Questions Authors Don’t Really Want to Answer (And Some They Do)

It’s hard to believe some of the strange questions authors are asked. Since I (Amy Green, Bethany House’s fiction publicist) manage our social media, authors will often come to me with the trickier reader messages that show up in their inboxes. “What should I say?” they’ll wonder, and I try to be as helpful as I can.

Leaving off the super bizarre ones (“Let me tell you about a dream I had that would make the perfect sequel to your novel…will you write it for me?”), there are some questions that many fiction authors would like to avoid. Some might surprise you, so I thought I’d unpack them here so you can learn why authors might uncomfortably change the subject when the person in front of you at a book signing asks them a question.

Don’t worry if you’ve ever asked an author anything vaguely like this—it’s mostly about tone and intention. And, of course, all of these are just generalizations based on what I’ve observed working in publishing. Every author is going to be different, but following these etiquette rules will probably help you out.

 

RED: Don’t ask. Just don’t.

Why is your book so expensive? OR When will your book be free in ebook?

My go-to response on this is: Well, it’s always free in your local library! (If it’s not there, most libraries allow patrons to request books, and authors love it when you do that.) Authors do get this question fairly often. They totally understand that not everyone can afford to auto-buy an extensive personal library’s worth of books every year, but at the same time, since they make a living at writing, they (and their publishers) need to price books to be worth the months and even years of time they spent creating them. By asking for deals, it might sound like you’re not valuing the work they put their heart and soul into.

How much money do you make?

Some authors (especially ones who teach about writing and publishing) may be fine discussing sales with fellow authors, but most would find this just as weird as anyone asking about the paycheck/salary of a “normal” career. Unless the author is a personal friend or has offered to share information about the finances of publishing, it’s better to avoid this one.

Why did you include [XYZ] in your book? WHAT SORT OF TERRIBLE PERSON ARE YOU?

This is totally different than a review or blog post where you point out an aspect of a book that bothered you or that you felt uncomfortable with. That’s the appropriate place for content warnings or questioning an author’s choices. But going directly to an author (or tagging an author on social media) and venting your complaints about their book is almost never a good thing to do. Put yourself in their place. It would be hard to know how to respond, and you’d probably feel hurt and defensive.

YELLOW: Proceed with caution.

I need moooooore. What happens to all of your characters after the end of the story?

Chances are, you’ll get an answer like “What do you think happens to them?” Unless they’re imitating J. K. Rowling and putting out Twitter updates on past characters that become part of the canon, many authors like to leave any details not in their book up to the reader’s imagination.

You haven’t had a new book out in a while. Why not?

Most authors don’t mind at all if you ask if they have a book coming out in the next year. If they do, they can give you a date so you can mark your calendar. But if they say no, probably leave it at that without pressing for more explanation. They might be between publishers or need to focus on their families or just aren’t sure what’s next in their career, and that sort of stuff is personal and sometimes a bit touchy.

Can I have a free copy of your book?

Again, authors do have to make money, so there are only so many books they can give away. It’s fine to ask if an author has a launch team you can apply for, a group of readers who help promote their book, if you know you’d be able to enthusiastically and effectively promote. That said…be careful about how many launch teams you join. You don’t want to commit to so much that you can’t actually put in the work, or be posting about so many novels that hardly anyone is listening to your recommendations anymore. And most authors have a strict limit on the number of review copies they can give out, so it’s nothing personal if they say no.

I also struggle with [issue or theme contained in the book] just like your main character. Since you did a lot of research into this, do you have advice for me?

First, authors often love hearing that you related to one of their characters or were particularly affected by a theme or issue they chose to explore. That said, whether it’s related to medicine, mental health, social issues, or another complex topic, many authors don’t feel qualified (or aren’t legally able) to give advice to individuals. Their characters might have experiences that they haven’t, or they might not want to recommend a course of action without knowing you and your situation…and really, they probably shouldn’t.

GREEN: Feel free to ask!

I loved this book! How can I tell others about it?

Actually, most authors would just be thrilled to know you enjoyed the fictional world they created. That’s always a good thing to pass along. But I also know it makes their day a little brighter when you review their book on retail sites, share about it on social media, or recommend it to a friend.

You’re one of my favorite authors. Are you interested in answering a few questions for my blog/bookstagram?

Again, authors are busy and might say no, but it can’t hurt to ask if you’d like to include an interview on your platform to promote their books. Keeping questions easy to answer (rather than a 25-page interrogation, ha!) is super helpful here, but whether an author has time in their schedule or not, they’ll be thrilled that you thought of them.

Since I’m a new writer, can you pass on any good advice?

Most authors love to help out a fellow author who’s just getting started, but their time is probably limited. They won’t likely be able to give you feedback on your manuscript or answer a huge list of questions, but many can pass along words of wisdom, especially if you ask for something specific, like any good writing blogs to follow or what conferences they’d recommend to a newbie.

Would you like some chocolate?

If you’re seeing an author in person, the answer to this is pretty much always yes.

Authors, are these questions accurate? (Feel free to disagree with where I placed them!) Any that you’d like to add to any category?

Beverly Lewis Shares About Her Writing Life

Many of our readers love hearing about what writers go through to get books to them…and we have the joy of having Beverly Lewis on the blog today to tell you all about it! With over 17 million books in print, she has a lot of wisdom to share about the writing and publishing process, so listen in!

Q: When did you start writing? What were your first efforts?

A: At the tender age of nine, I began secretly writing short stories and poetry. My mother knew where I kept my work hidden and managed to save everything I wrote, even the stories I dreamed up during my grade school years. One story is semi-autobiographical, about a young girl whose parents can no longer afford piano lessons for her. The manuscript was 77 pages long and titled “She Shall Have Music,” and was my first “book,” penned under the shade of a lone willow tree.

Q: Have you had any formal writing education?

A: My first semester of college, I was torn between a music degree and a journalism degree. I ended up following both passions that ruled me from my childhood and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Ed with emphasis on piano and voice, and close to a minor in English. I landed a teaching job immediately, where I taught music (K-6) and creative writing for fifth graders and realized, once again, that my two passions had converged in an amazing way!

Q: At what point(s) in your career did you feel like you’ve gone from amateur to pro?

A: When my first book surprisingly morphed into a 14-book series for pre-teen girls (“Holly’s Heart” series), I knew that my hobby-writing days were behind me. Those books written in the first-person point-of-view, like an open letter from my heart to the reader, are still popular with young girls today, in print after 26 years! Stunning. 😊

Q: Have you had help along the way? Any mentors?

A: My biggest fan when I was a child writer was my cousin Joyce, who begged for the next chapter in my little books when she and her mom visited us on weekends. Years later, after I was married, Dave, my husband and first editor, cheered me on to higher heights, urging me to write for magazines, and, later, books for kids, teens and adults. Two college professors also insisted that I consider writing as a possible career—fiction and nonfiction.

Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve gotten?

A: Write your heart/passion.

Q: What’s the worst?

A: Always avoid writing first-person point-of-view for prologues and epilogues. (Thankfully, I rejected that terrible advice. That, in fact, is one of the hallmarks of my bestselling novels!)

Q: How do you find the time to write?

A: Writing is a significant part of my daily life, and always has been, so I write frequently and for long hours, since my husband and I are empty-nesters. While I our three children were little, I wrote when they napped and after they were tucked into bed at night. Actually, I was “writing” in my head a lot when I wasn’t at the computer during those years. (Remember, I’ve been happily writing since I was nine years old.) A writer is a writer is a writer. . . .

Q: Do you always write at your computer? Where are you most prolific?

A: Sometimes, for the sheer fun of it, I write longhand, to keep things close to my heart and with an intimate facet. Primarily, though, I work at my computer in my home office, where my fingers typically fly across the keys—like they do at the piano keyboard, since I was a little girl. There must be some curious correlation.

Q: Were their any sacrifices you had to make to be a writer?

A: After The Shunning (my breakout novel for adults) was released in 1997, I gave up my then full-time job (running a large music studio for advanced students of piano, voice, violin, and music theory/composition). The sacrifice came because I adored my long-time students and missed interacting with them each week, although they’ve kept in touch with me through the years.

Q: Take us through the process of writing a book. How long does that process usually take?

A: My ideas for novels come, typically, a year or two prior to when I will begin writing that first draft. I’ve been writing two novels per year for more than twenty years, so there is this overlap of pieces—ideas-outlines, first drafts, revisions and final pages. Never a lull in the line-up of my projects, so far, which I absolutely love.

Q: Have you received any feedback on how your books and series have impacted its readers?

A: One of my greatest joys is hearing from readers who say my stories have touched them significantly—even changed the direction of their lives. So many have written to me: teens in West Africa, men and women of all ages in America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Central America…people whom God is meeting on a personal level, where my readers are spiritually, emotionally, physically. Most of all, I hope readers might come to know the love of Christ in a more intimate way through having discovered what unconditional love looks like in my books—to experience just a taste of the height and width and breadth of God’s love for each of us.

Q: Will you do more books in this genre?

A: If I could write any type of book without barriers, I would write precisely what I believe God is nudging me to…in short, the genre I’m currently writing. I’m quite passionate about what I do—creating characters who “live and breathe” in my readers’ hearts and minds, and in mine, as well. I write from a tender heart, and as long as God continues to give me great storylines that are meaningful and touch a nerve in readers, I will keep writing Amish fiction. My last two-book family saga, The Tinderbox and The Timepiece, is generating a lot of online buzz, and I’m thrilled to respond to readers’ seemingly unquenchable desire for more of my work. I feel absolutely blessed!

Q: What advice would you give other writers, especially in your genre?

A: Forever and always—read! And I suggest reading the very best of literature…the old classics to start. Also, read the kind of story you’d like to write. As for the actual writing, don’t worry about perfection at first. Take your time, get the story down, then rewrite and fine-tune later. And, yes, spelling and grammar do count! There are many wonderful reference tools for new writers. Ask the reference librarian at your local public library for help in locating books to point you in the direction of publishers who may be interested in your work.

Thanks so much for joining us, Beverly! If you’d like to follow Beverly, she posts nearly every day on her Facebook page. Join her there for lots of bookish fun! And look for her next novel, The Stone Wall, releasing in September 2020.

Randomly Generated Reading Challenge 2020

Hello, readers! After seeing lots of reading challenges around the Internet, I wanted to make my own, but I couldn’t come up with anything especially original.

So, I did what any forward-thinking book-lover would do…I went to a random word generator on the Internet and did some clicking. Here are the words and corresponding challenges I came up with. Enjoy! You can bookmark this list, or print the graphic below and use it as a reminder. Be sure to check off the book that qualifies for each month!

 

January
Word: lost
Challenge: A book you should have read in school but didn’t. (Interpret that however you like!)

February
Word: change
Challenge: A discounted or sale book/ebook.

March
Word: advance
Challenge: A novel set during wartime.

April
Word: complication
Challenge: A book that shows you the main plot problem in the title/cover.

May
Word: language
Challenge: A prestigious award-winning book.

June
Word: favorite
Challenge: A re-read of a childhood classic.

July
Word: popcorn
Challenge: A book that has been or will be made into a movie.

August
Word: idea
Challenge: A nonfiction book on a topic that interests you.

September
Word: refer
Challenge: A recommendation from a friend (or librarian or bookstore owner).

October
Word: grandmother
Challenge: A book where one of the main characters is 65+.

November
Word: freeze
Challenge: A novel with ice or snow on the cover.

December
Word: selection
Challenge: Free space! Pick anything that looks interesting.

On Instagram, we’ll be choosing one book per month that fits into the categories above and tagging our picks with #BHPChallenge2020. Feel free to join us if you like!

After looking at the categories above, do you have any books you’d recommend to others, readers?

Publishing Vocabulary 101

When I first started working at Bethany House almost six years ago, I remember thinking, “There are so many terms and acronyms in publishing.” If you’ve ever seen an unfamiliar word used in book circles, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve asked some of our staff members to contribute some assorted publishing vocabulary words—take a look at the list and see how many are new for you!

Advance: the non-returnable payment to authors by publishers against which the royalty earnings are offset

AE: Acquisitions editor—finds new projects and works with the author and manuscript through all stages of publishing

ARC: Advance Reader Copy—an early version of the book sent to media and endorsers

Backlist: all of the titles by an author published before their latest release

BOB: Back of Book ad—the final few pages of a book that include author information and book suggestions

Book performance review: a meeting evaluating sales a year or more after a book’s release

Book proposal: information about a book that an author sends to a publisher/agent, usually including sample chapters

Colophon: inscription at the end of a book with facts about its production; can also mean an identifying mark or logo

Comps: either “rough sketch” cover options, or, when used with “titles,” books similar to the one being discussed

Copy: the text on back covers, ads, and other promotional materials

Em dash (—): Per the Chicago Manual of Style, the “most versatile of the dashes,” used to set off material or mark a break

Leaf: a section of the book comprising both right and left pages

Perfect binding: a method where individual pages of a book are glued together as opposed to section-sewn

Positioning: a meeting where marketing, editorial, and sales find a book’s unique fit in the marketplace

Press release: a written announcement that draws media attention to an author or new book release

Proofread: the final step in the editorial process, focusing on cleaning up any small typographical errors

Pub board: a meeting where marketing, editorial, and sales discuss future book contracts

Publishers Weekly: a trade review publication used by booksellers, buyers, and other professionals

Publicist: a marketing role that focuses on creating non-paid “buzz” for a book rather than advertising, such as media interviews

Recto: right page in printing

Royalties: the percentage of profit from sales of a book that the author is paid

Running head: the text at the top of a page that usually contains book title, chapter, or author name

Signature: a portion of paper folded to create several pages, which, when sewn together, create a book

Stet: “let it stand” (Latin); dots beneath and stet in the margin indicate to disregard a marked deletion or change

Style manual: guidelines for the consistent treatment of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, numbers, and other elements in writing and publishing

Style sheet: a document used by copy editors to maintain consistency of character names, dates, and other details

Synopsis: a detailed description of the plot of a book, often given to the publisher before the book is complete

Target audience: a specific group of readers likely to be interested in a particular book

Verso: left page in printing

Which of these words or phrases did you find most interesting?

The Secret Life of Bookstagrammers

There’s a hidden world out there, full of perfectly draped scarves, shelves organized by color, and cabinets filled with candles that would put Bath and Body Works to shame. Welcome to Instagram, where readers love to share their favorite new and old reads in a fun, visual way.

Since we work at Bethany House Publishers, we have #AllTheBooks, so that’s not a problem—but let’s face it, it’s the extras added to the photos that catch your eye. When we decided to get into this social media outlet, we decided there were two different strategies for doing well in the bookstagram world.

Option One: Keep a massive collection of random pretty things to put in pictures, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Old-fashioned props like a quill pen, vintage postcards, typewriter keys, an entire Gutenberg printing press, etc.
  • Letter boards. Also infinite patience for how long it takes to write anything using letterboards.
  • Surfaces of every conceivable material (marble, tile, actual redwood tree planks, anything that looks like Joanna Gaines might have touched it).
  • Charming book-themed items: Alice in Wonderland tea, Jane Austen action figure, Edgar Allan Poe-ka dot socks, Hobbit-themed candles…none of these are made up.
  • Blankets. So many blankets.

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Or you could try Option Two: Be creative.

This is what we went with. At Bethany House, we mostly use what we have on hand for our photos. Some props are ones ordinary readers might not have access to (Regency costumes, galleys, our amazing rolling bookshelf ladder like the one in Beauty and the Beast), but other times you’ll see everyday items you probably have around (a cup of tea, playing cards, shattered glass from a broken lamp, potted plants).

It is also entirely possible that we have gone into a home decor store to take pictures there, giving ourselves access to dozens of new props and background surfaces. But if you ask us about it directly, we will deny everything.

Some bookstagrammers will keep a standard background like their bookshelf or wood background and just change out a few props. That will give your feed a consistent look and won’t require an art degree to arrange a new layout every time. Of course, if fancy is your thing, go for it!

That’s all well and good for a publisher, you might be thinking, but why should I bookstagram?

  • You can get great book recommendations. We know, we know, your TBR pile is long enough. But when you see a particularly eye-catching picture and compelling review caption, it can lead to your next favorite author. Plus, the community reads so broadly that you’ll probably hear about genres you might not have discovered otherwise.
  • It’s a fantastic way to support authors. A simple share or comment can be a great way to keep the cover and title in your book-buying friends’ minds, and a pretty picture that gets a huge amount of interaction might bring in lots of new readers.
  • “It’s for Instagram” is the perfect one-size-fits all excuse for all kinds of strange behaviors, from wandering around the woods with a sword to hunkering underneath a tablecloth in the mailroom with all the lights off to climbing on top of unsteady surfaces to capture a photo. Not that we’re speaking from personal experience. Of course not.

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If we’ve convinced you and you’re interested in using Instagram to share about your favorite reads, here are a few tips:

  • Set up your account as “public” if you’re wanting to promote books—you use a private account for sharing what you’re reading with friends and family, but it will be hard to interact with the bookstagram community.
  • Post photos of your current reads, your TBR stacks, and the fun environments where you’re reading your book! (For photo ideas, check out publishers’ and authors’ tagged photos to see what their readers are doing.)
  • Make sure you are posting clear photos using natural light or other good lighting.
  • Use hashtags like #Bookstagram, #BookLove, #BooksOfInstagram, and others to connect with other readers.
  • Check to see if the author and/or publisher has an Instagram account. If so, follow them and tag away!
  • Once you get started, try participating in a #BookstagramChallenge. It will ask you to post pictures on set days to a particular prompt along with other readers and is a great way to make connections.

Also, be sure to follow us at @bethanyhousefiction to keep an eye on our new releases, enter book giveaways, participate in bookstagram challenges, and get a behind the scenes look at our world.

How about you, readers? Anything you like to put on Instagram to show off your favorite books?

Three No-Passport-Needed Book Vacations!

I don’t know about you, but I’m being hit hard with travel ads—it’s the time of year when you’re just about done with the blahs of winter and ready to think about summer vacations. Here at the Bethany House office, where we just hit a February snowfall record, it can be hard to get rid of that pesky cabin fever…which is why taking a book vacation is the perfect solution.

In choosing these deluxe vacation packages for you, I particularly looked at books set outside the U.S. Since international flights are expensive, here’s a cheaper way to see the sights…and have a guaranteed adventure. Click on each cover to read an excerpt (kind of like a travel brochure), and read on for a little glimpse of each setting.

One: Flee from Danger in Moscow with Thirst of Steel


The Tox Files series travels all over the world—in Thirst of Steel alone, I counted Ukraine, France, Republic of the Congo, London, and Israel, and there were probably others that I missed. It’s not exactly a charming world tour, though…most of our characters are actively hunting or being hunted the whole time and a few steps from death at every turn.

Even when Ronie does describe famous landmarks, she manages to make them feel threatening, like this excerpt, set in Russia.

The tower grew as she closed the distance, until finally the glittering white cathedral glared at her. The cobbled foot bridge summoned her across the Moscow River and into the sanctuary. . . .

Crossing the footbridge with its evenly spaced lamps made Tzivia feel exposed. Surely they wouldn’t attack here on the cathedral steps. . . .

Quickly, she stepped inside. She wobbled, momentarily taken aback by the enormity of the cathedral and its lavish, brightly colored stained glass. She might not understand religious fervor, but she could appreciate the beauty of cathedrals. Just as she had reveled in the beauty of archaeological finds. Like the one she’d hidden before this fateful errand.

The ominous drone of voices filtered from the main altar, where—like cultists chanting in unison—the churchgoers offered prayers to the white arches, gilt ceilings, and massive murals.

You know there’s bound to be trouble here. (Not-really-a-spoiler: there is. Just a few paragraphs later.)

Two: Tour Paris in Springtime (and Wartime) with Far Side of the Sea

This WWI spy story travels to locales like Barcelona, Spain, but we start off in Paris in Far Side of the Sea‘s opening. Again, you notice Kate’s contrast of the lovely landmarks you might see on any tour of the city with some details that remind us that we’re not here for sightseeing; we’re on a mission.

A small cluster of soldiers stood in front of the opera house, Americans by their appearance. Pausing to admire the ornately majestic Palais Garnier, they finally moved on, doffing their hats to a pair of matrons who waved them to come over and view their carts full of pink roses, white lilies, and yellow daffodils. Adjacent to the flower sellers, an outdoor market pulsed with activity as women, most clad in mourning black, carried wicker hampers and made their selections from the remains of the morning’s produce. . . .

His gaze swept back along the opposite end of the street, colliding with the gutted shell of what remained of a multistoried stone building. He’d seen the structure upon his arrival at the hotel, one wall still poised drunkenly beside an enormous pile of rubble while shredded curtains billowed through blown-out windows in the light spring breeze. With such normal activity only yards away, the evidence of war seemed bizarre . . . and a glaring reminder of the shells that regularly hammered the city.

Then, later we get past Paris and can enjoy the scenic countryside instead:

At the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, sandbags reinforced the arch against attack. He’d noticed other Paris monuments being protected in the same way.

Beyond the arch, they continued on toward Nanterre and Poissy, leaving behind Paris and her damaged extremities for the more rural farmlands of France. Verdant fields rolled out before them, punctuated with white daisies and red poppies, while cottages with orange terra cotta roofs sprouted among the green. The occasional château could be seen rising among gentle rolling hills, the manors accessible by narrow dirt drives and, unlike Paris, lined with flourishing oaks, maples, and yellow mimosas.

Sound beautiful, doesn’t it? Well, things aren’t all poppies and cottages for long, but it’s nice to get glimpses along the way.

Three: Escape to the West Indies with Keturah


And for something completely different, Keturah (and the rest of the series) is set on the island of Nevis during colonial times. While the island has its share of perils and dangers for three young women alone, the reader also gets to see its exotic beauty.

After the endless day at sea, it felt like a strange dream as they were finally approaching Nevis. The sailors cheered when one in the crow’s nest that morning shouted, ‘Land ho!’ So did the passengers, all rushing to the deck to peer out at the horizon as the West Indies came into view—as one welcome, glorious green dot after another amid the blue sea.

When Keturah and her sisters journey to their family’s plantation for the first time, they get a better look at the island up close.

The road was lined with flowering trees that towered above them and granted them partial shade. There were magnolia and African tulip and pouri trees, all of which she recognized from studying Gray’s illustrated book Agriculture Among the Indies, and below were West Indian ebony bushes. The jungle was alight with bright vermilion, yellow, and red blossoms. She inhaled deeply and detected a mix of jasmine and other sweet scents on the air. Among the trees that lined the road were also fruit trees—mango and guava and palms loaded with coconut. . . .

Between the trees they caught glimpses of the ocean below with its different hues of turquoise, deep green, and royal blue. On either side of the road was nothing but acre upon acre of sugarcane, long stalks of green rustling in the trade winds.”

The exotic descriptions make Keturah and her well-bred sisters stand out as being very far from home and out of place. But can’t you just smell that coconut?

There you have it…three amazing journeys that you can take without ever leaving your home (except maybe to go to a bookstore or library). I hope you’re able to beat the winter blues with a good book this week!

What’s a place you’ve only ever traveled to in the pages of a book?

Inside the Book World: Interview with Anna Henke

Today on the blog we have a special guest: Anna Henke, a writer who’s an expert in the magic of intriguing and hooking readers with fantastic copy. Readers, enjoy this inside peek at another part of the publishing process, and writers, read on to learn why it matters to craft those marketing sentences perfectly.

Amy: Tell us about your background in the world of publishing and copywriting.

Anna: I worked as a copywriter at Bethany House for six years before branching out into my own copywriting business, The Resident Writer, where I serve self-published authors by creating cover copy that captures attention. I’m now broadening my clientele to include a wider range of creative people, but books have always held my heart. That’s why I got into publishing in the first place.

Amy: How is the blurb on the back cover different from the synopsis of a book that authors include in their manuscript proposal?

Anna: It’s so different! Or at least it should be. The synopsis of the book is just a play-by-play of what’s going to happen. The blurb on the back needs to be strategically written to give out just enough nuggets to entertain and intrigue without giving away any twists or surprises. The cover copy should set the stage, not tell the story. That’s my approach for fiction.

Amy: That’s a great way of putting it. You’ve mentioned the need for strategy…so why does back cover copy matter from your perspective?

Anna: It matters because it’s what seals the deal for most people! The author or the cover draws them in, whether they are buying in person or online. But it’s the blurb on the back that reveals just enough of the story that determines whether a purchase is made. If the purchase is being made online, the description is even more critical. Think about the last time you bought a book online. Sure, you clicked on the cover. But what made you really want the book? THE DESCRIPTION. It’s everything.

Amy: As a reader myself, I totally agree with that. Thinking about writing that description, it seems like a huge challenge to take a full novel and condense it into just a paragraph or two. Where do you usually start, and what does your process look like from there? Or is it different for each book?

Anna: I obviously start by reading the manuscript. I make a few notes of phrases I like for taglines and major plot points. Then I sit down with those notes and really have a think. What is the most compelling part of this book? What leads up to that? Anything beyond that point I completely leave off the cover. I try to match the tone to that of the author’s, which is when my notes come in handy. I also like to use an actual phrase from the book as a headline if possible. I just let it flow from that point!

Amy: You make it sound so easy, but I know from talking to writers and editors that it’s not! 🙂 Are there any common mistakes you see when authors write their own copy?

Anna: The most common mistake is treating back cover copy like a standard synopsis instead of a marketing blurb. It all goes back to your second question. They are two different things. Many authors just summarize the book and leave it at that. But it needs to be compelling. It should represent the book well. And also, genre really matters for cover copy. Authors should research bestselling blurbs in their niche before writing their own, because each genre has patterns that should be followed unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb.

Thanks for joining us, Anna! Readers, do you notice the copy on book covers? (There’s a person behind it—and if it’s from a traditional publisher, it’s not the author. It’s probably a copywriter like Anna.) Writers, is there anything you’ve ever wanted to ask a copywriter? Let Anna know in the comments!

Anna Henke is the woman behind the blog and the business The Resident Writer. With a background in publishing and copywriting, she helps female entrepreneurs clarify their message, connect with their ideal clients, and capture sales through captivating copy that converts. Learn more and at www.theresidentwriter.com.

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.