Ask BHP: How Do You Decide on Covers?

Questions about cover design are by far the most popular ones we received to our Ask Bethany House survey. And with good reason: art can sometimes seem a little bit like magic, and not many of us get a glimpse into the process of creating the lovely images that grace our favorite books.

Here’s the question I’ll be answering today: “What does the Bethany House team consider when deciding on a final cover?”

First of all, here’s a list of who’s on the team. The author starts the process by providing character and setting descriptions, covers with looks they love, and ideas for scenes to portray. Our art director and designers work with Bethany House editors and marketers to get the right look. And we always get feedback from the sales team as well, since they’re the ones who know the buyers who will be putting books in stores.

At the beginning stages, a designer will show the editors and marketers several sketches or rough stock photography mock-ups to give us an idea of what the scene on the cover might look like. Obviously, we’re not commenting on the details at that point, but we will indicate a direction by making bigger-picture design choices like whether a character should be pictured close up or as a small figure in the background, what sort of scene would be most interesting, or whether to include options that split the design in half with a title bar.

After the photoshoot (which I’ll cover in more detail in a future Ask BHP post), the designer will take different images and arrange them into designs like the ones the team agreed on, creating a draft version of several cover options. The examples below are alternate covers for A Light on the Hill. They haven’t been polished and tweaked, and occasionally the design team might ask for a major change like “move the model from 1 into the scene of 2,” but we’re starting to get to a clearer idea of the cover.

In this case, while all of these design concepts are striking, the team didn’t care for the harsh color scheme of the first. The third option was some people’s first choice and others’ second, but eventually the argument was made that it would be harder to continue that look for the whole series while still remaining distinct. (There was also one team member who pointed out that the sun being right there on the city made the title really literal.)

We all loved the striking image of the protagonist facing us, and the prominent title. Here is what the final cover looked like once the designer made some tweaks (including moving the series name and using a different image from the photoshoot):

Here are just a few of the things we consider when giving suggestions to the designer:

  • Do the colors of the cover match the tone of the story? (Is it too dark for a lighthearted story or too cheery for a suspense novel?)
  • How can we hint at the setting or historical time period in the background, clothing, or fonts? Is there anything about any of those elements that seems mismatched?
  • Is the background too distracting or cluttered?
  • What’s the balance between type that’s interesting but also legible? (This especially matters because the book will be showing up in a thumbnail online.)
  • What sort of reader will be attracted to this design?
  • If there’s a model, does he or she convey the essence of the character as described by the author?
  • Is this cover too similar to one on an already-published book that readers of the genre would be familiar with? Is it too drastically different from everything else like it?
  • Would you want to pick this book up just by looking at the cover?

There are individual questions for each cover too, of course. For A Light on the Hill in particular, we talked about the best way to show that the protagonist is ashamed of the brand on her face, and how we could establish that the novel was biblical since it doesn’t have the name of a key Old Testament figure in the title to give readers that cue.

So there’s a little glimpse into the process we use to determine what cover makes it on the final book. I love bragging about our designers…they do excellent work! If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more cover alternates, Jocelyn Green wrote about the making of her latest release, A Refuge Assured, on her blog. Be sure to check it out!

So, readers, what’s an element of book cover design that you love to see? Are you able to complete the phrase, “I’ll be drawn to a book almost instantly if its cover…”?

In Defense of Genre Fiction

Recently, I had an exchange with a reader via Facebook message who did not approve of romance novels and wanted to explain why Bethany House shouldn’t be publishing them. Her biggest issue seemed to be that she didn’t perceive genre or commercial fiction, like romances, as having the same inherent value as the classical authors she listed (including Jane Austen, who doesn’t count as a romance author, apparently).

I responded with something vague and polite, but if we had been friends sitting down over a cup of tea, this post is probably what I would have said instead. You’re welcome to eavesdrop on our hypothetical conversation (and enjoy a cup of imaginary tea…I recommend Licorice Spice).


First, I’d say, give me book recommendations anytime! I love literary fiction, and I’ll often pick up a good classic novel. Those books affect me in a special way. They have the power to reshape the way I think and challenge me and let me appreciate the sheer beauty of words and descriptions. Many of them will endure for generations, and that’s amazing.

But do you know what else is amazing?

An author who can keep me up late, turning pages and laughing in just the right pages. A story that transports and entertains me, especially if I learn something interesting by the end. Plots that help me see the world as it ought to be while characters overcome odds and make sacrifices to reach a happy ending. Well-written genre fiction does these things and more.

Oops. Shouldn’t have brought that up, because now my imaginary tea party friend accuses happy endings of feeling fake and untrue to reality.

To which I say I’m sure every now and then there’s a poorly written one that does. But let me tell you, I’ve read three literary novels this year with tragic endings that felt painfully artificial—like the author just wanted to break convention and inject some gratuitous misery into their protagonists’ lives toward the end to make a philosophical point. Besides, with all the craziness in the world, some people prefer unambiguously happy endings, and most at least like hopeful ones. Nothing wrong with that. Continue reading

Prayer for Authors: March 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.


Authors with Books Releasing in March:

Jennifer Delamere
Angela Hunt
Melissa Jagears
Susan Anne Mason
Tracie Peterson

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.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:18-19 (ESV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For discipline and focus in all of the boring parts of the writing life.
  • For a renewed sense of joy in responding to readers and writing the next book.
  • For the readers who will be picking up these novels to learn or be reminded of an important truth.

Many thanks, readers, for so faithfully joining with us in prayer for these authors and others in your life. It’s always appreciated!

March 2018 New Releases

Our new releases this month will take you on a variety of adventures, whether that’s navigating romance and class differences in Victorian England, protecting the manuscripts of the Bible in the first century, or finding love in the American West. If any of these “sneak peek” descriptions seem intriguing to you, try out the first few chapters by clicking on the cover to read an excerpt. I hope your March is full of good books (and enough time to read them).

Paul, Apostle of Christ by Angela Hunt

Paul Apostle of Christ

Synopsis: In this powerful novelization, the apostle Paul, bound in chains in Nero’s bleakest prison, awaits his execution. Luke, a friend and physician, risks his life to visit him. Resolved to write another book, these two men race against time and history—and an emperor determined to rid the world of Christianity—to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

A Most Noble Heir by Susan Anne Mason

Synopsis: Stable hand Nolan Price’s life is upended when he learns that he is the heir of the Earl of Stainsby. Caught between two worlds, Nolan is soon torn between his love for kitchen maid Hannah Burnham and the expectations and opportunities that come with his rise in station. He longs to marry Hannah, but will his intentions survive the upstairs–downstairs divide?

In Places Hidden by Tracie Peterson

Synopsis: In the early 1900s, Camri Coulter’s search for her missing brother, Caleb, leads her deep into the political corruption of San Francisco—and into the acquaintance of Irishman Patrick Murdock, who her brother helped clear of murder charges. As the two try to find Caleb, the stakes rise and threats loom. Will Patrick be able to protect Camri from danger?

A Chance at Forever by Melissa Jagears

Synopsis: Mercy McClain joined the school board to protect the children of Teaville, Kansas, from the bullying she experienced as a child. When the worst offender from her school days applies for a teaching position, she is dead set against it. Yet Aaron Firebrook claims to be a changed man. Can he earn Mercy’s trust—and her support for the challenges to come?

The Heart’s Appeal by Jennifer Delamere

Synopsis: Julia Bernay has come to London to become a doctor—a glorious new opportunity for women during the reign of Victoria. When she witnesses a serious accident, her quick actions save the life of barrister Michael Stephenson. He rose above his family’s stigma, but can he rise to the challenge of the fiercely independent woman who has swept into his life?

What a great group of books and authors! Is there a title on this list that you’re most excited about?