Ask BHP: Grab Bag Questions!

Hello, readers! Since it’s almost the end of the year, I thought I’d snag a few questions from our Ask BHP Survey that have shorter answers and get to them all at once. Look for a new chance to ask questions come January!

Q: How does one become a test reader? Is that a job that can be applied for? I only ask because I’ve never heard of this before. It was mentioned in the September Ask BHP post.

A: In that post (talking about the process a book goes through before publication) the test readers referred to are actually Bethany House staff. Some of them are editors, others are people like me in marketing or our receptionist who just enjoy a particular genre. At that stage in the process, they’re not reading to notice details like grammar, just whether the story works and holds their interest. That said, some (but not all) authors have what they call beta readers, or people who read a manuscript early in the process to give feedback. It usually isn’t a paid position, but many readers find it very rewarding to help improve a book from a favorite author. If you’re interested, be sure to join reader Facebook groups in genres you enjoy and follow your favorite authors on social media and their newsletters–that’s where those rare opportunities are most often shared.

Q: How do you decide how many copies to print of a book from a new (first time published) author?

A: This is often more art than science, but we tend to look at factors like: how many copies do books in this genre usually sell? What kind of audience has the author built up already? (Even debut authors might have a newsletter or an audience they’ve attracted from speaking or writing articles or short fiction.) How many copies have other debut authors in this category recently sold? Are there any endorsements or other potential sales boosts that would raise the numbers? After our VP of Sales gives us a projection and we discuss/debate it, we present it to the whole sales team, including the representatives who will actually be selling the book to buyers at bookstore chains. After hearing a presentation about the book, they can tell us if they think our sales estimates are too high or low. We try to be as careful as possible, but of course, sometimes we over- or under-estimate. That’s part of what makes book publishing an adventure!

Q: What is the average time between concept and publishing for a novel?

A: This depends hugely on an author’s writing speed. Tracie Peterson, for example, releases about four books a year, so you can imagine that her timeline is on the shorter end! But here’s one way to look at it: a year ago this month, December 2019, we approved My Dear Miss Dupré by Grace Hitchcock for a book contract, along with a series set in the Grand Canyon by Kimberley Woodhouse. Because Grace was a new-to-Bethany-House author, a lot of that book was already written before the contract, so she finished it and turned the rough draft in by spring 2020. My Dear Miss Dupré is releasing in March 2021, meaning that from contract to publication date, it took fifteen months (she may have had the idea long before that, though). For Kimberley’s series, we only had a few sample chapters to look over, so she turned in the first book’s rough draft in fall of 2020. Book one (I’m not naming it here because I’m not sure she’s announced it, and we haven’t even designed the cover yet) releases in October 2021, so from contract to publication date, it took 22 months. That’s a lot of time, but we have to make sure a book is well written, edited, designed, and marketed!

Q: How much input in choosing titles do your authors have?

A: Authors always submit a list of titles along with their original proposal for the book to the publishing team. (Well, unless they’re an author who hates coming up with titles and just says, “So-and-So’s Book,” trusting us to come up with something else.) Their editor usually brainstorms too, either with them or separately, and then the Titling Committee, made up of people from editorial and marketing, are given a synopsis of the book, a list of themes/symbols/other important details the author provides, and the potential titles. They meet, discuss, and sometimes pick one of the titles as-is…or they tweak it, combine two, or come up with something totally new. The editor then returns to the author with the title that everyone on the committee agreed on for the author to approve.

Q: How do you (or do you?) interact with the other divisions of Baker Publishing Group?

A: For those who don’t know, Bethany House is part of a larger family-owned Christian publishing company, called Baker Publishing Group. On a big-picture level, we meet with our co-workers from other divisions at our sales conferences three times a year as well as our strategy summit and other video calls for things like brainstorming how to use budget money and sharing marketing ideas. On a micro level, I’m always shooting questions to my co-workers from other divisions, even my “nonfictional coworkers” as I fondly call them, setting up fun collaborations between fiction and nonfiction authors, asking them to recommend podcasts, or seeing if a particular outlet has worked well for them. A special shoutout goes to my “fictional coworkers,” though, our friends on the marketing team at Revell. We often work together for promos, update each other on industry changes, and swap stories of things that worked and things that flopped. That kind of collaborative environment is one of the great things about working at (and publishing with) Bethany House.

Q: So many of my top reads of 2020 were Bethany House Publisher books. Great job!

A: This isn’t a question, but I was delighted to see it (and several other kind comments like it). Thanks so much, and be sure to review those favorite books at the end of the year. It means so much to all of our authors!

Did any of these answers or details about publishing surprise you? If so, which one(s)?

One thought on “Ask BHP: Grab Bag Questions!

  1. I’m in agreement that most of my top reads are Bethany House books! You guys do such a great job coming up with book titles. I can imagine it’s extremely hard not duplicating titles that are already well used!

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