Ask BHP: How Do You Determine Book Lengths?

First of all, thanks so much to everyone who participated in our Ask BHP survey! (You can still add your questions, but the giveaway winner has already been picked.)

There have been so many intriguing questions submitted already, including several I’m especially excited to investigate…because I have no idea what the answer might be!

This month, we’re pulling out a technical question, one that you may have wondered if you’ve noticed the difference in spine widths along your bookshelf: “Who decides how long a book gets to be? I know some books are longer than others, so who decides, and how do they decide on the length?”

When an author creates a book proposal, they often give the approximate word count of their novel. Debut authors—authors who have never published a novel before—almost always have a complete manuscript, so even if some editing might be needed, the word count is pretty easy to figure out. Authors who have published before, however, sometimes only have a few sample chapters and an outline…which they may or may not follow closely, so their word counts are more hypothetical. You can think of the estimated word count as the general goal the author is aiming for. It’s usually phrased something like: “90,000 words plus or minus 15%,” so it’s not a strict amount.

As far as why the number is chosen, the average length of one of our novels is in the 80,000-100,000-word range. There are some slight preferences—contemporary romance tends to be closer to the 80,000-word mark, some historicals will be more likely to creep toward 100,000 or beyond—but that’s a good general estimate to keep in mind.

One major exception is epic fantasy, which tends to be much longer…after all, the authors have to build an entire world and then introduce a threat that could end the entire world. According to our editors, the conclusion to Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, King’s War, set a new fiction length record: 656 pages and 222,000 words total, more than double our typical novel size!

Bethany House doesn’t currently publish children’s books, but of course every target age group within that industry has a different ideal word count, and even sentence length, based on reading level. (Along with those few Harry-Potter-like exceptions that defy length norms.) Mass market fiction and novellas have conventions as well.

As far as getting to that word count, some authors will “write long”—let their first draft go wild with subplots, long descriptions, backstory dumps, and other words that will be eliminated the second time they go through their manuscript. A few authors purposefully write scenes that they know will need to be cut or at least shortened later to keep the momentum of the story flowing, while others only decide in the editing process what might need to be trimmed. This gets them back down to the word count they’re aiming for.

The other camp is made up of those who “write short”—telling the basics of the story to get it out on paper, then going back and adding fun character details, smoother transitions, and additional tension-building scenes after they have a draft. The most minimalist will basically create a detailed, fifty-page outline for their first draft, but others will only be a few thousand words short that they then sprinkle throughout to make the story more vivid. This gets them up to the word count they’re aiming for.

There are always exceptions to word count goals, where authors start writing and realize they just can’t tell the story they’re trying to tell in the word count they decided on in earlier. (This seems to happen more commonly than authors who decide their book needs to be much shorter than they’d planned.) At that point, they talk with their editor to create a new word count estimate. If an editor reads a 120,000 word manuscript and decides, “A lot of these scenes don’t advance the plot,” they’ll suggest edits to get the word count down to the target amount.

But sometimes an editor reads a 127,000 word manuscript and decides that nearly everything is essential…which is what happened with A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green. Jocelyn explained it this way: “My first draft is usually between 100,000 and 110,000 words. But then, as we flesh out character development and subplot threads, I always end up adding more to the novel. I do delete entire chapters that weren’t necessary during that process, but what I add to the book always outweighs what I strike out. Dave and Jessica [Jocelyn’s editors] say that as long as the book doesn’t lag, and as long as every scene is necessary, they don’t mind the length. What we don’t want is an underdeveloped storyline or an abrupt ending, just to squeeze in the last chapter before hitting a certain word count.”

So there you have it! Word counts aren’t magical, but neither are they an exact science. Authors and publishers both want to make sure there’s enough space to tell a good story…without giving too much space for meandering.

What’s the longest book you can remember reading? How about a book you wish could be longer because you love the characters so much?

Prayer for Authors: January 2019

These are supposed to be posted on the first Sunday of the month, but since I forgot to schedule this yesterday and these authors still need prayer, we’ll just do this a day later! 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 January:

Tracie Peterson
Jen Turano
Kimberley Woodhouse
Jaime Jo Wright

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.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.“—Psalm 145:3-4 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the pursuit of life-giving goals rather than exhaustion from the need to compete or live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • For young readers in particular to find these authors’ books that share truths close to their hearts.
  • For a renewed ability to listen well to God’s voice and leading in life.

Thanks so much for taking time today to pray for these authors! We’ll see how God works through them in this new year.

January 2019 New Releases

It’s a new year, and that means lots of new books! This first month of 2019 brings us three new releases from talented authors, all with different tones and styles, so there’s something for everyone, whether you enjoy eerie suspense, laugh-out-loud romance, or historical adventures. Click on a cover to read an excerpt from the first chapter of each.

Flights of Fancy by Jen Turano

Plot Summary: To escape an unwanted marriage, heiress Isadora Delafield flees New York. Disguising herself as a housekeeper, she finds a position at Glory Manor, the childhood home of self-made man Ian MacKenzie. Ian is unexpectedly charmed by Isadora and her unconventional ways, but when Isadora’s secret is revealed, will they still have a chance at happily-ever-after?

 

Under the Midnight Sun by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Plot Summary: Fleeing her past, naturalist Tayler Hale accepts a position at the popular Curry Hotel in Alaska. There she must work with Thomas Smith, who calls the hotel home. As Thomas struggles to get used to the idea of a female naturalist, unexpected guests and trouble arrive at the Curry. They’ll have to band together to face the danger that follows.

 

The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Plot Summary: A century apart, two women seek their mothers in Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin. In 1908, Thea’s search leads her to an insane asylum with dark secrets. In modern-day Wisconsin, Heidi Lane answers the call of a mother battling dementia. Both confront the legendary curse of Misty Wayfair—and are entangled in a web of danger that entwines them across time.

What are your reading goals for 2019?

What Kind of Reading Challenge Would You Like to See?

Now that Christmas is over, I’m starting to look ahead to January, which for me means:

  • several weeks of crossing out 2018 before remembering the actual year.
  • bringing a massive stash of tea into the office to survive the winter.
  • getting excited about new releases from Jaime Jo Wright, Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse, and Jen Turano.
  • …and, finally, creating our annual Bethany House Reading Challenge.

But before I do, what are your thoughts, readers? Is there a particular kind of challenge you’d like to see? Here are some example:

  • A list of categories (“a book with an animal in the title,” “a book whose cover is mostly blue,” etc.) that you can check off.
  • One challenge per month instead of everything all at once, with a corresponding Instagram challenge for anyone following us there.
  • A setting challenge to motivate you to read books set in other states, countries, and eras.
  • Some other creative idea.

Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear what you’d prefer. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

We Need YOU to Ask Us Questions…with a Giveaway!

That’s right, all you readers and writers out there. It’s that time of year again, when I take a moment to refresh our Ask Bethany House mailbag by requesting you to send in your questions! As always, these can be about the publishing process, what it’s like to work with authors, how we do our various jobs, or anything else that relates to our books or our company.

This year, I have five short prompts to help you think of some great topics for me to write about on the blog. To thank you for coming up with great questions, we’ll also choose a winner to receive three books of their choice from 2018. A randomly-chosen winner will be contacted by January 2, 2019 via email.

If you’d like to check out the archive of Ask BHP posts and see what’s already been covered, go ahead. But no worries about duplicating something—there are lots of topics we write about multiple times.

One other note: if next year you see me answer a question close to yours, but not quite, sometimes if I see lots of people asking about the same thing, I combine their thoughts into one post so I can do the best job possible of covering topics that people want to know about.

Ready to start? You can find our survey here.

I look forward to seeing your responses…and investigating the answers to your questions in 2019!

The Perfect Christmas Gifts for 10 Types of Bookworms

It’s that time of year where you stand among towering bookshelves once again in an attempt to figure out what to buy your bookish friend or family member. Or maybe you’ve given them a Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift card for the past four years and decided that you need to change things up this time around.

This guide will give you gift ideas for ten different types of bookworms. Mix and match to fit their bookish type, or find them that one perfect gift that will have them curling up by the fireplace to enjoy with their Christmas read.

(Note: We are not affiliated with these links or being sponsored by any of these stores. We just like their stuff.)

For the Soon-to-Be Bookworm

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This cozy Storybook Baby Blanket from Storiarts is a wonderful Christmas gift that will please bookish parents or future bookworms. These soft screen-printed blankets feature text from children’s books such as: The Velveteen RabbitPeter PanThe Little Prince, and more!

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“Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so.”

Out of Print sells body suits, socks, tote bags, and books featuring children’s books that are affordable and adorable for your little one!

For the Young Adult Bookworm

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Don’t know what to buy the book-loving teen in your life? Sign them up for a book subscription box from OwlCrate! With this subscription service, you can purchase a monthly subscription box for anywhere between one to six months. Every box has a creative theme that will contain a brand new YA book, 3-5 bookish items (bookmarks, pins, prints, etc.), and exclusive goodies from the author.

For the Cozy Bookworm

SOCKS-1023_Book-Nerd-unisex-socks_03_1800x1800These fun socks will keep every “book nerd” happy when they cozy up with a book. You can find these at Out of Print along with multiple other bookish socks.

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What cozy bookworm wouldn’t want to keep their book feeling the same way? The Cozy Life Shop on Etsy makes fun book cozies that will fit any paperback book! Also, do any of you bookish Bethany House readers recognize that cover? I love that they featured Ronie Kendig‘s Crown of Souls in their shop photos!

For the Candle-Loving Bookworm

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Don’t these candles from the Paddywax Library Collection look amazing? I want all of them! Featuring famous classic writers such as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and more, these candles will make a fantastic gift for any bookworm who loves classic literature and magnificent fragrances! Also, each candle features a famous quote from the author’s writings.

For the Fashionable Bookworm

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The Storiarts scarves are a must-buy for anyone who likes to show off their love of literature. I own the Pride and Prejudice scarf and it’s my favorite article of clothing! Storiarts has a wide array of titles and designs that decorate their scarves, fingerless gloves, pillows, and more.

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Give him the option to add a little literary flair to his formal attire with these book cufflinks on Etsy! This specific shop has cufflinks from To Kill a MockingbirdThe Great Gatsby, Dracula, and James Bond.
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How stunning is this bookish packaging from Storybook Cosmetics? They sell brushes, lip sticks and glosses, eye shadow pallets, and more! You can buy their products on their website or at your nearest Ulta Beauty!

For the Bookworm Who Reads Everything

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You know that bookworm who reads every sugar packet, ketchup bottle, and menu item at the restaurant? These Litographs shirts will always keep them entertained. With shirts featuring artistic designs and text from over 200 titles, these will wow your bookworm.

For the Bookworm On the Go

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This is a quick and easy gift to give to the bookworm who doesn’t have much time to sit down and read. With thousands of books to choose from, Audible gives people the chance to listen to their TBR pile while they’re driving, flying, at the gym, or doing household chores.

For the Grammatically-Correct Bookworm

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These mugs will make your bookworm laugh out loud and nod in satisfaction! These Grammar Grumble Mugs can be bought as a collection or separately.

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Any member of the grammar police will be proud to wear this t-shirt for the greater good and education of the community.

For the Tea or Coffee-Drinking Bookworm

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First Edition Tea Co. on Etsy has black, green, herbal, and English breakfast literary tea that you can buy separately or as a collection. Their literary tea titles are: Alice & Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and Jane Eyre.

product_image.jpgFuel up your bookworm’s reading-filled weekends with this Readers Fuel from Book Lovers Coffee! They have both whole bean and ground coffee that is designed with a fun library slip and bookish quote.

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Whether your bookworm drinks coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, a book-themed mug is a gift that any reader would treasure.

For the Night Owl Bookworm

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“Just one more chapter” is a common phrase your late-night bookworm often whispers to themselves when they have picked up a new book. This folding book lamp is perfect for those reading through the night.

Bonus: For Every Bookworm

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If you need something last minute, or want to give your bookworm a fun stocking stuffer, every bookworm would be thrilled to receive a new book as a gift. Check out our monthly release announcements on our blog or the Baker Book House store for book ideas!

Bookworms: What bookish Christmas gifts do you suggest to your family members or friends?

These gift suggestions are brought to you by Rachael Wing, our Bethany House copywriter. (Notice the Pride and Prejudice scarf!)

 

December 2018 New Releases

As Christmas approaches, nothing sounds more appealing to me than curling up in front of a fire with a good book. This is also the season where I see social media posts about Iceland’s charming (and very real) holiday tradition of giving a gift of books on Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading and drinking hot chocolate. Anyone else out there feeling jealous of Iceland right now?

I’m happy to announce that we have some books that would perfectly fit into this amazing tradition. Check them out by clicking the covers to read an excerpt of the first chapter.

The Lieutenant’s Bargain by Regina Jennings

Plot Synopsis: Confirmed bachelor Lieutenant Jack Hennessey is stunned to run into Hattie Walker, the girl who shattered his heart…and she’s just as surprised to find her rescuer is the neighbor she once knew. But his attempts to save her from a dangerous situation go awry, and the two end up in a mess that puts her dreams in peril—and tests his resolve to remain single.

The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen

Plot Synopsis: Much has happened in Ivy Hill, and while several villagers have found new love and purpose, questions remain—and a few dearly held dreams have yet to be fulfilled. When a secretive new dressmaker arrives, the ladies suspect she isn’t who she claims to be. While the people of Ivy Hill anticipate one wedding, an unexpected bride may surprise them all.

Mind Games by Nancy Mehl

Plot Synopsis: When an anonymous poem predicts a string of murders, ending with her own, FBI Behavioral Analyst Kaely Quinn is paired up with Special Agent Noah Hunter, who resents his assignment. But this brazen serial killer breaks all the normal patterns, and soon Noah and Kaely must race against time to catch the murderer before anyone else—including Kaely—is killed.

Searching for You by Jody Hedlund

Plot Synopsis: After witnessing a crime, Sophie Neumann disappears with her two young charges on an orphan train heading west. At the first stop, she faces the most difficult choice of her life. Reinhold Weiss has finally purchased his own small farm when an old friend shows up, pleading for help. But how can he help her when mounting debts and past scars still haunt him?

What books do you hope to receive this year for Christmas?

Prayer for Authors: December 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 post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in December:

Jody Hedlund
Regina Jennings
Julie Klassen
Nancy Mehl

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.

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.“—Ephesians 6:23-24 (CSB)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For times of rest and peace in a busy release month and holiday season.
  • For the ability to set aside comparison, unrealistic expectations, and the need for control.
  • For Christian books, fiction and nonfiction, to reach lots of readers this Christmas and make an impact.

We know it’s a busy time of year as we start Advent, so thanks for taking a few moments to remember these authors and their books in prayer with us.

8 Things Guaranteed Make Readers Happy

Last month, we talked about reader pet peeves—those annoyances that really make us mad—but this week is the fun part. Here are some things that will make any reader want to do a happy dance. Enjoy, share your own ideas in the comments, and pass along to a reading friend…or maybe a friend or spouse who doesn’t quite “get it.”

One: Reader-to-Reader Understanding

Whether it’s checking in constantly with a friend to see if you can finally gush about your favorite novel with someone else or sharing those relatable memes on social media about books, the need for more books, or the need for less feedback from people who think you have enough books already, readers love to be understood. And who can understand them except other book-lovers?

This is also present in a more negative way when you need to vent with someone who agrees that the movie adaptation falls dramatically short of the book or that so-and-so *must* get together with what’s-his-name in the sequel or you will riot.

My Happy Reader Level: 4-6 depending on the depth of my need for reader empathy.

Two: Canceled Social Events or Obligations

Okay, so this isn’t always true—readers like people too—but every now and then it’s nice to have an unexpected evening to curl up with a good book. So don’t feel too bad if you have to unexpectedly change plans…chances are your reader friend will hang out with a party of fictional characters instead.

My Happy Reader Level: 2 most of the time, occasionally 4 (sorry, I’m an extrovert).

Three: Casual References to a Classic Novel

Whether you’re name dropping Big Brother or Mr. Darcy or sneaking in something a little more obscure and hoping someone else will be a kindred spirit and pick up on it, it’s fun to see nods to some of the literary greats. And for the record, if you say, “Speak, friend, and enter” when I knock on your door, you better believe that we will be friends from then on if we weren’t already.

My Happy Reader Level: 6, with an 8 for references to lesser-known favorites

Four: Overhearing Strangers Talk About Books

You know you feel a small sense of kinship when you spy someone in the dentist office reading a favorite novel or you hear someone in the library two shelves over recommending a beloved kids’ book. Whether you respond to the stranger or not, it’s fun to know that there are lots of readers out there in the wider world. My favorite example of this happened a few years ago while in line at a Subway at the Minneapolis airport. Two traffic control employees were making small talk behind me that went like this:

Guy: So, you’re more of a Shakespeare girl, then, huh?
Girl: Yeah, my favorites are Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet.
Guy: I gotta be honest: I didn’t read any of them in school when we were supposed to. What’s the draw?
[Girl proceeds to summarize the plot of R&J, to exclamations of surprise from the guy—“You’ve gotta be kidding. Why didn’t he check to make sure she was dead?” etc. While girl moves on to the difference between comedies and tragedies, guy smoothly pays for girl’s sandwich. Girl feigns protest, guy gallantly says it’s the least he can do for the literature lesson.]

If you do not find this heartwarming and adorable, I don’t think you are really a reader.

My Happy Reader Level: 9 for this story, 6 normally. I can’t help it; I love eavesdropping.

Five: Finding a Character Who is Like You

Spotting your name in a book is always fun (although apparently my first and last name was once the victim of a gristly murder, so that’s unfortunate), but personality traits and physical quirks are always delightful too. You know, like: “What! A heroine with different-colored eyes! I thought I was the only one” or “This character’s stress-shopping for housewares online is the most relatable thing ever.” The only downside is realizing that the person you would be best friends with doesn’t actually exist in real life. Bummer.

My Happy Reader Level: 4, when I’m not the murder victim.

Six: Recommendations of an Amazing Book

Whether you let someone know that a bestseller actually earned the hype or you suggest a “hidden gem” that very few have discovered, a couple of spot-on recommendations and you’ll be a reader’s friend for life. There’s a special excitement when you love a book from a new-to-you author and then find out that the author has a book list of a dozen more already published. Backlist party!

My Happy Reader Level: 7, with occasionally bouts of 9 and the rare 11 for a Top Ten recommendation.

Seven: Beautiful Libraries and Bookstores

Okay, let’s be honest: pretty much all libraries or bookstores, but the ones that are cozy or grand or delightfully interactive are especially fun to visit. (If you’re ever in Minneapolis, be sure to check out Wild Rumpus.)

Just make sure you have some time if you take a reader into one of these sacred spaces…there’s no such thing as a “quick peek.” Unless by “quick,” you were measuring in hours instead of minutes. Possibly days…

My Happy Reader Level: Base of 3, with my happiness rising a level for every 15 minutes I get to spend there.

Eight: Book-Shaped Presents

Am I the only one who, as a kid, purposely scoped out the haul under the Christmas tree to set aside, with great glee, the smooth, rectangular ones with just the right heft to be a book? It got to the point where my parents were wrapping books in shoeboxes just to maintain an element of surprise. There are other perfectly serviceable present options out there, of course, but how else can you gift wrap an entire world? Nothing else quite measures up, in my opinion.

My Happy Reader Level: 7, unless I actually open those presents and find out it’s a stationery kit or cookbook or something. (Nothing against cookbooks, they’re just not straight-through reads, and also feel slightly unattainable.)

What else is guaranteed to make you happy, readers? Or which one of these on the list have you experienced lately?

A Prayer for Readers at Thanksgiving

Today, as we number our blessings, we are grateful for so many undeserved gifts. Here are just a few of them:

We’re thankful for the friends and family who have impacted our lives in deep ways…and also for the fictional characters who have done the same.

We want to take time to appreciate the moments of hope in the middle of hard times that we’ve experienced in our lives…and in books that we’ve read.

We can list dozens of new places and experiences we’ve had in the past year…and some of them involve visiting other countries and era through the pages of stories.

We are grateful for the actual feast before us…and for a feast of knowledge through books that teach, entertain, challenge, and give us perspectives outside our own.

Happy Thanksgiving from your fellow readers at Bethany House!