Ask BHP: How Can New Authors Stand Out?

Every year, we get some great questions to our Ask BHP Survey from aspiring authors who follow us on social media, including this one: “I wonder about the process of finding new voices. How does an unpublished author stand out when you probably see hundreds of proposals?”

For context, I’m on our marketing team, so I only see book proposals at one of the last stages in the “will I get a contract?” process: publication board, or pub board. By that point, the manuscript has already impressed one of our acquisition editors, been reviewed by some test readers, and gotten the thumbs up from the editorial team. At pub board, the editor has to convince marketers like me, sales team members, and executives that the project is worth investing in. We talk not just about literary merit, but things like sales history, expected print quantities, and cold, hard cash.

Pretty intimidating, huh? So I completely understand the desire to stand out in the crowded market of traditional publishing. There’s lots of advice I could give here, including:

  • Show that you understand the publishing market (know your terms, join writing groups/associations, make your book proposal professional).
  • Have a well-thought out marketing section, which can include endorsements, promotions, platform numbers, local media or book events, and launch team efforts.
  • Make sure you’ve taken time to perfect the craft of writing so those sample chapters absolutely sparkle.

While all of those things are important, something I’ve thought about recently when pitching our 2020 debut novels for reviews and other media coverage is that publishers (and readers) are looking for projects that are both familiar and new. Let me explain what I mean by that.

Familiar: This is what makes your book something that you can demonstrate people will want to buy and read…because people are buying and reading stories similar to it. An editor picks up on these aspects of the story to pitch it to the often-skeptical sales team. They’ll say things like, “This book has a similar theme/style/setting to [famous bestseller]” or “Readers who enjoy [trope or genre] will love this” or “This one has a strong Hallmark Christmas movie feel.” Your proposal will need to make some connections to entertainment that your target audience is loving.

Because of this, as a brand-new author, now might not be the time to break every rule/preference possible in an attempt to be different. Your Bronze Age superhero novel set in Antarctica with haiku chapter openers from the point of view of a talking elephant might cross the line from being unique to being un-sellable.

New: It’s also easy to identify a manuscript that tried too hard to play things safe. Whether the author is unconsciously imitating favorite authors or intentionally adding in time-tested plots and reactions, it’s possible for a story to be too familiar. Characters are often predictable and even boring, and the ending, while probably happy, falls flat.

In contrast, a project that has a few unique aspects is one that attracts our attention—if we think it will attract readers’ attention. Doing something different just to be different—“In my contemporary romance, all of the main characters die at the end!”—isn’t the goal. Doing something different that, mentioned on the back cover of the book, would make a reader intrigued enough to read the book is.

If all of that is still too abstract, let me explain by using the examples from the four debut novels we’re publishing in 2020. (Also a note that this is higher than our average number of debuts; the number is usually 1-2.) These books all had other factors in their favor, including strong writing and savvy authors. But from my point of view, here’s what each novel brought to the table in terms of familiar and new, points that were very clear in their book proposals.

A Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy

Familiar: A historical novel with a romance plot, the heroine is a strong woman ahead of her time

New: Over half of the book is set in India (a place the author loves), the heroine is an entomologist (studies and sketches insects), potential for other India-connected novels to follow this one

 

The Sowing Season by Katie Powner (releases October 2020)

Familiar: Contemporary fiction, addresses themes of growing older and growing up

New: Shows an inter-generational friendship between neighbors (a retired farmer and a teenage girl, who are the point-of-view characters), strong writing voice

 

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green (releases November 2020)

Familiar: Set during WWII, a popular era for historical fiction.

New: Epistolary (told entirely in letters), about the little-known German POW camps in America during WWII, the romance subplot hero is a Japanese American training to be a spy/negotiator

 

The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark (releases December 2020)

Familiar: Dual-time where the contemporary characters try to solve a mystery of the past

New: Retro fashion theme and well-realized Southern setting, deeply relatable characters who have had their dreams delayed, both timelines are equally interesting

 

Remember, though, that your manuscript might have solidly hit on both familiar and new and still not find the publishing home you dreamed about. Sometimes our team turns down projects because the writing isn’t quite at the level we’d like to see, or because we have an author writing something similar in six months, or because the theological slant, genre, or tone just isn’t what we’re looking for at the moment.

That said, this is a great way to start—thinking about your story in a marketing mindset will help you know how to pitch it in meetings with editors and agents. Whether you’re wondering which idea to write next or how to present your completed manuscript in a proposal, try to find that balance between familiar and new.

Take a look at your bookshelf and find a book you’ve enjoyed recently. What about it fits into “familiar” and “new”?

Ask BHP: Humor in Fiction

Totally relate to the reader who submitted the question for this week: “I love books that make me laugh! I’d love to see a post where you (or authors?) tell us what goes into writing funny stories.”

Thankfully, we’ve got several author who fit that bill. I just grabbed a few of them who have recent releases and gave them some prompts so you can encounter the behind-the-scenes of writing comedic scenes or whole books. Here are some behind-the-scenes sneak peeks into the writing world from Karen Witemeyer, Nicole Deese, Jen Turano, and Mary Connealy. Enjoy!

Why do you think readers enjoy humorous scenes in a story?

Karen: Readers read to be entertained, and humor is hugely entertaining. Whether it’s witty dialogue, a madcap scene of misadventure, or a comedic one-liner, if it spawns a smile, it also spawns joy. And we all need more joy in our lives, don’t we?

Nicole: I think people enjoy taking a break from tension for a few minuteswhether it’s real-life tension or fictional tension from the story they’re reading, laughter provides a much-needed stress outlet for us all.

Jen: I think everyone loves to laugh, and humor in scenes provide readers with that amusing escape we especially need right now during these trying times.

Mary: The basic reason I write humor is because that’s what I love to read. I do not like books that make me cry. I can attest to the talent of the author when he/she makes me cry, dragging me through emotional agony. That writing has power. But I just don’t like it. Life has enough drama in it. I don’t want to add more by reading about it. I always say, “If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while they’re running for their lives, then I’m happy.” That’s what I read, and that’s what I write.

Have you ever used something funny that happened to you (or someone you know) as a basis for a scene in your book?

Karen: Every time I include a pun of some sort, I immediately think of my son, Wyatt. He and I love a good pun. Or even a bad one. While my other kids groan and roll their eyes, Wyatt always laughs. He’s my humor cheerleader.

Nicole: Absolutely–both! I mean, what’s the point of having relationships with people if you can’t write their most embarrassing moments into your books? Hahaha! Usually, I take a seedling of an idea from a true tale I’ve heard or experienced and then develop it further to suit the scene or the character I’m writing.

Jen: I pull a lot of fodder for my scenes from past experiences. Elmer the chicken being carried around like a football came from real-life, although I wasn’t the one carrying the chicken because chickens don’t seem to like me. Another example would be when peacocks attacked in one of my stories – that happened to me when I took my son to the zoo one day. He thought it was hilarious, whereas I thought I was going to be missing a limb after a particularly fierce peacock wouldn’t let go of my sleeve.

Mary: Absolutely. Much of the humor when men and women misunderstand each other is rooted in my own life. My husband is from a family of seven sons. We have four daughters. He spends plenty of time just absolutely confused at the way they behave. The way they chatter and laugh and (horrors) cry. All within the context of him adoring them. There’s a lot of comedy in the way women vs. men react, in my life and now…in my books.

Which recent character of yours made you laugh while writing?

Karen: Barnabas Ackerly is recent to me, though readers won’t meet him until this fall, but his novella in The Kissing Tree collection is one of the funniest stories I’ve written to date. At least to me. Ha! A self-proclaimed stodgy nag of practicality, he has a great tongue-in-cheek internal wit. He keeps dubbing the heroine’s Kissing Tree Inn with all sorts of silly names like the Inn of Smooching Shrubbery and the Inn of Osculating Topiaries. Made me laugh to write it.

Nicole: There were quite a few moments I laughed while writing Before I Called You Mine–one had to do with the meet-cute in chapter two and a certain character pretending to be a T-Rex, another was when I wrote about an alpaca farmer coming to a dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner as a blind date. I laughed at each of those scenes during the editing rounds, too.

Jen: Miss Daphne Beekman, a character in my new series, The Bleeker Street Inquiry Agency. She’s an unlikely inquiry agent because she has a tendency to swoon whenever danger is near, so she’s had me laughing quite a bit over the past few months.

Mary: The hero, Cam, in The Reluctant Warrior, book #2 in the High Sierra Sweethearts series. He was a tough, order-snapping, former cavalry officer. And his daughter, when he was reunited with her after a long, long time, is terrified of him and clinging to the heroine Gwen, who has been caring for her. Cam needs help. Gwen administers the ‘help’ by slapping him in the back of the head every time he barks at people. She’s enjoying herself a bit too much.

Let’s talk…talking. Does witty dialogue come to you in the first draft, or is it something you add in as you edit?

Karen: I don’t typically write in layers, so yes, witty dialogue comes to me in the first draft. Nothing feels better than getting on a roll with fun verbal sparing between the hero and heroine. My favorite thing about writing with humor is that here is no kicking myself for thinking of the perfect comeback after the moment passes, which is what usually happens to me in real life. In fiction, I can go back days later and add the perfect zinger to my heroine’s repertoire as if it had been there all along. Yes!

Nicole: For me, humorous dialogue usually comes the easiest in a new scene I’m drafting… it’s all the other stuff (setting, movement, dialogue cues, the five senses, etc.) that takes the most work.

Jen: I don’t get witty until around edit #5. I have the bones of scenes in place, but it’s not until I really know the characters extremely well that their sense of humor comes out.

Mary: Sassy heroines, clueless heroes, that’s dialogue made for humor right there. Usually some of that comes on the first pass, but every time you go through, it grows. So the funnier it is, very likely, the more revisions it’s been through.

Thanks, amazing ladies! Readers, let us know the latest book you read that made you laugh out loud.

Ask BHP: Should Readers Leave Negative Reviews or Contact the Author?

This week’s question is pretty detailed, and since I’ve seen these conversations going on as well, it intrigued me. The reader said, “In online reader groups, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not it’s okay to leave negative reviews. Those who believe it’s not okay often advocate emailing or messaging authors directly with criticisms of their work, so they can improve future writing. How do authors view such a practice?”

Amy Lokkesmoe (formerly Green) here, fiction publicist at Bethany House, trying to give a good answer to this tough one. I’m not sure what approach I would have taken when I was “just a reader” and hadn’t yet started working in publishing. There are good intentions on both sides, and I can completely understand where people are coming from.

You should also know that just like no book will please every reader, no answer to this question will be right for every situation. I can, though, share from my experience and from what I’ve heard authors say.

The Author Perspective

While authors may not like negative reviews (who would?), most understand that reviews are there from readers for other readers. The pros know that someone leaving a criticism of their book isn’t the same as someone insulting them, their character, or their mom (unless it is, more on that later). Readers are trying to help other readers know when to spend or save their money based on their experience with a book.

Some authors, knowing this, avoid reviews altogether. Others have a writing buddy sift through them to pull out any repeated comments so they can improve their writing without having to directly read the (sometimes blunt) reactions to something they put their heart and soul into. They know themselves, and they wisely decide what they can and can’t handle.

Here’s the thing: if a reader directly messages an author, that takes away the author’s ability to make that decision. They can’t have someone else screen it first to find what they think would be helpful rather than hurtful. They can’t choose to look at it on a day when they’re feeling good and have distance from their work. They can’t disagree with the person writing the message, because anything they might say, even politely, will sound defensive.

It’s just there, in their inbox on Facebook or email, waiting for a response. And it’s pretty difficult to think of a good response to someone who, even graciously, told you they didn’t like your book and that you could do better next time when you didn’t request that feedback.

For these reasons, many authors would prefer that readers not send them critical messages directly, especially if that’s the main/only purpose behind writing to them. Same thing with tagging an author in a negative review or posting it to their social media page.

Again, this isn’t true for everyone. A few authors welcome that kind of critique…but there’s no way to know which author will take your note and say, “That fits with other things I’ve heard, better work on that,” and which ones will have no idea how to respond to you and also cry because they’re so invested in the book you just criticized.

 

So…What Should Readers Do?

  • Don’t be mean. This is probably why some people don’t like leaving public negative reviews—they’ve seen ones that felt personal and harsh. There are many ways to mention something you didn’t like about a book without being unkind. And there’s no cause whatsoever to get personal in your negative review and call names.

 

  • Consider not leaving a review. This especially applies if you didn’t finish a book because you realized that it wasn’t your thing (too much war and you like feel-good reads, the narrator’s first-person voice grated on you, you didn’t realize it was going to have a particular kind of content). Or if you’ve disliked the author’s other books and hoped this one was different, and it wasn’t. If you know you’re not the target audience for the book, your review might not help readers who searched for the book because they actually are.

 

  • View one-star reviews as a way to warn people away from buying a book. I’ve personally never bought a book that fits this category, but I’m sure others have. This one is my personal opinion; your mileage may vary.

 

  • Leave a tactful critical review. If you want to help out fellow book-buyers and just didn’t enjoy a book or thought it had flaws that made it uninteresting, I’d suggest an explanation of why it wasn’t for you. You can mention any positives, but at least be polite about the negatives. This will be helpful to other readers.

 

  • Generally, don’t message authors directly with criticisms of their book, even if your goal is to help them improve. For all the reasons I just mentioned, it’s rarely as helpful as you want it to be. Instead, I’d suggest you…

 

  • Find ways to help authors improve their books through other means. If you’re a reader who finds you have a lot of advice to give on how to improve books, I’d suggest taking that passion (which is awesome, by the way) and seeing if you can be a beta reader for authors. There are Facebook groups where authors look for early readers to point out plot problems at a stage where they can actually fix them, and if this is your drive, that might be a good fit for you.

 

That’s my two cents, readers. Do you have thoughts or follow-up questions about this?

Ask BHP: How Do You Create Covers?

When looking for a new cover-related question we hadn’t already answered in this blog series, here’s one from our survey that I found interesting: “What does the process for a cover photoshoot look like? You all find some great models!”

This was just one of many questions to our survey related to covers (if you’re interested in past cover posts, visit the archives here), so I thought I’d chat with Kristen Larson, our Art/Design Coordinator who helped me gather information and images for a blog post Lisa Bergren was doing about the cover of her book Selah.

Kristen, in addition to taking notes at all of our cover meetings and organizing our feedback, does tons of behind-the-scenes work for our covers. If you’ve ever appreciated a particularly cool prop or noticed the raised title treatment or cool texture of a cover, that’s probably her handiwork.

Q: Lots of the historical covers especially have really dramatic dresses. Where do you get the costumes?

Kristen: The costumes we use come from all over! Some we rent from out of state costume shops, some we have custom made, some we purchase, and some we rent local! Our favorite place in the Twin Cities is the Guthrie Costume Rentals, which rents out costumes from previous Guthrie performances. That’s where we got the dress we landed on for Selah.

Q: How do you decide on a cover model? Where do you find them?

Kristen: Our search for cover models is a fun one. Authors will send us the physical and personality descriptions of the character to be featured on the cover, and even include a reference photo they found online of what they were picturing in their heads when they were writing the book. We then scour our local talent agencies to find the best fit.

We sent some of the images to Lisa for her post, “Modeling for Selah,” and she also interviewed the cover model who posed for the book, so consider this a Part Two to her Part One and check out her blog (and the contest there) to learn more.

Readers, is there a costume on a book cover that you’d love to wear?

Ask BHP: What Goes into Your Instagram Account?

Recently we had a reader write in, “I love your Instagram! What goes into all the fun book pictures and videos, and how do you decide what books to feature?”

Hello, it’s Rachael, here! I’m the copywriter and “Instagram guru” at Bethany House. My main responsibility is to write back covers, ads, bookmarks, and almost anything else that isn’t within the pages of a book. Though, when I started working at BHP, I launched our Instagram account and was given the title “Instagram Queen.” Capturing fun photos, shooting videos, and interacting with readers has become one of my favorite things about coming into work every day.

When I saw today’s Ask BHP question, I was elated! I love talking about our Instagram account almost as much as I love the fun I have with it.

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One of my favorite monthly features that we do on our Instagram account is the cover design videos. Our Senior Fiction Publicist, Amy, and I sneak into our Art Director’s office and steal his files on the books she wants to discuss, and we record short videos where she talks about photoshoots, shows the sketches our designers make before the cover is designed, and tells her theory about ancient helicopter technology that left a character at the top of a snowy mountain (see the video for Hope’s Highest Mountain). I don’t get to sit in on any of the meetings where cover decisions are made, so I’m constantly learning new things when we record these videos. You can find our cover design videos under the IGTV tab or in the “Cover Design” highlight on our page.

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Deciding on which books I’ll be featuring for the month is simple. I keep a list of the books we are releasing every month and make sure that each one is featured on our Instagram. I’m usually found wandering around the office asking coworkers for small knick-knacks they have in their office so I can use them for Instagram photos, or “hiring” hand models to hold books for me while I snap my photos. I love the dollar section at Target because that’s where I find my best props, and Amazon sells fantastic flat lay backdrops!

I also enjoy featuring our readers’ photos on our page, so if you “bookstagram,” tag us on Instagram and use the hashtag #BHPFiction and your photo could be chosen as a Feature Friday!

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I’d be lying if I said that we take our Instagram completely seriously because when it comes to taking photos, I’m usually found in the middle of a new shenanigan. I’ve been caught standing on chairs to get the perfect angle, hauling my entire bookcase into our sitting area for a “great idea,” and making use of the glass from a broken lamp. And since the best lighting in the office is right by our kitchenette, I’ve been caught every time. So when someone walks by and asks, “What could you possibly be doing this time?” I point them to the letter board hanging above my computer that says, “It’s an Instagram thing; you wouldn’t understand” and give them my trademark cheesy grin!

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If you haven’t already, follow our Instagram page at @bethanyhousefiction for sneak peeks at our cover design process, behind-the-scenes glimpses of our photoshoots, ebook deals, and weekly book recommendations! Don’t be afraid to send us a message if you have any questions, or simply want to say hi. I love hearing from our readers!

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I love trying new things, so what would you love to see on our Instagram in the future?

*To ask a question of your own, fill out the form here: https://forms.gle/MyzL6QPGh3JQKzyE8 

Ask BHP: What Are the Best Things About Working for a Book Publisher?

Greetings, readers! Rachael Wing—copywriter and fiction Instagram coordinator—here! This week, our publicist and blog host, Amy Green, is at our seasonal sales conference at HQ in Michigan where they are discussing our Fall 2020 releases and other important publishing topics. Meanwhile, I was given control over the blog for this week and discovered an intriguing question in the Ask BHP inquiries: “What are the best things about working for a book publisher?”

Instead of naming off all of my favorite parts about working at Bethany House (which are innumerable), I sought out answers from multiple BHP employees to hear what they love most about their jobs. Enjoy!

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One of the best things about working for a book publisher is getting to help create products that I enjoy outside of work. I’m fueling my own favorite pastime, and working with people who love it as much as I do,”—Kristen, Art/Design Coordinator

“Being surrounded by book people! I love that I can ask anyone, ‘What are you reading?’ and come away with a great conversation and probably some new book recommendations to add to my TBR pile.”—Jessica, Editor

“Reading has played a huge role in my life since childhood, and I admit that it’s a dream come true to work with books and authors each day. One of my favorite things is getting to know who each author is as a person—it makes me smile to be able to encourage them in their coffee/chocolate addiction and hear what’s new with them. I also enjoy that my role includes a broad variety of tasks, such as researching confetti prices or personalized matchbox vendors.”—Brooke, Fiction Marketing Assistant

“I like getting to go back and forth with the author about plot and setting and characters. How many times have you wanted to do that with books you’ve read?!”—Jen, Line Editor

“Knowing how many people it actually takes to create a book and get it into the hands of the readers. Authors often include acknowledgements pages that do at least hint at that, but so many readers, myself included, skip over those that it wasn’t until I started working at a publishing house that I had a true appreciation for all the teamwork necessary to make a book a success.”—Kate, Copyeditor

“Getting to read manuscripts extra early!”—Raela, Senior Acquisitions Editor

“I love that I am surrounded by people who love words as much as I do! In fact, we have a board of sorts on my office window where we record ‘vocab points’ and ‘fauxcab points’ (made-up words)—every time someone uses a fun word, we add a post-it note to the board. Some of my favorites are: recalcitrant, obfuscation, and ‘schimid’ (shy/timid).”—Rachael, Copywriter and Fiction Instagram Coordinator

“My favorite thing is having access to hundreds of books at all times! Also, I love that I get to help launch authors’ stories out into the world for people to read.”—Serena, Fiction Marketing Assistant

“For me, learning what goes into creating and publishing a book has been really fun to learn. Having the opportunity to see a book start as a manuscript and go through so many different processes and people to become a physical book that I can hold and read is amazing. Every time I get to learn about another piece of the publishing puzzle is a good day.”—Mycah, Nonfiction Marketing Assistant

“I like that everything we produce is ultimately intended for the edification of people, especially our fellow brothers and sisters wherever they are. To lift up people with words infused with Jesus’ message to His creation. Our books are designed to have a positive impact on the world—to educate, inspire, and entertain—to build up and not tear down. We are the privileged ones that get to carry the message of hope which emanates from the actual creator of the universe. And, we get to do that with the gifts He’s given us.”—Paul, Creative Director

If you worked for a book publisher, what do you think your favorite part would be? 

*To ask a question of your own, fill out the form here: https://forms.gle/MyzL6QPGh3JQKzyE8 

Ask Bethany House 2020!

It’s a new year! And that means…new questions for our monthly(ish) series of posts, Ask Bethany House! I love this part of my job, because it’s super fun to see what questions readers have for us. Even when I can’t answer them myself, there’s often someone on the team who can, and I often end up learning things from the process.

You can take a look at past posts if you want to see what type of question we’ve answered before. Some repeats are okay, but I’ll also look for some totally new questions.

Once you’ve done that, head over to the survey here and ask away!

To thank you for taking the time to come up with a topic, on January 21, I’ll pick three winners from our participants who can select their choice of one of our December, January, or February new releases.

Thanks, all, and happy questioning!

Ask BHP: Does Bethany House Have Any Christmas Traditions?

Next in our Ask Bethany House blog series, a seasonal question! One reader wrote, “Beyond the normal Christmas office party, what holiday traditions does Bethany House have?”

Given that I am currently listening to instrumental carols and watching snow fall gently outside, it felt like the perfect time to share some favorite holiday activities from our offices in Minnesota. Maybe you’ll find a new tradition or two!

Decoration Day

Early in December, Chris from our marketing department gets together a crew to bring out the boxes and deck the halls, from the lunchroom to the stairwells to our tree. On the days when I need to stay late or come in early, it’s lovely to see the golden glow of lights in the dark Bethany House office.

Christmas Potluck

Yes, this is separate from our Christmas party, and it involves SO MUCH FOOD. Everyone brings their A-game for this potluck in particular, and you’ll come into the kitchen to find an array of Crockpots and appetizer trays crowding the counters. Someone always brings cider (the best) and eggnog (why bother?), and it always pays to scope out the dessert table early.

Hope Academy Book Project

We love the mission of Hope Academy in Minneapolis, and every year, we order two books for each child in one classroom to take home (we’re assigned to third grade this year). A lot of kids in the school don’t own many books, and they get so excited every year to unwrap them! Bethany House staff volunteer to wrap the books (not my personal strength; my wrapping jobs are always…rustic), and deliver them to the kids. There’s a fun time afterward where we read the first few chapters of one of the books with the kids in a small “buddy” group. And we always love listening to Hope Academy’s choir serenading all the volunteers with carols!

Julie Klassen’s Booksigning

Not a holiday tradition, per se, but since Julie’s books release in December and she’s one of our few local authors, several Bethany House staff members enjoy attending (and bringing treats to) her launch event and presentation at Barnes & Noble. This year, there was an interactive five-minute mystery to solve to celebrate The Bridge to Belle Island. (The plot: Who stole Julie’s rare copy of Pride and Prejudice? The scheming editor, the flustered first reader, the jealous-of-Mr.-Darcy husband or the well-intentioned assistant?) It’s fun to enjoy the event and see readers buying lots of books as Christmas presents!

The Nativity Scene

This really goes with the decorating bit, but I’m always put in charge of checking our latest titles to see which ones we should add to the office manger scene. From 2019, I decided Mary would be very interested in A Song of Joy by Lauraine Snelling, given her own joyful song, and that one of the angels needed to check out On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White.

Emails About Goodies

Okay, you laugh, but often at this time of year, authors or advertisers will send small gifts to our office—usually in the form of something edible. Once the treats are set out in a common area, an email is the starting gun for a stampede of sweet-seekers. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you do not want to come between me and the last chocolate truffle, that’s all I’m saying.)
There are other festivities that will go on—everything from Secret Santa exchanges to mysteriously-appearing chocolates in the little stockings hanging outside marketing offices—but those are the main yearly traditions. I hope you enjoyed hearing about them!

What are your Christmas traditions, at work or otherwise?

Ask BHP: What’s It Like Being Married to an Author?

This question for our Ask Bethany House blog series might just be my favorite yet: “Any chance you can ask some of your authors’ husbands about the interesting/amusing things they’ve lived through while being married to an author? I’d love to know!”

Was this question submitted by a real reader, or a spouse of one of our novelists trying to find out if he’s the only one who finds writers’ quirks strange? We may never know. But I do know that when I asked our authors to submit a line or two from their husbands about being up close and personal to the novel-writing life, I got some great answers! Enjoy.

Dave, husband of Beverly Lewis: “Being married to a novelist means I get to enjoy the roleplaying Bev and I do for some of the protagonist’s scenes and dialogue with her love interest.”

Peter, husband of Leslie Gould: “I get to go along with Leslie on research trips and look, listen, and participate in conversations that turn into stories, from imagining an Amish girl at Gettysburg in 1863 to visiting on the porch with a contemporary Amish family in Indiana.”

Paul, husband of Elizabeth Musser: “As a writer, she guesses (correctly) the ending of every movie we watch. Spoiler alert!”

Ivan, husband of Mary Connealy: “I was reading one of my wife’s books once (I forget which one), but Mary tends to kill off worthless husbands so the hero can come riding to the rescue. Knowing what I’ve heard about authors drawing on their own lives for their books, I couldn’t stop trying to figure out if I was the hero or the worthless husband.”

Mark, husband of Susan Sleeman: “When I come home from work I never know where your mind will be. Sometimes you’re killing people. Sometimes helping people escape from an evil villain, or worse, you’re in the mind of the villain.”

Bill, husband of Elizabeth Camden: “My wife usually has scenes with different ethnic cuisines in her books. Neither one of us are great cooks, so we go out to do ‘research’ at cool restaurants all over town. We’ve been to German beer-gardens, a Polish deli, a Japanese place, and lots of Irish pubs.”

“His Highness,” husband of Becky Wade: “I never get to figure out how a movie ends on my own. She always tells me what’s going to happen before it does.” (From Becky: “I still feel sheepish about ruining The Sixth Sense for him, poor guy!”)

Jacob, husband of Kristi Ann Hunter: “She analyzes. Everything. And I mean e-ver-y-thing.”

Mike, husband of Dani Pettrey: “The most interesting thing is probably drifting off to sleep while she talks herself through the latest way to plot and execute the demise of the victim in her next book. In the morning, my fitness tracker says I basically slept with one eye open the entire night!”

Tim, husband of Nicole Deese: I was married to my wife for over eight years before she started writing her first novel. In that time I witnessed many of the characteristics that contributed to her becoming an outstanding author. Creativity, humor, emotion, passion (and a desire to become an expert in things she was passionate about) and the ability to tell a story that would enrapture any room were on full display before she wrote word one of her first book.

But as she prepares to release her tenth book, the thing that has been the most interesting to me through this whole journey is how…unexpected it was. Hear me. I was first drawn to my wife because of many of the same qualities I just mentioned. I knew she was funny. But I didn’t know she would be able to write humor that would make me snort water out of my nose. I knew she was great at expressing emotion when she told stories, but I didn’t know I’d be sitting on a crowded airplane reading her latest book and trying to cover my man-sobs with a too-small cocktail napkin. No, I didn’t expect that.

I guess I should have seen it coming before she wrote her first book. With her tenth book in process, I definitely should know that anytime I read something she’s written I can expect to be surprised. But the interesting thing is that every time I read something new she’s written I’m totally caught off guard all over again. Maybe I’m just a slow learner. Or maybe she just keeps getting better.

Aren’t these answers heartwarming? What do you think would be an interesting aspect of being family members to a writer? (Or you can speak from personal experience if you are!)

Ask BHP: How Do You Decide on the Spiritual Content of Books?

Here’s a fun question from our Ask BHP mailbag for this month: “Why does Bethany House publish some books that have very light spiritual content? I’m not being critical, just curious as to why some books are very faith-oriented and others only mention faith elements a little bit. How do you decide that as a Christian publisher?”

First of all, thanks to the person who asked this question (and ones similar to it), in a gracious way. I’m Amy Green, fiction publicist here at Bethany House, and I love talking about these sorts of issues, and I think it’s a fair question to wonder about.

As far as who decides the amount of Christian content, that’s pretty easy: the author shapes that based on the kind of story they want to tell.

Sometimes others, like beta readers or an agent, might guide them in a particular direction, and editors will as well once the manuscript enters the publishing process. For example, Bethany House editors might help authors make a certain character less “preachy” or point out an additional place a theme could be emphasized.

Because of this, each story is going to be different in faith content just as it’s different in every other way, like how often the authors intersperse humor or how they approach setting descriptions, historical detail, or chapter-ending cliffhangers.

An author who wants to write a book about the aftermath of a preacher’s fall from grace in the lives of his three children will probably have more noticeable references to faith than the author of a lighthearted comedy about a dogwatcher-turned-matchmaker or a fantasy novel set in a realm where people can turn into statues.

And here’s the thing: God can use all of those books* to reach people with powerful truths.

If you’re skeptical about this, we recently hosted a survey where people could share how a Bethany House novel had an impact on their lives. (Which you can still submit to, if you like.) I’ll admit that even I was surprised at how deeply touched people were by books that fit everywhere on the spiritual content spectrum. Reading our Christian fiction has led people to work to strengthen their marriages, feel convicted about gossiping, find hope during a family member’s illness, forgive a long-time enemy, and much more.

Besides that, some books with strong faith threads speak directly to a need in the hearts of Christians, or are given to unbelievers by friends who want to show a different perspective on their beliefs, while others are so accessible that we’ll get atheists leaving reviews like, “This is a great story—and I usually hate books with ‘God talk.’” I love seeing those reviews, and often (though not always!) they show up on books with a more subtle spiritual journey.

But back to the question. Here’s the thing: I think some people may have a specific mission in mind for a novel when they think that only a strong faith thread is acceptable in Christian fiction.

And I can see why they might think that, because mission matters. For example, the purpose of a church is to worship God, spread the gospel, and train believers to be disciples of Jesus. It probably wouldn’t be able to fulfill that purpose with “light spiritual content.”

However, the purpose of a fiction book written by a Christian could be lots of different things:
• Provide hope and laughter during a hard time.
• Reach a reader who might never open a Bible or nonfiction book.
• Illustrate a Biblical truth or parable in a new way.
• Show the destructiveness of sin on the world or in one person’s life.
• Give a picture of self-sacrificing romantic love that mirrors God’s love.

To me, these and many others are all perfectly valid aims for an author. Bethany House, as a Christian publisher, focuses on stories that align with our mission statement, but we know there’s a place for good, clean reads or novels reaching mainstream readers with truth.

You’re probably not going to agree with every theological nuance of all of our fiction books—certainly many people leave reviews of our nonfiction books with disagreements large and small, and it’s just as true that fiction authors will approach faith and Scripture from different perspectives and traditions. And even if you would affirm every spiritual aspect of a book…it might not be your style or in a genre you’re interested in.

Not every Christian fiction book is going to be your book—a novel that has a deep impact on you or fills a need or finds its way to your keeper shelf of favorites. But we pray that all of our books will be someone’s book and impact them in a unique way.

What do you think, readers? Do you tend to prefer more or less spiritual content…or does it depend on the story?

*As far as I know, none of those books are real, but if you want to write them, they are now in Amy’s Yard Sale of Free Ideas. (Along with lots of crazy inventions and ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes.)