Fiction Readers Summit Highlights

After mentioning that I would be at the Fiction Readers Summit last weekend, I got a few requests to share highlights. Well…if I really wanted to do that, I’d just start listing names. But since some of you would like to experience the actual event vicariously and not just listen to me gush, here are a few of my favorite parts.

Author panel selfie taken by Bethany Turner…such a great group, even if you can’t see all of them!

  • Watching at least four of the authors (possibly more too shy to admit it) declare that they came to the event to meet Lynn Austin and get a book signed by her.
  • Listening as readers shared answers to authors’ questions in the reverse panel—from humorous confessions of starting with the last page first to heartfelt tributes about why they read Christian fiction.
  • Surreptitiously taking notes on those answers because the reader panel was basically a focus group for what people are interested in seeing in fiction and I can’t shut down my marketing brain.
  • Greeting some authors I’ve appreciated from other publishing companies. (Yes, I do read books that aren’t published by Bethany House occasionally.)
  • Realizing that Jody Hedlund, Jocelyn Green, and I all graduated from Taylor University and posing for an alma mater photo.

  • Learning lots of behind-the-scenes research details, including how suspense writers convince people they’re not serial killers, which tiny historical errors have accidentally slipped into print, and what the brainstorming process looks like.
  • Hearing authors recommend books they love—including many written by other attending authors.
  • Meeting some of our fabulous bloggers who have seen my name in emails but found out that I am an actual person.
  • Laughing. A lot. Readers are a fun-loving crowd.
  • Enjoying breakfast burritos with readers who stammered and jaw-dropped their way through celebrity author sightings…and then eventually calmed down enough to hold a coherent conversation.
  • Applauding the amazing organizational committee and wondering what I have to do to become as awesome as Chris Jager (fiction buyer at Baker Book House).
  • Giving away books as door prizes! (Seriously, I love doing that.)
  • Seeing all the selfies from the book signing go up on social media, each one representing another autographed book on someone’s keeper shelf.

So, that’s the scoop on the Summit. There’s a second event planned next year in August, and we’d love to see you there! Check out the event website for the dates, with more details to come soon.

Have you ever gotten the chance to meet a favorite author in person? Tell us about it!

10 Ways to Be a Publisher’s Favorite Person Ever

Last week, I shared some pet peeves common among book industry people. (Except for a few that probably just bother me, but hey, still helpful information, right?)

Thankfully, very few readers fall into the categories I laid out in the last post, because people who love books are almost universally delightful. But there is also a small subset of readers who, as a publishing company employee, I especially appreciate. Read on for the ten things you can do to gain entrance into the elite, gold-star group of Bethany House’s Favorite Readers.

Defending an Author

Now, there are some people who are clearly trolling—saying something inflammatory just because they want to, and hey, fire is fun! Stay far, far away from those online conversations. Do not engage. Repeat. Do not engage. Over and out.

Also, this is not your moment to go all growling pit-bull over someone’s comments. (“I would never do that,” you say, but just you wait till someone calls your favorite book “sentimental trash,” my friend. Common sense can go out the window.) Remember, the person you disagree with might view the world differently than you do or just had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day. And regardless, there’s a really good chance that person is, in fact…a person, and thus infinitely valuable and deserving of respect.

All that said…nothing warms my publicist heart more than seeing a reader commenting on a review or Facebook post with a thoughtful and gracious “Have you considered this?” reply. Especially when I really wanted to say the same thing but felt like I couldn’t.

Being Understanding

This will shock absolutely no one, but sometimes I make mistakes. And sometimes another person on the marketing team makes a mistake. So, here is an open letter:

To Everyone Whose Copy Got Lost in the Mail or Was Sent Late, Who Got The Wrong Giveaway Prize or Never Heard Back or Otherwisely Has Good Reason to be Annoyed With Me or My Team:

I’m sorry. Really. And thank you for being gracious.

Because of my interactions with readers are sweet, considerate messages like, “I thought you might like to know about the typo on page 59 for future printings” and “If it’s not too much trouble, could you forward this email on to my favorite author?” and “When you get a chance, can you update me on the on the status of this?” All of that is very much appreciated by someone who has a thousand balls in the air and has never been a flawless juggler. (Okay, outside of the analogy I can’t really juggle at all.)

Supporting Your Local Bookstore

Obviously, not everyone lives near an actual physical bookstore, but if you do, make sure to stop in and buy there. Publishers and authors are thrilled about the access Amazon and other online retailers provide…but we also need stores to stay in business so there are multiple channels for books to get to the world. Plus, we like the people who own and work in bookstores—I’ve met dozens of them at author and retailer events and they are almost universally delightful—so we want them to be successful.

Commenting on Our Blog and Facebook Posts

I get it. Bethany House Publishers is more a vague-ish entity than a person, and it seems strange to have a conversation with an organization. Or, in the case of our logo, something that might be any one of the following, or a combination of two: book, flame, quill pen. (No one knows…take your pick.)

Since Facebook doesn’t show posts to most of the people who have “liked” our page, here’s one easy way to stay in touch. Go to our Facebook page, and under the “Following” tab, select “See First.” That way, you won’t miss the fun. (And don’t worry, I usually only post 4-5 times a week, so I won’t be spamming your feed.)

Then, if you see a question at the end of a blog post or on Facebook…answer! Engage! Talk to me! Otherwise I’ll feel like the lonely kid in middle school whose one friend was absent and she fled to the library so she wouldn’t have to sit alone at lunch. (Yes, that scenario is totally hypothetical. Totally.)

Beyond pity, it’s just fun to join in conversations like these. Readers need to stick together, and I hope we’re able to create a welcoming environment for interacting about all things bookish.

Thinking Deeply

If this is not your thing, totally fine. Enjoy reading! Love the story and the characters. Post a simple (hopefully five!) star review and one sentence about what you enjoyed. Seriously, that matters, both to an author’s confidence and for things like Amazon algorithms—and hey, I see your eyes glazing over when I talk about boring things like that, but seriously, they keep authors in business.

BUT, that said…I have a soft spot for the readers who just clearly get it. They know what the author was trying to do. They explain, either at a book signing or in a review or to their friends on social media why the suffering in the early chapters was critical to redemption later. They phrase an insight about a book’s theme or characters so well that I learn new things. They pick the perfect quote to capture the heart of the story. It’s beautiful and makes me ridiculously happy.

Gushing

This isn’t the opposite of what I listed above, but it is different. Maybe there’s not a single bit of analysis of how the symbolism relates to the theme or whatnot, but instead this type of review pours open the floodgates of reader-love emotion to explain exactly why you should visit the book’s setting right this instant, or how the cover of this book is frameable, put-above-your-mantle art, or why even if every other reader in the world falls in love with the hero, he is YOURS.

Super fun. I love it. And authors do too!

Encouraging Authors

Obviously, social media has its downsides, but one of the huge upsides is that authors can hear directly from readers. I can’t tell you how much that means to all the writers toiling away at their next book. Your kind words might arrive at just the right time to make a difference.

So, I’m declaring today “Go Give an Author a Virtual Hug Day.” Go ahead. Find an author on Facebook or through a contact form on their website and send a simple message of thanks and appreciation.

I’ll wait.

(This is not a cutesy rhetorical device. Like, I obviously have no way to check on you and make sure you do this…but you should. Right now. Before you talk yourself out of it, because it really is not painful, and it will bring both you and an author joy.)

Getting Excited About Winning

Seriously, I love getting delighted emails from book or prize winners expressing their enthusiasm. And if you want to know about more giveaways, join our brand-new giveaway group! In there, I’ll only post about giveaways so as not to clutter up your social media feed and to give you a one-stop place to find out about where you can win free books. (And to those of you who think you never win anything…I’m with you. The only time I won something was when I pulled my own test email address from a BHP contest and had to disqualify myself. Which just proves that you never know what could happen!)

Working on Your Own Writing

I know we have so very few publishing slots open, as a traditional publisher with limited capacity and lots of authors who continue to be part of our Bethany House family. That can feel very discouraging to a lot of aspiring writers out there. But do know that we are for you in your pursuit of knowledge about the craft and art of writing. Even if we aren’t ever able to publish one of your manuscripts, every person who works at Bethany House loves stories and seeing them reach readers with truth. So keep learning and growing and writing!

Saying Hi at Events.

I love meeting readers. Not going to lie, partly because it makes me feel like a celebrity in front of my boss, but mostly because it’s fun to put faces to names that I’ve seen online. Also I like giving hugs, so there’s that.

So if you’re at an author event, the ACFW conference, the Christian Fiction Reader’s retreat, or any other reader place I might frequent, be sure to introduce yourself. (I’ll be at the Christian Fiction Summit in Grand Rapids tomorrow, hint to anyone who’s attending!)

Okay, readers and writers! Anything that you see fellow readers doing, in person or online, that makes you sure you’ve found a kindred spirit? (I almost put “Loving Anne of Green Gables” as a bonus item on the list, but I’m sneaking it in here instead.)

10 Ways You Could Get on a Publisher’s Bad Side (But Please Don’t)

Okay, readers. Let’s talk publisher pet peeves.

Now, I know none of you reading this are the sort of readers I’m going to talk about, because you all love authors. I’ve met many of you in person and enjoy watching your enthusiasm for all things books, so no worries, your names are written firmly in the book of “Bethany House’s Favorite Fans.” Still, I thought I’d share in case you ever see discussions about some of these topics online. You can now contribute with authority on some of the major no-nos for interacting with authors and publishers.

Harassing Authors Online

Maybe “harassing” is a strong word, because I’m including not just spammers and stalkers, but also people who find the need to go directly to an author to air their various grievances. These include, but are not limited to: why charging for an ebook is highway robbery, why the author’s latest Facebook post was SUPER OFFENSIVE, and how they are unsure about the state of the author’s soul/eternal destiny because of what was written on the fifth page of chapter 17. Authors tend to be a sensitive lot, and messages like this can send them into an existential crisis, so I’d recommend ranting to your friends instead and only messaging authors when you can say encouraging things.

Piracy

You know when I like pirates? When they are animatronic and part of a Disney World ride. That’s basically the only scenario. Frequenting sites that rip off authors by giving away their books for free is not only illegal, it’s maddeningly unethical. If you like books, logically you should want to support their authors so they can write more books. (Also, libraries exist and are totally legal ways of reading free books. Because we all know buying all the books we want would cost our annual salary and turn our homes into the library from Beauty and the Beast. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all bad.)

Missing the Point

This one may be personal, but when I see a Facebook comment or blog post that argues something I feel is hopelessly off-base—like saying that literary fiction is the only sort with value or all romance novels are emotional pornography or that a particular book affirmed something that it really didn’t or that the fantasy genre was probably started by the actual devil—I get really sad. Like, I just want to sit down and have coffee with that person and ask questions and calmly exchange opinions and circle all of their logical fallacies with a big red pen that I stole from editorial.

Pitching Your Book to Us Online

So, clarification: I never mind when readers politely ask on our Facebook page if our editors will be at a particular conference or whether we accept unsolicited submissions (no) or if we publish picture books (not at the moment), and so on, even if a bit of research would have given them the answer.

But don’t be that person who, after being sent a link to our submission guidelines, chooses to tag Bethany House on Twitter, link to the whole manuscript in a Facebook message with an attention-grabbing graphic, calls our receptionist multiple days in a row, etc. It won’t work. We still won’t look at the manuscript if you don’t follow the rules, and it only makes a bad impression.

Although I do have a file of hilarious typos from pitches sent to me via social media. Like the novel I was sure was the Christian version of Jurassic Park when it turned out that the “book about the army after the raptor” was actually supposed to the be “the army after the Rapture.” Disappointing. Very disappointing.

Being Entitled

Sometimes, due to trying to use the marketing budget or my time wisely, I just can’t open up a giveaway of expensive-to-ship items to international readers or send your book club autographed postcards or guarantee Dee Henderson’s latest novel will be published in Portuguese. If I say no, that really means I can’t, because I love saying yes, so please have pity on my people-pleasing little heart by being gracious and not telling me you’ll never buy another Bethany House book again. (Yes, that’s happened.)

Specifically on turning down requests for free books: trust me, if it was up to me, I’d be on a parade float shoveling out copies of our books to the waiting masses like they were literary confetti. I love readers and giving away books. But…I also love authors, which tempers my love for giving away books, because if I want them to make money and keep writing those books.

Burning Down a Library

Oddly specific? Yes. But on the last book tour, we stopped at a library where this had actually happened, and it made me so mad that I was almost shooting flames myself. (But not at the books in their temporary location.) Say no to arson!

 

That’s it for general readers. If you happen to review books (either professionally on a blog or informally on retail sites like Amazon or Goodreads), these next ones might sound familiar. Most of them apply with an extra exclamation point for those who are receiving review copies for free from the publisher or author.

Being Mean

I get the dilemma here. You picked up a book that you had every reason to think you’d like (see “Should-Have-Known-Better” otherwise), but you didn’t. It was boring or confusing or just not your style, and now the review is due. What should you do?

A. If you’re on a blog tour, ask if you can post an excerpt or feature instead.
B. Summarize the plot, say a few things you liked, and graciously explain the ones that you didn’t.
C. Talk about the sort of reader who would enjoy the book even if it wasn’t for you.
D. Rant about the book’s faults, insult the writer directly, or detail what you hated in painfully vivid terms along with supporting quotes.

(Hint: There is only one wrong answer here.)

Plagiarizing

Come on, guys, we’ve known since grade school that you don’t take others’ work and pass it off as your own. At Bethany House, we’ve caught a few people who get free books from us and then copy-paste a review from another blog onto their own. Nothing makes our marketing assistant madder, and you don’t want to mess with her when she’s mad.

Making Should-Have-Known-Better Book Choices

This doesn’t always overlap with the mean review, but usually there’s a flagrant red-flag that should have told the reviewer not pick the book up. Saying, “I hate this genre, but for some reason I hoped this book would be the magical exception” or “Every other book by this author has been on my Worst Book Ever list, but I decided to request this one anyway” is a clue that maybe you should’ve passed. Sure, if a fellow reader recommends “a romance for people who don’t usually like romance,” I get it. Or if an author is clearly changing directions in a way you think you might like, fine. But otherwise, it’s seems a little unfair to read a book you’re already biased against and then roast it in a review.

Reselling Review Copies

There may be different rules out there, but here is a fairly standard list of dos and don’ts when you receive a free review copy:

Totally fine: donating the book to a friend or the church library, using your copy for a giveaway, putting the book on your keeper shelf with large warning signs that even if it looks like you have too many books that is totally false and DO NOT TOUCH THIS ONE.

Not fine: reselling the book online, burning it (unless you’re snowed in and literally have no other fuel).

Why? By receiving a street team, influencer, or review copy, you’re signing up to help the author’s sales. Even if you end up not caring for the book, making a profit off of that free copy is both stealing a sale from the author and kind of just cheating.

 

Okay, that was all the negative stuff. Follow the blog (by entering your email in the box to the left under the list of posts) to read next month’s post where I’ll stop ranting and talk about all the delightful things that readers can do to make a publisher happy. Thankfully, there are many, many more items on this list, and more people who fit into them.

Authors and readers, do you have any pet peeves to share? This can include: treatment of books, infuriating comments, unanswerable questions, and anything else that disturbs your writer/reader peace.

Following in Paul’s Footsteps: Interview with Angela Hunt

Today on the blog, I’m welcoming the one and only Angela Hunt! Her upcoming release, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a novelization of the film of the same name that releases March 23, one that tells the story of Luke and Paul from the New Testament. I’ve got questions; she’s got answers.

What are some of the challenges of writing the novelization of a film?

Angela: First, having a screenplay to work with takes care of most of the plotting, and that’s a relief. But a screenplay, when turned into prose, comes in around 30,000 words, and a novel must be around 75-80,000 words. So a novelist has to add a lot, but the added material mustn’t detract from or contradict the screenplay. That can be a challenge.

What are some strengths that a novel has when compared to a film? Is there anything that the film can convey more easily than a novel?

Angela: In a film, the viewer only knows what he can see and hear. In a novel, the writer can help a reader “hear” a character’s thoughts and experience what a character tastes, smells, intuits, and feels beneath his fingertips.

Conversely, a filmmaker can show the image of a building or a landscape and convey in a second what might take a writer a thousand words to express.

As you researched, did you discover anything about the life and times of Paul, or the culture he wrote in, that might be surprising to readers?

Angela: Most Christians are quite familiar with Paul because he wrote so many books of the New Testament. (Luke actually wrote more words of the New Testament, and how like a writer to consider word count.) What I found myself doing was looking for logical connections Paul might have had with other characters. He was part of the Sanhedrin along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Did they know each other? Did they interact? We know Paul was present when Stephen was killed, but did he know him before that day? Since nearly every religious Jew went to the Temple during the Pilgrimage festivals, could Paul have been present when the twelve-year-old Jesus was confounding the rabbis during Passover? The world was a smaller place in those days, so those situations might have happened . . . and that intrigued me.

So, why read Biblical fiction at all? Isn’t the Bible enough on its own?

Angela: I wrote about this in more depth on my blog, but here’s a summary: because the human spirit resonates to STORY.

That covers fiction in general, but why read fiction specifically based on biblical events?

  1. Because a trustworthy author will not violate Scripture.
  2. Because the fictional elements should be logical and based on historical facts.
  3. Because human nature is consistent over time.  We often think our problems are unique, and we’re relieved to discover that we aren’t alone. Others have been in similar situations.
  4. Because historical fiction helps us better understand the culture and history of familiar story events.
  5. Because we learn from the lives of other people.
  6. Because God Himself recorded stories, and Jesus taught with them since humans are hard-wired to appreciate story. Who would know that better than the God who created us?

God gave us Scripture, and the doctrine of biblical sufficiency states that the Bible gives us all we need to know about God. But it does not give us all we want to know, and our quest for knowledge is a God-given gift. We yearn to know more, and well-written biblical, historical, and contemporary fiction can meet that need. So don’t hesitate to open your heart and mind to a well-written biblical novel. You may be surprised to learn a truth you had never before considered.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Paul, Apostle of Christ?

Angela: As I worked on the novel, I found myself convicted by the all-or-nothing attitude Paul and Luke evidenced. We live in a post-Christian society where people can look at you askance if you talk about Jesus or even take a stand against sin. Paul and Luke lived in a world where for talking about Jesus you could be arrested on the street and hung on a burning cross by nightfall. That is a sobering realization. They would not have retreated from the possibility of being shamed on Facebook, yet how many times we do choose not to speak for fear of reprisals? I hope readers will realize the price the early Christians paid for our faith—and the price we must pay if we are to be faithful for future generations.

Thanks so much for being with us, Angela! Here’s a question for you, readers: what story or figure in the Bible fascinates you?

Why Your Favorite Author Probably Can’t Give You a Free Book

It’s a dilemma that many in my circles are puzzling over: in today’s world, authors have nearly limitless creativity and research sources and opportunities to get their stories out to a wider audience…but fewer people are willing to pay for them.

I’m an administrator for a few dozen authors’ Facebook pages, and from time to time I glimpse notifications of another message with the same question, phrased in a few different ways: “Why is your book (or ebook) so expensive?”

If you’ve ever wondered that yourself—and I don’t blame you, because I did too before I started working in publishing—here are a few thoughts that authors probably want to say but feel they can’t, because it seems a little too direct, a little too self-serving (even though it really isn’t).

It’s the same reason restaurant owners can’t give you a free dinner: because that’s how they make a living. Sure, a chef might comp a meal for a celebrity or a food blogger who will recommend the café to a large audience, but for the most part, they charge for their product both because it’s worth the money and because doing so allows them to continue making five-star creations.

Before I go on, let me first say: this is not intended to make you feel bad if you’ve ever requested a review copy from an author, talked about how ebook prices are too high, or can’t buy every new release that catches your eye. Not at all. You don’t have to feel defensive, because I’m also a reader who loves a good deal and lives on a budget.

This is just a different perspective, written in consideration of some people I care a lot about: our authors. It’s easy for them to get discouraged when hearing about general trends—readers buying fewer books at lower prices—or getting direct messages from readers concerned that their books are priced too high. My goal isn’t to scold anyone, just to ask questions that might be helpful when thinking about this issue. Continue reading

Five Bookish Mysteries to Solve

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

There are a few ways to interpret this cryptic message:

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

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

Mystery One: The Bethany House Logo

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

Staff members are divided. You decide.

Mystery Two: Faceless Women

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

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

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

Mystery Three: Disproportionate Genetic Distribution of Redheads

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

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

Mystery Four: The Traveling Felt Art Disaster

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

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

Mystery Five: Unnamed Scrolly Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Setting of a Novel…and a Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the cover to read an excerpt!

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

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

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

Tangleton Water Tower in Lynnhurst

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes: Cover Costumes

Today, we get a special glimpse into a part of cover design that you might not have known existed…the costumes!

Most of the time at Bethany House, we rent costumes for use on our covers, but it just so happens that we also know a talented seamstress who takes on an occasional project. She is Beth Schoenherr, mother of Julie Klassen’s editor, Raela Schoenherr, and she created both costumes on the cover of the upcoming novel The Ladies of Ivy Cottage.

Aren’t they beautiful? (They’re even more detailed up close.)

She also agreed to answer a few questions on the blog today about the work involved in the process of making an author’s vision come to life.

What were the general steps you had to go through to sew one of those lovely Regency dresses for the cover, just to give us an idea of the process?

I started the sewing process for the Regency outfits by taking the model’s measurements and making a muslin version of the more fitted parts of the dress to ensure it would be a perfect fit before cutting into the actual dress fabrics. Then cut, sew, and—my favorite part—embellish!

How did you choose the colors and patterns for the dresses?

Julie, her editor, and the cover designer discussed and chose the color options for Rachel’s outfit based on what colors were appropriate for a woman in half mourning to wear at that time in history, as well as what a woman of her station would have worn at the time. Mercy’s outfit color and pattern were also chosen by Julie and her editor and cover designer as a good contrast next to the lavender outfit, as well as something that would be typical for Mercy to wear. For embellishment on Mercy’s outfit, I used antique trim for the collar, sleeves, and back.

I brought samples of fabric choices within the chosen color palettes to show the cover designer and editor to decide what would look best in the final cover design. They chose the lavender, pin-tucked taffeta because its texture would add some dimension to the coat that would show up well in photos. I found several sewing pattern options we could work from, and based on some costume inspiration photos from Julie, we decided on the pattern for the long coat.

You can find the pattern used here if you ever want to make your own Regency gown!

Since the approved cover direction meant the women would be seen from the back, we wanted to be sure the backs of both outfits (hats included) would also have some attractive elements.

Is there a particular era of fashion that you find the most fun?

Oh dear! I truly can’t pick a favorite era of fashion. I love seeing all the different shapes and styles throughout history. There’s always some beautiful or interesting or crazy element in every era of fashion.

For more from Beth, check out Tamera Alexander’s interview with her about the beautiful Southern belle dress she created for A Beauty So Rare.

I hope you had fun learning about one of many behind-the-scenes elements of your favorite covers! And now, a question for you, readers: if you were dressing up for a costume party, which literary character would you choose to portray?

Inside Bethany House: Fun with Grammar!

To prove how nerdy we are here at Bethany House, I could tell you about the time a cake arrived to a work celebration bearing the word “Congatulations,” and how one of the editors had inserted the appropriate letter complete with proofing mark, using frosting stolen from one of the decorative rosebuds.

I could mention the number of charity pamphlets, flyers, and yes, even an out-of-order bathroom sign that have been marked up with red pen within the Bethany House walls.

I could even link to the article that was circulating around editorial last week to add fuel to a heated debate on the Oxford comma.

But I figured I’d ask a few co-workers some grammar-nerdy questions and share their answers with you instead. Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite punctuation mark, and if so, what is it?

Elisa, editorial: My favorite punctuation mark is the em dash—it’s so versatile! My runner-up might be the period. It’s not fussy and packs plenty of meaning. It’s also very hard for people to misuse, which makes my job easier.

(Note: the em dash was recently discussed at the Bethany House lunch table, and many people spoke in glowing terms about how much they loved it and why. “It’s like a miniature cliffhanger,” “Sometimes I catch myself using three in one sentence,” and “Are we really discussing this?” were all actual quotes from the conversation.)

Noelle, marketing: For sure, the semi-colon. Correct usage for it is so little understood (even fully by me), but I somehow feel cooler attempting to use it. Only real grammar nerds try to use it over a plain old regular period. I am also a huge Dickens fan, and boy does he work those semi-colons.

Jessica, editorial: I really love parentheses. I use them a lot in casual, personal correspondence (reading my emails is basically like reading The Princess Bride). However, parentheses are not really allowed in formal fiction, so I have to fall back on my second favorite punctuation mark, the em-dash, which lets you sneak in parenthetical phrases without using parentheses. Score!

Is there a mistake you find yourself making over and over again?

Sharon, editorial: Hors d’oeuvres. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes wrong—but I always have to double check to be absolutely sure, because sometimes I transpose the e and the u. (And yes, I just looked it up before writing it here!)

Amy, marketing: I can never remember how to spell medieval. Also, I’m pretty sure I have yet to correctly format an ellipse, including on this blog.

Is there a grammar or usage mistake that is particularly painful for you?

Anna, marketing: YES! The Oxford comma should always be used. That’s all I have to say about that.

Jessica, editorial: This isn’t really a question of grammar, but one of my greatest editorial pet peeves is people referring to characters as “the man” or “the woman” instead of just using a pronoun. Especially when we know the character’s name! For example: “She opened the door to find Jake standing on her doorstep. Today the man wore jeans and a plaid shirt…” It’s SO AWKWARD. Just say “he”! Please! For me!

Elisa, editorial: I cringe when I see “apart” when the writer means “a part,” especially in situations where the writer is thanking people for the opportunity to be a part of something, because it comes across as being grateful for the opportunity to be standoffish.

Are there any grammar rules you don’t think should be rules?

Noelle, marketing: Let’s talk about smart quotes. They are like the Kim Kardashian of grammar—newsworthy for who knows why but always mentioned in copy editing. What’s wrong with my non-smart quote quotation marks and apostrophes? They get the job done.

(Note: If you want to know what smart quotes and straight quotes look like and why copy editors care, take a look at this explanation.)

Not something posted at Bethany House, thank goodness, but it still made me laugh.

 

Bonus round! Many of our editors save amusing typos from manuscripts and proposals. Here are a few collected by Charlene, a former acquiring editor for Bethany House:

She’d left the backpack containing her personal values in a locker at the Y.

When his wife died, he was housebroken.

Thank you for taking time to read my letter and your deep consideration on my behind.

There’d been a rumor she was loose and a maybe a trumpet.

Logan and his friends would drive to Pizza Ranch to gouge themselves on the buffet.

Our family is invisible if we stand together and believe the same things.

He ran across the street cat corner, still dogged by the man in black.

Even as a publicist, I see some funny ones. Here are two of my favorites:

  • A Facebook message with this query: “I had a dream about the raptor and I think it would make a great book.” (When I read this—it was early on a Monday—I was actually picturing a Christian dinosaur book for a second.)
  • A woman who spent three paragraphs criticizing the dress on the cover of one of our books as “horrendously inauthentic,” then ended with this: “Would you like to employ me to poof your cover designs for credibility prior to publication? I would do it for very low rates, just to keep from cringing in horror at most of your inept art.” I almost replied, “Thanks for the offer, but you might want to poof your email before sending.”

Needless to say, if we took a poll of Bethany House staff based on last week’s checklist, everyone would score pretty high, even those of us who don’t edit books on a daily basis.

Okay, grammar nerds out there, time for you to chime in! What grammar or usage error makes you cringe? Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?

A Wallflower Ball: Fun with Jen Turano!

Great news, readers! (Any sentence involving “free” and “books” gets my attention, anyway.)

Jen Turano’s new Apart From the Crowd series, following a group of wallflowers in their adventures in New York society, launches this month with a free ebook novella!

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You can download it from your favorite ebook retailer (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD).

To celebrate, I asked Jen if she’d take us into the world of her characters during one of the Gilded Age social events where everyone wanted an invitation: a ball at the Astor House.

And here it is, one of the most ostentatious mansions New York has ever seen:

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Inside, the atmosphere would be charged with rumors and romance and possibly a bit of danger and intrigue. It might look something like this:

ballroom

Of course, dinner would be served. Here is a typical menu from the Gilded Age:

First Course
Julienne or Vermicelli Soup

Second Course
Broiled Salmon
Turbot in Lobster Sauce
Filet de Soles
Red Mullet
Trout
Lobster Rissoles

Entrees
Canards a la Rouennaise
Mutton Cutlets
Braised Beef
Spring Chicken
Roast Quarter of Lamb
Tongue
Roast Saddle of Mutton
Whitebait

Third Course
Quails
Roast Duck
Mayonnaise of Chicken
Green Peas
Charlotte Russe
Strawberries
Compote of Cherries
Neapolitan Cakes
Madiera Wine

Or you could take a walk outside, perhaps down to Central Park for some ice skating:

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This might be what Wilhelmina looked like bundled up for a wintery afternoon outdoors:

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And here’s a typical gown like her friend Permilia might have worn to the ball:

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Speaking of gorgeous dresses, take a look at the one on the cover of Jen’s upcoming release, Behind the Scenes! (Doesn’t it remind you of the research photo above that Jen sent to our designers?)

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There’s an extended excerpt of the first book in the series within the ebook novella of At Your Request, so you can get started on it before anyone else.

To keep the fun going, we’re going to give away two copies of Behind the Scenes! To enter, comment on this post with the answer to one, or all, of these questions: If you were attending a Gilded Age ball, what color would your dress be? Which foods on the menu look most and least appetizing? Would you give ice skating a try?

Winners will be listed in next week’s blog post on January 19. (If you are an international reader, you can still enter, but I will substitute the book with an Amazon egift card because of the cost of shipping.)