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?

Ten Signs You’re a Grammar Nerd

Confession: I almost, almost put “Ten Signs Your a Grammar Nerd” as the title of this blog post. Intentionally. Just to see how many people came over to decry my atrocious abuse of the English language.

Better counsel prevailed, and instead I want to welcome you to Bethany House’s little corner of the Internet, where you can be surrounded by fellow lovers of proper usage and punctuation, with nary a stray apostrophe or comma in sight.

Not sure if you belong? Here are a few signs. You know you’re a grammar nerd when:

One: You have a favorite punctuation mark. Probably a least favorite one as well. And you are fully equipped to explain why to anyone who wants to know (and quite a few who don’t).

Two: You can spot errors everywhere—Facebook posts, graduation programs, flyers on the bulletin board, lyrics for your church’s worship music—and once you see them, you can never un-see them. Never.

Three: You feel the need to look up every oddly-specific rule before sending an email or posting a Facebook update (“Does the question mark go outside of the quotation marks in this case?” “Is it an en dash or a hyphen?” “Is that the British spelling, or am I just wrong?”).

Four: You have an opinion about the Oxford comma. In fact, you might be willing to challenge someone to a duel over it. (I’m not 100% sure how this duel would proceed, but I picture two people bashing each other with Chicago vs. AP style guides until someone capitulates.)

Five: You physically twitch when spellcheck underlines something that is perfectly correct.

Six: You sometimes have nightmares about sending a text without noticing that autocorrect mangled your message.

Seven: You have corrected errors on printed materials in public, occasionally to the point of defacing private property, without getting caught.

Eight: You own red pens that vary in style and thickness. After all, every occasion demands a different correcting tool!

Nine: You understand the punch lines for all of these jokes:

“Past, present, and future walk into a bar. It was tense.”
“What do you say when comforting a grammar nerd? There, their, they’re.”
“There are three things that I love: the Oxford comma, irony, and missed opportunities.”
“What’s the difference between a cat and a comma? One has claws at the end of its paws and the other is a pause at the end of a clause.”

Ten: You have located a mistake of some sort in this post and feel ridiculously triumphant about it. (I’m sure some exist. That’s why I’m in marketing, not editorial.)

Next week on the blog, I’ll share some grammar nerd stories from our editing and marketing team members here at Bethany House, including their pet peeves and a few rules they don’t think should really be rules.

How would you finish the statement, “You know you’re a grammar nerd when…”?

What to Do If You’re in Love with a Fictional Character

Hello, readers! As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m happy to answer the following question I was sent through our Ask Bethany House survey.*

Heart inside a book

Dear Amy,

The heroes in my favorite novels are so perfect, I think I’ve developed a bit of a crush on several of them. My friends think this is a problem since they’re not “real.” (Who cares?) But I’ve found that ending every book is difficult for me, since I always have to say goodbye to a man of my dreams. Do you have any advice?

Yours Brokenheartedly,

Recovering Romance Reader

(If you need help deciding if this letter also applies to you, check out a post from last year: 10 Signs You are in Love with a Fictional Character.)

Ah, love. It can be a complicated thing, especially when the man you’ve fallen for is seeing another woman. And fictional. And two-dimensional…literally. He’s printed on a page.

But those details aside, I’m here to help you cope with that deep feeling of loss when you finish the last page of a heart-pounding novel. The following are just a few suggestions for moving on after a book boyfriend leaves you for the fictional heroine:

Start a fan club. You can interpret this in two ways. First, it can be therapeutic to giggle and sigh with other readers over the merits of your chosen hero. There might be some heated banter over who is the best fit for said fictional hunk, but all in good fun. Second, it might be helpful to actually have a fan nearby while reading to avoid swooning.

valentine2

Journal the angst. This can be on Facebook or a blog—just get it out there. Tell everyone about the books that stole your heart (or broke it). You can even start it, “To All the Books I’ve Loved Before.”

Eat chocolate. Does this actually help? Probably not. But I feel like a point on just about every how-to list should be “eat chocolate,” so there you go.

Book-stalk the hero’s friends. After all, they’re probably just as witty and charming and attractive, right? So find out if that author has written any other books. A reader can never give up hope.

Appreciate the real men in your life. Even if you haven’t yet found “The One,” once you’ve had a few day’s distance from the latest novel, you’ll find there are several advantages actual people have over their fictional counterparts. Becky Wade has compiled a list of some of those merits—enjoy!

Send the happy couple a congratulations card. Nothing helps you get over your lost love than telling the object of your affections that you enjoyed watching his journey toward a happily-ever-after. But where to address it, you ask? I’d suggest the book’s page on Amazon or Goodreads. Turns out, other readers (and authors) like to hear that you found a romance sigh-worthy. (Just be careful not to reveal the ending…after all, maybe other readers want to have hope they might get the guy instead of the heroine.)

Start a new book. Will this make the cycle continue indefinitely? Probably. But we’re readers, after all. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wishing you the best of luck, Recovering Romance Reader. We here at Bethany House understand your dilemma…that’s why we keep publishing books from authors who create the best fictional romances around!

One bonus recovery tip: admit your latest book crush in the comments below. Misery loves company!

*Okay, fine. No one actually sent me this question. But I can read minds—lots of you were wondering this, weren’t you? Admit it! (But never fear, the real Ask BHP post will come later this month.)

Eight Reasons Reading Should Be Considered a Winter Sport

No matter what the weather looks like where you are, here in Minnesota where Bethany House is located, we won’t be putting away our winter coats anytime soon. Maybe you live someplace warm (or, for our international readers, are having a summery start to the year). But if you’re getting a little tired of snow, here’s one way to make it more enjoyable: participate in the winter sport of reading.

Make Reading a Winter Sport

The picture that gave me the idea for this post. Fun, right?

What’s that you say? Reading is not actually a winter sport? Well, it should be. And here are a few reasons why.

One

There are a few people rugged and courageous enough to do regular outdoor things during the winter. The rest of us will be inside. Reading. And not getting frostbite or runny noses that could possibly turn into pneumonia. (Safety first!)

Two

“Reading isn’t active enough to be a sport,” you say. To which I say, come on, curling is an official sport of the Winter Olympics. It’s not like you really have to be breaking a sweat here.

Olympics

Three

Close your eyes and picture a scene that makes you think, “cozy.” Go ahead. Right now. There was someone reading a book in it, right? Maybe wrapped in a fuzzy blanket and drinking something warm by a fireplace. I feel like this is a universally recognized image of coziness and comfort, and what better time than winter to be cozy? Continue reading

Bethany House’s 2017 Reading Challenge

Welcome, readers, to our third annual reading challenge! Starting now, you have one year to read a book in all of the categories below. Bookmark the list, print it out, come back to it and check off each book as you finish them, whatever you want to do to keep track.

2017-reading-challenge-2

Now for the fun part: if you know of a book you’ve loved that fits into one of these categories, feel free to recommend it below. This can range from, “This is my favorite Newbery Medal-winning book” to “If you have blue eyes, check out this title!”

A few that come to mind for me: Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey has a crime scene at Gettysburg National Park. Shadow of the Storm by Connilyn Cossette is in first person. Most of Lynn Austin’s novels have biblical allusions in the title (like Refiner’s Fire or All Things New). Of course, you don’t have to recommend only Bethany House books. Even nonfiction is welcome. Share any five-star titles you’d love others to read.

Have fun! And we here at Bethany House wish you many great books in 2017!

Stranded in the Library: A Christmas Parody

If you haven’t ever wished to be snowed in at a library, you probably won’t relate to this carol parody. Then again, if you haven’t ever wished to be snowed in at a library, you probably aren’t reading a publisher’s blog.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas from Bethany House!

Stranded in a Library
(Sing to the tune of “Let it Snow”)

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the library’s delightful,
By the light of my cell phone’s glow,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

There are so many to get lost in,
Like the Brontës, Twain, and Austen,
Or Harriet Beecher Stowe,
Let it snow, let it snow, Edgar Poe!

When the plows come at last I’ll find,
That I’ll mourn for my reading cut short.
But just look what I’ll leave behind:
A classical tome blanket fort.

Maybe tragedy for a while,
‘Cause Euripides’s my style.
Or the long Russian tales of woe,
Let it snow, let it snow, Romeo!

As the storm goes on, I’ll get to it:
Harper Lee or C.S. Lewis,
Then Emerson and Thoreau,
Let it snow, let it snow, V. Hugo!

Oh, my TBR pile will grow,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

christmas-post-2

And just a little teaser…next Thursday on the blog we’ll have our annual reading challenge! Stop by to see what categories are on our checklist this year.

Did I leave out any of your favorite classic authors? (Particularly if their names rhyme with “snow.”)

Christmas Book Title Fun

Every year at the Bethany House decorating party, I prank the nativity scene. This sounds significantly more sacrilegious than it actually is. When we set up the Holy Family surrounded by angels, I simply give the figures a miniature paper book I feel like they’d think was appropriate.

This year’s results are below.

nativity

It got me thinking—what book titles would fit well for all the cast of the first Christmas story? Could I outfit everyone with a Bethany House novel for them?

You can decide for yourselves by the end of the post. (Bonus—titles are linked if you want to read the book’s actual plot, which has nothing to do with Christmas in most cases. But they do make great gifts!)

There was really nothing I could pick for the angel Gabriel but The Messenger (Siri Mitchell). Too perfect.

Besides the nonfiction title in the picture above, I’d give Mary A Lady Unrivaled (Roseanna M. White) or Where Courage Calls (Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan) because agreeing to give birth to the Son of God took some serious bravery.

At first, I thought of A Most Inconvenient Marriage (Regina Jennings) for Joseph, but that seemed a little harsh, so I settled on A Bride at Last (Melissa Jagears) or Beyond All Dreams (Elizabeth Camden) since he got all of the angelic visions.

We had no sheep-related titles (though there are some on covers), but I felt The Shattered Vigil (Patrick W. Carr) described the shepherds well that night in Bethlehem.

For the wise men, I couldn’t decide between Chasing Hope (Kathryn Cushman) or A Shining Light (Judith Miller).

And speaking of that part of the story, how about King’s Folly (Jill Williamson) for Herod? Or we could just be blunt and go with Rules of Murder (Julianna Deering).

How about the little drummer boy? A Noble Masquerade (Kristi Ann Hunter), for sure…because he wasn’t actually in the Bible. Just in some manger scenes and that ridiculous song. I wish I could make this one into a Conspiracy of Silence (Ronie Kendig). But I digress.

Speaking of characters not in the nativity, once I started looking at my bookshelf, I just couldn’t stop, so here are a few bonus rounds.

For Ebeneezer Scrooge, Sins of the Past (Henderson, Pettrey, Eason) seems appropriate, or if we want to focus more on the happy ending, how about A Love Transformed (Tracie Peterson)?

Several came to mind for Santa Claus himself, but our icon has certainly made A Lasting Impression (Tamera Alexander). Runners-up were Undetected (Dee Henderson) for his stealthy present-distribution and Stranded (Dani Pettrey) for that most famous foggy Christmas Eve.

Which leads me to the inspiration for Rudolph’s titles: Shadow of the Storm (Connilyn Cossette) and No Other Will Do (Karen Witemeyer) basically sum up the story in two titles.

Finally, I’d give the Grinch Meant to be Mine (Becky Wade) for his thieving tendencies, and of course, A Talent for Trouble (Jen Turano).

Now, at first, I thought I had the perfect ones for Frosty the Snowman: Fatal Frost (Nancy Mehl) or Refining Fire (Tracie Peterson). Then I realized neither would do, since frost is decidedly not fatal to a snowman and fire is not particularly refining, either. The solution? Fire and Ice (Mary Connealy) captures the plot of his story well.

Your turn! I’m sure I missed some great opportunities here. Feel free to submit any additional titles you can think of for the characters above (or pick a Christmas character I didn’t mention).

Six Reasons It’s More Fun to Discuss Books Than Politics

There’s a time and a place for giving opinions on election results, of course, but here at Bethany House, we think any time and place is a good one for talking about books! Here’s why:

calm

One: Bringing up a favorite suspense writer or discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of a fictional hero isn’t likely to fill the room with awkward silences and irritated subject changes at holiday dinners. (Unless your family really hates books. If so, I’m sorry! Stop by the blog on Thanksgiving and we can chat about Anne of Green Gables or something.)

Two: Fewer lies, more truth. Okay, a novel is technically a lie in that it is about people who are not real and scenarios that did not happen and words that were not spoken. But given that it boldly announces that fact and that every person coming to a novel is aware that it is fictional, I don’t think that really counts. And anyway, you can learn a lot about truth from fiction, and can’t we all use a little more of that?

Three: Even a terrible book has an ending point, so you can complain about it while knowing that it probably won’t have a lasting impact on your life. (Other than making you wince every time you glimpse a picture of the cover online.) Also, you can throw it across the room if you want!

Four: The most heated arguments when discussing books are about things like charming rogue cowboy vs. witty British gentleman, series vs. standalones, face on the cover or not.

Not that those issues aren’t important…but I like the low stakes and fun tone that those “debates” have even with the most opinionated readers among us. Sometimes it feels a lot easier to “agree to disagree” about whether or not Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre is a jerk or if speed reading is a good idea than it is to graciously disagree about policies and platforms.

Five: If someone happens to vote the same way as you, you probably don’t have much else in common with that person. There is a chance you don’t even like each other.

Whereas if someone also loves your favorite book, there is a chance you should be best friends. Or at least you’re in for a delightful conversation (“Could you believe it when…” “What do you think will happen to him in the sequel…” “Favorite character?”), the likes of which non-readers can only wish they were a part of.

Create real connections. Talk about books.

Six: A political “party” doesn’t always seem like much of a party. But a reader party is always going to be a good time. (So thanks, readers, for dropping by the blog! I love having you.)

Time for a poll of our own! Vote on the three races mentioned in reason four. (Charming rogue cowboy or witty British gentleman, series or standalones, face on the cover or not.) Which side will you take?

Books of the Future: Let’s Make Predictions

Whenever a magazine writes an article on Christian fiction, they always ask someone at Bethany House to give an answer to this question: what is the future of the genre?

Of course, they’re looking for sensible things like which categories are seeing growth, what trends might be next, and if we’ll expand, shrink, or keep our number of titles the same in upcoming years.

But every time, I’m tempted to give them a more unexpected answer: daydreams and imaginings of what the near-distant future of book publishing might look like. Here are some of my ideas…be thinking of yours to put in the comments!

bookfuture

This post was inspired by this comic. (He’s got lots of other great bookish comics here.)

Video Features: Imagine reading along…and seeing a short video clip pop up, narrated by the main character. I can see this working really well for parts of Conspiracy of Silence (maybe a mission log from Tox or other members of his team), but it would be neat to give us a picture the settings of some historical novels as well. And every Author’s Note at the back could be the author personally giving a thank-you to people involved with the book.

Hologram Pop-up Books: I have a weakness for really beautiful pop-up books, but they haven’t really crossed over into the adult Christian fiction market (for obvious reasons). But holograms would make it easy to create a cost-effective pop-up book that could still contain a lot of text—certain scenes would just unfold before you in charming, vintage cut-paper style. Top of my list for this one would be Roseanna White’s Ladies of the Manor series. The estates and intrigue would make for some lovely, dramatic scenes, not to mention…those dresses!

292392_ladyunrivaled_fbcover

Scratch-and-Sniff Books: Like those stickers you got in elementary school that smelled like bubblegum, these pages would bring a previously unexperienced dimension of the novels to life with a puff of fragrance appropriate to the scene. A soon-to-be-released book I just read that did a great job describing smells was Jocelyn Green’s The Mark of the King: “The smoky scent of cheese braided itself with the spicy steam lifting from the teacup on the desk and cinched a noose around Julianne’s empty stomach.” “A breeze whistled through the shade, stirring the smell of decomposing leaves and warm, fallen cypress needles.” “While Paris on the Seine was fragrant with café au lait, fresh bread, leather, straw, and wine, New Orleans here by the Mississippi smelled of fish, coffee, corn, bear grease, and eau-de-vie, a cheap variety of brandy.” Hmm. Maybe that’s why a scratch-and-sniff book hasn’t already been invented yet…not all smells are pleasant ones.

Treasure Hunt Books: Okay, this is an unrealistic amount of work, but I’ve always dreamed about a book with codes/puzzles embedded in it where the reader could solve a mystery in real time. Think something like geocatching, but probably through the Internet so it would be accessible to readers everywhere. Something like: the first word of every chapter leads you to a website, where you have to type in a code from a themed crossword puzzle, then call a phone number where the answering machine gives you the ISBN of an Agatha Christie novel…and so on until you reach the resolution. Although Drew and Madeline, of Julianna Deering’s mystery series, wouldn’t know what a website was, I could see the two of them headlining an interactive hunt like this, since they’re already experienced sleuths.

Even though technology and methods of reading might change, one thing will remain the same: readers will always need a good story.

What do you think the books of the future might look like? Any currently published books you’d love to see as a pop-up book or one of the other future options mentioned?

The Bookshelf Game (and Giveaway)

Let’s play a little game, just for fun.

Since today is 9/22, take a book off your shelf, then go to page 22 and pick a random excerpt starting on that page. Then count nine books away from your first book, turn to page 22 there, and pick an excerpt to add to the starting half you picked from the first book. (You can determine where to start it and how much to use. Feel free to look for parts that would make the story more coherent or funnier!)

I tried this myself to give you some examples. A few of my favorites:

“While I don’t doubt my ability to complete the accounting portion of the business, I’ll need a jug full of grape juice.”

Taken from: The Artisan’s Wife by Judith Miller, Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Her relationship with her daughter had never been easy, particularly since she had died from some disease in a South American hospital.

Taken from: The Midwife’s Dilemma by Delia Parr and A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson Continue reading