Ask BHP: What Are Some Tips for New Writers?

From our Ask BHP Mailbag, here’s a great question that several people asked in various ways. “I’m an aspiring author and hear that it can be difficult to ‘break in’ to the world of Christian fiction. Any advice for a newbie?”

One of our acquisition editors, Raela Schoenherr, just answered this question from a different perspective, so take a look at that too. But I wanted to share the answers that Noelle, fiction marketing director, and I gave at the Bethany House Spotlight at ACFW. So you get three related questions and answers for the price of one! (Which, since the price was free, might not be that much of a deal.)

A recent picture from an author visit! Noelle is in the center wearing yellow, and Amy is next to her wearing pink.

Question 1: What would make a proposal from a new author stand out to someone in marketing?

Amy: The first thing I look at is always the writing quality. If the story isn’t compelling, even an interesting marketing angle isn’t going to be helpful. After that, though, I love to see that an author has an understanding of their audience. If a proposal tells me why this book will stand out to readers—whether that’s answering the question of what need it’s filling in a compelling way, showing other recent similar titles that sold well, or describing other ways Christian readers have demonstrated interest in this topic/era/theme—then I can picture how to position and market it.

Noelle: I agree. If reading the story makes me forget that I am “doing it for work,” it becomes natural to be an advocate for it. I’d say more but that gets me talking about our next FAQ.

Question 2: Is a large platform necessary for a first-time fiction author?

Amy: For me, what’s more important than the numbers is an author who shows that they understand and are willing to be a part of the marketing process. A list of potential marketing strategies can be helpful with this—it might include endorsements and author connections who would help in telling others about your book, knowledge of practices used by authors to connect with readers, and any ways the author is already connected to readers, especially if there’s a niche community related to the book or the author has made him/herself an expert in an area related to the book.

Noelle: A year or two ago, we would have said “for fiction, platform doesn’t matter. All your effort will maybe sell a few hundred copies. We work in a world that aims to moves thousands at a time.” But with the decline of retail space and the abyss of Amazon that makes discoverability increasingly hard, I would say it is beginning to matter. Still not to the extent of a non-fiction author, but you do need to be active in the book world. Not a marketing master, but at least engaged and aware.

Question 3: What’s the difference between “chasing a trend” and noticing that readers are drawn to a particular topic/era/genre and writing to meet that need?

Amy: The quality of the story plays into this a lot as well. It’s easy to tell if a writer dashed together a story to fit a trend—the research is often sloppy, the characters don’t feel real, and the story as a whole isn’t compelling. But if a particular genre or theme is popular and it seems to be a natural fit for your writing voice and what you’re passionate about, go for it. Just know that you might be building a career around that type of writing. (Some authors successfully jump around genres and styles, but often what you first write about becomes your brand. Readers want more of the kind of story they’ve come to love for you.)

Noelle: It’s probably also good to think about what trends have longevity. A ripped-from-the-headlines issue as the main focus of a book likely won’t be timely in a year or two when the book comes out (although some conflicts and issues, used as part of the plot and not the whole basis of the book, are perennial). Some genres and trends “cross-over” from the ABA into the CBA. Regency romance is an example. Others don’t, at least not with the same kind of widespread success, like young adult paranormal. It’s also interesting to note that a lot of the mega-bestseller trends of the CBA started in the CBA (from Beverly Lewis’s Amish to Frank Peretti’s supernatural to the Left Behind apocalyptic that lives on in Jonathan Cahn and others). All of those things should go into consideration when thinking about trends.

Can You Judge a Book by its Cover? Guest Post from Elizabeth Camden

It’s an old question: Can you judge a book by its cover?

My answer: Yes! Especially if it is a book by Bethany House.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see and it should make a lasting impression within the space of a few seconds. A great cover will help the reader instantly recognize the genre, tone, and setting of a book. For example, if you look at the covers below, you can probably tell which novels are in a genre you are interested in:

An Elegant Façade is falls directly into the regency romance category and is likely to appeal to Jane Austen fans. A Dangerous Legacy is still a historical, but the tone is a little more turbulent and promises a stormy romance. A Love Like Ours is clearly a contemporary, with a vibe that blends both humorous and a down-home western feel. Return to Me communicates a traditional biblical fiction novel with an epic feel to it.

Once upon a time cover designers could pour a lot of detail into the cover image, but with the rise of online shopping, it is essential a book cover look good both on a bookstore shelf and a thumbnail image on a smart phone. The physical copy of a Bethany House novel is 8 ½ inches tall. If a potential reader is looking at the same book on an iPhone, the cover will only be ¾” tall. That presents a huge challenge for the designer. It means the titles need to be shorter, details are streamlined, and backgrounds can’t be too busy.

With all those limitations, it is amazing that designers can still produce such diversity that communicates a genre and vibe so quickly.

Although authors rarely have much say in our covers, the team of professionals in a publishing company are experts in picking out color palettes, symbolism, and design elements to convey these messages in the space of only a few seconds. The cover is making a promise to the reader about what sort of experience they can expect once they open the page, which is why Bethany House puts so much attention on designing that image. People really do judge a book by its cover!

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! (Here she is becoming part of her latest cover.)

What about you? What is your favorite book cover in recent memory?

Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway!

Who doesn’t love a good party? Especially a party that involves talented authors and lots of amazing books? That’s basically what the Christy Awards is: a celebration of the best in Christian fiction.

This year, I’m excited to be on the Christy Awards board representing Baker Publishing Group and helping organize an event for authors before the awards. I’m beyond excited, and it’s only a month away now! Since I know that many of you live too far away to come (although see the invite below if a trip to Nashville sounds like fun), I decided to host a giveaway to get you in the gala spirit, and to draw attention to the finalists and their books, representing many different publishing companies.

Here’s how it works:

  • Leave a question at the survey posted on By the Book. (We might use your question for a panel.)
  • Then take a look at the 2017 Christy nominees and comment on this post with one that you’ve read and loved.
  • You’ll be entered to win your choice of a Christy-nominated book from 2016 published by Bethany House (Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey, A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter, Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden, or The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White).
  • I’ll announce and contact the winner next Thursday, October 19.

That’s it! Except for one last thing…if you live near Nashville (or want to make a road trip), we’d love to have you join us for the awards! Readers, the gala dinner is not-to-be-missed, and if you’re also an aspiring writer, there are workshops beforehand that you’ll want to check out as well.

You can find out more about the event below, or if you’re already convinced, you can register here.

About the Art of Writing Conference: The Art of Writing is designed to bring Christian creatives and publishing curators together for a half day of intensive seminars that celebrate the creative life, provide practical tips for overcoming challenges in a rapidly-changing industry, and answer questions authors are asking.

The speakers represent a wide range of roles and areas of expertise. Andrew Peterson, young adult writer and founder of the Rabbit Room, will give advice on how to create and benefit from a vibrant creative community, while Wheaton College professor Theon Hill, Ph.D. will present a survey of the obstacles and opportunities of diversity in Christian fiction. Authors will receive encouragement for the ups and downs of the writing life from blogger Carrie Schmidt and author, agent, and ACFW public relations liaison Cynthia Ruchti. Finally, a panel of representatives from major ECPA publishers will share insider information on where the genre has been, where it’s going, and the exciting changes they see in today’s market for writers. Learn more about the speakers and sessions here.

About the Christy Awards: The Christy Award™ is designed to nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview and showcase the diversity of genres. The award is named for Catherine Marshall’s enduring bestselling novel, Christy, published in 1967 and inspiring a continuing book series and a CBS television series starring Kellie Martin. The novel will be re-released in 2017 in a 50th anniversary legacy edition by Gilead Publishing in partnership with Kregel Publications.

Hosted by award-winning author and radio host Chris Fabry, this year’s celebration gala dinner will feature New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury as well as musician and writer Andrew Peterson. You can view the finalist list here.

Be sure to check out the fun on the rest of the tour!

Christy Award Celebration Blog Tour

Monday, October 9: Top Ten Writing Industry Issues at Seekerville
Tuesday, October 10: Give Us Your Best Questions at By the Book
Wednesday, October 11: Interview with Dr. Theon Hill at Reading is My Superpower
Thursday, October 12: Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway! at Bethany House Fiction
Friday, October 13: Quiz: Pick Your Gala Dress at Dani Pettrey’s blog
Saturday, October 14: Eight Reasons to Come to The Art of Writing at The Power of Words
Sunday, October 15: Interview with Carrie Schmidt at Bookworm Mama
Monday, October 16: Interview with Cynthia Ruchti at Just Commonly
Tuesday, October 17: Christy Nominee Bingo and Giveaway at Faithfully Bookish
Wednesday, October 18: The Unofficial Readers’ Choice Cover Awards at Singing Librarian Books

October 2017 New Releases

Happy fall, readers! You’ve come to the right place for five amazing new book suggestions. Go ahead and add them to your TBR pile, Kindle list, or Christmas gift suggestions. (Yes, it’s far too early to start thinking about the holidays, but I know many overachievers who like to get their shopping done long before Thanksgiving. It’s crazy.) For a look at what’s inside, click on the cover of each to start reading a first chapter.

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey

Plot: When a terrorist investigation leads FBI agent Declan Grey to a closed immigrant community, he turns to crisis counselor Tanner Shaw for help. Despite the tension between them, he needs the best of the best on this case. Under imminent threat, they’ll have to race against the clock to stop a plot that could cost thousands of lives—including theirs.

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Plot: Despite Victorian society’s strict rules for women, Rebecca and Flora Hawes’ desire for adventure has led them to the Sinai Desert. Accompanied by their young butler and their maid, the sisters search for a biblical manuscript. On their exotic journey, they experience challenges and wonders, and recall the events that brought them to this time and place.

A Plain Leaving by Leslie Gould

Plot: Returning for her father’s funeral, Jessica faces the Amish life—and love—she left behind years prior. Struggling with regrets, she learns about the life of a Revolutionary War–era ancestor who confronted some of the same choices she has. Will Jessica find peace during her visit, along with the resolution she hopes for?

A Dangerous Legacy by Leslie Gould

Plot: Telegraph operator Lucy Drake is a master of Morse code, but the presence of Sir Colin Beckwith at a rival news agency puts her livelihood at risk. When Colin’s reputation is jeopardized, Lucy agrees to help in exchange for his assistance in recovering her family’s stolen fortune. However, the web of treachery they’re diving into is more dangerous than they know.

Too Far Down by Mary Connealy

Plot: When an explosion at the mine kills workers and damages the CR Company, the Boden family is plunged deep into the heart of trouble yet again. As they try to identify the forces against them once and for all, Cole Boden finds himself caught between missing his time back in the east, and all that New Mexico offers—namely, his family and cowgirl Melanie Blake.

Question for you, readers: with cooler weather on the way, do you drink coffee, tea, or another warm beverage while reading?

Prayer for Authors: October 2017

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 October:

Lynn Austin
Elizabeth Camden
Mary Connealy
Leslie Gould
Dani Pettrey

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.

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.–Isaiah 40:28-29 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For direction for any choices that need to be made for the future, and diligence in the daily tasks during release month.
  • For the ability to fight comparison to other authors.
  • For those here at Bethany House (and other publishing companies) to make wise choices and have a renewed ability to get quality books out to readers.

This Sunday, I’m so glad to have a group of readers who love to pray for our authors and be involved in their lives. Thanks for joining us!