Ask BHP: Is It Hard Not to Over-Analyze Books?

Our Ask BHP question this week dips into the personal reading habits of Bethany House staff: “As a publishing employee, can you turn off the analytical side of your brain when reading for fun, or are you always critiquing the story in your head?”

As someone who works in our marketing department, the main time I’m reading in Analysis Mode is when I’m reviewing a manuscript that we’ll be considering at our Publication Board, where representatives from marketing, editorial, sales, and rights discuss potential contracts with authors. For new fiction authors, we usually get the full manuscript weeks ahead of time, giving me a chance to read it so I can come prepared to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the questions I ask myself as I do so:

  • Does this seem to be a good match for our target audience? (Interests, spiritual/theological background, etc.)
  • Is this different enough to stand out without being so unique that it won’t appeal to readers?
  • How would this fit with other books we’re publishing?
  • Are the characters well-developed?
  • Is the middle of the story interesting enough to carry readers through?
  • After I read the first three chapters, what, if anything, makes me want to read more?

When I’m reading a book for fun outside of work, I obviously don’t feel the same kind of responsibility to go through a checklist like that. It helps that I also read in several genres outside of the Christian fiction I immerse myself in at work (nonfiction of all sorts, ABA mysteries and fantasy, middle grade fiction, literary classics…let’s be honest, basically anything with pages).

This might also be a chicken-egg conundrum: I’ve spoken with several editors who said they went into editing because they already had a natural bent toward analyzing and critiquing a story’s structure, characters, and plot. Working in publishing probably strengthened those skills, but it didn’t create them in the first place.

I think most of us would say that while we can’t exactly “turn off” the part of our brain trained by working in publishing—deciding if the cover makes the genre clear, admiring the author’s voice, predicting what might happen next—the better a book is, the easier it gets to set the technical questions aside and just enjoy reading. After all, if I’m not making a marketing plan for the author or evaluating the manuscript for our publication board, I don’t really need to be thinking about all of those things. All I really have to decide is whether I like it or not.

I probably am somewhat more critical, or at least aware, of the choices the author is making because I’ve spent the past five years in publishing, but “off the clock,” I’m a reader just like any other.

Then again, all readers are on some level, asking questions like “Does this opening chapter grab me?” “Is the plot too predictable?” and “Do I care about these characters, or do I kind of hope they fail because they’re so annoying?” Maybe you wouldn’t actually describe your reading process that way, but we’re all analyzing the story at some level. Hopefully not to the point where we can enjoy ourselves or get lost in a great story, but in a way that helps us appreciate what we love about our favorite authors.

Your turn, readers! What is it about a good book that makes it easy for you to turn off your analytical side and just enjoy the story?

The Secret Life of Bookstagrammers

There’s a hidden world out there, full of perfectly draped scarves, shelves organized by color, and cabinets filled with candles that would put Bath and Body Works to shame. Welcome to Instagram, where readers love to share their favorite new and old reads in a fun, visual way.

Since we work at Bethany House Publishers, we have #AllTheBooks, so that’s not a problem—but let’s face it, it’s the extras added to the photos that catch your eye. When we decided to get into this social media outlet, we decided there were two different strategies for doing well in the bookstagram world.

Option One: Keep a massive collection of random pretty things to put in pictures, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Old-fashioned props like a quill pen, vintage postcards, typewriter keys, an entire Gutenberg printing press, etc.
  • Letter boards. Also infinite patience for how long it takes to write anything using letterboards.
  • Surfaces of every conceivable material (marble, tile, actual redwood tree planks, anything that looks like Joanna Gaines might have touched it).
  • Charming book-themed items: Alice in Wonderland tea, Jane Austen action figure, Edgar Allan Poe-ka dot socks, Hobbit-themed candles…none of these are made up.
  • Blankets. So many blankets.

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Or you could try Option Two: Be creative.

This is what we went with. At Bethany House, we mostly use what we have on hand for our photos. Some props are ones ordinary readers might not have access to (Regency costumes, galleys, our amazing rolling bookshelf ladder like the one in Beauty and the Beast), but other times you’ll see everyday items you probably have around (a cup of tea, playing cards, shattered glass from a broken lamp, potted plants).

It is also entirely possible that we have gone into a home decor store to take pictures there, giving ourselves access to dozens of new props and background surfaces. But if you ask us about it directly, we will deny everything.

Some bookstagrammers will keep a standard background like their bookshelf or wood background and just change out a few props. That will give your feed a consistent look and won’t require an art degree to arrange a new layout every time. Of course, if fancy is your thing, go for it!

That’s all well and good for a publisher, you might be thinking, but why should I bookstagram?

  • You can get great book recommendations. We know, we know, your TBR pile is long enough. But when you see a particularly eye-catching picture and compelling review caption, it can lead to your next favorite author. Plus, the community reads so broadly that you’ll probably hear about genres you might not have discovered otherwise.
  • It’s a fantastic way to support authors. A simple share or comment can be a great way to keep the cover and title in your book-buying friends’ minds, and a pretty picture that gets a huge amount of interaction might bring in lots of new readers.
  • “It’s for Instagram” is the perfect one-size-fits all excuse for all kinds of strange behaviors, from wandering around the woods with a sword to hunkering underneath a tablecloth in the mailroom with all the lights off to climbing on top of unsteady surfaces to capture a photo. Not that we’re speaking from personal experience. Of course not.

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If we’ve convinced you and you’re interested in using Instagram to share about your favorite reads, here are a few tips:

  • Set up your account as “public” if you’re wanting to promote books—you use a private account for sharing what you’re reading with friends and family, but it will be hard to interact with the bookstagram community.
  • Post photos of your current reads, your TBR stacks, and the fun environments where you’re reading your book! (For photo ideas, check out publishers’ and authors’ tagged photos to see what their readers are doing.)
  • Make sure you are posting clear photos using natural light or other good lighting.
  • Use hashtags like #Bookstagram, #BookLove, #BooksOfInstagram, and others to connect with other readers.
  • Check to see if the author and/or publisher has an Instagram account. If so, follow them and tag away!
  • Once you get started, try participating in a #BookstagramChallenge. It will ask you to post pictures on set days to a particular prompt along with other readers and is a great way to make connections.

Also, be sure to follow us at @bethanyhousefiction to keep an eye on our new releases, enter book giveaways, participate in bookstagram challenges, and get a behind the scenes look at our world.

How about you, readers? Anything you like to put on Instagram to show off your favorite books?

Prayer for Authors: April 2019

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 April:

Lisa Bergren
Davis Bunn
Jennifer Delamere
Beverly Lewis

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 the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.”—James 3:17-18 (CSB)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For efficiency with tasks or parts of the writing/publishing process that they enjoy less.
  • For readers who wouldn’t normally read faith-based fiction to pick up one of these books.
  • For upcoming writing projects at whatever stage they might be in.

I really appreciate these monthly times of prayer. What a joy it is to know that readers are praying for our authors and their books! Thanks so much for joining us.

April 2019 New Releases

These new releases from Bethany House this month will transport you to new times and places, from Lancaster County to the West Indies, from London to the coast of Africa. Adventure, romance, and secrets abound…just click on any of the covers to start the story by reading an excerpt.

The Tinderbox by Beverly Lewis

Plot Summary: When Sylvia Miller finds her father’s old tinderbox left unlocked, her curiosity is piqued. She opens the box and uncovers secrets best left alone. A confrontation with her father leads to a shocking revelation that will forever change not only her own life but also that of her family and her Amish community.

Verity by Lisa Bergren

Plot Summary: Englishwoman Verity Banning decides to start a business importing horses and other goods the residents of the West Indies need. This trade brings her to New York, where she meets revolutionary Ian McKintrick. As a friend to many Loyalists, Verity has always favored a peaceful resolution. But when a Patriot lays claim to her heart, she’ll have to decide for what—and whom—she will fight.

The Artful Match by Jennifer Delamere

Plot Summary: At loose ends in 1881, Cara Bernay befriends a carefree artist, the brother of the handsome but infuriating Henry Burke, the Earl of Morestowe. Recognizing the positive influence she has on his brother, Henry invites her to accompany them back to their estate. When secrets on both sides come out, Cara devises a bold plan with consequences for her heart.

Outbreak by Davis Bunn

Plot Summary: Along the coast of West Africa, strange algae is growing and mysterious deaths are rising—until suddenly, with the sea currents’ shift, the deaths stop. Professor Theo Bishop and biological researcher Avery Madison are the only ones who know the truth. Will the authorities heed their warning before it happens again?

What is a book you’re excited about this spring, whether it’s one of these books or another title?

The Golden Pages Awards

Thinking about the Oscars recently, I wondered what it would look like if there was a bookish award ceremony. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a red-carpet event to recognize all the individual components of our favorite books?

Welcome to…the Golden Pages Awards, a completely made-up, just-for-fun chance for you to recommend some of your favorite fiction books to readers. I created a number of specific categories in a Facebook album (ones that probably wouldn’t make their way into any serious award ceremony), and you can head over and recommend books by commenting on each certificate, or by “liking” others’ suggestions. No need to choose Bethany House books. Any books you’ve enjoyed are welcome!

There won’t be an official winner ceremony, but if you want a list of books to check out, be sure to stop by and see what your fellow readers are buzzing about!

Most of the “nominations” will be happening in the Facebook album, but if you don’t have Facebook, feel free to comment below with a title that you’d give a five-star review.

Looking forward to see what you come up with, readers!

Ask Bethany House: What Annoys Authors Most?

This month’s Ask Bethany House question caught my eye because of its focus on readers: “Most of the time, I think it’s great that readers like me can connect with authors easily on social media, through their website, etc. But sometimes I hear stories that make me wonder if there are things that readers say that bother or annoy authors. What would some of those be? (So I can avoid them, ha!)”

First of all, super interesting question! I agree that for the most part, easy access to authors is one of the amazing things about the Internet. Almost all authors love being able to hear from readers and know their books are making a difference.

That said, there are some questions or comments that are harder for authors to know how to respond to. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I have any ideas for good responses, which is how I know which reader comments are more likely to be problematic.

Take these with a grain of salt—there are contexts where saying these things may be totally fine, and if you’ve said one of these in the past, it’s not a big deal. These are just etiquette tips from what I’ve observed working in publishing. (And yes, most authors have gotten all of these in different forms.)

Each individual author’s preferences will vary…but I don’t know of a single author who doesn’t appreciate a spontaneous kind word from a reader. That’s something you can always count on! Continue reading

Character Name Giveaway!

Isn’t it fun to read a book and find a fictional character with your name? (Unless that fictional character is a nefarious villain, of course; that’s a different story.) Just for fun, I decided to list off the main heroines of our novels releasing from May 2018 to April 2019.

Want to enter a fun giveaway? Just comment on this post if you share a name with one of these characters. (Alternate spellings are accepted.) Or, since we know that will leave out a lot of our readers, you can also comment to tell us about a friend who shares a name with one of these characters. On Monday, March 18, I’ll choose two winners to receive the book with their name and another book of their choice.

Sophie: Lone Witness by Rachel Dylan

Willow: Falling for You by Becky Wade

Marianne: Together Forever by Jody Hedlund

Katherine (or Kit): A Defense of Honor by Kristi Ann Hunter

Rosalind: A Daring Venture by Elizabeth Camden

Mielle (or Michelle): King’s War by Jill Williamson

Evangeline: More Than Meets the Eye by Karen Witemeyer

Grace: The Best of Intentions by Susan Anne Mason

Kate: Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey

Annalise or Libby: The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright

Judith: In Dreams Forgotten by Tracie Peterson

Temperance: Caught by Surprise by Jen Turano

Marie or Annie: A Simple Singing by Leslie Gould

Zanna: The Lady of Tarpon Springs by Judith Miller

Tzivia: Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig

Maggie: The First Love by Beverly Lewis

Kenzie (or Mackenzie): In Times Gone By by Tracie Peterson

Janelle, Tennyson, or Ruthie: The Cost of Betrayal by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason

Evalina: An Hour Unspent by Roseanna M. White

Anna: Legacy of Mercy by Lynn Austin

Sarah, Ruth, Fleeta, or Maddie: The Christmas Heirloom by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade

Gwen: The Reluctant Warrior by Mary Connealy

Sofea (or Sophia): Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Nilda: A Season of Grace by Lauraine Snelling

Salome: Jerusalem’s Queen by Angela Hunt

Selene (or Selena): Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

Hattie: The Lieutenant’s Bargain by Regina Jennings

Kaely: Mind Games by Nancy Mehl

Jane or Mercy: The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen

Sophie: Searching for You by Jody Hedlund

Thea or Heidi: The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Tayler (or Taylor): Under the Midnight Sun by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Isadora: Flights of Fancy by Jen Turano

Daphne: A Return of Devotion by Kristi Ann Hunter

Leisel: A Faithful Gathering by Leslie Gould

Mia: Breach of Trust by Rachel Dylan

Catherine: Between Two Shores by Jocelyn Green

Eloise: A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden

Penny: The Unexpected Champion by Mary Connealy

Johanna: Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin

Lizzy (or Elizabeth): When You Are Near by Tracie Peterson

Emmaline: The Highest of Hopes by Susan Anne Mason

Verity: Verity by Lisa Bergren

Cara: The Artful Match by Jennifer Delamere

Della: Outbreak by Davis Bunn

Sylvia: The Tinderbox by Beverly Lewis

Which book above has your (or your friend’s) name twin?

Prayer for Authors: March 2019

This Sunday, 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:

Kate Breslin
Mary Connealy
Susan Anne Mason
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.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”—2 Corinthinans 4:17-18 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For patience and perseverance in trials, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
  • For multiplied time to deal with many requests (and the ability to prioritize well).
  • For readers to be reminded of the truth of who God is through these books at just the right time.

Once again, thanks so much to all of you who are “regulars” on these prayer posts. We appreciate you taking the time to pray for these authors and their books!

March 2019 New Releases

For this first month of spring, we have four lovely new historical romance novels for you, each of them exploring a unique time period in history. (Also, two of our historical heroines are wearing pants! Which was a different sort of costume to search for than our design team is used to.)

Which of these new releases will be perfect for you? To find out, click on the covers to start reading an excerpt. We’re so proud of all of these authors and their fantastic books!

Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin

Plot Summary: In spring 1918, British Lieutenant Colin Mabry receives an urgent message from a woman he once loved but thought dead. Feeling the need to redeem himself, he travels to France—only to find the woman’s half sister, Johanna, who believes her sister is alive and the prisoner of a German spy. As they seek answers across Europe, danger lies at every turn.

The Unexpected Champion by Mary Connealy

Plot Summary: City dweller John McCall never expected to find himself in the High Sierras on a wild-goose chase to find a missing child—and the presence of the strangely attractive wildcat woods-woman Penny Scott only confuses him. When he and Penny are kidnapped out of the blue by a dangerous man, they must find a way to escape before the worst happens.

When You Are Near by Tracie Peterson

Plot Summary: In early 1900s Montana, Lizzy Brookstone’s role as star of an all-female wild west show is rewarding but difficult. However, trials of the heart and a mystery to be solved prove more daunting. As Lizzy and her two friends, runaway Ella and sharpshooter Mary, try to discover how Mary’s brother died, all three seek freedom in a world run by men.

The Highest of Hopes by Susan Anne Mason

Plot Summary: After her grandfather’s death, Emmaline discovers her supposedly deceased father actually lives in Canada. Shocked, she decides to go to him. Accompanied by her friend Jonathan, who harbors a secret love for her, Emmaline arrives in Toronto—to her father’s dismay. Will she give up, or will she stay? And will Jonathan have the courage to tell her the truth?

If you could step into the scene of one of these covers, which one would you pick?

Thanks for the Challenge…and a Giveaway!

For those of you who’ve seen Bethany House Fiction on Instagram, you know we’ve been busy this month. Today marks the end of our “For the Love of Books” Instagram challenge. We posted a picture on a particular theme every day, and readers joined in with over a thousand entries during the month of February! We were stunned by your creativity…if you haven’t yet, you should take a look at all the bookish images we got to enjoy.

We’ll be choosing winners among the Instagram participants tomorrow after February is officially over, but here’s a special giveaway just for our blog readers to celebrate a successful Instagram challenge.

Just go to our Instagram profile and look over our February posts. Pick one that you especially liked, then come back and comment on this blog post with the reason why. We’ll choose a random comment on Monday, and that reader will win their choice of one of the books in the Instagram post they selected. (This is open to US and international readers.)

Thanks so much to all who participated…it’s been an extra-fun February with all the book love you put out there!