Ask BHP + Giveaway: Who writes the short descriptions in the back of books?

Hello dear readers! Rachael here! You may have seen my blog post back in May where I talked about writing the synopsis on the back of our books. I’ve returned to talk about another intriguing responsibility that I have as the company’s copywriter. . . .

If you grab almost any Bethany House book and flip to the last few pages, you will find book recommendations—or as we call them, the back-of-book ads (BOBs for short).

Nearly a year before our books release—before I write the back cover copy and often before the book is even written—our marketing team works with our authors to write a book synopsis that makes its way into our seasonal catalog and online. They take an author’s original synopsis from their proposal that could be anywhere from one page to ten pages and shorten it down to about 150 words.

Once those are approved and edited, it’s up to me to deliver an even shorter description to our marketing team that is 360 characters or less . . . including spaces. Counting the fiction titles only, I write approximately 15 of these every four months—but counting our nonfiction divisions, I spend over a week writing at least 40 of these.

They are so fun to write, but they are not easy in the least. Not only do I need to cut a three paragraph synopsis down to three sentences, but I also need to make sure that I’m hooking a reader’s attention while delivering a concise and intriguing book description. They also have to run by our marketing team and editorial team for review and some usually are rewritten multiple times until we can guarantee that it is perfect.

Not only will you see these in our back-of-book ads, but they also make appearances in newsletters, print and digital ads, and on our social media accounts too!

Here are the short descriptions that I wrote for our November releases. Let me know which ones stand out to you!

After an abusive relationship derails her plans, Adri Rivera struggles to regain her independence and achieve her dream of becoming an MMA fighter. She gets a second chance, but the man who offers it to her is Max Lyons, her former training partner, whom she left heartbroken years before. As she fights for her future, will she be able to confront her past?

After She Falls by Carmen Schober

As the nation’s most fearless travel columnist, Augusta Travers explores the country, spinning stories for women unable to leave hearth and home. Suddenly caught in a scandal, she escapes to India to visit old friends, promising great tales of boldness. But instead she encounters a plague, new affections, and the realization that she can’t outrun her past.

Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy

After a deadly explosion at the Chilwell factory, munitions worker Rosalind Graham leaves the painful life she’s dreamt of escaping by assuming the identity of her deceased friend. When RAF Captain Alex Baird is ordered to surveil her for suspected sabotage, the danger of her deception intensifies. Will Rose’s daring bid for freedom be her greatest undoing?

As Dawn Breaks by Kate Breslin

When a renowned profiler is found dead in his hotel room and it becomes clear the killer is targeting agents in Alex Donovan’s unit, she is called to work on the strangest case she’s ever faced. Things get personal when the brilliant killer strikes close to home, and Alex will do anything to find the killer—even at the risk of her own life.

Dead Fall by Nancy Mehl

How would you write a short description for your favorite new release? Write your blurb below and include the title. Remember, it has to be less than 360 characters!

We will choose three random entries to win a copy of any Bethany House book that released in 2020-2021.

*No purchase necessary. Giveaway ends on Tuesday, October 26 at midnight CT. Winners will be chosen at random on Wednesday, October 27. Winners will receive one copy of a 2020-2021 Bethany House book of their choice. US only. Winner must be 18 and older or have parental consent.

Ask BHP: Where Do You Get Those Costumes?

A reader submitted this question to our Ask Bethany House survey, “I know you all do a lot of videos on the design part of your covers, but can you tell me more about the process for choosing a model or costume (especially for historical novels)?”

This is actually a question I don’t know how to answer! So instead of making things up, I sent it to Kristen Larson, who handles this area. I threw in a few bonus questions about cover design logistics too, mainly because I wanted to know them.

Kristen Larson is the Assistant Art Director for Bethany House Publishers and Chosen Books. Among a myriad of other tasks, the bulk of her work consists of assisting the art directors in the creation of book covers, choosing cover treatments and materials, and working with marketing, editorial, designers and production to get each book perfected for the printer. So, basically, the ideal person to answer today’s question. Welcome, Kristen!

After getting a description from an author of their character, what’s your process for going from that to choosing the model for the photoshoot?

The process is both simple and complex! The designer combs through models through local talent agencies, either by exploring the website or reaching out to our representatives to help us narrow down options. We always work hard to find the right model to fit the description the author has provided for us! We also keep in mind models we’ve used in the past to make sure we haven’t used them on a recent book cover. However, if we are only seeing the back of the model or if the model is very small on the book cover where the face isn’t recognizable, we’ll sometimes reach out to some of the great talent we’ve worked with in the past. It’s fun being able to use those models a second, or even third, time!

Where do you get those costumes, especially for historical dresses? And how do you choose the color and style?

Historical costumes come from all over the place. We have used local costume outlets, online rental facilities, and have even ordered from overseas! If it’s an especially complex costume, we’ve gone so far as to have them custom made!

Do you have a favorite dress or two that you’ve helped pick out?

The dress we used on Verity by Lisa T Bergren was a fun one!

Any fun photoshoot memories you’d like to share with us?

I was recently at the photoshoot for Turn to Me by Becky Wade. We all fell in love with the male model we found for the hero, he fit the description perfectly. As an added bonus, his real life girlfriend was able to pose as the heroine! They were such a fun couple to shoot and really brought life to the cover. It’s one of note for sure!

I learned so much from this interview. Thanks so much for sharing, Kristen!

How about you, readers? Is there a costume on a cover (Bethany House or not) that stands out to you?

Ask BHP: What Do You Look For In New Authors?

From our Ask BHP survey, we’re answering a question from very early in the publishing process: “What are factors Bethany House Publishers look for when considering publishing a new author?”

This was probably the question that we got the most via our survey, with slight variations. We know that both aspiring authors and readers love to hear what goes on in deciding to publish a book, and even though we’ve shared about this before, it’s a fun one to revisit.

Keep in mind that because we continue working with many established authors every year on their next releases, Bethany House usually doesn’t have more than 1-2 new-to-us authors every year, and not all of them are debut (first-time) authors. I don’t say that to be discouraging, just to give context to some of the items below. Traditional publishing tends to be more competitive because logistically, there are only so many “slots” that our staff and publishing schedule can handle.

That said, it is possible to stand out in the crowd with some focused effort. Here are a few of the top answers I’ve gotten from Bethany House team members in recent years when they share what draws them to a project from a new author.

A complete manuscript (for a debut author). We want to see that you can not only start a story well, but have a strong middle and ending as well. It’s rarer than you might think!

What you can do: Finish that book! Also, make sure that you’re not making the first 3-4 chapters super polished for contests and proposals and neglecting the rest of the book. We can always tell, and many first readers at publishing companies care.

A story that’s a good fit for our audience. Sometimes we give a “no” to an otherwise strong manuscript because of the way a faith theme is treated or because me notice a prominent element that our core readers might not respond well to. In those cases, we’re really not a good fit.

What you can do: Make sure you’re familiar with the breadth of books we publish, and be able to explain why your book fits in nicely with them.

A strong pitch for the sales team about how the book will sell. Obviously, there is a time for experimentation and risk, and our team is willing to do that for a project that has other strong points or is just a story we feel we have to publish. Generally, though, our sales team is hesitant to sign projects that are squarely in categories that have sold poorly in the past, unless we and the author can demonstrate that a particular genre is on the rise.

What you can do: Know the market and what’s currently selling. If you know you’ve got some sales obstacles, collect and present data. Tell us why your book is different, show evidence that readers are interested in this genre/setting, give us some recent comparable titles that have done well.

A story that finds the balance between original and familiar. The best story pitches have a mix of compelling points that make the sales team think, “Ah, yes, readers love that” and fresh takes that will make them think, “Nice, this will stand out.” We’re usually less interested in both ultra-safe stories that only repeat super common tropes and zany tales that break nearly every reader expectation.

What you can do: If your book is something more common, like a marriage of convenience romance, great! Some readers love that. You’ll just need to make it very clear why it’s different than the thousands of other marriage of convenience stories out there. If you’re trying something that’s less common in Christian fiction, then tell us what makes it familiar as well—a detail that readers would recognize and feel drawn to the story.

An author with demonstrable marketing savvy. We love it when proposals show that an author knows their way around the world of connecting with an audience of readers. That could mean they have friendships with published authors who will endorse their book, or they’ve started a platform (often by talking about others’ books) where they have an audience already, or they have a great plan for how to launch their book. All three is even better! Publishing is a team effort, and being an author with marketing savvy is a great way to stand out.

What you can do: We know that most authors start out focusing just on the craft of writing—as it should be! But you should also consider an investment in marketing know-how (via conferences, online seminars, and even old-fashioned experimentation) as the next step in becoming a professional writer. Just know that it’s very unlikely that you’ll find a quick fix to accumulating marketing know-how or building a platform in the space of a few months. This is usually a long-build process.

A fantastic story. This is always key for us. Even marketing team members like me have read widely and will always advocate strongly for characters that jump off the page, a compelling voice, and a plot that keeps us turning pages.

What you can do: Besides the obvious of investing in your craft and always learning and improving, get feedback from other writers or beta readers to make sure your story shines. As a bonus, you’ll start to learn more about doing rewrites based on others’ recommendations, a great publishing skill. I also tell new authors to keep writing. If the first story of your heart can’t find the traditional publishing home you wanted, it might be time to work on a new one, applying all you’ve learned. Out of more than a dozen debut novels that Bethany House has published in my eight years here, I believe only one was the first book the author had completed. The best way to become a better writer is to do more writing!

How about you, readers? Are there other questions you have about the publishing process, either from a writer or reader’s perspective?

Ask BHP: What Are Your Headquarters Like?

The question for this month’s Ask Bethany House made me laugh out loud, so of course I had to answer it: “What are your offices like? I can’t help but imagine a magical paradise of books.”

Time for a confession: publishing company offices aren’t all that exciting. They’re mostly like other offices: lots of people working at computers, conference call tech in the meeting rooms that I still don’t know how to use, printers that mostly work but occasionally need a swift kick, a mailing room for the many packages that go out our doors. That sort of thing.

Still, there are some fun aspects of the Bethany House facilities that might be fun for you readers to know about.

  • There are more books than your average office. I know, shocking. But whether it’s editors displaying all of the projects they personally worked on, or the large library in our central space where we can check out books from our other divisions, or the marketing library of copies that are sent out for giveaways, interviews, and promotions, books are EVERYWHERE.
  • Far more nerdy bookish décor in individual offices than you’d see elsewhere. Need a map of the indie bookstores of Minneapolis and St. Paul? We’ve got it. Jane Austen bobblehead? Check. A poster featuring women’s fashion throughout the decades and centuries? Yes, even that.
  • The reference library has a sliding ladder. Yes, like the one in Beauty and the Beast (although our ceilings are less vaulted and glamorous). We still think it’s pretty cool.
  • There’s a sort-of secret, locked Archive Room with copies of all of our books, including translations. It probably has buried treasure as well. I’m not sure because I’ve been thoroughly supervised every time I’ve stepped inside, which is probably for the best.
  • Our small conference room is home to the Bell of Triumph, which can be rung to announce moments of great celebratory joy, whether personal (engagements, new babies) or work-related (finishing huge projects or a career milestone).
  • Not the building, per se, but there’s a nice little path and neighborhood to walk around outside at 3:00 break…and we recently discovered that it goes by a wild black raspberry patch.
  • Readers sometimes send us letters to their favorite Bethany House authors, which we forward along to them. It’s always fun to see those stacks of forwarded mail going out!

I’m sure others would point out different favorite aspects of the Bethany House center of command. But while it’s been fun being in the office more now that pandemic restrictions are lifting here in Minnesota, I’m always reminded that it’s not so much the place as the people that make a company feel like home. So if you ever get a chance to meet even one Bethany House employee, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy that more than a tour of our office.

Do you own a fun bookish object around your home or office? Tell us about it!

Ask BHP: Why Do Books Release on Tuesdays?

Good morning, all! It’s time to answer another puzzling publishing question. We had someone contact us with a question that might be on your mind if you’ve paid close attention to multiple authors’ social media: “I’ve noticed that a lot of books release on the same day. Why is that? Why not spread them out?”

Ask BHP 2021

The short answer to this is: most major traditional publishers release books on Tuesday, with the first Tuesday of the month being the most popular. And, well, there are only so many Tuesdays in a month, so you’re going to see some significant overlap in “book birthdays.”

But why Tuesdays? Part of it has to do with giving a book a stronger shot at appearing on a bestseller list. Many bookstores often tab up sales on Mondays, so if a book releases on a Tuesday, it has the maximum time to gain sales to appear on a bestseller list like the New York Times.

Another practical reason is that holidays rarely land on Tuesdays, so there are fewer interruptions. Shipping time also used to be a factor, and warehouse or printer logistics sometimes still is. And, in some ways, Tuesdays is just now a publishing tradition.

From my point of view in marketing, there isn’t much of a need to spread book releases out. It’s actually helpful to have books releasing at the same time, because then we can run ads featuring multiple books, knowing they’ve released on the same day, or authors can join together to run a giveaway or online celebration of their releases. In publicity, sometimes it’s “the more, the merrier!” (Within reason, of course.)

If you Google this question, you’ll find that other publishers have a variety of opinions on which factor is most important, but it’s clearly a mix of reasons. Bethany House follows this tradition as well, so you’ll often see authors celebrating their release date on a Tuesday…and now you know why!

Have you noticed the Tuesday trend before? Or is this your first time hearing that publishers have a date they prefer for new releases?

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?


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?