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. 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?

*To ask a question of your own, fill out the form here: 

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: