Ask BHP: How do Authors Make Characters Unique?

This month’s question from our Ask BHP mailbag has to do with the process of writing a book. A reader asks, “When authors are planning characters, how do they make sure that their leads feel like individuals? Put another way, what methods do authors use to keep their protagonists distinct, especially if they’ve written lots of books?”

Clearly, this is not one that I’d be able to answer as a marketing employee, so I went to authors of our August releases. Combined, they have written over 90 novels and novellas, which means they have experience with a lot of characters. Here’s how each of them approaches the process of making their lead roles stand out.

Jen Turano: When I’m plotting out a series, I only have a smidgen of an idea who the characters truly want to be. It’s not until I start writing the story that their character traits really come out, and that happens when I settle on what their quirk might be. For example, Mr. Harrison Sinclair is colorblind. Well, that right there led to all sorts of amusing scenes because he’s just a hot mess when it comes to fashion. And then take Miss Temperance Flowerdew. When I started the Apart from the Crowd series, she was incredibly timid, so much so that she rarely spoke. However, but the time I got around to writing her story in Caught by Surprise, she’d changed into this outspoken, adventure-seeking heroine. I hadn’t planned on her turning into that, she simply wouldn’t cooperate as a timid sort, so, as I do with every book, I just let her have her way.

Ronie Kendig: Characterization is one of the most vital steps to drawing compelling, unique characters. When I go into a book or new series, I make sure I’ve spent dozens of hours exploring who that character is, what has formed them as an individual, and what they want out of life. Then I upend all that with the plot. Ultimately, the “skeleton” I use to flesh out a hero might be the same (they may all be a Messiah archetype for example), but his background, his heritage, his wounds and goals will be unique to him. I mean, after all, most of us out there can fit into one of a handful or two of basic personality types, but our experiences, our lives, make us unique. The same is true of characters in a book.

Leslie Gould: In my mind, my characters are as distinct as my family and friends, but I do put a lot of thought into their development so that they’ll feel like originals to my readers too. I do online personality tests for my characters, map out their major life experiences, and carefully choose physical appearances and mannerisms that don’t duplicate past characters I’ve created. Once I know their basic characteristics, I can figure out their wounds, goals, and motivations. By that point, they’ve come alive to me and are on their way to being characters my readers will love too!

Judith Miller: When I begin a new book, I “interview” my main characters, and as I come to know them and what has influenced them throughout their lives, I discover more of their personality and what makes them distinct. I think we must go beyond eye and hair color. For instance, I may have a female character who is very flamboyant, but as the reader gets to know her, they discover she’s using her flashy behavior to hide her insecurity or self-loathing. Of course, I do enjoy physical descriptions that are a little unique, as well. For instance, a male character who is thought to be good-looking except for his clumsy gait. I think the key is knowing your character and what makes him/her tick.

Great answers! Okay, readers, describe a quirk, habit, or hobby of someone you know that would be perfect for a fictional character.

5 Signs That You’re a Booklover

Today on our blog, we have a special guest: Serena Hanson, a life-long reader and our Bethany House summer intern. She’s got some great ways to diagnose your addiction to books. See how many apply to you!

You know you’re a Booklover if you show these common symptoms:

1. You suffer from distraction.

When you’re in the middle of a good novel, it can be very difficult to focus on ordinary tasks. It can be a small, nagging sensation in the back of your mind that you’re missing something. Or it can be full-blown obsession over getting home to find out how in the world the main character is going to get out of the mess he’s in. Either way, it is very distracting.

2. You are unable to stop reading.

If you find yourself constantly thinking, “just one more chapter,” you’re a Booklover. Once you start a novel, it’s almost impossible to stop. You may find yourself looking at the clock, only to think: “Sure, it’s one in the morning, but I need to know if his message was in time to save his love from her kidnapper!” Or you might walk around the house unable to tear yourself away from the book in your hands, bumping into doorframes and answering in monosyllables whenever anyone speaks to you. Many Booklovers have also been known to burn their dinners by attempting to read and cook at the same time.

3. You get book hangovers.

Have you ever finished a good novel and felt like you can’t quite adjust back to reality? You walk around for the next few hours or days in a slight haze, irritable, slightly depressed, and just not yourself. The fact is, you’re not yourself. Part of you is still stuck between the pages of that novel. You haven’t fully returned to this world yet.

4. Friends and family members notice that you talk to yourself.

Okay, you’re not actually talking to yourself. You’re talking to book characters. The novel gets exciting, and you just can’t contain yourself. I know that I’m definitely guilty of this one.

If you have said any of the following to a printed page, you are a prime candidate for a Booklover diagnosis:

  • “Nooooooo!”
  • “Can’t you see that it’s a trap?”
  • “He’s lying to you! She doesn’t love Randall. She never did!”
  • “Wow buddy, even I saw that coming.” Or, vice versa: “Oh my goodness! I never even guessed!”
  • “Get in there and tell her how you feel!”
  • “Shoulda listened to me five chapters ago and you wouldn’t be in this mess.”
  • “So beautiful.” *sniff sniff* “I knew this day would come.”

5. You experience random outbursts of crying.

Other people might look at you in surprise, but you know that your tears are completely justified. The protagonist’s brother has just died, or two lovers have parted never to see each other again, or the faithful golden retriever fell off a cliff trying to save a baby, or any number of horrible things! Seriously, they should have a warning label on books: “May cause tears and/or the desire to drown your sorrows in chocolate.”

If you have two or more of these symptoms, you should seek advice at your local bookstore immediately. There is no known cure for this condition, but don’t panic. It is very common and is not life threatening. In fact, some even say that it enhances your life (and if they do, they’re probably Booklovers themselves).

Okay, readers, time to share: which Booklover symptom do you relate to most?

I’m Serena Hanson, the summer fiction intern at Bethany House Publishers and a confirmed Booklover. I’ve loved stories since before I can remember, from my mom reading me board books about raisins and strollers to devouring full-length novels as I grew up. As a girl, my favorite pastime was sitting in a hammock I made out of a bed sheet, reading whatever new book I’d found at the library.

Prayer for Authors: August 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 August:

Leslie Gould
Ronie Kendig
Judith Miller
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.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.“—Col. 3:15 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For renewed a sense of peace about future decisions, writing-related or otherwise.
  • For opportunities to share the message of their books with others.
  • For those who recommend books to readers, especially librarians or booksellers, to know who might need a message of hope.

Knowing that so many of you come to these posts each month to pray for our authors is a real encouragement to me…and to them. Keep it up!

 

August 2018 New Releases!

Welcome to another month of beautiful covers and page-turning stories. And my, do we have a variety of genres this time! One glimpse at the cover will tell readers the kind of story that’s inside, but while the settings, characters, and plot points inside are vastly different, we know that you’ll enjoy all of them. To start reading, click on each cover for an excerpt.

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig

Summary: Tox Russell must complete his final mission before he can begin his life with Haven Cortes: retrieve the ancient sword of Goliath and destroy the Arrow & Flame Order. The AFO is determined to have the sword, and they are blackmailing part of the Wraith team to do it. Will Ram’s secret be exposed before its ramifications tear the team apart?

 

The Lady of Tarpon Springs by Judith Miller

Summary: Zanna Krykos eagerly takes on her friend’s sponging business as a way to use her legal skills and avoid her family’s matchmaking. But the newly arrived Greek divers, led by Nico Kalos, mistrust a boss who knows nothing about the trade. Yet they must work together to rise above adversity after the mysterious death of a diver and the rumor of sunken treasure.

 

A Simple Singing by Leslie Gould

Summary: Marie Bachmann has always been the good Amish daughter. But when two men, a Mennonite farmhand and a bishop’s rebellious son, show interest in her, she finds herself at a crossroads. On a journey to Florida and back, she grapples with her heart, finding inspiration and hope for the future in the story of a brave Civil War–era ancestor.

 

Caught by Surprise by Jen Turano

Summary: Temperance Flowerdew is on her way to work when she is abducted and put onto a Chicago-bound train. When Gilbert Cavendish is called to play the hero, he has no idea that the damsel in distress is his friend. Temperance is grateful for the rescue but unwilling to give up her newfound independence—not even to save her reputation. But will she do it for love?

Here’s a fun question for you, readers: take a look at how the title is arranged on each book (the font, additional graphics, logo). What does it tell you about what the book will be like?

Award Celebration Giveaway!

At the RWA conference, several of our authors were honored with awards. We here at Bethany House love cheering them on in their successes!

Jaime Jo Wright won the Daphne du Maurier award in the Inspirational category for The House on Foster Hill.

Rachel Dylan won the Faith, Hope, and Love Reader’s Choice Award for Deadly Proof in the romantic suspense category.

And Tracie Peterson received a Centennial Award for more than 100 published romance novels. (Yes, you read that right, and that’s not including her novellas!)

Because we’re so proud of these authors, I’m hosting an impromptu giveaway on the blog. We’ll choose three winners to pick a book by one of the three authors above as their prize. To enter, “like” at least one of these authors’ pages on Facebook (Tracie Peterson, Rachel Dylan, Jaime Jo Wright), then come back to comment on this post with the answer to this question: “What’s a book you recently read that you’d like to give an award to?” (If you’ve already liked one of these authors’ pages, just comment. No need to say whose page you liked, we’ll just check that the winners have done so before contacting them.) Giveaway closes on Monday, July 30.

Inside the Book World: Interview with Anna Henke

Today on the blog we have a special guest: Anna Henke, a writer who’s an expert in the magic of intriguing and hooking readers with fantastic copy. Readers, enjoy this inside peek at another part of the publishing process, and writers, read on to learn why it matters to craft those marketing sentences perfectly.

Amy: Tell us about your background in the world of publishing and copywriting.

Anna: I worked as a copywriter at Bethany House for six years before branching out into my own copywriting business, The Resident Writer, where I serve self-published authors by creating cover copy that captures attention. I’m now broadening my clientele to include a wider range of creative people, but books have always held my heart. That’s why I got into publishing in the first place.

Amy: How is the blurb on the back cover different from the synopsis of a book that authors include in their manuscript proposal?

Anna: It’s so different! Or at least it should be. The synopsis of the book is just a play-by-play of what’s going to happen. The blurb on the back needs to be strategically written to give out just enough nuggets to entertain and intrigue without giving away any twists or surprises. The cover copy should set the stage, not tell the story. That’s my approach for fiction.

Amy: That’s a great way of putting it. You’ve mentioned the need for strategy…so why does back cover copy matter from your perspective?

Anna: It matters because it’s what seals the deal for most people! The author or the cover draws them in, whether they are buying in person or online. But it’s the blurb on the back that reveals just enough of the story that determines whether a purchase is made. If the purchase is being made online, the description is even more critical. Think about the last time you bought a book online. Sure, you clicked on the cover. But what made you really want the book? THE DESCRIPTION. It’s everything.

Amy: As a reader myself, I totally agree with that. Thinking about writing that description, it seems like a huge challenge to take a full novel and condense it into just a paragraph or two. Where do you usually start, and what does your process look like from there? Or is it different for each book?

Anna: I obviously start by reading the manuscript. I make a few notes of phrases I like for taglines and major plot points. Then I sit down with those notes and really have a think. What is the most compelling part of this book? What leads up to that? Anything beyond that point I completely leave off the cover. I try to match the tone to that of the author’s, which is when my notes come in handy. I also like to use an actual phrase from the book as a headline if possible. I just let it flow from that point!

Amy: You make it sound so easy, but I know from talking to writers and editors that it’s not! 🙂 Are there any common mistakes you see when authors write their own copy?

Anna: The most common mistake is treating back cover copy like a standard synopsis instead of a marketing blurb. It all goes back to your second question. They are two different things. Many authors just summarize the book and leave it at that. But it needs to be compelling. It should represent the book well. And also, genre really matters for cover copy. Authors should research bestselling blurbs in their niche before writing their own, because each genre has patterns that should be followed unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb.

Thanks for joining us, Anna! Readers, do you notice the copy on book covers? (There’s a person behind it—and if it’s from a traditional publisher, it’s not the author. It’s probably a copywriter like Anna.) Writers, is there anything you’ve ever wanted to ask a copywriter? Let Anna know in the comments!

Anna Henke is the woman behind the blog and the business The Resident Writer. With a background in publishing and copywriting, she helps female entrepreneurs clarify their message, connect with their ideal clients, and capture sales through captivating copy that converts. Learn more and at www.theresidentwriter.com.

Ask BHP: What Should New Writers Know Before Going to a Conference?

This month’s Ask BHP Question is from an aspiring writer: “I know one of the best ways to meet editors like the ones at Bethany House is attending conferences. I’m planning to go to my first one in the fall of this year. Anything I should know about appointments with editors?”

Here are some tips from one of those editors you might be meeting with. Raela Schoenherr is one of our acquisition editors and an all-around fabulous human being. Here’s how she answered this question:

  • Trust yourself. You know your story better than anyone, so don’t focus on whether you’re giving the “wrong” answer or pitch. If you’re confident in what you’ve written and your goals for it, that will be apparent to agents and editors.
  • Remember that agents and editors are regular people just like you, no matter how intimidating they may seem at first.
  • Stay positive. Agents and editors are taking pitches because they hope to find something that will be a fit for them. Remembering that they’re looking for opportunities to say “yes” rather than “no” will help you keep a positive perspective.
  • Listen to the advice of others and apply what makes the most sense for you. If you’re trying to do (or not do) everything anyone has ever told you, you may have a hard time staying focused on the main point. And you may end up feeling that your pitch wasn’t authentic to you.
  • An appointment is your time to speak with an industry professional, so take initiative to start the conversation and the pitch. Don’t make them drag details out of you.
  • Do your best to answer their questions as well as you can, but if a question surprises you and you don’t have an immediate answer, don’t worry. You don’t want the entire appointment derailed because you panicked over not having an answer to one question. You can gracefully ask for a few moments to think or acknowledge it’s a great question and say you’ll need to jot it down and spend some time thinking and researching when you return home.

Raela also made what I called a “red flag checklist.” It’s a quick, bullet-point list of some common mistakes that immediately brand a manuscript as not yet ready for publication or pitching at a conference. Here’s what she put on it:

  • Confusing point of view
  • Head-hopping (randomly changing point of view in the middle of the scene)
  • Uneven or slow pacing
  • Overly clichéd or predictable
  • Breaks genre or sub-genre standards
  • Word count too short or too long for publisher’s standards
  • Author doesn’t know or understand readership

Those are all great things to look at as you’re preparing a manuscript (or preparing yourself to pitch one).

I’m not an editor, but I am on the team that looks over proposals from new authors in our pub board, so here are a few tips on conferences and manuscript proposals from my perspective.

  • Research the basics. Good news! There are resources all over the Internet about how to put together a book proposal, one-sheet, or cover letter. The proposals we’ve gotten from new authors all have some things in common (like the word count of the completed manuscript and a synopsis), but they don’t ever look exactly the same. Different elements/sections are included in each. That means you can find out what your materials should look like, but you don’t need to stress over matching any template perfectly.
  • Think about what would make you or your book stand out to a marketing team and include that in the proposal. You may not be a megastar or have a huge platform, but if you have connections with author friends, a unique area of expertise, or some great ideas for promoting your book, be sure to mention that in your proposal.
  • Use the conference as a way to connect with other writers. Besides being enthusiastic fans who can spread the word when you do have a book out, talking with author friends and following them on social media will give you great marketing ideas and help you get a better sense of what your readership is interested in. This may end up being more valuable to you than the appointments.
  • If an agent or editor isn’t the right fit for your project, don’t despair! That was the main point of last month’s post of published authors talking about rejection. Be open to feedback, don’t take a “no” personally, and keep on writing!

Hope that’s helpful! If there are any seasoned writers out there who have gone to a few conferences, feel free to add your tips in the comments.

July 2018 New Releases!

This month, we’re celebrating four fantastic summer reading releases. Take a journey through the pages to find romance, suspense, and page-turning plots. As always, feel free to try out a new-to-you author by clicking on the cover to read an excerpt. Happy reading, all!

The Best of Intentions by Susan Anne Mason

Plot Summary: In the aftermath of tragedy, Grace hopes to reclaim her nephew from the relatives who rejected her sister because of her class. Under an alias, she becomes her nephew’s nanny to observe the formidable family up close. Unexpectedly, she begins to fall for the boy’s guardian, who is promised to another. Can Grace protect her nephew . . . and her heart?

 

Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey

Plot Summary: Private Investigator Kate Maxwell never stopped loving Luke Gallagher after he disappeared. Now he’s back, and together they must unravel a twisting thread of secrets, lies, and betrayal while on the brink of a biological disaster that will shake America to its core. Will they and their love survive, or will Luke and Kate become the terrorist’s next target?

 

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright

Plot Summary: Annalise knows painful memories hover beneath the pleasant façade of Gossamer Grove. But she is shocked when she inherits documents that reveal mysterious murders from a century ago. In this dual-time romantic suspense novel, two women, separated by a hundred years, must uncover the secrets within the borders of their town before it’s too late.

 

In Dreams Forgotten by Tracie Peterson

Plot Summary: After her parents’ deaths, Judith Gladstone travels to San Francisco to find her last living relative. Her unrequited love, Caleb Coulter, helps her search, and when his connections lead Judith to a wealthy, influential family, she learns shocking truths about her heritage . . . and finds herself in danger from someone who wants to keep the past hidden.

What’s on your summer reading list this July?

Prayer for Authors: July 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 July:

Susan Anne Mason
Tracie Peterson
Dani Pettrey
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.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.“—Psalm 90:14 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For renewed joy in the writing or editing process in whatever they project they are working on.
  • For times of rest in the midst of the busyness of release month.
  • For readers who need to hear the message of a particular book to pick it up at bookstores or libraries.

Once again, we’re very grateful that you take time (some of you every month) to remember our authors in prayer. That means a lot to them…and us!

 

Ask BHP: How Often Were Published Authors Rejected?

Our question today is aimed especially at aspiring writers out there: “How many times does an author typically get their book turned down before getting it published for the first time?”

To get the answer to this question, I decided to poll a number of Bethany House authors and see if their stats matched. Here are some quick facts.

Clearly, everyone’s path to publication is different, but take note, aspiring writers: by this statistic, only about 25% of our authors published the first novel they ever wrote. That may seem discouraging at first, but it’s a great reason to keep writing and keep improving.

I tried to get a count on how many rejections from editors and agents these authors faced for their novel that eventually did get published, but so many of them said “countless” that it was hard to tally up.

Besides just those numbers, I wanted to pull out a few snippets that tell part of the publication story of these authors. Below are stories from authors of many different genres: fantasy, historical, romance, contemporary, and just about everything in between. Enjoy!

Patrick Carr, author of The Wounded Shadow: I wrote three full-length novels before A Cast of Stones was picked up by Bethany House. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Before those three novels there was a veritable parade of unfinished novels extending back in time.

Mary Connealy, author of The Accidental Guardian: I was rejected too many times to count by agents and editors. One year alone I counted 40 rejections.

Connilyn Cossette, author of A Light on the Hill: Counted with the Stars received a number of rejections by agents (one devastating response made me nearly give up permanently because I was told that it was absolutely unsellable) but there was mostly just a lot of silence and not much feedback other than judges in contests that either loved it or thought it was the worst clap-trap ever written.

Leslie Gould, author of A Plain Leaving: In my early years, I sent three novel proposals, one by one, to the same editor. The first two times, she responded with: We like your writing but don’t want this story. The third time, she offered me a contract. I learned so much between writing that first novel and writing the third one!

Beverly Lewis, author of The Road Home: Since I was writing magazine articles and stories for several years prior to ever writing a novel, there were no unpublished book manuscripts in my drawer. My first published novel was actually for pre-teen girls, which turned into a 14-book series (HOLLY’S HEART). My first book manuscript for adults, however, was rejected. So, I went back to the drawing board and wrote The Shunning, which launched my adult writing career.

Nancy Mehl, author of Blind Betrayal: The first novel I ever wrote was never sent to anyone. It’s my “novel still in the drawer.” Thanks to some great writers I encountered through various online groups, I discovered early on that I had no idea what I was doing.

Tracie Peterson, author of In Places Hidden: Before I was published, I also had a file drawer full of stories that I had sketched out – probably over fifty. I always encourage new authors to keep putting together story ideas even if they are published because this made it so easy for me when the contracts started coming in. I didn’t have to worry about coming up with story ideas, because I had files full of them.

Michael Phillips, author of The Legacy: My first series was rejected over 30 times over a five year period before I took it to Bethany after they started publishing fiction. After those thirty rejections, the letter from a Bethany House editor expressing “cautious” interest was the turning point in my writing career.

Debra White Smith, author of Reason and Romance: The company I published my first novel with decided to cancel their line of fiction not long after my book was released. Then, the struggle was on. I got many, many rejections for five more years. Then, finally, I started selling all books that I had written during the five year wait. When the door opened, it was a floodgate that also involved non-fiction titles and a speaking ministry.

Karen Witemeyer, author of More Than Meets the Eye: When my first completed novel was requested by an editor, I received a rejection letter. They liked the writing, but the storyline was too similar to something they had recently published. However, there was one element they really liked: the dress shop. Could I write a story about a dress shop? Umm . . . the dress shop burned to the ground on page four. Ouch. No tweaking could fix this. I’d have to start over from scratch. Should I just try to pitch the original story to someone else, or should I write a new book? I decided to keep my foot in the door that God had cracked open for me and wrote a new story that centered around a dress shop, A Tailor-Made Bride.

In addition to sharing their numbers of rejections, authors also flooded my inbox with encouragement and advice for writers out there who may have had a bad pitch session with an editor or received disappointing news after a conference. Here they are…bookmark this post and come back to it whenever you need a pick-me-up from authors who have been there. Continue reading