authors and readers, do you have any pet peeves to share? This can include: treatment of books, infuriating comments, unanswerable questions, and anything else that disturbs your writer/reader peace.

Five Novels with Librarian Characters

National Library Week ended last Saturday, so I know this post is several days late. In my defense, I celebrated by traveling on a book tour with Beverly Lewis, who spoke and signed and met readers at a number of fantastic libraries in the Midwest. (You can view pictures of those signings here to get a glimpse.)

That got me started thinking about some delightful novels with librarian heroines. To celebrate libraries and librarians everywhere, give these books a try.

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Librarian Character: Shy-but-fierce Anna O’Brien, one of the few female librarians in the early days of the Library of Congress.

Additional Fun Fact: The author, Elizabeth Camden, is a real-life research librarian at a university.

Bookish Quote: “Ever since becoming a librarian, she’d been feeling the vibrant golden chain that reached back centuries to other librarians, archivists, and historians, all of whom had chosen the same quest: the collection and preservation of the world’s knowledge. Was there any more noble pursuit in all of human history?”

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Librarian Character: Imaginative and somewhat-flighty Alice Grace Ripley, who supplies books to rural Appalachia when she loses her librarian job during the Great Depression.

Additional Fun Fact: The story includes historical details about “packhorse librarians” who rode up the mountains with books in the 1930s.

Bookish Quote: “Librarians are serious people, seldom given to idle jocularity. The reason for this, I believe, is because we are overwhelmed by the enormous number of good books waiting to be read, leaving little time for frivolity. My personal list of must-read books presents a daunting challenge; I can’t even imagine the pressure that our head librarian must be under.”

A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

Librarian Character: The mysterious Rosemary Gresham, posing as a librarian to spy on a potential threat to Britain during WWI.

Additional Fun Fact: All of our ideas for the book cover revolved around a library scene, but a few of the alternate covers showed Rosemary’s (fake) wire-rimmed spectacles.

Bookish Quote: “How bad could a library really be? She had her answer when Holstein swung the double doors open, inward. Perhaps, once, the room had been majestic. The ceiling soared high overhead, a magnificent mural painted on it. The chamber stretched the whole width of the house. Shelves lined the walls, floor to towering ceiling. Lined with books, all of them. Then with books stacked in front of them. Books stacked on the floor. Books stacked on the chairs, the tables, lining the windowsills. Boxes of them. Random cases of them at odd places.”

True to You by Becky Wade

Librarian Character: Sweet and spunky Nora Bradford, genealogist and library director in a historical village.

Additional Fun Fact: Nora is a true bookworm who is particularly fond of period dramas—several real ones and one Becky invented for the story.

Bookish Quote: “I found this place five years ago,” she told him. “I love it except that I’ve run out of bookshelf space again, so I’m going to have to declare eminent domain on yet another wall. I don’t have many walls left. Soon I’ll have books as a kitchen backsplash.”

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen

Librarian Character: Gentlewoman Rachel Ashford, the somewhat-reluctant owner of a lending library she created with books inherited from her father.

Additional Fun Fact: The quotes introducing Chapter One are excerpts from primary sources about the circulating libraries of the Regency period.

Bookish Quote: He grinned. “Did I not promise you would learn to enjoy reading? And far more quickly than I imagined.”
She nodded. “And I’ve told several people how much I am enjoying the book, so I already have a waiting list to read it when I am finished.”
His dark eyes glimmered with approval and something more. Admiration? Fondness? Pleasure and fear twisted through her in a single chord. Careful, Rachel warned herself. Don’t confuse a love of books with something more.

Just for fun, we’ll pick two commenters to win their choice of one of the books above. (Winners will be chosen on 4/26/18.) To enter, answer this question in the comments: What is something you love about your local library?

Ask BHP: What Do You Look For in a Manuscript?

“What makes you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a manuscript from a new author?”

This question was submitted to our Ask BHP survey in various forms, so for all the aspiring authors and curious readers out there, I’m going to focus on one of the later steps in the process: publication board.

At Bethany House’s pub board, the acquiring editor for the project—the one who has interacted with the author or agent and is championing the manuscript—will present persuasive reasons why we should make an offer for a particular novel.

Present around the table are other editors as well as people from our marketing, sales, and rights departments. We’ll all have looked at the sample chapters and book proposal, which gives a summary of the plot, describes the potential audience, lists marketing ideas, and includes other helpful information. Sometimes we’ll even read (or at least skim) the whole manuscript when considering a new fiction author. Most of us come to the meeting with a list of questions, possible concerns, and sometimes strong opinions of whether we want the team to accept or reject a project up for consideration.

Here are a few questions we ask and answer in our pub board meetings to decide what new fiction projects are a good fit for Bethany House. (Remember, these have already gone through several steps before getting to pub board, so there’s nothing here about the basics like correct grammar, coherent plot, and general awareness of good practices in writing.)

Is this too similar to something we’re already publishing?

In a broad sense, there are only so many writers of a particular subgenre that we can publish well without feeling crowded. In a more particular sense, if we have a book coming out next season with a very similar plot or setting, we may need to pass on a manuscript.

 

Will the author make a good marketing partner?

Many industry blogs talk about the importance of a strong platform for new writers. This is absolutely critical for nonfiction authors, and while an impressive following isn’t as important in fiction, we do look to see if the author knows how to promote their books and has included ideas, statistics, and examples in the book proposal. That way, we know that the author will be joining us in getting the word out about the book, which can be helpful for sales.

Is the writing strong?

This is somewhat subjective, but then again, remember that we have read a lot of Christian fiction, even in genres that we don’t personally care for, so we notice when an author’s voice has a little extra sparkle…or when it doesn’t. When we talk about the writing, we explain what we do or don’t like, and often the editors will get other “first readers” from inside the company to weigh in on the writing to make sure we’re not biased by, say, a few people who just really don’t like first-person point-of-view.

At this point, no manuscript is badly written, and we’re all aware that the editors will be asking the author to make changes, but we usually talk about big-picture things that couldn’t be fixed without a total re-write. For example, we might argue that the premise isn’t very suspenseful, or the narrator’s voice is off-putting, or only one of the dual timelines actually interested us.

What are books similar to this one doing in the marketplace?

This one is a strict sales question where we look at the potential audience for the book—is the author inspired by any trends that give it a strong hook? Is this genre seeing a resurgence, or slowly tapering off? Are there a thousand other books just like this out there, or none at all? (Usually both of these extremes aren’t the best for convincing the sales team this can sell.) If the author has past sales, independent or with another publishing company, we’d consider those as well.

Are we excited about this project?

This is so subjective that I’m sure it can be frustrating to hear. But the fact is, if the marketing team in particular finds a new author’s manuscript just doesn’t work for them, then the author probably wouldn’t want us to publish it. We’re the ones explaining the book to the sales team and promoting it to readers, so it would be better for the project to find a home where everyone was 100% enthusiastic about it.

Are the strengths of the manuscript worth any potential drawbacks?

And by that, I don’t really mean strengths or weaknesses in the quality of the writing, which I mentioned earlier. Here are a few examples of possible pros and cons we might need to discuss.

  • Will readers be okay with an unusual setting/time period if the book has a strong cast of characters?
  • There are lower sales for [insert genre here], but this is amazing writing.
  • This plot feels overdone, but the setting is unique.
  • The author’s sense of humor might not catch on, but it has potential to stand out because of that.
  • This is a controversial subject, but handled with grace.
  • We have an unknown author with no platform but a compelling, fresh voice.
  • This is totally different than anything we’ve done before…but it’s totally different from anything we’ve done before.

Sometimes we choose to pass on a project after weighing these pros and cons, sometimes we move forward. The factor most likely to convince us to take a risk is when multiple people on the pub board truly love the author’s writing style and think they have a compelling story to go along with it.

When we think of “our” readers—people who read Bethany House books—is this story something they would be interested in?

Of course, we’re always looking to reach new readers, but the majority of a new author’s audience will likely be readers who enjoy other Christian fiction that we publish. Because of that, we want to make sure a book feels like it fits our audience. We’ve occasionally said no to a great story that had too many dark elements to it, or felt theologically off for our readers.

As you can see, most of these questions are not personal to the writer, or even to his or her manuscript (although I’m sure it can feel that way). When we don’t choose to offer a contract for a debut author’s novel, it’s not because we think it’s terrible trash unworthy of publication. Not at all. Most of the time, it’s for a combination of more subtle reasons, like the ones above.

Just know that we’d love to publish more books…but there are only so many slots in a year for a traditional publisher. Sometimes we see that a story we had to turn down for one of those reasons finds a home elsewhere—one that is probably a better fit for both the story and the author.

And for the new authors we do have, we’re always delighted to introduce their first novel to the world. (Some recent debut novels have been The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright and Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette. You should check them out…they’re amazing!)

Did any of these questions surprise you? Any other questions you have about the pub board process?

Prayer for Authors: April 2018

Usually, I post this update on the first Sunday of the month, but since last Sunday was Easter, I decided to wait a week. 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 April:

Patrick Carr
Mary Connealy
Beverly Lewis
Nancy Mehl
Debra White Smith
Lauraine Snelling

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.

Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”—Galatians 6:9-10 (CSB)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the ability to be a blessing to others through writing.
  • For energy and perseverance to develop as a writer and finish the next project.
  • For those who encounter these books to find something within them that makes them think.

We love having you gathering together with us in prayer, readers. Many thanks, as always!

April 2018 New Releases!

Welcome to the first full month of spring! Whether it’s warm and sunny where you are or snowy and freezing like it is here in Minnesota where Bethany House is located, we hope that you’ll enjoy this batch of April books! We’ve got a wide variety of genres—Amish, fantasy, historical, suspense, Western, and contemporary romance. And don’t you just love the new covers for the Jane Austen series?

If you’d like to try out an author’s style, click on the cover to be taken to an excerpt. Happy reading!

The Road Home by Beverly Lewis

Synopsis: Sent from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Lena Rose Schwartz grieves the death of her Amish parents and the separation from her siblings as well as her beau, Hans Bontrager. She longs to return home to those she loves most. However, she soon discovers that Lancaster County holds charms of its own. Is she willing to open her heart to new possibilities?

The Wounded Shadow by Patrick W. Carr

Synopsis: As the influence of the Darkwater Forest grows, the kings and queens of the north desperately try to contain its power while Willet Dura and the Vigil seek the truth of its origins. But danger stalks the rulers of the kingdoms and the Vigil. Together, they must discover a path to keep their land safe, or surrender their world to the growing darkness.

A Breath of Hope by Lauraine Snelling

Synopsis: Though Aunt Gerd has softened towards them, Uncle Einar remains a harsh landlord as two more Carlsons, Nilda and Ivar, join Signe and Rune at the farm in Minnesota. When tragedy lays a dark secret bare, the Carlsons and Strands will have to come together and become a true family.

Blind Betrayal by Nancy Mehl

Synopsis: U.S. Marshal Casey Sloane is tasked with escorting a reporter to testify before a grand jury regarding a missing environmentalist. At first, the assignment seems routine. But when it becomes dangerously clear that there’s more to the story than anyone knows, Casey and two other Marshals—one a man from her past—will have to do whatever it takes to survive.

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy

Synopsis: Trace Riley has been self-appointed guardian of the trail ever since his own wagon was attacked. When he finds the ruins of a wagon train, he offers shelter to survivor Deborah Harkness and the children she saved. Trace and Deborah grow close working to bring justice to the trail, but what will happen when the attackers return to silence the only witness?

Possibilities, Amanda, and First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Synopsis: In these updated Jane Austen retellings, three young women must trust God with their futures.

In First Impressions, Lawyer Eddi Boswick tries out for a production of Pride and Prejudice in her small Texas town. When she’s cast as the lead, Elizabeth Bennet, her romantic co-star is none other than the town’s most eligible—and arrogant—bachelor.

In Possibilities, When Allie falls in love with a young man her family thinks is unworthy of her wealthy Southern upbringing, she yields to the pressure and ends the relationship. But when they find themselves in the same city years later, can she face her regrets before he falls for someone else?

In Amanda, A bit of a busybody, Amanda always has her friends’ best interests at heart. She prides herself on her matchmaking skills . . . but when nothing seems to be going according to plan on the beautiful island of Tasmania, can she learn to listen to her own heart?

 

Are any of these books on your to-be-read list?