Ask BHP: Who writes the description on the back of a book?

We had a fun question come in asking, “How does the description on the back of a book get written? Do authors write it, or is it Bethany House?”

My name is Rachael and I work in the marketing department at Bethany House. Many of you know me as the Instagram coordinator, but my main job is the company’s copywriter. I’m dropping in today to answer this question because writing book descriptions is one of my greatest responsibilities.

If you’ve never heard the title “copywriter” before, I like to describe it as being the person who writes nearly everything that’s not inside a book. If you see web or print ads, emails, and author bookmarks with our logo on it, that was me! Of all the copy I write, though, back covers are my personal favorite! Not only do I get to spend a portion of my work day reading our upcoming releases, but I also get to interact with our authors and the editorial team to make sure I delivered the plot in the most compelling way possible.

I thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse into what my process looks like when writing a book blurb, while also showing you a few of the back covers of our June releases!

The first part of my process is to read the book—right now, I’m working on our November releases. When I’m reading, I take notes of important plot points, the characters’ emotional drivers, and captivating phrases. Then I use those notes to really think about the book. What is the reader going to experience when reading this story? Who will they be? Who will they fall in love with? What emotions will they experience while reading? What is the main conflict? Then I use all of this to start my summary.

When an author proposes a new book or series to us, they will write a synopsis which gives us a rough summary of the book and an idea of who the characters are. And though we don’t use a lot of this for the back cover copy, I do like to read these when writing that copy to look for any intriguing phrases or descriptions that I can fit in.

The reason we don’t use an author’s synopsis is because it is so different from the back cover copy. A synopsis is essentially a timeline of the plot, whereas the blurb I write is intended to sell an experience to a potential reader—it’s less about plot and more about escaping through the life of another. Once a reader is drawn to a cover, the back cover copy is what convinces them to pick up the book which is why it’s so important to make it as absorbing as possible.

When I’m finished writing the back cover copy, I run it by the author. It’s important to me that they feel confident in what we are delivering to their readers, and that they also believe it perfectly captures the essence of their story. If they want to make changes, we work together to brainstorm different wording and phrases. Once they give their thumbs-up, it goes on to their marketing and editorial teams for approval. These teams are also making sure that the blurb is engaging and well-worded, and our proofreader fixes any grammatical mistakes.

It doesn’t end there, though! This back cover copy is taken through yet another review process once it’s designed. We see proofs of the copy on the designed back cover (like in the images above). In this stage, multiple teams (editorial, marketing, and design) are reviewing the copy and design one last time and are now asking questions like, Does the text look too crowded? Do we need to use different colors or fonts? Do the images on the back flow with the front? When the copy makes it to the designed back cover, I’ve had some time away from it and use this opportunity to re-read it and make any last-minute changes to what I’ve written.

Then, a few months later, I get to hold the book in my hands and celebrate another exciting release!

What back cover pulled you in recently?

Ask BHP: *Real* Miscellaneous Roundup

So, two weeks ago, on April Fool’s Day, I wrote a post with “answers” to commonly asked questions—all of them silly and made up. (You can check it out here.) A few readers who started out believing the post mentioned that they’d love to hear the real, non-April-1 answers, so that’s what this post is all about!

Why do you have so many covers with the model’s head cut off?

Fake Answer: The printer adjusts the covers and often cuts off the model’s head for space reasons.

Real Answer: Our books are printed exactly as they look on our design department computers (except for the fun details like embossing and textured covers), so no one is decapitating characters at the printers!

The reason for the headless person might be slightly different for each book—in one, we might want to draw attention to the heroine’s playful smile, in another it might add eeriness to a suspense novel, or in another case, it might just balance out the design better. But one common reason for showing only a partial glimpse of a character, or seeing him or her from behind, is so that readers can picture the character in their own way.

What is the Bethany House logo supposed to be?

Fake Answer: It’s a peapod or husk of grain in honor of Janette Oke books.

Real Answer: The Bethany House logo was designed to look like the nib of a fountain pen with a stylized flame inside of it, though some feel the angular part of the design looks more like an open book. But Janette Oke was our first fiction author, and we do love her and her books!

Who is Bethany, anyway?

Fake Answer: It comes from the Hebrew for “Living Oath.”

Real Answer: I think this was the one that fooled the most people! That etymology was completely made up. Bethany House used to be the publishing branch of a mission organization, Bethany International, a reference to the biblical city where Jesus’s friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived, and where Jesus taught and performed miracles. I’m told that “Bethany” actually means “house of welcome” or “house of figs.” The first fits our publishing office more than the second. (But also, our receptionist’s name is Bethany, which can get confusing when she answers the phone.)

What happens to a book when it goes out of print?

Fake Answer: We frame the cover in our Archive Room, along with reviews, then give it a Viking burial in a lake.

Real Answer: Honestly, this one just isn’t as exciting. We do have an Archive Room with copies of out-of-print books, all neatly organized and locked away, but there aren’t any fun rituals around a book going OP, other than some database changes and boring things like that. Maybe we should make one up!

What is the point of those annoying paper overlays on hardcover books?

Fake Answer: Dust jackets were developed during the Gilded Age as a prank and caught on.

Real Answer: Obviously, the point of a dust jacket is to protect a hardcover book from damage (although I also dislike them and usually end up getting rid of them). But a little deeper digging took me to this fascinating blog post on the history of the dust jacket. Short version: they began in the 1820s and 30s, but because they were originally meant to be disposable, early dust jackets are extremely rare and valuable to collectors. But it was in the Gilded Age that some dust jackets were printed with artwork, title, and author, so I’m claiming partial credit for my made-up nonsense.

How do your authors come up with their ideas?

Fake Answer: We have a plot generating machine to help authors overcome writer’s block.

Real Answer: The processes authors use to come up with story ideas varies as widely as those stories do, but the closest thing to the mythical Bethany House story idea generator is the fact that our editors often work with authors to hone their ideas before they start writing, and then offer suggestions to help them overcome plot holes or other issues that have them stumped. They’re certainly not artificial intelligence, but I think our editors’ problem solving skills are pretty advanced and worth bragging about anyway.

I hope these real answers help clarify some behind-the-scenes fun facts for you!

What was a favorite April Fool’s joke you experienced, either this year or in the past?

Ask BHP: Miscellaneous Roundup!

(Be sure to take a look at the date that this was originally posted for context on these answers.)

Sometimes we get questions in our Ask BHP poll that are too short to fill up a whole blog post, but I still don’t want to miss the opportunity to answer them. So here’s a rapid-fire combination of some of my favorite shorter Q&A to take you behind the scenes here at Bethany House. Enjoy!

Why do you have so many covers with the model’s head cut off?

There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes it’s an intentional design, but other times we allow the printers to make any last-minute adjustments to the covers that would make for a cleaner print. They have a habit of enlarging the author name or title at the bottom of the design, therefore needing to bump the cover up and cut off the head of the main character. (I personally think that our production lead there has a thing against certain types of romance heroines and does these decapitations on purpose, but I have no actual proof of this.)

What is the Bethany House logo supposed to be?

You may have heard that it’s the nib of a pen, or a book with a flame inside, but I can confirm that neither are correct—or, at least, that wasn’t the original intention of the design. By digging into our archives, I found that the original design was supposed to be of a peapod or a husk of grain, in honor of the Janette Oke books about pioneers and farmers that launched our fiction line.

Who is Bethany, anyway?

While I know a number of delightful people named Bethany, the real origin of our company name comes from the Hebrew: “Beth” means “oath,” and “any” (or “ani”) means “alive.” (It’s also the root of words like “animated.”) So, Bethany House means “Living Oath,” which also explains the complexity of the contracts we sign with authors. (I kid, I kid.)

What happens to a book when it goes out of print?

Although most of our books are available in ebook form long after it’s cost-effective to continue printing paperback copies, we have a special honor when a book goes out of print. We create a poster of the book, frame it, and underneath it, we choose a five-star review and a one-star review for that title, displaying both beside the cover. These hang in our Archive Room, and editors are known to walk through it as a way to gain perspective—not every book is for every reader!

When we fill up the available wall space, we take the oldest book and, driving to a nearby lake, give it a “Viking burial” out at sea, to symbolize the journey the book has taken readers on. (No complaints so far about this practice from authorities or environmentalists—Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, so we try to vary the places we go for this ritual.)

What is the point of those annoying paper overlays on hardcover books?

That, my friend, is called a “dust jacket.” Traditional publishing has a history of being elitist, especially in the early days of its history. During the Gilded Age, New York events where the major houses would gather were “tie and jacket” affairs—anyone not wearing a formal suit would not be admitted. One publishing mogul with a sense of humor, Beauregard VonFolio III, decided to bring his latest acquisition to show off to his peers—and he dressed it in a paper jacket. (Stunts like that, incidentally, is how his company got the name of “Random House.”) The trend caught on as other publishers saw the practical value of having a protective covering for their books, and here we are today.

How do your authors come up with their ideas?

It varies from person to person, but one innovation is what we like to call the BHP. No, not Bethany House Publishers, but Baseline Human Plot-generator. It’s an AI machine that, given the genre and style of each author, delivers five elements that an author should work into their plot to attain bestseller status. Now, some authors don’t care to follow through on their five suggestions, but for others, it’s been invaluable when they’re stuck and need something to break free from writers’ block. While we wait for approval on the patent, we keep the location of the machine (inside our elevator that no one ever uses) a closely-guarded trade secret.

Which of these fun facts surprised you the most, readers?

(#AprilFools)

Ask Bethany House: Let’s Talk Cover Design!

As usual, there were many questions related to cover design in our Ask Bethany House survey, but here’s one we haven’t heard before that (bonus!) gives me a chance to brag on our amazing staff.

“How large is your design team? How many covers are you working on at any given time? Your design team has produced some STUNNING covers!”

First of all, we totally agree—I’m always in awe of our art department. When in comes to people actually working in Bethany House’s office, we have…

  • Paul – our creative director, who oversees all of our covers, including initial direction brainstorming and guiding covers through the feedback and revision process
  • Kristen – who manages the details like taking notes in cover meetings, helping find the right models and costumes, and adding cover treatments
  • Jenny – creates covers for many of our fiction authors, especially historical romances, as well as marketing materials
  • Eric – usually works on nonfiction covers, but creates some of the promotional materials for our fiction books (ads, banners, bookmarks, etc.)
  • Dan – same as Eric, leans more toward the nonfiction side of things except for marketing materials
  • Chris – helps manage the designers’ job lists and keeps up technical tasks like uploading final covers to our website

In addition to these fantastic individuals, we use a number of freelance designers for some of our covers. Often, we’ll use the same designer to work on books by one author for consistency, unless we’re going in a totally new direction with the “feel” of their books.

As someone who has regularly attended cover design meetings along with representatives from our editorial department, I can tell you that I’m impressed with how designers can translate information from the author and our team and make it into something beautiful.

As for how many covers these designers work on, we divide our publishing calendar into three seasons: spring (all books coming out January-April), summer (May-August) and fall (September-December). That’s right, no winter! Each season, Bethany House has an average of 15 fiction books releasing, and often just as many nonfiction books. Now, of those, a freelance designer might only be working on one or two, but an in-house designer might be working on five or six…and that’s in addition to all of the newsletter banners and quote memes and miscellaneous other design jobs we send their way. Don’t forget, too, that back covers and spines also need to be designed!

If you’re curious to know who designed a book by one of your favorite authors, check the small print on either the back cover or the inside copyright page. You’ll often see them credited there.

To learn more about our cover design process, take a look at our archives on cover design, or follow our Instagram account, where we share a monthly video of the alternate designs for a new release.

Tell me about a cover design that you love so much you’d almost want to hang it on your wall.

Ask BHP: How Do Authors Get Paid?

Time for another glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of publishing! Our question this week is: “I’ve always been curious, do authors really get advances before their books are written, or is it more of a royalty type payment after the book releases?”

(If you’re wondering about some of those terms, no worries, I’ll define them. Don’t even get me started on all of the acronyms involved in publishing. I was joking about all the lingo with a new author and then sent her an email saying, “Just checking on whether you have all the PAFs from the RaT dept so we can put the info in Hot Potato for the MM mailing.” And she panicked for a quick second before realizing that I was just teasing her with a string of terms we throw around at Bethany House.)

At Bethany House, as a traditional publisher, we pay authors an advance—an amount paid to the author, agreed on by both parties in signing the contract, that arrives in advance (clever names are not our forte) of the book’s publication. Often, it comes in different installments: for example, 1/3 on signing the contract, 1/3 upon delivery of an acceptable rough draft*, and 1/3 when the book is published. The specifics of that distribution will be different from house to house, and even book to book.

(*”acceptable” meaning, “Great, let’s go through several rounds of edits and get it ready to publish in 10-12 months,” rather than, “Hold on, you turned in 50 pages plus some notes scribbled on the back of a napkin,” or “Wait, this is an epic space graphic novel instead of the historical romance you agreed to.”)

That advance money lets the author cash a check right away as they work on the book. Sometimes the contract is for multiple books, so the author could get part of the advance payment up to several years before the actual book-writing is finished!

Royalties are something else altogether. An author’s contract with a traditional publisher like Bethany House also specifies the amount of the profit of a book the author will be paid, and how much goes to the publisher to pay for printing/distribution expenses, and the salaries of everyone involved in working on the book (editors, marketing, sales, designers, rights, etc.).

But the publisher only starts to cut those royalty checks once the author has earned more than the advance that the publisher already paid. Put another way, royalty payments kick in once sales go above and beyond the advance, as seen in the carefully calculated (and boring) statements sent to authors on a regular basis so they can keep track of all of this. That’s called “earning out,” and it’s a great thing.

But wait, there’s more! (Don’t worry, the math only gets so complicated. We’re book people; advanced math is not our thing.) If a book sells over a certain number of copies, say, over 25,000, they might start to earn a higher percentage of the profit in royalties. And so on with other sales tiers, all specified in the contract. That way, if a book sells above and beyond what we expected, the author benefits from that even more.

As well, the royalty rate the author gains from ebook sales is usually higher than the percentage for print sales. (Because, while you still have to pay editors and such from ebook profit, you don’t have the added expense of printing a physical book.)

Authors also get a percentage of the profit from license deals our rights team strike for things like translations, audiobooks, or other formats.

As to how all of the numbers and terms are decided on, an author and their literary agent (if they have one) will work with our publishing team, especially the acquisition editor, to agree on a final contract.

But, in the end, the simple answer to how authors get paid is that authors have thousands of patrons supporting their work: readers like you! Whether you’re buying their book outright, requesting that your library buy it, or recommending it to others, you’re helping to support authors in their storytelling career (and us in our publishing careers, too).

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the nitty-gritty of our world, especially if you’re an aspiring author wondering how all of this works.

Did you learn anything new, readers? Or do you have any guesses about the obscure abbreviations I used?

Ask Bethany House 2021…and a Giveaway!

It’s a new year, readers, and that means that we need new questions from you to answer in our Ask Bethany House Publishers monthly feature. I always enjoy hearing what readers want to know, from the quirky to the informative to the wow-that-one-even-stumped-me.

Take a second and think through this list to generate ideas. Have you ever wondered…

  • Whether the tips about what a writer should “always” or “never” do when interacting with a publisher are actually true?
  • How one of the steps between an author writing a book and you picking it up off a shelf actually happens?
  • What we at Bethany House think about various trends or new developments in publishing?
  • If the nagging question that others have passed around on social media reader groups has an answer?

These are just a few prompts out of many to start your thinking. We welcome any and all questions to our Ask Bethany House poll.

Once you’ve submitted at least one question, just for fun, come back here and comment with a book that you’re looking forward to in the new year. We’ll enter you in a giveaway to win one of our January or December new releases and choose the winner on 1/14/21.

Ask BHP: Grab Bag Questions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask BHP: What’s Different in 2020?

Our question today was sent to me in a message to our Facebook page (part of a longer conversation with one of our bloggers), and I thought it would be fun to answer it here. She asked, “How has the pandemic affected Bethany House? Anything readers can do to help authors right now?”

Most of this won’t be a surprise, but if you enjoy keeping up with what’s going on in publishing, here are some broad categories, along with what you as a reader can do.

Book Sales

Generally, print books sales went down in the spring, while ebooks went up, and then both returned to normal levels in the summer and fall. Sales from physical stores (not online sales for stores like Barnes & Noble with a website to order from) are still lower than normal levels. Libraries have stayed constant, and one fun thing is that we’re seeing a rise in non-traditional library sales for services like Hoopla and Overdrive so that libraries can make sure their patrons have ebooks while they’re staying at home.

Reader Takeaway: if you have a local bookstore, please buy a few books from them over the holiday season. Even if you don’t have a store you can walk into, many independent stores have an online sales component. (I just bought some books from Magers and Quinn and The Wild Rumpus here in Minneapolis, not to mention the way I’ve hit up the deals at Baker Book House.) Amazon is going to do just fine without your business, but other retailers might not. Even if you have to pay a little more for shipping, it’s worth it. Indiebound.org is a good resource for finding an independent store in your area.

BHP Office

Most of us at Bethany House are working from home, except for a few people who need to go into the office for their regular work. Things like transferring files to the printers, packing book mailings, and overseeing the front desk are hard to do remotely, but otherwise the office is mostly empty. We’re excited to be back together again sometime, but in the meantime, we’ve figured out how to have cover meetings, brainstorming sessions, and even our monthly prayer meetings and bi-weekly “snack time” updates over Zoom. Now, what we’ll do for our National Oreo Day celebration in March if we’re still at home is anyone’s guess… (Clearly, I have my priorities right.)

Reader Takeaway: Because we’re all still able to do our jobs, none of our books are being rescheduled or cancelled, yay! We’re so grateful for everyone working hard to adapt to new systems.

Social Media

We’ve also seen a rise in online events. As more people learn to use Zoom, book clubs are asking authors to drop in and chat about their books, writing groups have asked me to share about marketing strategies, and bookstores and libraries have hosted authors for readings. It’s a fun way to connect readers to authors in a more personal way.

Reader Takeaway: We often announce these events in our Bethany House newsletter—be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

Fiction Impact

It’s not so much a change as a continuation of something we already knew, but our authors are sharing heartfelt messages from readers they’ve received about how important fiction has been to them in this hard year. That’s so encouraging! We always pray that the message of these books impacts people when they need them most, and several of our 2020 releases have dealt with themes of trust, courage, and hope that applied in a way none of us expected.

Reader Takeaway: If a book has meant a lot to you this year, reach out and the let the author know, either on their social media or through a form on their website. It may very well make their day!

Those are the biggest changes that I can think of. And no, we haven’t had any authors propose a new book series about a pandemic yet. Our instinct is that people might just be a little too close and tired of all of this to want to read a novel about it, even if it released eighteen months from now. What do you think, readers? Would you agree with that?

Ask Bethany House: How About Some Publishing Trivia?

I love the open-endedness of the question I’ll be answering today: “Hmm, maybe…what are some fun facts about publishing that might surprise readers? I don’t even know what I might not know!”

Here are some publishing “fun facts” I gathered from all areas of Bethany House.

“Verso” and “recto” are the formal names for the left and right pages when printing.

Our designers have often used Photoshop to fix small historical inaccuracies in images used for cover, like a model with a tattoo on her wrist in Regency England or some red nail polish in biblical times.

We split the year into just three seasons on our publishing calendar: spring is January through April, summer is May through August, and Fall is September through December. That’s why we sometimes joke that at Bethany House, there isn’t any winter.

Sometimes book sellers and catalog producers want to take photos of the physical books to market them before the book is printed. In order for that to happen, we make a mock-up of the book, which includes printing off the book cover on printer paper, taping it to a different book of a similar size, and some work with an Xacto knife.

At Bethany House, we have a Bell of Triumph in one of our conference rooms that you can ring after any kind of hard-won victory, whether personal or work-related, and record the reason in a notebook next to it.

We have a giant stuffed cat in the office—formerly brought to trade shows when we were publishing the popular Mandie series for kids by Lois Gladys Leppard.

Every year on National Oreo Day (March 6th), we celebrate with a sampling of many varieties of the sandwich cookie and other activities (a bracket, trivia, and, last year, a flowchart personality quiz). It has nothing to do with publishing. We just have two editors, Jeff and Jen, who like Oreos.

Lots of books come in and out of the office doors. On average, Bethany House ships 520 packages every month (not including larger mailings like author copies or influencers, which ship from our warehouse).

Three of the five authors currently in the Christy Hall of Fame are there because of awards won for Bethany House novels: Lynn Austin, Davis Bunn, and Karen Hancock.

How about you, readers? Anything fun or unusual about your line of work that you’d like to share with us?

Ask BHP: What Do Publishers Discuss When Considering a New Book?

Hello, friends! It’s Rachael, copywriter and Instagram coordinator, and I’m diving into this month’s Ask BHP blog post. We had two similar questions that I’m excited to answer: “How many people actually read a manuscript before the decision is made to publish it?” and “What do publishers discuss when they’re considering a new book?”

As someone on the marketing team, I don’t see book proposals until one of the last stages: publication board, or pub board. The manuscript starts with our acquisitions editor who obtains it through an agent or from an author they have met directly. After that, they will send it to some test readers who will review the manuscript and give the acquisitions editors feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about it. After that, the book will go through an editorial board where it has to get a thumbs up from the editorial team before reaching me at the pub board. In this meeting, the acquisitions editor has to convince my marketing team, the sales team, and other executives that this is a project worth investing in. Once it reaches pub board, it has gone through approximately fifteen people. Isn’t it astounding how many individuals have to offer input on one book?

At pub board, we make the final decision on whether or not we want to publish a book or series, and then decide to make our offer to the author. But before we come to that conclusion, we discuss a number of things including, but not limited to:

1. Literary Merit

The first thing that we all pay special attention to is the writing (of course!). We take note of the author’s voice, their character development, the uniqueness and familiarity of the story, and what types of readers it will appeal to—Amy wrote more about this here! We also look for red flags. For instance, if multiple people notice something problematic about the plot or characters that is central to the story and can’t be fixed, we might pass on a manuscript. If there are easy fixes, the editor will take note of the things we didn’t like for when they do their content edit. If we feel like it needs more improvement before we can agree to publish it, the author will be asked to make rewrites and it comes back to us again—though, that doesn’t happen too often.

2. Audience

Another thing we discuss is you! We always take into consideration our audience and who this book will appeal to. For instance, if it’s a regency thriller about a young woman named Emma with a hit list instead of a matchmaking list who invents time-travel, well . . . that would seem to be a rather specific audience that our book stores wouldn’t be compelled to buy and our readers may not pick up. But in all seriousness, whether it’s a contemporary romance or a heart-pounding thriller, we know what our readers will be drawn to based on similar books we’ve previously published and book reviews we’ve read. Yes, we read your reviews and they help us enormously so keep them coming!

3. Sales History

If we’re discussing an author who has self-published or has previously published with us or another publishing house, we review their sales history. We want to make sure they are selling steadily so we know we are making a sound investment. If they, or someone else, has written something similar to the book they are proposing that has sold well (or terribly) we take special note of that so we can determine how well this book will do.

4. Platform and Marketing Efforts

As an individual on the marketing team, I always check out the author’s platform. I take a look at their social media stats, what initiatives they are taking to reach new readers, their author connections, and more. We also look to see what efforts they are willing to make in regards to local media or book events, and their plans for a launch team. This discussion isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker—many of our new fiction authors don’t have thousands of followers yet—but it is helpful for standing out.

5. Awards or Notable Mentions

If an author has won awards or have received notable mentions from authors or magazines, we take note of that. When others are excited about those things, we are too! It shows that they have proven to grab others attention and will most likely continue to do so.

There’s also conversation on how many copies we think it will sell, when the best time to launch it will be, and other financial conversations which may confuse you as much as it does me.

Other more specific factors may come up from time to time depending on the project, but these are areas we discuss for all new fiction authors.

What is it about a new book or author that stands out to you?

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