Ask Bethany House: Do You Hate One-Star Reviews?

This month’s Ask Bethany House question takes a look at a somewhat-controversial subject: “As a publicist who works with reviewers, do you ever get mad when you see one-star reviews of your authors’ books?”

So, let me first note that while I love my Bethany House authors, I have a good deal more objectivity when it comes to reading negative reviews than the authors themselves. After all, I didn’t spend months (or even years) of my life lovingly crafting a fictional world and putting imaginary people through trauma to get to a happy ending.

To give you a glimpse behind their side of the desk, I’ve heard of authors who…

  • Don’t ever read reviews to avoid obsessing over them.
  • Find one-star reviews normal and sometimes even hilarious.
  • Feel completely crushed and stressed out when they first read a scathing review.
  • Ask a friend to read bad reviews and pass on any reoccurring themes that might be helpful as they write the next book.
  • Love to read five-star and one-star reviews of their books and others’ because it gives the whole spectrum of who the book’s audience is (and isn’t).

Back to the actual question. I admit, I’ve gone through pretty much all of those stages when it comes to our authors’ books. Where I’ve landed is this: not every book is for every person. That’s just the way it’s going to be, and one-star reviews are evidence of that.

Sure, there are times when reviewers will make a completely unsubstantiated claim or reveal that they were biased against the book from the start…but clearly, they weren’t the intended audience for the book in the first place, and if they want to disclose that to the Internet as a whole, fine by me. It’s only in an environment where people feel able to say anything about a book that you can trust the praise of glowing, five-star reviews.

(Although one clarification: I always recommend that book reviewers keep it classy and refrain from making harsh generalizations or personal attacks on the author. There’s a difference between critical and mean.)

To prove my point—one-star reviews are necessary and even a little bit fun—below are excerpts from one-star Amazon reviews of award-winning Christian fiction…along with some commentary by me. I’m leaving the titles off for all the authors out there who might still be a bit sensitive to these words. But trust me, these authors are all highly regarded and for each book included, there were hundreds of four- and five-star reviews.

“The chapters were a combination of jarring, illogical ‘bad’ events interrupting a dry litany of ‘Old West’ chores and Christian ‘values.’”
Do you know what I like in my fiction? Logical “bad” events in the “Old West.” Otherwise the “author” will lose my “attention” really “easily.”

“Formulaic. Too easy to predict. Less of a historical piece and more of just a disguised romance novel.”
[Another one-star for the same book] “This was classified as a romance novel and it just doesn’t seem like one to me. Nice story, wrong genre.”
Clearly, Bethany House got the genre wrong on this one. Twice. In opposite ways. Continue reading

Fiction Readers Summit Highlights

After mentioning that I would be at the Fiction Readers Summit last weekend, I got a few requests to share highlights. Well…if I really wanted to do that, I’d just start listing names. But since some of you would like to experience the actual event vicariously and not just listen to me gush, here are a few of my favorite parts.

Author panel selfie taken by Bethany Turner…such a great group, even if you can’t see all of them!

  • Watching at least four of the authors (possibly more too shy to admit it) declare that they came to the event to meet Lynn Austin and get a book signed by her.
  • Listening as readers shared answers to authors’ questions in the reverse panel—from humorous confessions of starting with the last page first to heartfelt tributes about why they read Christian fiction.
  • Surreptitiously taking notes on those answers because the reader panel was basically a focus group for what people are interested in seeing in fiction and I can’t shut down my marketing brain.
  • Greeting some authors I’ve appreciated from other publishing companies. (Yes, I do read books that aren’t published by Bethany House occasionally.)
  • Realizing that Jody Hedlund, Jocelyn Green, and I all graduated from Taylor University and posing for an alma mater photo.

  • Learning lots of behind-the-scenes research details, including how suspense writers convince people they’re not serial killers, which tiny historical errors have accidentally slipped into print, and what the brainstorming process looks like.
  • Hearing authors recommend books they love—including many written by other attending authors.
  • Meeting some of our fabulous bloggers who have seen my name in emails but found out that I am an actual person.
  • Laughing. A lot. Readers are a fun-loving crowd.
  • Enjoying breakfast burritos with readers who stammered and jaw-dropped their way through celebrity author sightings…and then eventually calmed down enough to hold a coherent conversation.
  • Applauding the amazing organizational committee and wondering what I have to do to become as awesome as Chris Jager (fiction buyer at Baker Book House).
  • Giving away books as door prizes! (Seriously, I love doing that.)
  • Seeing all the selfies from the book signing go up on social media, each one representing another autographed book on someone’s keeper shelf.

So, that’s the scoop on the Summit. There’s a second event planned next year in August, and we’d love to see you there! Check out the event website for the dates, with more details to come soon.

Have you ever gotten the chance to meet a favorite author in person? Tell us about it!

10 Ways to Be a Publisher’s Favorite Person Ever

Last week, I shared some pet peeves common among book industry people. (Except for a few that probably just bother me, but hey, still helpful information, right?)

Thankfully, very few readers fall into the categories I laid out in the last post, because people who love books are almost universally delightful. But there is also a small subset of readers who, as a publishing company employee, I especially appreciate. Read on for the ten things you can do to gain entrance into the elite, gold-star group of Bethany House’s Favorite Readers.

Defending an Author

Now, there are some people who are clearly trolling—saying something inflammatory just because they want to, and hey, fire is fun! Stay far, far away from those online conversations. Do not engage. Repeat. Do not engage. Over and out.

Also, this is not your moment to go all growling pit-bull over someone’s comments. (“I would never do that,” you say, but just you wait till someone calls your favorite book “sentimental trash,” my friend. Common sense can go out the window.) Remember, the person you disagree with might view the world differently than you do or just had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day. And regardless, there’s a really good chance that person is, in fact…a person, and thus infinitely valuable and deserving of respect.

All that said…nothing warms my publicist heart more than seeing a reader commenting on a review or Facebook post with a thoughtful and gracious “Have you considered this?” reply. Especially when I really wanted to say the same thing but felt like I couldn’t.

Being Understanding

This will shock absolutely no one, but sometimes I make mistakes. And sometimes another person on the marketing team makes a mistake. So, here is an open letter:

To Everyone Whose Copy Got Lost in the Mail or Was Sent Late, Who Got The Wrong Giveaway Prize or Never Heard Back or Otherwisely Has Good Reason to be Annoyed With Me or My Team:

I’m sorry. Really. And thank you for being gracious.

Because of my interactions with readers are sweet, considerate messages like, “I thought you might like to know about the typo on page 59 for future printings” and “If it’s not too much trouble, could you forward this email on to my favorite author?” and “When you get a chance, can you update me on the on the status of this?” All of that is very much appreciated by someone who has a thousand balls in the air and has never been a flawless juggler. (Okay, outside of the analogy I can’t really juggle at all.)

Supporting Your Local Bookstore

Obviously, not everyone lives near an actual physical bookstore, but if you do, make sure to stop in and buy there. Publishers and authors are thrilled about the access Amazon and other online retailers provide…but we also need stores to stay in business so there are multiple channels for books to get to the world. Plus, we like the people who own and work in bookstores—I’ve met dozens of them at author and retailer events and they are almost universally delightful—so we want them to be successful.

Commenting on Our Blog and Facebook Posts

I get it. Bethany House Publishers is more a vague-ish entity than a person, and it seems strange to have a conversation with an organization. Or, in the case of our logo, something that might be any one of the following, or a combination of two: book, flame, quill pen. (No one knows…take your pick.)

Since Facebook doesn’t show posts to most of the people who have “liked” our page, here’s one easy way to stay in touch. Go to our Facebook page, and under the “Following” tab, select “See First.” That way, you won’t miss the fun. (And don’t worry, I usually only post 4-5 times a week, so I won’t be spamming your feed.)

Then, if you see a question at the end of a blog post or on Facebook…answer! Engage! Talk to me! Otherwise I’ll feel like the lonely kid in middle school whose one friend was absent and she fled to the library so she wouldn’t have to sit alone at lunch. (Yes, that scenario is totally hypothetical. Totally.)

Beyond pity, it’s just fun to join in conversations like these. Readers need to stick together, and I hope we’re able to create a welcoming environment for interacting about all things bookish.

Thinking Deeply

If this is not your thing, totally fine. Enjoy reading! Love the story and the characters. Post a simple (hopefully five!) star review and one sentence about what you enjoyed. Seriously, that matters, both to an author’s confidence and for things like Amazon algorithms—and hey, I see your eyes glazing over when I talk about boring things like that, but seriously, they keep authors in business.

BUT, that said…I have a soft spot for the readers who just clearly get it. They know what the author was trying to do. They explain, either at a book signing or in a review or to their friends on social media why the suffering in the early chapters was critical to redemption later. They phrase an insight about a book’s theme or characters so well that I learn new things. They pick the perfect quote to capture the heart of the story. It’s beautiful and makes me ridiculously happy.

Gushing

This isn’t the opposite of what I listed above, but it is different. Maybe there’s not a single bit of analysis of how the symbolism relates to the theme or whatnot, but instead this type of review pours open the floodgates of reader-love emotion to explain exactly why you should visit the book’s setting right this instant, or how the cover of this book is frameable, put-above-your-mantle art, or why even if every other reader in the world falls in love with the hero, he is YOURS.

Super fun. I love it. And authors do too!

Encouraging Authors

Obviously, social media has its downsides, but one of the huge upsides is that authors can hear directly from readers. I can’t tell you how much that means to all the writers toiling away at their next book. Your kind words might arrive at just the right time to make a difference.

So, I’m declaring today “Go Give an Author a Virtual Hug Day.” Go ahead. Find an author on Facebook or through a contact form on their website and send a simple message of thanks and appreciation.

I’ll wait.

(This is not a cutesy rhetorical device. Like, I obviously have no way to check on you and make sure you do this…but you should. Right now. Before you talk yourself out of it, because it really is not painful, and it will bring both you and an author joy.)

Getting Excited About Winning

Seriously, I love getting delighted emails from book or prize winners expressing their enthusiasm. And if you want to know about more giveaways, join our brand-new giveaway group! In there, I’ll only post about giveaways so as not to clutter up your social media feed and to give you a one-stop place to find out about where you can win free books. (And to those of you who think you never win anything…I’m with you. The only time I won something was when I pulled my own test email address from a BHP contest and had to disqualify myself. Which just proves that you never know what could happen!)

Working on Your Own Writing

I know we have so very few publishing slots open, as a traditional publisher with limited capacity and lots of authors who continue to be part of our Bethany House family. That can feel very discouraging to a lot of aspiring writers out there. But do know that we are for you in your pursuit of knowledge about the craft and art of writing. Even if we aren’t ever able to publish one of your manuscripts, every person who works at Bethany House loves stories and seeing them reach readers with truth. So keep learning and growing and writing!

Saying Hi at Events.

I love meeting readers. Not going to lie, partly because it makes me feel like a celebrity in front of my boss, but mostly because it’s fun to put faces to names that I’ve seen online. Also I like giving hugs, so there’s that.

So if you’re at an author event, the ACFW conference, the Christian Fiction Reader’s retreat, or any other reader place I might frequent, be sure to introduce yourself. (I’ll be at the Christian Fiction Summit in Grand Rapids tomorrow, hint to anyone who’s attending!)

Okay, readers and writers! Anything that you see fellow readers doing, in person or online, that makes you sure you’ve found a kindred spirit? (I almost put “Loving Anne of Green Gables” as a bonus item on the list, but I’m sneaking it in here instead.)

Prayer for Authors: May 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 pos

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in May:

Rachel Dylan
Jody Hedlund
Becky Wade

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.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.“—1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For an eternal perspective while writing (and marketing and prioritizing family and thinking of ideas for the next book).
  • For opportunities to connect with, mentor, and learn from other writers.
  • For readers to take the truth in these books and share that truth with others.

Thanks again for joining us in prayer for these authors and for other people in your lives. I love this particular tradition, and I know our authors do too.

May 2018 New Releases!

Welcome to May, everyone! We’ve got some new books (and lovely covers) for you to admire. All three this month are technically second books in series, but they all stand alone and are connected by setting or reoccurring characters. We hope you enjoy them…and to help you get a sneak peek, you can click on each cover to read an excerpt.

Together Forever by Jody Hedlund

Plot Summary: Marianne Neumann became a placing agent with the Children’s Aid Society with one goal: to find her lost sister. Her fellow agent, Andrew Brady, is a former schoolteacher with a way with children and a hidden past. As they team up placing orphans in homes in Illinois, they grow ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy changes one of their lives forever.

Lone Witness by Rachel Dylan

Plot Summary: When prosecutor Sophie Dawson is the lone witness to a gang-related double homicide, her world is turned upside down. Private security guard Cooper Knight is hired to protect Sophie from the gang, but she’s more concerned about prosecuting her latest case than the threat to her life. Sophie wants to stand for what’s right, but can Cooper keep her safe?

Falling for You by Becky Wade

Plot Summary: Willow Bradford is content taking a break from modeling to run her family’s inn until she comes face-to-face with NFL quarterback Corbin Stewart, the man who broke her heart—and wants to win her back. When a decades-old family mystery brings them together, they’re forced to decide whether they can risk falling for one another all over again.

 

Do you have a genre you find yourself drawn to more than others?