Can You Judge a Book by its Cover? Guest Post from Elizabeth Camden

It’s an old question: Can you judge a book by its cover?

My answer: Yes! Especially if it is a book by Bethany House.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see and it should make a lasting impression within the space of a few seconds. A great cover will help the reader instantly recognize the genre, tone, and setting of a book. For example, if you look at the covers below, you can probably tell which novels are in a genre you are interested in:

An Elegant Façade is falls directly into the regency romance category and is likely to appeal to Jane Austen fans. A Dangerous Legacy is still a historical, but the tone is a little more turbulent and promises a stormy romance. A Love Like Ours is clearly a contemporary, with a vibe that blends both humorous and a down-home western feel. Return to Me communicates a traditional biblical fiction novel with an epic feel to it.

Once upon a time cover designers could pour a lot of detail into the cover image, but with the rise of online shopping, it is essential a book cover look good both on a bookstore shelf and a thumbnail image on a smart phone. The physical copy of a Bethany House novel is 8 ½ inches tall. If a potential reader is looking at the same book on an iPhone, the cover will only be ¾” tall. That presents a huge challenge for the designer. It means the titles need to be shorter, details are streamlined, and backgrounds can’t be too busy.

With all those limitations, it is amazing that designers can still produce such diversity that communicates a genre and vibe so quickly.

Although authors rarely have much say in our covers, the team of professionals in a publishing company are experts in picking out color palettes, symbolism, and design elements to convey these messages in the space of only a few seconds. The cover is making a promise to the reader about what sort of experience they can expect once they open the page, which is why Bethany House puts so much attention on designing that image. People really do judge a book by its cover!

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! (Here she is becoming part of her latest cover.)

What about you? What is your favorite book cover in recent memory?

Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway!

Who doesn’t love a good party? Especially a party that involves talented authors and lots of amazing books? That’s basically what the Christy Awards is: a celebration of the best in Christian fiction.

This year, I’m excited to be on the Christy Awards board representing Baker Publishing Group and helping organize an event for authors before the awards. I’m beyond excited, and it’s only a month away now! Since I know that many of you live too far away to come (although see the invite below if a trip to Nashville sounds like fun), I decided to host a giveaway to get you in the gala spirit, and to draw attention to the finalists and their books, representing many different publishing companies.

Here’s how it works:

  • Leave a question at the survey posted on By the Book. (We might use your question for a panel.)
  • Then take a look at the 2017 Christy nominees and comment on this post with one that you’ve read and loved.
  • You’ll be entered to win your choice of a Christy-nominated book from 2016 published by Bethany House (Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey, A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter, Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden, or The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White).
  • I’ll announce and contact the winner next Thursday, October 19.

That’s it! Except for one last thing…if you live near Nashville (or want to make a road trip), we’d love to have you join us for the awards! Readers, the gala dinner is not-to-be-missed, and if you’re also an aspiring writer, there are workshops beforehand that you’ll want to check out as well.

You can find out more about the event below, or if you’re already convinced, you can register here.

About the Art of Writing Conference: The Art of Writing is designed to bring Christian creatives and publishing curators together for a half day of intensive seminars that celebrate the creative life, provide practical tips for overcoming challenges in a rapidly-changing industry, and answer questions authors are asking.

The speakers represent a wide range of roles and areas of expertise. Andrew Peterson, young adult writer and founder of the Rabbit Room, will give advice on how to create and benefit from a vibrant creative community, while Wheaton College professor Theon Hill, Ph.D. will present a survey of the obstacles and opportunities of diversity in Christian fiction. Authors will receive encouragement for the ups and downs of the writing life from blogger Carrie Schmidt and author, agent, and ACFW public relations liaison Cynthia Ruchti. Finally, a panel of representatives from major ECPA publishers will share insider information on where the genre has been, where it’s going, and the exciting changes they see in today’s market for writers. Learn more about the speakers and sessions here.

About the Christy Awards: The Christy Award™ is designed to nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview and showcase the diversity of genres. The award is named for Catherine Marshall’s enduring bestselling novel, Christy, published in 1967 and inspiring a continuing book series and a CBS television series starring Kellie Martin. The novel will be re-released in 2017 in a 50th anniversary legacy edition by Gilead Publishing in partnership with Kregel Publications.

Hosted by award-winning author and radio host Chris Fabry, this year’s celebration gala dinner will feature New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury as well as musician and writer Andrew Peterson. You can view the finalist list here.

Be sure to check out the fun on the rest of the tour!

Christy Award Celebration Blog Tour

Monday, October 9: Top Ten Writing Industry Issues at Seekerville
Tuesday, October 10: Give Us Your Best Questions at By the Book
Wednesday, October 11: Interview with Dr. Theon Hill at Reading is My Superpower
Thursday, October 12: Celebrating the Christy Awards…With a Giveaway! at Bethany House Fiction
Friday, October 13: Quiz: Pick Your Gala Dress at Dani Pettrey’s blog
Saturday, October 14: Eight Reasons to Come to The Art of Writing at The Power of Words
Sunday, October 15: Interview with Carrie Schmidt at Bookworm Mama
Monday, October 16: Interview with Cynthia Ruchti at Just Commonly
Tuesday, October 17: Christy Nominee Bingo and Giveaway at Faithfully Bookish
Wednesday, October 18: The Unofficial Readers’ Choice Cover Awards at Singing Librarian Books

October 2017 New Releases

Happy fall, readers! You’ve come to the right place for five amazing new book suggestions. Go ahead and add them to your TBR pile, Kindle list, or Christmas gift suggestions. (Yes, it’s far too early to start thinking about the holidays, but I know many overachievers who like to get their shopping done long before Thanksgiving. It’s crazy.) For a look at what’s inside, click on the cover of each to start reading a first chapter.

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey

Plot: When a terrorist investigation leads FBI agent Declan Grey to a closed immigrant community, he turns to crisis counselor Tanner Shaw for help. Despite the tension between them, he needs the best of the best on this case. Under imminent threat, they’ll have to race against the clock to stop a plot that could cost thousands of lives—including theirs.

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Plot: Despite Victorian society’s strict rules for women, Rebecca and Flora Hawes’ desire for adventure has led them to the Sinai Desert. Accompanied by their young butler and their maid, the sisters search for a biblical manuscript. On their exotic journey, they experience challenges and wonders, and recall the events that brought them to this time and place.

A Plain Leaving by Leslie Gould

Plot: Returning for her father’s funeral, Jessica faces the Amish life—and love—she left behind years prior. Struggling with regrets, she learns about the life of a Revolutionary War–era ancestor who confronted some of the same choices she has. Will Jessica find peace during her visit, along with the resolution she hopes for?

A Dangerous Legacy by Leslie Gould

Plot: Telegraph operator Lucy Drake is a master of Morse code, but the presence of Sir Colin Beckwith at a rival news agency puts her livelihood at risk. When Colin’s reputation is jeopardized, Lucy agrees to help in exchange for his assistance in recovering her family’s stolen fortune. However, the web of treachery they’re diving into is more dangerous than they know.

Too Far Down by Mary Connealy

Plot: When an explosion at the mine kills workers and damages the CR Company, the Boden family is plunged deep into the heart of trouble yet again. As they try to identify the forces against them once and for all, Cole Boden finds himself caught between missing his time back in the east, and all that New Mexico offers—namely, his family and cowgirl Melanie Blake.

Question for you, readers: with cooler weather on the way, do you drink coffee, tea, or another warm beverage while reading?

Prayer for Authors: October 2017

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.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in October:

Lynn Austin
Elizabeth Camden
Mary Connealy
Leslie Gould
Dani Pettrey

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.

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.–Isaiah 40:28-29 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For direction for any choices that need to be made for the future, and diligence in the daily tasks during release month.
  • For the ability to fight comparison to other authors.
  • For those here at Bethany House (and other publishing companies) to make wise choices and have a renewed ability to get quality books out to readers.

This Sunday, I’m so glad to have a group of readers who love to pray for our authors and be involved in their lives. Thanks for joining us!

Five Bookish Mysteries to Solve

Last week, I received the following Facebook message to the Bethany House Publishers page: “HI! I want all your pictures also the questions and mysteries you have.”

There are a few ways to interpret this cryptic message:

  • Someone used Google Translate and it went badly wrong.
  • A spam/robot account is sending me auto-generated messages.
  • This is a legitimate question that I should answer on the blog.

Being the reasonable person that I am, I’ve decided that Option 3 is clearly the correct one. The following are a number of mysteries, solved and unsolved, from my experience in Christian publishing (with pictures, though not all my pictures).

Mystery One: The Bethany House Logo

Is it a flame, possibly on the page of an open book? Is it an ink quill tip? Is it supposed to be both at the same time? And if it is both, does that mean that our authors are lighting the world on fire, or is it symbolic of the Holy Spirit?

Staff members are divided. You decide.

Mystery Two: Faceless Women

By which I mean the type of cover that shows only part of a woman’s face/head or none at all.

While there’s no hard evidence of why this trend exists, popular explanations include:

  • Some readers like to imagine the heroine’s face themselves, and the cover model could never be exactly what everyone is picturing.
  • There’s a certain mystery about a half-hidden face that intrigues people.
  • Something design-speak about proportions and lines and large faces sometimes distracting from the title and author name.
  • And, of course, Regina Jenning’s conclusive research into this issue from a few years ago, my personal favorite explanation for this one.

Mystery Three: Disproportionate Genetic Distribution of Redheads

Someone* at Bethany House actually counted the number of red-haired heroines in our books one year and found that it was 18% of main characters, vs. approximately 1.7% percent of the US population.

This is a startling genetic anomaly that clearly indicates that gingers are trying to take over inspirational fiction. (Or maybe it’s because in three-book series, authors sometimes like to have at least one redhead. That might be it too.)

Mystery Four: The Traveling Felt Art Disaster

At Bethany House, we have a monstrosity of a craft project that makes its way into the office of the newest employee to celebrate their first day. (I had to keep it up for 16 months, a new record partially because it was a long time before we hired someone new and I could pass it along and also because apparently editorial doesn’t make people display it the whole time because they’re interior design cowards.)

There are legends surrounding the original creator of this artifact. Trend-dating, indicated by the atomic tangerine flowers and gold sequins, edges the date of origin toward the 1970s and early 80s. (For reference, that’s when Janette Oke published Love Comes Softly and the rest of the series.) But no one really knows for sure, much like blurry photos of Bigfoot or unsolved cold cases.

Mystery Five: Unnamed Scrolly Things

What do you call those pretty decorative things? At a recent cover meeting, I was brutally and unfairly mocked for referring to them as “ those lovely doodly-doo whatchamacallits.”

I say unfairly because, in fact, no one else in the room could agree on the right answer. “Flourish,” “dingbat,” “decorative element,” “filigree,” “ornament,” and “embellishment” were all suggested as alternatives. Since all of these are either boring or just as odd-sounding as “lovely doodly-doo whatchamacallits,” I will continue to use my term of choice.

Side note: Ever since I found out that the Morse code on Karen Witemeyer’s Heart on the Line and the various languages on Connilyn Cossette’s Out From Egypt series all actually say something, I’ve been wondering how many of our covers contain secret messages.**

I could go on with more specific examples like The Case of the Plagiarizing Blogger with Three Names or the Mysterious Affair of the Red Pen Corrections on Public Signage, but this will have to do for now.

And to the person or robot who sent that original Facebook message…thanks for the laugh.

Do any of you have theories about these mysteries that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.

*It was me. I did that. Clearly, I need more to do to occupy my time.
**Probably all of them. You should be at least half as paranoid as me—it makes reading more fun.

Ask BHP: How Do You Choose a Release Month?

From our Ask Bethany House mail bag, someone is getting practical with this question: “How do you decide how many books to release in a certain month?”

At Bethany House, we release anywhere from two to seven novels per month. As to how we determine that, I wish I could give you a magical answer, like, “Our production team uses a multi-step algorithm based on page count, reading level, and the position of the North Star when the contract was signed,” but that’s not the case at all. It’s a very imprecise science, but here are a few factors that go into what month a book is being released:

  • When can the author finish writing the book? (Obviously, this is the most important factor here so it has time to be edited. It’s where we start when creating a production schedule for the book.)
  • Is there a special appeal for a certain season? (For novels, that includes Christmas-themed stories, but this applies even more to nonfiction with books aimed at graduates or gift books perfect for spring bridal showers.)
  • Will this book get good placement in the stores at this time?
  • Is there a similar book releasing that month? Better split them up so we don’t oversaturate the market.
  • Is there a similar book releasing that month? Great, let’s keep it because we can place ads promoting both of them. (Yes, this is sort of a contradiction. It’s a case-by-case thing.)
  • Does it fit with the authors’ writing schedule? (You may have noticed that some authors have books that release at the same time—or times—every year, while others move around more.)
  • Is everyone going to be stressed and overworked because we scheduled too many books for the same month?
  • Did we release another book by that author, like a novella collection, that same month? (We try to avoid that.)
  • Was the manuscript completed on time so we could keep the scheduled release month? No other disasters that might delay the release?

Even though the process for determining a release month is going to be different for each book, the past several years, Bethany House has been consistent in the number of books we released in a year (around 49-53 titles). I always get excited about each month’s new round of books and hope you are too!

Speaking of months, it’s the time of year for the ACFW Conference! (No, that transition didn’t quite make sense, but go with it.) I’m headed there today, and our marketing manager, Noelle Chew, and I will be at the Bethany House spotlight to answer your questions, so if you’re an author who reads this blog, we’d love to see you there.

Inside BHP: Book Tours!

This week, I’m with Beverly Lewis, traveling around North and South Carolina at libraries and bookstores to meet and greet some wonderful readers! (You can see where we’ve been and the few stops still to go here.) Despite some storms and rain from Hurricane Irma, the signings have all been full of amazing people excited to get a copy of The Proving.

For more tour pictures, take a look at the album on Beverly’s Facebook page!

Beverly loves chatting with readers, speaking at library events, and giving hugs. It’s always so fun for longtime fans in particular who are meeting her for the first time.

And what’s my job on the tour, you ask? Anything that needs to be done, from handing out bookmarks to taking pictures to explaining what the reading level of Beverly’s kids and youth books. With three events a day, it’s a lot to do, but also a delight. Thanks to all the readers who prayed for this tour, and we’d love it if you continue to pray for safe travel over the next few days.

I’ll be back to regular blogging next week, but enjoy this sneak peek inside the life of an author and publishing team.

Have you ever met an author in person? If so, who, and at what sort of event?

Announcing Our September New Releases!

A new month means a new list of books to add to your TBR pile. Take a look at these beauties…don’t you just want to ask the lead characters what their expressions indicate? Be sure to click on each of the covers to read an excerpt.

The Proving by Beverly Lewis

Having left the Amish life for the English world, Amanda Dienner is shocked when she learns that her mother has passed and left her Lancaster County’s most popular Amish bed-and-breakfast. The catch is she has to run it herself for one year, acting as hostess. Amanda accepts the terms, but coming home to people she left behind won’t be easy.

Cherished Mercy by Tracie Peterson

After surviving the Whitman Massacre as a child, Mercy still prays for peace between the native peoples and the white settlers of Oregon Territory. Longing for purpose, she travels to another mission to help a friend. There she meets Adam, a handsome young minister. When tragedy strikes yet again, Mercy and Adam must rely on their faith to make it out alive.

Deadly Proof by Rachel Dylan

In the biggest case of her career, attorney Kate Sullivan has been appointed lead counsel to take on Mason Pharmaceutical in a claim involving an allegedly dangerous new drug. She hires a handsome private investigator to do some digging, but when a whistleblower is found dead, it’s clear the stakes are higher than ever. Will this case prove deadly for Kate?

Crown of Souls by Ronie Kendig

Suddenly shot at a picnic, Tox discovers it’s a strange invitation to join an old sniper pal’s quest for revenge over his fallen team. Despite the injury, Tox feels sympathetic to the cause—and battles a growing darkness within himself. But when he learns Alec is using a deadly ancient artifact in his plan, Tox must fight the monster without becoming one.

An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

The Duke of Riverton has chosen his future wife with the same logic he uses to make every decision. However, his perfect bride eludes his suit, while the beautiful Isabella Breckenridge seems to be everywhere. When the time comes, will Griffith and Isabella be able to set aside their pride and initial notions to embrace their very own happily-ever-after?

 

Just for fun…knowing a little about the story, what emotion would you say is dominant on each of the cover characters’ faces?

Prayer for Authors: September 2017

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.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in September:

Rachel Dylan
Kristi Ann Hunter
Ronie Kendig
Beverly Lewis
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.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.–Psalm 62:5-6 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For books to go out into stores and libraries and into the hands of the readers who need them.
  • For physical health and energy during book launch month.
  • For a renewed sense of purpose and hope in God for their lives and writing careers.

We so appreciate you joining us in prayer for these authors (and others in your life). Thanks for being a part of this monthly tradition!

The Real Setting of a Novel…and a Giveaway!

An art theft, organized crime, the Stone Arch Bridge and more…all in the same novel! Today, we have a guest post from Todd Johnson, who chose to set his latest legal thriller, Fatal Trust, in Minneapolis (home to both Todd and Bethany House Publishers). Read on for his explanation of the fascinating real-life history and setting of the novel.

The building with the clock tower stands alone in a suburb of Minneapolis, sandwiched between a busy mall and a nearby highway. It looks like it might once have been a bank. Perhaps it was. But in the late 1970s, it was an art shop, Elayne Galleries. On a winter day in 1978, that gallery was the site of a robbery which would prove to be the greatest unsolved art theft in Minnesota history, and the inspiration for my third novel, Fatal Trust.

I visited the gallery on a fall day in 1977 shortly before that theft, dragged to a Norman Rockwell exhibition by a girlfriend with genuine taste. The paintings were like the Rockwells you see in magazines, only wonderfully more vivid, and I recall the gallery owner explaining to us that the paintings and lithographs on display, including the iconic “The Spirit of ‘76”, would soon be worth much more than their current value because of the painter’s advanced age. The point seemed a bit morbid, though almost certainly true, and it has stuck with me through the years.

Leaving the gallery that afternoon, I had no idea that, within a few months, seven of those Rockwells would be stolen. The thieves might even have been among us that day, casing the exhibit, its security system and the single Pinkerton guard. The FBI suspected the crime was carried out by organized crime figures. They never determined if they were right.

Fatal Trust is not really about Minneapolis’s gangster past, though the likes of Kid Cann, David Berman, John Dillinger and others who once walked Hennepin Avenue echo in the background. Rather, it is a modern novel about two young lawyers, Ian Wells and Brook Daniels, drawn into a maelstrom birthed from that history. The book examines how even people we believe we know well–even those closest to us–can have secrets we do not suspect. And how even people of good intentions can’t escape the simple spiritual truth that actions will have consequences–for us and those we care about, extending much farther than we may suspect.

Click on the cover to read an excerpt!

Ian Wells is one of the protagonists of the story, a young criminal defense attorney struggling to build a Minneapolis law practice he inherited from his father while caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s. Burdened nearly to breaking, one day Ian gets a break. A new client calls offering a simple case: determine whether three men qualify for over nine million dollars of trust funds. To qualify, none can have been involved in criminal activity for the past twenty years. Ian’s fee for a week’s work: the unbelievable sum of two hundred thousand dollars.

Ian accepts the job. But he is quickly dragged deep into a mystery linking the trust with a decades-old criminal enterprise and Minneapolis’s greatest unsolved art theft. As stolen money from the art theft surfaces, Ian finds himself the target of a criminal investigation conducted by his closest friend, Brook Daniels, a prosecutor and companion since law school. He realizes too late that this simple investigation has spun out of control and threatens his career, his future, his life, and the live of those he loves.

As the mystery unfolds, the book follows Ian and Brook through the “grand rounds” of some of my favorite places in the Twin Cities: from the Lynnhurst neighborhood where Ian grew up to the State Fair Grounds near his Fremont Apartment.

Tangleton Water Tower in Lynnhurst

The Stone Arch Bridge is also featured on the cover of the book.

From the Stone Arch Bridge arcing gracefully over the Mississippi to the outdoor patio thrust from the Guthrie Theater toward the same. From Kieran’s Pub to Victor’s 1959 Café; Summit Avenue in St. Paul to the old clubs fronting Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. And through it all, the layers of the mystery keep peeling back to reveal more inside.

The first scene in the novel takes place on the Guthrie Theater patio.

Non-fiction writers search for the interesting truth; novelists for the interesting “what ifs”. Fatal Trust was just that: a product of my imagining the consequences of a distant crime through the decades and generations that follow. I hope you enjoy this story and the “what ifs” it conjures from the history and setting of my own hometown.

You can explore Todd’s fun map of the real locations in the book here! Is there a news item you know of that would make a great novel? Tell us about it below and I’ll pick two commenters next Thursday to win a copy of Fatal Trust.