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.)

Happy Thanksgiving from Bethany House

This Thanksgiving Day, the start of an often-crazy holiday season, I hope you’re able to take a little time for rest. For peace. For prayer and unhurried conversation and good food and laughter.

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If it’s been a long November, dwell on these words from Jesus. They’re as true today as they’ve always been: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”—Matthew 11:28-29

Happy Thanksgiving! As always, I’m grateful for compelling stories, authors seeking to write truth and grace, and readers like you who never fail to encourage me. Blessings on your celebration today!

Inside a Book Tour

It’s getting near the end of Beverly Lewis’s fall book tour to promote her new release, The Wish. From last Wednesday until this coming Saturday, fans in the South had a chance to meet her, ask her questions about the Amish, and get their favorite books signed. (You can find the schedule here. If you missed a signing near your home, check the store: Beverly signed some books to leave there that you might be able to snag!)

I was able to tag along on the tour to manage the line, hand out newsletter sign-ups, take pictures with every variety of camera imaginable, and chat books with readers.
It was quite a whirlwind week with three stops every day! Here are some pictures of the tour. (You can find more on Beverly’s Facebook page.)

Sometimes Beverly will speak at events, sharing the inspiration for her book and her writing journey.

We ran into lots of Tennessee fans on a big football game day!

We ran into lots of Tennessee fans on a big football game day!

Little Leo, asleep with Mom, was the youngest book signing attendee.

Little Leo, asleep with Mom, was the youngest book signing attendee.

On Sunday, we went hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

On Sunday, we went hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

 

A few more behind-the-scenes fun facts:

  • In our rental van in between stops, Beverly and I regaled our longsuffering tour manager, Steve, with a singalong to classic musicals like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music.
  • After years of doing these tours, we’ve seen nearly everything go wrong that could: missed flights, lost luggage, freak storms, sickness, mixed-up schedules, car troubles…you name it, it’s happened. There was even one book signing tour where Beverly didn’t do any actual signing because of an injury to her right arm! Somehow we always make it through to the end (and we appreciate all the readers who pray for the tour).
  • This tour, our most unusual stop was probably The Original Moon Pie General Store and Book Warehouse. It gives away free mini Moon Pies to guests!
They also had large barrels of candy. I was excited!

They also had large barrels of candy.

As someone who usually stands near the front of the line, I always overhear great stories about how Beverly’s books have changed readers’ lives. It just goes to show there’s a lot of power in fiction!

Do you have any questions about what goes on during a book signing tour?

Advice for Perfecting Your Contest Entry

One fun thing about working at a publishing company are the connections I have with what goes on “behind the scenes,” including writing contests. Since I know many writers follow this blog, I decided to interview three judges who have experience evaluating first chapters, synopses, and other entries. Their comments are kept anonymous (to keep their mystique of course…and so if you happened to enter a contest where they were judges, you wouldn’t worry that all of their comments here were talking about your entry). I hope you learn a lot from them!

Amy: What’s a common mistake (or a few) you saw in the manuscripts you judged?

Judge One: The most common problem I saw was when writers would tell me what was going on with their character instead of showing me. One example of this would be an author telling me how a character felt about a significant event in his/her life instead of showing me how he/she reacted to said event (e.g. a wife narrates her angst over an argument with her husband instead of showing me the argument itself). Another common example would be an author trying to fit too much backstory in the first couple pages of a novel. I fall into this trap too, so I get it—it’s hard to find the balance between confusing your readers and keeping them in suspense. But too often, authors would tell me everything that had happened to a character to bring him to this point in the story (lost his job, became an alcoholic, wife divorced him) instead of leaving me with a little mystery and letting me find out those things one by one while I read.

Judge Two: Some entries did a lot of telling instead of showing—outright stating characters’ emotions or motivations instead of showing what they looked like. But other entries made the more subtle mistake of showing and telling. They did a great job of using dialogue, body language, and vivid verbs so I understood what was happening…and then tacked on a totally unnecessary explanation of it in case I missed all of that. As a reader, I feel cheated, like the author didn’t trust me. It’s also a waste of words, because it says the same thing twice. Other mistakes that are a bit more obvious include a slow start to the story with lots of backstory or info-dumps, unrealistic dialogue, and too-perfect characters, all of which brand a manuscript as a beginner.

Judge Three: Because I was only able to see the very first part of the book, a strong beginning was crucial, as it was all I had to focus on. Several of the submissions could have had much snappier starts. I would also advise entrants to be very careful about their synopsis and not skipping necessary details or assuming knowledge. Several times I came away confused on things like timeline and certain plot points

Amy: When an entry caught your attention in a good way, what were some characteristics of that entry that made it stand out?

Judge One: Last month I watched the women’s gymnastics at the Olympics, and one thing the announcers keep saying over and over is that these young women have to do the hardest things in the world and make them look easy. The entries that caught my attention did the same thing—they worked in historic details without losing the story’s momentum, dropped in the occasional foreign word to provide a sense of place, or added an accent to a character’s speech without making it cheesy. The plot, dialogue, and character development were all there too, but these authors had gone the extra mile and made the world of their imagination into a world I could picture visiting. They had paid attention to the details without letting the details overwhelm the point of the story.

Judge Two: One huge thing is that in the best entries, a scene accomplished more than one thing. For example, it didn’t just give information…it also advanced the plot, showcased the personalities of the main characters, and foreshadowed something still to come. Or it didn’t just raise the stakes of the suspense, it also hinted at the hero’s backstory, introduced a minor character, and reinforced the spiritual theme. These are just a few examples of what a scene can accomplish. If you read a chapter in your manuscript and realize that if it disappeared, you wouldn’t be missing much, or it could be easily replaced with any generic obstacle, it’s not doing enough work.

Judge Three: It’s hard to quantify, but simply the fact that I wanted to keep reading and was bummed I wasn’t given the whole manuscript. The other aspect is that I didn’t notice the writing, I just became so engrossed in the story and really bought into the character’s voice and perspective. Heavy use of adjectives or stilted dialogue can make you notice the words over the story and pull you completely out of it.

Amy: If you could give one piece of advice to someone editing a contest submission, what would it be?

Judge One: Get someone to edit your submission for you first. (Seriously. I know this is mentioned in every piece of writing advice ever, but it was clear that the better entries I read had already benefited from detailed and constructive editing—and that the not-so-great ones still needed more help than I could give in a simple scoring sheet.) Ideally, you’ll have three or four editors, or better yet, a whole critique group of them. And these can’t be friends or family members who will love your writing no matter what. You want your first readers to be people a little bit distanced from your work so that they’ll be honest with you, and you also want them to have enough writing experience to be able to kindly point out potential trouble areas. After you get this first hurdle out of the way, go ahead and bring in those friends and family members for another go-around. They’ll be able to give you a reader’s point-of-view, warning you of any confusing sections and telling you where the action could be sped up a bit. Plus, they’ll give your confidence a great boost!

Judge Two: Read your entry out loud. Not only will you catch small mistakes like typos or missing words, but you’ll also notice when you’re using the same sentence pattern over and over to the point of monotony. And nothing points out a bit of cliché or boring dialogue like hearing your characters say it out loud in your own voice.

Judge Three: Make sure you get someone to read and edit the entry who knows nothing about the story. This will help you eliminate any missed details or loopholes that someone familiar with it will naturally fill in. Good writing won’t overcome a confusing story.

Readers, what would make you lose patience with a book if you encountered it in the first few chapters? Writers, tell us about a mistake you made early on in your writing career that now makes you cringe.

BHP Book Banter 2016

Even publishers like to party every now and then!

We want to hear what you have to say, on everything from cover design to what makes a book one you’d recommend to others to how many author newsletters you’ve signed up for.

But instead of just pushing a survey at you, we decided to throw a party! Like our author Book Banters, this will be held on a Facebook event page. There will be a set time where I’ll be posting survey questions—the time on the event—but anyone can stop by for 24 hours after the event and answer the questions and take the surveys to be entered in drawings for prizes. That way, you can come and go as you’re able and not feel like you’re missing out.

And if you really like this tag, I found it here.

 

Last year’s event was fun and jam-packed with information that I compiled. Some was helpful for Bethany House, some I passed on to our authors if I thought it might be useful to them.

Once again, there will be a set time for the party, but you can feel free to drop by afterward to see the posts and answer questions. Feel free to invite all of your reading friends!

BHP Book Banter
Thursday, July 21, 11 AM – 1 PM

Hostess
Amy Green, Bethany House fiction publicist and lover of all things Christian fiction

Schedule of Events
Note that all the times below are in Central, so feel free to do a bit of quick calculating to figure out when to set your alarms and mark your calendars in your time zone.

11:00
Welcome and Costume Party—in a comment on the welcome post, you can share a picture of an outfit you’re “wearing” to the party that might be worn by one of your favorite Christian fiction characters. (You don’t actually need to wear it—just find an image to share with the rest of us…and be sure to tell us which character you’re representing!)

Starting at 11:10 and throughout
Surveys and Q&A—I’ll post surveys for you to answer, and you can ask me questions about Bethany House if you like. I’ll do my best to answer them! Feel free to answer as many of the surveys as you like—each one will enter you into a giveaway (mostly books, but also gift cards and a few surprises).

12:00
Inside Bethany House—behind-the-scenes pictures of what goes on at Bethany House, including our costume closet and cover roughs.

12:30
Shameless Self-Promotion Post—I’ll put up a post where you can fill the comments with links if you’re a book blogger and want others to join in the fun at your site. We love helping readers gather in communities and interact—that’s the fun of it!

1:00
Conclusion—the event is officially over. But remember, if you weren’t able to be there during the specified time, you can drop by the page at any point and respond to the surveys.

Giveaway winners will be announced at noon on Friday, July 22, so be sure to give your input before then for a chance to win books, gift cards, and other reader goodies.

RSVP

Get your “costume,” questions, and opinions ready, and I’ll see you on the 21st!

Sins of the Past Mystery and Mayhem Tour

Readers, I have some shocking news for you, something that’s never before happened to anyone at Bethany House. Take a look at the letter below that Dani Pettrey received in the mail, just before the launch of Sins of the Past.

RansomNote

Enclosed with the note was a list of profiles of these three authors’ characters. Apparently Anonymous has been stalking their books for quite some time. We can only assume the “clues” Anonymous promised to reveal will help rule out some of the characters below.

Potential Victims

EvieBlackwellFrom: Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson
Occupation: Illinois state police detective
Most Likely to be Found: Solving puzzles, watching classic movies, trying new restaurants

JillianCarterFrom: When A Secret Kills by Lynette Eason
Occupation: Investigative reporter
Most Likely to Be Found: Hiding from a killer who wants her dead, spending time with her daughter Meg

KirraJacobsFrom: Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey
Occupation: Veterinarian, owner of a shelter for rescued sled dogs
Most Likely to be Found: Caring for animals, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing

DavidHackettFrom: No One To Trust by Lynette Eason
Occupation: Former Special Forces
Most Likely to Be Found: Doing something for his wife, Summer, or helping someone in need

CharlotteGrahamFrom: Unspoken by Dee Henderson
Occupation: Artist
Most Likely to be Found: Selling old collectible coins, drawing, attending sporting events

MaceyAdamsFrom: Blackout by Lynette Eason (novella in Sins of the Past)
Occupation: Paramedic
Most Likely to Be Found: At work or driving an ambulance

MarkBishopFrom: Undetected by Dee Henderson
Occupation: Navy commander
Most Likely to be Found: At work on a submarine, reading a good mystery

PiperMcKennaFrom: Shattered by Dani Pettrey
Occupation: Co-owner of Last Frontier Adventures
Most Likely to be Found: Reading a mystery novel, traveling, planning a party with friends

OliviaEdwardsFrom: Always Watching by Lynette Eason
Occupation: Bodyguard
Most Likely to Be Found: At work since she doesn’t know what it means to relax

GriffinMcCrayFrom: Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey
Occupation: Gettysburg park ranger
Most Likely to be Found: Hiking, watching a baseball game, or making homemade trail mix

GageMcKennaFrom: Stranded by Dani Pettrey
Occupation: Co-owner of Last Frontier Adventures
Most Likely to be Found: Cooking, kayaking, practicing the trumpet or the piano

What Can You Do?

Sins of the PastMy name is Amy Green, the fiction publicist at Bethany House, and I’m appointing myself the investigative lead on this mystery. I can’t do it alone, though. It’ll take a team to solve the mystery, rescue the character, and bring the kidnapper to justice. That’s why we want you, dear readers, to join us. We’ve already recruited the help of bookstore owners and book review bloggers to help us find clues to determine which character is being held hostage and how we can rescue him or her. The stops on the tour are listed below. Make sure you don’t miss a single step of the investigation!

The Mystery and Mayhem Tour

Clues will be revealed at each stop to help you figure out which character has been kidnapped. (If you can’t make it in person to the bookstore events, don’t worry—Dani and Lynette will post the clue from the events on their Facebook pages within 24 hours of the event.)

Friday, April 29, 4 PM
LifeWay Christian Bookstore
3726 E Franklin Blvd
Gastonia, NC 28054

(You can find the clue here.)

Saturday, April 30, 1 PM
Christian Supply
1600 John B White Sr Blvd
Spartanburg, SC 29301

(You can find the clue here.)

Wednesday, May 4
Just Commonly with Annie

Saturday, May  7
Just Romantic Suspense

Wednesday, May 11
Reading is My Superpower with Carrie

Saturday, May 14, 1 PM
His Way Christian Bookstore
Southdale Shopping Center
8 Mountain Rd
Glen Burnie MD 21060

(You can find the clue here.)

Sunday, May 15, 2 PM
Barnes & Noble
620 Marketplace Dr.
Bel Air, MD 21014

(You can find the clue here.)

Wednesday, May 18
Finding Wonderland with Rissi

Saturday, May 21
Will Bake for Books with Bekah

Wednesday, May 25
The Suspense Zone

Thursday, June 2, 7-9 PM Eastern
Sins of the Past Mystery and Mayhem Facebook Party

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Be sure to RSVP to the Facebook party on June 2—if enough concerned readers show up, we’re hoping Anonymous will make an appearance as well so we can solve the case. Don’t worry: with a team of loyal readers like you, we’re sure we’ll get the character back safe and sound!

The Importance of Leaving Book Reviews

Leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or another retail site? First of all, thank you so much! This is one of the most useful things you can do to promote a book you love. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The more reviews a book has, the more often retails sites like Amazon and B&N will recommend the book to others and feature it in searches.
  • Potential buyers will use the number of five-star reviews as a quick snapshot of whether a book is worth their money.
  • Inclusion in an ebook promo newsletter like BookBub can skyrocket an author’s backlist title. And what do those sites look at when deciding which books to feature? You guessed it: reviews!
  • In a 2015 survey of Christian fiction readers, 16% said the main reason they heard about/purchased a book was because of online reviews. Based on the number surveyed, that’s over 250 readers. It adds up! (Note that 33% of the readers surveyed regularly left reviews for Christian fiction books…let’s raise that percentage!)

If you feel intimidated by the pressure to craft the perfect review, just know that even a simple five-star rating and a “This book was great! Can’t wait to read more from this author!” is helpful.

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But if you want to go the extra mile, here are some tips for writing an awesome book review. Continue reading

Risen: A Roman Investigates the Resurrection

Lent begins early next month, and with it comes a season to reflect on the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But have you ever wondered what the empty tomb looked like from the point of view of the occupying Romans?

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That’s the concept behind the upcoming film Risen. I had a chance to see an early preview of the film and really enjoyed the perspective it gave on both the life of Jesus and the witnesses to his resurrection who became the leaders of the early church.

The reason I got that sneak-peek look at the movie is because Bethany House is publishing the novelization, written by Angela Hunt!

The novel follows the story of Roman Tribune Clavius who is assigned by Pilate to keep followers of Yeshua from starting a revolution by claiming their lord has risen from the dead. It also includes the point of view of Rachel, a Jewish woman, who had to be cut from the film due to length, but whose story, I think, adds depth to Clavius’ search for truth.

Although the book is fiction, Angela put in hours of careful research, which she explains in the author’s note, to make sure that her story is an accurate portrayal of what might have gone on in the investigation of Jesus’ death…and his disappearance from the tomb three days later. The entire plot is an intriguing what-if: What if the original witnesses of the resurrection had some of the same questions and doubts people have today?

As Clavius searches for the truth, he wrestles with the following objections:

  • The disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about it.
  • Jesus wasn’t really dead when they took him down from the cross, but actually revived later on.
  • The guards were hallucinating or lying in their second report about angels.
  • Jesus’ followers imagined Jesus was alive because they so badly wanted him to be.

Risen
And a number of others as well. If you or someone you know wants to think critically about the resurrection and get a more complete view of the life and times of Jesus that we kind of skim over sometimes when reading the Bible, Risen is a great choice. You can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover of the book above.

Be sure to check out the movie’s website to watch the trailer and get tickets!

Question for you, readers: what is your favorite tradition around Good Friday or Easter to remember the crucifixion and resurrection?

Ask Bethany House: What Does a Line Editor Do?

Welcome to the last Ask BHP post of 2015! We’ve already talked to one of Bethany House’s copy editors, Elisa. This week, we have Karen, one of our fiction line editors, on the blog to talk about her part in the process of getting great books into your hands. (Be sure to check out the rest of the Ask Bethany House series covering common questions readers ask us.)

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Hopefully when you’re done with this series, you’ll know that there’s much more to editing than fixing grammatical mistakes. But this is still amusing.

Amy: How would you explain your job to someone not familiar with the publishing industry?

Karen: As a line (also known as developmental or substantive) editor, my main responsibility is to work with fiction authors after the first draft of their contracted manuscript is submitted. Often with input from other editors and reviewers, I compile an editorial-comment document, outlining strengths of the story as well as areas we believe need to be revised and fine-tuned. The author and I use that document to discuss revision possibilities and objectives, and after the author had submitted the rewritten manuscript, I complete the first edit.

At this first-edit stage, though many of our concerns have been addressed during the author’s rewrite, I edit the story to enhance big-picture elements like pacing, clarity, plot and character arcs, character development, etc. Though most books receive a copy edit, I also correct/revise typos, grammar, writing flow, and the like, if I notice them.

I am very collaborative and much prefer working through the more significant editorial issues with an author rather than making the decision/revision independently. Of course I make numerous editorial/revision decisions on my own in every manuscript (always taking care to stay true to the author’s vision and voice), but I often find the best solution for larger concerns comes from collaboration (both with the author and with other editors).

Fiction line editors at Bethany House are also responsible for managing each book project through later revisions and corrections from proofreaders and the author, either entering the corrections ourselves or, once the manuscript has been paged, combining the corrections and sending them to typesetters/designers—who enter the corrections in the paged book—and then making sure the revisions have been correctly entered.

Amy: What happens after the work you do with the manuscript?

Karen: After I work with the author on the first edit, the manuscript is copy-edited, proofread (usually three different proofreaders), and reviewed twice by the author—first as a Word document and then as Paged galleys (a representation of what the actual book pages will look like). Once all the corrections have been made, checked, and checked again, the book is off to the printer. The process is more complicated than that, but those are the essentials.

Amy: What is one of your favorite parts of what you do, and why?

Karen: There are so many things I enjoy about my job, but I think the most exciting and fulfilling aspect of my job is working with every author to enhance the wonderful story they have already created. Though the stories are theirs, and theirs alone, I like to compare myself to a loving aunt, standing alongside and supporting proud “author parents” as they send their “book babies” out into the world. I guess that is a bit corny, but it is exciting for me.

Amy: That’s not corny at all! (I always think of myself as the teachers of those book babies—I have several at once when they’re a little more mature and their “author parents” have sent them out into the world.) So, any words of advice or encouragement for those who might want to become editors someday?

Meet Karen...she's the best!

Meet Karen…she’s the best!

Of course, schooling experience is helpful—often whether applicants have schooling in a clearly related subject area is a natural selection cutoff for potential employers. And any publishing/editing/writing craft classes you can take or experience you can get is beneficial. But more than that . . . read, read, read—anything and everything, but especially from the publishing area you are hoping to get a job in someday.

It is not enough for you to simply like a book, or dislike it. Analyze the books you read, figure out what is working and what is not working—why, and how could they be improved? Being analytical, whether by nature or through practice, and learning to communicate concerns clearly and graciously, is very helpful skill for people interested in becoming a line/substantive editor. I like to think such a trait allows me to effectively help the authors I work with create more logical, intriguing plots and consistent, compelling characters.

If you are interested in a job with Bethany House (and I expect this is true of any publisher), you can’t have read too many of our books—it is a plus when you can name favorite books you have read and articulate what you have appreciated about them. And read a broad range of books, even genres you are not particularly drawn to. In most publishing houses, there are many genres you might work with. We all have our genre preferences, but we don’t often get to focus solely on our favorites. Analyze what works in every genre, and learn to appreciate what individual genres have to offer.

Before I started working at Bethany House, other than a few of the classics, I had read few fantasy/speculative books and had little interest in that genre. But soon after starting at BHP, I read Kathy Tyers’ Firebird series and was hooked, and since then I have been blessed to edit several fantastic fantasy/speculative books and series. Learn to appreciate well-drawn characters, compelling plots, and captivating writing regardless of the genre a book is categorized by and your potential as a valuable asset at any publishing house will increase.

Thanks so much, Karen! To get some practice with those analyzing skills, tell us about a book you loved and one specific reason why you loved it!

Happy Thanksgiving from Bethany House!

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As we celebrate Thanksgiving, here’s one of my favorite verses:

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:5-7, ESV

Because God is near and present in our lives, we don’t have to worry. And we replace fear and anxiety with prayer and thanksgiving, both asking for what we need and praising God for what we have. The result? Peace, based not on our circumstances, but on Christ and what he has already done.

Blessings on your Thanksgiving!