10 Ways You Could Get on a Publisher’s Bad Side (But Please Don’t)

Okay, readers. Let’s talk publisher pet peeves.

Now, I know none of you reading this are the sort of readers I’m going to talk about, because you all love authors. I’ve met many of you in person and enjoy watching your enthusiasm for all things books, so no worries, your names are written firmly in the book of “Bethany House’s Favorite Fans.” Still, I thought I’d share in case you ever see discussions about some of these topics online. You can now contribute with authority on some of the major no-nos for interacting with authors and publishers.

Harassing Authors Online

Maybe “harassing” is a strong word, because I’m including not just spammers and stalkers, but also people who find the need to go directly to an author to air their various grievances. These include, but are not limited to: why charging for an ebook is highway robbery, why the author’s latest Facebook post was SUPER OFFENSIVE, and how they are unsure about the state of the author’s soul/eternal destiny because of what was written on the fifth page of chapter 17. Authors tend to be a sensitive lot, and messages like this can send them into an existential crisis, so I’d recommend ranting to your friends instead and only messaging authors when you can say encouraging things.

Piracy

You know when I like pirates? When they are animatronic and part of a Disney World ride. That’s basically the only scenario. Frequenting sites that rip off authors by giving away their books for free is not only illegal, it’s maddeningly unethical. If you like books, logically you should want to support their authors so they can write more books. (Also, libraries exist and are totally legal ways of reading free books. Because we all know buying all the books we want would cost our annual salary and turn our homes into the library from Beauty and the Beast. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all bad.)

Missing the Point

This one may be personal, but when I see a Facebook comment or blog post that argues something I feel is hopelessly off-base—like saying that literary fiction is the only sort with value or all romance novels are emotional pornography or that a particular book affirmed something that it really didn’t or that the fantasy genre was probably started by the actual devil—I get really sad. Like, I just want to sit down and have coffee with that person and ask questions and calmly exchange opinions and circle all of their logical fallacies with a big red pen that I stole from editorial.

Pitching Your Book to Us Online

So, clarification: I never mind when readers politely ask on our Facebook page if our editors will be at a particular conference or whether we accept unsolicited submissions (no) or if we publish picture books (not at the moment), and so on, even if a bit of research would have given them the answer.

But don’t be that person who, after being sent a link to our submission guidelines, chooses to tag Bethany House on Twitter, link to the whole manuscript in a Facebook message with an attention-grabbing graphic, calls our receptionist multiple days in a row, etc. It won’t work. We still won’t look at the manuscript if you don’t follow the rules, and it only makes a bad impression.

Although I do have a file of hilarious typos from pitches sent to me via social media. Like the novel I was sure was the Christian version of Jurassic Park when it turned out that the “book about the army after the raptor” was actually supposed to the be “the army after the Rapture.” Disappointing. Very disappointing.

Being Entitled

Sometimes, due to trying to use the marketing budget or my time wisely, I just can’t open up a giveaway of expensive-to-ship items to international readers or send your book club autographed postcards or guarantee Dee Henderson’s latest novel will be published in Portuguese. If I say no, that really means I can’t, because I love saying yes, so please have pity on my people-pleasing little heart by being gracious and not telling me you’ll never buy another Bethany House book again. (Yes, that’s happened.)

Specifically on turning down requests for free books: trust me, if it was up to me, I’d be on a parade float shoveling out copies of our books to the waiting masses like they were literary confetti. I love readers and giving away books. But…I also love authors, which tempers my love for giving away books, because if I want them to make money and keep writing those books.

Burning Down a Library

Oddly specific? Yes. But on the last book tour, we stopped at a library where this had actually happened, and it made me so mad that I was almost shooting flames myself. (But not at the books in their temporary location.) Say no to arson!

 

That’s it for general readers. If you happen to review books (either professionally on a blog or informally on retail sites like Amazon or Goodreads), these next ones might sound familiar. Most of them apply with an extra exclamation point for those who are receiving review copies for free from the publisher or author.

Being Mean

I get the dilemma here. You picked up a book that you had every reason to think you’d like (see “Should-Have-Known-Better” otherwise), but you didn’t. It was boring or confusing or just not your style, and now the review is due. What should you do?

A. If you’re on a blog tour, ask if you can post an excerpt or feature instead.
B. Summarize the plot, say a few things you liked, and graciously explain the ones that you didn’t.
C. Talk about the sort of reader who would enjoy the book even if it wasn’t for you.
D. Rant about the book’s faults, insult the writer directly, or detail what you hated in painfully vivid terms along with supporting quotes.

(Hint: There is only one wrong answer here.)

Plagiarizing

Come on, guys, we’ve known since grade school that you don’t take others’ work and pass it off as your own. At Bethany House, we’ve caught a few people who get free books from us and then copy-paste a review from another blog onto their own. Nothing makes our marketing assistant madder, and you don’t want to mess with her when she’s mad.

Making Should-Have-Known-Better Book Choices

This doesn’t always overlap with the mean review, but usually there’s a flagrant red-flag that should have told the reviewer not pick the book up. Saying, “I hate this genre, but for some reason I hoped this book would be the magical exception” or “Every other book by this author has been on my Worst Book Ever list, but I decided to request this one anyway” is a clue that maybe you should’ve passed. Sure, if a fellow reader recommends “a romance for people who don’t usually like romance,” I get it. Or if an author is clearly changing directions in a way you think you might like, fine. But otherwise, it’s seems a little unfair to read a book you’re already biased against and then roast it in a review.

Reselling Review Copies

There may be different rules out there, but here is a fairly standard list of dos and don’ts when you receive a free review copy:

Totally fine: donating the book to a friend or the church library, using your copy for a giveaway, putting the book on your keeper shelf with large warning signs that even if it looks like you have too many books that is totally false and DO NOT TOUCH THIS ONE.

Not fine: reselling the book online, burning it (unless you’re snowed in and literally have no other fuel).

Why? By receiving a street team, influencer, or review copy, you’re signing up to help the author’s sales. Even if you end up not caring for the book, making a profit off of that free copy is both stealing a sale from the author and kind of just cheating.

 

Okay, that was all the negative stuff. Follow the blog (by entering your email in the box to the left under the list of posts) to read next month’s post where I’ll stop ranting and talk about all the delightful things that readers can do to make a publisher happy. Thankfully, there are many, many more items on this list, and more people who fit into them.

Authors and readers, do you have any pet peeves to share? This can include: treatment of books, infuriating comments, unanswerable questions, and anything else that disturbs your writer/reader peace.

Five Novels with Librarian Characters

National Library Week ended last Saturday, so I know this post is several days late. In my defense, I celebrated by traveling on a book tour with Beverly Lewis, who spoke and signed and met readers at a number of fantastic libraries in the Midwest. (You can view pictures of those signings here to get a glimpse.)

That got me started thinking about some delightful novels with librarian heroines. To celebrate libraries and librarians everywhere, give these books a try.

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Librarian Character: Shy-but-fierce Anna O’Brien, one of the few female librarians in the early days of the Library of Congress.

Additional Fun Fact: The author, Elizabeth Camden, is a real-life research librarian at a university.

Bookish Quote: “Ever since becoming a librarian, she’d been feeling the vibrant golden chain that reached back centuries to other librarians, archivists, and historians, all of whom had chosen the same quest: the collection and preservation of the world’s knowledge. Was there any more noble pursuit in all of human history?”

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Librarian Character: Imaginative and somewhat-flighty Alice Grace Ripley, who supplies books to rural Appalachia when she loses her librarian job during the Great Depression.

Additional Fun Fact: The story includes historical details about “packhorse librarians” who rode up the mountains with books in the 1930s.

Bookish Quote: “Librarians are serious people, seldom given to idle jocularity. The reason for this, I believe, is because we are overwhelmed by the enormous number of good books waiting to be read, leaving little time for frivolity. My personal list of must-read books presents a daunting challenge; I can’t even imagine the pressure that our head librarian must be under.”

A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

Librarian Character: The mysterious Rosemary Gresham, posing as a librarian to spy on a potential threat to Britain during WWI.

Additional Fun Fact: All of our ideas for the book cover revolved around a library scene, but a few of the alternate covers showed Rosemary’s (fake) wire-rimmed spectacles.

Bookish Quote: “How bad could a library really be? She had her answer when Holstein swung the double doors open, inward. Perhaps, once, the room had been majestic. The ceiling soared high overhead, a magnificent mural painted on it. The chamber stretched the whole width of the house. Shelves lined the walls, floor to towering ceiling. Lined with books, all of them. Then with books stacked in front of them. Books stacked on the floor. Books stacked on the chairs, the tables, lining the windowsills. Boxes of them. Random cases of them at odd places.”

True to You by Becky Wade

Librarian Character: Sweet and spunky Nora Bradford, genealogist and library director in a historical village.

Additional Fun Fact: Nora is a true bookworm who is particularly fond of period dramas—several real ones and one Becky invented for the story.

Bookish Quote: “I found this place five years ago,” she told him. “I love it except that I’ve run out of bookshelf space again, so I’m going to have to declare eminent domain on yet another wall. I don’t have many walls left. Soon I’ll have books as a kitchen backsplash.”

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen

Librarian Character: Gentlewoman Rachel Ashford, the somewhat-reluctant owner of a lending library she created with books inherited from her father.

Additional Fun Fact: The quotes introducing Chapter One are excerpts from primary sources about the circulating libraries of the Regency period.

Bookish Quote: He grinned. “Did I not promise you would learn to enjoy reading? And far more quickly than I imagined.”
She nodded. “And I’ve told several people how much I am enjoying the book, so I already have a waiting list to read it when I am finished.”
His dark eyes glimmered with approval and something more. Admiration? Fondness? Pleasure and fear twisted through her in a single chord. Careful, Rachel warned herself. Don’t confuse a love of books with something more.

Just for fun, we’ll pick two commenters to win their choice of one of the books above. (Winners will be chosen on 4/26/18.) To enter, answer this question in the comments: What is something you love about your local library?

Ask BHP: What Do You Look For in a Manuscript?

“What makes you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a manuscript from a new author?”

This question was submitted to our Ask BHP survey in various forms, so for all the aspiring authors and curious readers out there, I’m going to focus on one of the later steps in the process: publication board.

At Bethany House’s pub board, the acquiring editor for the project—the one who has interacted with the author or agent and is championing the manuscript—will present persuasive reasons why we should make an offer for a particular novel.

Present around the table are other editors as well as people from our marketing, sales, and rights departments. We’ll all have looked at the sample chapters and book proposal, which gives a summary of the plot, describes the potential audience, lists marketing ideas, and includes other helpful information. Sometimes we’ll even read (or at least skim) the whole manuscript when considering a new fiction author. Most of us come to the meeting with a list of questions, possible concerns, and sometimes strong opinions of whether we want the team to accept or reject a project up for consideration.

Here are a few questions we ask and answer in our pub board meetings to decide what new fiction projects are a good fit for Bethany House. (Remember, these have already gone through several steps before getting to pub board, so there’s nothing here about the basics like correct grammar, coherent plot, and general awareness of good practices in writing.)

Is this too similar to something we’re already publishing?

In a broad sense, there are only so many writers of a particular subgenre that we can publish well without feeling crowded. In a more particular sense, if we have a book coming out next season with a very similar plot or setting, we may need to pass on a manuscript.

 

Will the author make a good marketing partner?

Many industry blogs talk about the importance of a strong platform for new writers. This is absolutely critical for nonfiction authors, and while an impressive following isn’t as important in fiction, we do look to see if the author knows how to promote their books and has included ideas, statistics, and examples in the book proposal. That way, we know that the author will be joining us in getting the word out about the book, which can be helpful for sales.

Is the writing strong?

This is somewhat subjective, but then again, remember that we have read a lot of Christian fiction, even in genres that we don’t personally care for, so we notice when an author’s voice has a little extra sparkle…or when it doesn’t. When we talk about the writing, we explain what we do or don’t like, and often the editors will get other “first readers” from inside the company to weigh in on the writing to make sure we’re not biased by, say, a few people who just really don’t like first-person point-of-view.

At this point, no manuscript is badly written, and we’re all aware that the editors will be asking the author to make changes, but we usually talk about big-picture things that couldn’t be fixed without a total re-write. For example, we might argue that the premise isn’t very suspenseful, or the narrator’s voice is off-putting, or only one of the dual timelines actually interested us.

What are books similar to this one doing in the marketplace?

This one is a strict sales question where we look at the potential audience for the book—is the author inspired by any trends that give it a strong hook? Is this genre seeing a resurgence, or slowly tapering off? Are there a thousand other books just like this out there, or none at all? (Usually both of these extremes aren’t the best for convincing the sales team this can sell.) If the author has past sales, independent or with another publishing company, we’d consider those as well.

Are we excited about this project?

This is so subjective that I’m sure it can be frustrating to hear. But the fact is, if the marketing team in particular finds a new author’s manuscript just doesn’t work for them, then the author probably wouldn’t want us to publish it. We’re the ones explaining the book to the sales team and promoting it to readers, so it would be better for the project to find a home where everyone was 100% enthusiastic about it.

Are the strengths of the manuscript worth any potential drawbacks?

And by that, I don’t really mean strengths or weaknesses in the quality of the writing, which I mentioned earlier. Here are a few examples of possible pros and cons we might need to discuss.

  • Will readers be okay with an unusual setting/time period if the book has a strong cast of characters?
  • There are lower sales for [insert genre here], but this is amazing writing.
  • This plot feels overdone, but the setting is unique.
  • The author’s sense of humor might not catch on, but it has potential to stand out because of that.
  • This is a controversial subject, but handled with grace.
  • We have an unknown author with no platform but a compelling, fresh voice.
  • This is totally different than anything we’ve done before…but it’s totally different from anything we’ve done before.

Sometimes we choose to pass on a project after weighing these pros and cons, sometimes we move forward. The factor most likely to convince us to take a risk is when multiple people on the pub board truly love the author’s writing style and think they have a compelling story to go along with it.

When we think of “our” readers—people who read Bethany House books—is this story something they would be interested in?

Of course, we’re always looking to reach new readers, but the majority of a new author’s audience will likely be readers who enjoy other Christian fiction that we publish. Because of that, we want to make sure a book feels like it fits our audience. We’ve occasionally said no to a great story that had too many dark elements to it, or felt theologically off for our readers.

As you can see, most of these questions are not personal to the writer, or even to his or her manuscript (although I’m sure it can feel that way). When we don’t choose to offer a contract for a debut author’s novel, it’s not because we think it’s terrible trash unworthy of publication. Not at all. Most of the time, it’s for a combination of more subtle reasons, like the ones above.

Just know that we’d love to publish more books…but there are only so many slots in a year for a traditional publisher. Sometimes we see that a story we had to turn down for one of those reasons finds a home elsewhere—one that is probably a better fit for both the story and the author.

And for the new authors we do have, we’re always delighted to introduce their first novel to the world. (Some recent debut novels have been The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright and Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette. You should check them out…they’re amazing!)

Did any of these questions surprise you? Any other questions you have about the pub board process?

Prayer for Authors: April 2018

Usually, I post this update on the first Sunday of the month, but since last Sunday was Easter, I decided to wait a week. 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 April:

Patrick Carr
Mary Connealy
Beverly Lewis
Nancy Mehl
Debra White Smith
Lauraine Snelling

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 us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”—Galatians 6:9-10 (CSB)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the ability to be a blessing to others through writing.
  • For energy and perseverance to develop as a writer and finish the next project.
  • For those who encounter these books to find something within them that makes them think.

We love having you gathering together with us in prayer, readers. Many thanks, as always!

April 2018 New Releases!

Welcome to the first full month of spring! Whether it’s warm and sunny where you are or snowy and freezing like it is here in Minnesota where Bethany House is located, we hope that you’ll enjoy this batch of April books! We’ve got a wide variety of genres—Amish, fantasy, historical, suspense, Western, and contemporary romance. And don’t you just love the new covers for the Jane Austen series?

If you’d like to try out an author’s style, click on the cover to be taken to an excerpt. Happy reading!

The Road Home by Beverly Lewis

Synopsis: Sent from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Lena Rose Schwartz grieves the death of her Amish parents and the separation from her siblings as well as her beau, Hans Bontrager. She longs to return home to those she loves most. However, she soon discovers that Lancaster County holds charms of its own. Is she willing to open her heart to new possibilities?

The Wounded Shadow by Patrick W. Carr

Synopsis: As the influence of the Darkwater Forest grows, the kings and queens of the north desperately try to contain its power while Willet Dura and the Vigil seek the truth of its origins. But danger stalks the rulers of the kingdoms and the Vigil. Together, they must discover a path to keep their land safe, or surrender their world to the growing darkness.

A Breath of Hope by Lauraine Snelling

Synopsis: Though Aunt Gerd has softened towards them, Uncle Einar remains a harsh landlord as two more Carlsons, Nilda and Ivar, join Signe and Rune at the farm in Minnesota. When tragedy lays a dark secret bare, the Carlsons and Strands will have to come together and become a true family.

Blind Betrayal by Nancy Mehl

Synopsis: U.S. Marshal Casey Sloane is tasked with escorting a reporter to testify before a grand jury regarding a missing environmentalist. At first, the assignment seems routine. But when it becomes dangerously clear that there’s more to the story than anyone knows, Casey and two other Marshals—one a man from her past—will have to do whatever it takes to survive.

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy

Synopsis: Trace Riley has been self-appointed guardian of the trail ever since his own wagon was attacked. When he finds the ruins of a wagon train, he offers shelter to survivor Deborah Harkness and the children she saved. Trace and Deborah grow close working to bring justice to the trail, but what will happen when the attackers return to silence the only witness?

Possibilities, Amanda, and First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Synopsis: In these updated Jane Austen retellings, three young women must trust God with their futures.

In First Impressions, Lawyer Eddi Boswick tries out for a production of Pride and Prejudice in her small Texas town. When she’s cast as the lead, Elizabeth Bennet, her romantic co-star is none other than the town’s most eligible—and arrogant—bachelor.

In Possibilities, When Allie falls in love with a young man her family thinks is unworthy of her wealthy Southern upbringing, she yields to the pressure and ends the relationship. But when they find themselves in the same city years later, can she face her regrets before he falls for someone else?

In Amanda, A bit of a busybody, Amanda always has her friends’ best interests at heart. She prides herself on her matchmaking skills . . . but when nothing seems to be going according to plan on the beautiful island of Tasmania, can she learn to listen to her own heart?

 

Are any of these books on your to-be-read list?