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?

Ask Bethany House: How Do I Get Started in Publishing?

This month’s Ask BHP question was repeated in a few different ways in our survey, so I’ll try to combine and answer them all. Here’s the summary: “I’m interested in getting a job in publishing in the future (or someone I know is). What are some good steps to take to work toward that goal?”

First, I’ll start with education, because that was one angle that this question took in our survey. Many of our editors have degrees in fields such as English, Publishing, Communications, Writing, or Journalism, which prepared them with the skills they needed for their current position. Most also had previous editing experience even before their first job in publishing, such as freelance writing or editing, contributing to local or school newspapers, or grant writing, so that’s also a great way to make your resume stand out.

On the marketing side (where I work), most of us have four-year degrees in Marketing, Public Relations, or the majors listed above for editorial. Background and experience in publicity and related fields is helpful.

That especially applies to those who are students in college, and an added bonus is that most internships are open only to those enrolled full-time in classes. If you’re a student (or you know a student) who’s interested in Christian fiction in particular, let me take a moment to plug the Bethany House marketing-editorial internship open until March 15, 2018 for applications. Many publishers offer programs or positions like this. They’re very helpful for learning about publishing, getting excellent references, and gaining real-life experience with the kind of work you’d like to do. (Or, sometimes, determining what sort of work wouldn’t be a good fit.)

Also, if you apply for a job in publishing, proofread your application carefully.

When I think through the last several candidates we hired who didn’t have formal experience in publishing, many of them were still very familiar with our books. They’d been on author launch teams or had favorite Bethany House authors or could list experience with the programs or tasks or style guides that were part of their jobs. So, one easy thing to do while searching for open opportunities is to read and immerse yourself in the books, industry, and terms of publishing.

Because there are only so many publishing companies, particularly if you’re specifically interested in Christian publishing, I’d also suggest learning all you can about the publishing industry and other book-related careers. That might open up other doors you hadn’t considered before. My job as fiction publicist has a lot of overlapping interests and skills with a literary agent or the community relations manager of a bookstore, for example, though of course there are significant differences.

How do you do that? Follow authors, subscribe to agency blogs (and this one!), read articles in places like Publishers Weekly, and pay attention whenever careers are being discussed. If an author wrote a blog post about their virtual assistant, check it out! If you see a literary agent give a call-out  for questions to answer on Twitter, ask what qualities make a good agent. At a writing conference, meet and greet the folks at sponsor booths as a networking opportunity. Talk to those you know who are involved in any area of writing or editing to learn about what they do. You never know what you might find!

Finally, I often hear people asking if publishing jobs are starting to open up to work-from-home opportunities. The answer is: some of them, but not the majority. Freelance editors and proofreaders and designers, virtual assistants, outside publicity companies, and some other roles are benefiting from the shift to more remote work. That said, I can’t speak to all publishing companies, but Bethany House still hires people with the understanding that they’ll be working on-site, mostly because it’s important to have a team assembled that can attend meetings, confer on projects, and work together in person.

I hope this is a helpful glimpse into how to prepare to work in publishing. Be sure to pass it along to anyone, especially students, who are interested in learning more about what steps to take next.

Following in Paul’s Footsteps: Interview with Angela Hunt

Today on the blog, I’m welcoming the one and only Angela Hunt! Her upcoming release, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a novelization of the film of the same name that releases March 23, one that tells the story of Luke and Paul from the New Testament. I’ve got questions; she’s got answers.

What are some of the challenges of writing the novelization of a film?

Angela: First, having a screenplay to work with takes care of most of the plotting, and that’s a relief. But a screenplay, when turned into prose, comes in around 30,000 words, and a novel must be around 75-80,000 words. So a novelist has to add a lot, but the added material mustn’t detract from or contradict the screenplay. That can be a challenge.

What are some strengths that a novel has when compared to a film? Is there anything that the film can convey more easily than a novel?

Angela: In a film, the viewer only knows what he can see and hear. In a novel, the writer can help a reader “hear” a character’s thoughts and experience what a character tastes, smells, intuits, and feels beneath his fingertips.

Conversely, a filmmaker can show the image of a building or a landscape and convey in a second what might take a writer a thousand words to express.

As you researched, did you discover anything about the life and times of Paul, or the culture he wrote in, that might be surprising to readers?

Angela: Most Christians are quite familiar with Paul because he wrote so many books of the New Testament. (Luke actually wrote more words of the New Testament, and how like a writer to consider word count.) What I found myself doing was looking for logical connections Paul might have had with other characters. He was part of the Sanhedrin along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Did they know each other? Did they interact? We know Paul was present when Stephen was killed, but did he know him before that day? Since nearly every religious Jew went to the Temple during the Pilgrimage festivals, could Paul have been present when the twelve-year-old Jesus was confounding the rabbis during Passover? The world was a smaller place in those days, so those situations might have happened . . . and that intrigued me.

So, why read Biblical fiction at all? Isn’t the Bible enough on its own?

Angela: I wrote about this in more depth on my blog, but here’s a summary: because the human spirit resonates to STORY.

That covers fiction in general, but why read fiction specifically based on biblical events?

  1. Because a trustworthy author will not violate Scripture.
  2. Because the fictional elements should be logical and based on historical facts.
  3. Because human nature is consistent over time.  We often think our problems are unique, and we’re relieved to discover that we aren’t alone. Others have been in similar situations.
  4. Because historical fiction helps us better understand the culture and history of familiar story events.
  5. Because we learn from the lives of other people.
  6. Because God Himself recorded stories, and Jesus taught with them since humans are hard-wired to appreciate story. Who would know that better than the God who created us?

God gave us Scripture, and the doctrine of biblical sufficiency states that the Bible gives us all we need to know about God. But it does not give us all we want to know, and our quest for knowledge is a God-given gift. We yearn to know more, and well-written biblical, historical, and contemporary fiction can meet that need. So don’t hesitate to open your heart and mind to a well-written biblical novel. You may be surprised to learn a truth you had never before considered.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Paul, Apostle of Christ?

Angela: As I worked on the novel, I found myself convicted by the all-or-nothing attitude Paul and Luke evidenced. We live in a post-Christian society where people can look at you askance if you talk about Jesus or even take a stand against sin. Paul and Luke lived in a world where for talking about Jesus you could be arrested on the street and hung on a burning cross by nightfall. That is a sobering realization. They would not have retreated from the possibility of being shamed on Facebook, yet how many times we do choose not to speak for fear of reprisals? I hope readers will realize the price the early Christians paid for our faith—and the price we must pay if we are to be faithful for future generations.

Thanks so much for being with us, Angela! Here’s a question for you, readers: what story or figure in the Bible fascinates you?

Ten Book Lover Conversation Hearts (That Really Should Exist)

You know those candy hearts that show up around this time of year? The ones with sweet mottos like “Crazy 4 U” or “Kiss Me” written on them? I’ve always thought they needed to be more specific. And by that I mean…bookish. Here are ten new conversation hearts that don’t exist but totally should.

(For the purpose of this post, we’re pretending that these candies actually have flavors, when we all know they really taste like chalk with slight tints of artificial coloring.)

The Basics

Do I know why “love” is abbreviated “luv” when it saves only one letter and looks ridiculous? No, I do not. Just go with it. This is your standard “declare where your heart is” candy.

Ideal flavor: Classic cherry.


Use this as an excuse to keep reading…not that you need an excuse. (And not that you actually need to keep to the limit described here.)

Ideal flavor: Potato chip. Because you can’t eat just one! (Hey, JellyBelly’s most popular flavor is Buttered Popcorn. This could work.)


Wouldn’t we all? I’d suggest keeping a candy dish of these on your desk at work or near whatever appliance is responsible for your least-favorite household task.

Ideal flavor: Cinnamon and sadness.

Could this apply to situations other than being completely engrossed in the last few chapters of a page-turning book? I mean…I guess. If people have other hobbies besides reading that would lead them to threaten people, but that’s not something I can personally relate to.

Ideal flavor: Arsenic. (Kidding.) (Mostly kidding.) What about licorice? To me at least, that’s basically the same thing.

For when “call me” or “date me” is too subtle. Let that special someone know what gift would be really attractive. Seriously, why people exchange chocolate and cards on Valentine’s Day instead of books is beyond me.

Ideal flavor: Flirty fruit punch.

Specialized – For True Readers Only

Whether you’re mourning the fact that your to-be-read pile will grow until the day you die or pledging your loyalty to adding to said pile no matter the cost, this one’s for you.

Ideal flavor: Everlasting gobstopper. (Not entirely sure that’s a flavor; Willy Wonka didn’t return my calls.)

Book boyfriends: breaking hearts everywhere by technically not existing.

Ideal flavor: Tropical fruit, like the island where you and the (fictional) man of your dreams could travel together….

When you want to #humblebrag about the advance reader copy you got of a book that won’t come out for several months and taunt all of your book-loving friends who have to wait for the release date like mere mortals. (Oh wait…is that just me? My bad.)

Ideal flavor: Green apple and power trip.

For those of you who know what the Oxford comma is…and have opinions about it. Comes in gif form for you to include in passive-aggressive comments on badly-written social media posts.

Ideal flavor: Lemon. Or maybe red pen ink.

Stock up on these anytime a new movie adaptation comes around. Bonus points if you bring them into the theater and hand them out.

Ideal flavor: Grape with a hint of crushed expectations

If you wish you had a whole bag of these candy hearts, then you should be sure to stop by our Valentine’s Day Facebook Party on Friday, February 16. There will be book (and bookish gift) giveaways, plus games and contests, storytime excerpt readings, and more! The event is in the morning/early afternoon, but the giveaways will be open for 24 hours afterward, so RSVP to get a reminder whether you can come during the timeframe or not. Hope to see you there!

Can you think of any bookish conversation hearts that need to be made?

Prayer for Authors: February 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 February:

Lisa T. Bergren
Connilyn Cossette
Jocelyn Green

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.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you..”—Psalm 86:4-5 (ESV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For increased joy in the work of writing (and editing and marketing).
  • For wisdom in what new opportunities or commitments to say yes to, and which to turn down.
  • For the sales team that sells books into stores and help spread the word about new Christian fiction titles.

Many thanks, as always, for taking time to pray for these authors and many more who are busy creating the books we love to read. We at Bethany House appreciate you!

New Releases: February 2018

I’m excited to present the three historical fiction releases coming from Bethany House this month. Beautiful covers, beautiful stories…this is a month’s worth of books that you need to check out. As always, click on the cover to read an excerpt of each book.

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Plot Synopsis: In 1772, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters inherit their father’s estates and travel to the West Indies to see what is left of their legacy. On the island of Nevis, every man seems to be trying to win Keturah’s hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. Set on saving their heritage, can she trust God with her future—and her heart?

A Light on the Hill by Connilyn Cossette

Plot Synopsis: After being branded during the battle of Jericho, Moriyah has had no prospects for marriage—until now. She hopes to please the man, but things go horribly wrong and she is forced to flee for her life. Seeking safety at one of the Levitical cities of refuge, she is unprepared for the dangers she faces, and the enemies—and allies—she encounters on her way.

A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green

Plot Synopsis: Vivienne Rivard fled revolutionary France and seeks a new life for herself and a boy in her care, who some say is the Dauphin. But America is far from safe, as militiaman Liam Delaney knows. He proudly served in the American Revolution but is less sure of his role in the Whiskey Rebellion. Drawn together, will Liam and Vivienne find the peace they long for?

Okay, readers, a fun question for you: would you rather live in Israel during the time of the Old Testament, on a Caribbean island in colonial times, or just after the Revolutionary War in Pennsylvania? (Hint: there’s a lot more hardship and adventure in all of these places than you might think, so choose carefully!)

Ask Bethany House: What Marks a Discerning Reader?

It’s a new year, and I’ve gotten some great questions for our Ask Bethany House series in 2018! (If you’d like to contribute a question, it’s not too late. Send it in to our survey.)

Here’s our first one for January: “How would you define a ‘discerning reader’? What kinds of things do they observe about a book, its quality, its depth, its characters that make authors and publishers know that the reader has really invested in the story?”

What a fun question! First, I’d like to start off by saying that authors and publishers love to hear that you enjoyed a story—that it entertained you or took your mind off your worries or made you want to take a trip to the setting or made you think or laugh or cry. All of that is great, and also relatively simple. No need to get fancy.

That said, if you’re looking for ways to read like a writer or editor—either to get better at noticing why you enjoy a book so you can leave more specific reviews on blogs or retail sites, or maybe even to learn how to write a novel yourself—here are my tips.

  • Savor descriptions. It’s gone out of vogue to put in long blocks of exquisite prose describing every blade of grass the hero can see, and that’s probably a good thing. But when you notice some excellently crafted details about the setting or the expression on someone’s face, appreciate them, and maybe jot them down to quote later. (Booklist’s starred review of A Refuge Assured called it “almost overwhelming in its sensory detail,” so that one would be a great place to start.)
  • Notice the symbolism. I remember telling Elizabeth Camden that I loved a moment where her heroine in With Every Breath examines a “paperweight with a daisy blossom that would remain forever frozen in silent perfection inside the glass” because it was a great symbol for the issue that character was struggling with. She was delighted that I’d noticed the little detail she’d slipped into the story. You can obviously go overboard with this to the point where everything is a symbol (when it really wasn’t meant to be), but it’s fun to be on the lookout.
  • Take a look at word choice. I believe it was Melissa Tagg who said at a writing seminar that there’s a big difference between a door “painted a bright cherry red” and one that’s “streaked with blood-red paint, curling off in disrepair.” In one, you’re in a happy scene, in the other…look behind you to make sure the murderer isn’t coming. Often, loaded adjectives and verbs give scenes a certain atmosphere. The author chose those words carefully. Enjoy them!
  • Watch those secondary characters. Most authors have strong, well-developed protagonists, but the novels I love the most spend time making you care about the minor characters too, even if they rarely show up. You get the sense that even they have quirks and histories and personalities. I noticed this in Becky Wade’s True to You in particular with the heroine’s co-workers.
  • Admire a good plot twist. Not every story needs one of these, of course, and they might actually feel jarring in some genres. On the small scale, though, it’s fun when a character says something unexpected but perfect, or a secret is revealed at the end (as in many Beverly Lewis books). For big-scale, jaw-dropping plot twists, I’ll always recommend Patrick Carr…The Wounded Shadow, the last novel in his Darkwater Saga, is coming out in April and I can’t wait!

I could go on and on with often-overlooked aspects of great writing and recommend dozens of books that demonstrate them, but I should probably keep this post to a reasonable length. Whether you are a detail-noticer or just a happy-ending lover, a discerning reader is one who knows just which books to put on the keeper shelf…and which to get out again for a re-read!

Now I’ll turn it over to you, oh readers. Is there an aspect of a story that makes it a standout to you? Anything in particular you love to see in the books you most enjoy?