Ten Things You Shouldn’t Say to Authors (and Ten You Should)

As Bethany House’s fiction publicist, I hear a lot of horror stories from authors about questions they’re sometimes asked. Below are a few tips for those who might not know what to say when meeting an author or interacting with one online. (All taken from actual examples I’ve seen or heard about. Details changed and names withheld to protect the socially unaware.)

If these sound like you, please feel free to adopt my suggestions for replacement questions. Soon. If you’re not guilty of any of these, then just shake your head in amusement…and have a little extra sympathy for the authors you know.

FootinMouth

One: “Oh, it must be so relaxing to have a job you can do on the side while at home.”

Many of our authors work full time at other jobs, but even when they dedicate all of their work hours to writing, it’s just that: hard work. There is actually not that much about deadlines, rewrites, pressure, sales numbers, competition with other titles, marketing blitzes, and writer’s block that could be described as “relaxing.” (Although I’m sure many of them wish the writing life had a little more soaking in bubble baths and eating bon-bons while jotting down a few leisurely lines of prose.)

Try this instead: “That’s really interesting. What made you want to become a writer?”

Two: “So, you write romance novels, like [Insert Famous Author Name Here]?”

Chances are, this author is nothing like the author you’re mentioning. Particularly in number of copies sold…contrary to popular belief, most authors aren’t typing away on their private yacht while their butler brings them copies of the New York Times that feature their novel on the top books list every week.

Try this instead: “Which authors write stories similar to yours?” If you need a style comparison. Otherwise, just don’t bring up other authors at all.

Three: “You mean people still read novels these days?”

Unless you want to hear a forced laugh and “Yep, apparently some of them still do,” this is probably not the best question.

Try this instead: “What’s the hardest thing about what you do? What makes it worth the work?”

Four: “I had this dream once that I just know would make a great story. It involved bandits, an elephant named Noodles, and an umbrella that you could use to time travel. Let me tell you all about it for the next hour!”

Sharing little quirks or news stories with authors as idea-generators can be useful, although many authors like to come up with plots on their own. But if you have a full-fledged outline to present, maybe you should write that book yourself! (Well, in the example above…probably not.)

Try this instead: Actually, for this one, not saying anything might be good. Or you can follow my First Law of Dream/Plot Etiquette: if you can’t summarize it in three sentences…don’t even start.

Five: “An author, huh? Are your books any good?”

There is literally no good way to answer this question.

Try this instead: “What is your book about?” (Though realize that this can be difficult for some authors to summarize) or “What genre are your books?”

Six: “I know you’re on deadline, but since you’re just sitting at home writing, want to have coffee some morning/edit my blog posts/watch my kid for me?”

Similar to #1, many authors have a specific schedule when they do their writing. Do they want to spend time with their friends? Yes. Some would even love to help you with your writing. But not when they’re working, and especially not when they’re working long hours trying to finish a manuscript on time.

Try this instead: “I’d love to get together for you sometime. What would work best for you? It’s okay if it has to wait a while.” (Or, better, show up with chocolate during deadline week.)

Seven: “Hey, I happen to have a full manuscript right here in my back pocket, want to present it to your agent/publisher on my behalf? Pretty please?”

If you’re a writer—or, you know, a person—it’s a good general practice to avoid creating awkward situations for other people. This is one of them. Many writers are happy to help you in your publication journey…but there’s a limit to what they can (or should be expected to) do.

Try this instead: “What advice would you give to your pre-published self?” or “Tell me about how you first got published—what was the process like for you?”

Eight: “Oh, you write romance novels? [Disdainful sniff] I only read biographies/literary fiction/nonfiction/’real books.’”

That last one especially. Not even funny. It’s totally fine if whatever genre the person writes in just isn’t your go-to. But don’t bring that up, and don’t judge a genre too harshly, particularly if it’s not one you actually read. Not all romances are sighing, wind-blown females staring at shirtless men, for example.

Try this instead: “I’m not very familiar with that genre. Why do you enjoy writing it?”

Nine: “When’s your new book going to be on sale?”

Totally understand this one—I love a good deal too! And it’s great to be on the lookout for sales…but don’t ask the author about them, or it sounds like you don’t really value their book enough to pay full price for it.

Try this instead: “Do you have a website? Or what would be the best way for me to learn more about your books?” Sign up for the newsletter, follow the author on Facebook, and you’ll hear about sales when they happen…and also be able to support the author.

Ten: “Why don’t you hurry up and write that next book? We’ve been waiting for months! How hard can it be?”

Pretty hard. (See #1.) Authors love that fans are excited for the next book. Just remember that while it may take you five or six hours to read a novel, it takes considerably more hours than that to write a novel, especially when adding in deadline pressure and edits for the previous book and a little something called a real life that most of our authors seem to want to have. Go figure.

Try this instead:  “When is your next book releasing so I can mark my calendar?”

Snoopy

Writers and readers: anything you’d want to add to this list of Things Not To Say to Writers?

Ten Secrets Bethany House Employees (Almost) Never Tell

A few months ago, Becky Wade wrote a blog post called “Ten Secrets Authors (Almost) Never Tell.” It was such a fun glimpse into writers’ lives that I thought I’d do something similar for Bethany House. So here are a few secrets from life working at a publishing company…don’t tell!

One: It’s common to see red pen corrections on email messages, charity flyers posted on the fridge, and even notices in the bathroom. When you’re surrounded by editors, it happens, people.

Two: During cover design meetings, when choosing between poses of models, certain members of the team will suggest humorous captions for what the models are thinking, or attempt to imitate the facial expressions. (I considered snapping undercover photos to document this practice, but I think the parties involved wouldn’t appreciate that.)

Three: Whenever there are weapons used on the cover of a book, and thus lying around the office, a certain fiction publicist who writes this blog always has to go inspect them. And sometimes takes them into meetings, because who’s going to disagree with you when you’re holding a sword?

From Patrick W. Carr's The Shock of Night.

From Patrick W. Carr’s The Shock of Night.

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From Lynn Austin’s Keepers of the Covenant (we ended up using a bow and arrow instead of the spear).

Four: There is a sharp divide, particularly in the marketing department, between cat people and dog people. (I was actually asked to take a side during my interview.) Once, I tried counting the number of cat items in our marketing vice president’s office. I gave up at 80. Continue reading

Ask Bethany House: How Do You Decide on a Book Cover?

Today on the blog I’ll be answering this reader question (okay, it’s not actually phrased as a question, but you get the idea): “I would love to learn more details about how book covers are created from beginning to end, including the author’s role in helping with it.”

This was one of the most frequently-asked questions in our Ask Bethany House survey (behind questions about publication which I answered here and here). To a lot of us, myself included, the work that designers do on book covers is a lot like magic.

UntiltheDawn_mck.indd

Before our designers begin the covers, they get all the necessary background from the person who knows the story best. The author sends in information about their characters, setting, and key moments in the book, including pictures that show what their hero and heroine look like. Obviously we can’t call in those celebrities for a photoshoot, but sometimes the models we choose look surprisingly like the more famous counterparts the author chose.

The editor of the book, who is familiar with the story and has read it if it’s already been completed, is a part of all of the meetings to give feedback on whether the cover fits the story and its tone.
Paul, our art director, runs the meetings where we discuss cover options. Other representatives from marketing (including me!) and editorial are there as well. In the first meeting, the designer typically presents some mock-ups, or rough ideas to get a direction for where the cover should go. This happens before a photoshoot. (Not all books use a photoshoot. It really depends on the direction we want to go with the cover.)

Once we pick a direction we like, the real design work happens, and at a second meeting, often a month of so later, we see several options of different poses, layouts, and backgrounds that we critique. Sometimes there’s one cover that stands out to everyone. Sometimes it’s more of a “that model with that type box but without the little swirly things, and make the author’s name stand out more” type of discussion.

Often, we’ll meet again to discuss tweaks to the final cover or see different options for the title type. At that point, the cover is sent to the author for approval—they occasionally notice something out-of-place, like a need for a change in hair or eye color that we didn’t catch. By that point, the cover is complete and ready to present to the world!

There’s a lot more going on for the actual designing part, and I might do a Q&A with one of our designers later this year to talk about how they run photoshoots, choose images, add effects, and so on, but that’s the basic process for deciding on final covers for our books.

Just for fun—and because we get to see this part of the “magic” all the time—I thought I’d show you some of the covers for Until the Dawn, by Elizabeth Camden and talk you through our process for choosing the one we did. The final cover is pictured above at the beginning of the post—it comes out in December, and I just finished reading it. It’s wonderful!

Here are some of the other options Jenny, the designer for this one, presented to our team. (Keep in mind that these weren’t final images…Jenny would have worked on them more if we had chosen one of them as our favorite.)

UntiltheDawn_rd1.inddThis one, with the garden and gate imagery, was a bit too close to another historical we’ve published.

UntiltheDawn_rd1.indd

Everyone liked the look of this one, but there was concern that you couldn’t really tell that it was historical instead of a contemporary romance.

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.inddThe design for this one was a bit overwhelming (though we liked the title font and used it on the final cover).

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.indd
The editor pointed out that in this one, the woman in the picture doesn’t match Sophie, since she’s not a wealthy noblewoman, but a cook and a volunteer for the Weather Bureau (though the colors of that sunrise in the top are so lovely!).

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.indd

We loved the idea of including the beautiful Dierenpark mansion on the cover, since it plays such a key role in the mystery of the story, but we felt that showing Sophie as well would be a better choice. Some liked the coloration on this cover, others thought it was too much.

I chose this title in particular because there were lots of unique designs that we liked…but we felt like this one best fit what we wanted to do with the book.  It was slightly different from other books by Elizabeth Camden, everyone liked the rosy glow (which also fits the heroine’s outlook on life), and there was a hint of the beauty of the estate that forms the setting of the story, described in lovely detail throughout the book. There’s even a slight glow of dawn behind the character and, I think, a sense of the mystery that is found in the book (and kept me guessing until the last page).

As far as how long all of this takes, our designers each work on several titles a season. Right now, they’re working on covers for Summer 2016!

Which of these alternate designs for Until the Dawn is your favorite?

August Bethany House Books: First Impressions

You can’t judge a book by its title…but it is the first thing you’ll notice to give you a hint at the story.

You can’t judge a book by its cover…but you should be able to get a sense of what the book is like or where it’s set.

And you can’t judge a book by its first page…but hopefully it should intrigue you enough to keep you turning pages!

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For our two August releases, I wanted to give these theories a little test. As you read, think: what were my first impressions of this book? What questions did the author make me ask? What sort of story am I expecting? Then see if your answers match mine. Continue reading

Prayer for Authors: August 2015

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.

 

Authors with Books Releasing in August:

Kate Breslin
Judith Miller

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.

“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14, ESV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For physical health for the authors and their families.
  • For times of encouragement and refreshment even during difficult or stressful seasons.
  • For the ability to manage multiple demands on time and attention in a way that’s honoring to God.

As always, we so appreciate your prayers, and I know the fact that you’re praying is very meaningful to our authors as well. We’re so blessed to have a great group of readers supporting our writers!