Welcome to this month’s Ask Bethany House question! This one is about the behind-the-scenes of our books at the very early stages: “How do you determine if a book should be a standalone or part of a series?”
This is almost always up to the authors. When they finish up a contract, they will propose something new to us, and even at that stage, they usually know whether that book is a standalone (such as Elizabeth Camden’s novels, set in many different locations with different characters), book one in a series with cliffhangers (such as Patrick Carr’s fantasy sagas), or the first in a more loosely-linked series (such as Becky Wade’s Porter family novels that tell the love stories of siblings in a family). The same is true for debut authors who meet our editors at a conference or through an agent—they will often include a short summary of the series (or series potential) of the manuscript they’re pitching. And speaking of agents, they’re often the ones who will talk through the benefits of series or standalone and help the author determine a direction.
Readers seem to like both the completeness of a single novel and the fun of getting to know characters over an extended amount of time in a series. There are downsides to both, too—sometimes just one novel can feel too quick, occasionally the middle book in the series drags—but overall it’s just a matter of preference.
Sometimes, editors at Bethany House have requested a particular direction from an author. For example, our team encouraged Julie Klassen to try her first-ever series, the upcoming Tales from Ivy Hill. Other times, feedback directly from readers can influence the decision, as when book signing attendees asked Beverly Lewis for a standalone novel so often that she’s written several now. Ultimately, though, the type of book the author writes is what best fits the story he or she wants to tell.
How about you? Do you prefer reading series or standalones…and why? Authors, which do you prefer writing, and why?
As a reader, you know you’re different. Other people have noticed it too—it probably dawned on them somewhere in those five hours you spent in a bookstore when you went to the mall—but they may not be able to define just what makes you stand out from the crowd.
Allow us to help. Here’s a list of the unique qualities that make readers who they are. (It’s not exhaustive, of course…that’s why you should add traits in the comments at the end!)
Readers have strong imaginations. Sure, it’s fun to watch a good movie sometimes, but readers don’t need Hollywood to call up images of the characters and events from their favorite book. They can do that all on their own—which is why they often prefer the book to the movie, since it has their own imagining of the plot and all of the details you can’t cram into a film.
Readers love words. Yes, it’s all about the story, but there’s also the sound and beauty of words—the lovely descriptions, the imagery, the atmosphere an author can create by choosing the very best ones—for readers to enjoy. Chances are, readers did well in English at school…and possibly got caught reading a book during math class a time or two.
Readers have above-average attention spans. Okay, maybe some of them get impatient waiting for the leftovers to finish heating in the microwave. But give them a story they care about, and they’re all in. It doesn’t have to be short and catchy and interrupted by commercial breaks. They can open up a dauntingly-long novel and emerge triumphantly on the other side, usually a better person for the experience. And ready to start a new book on their never-ending TBR pile. (That’s “To Be Read” for you non-readers out there.) Continue reading
Want to meet the good-looking guy on the cover of Dani Pettrey’s new release, Cold Shot? Well, he’s answering a few questions on the blog today. Enjoy getting to know a little bit about the story of Griffin McCray, Gettysburg park ranger, and Finley Scott, forensic anthropologist.
Griffin, you’ve been harsh with Finley since she arrived at Gettysburg. Why all the hostility?
I’m not hostile. I’m…straight to the point. She’s digging up soldier’s graves—soldiers who should be honored and left in peace. She has no business being in my park.
Yes, but she’s a forensic anthropologist. It’s her job to help identify the unknown victims, to bring closure to the family. You certainly can understand that?
The soldiers died two hundred years ago, I’m pretty sure their families are way past closure. Besides, that’s not the source of my frustration, not really.
Oh? What is the real source of your frustration?
Between us, my park was nice and quiet before Dr. Finley Scott showed up, looking stunning and somehow adorable in those silly coveralls she wears for work. If you tell her that, you’re dead. The point is she’s disturbing the ground, waltzing all over the place with her bouncy little walk and talking to me when I’m on patrol. She should focus on her work and leave me be.
Rumor is she finds you attractive and intriguing.
Really? That can’t be right. I mean, I’ve been nothing but gruff with her. Lecturing her on not disturbing hallowed ground. Not encouraging any further attachment. Continue reading
Let’s face it: in a romance novel, we know how the story’s going to end. If our hero and heroine do not fall in love by the last page, we might just get frustrated enough to toss the book across the room! It’s the “how” of the story that makes each one interesting and unique. There has to be some sort of obstacle (and in the best stories, it’s a significant obstacle) that keeps you turning pages and sincerely wondering how the two will ever get together.
Bethany House has two books releasing this February that do a great job with creating tension between the hero and heroine right away.
In Amish Sweethearts by Leslie Gould, the couple can’t be together because Lila is Amish and Zane is not…and to make matters worse, he enlists in the Army. Though they were childhood friends, the conflict between them is highly realistic, because they have cultural barriers and strong clashes of values to work through.
Meanwhile, in the first few pages of Dani Pettrey’s Cold Shot, you learn that Griffin and Finley feel a strong attraction to each other, but are prevented from expressing their feelings by both internal and external opposition. Since the story is romantic suspense, that means that they end up exchanging witty insults…while someone is trying to kill them, which makes for all kinds of tension.
These two novels have totally different conflicts, and I’m sure you can think of dozens more—hidden secrets, class differences, family or professional rivalries, or unresolved guilt to name a few—that would prevent the couple from getting together until (of course!) the happy ending. The stronger and more believable the tension, the later readers will stay up to find out what happens next.
Take a look at these excerpts from both novels to see tension in action, even early on in a novel. (And if you want to read more, click on the covers for an excerpt!) Continue reading