Friday, January 27, 2012

Natalie Hanemann, Senior Fiction Editor at Thomas Nelson

Cara here. I invited my editor, Natalie Hanemann, to join us at Seekerville today and chat about the editing process.

Natalie is a Senior Fiction Editor at Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. Before moving to Nashville in 2004, she lived in the Raleigh Durham area of North Carolina where she worked at Duke University Press. She earned her degree from Appalachian State University.

Natalie is passionate about editing Christian Romances and Women’s fiction, contemporary and historical. “Evangelizing is easier when done through story and can often leave a longer impression.”

When she isn’t reading a manuscript or changing diapers, you can find Natalie watching football or Food Network, teaching religious education, cooking, or folding the never-ending mountain of clothes in her living room.

Welcome to Seekerville, Natalie!

CARA: I know you edit historical romance and Amish fiction. Do you work on any other sub-genres? Which are your favorites?

NATALIE: I personally work on Amish, historical and contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and general Christian fiction; a little bit of everything. My favorite? I enjoy the variety. Too much of the same thing gets tiresome.

CARA: What are the acquisitions editors at Thomas Nelson looking for? What are the most popular fiction genres and sub-genres right now? What do you find the least popular?

NATALIE: We’re always on the lookout for a unique and moving story, no matter the genre. But if I had to be specific, it’d be nice to see some proposals for Biblical fiction. We’re also interested in supernatural stories and young adult novels for girls that illuminate the drama and struggles of high-school life.

Our Amish titles are very popular, for example, Beth Wiseman’s The Wonder of Your Love is doing quite well. So is the Triple Threat suspense series by Lis Wiehl/April Henry.

CARA: What are the current trends and how long do trends usually last? Which ones have lasted the longest? Are there any sub-genres that are always popular?

NATALIE: I wish I had an answer for how long a trend would last. I’d be very popular. There’s really no way of knowing how long a topic will be in-demand. We’re still seeing vestiges of the Harry Potter phenomenon. And of course, the vampire/werewolf/zombie offerings. Mostly, though, trends come and go – and then come back, usually based on a popular book in that particular subgenre. For example, when Redeeming Love hit the charts, historicals came in to fashion. Readers loved that story and wanted to prolong the experience, so they gravitated to novels with a similar setting or in the same time period. After awhile, historicals fell out of fashion—probably because the market was deluged and readers wanted some variety. The same goes for all genres, be they contemporary romances or suspense.

The longest trend we’ve seen in recent years is Amish stories. It’s safe to say that it is no longer a trend, but its own subgenre. Christian fiction readers have an insatiable appetite for Amish novels. The market has piqued and what will remain in the years to come is the best of the best. The authors who have a true passion for this peaceful people and who are master storytellers.

CARA: Tell us about the different parts of the editing process? When you buy a book what happens between the contract and the finished product?

NATALIE: Every publishing house is different. Here at Thomas Nelson fiction, once the contract is signed and the manuscript is turned it, a developmental editor will read it and make suggestions to strengthen the story. We’re a collaborative house, so we work closely with authors on their stories; the plot, character arcs, theme, and overall tone and pace. After the story is intact, it gets line edited. If the developmental edit is laying the slab and framing the house, a line edit is installing the dry wall. It’s an intricate look at the scenes, tightening the language, and cleaning up the text to meet the standards of The Chicago Manual of Style. Lastly, your book is typeset and then proofread. This stage is like applying paint to your walls and putting down the carpeting. Consistency in punctuation, capitalization, usage of numbers, and a hundred other little things is what the proofreader is catching. Then the book goes to the printer! A happy day for everyone involved.

CARA: At Thomas Nelson how are e-books selling compared to print books? Will you ever switch over entirely to e-books?

NATALIE: There isn’t a time in the near future where the printed book will just go away. Readers enjoy having the option between an actual book and downloading one onto their e-readers.

It’s an exciting time to be in book publishing as consumer habits are changing and it’s affecting how books are sold. Fortunately, it doesn’t change the content. An editor’s role is unchanged: make the story the best it can be.

About 30% of Thomas Nelson Fiction titles are e-books; and this number is growing. Opportunities to modify the way we market and sell books are endless and we’re experimenting with new ideas all the time.

Publishing hasn’t experienced so much change since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. While where you purchase your book may be different – and what you’re holding may feel different – I’m thankful that the art of storytelling will stay the same.

Thanks for being with us today, Natalie!

If anyone has any questions for Natalie, please ask away.

She’ll be giving away an advanced copy of Beth Wiseman’s upcoming contemporary women’s fiction novel, Need You Now.


  1. Hi Beth:

    Would you explain what you mean by Biblical fiction? Will you take a story set in the time of the Old Testament? If so, what is your view of using characters who are mentioned in the Old Testament?

    Do you see any other religion that may come on the fiction scene as the Amish did?



  2. I enjoyed getting to know Natalie and about her role at Thomas Nelson. Thanks for the great interview!

  3. Hi, And thank you.
    I am interested in your answer to Vince's question. Could you take a minor Biblical character and spin story around that character and a major character like Paul? What kind of rules are there for that? One would have to be careful, but I have had this one story in my head for years, yet, I don't want to be disrespectful of scripture.

  4. Hi Natalie! I appreciate your insight into the editing process, and what TN is looking for in Christian fiction.

    You said "supernatural stories"...I have written a story about a spunky Texan gal named Pearl, whom God supernaturally takes out of the 21st century, and places in Roman Egypt. Her mission is to save the life of a miserable Roman governor by showing him the sacrifical love of Christ. Would TN be interested in this kind of story?

  5. Personally, I would like to see more suspense, especially romantic suspense. I really enjoyed the latest Triple Threat novel!

  6. Hi Natalie, Thanks for the interview. I enjoy reading about the trends etc. I do like some amish but last year I found some series blended together to the point I was getting them mixed up. (different series by different authors) They all seemed to be the same after awhile. A few were unique stories but alot seem to follow the same story line.
    I have noticed there seems to be a few more Biblical fiction out there. An aussie author who I am featuring next week has a book on A wife of Joseph.

  7. Thanks for the great post. I love hearing about the editing process. I have a question for Natalie Hanemann. I am almost finished with my English degree and I am a freelance editor. There are a few authors I have worked with--editing their books--and I freelance copy edit for a publishing company, in exchange for free books. All in all, I have 10 books that I've edited and a monthly magazine. From this point, what would be the process to finding a full-time editing job? Once I get my degree, and with the experience and references that I have, would it be hard to find a job editing; are there a lot of openings in this field? Thanks for your input and the chance to win a book!
    tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

  8. Hi Natalie, It sounds like you have a real interesting job, didnt know there was so much to how a book came about, I am a reader so only know mostly of the finished product.
    I have read some of the bibical fiction and like the authors that take the time to research and make it so close to Bible coverage but still fiction where folks will read it better.
    thanks for sharing today -please put me in your drawing.
    thanks Paula O(

  9. Welcome to Seekerville, Natalie!

    I've noticed you sometimes judge contests for unpublished writers. What are some of the universal mistakes you notice from new writers?

  10. Good morning, Natalie and welcome to Seekerville. What a delight it is to have you here!@!!

  11. What a great post! I always love finding out more about the publishing process and how editors think.

    I've got a question: What do you mean by supernatural in YA? Are you talking vampires, werewolves, etc? Or more of a spiritual supernatural? (angels, demons, giftings, etc.)

  12. I had a thrill reading this part:

    “Evangelizing is easier when done through story and can often leave a longer impression.”

    Because that is exactly how I feel as a reader of Christian fiction. All the authors and their stories have really ministered to me and I am so grateful for publishing houses like Thomas Nelson who fight the good fight and bring me books I can devour and absorb.

    And long live the book!!!! There's no wallpaper more beautiful then a bookcase packed full of them. Love that the spines are considered part of the cover art too!

  13. Welcome to Seekerville Natalie. Thank you for taking time to visit with us.

    I love your analogy of the publishing of a book to building a house. We often forget how much work goes behind the finished product.

    I'm interested in the answers to the questions also. Have a great day and thank you again.

  14. I so enjoyed this post today. Thanks, Natalie, for sharing your wisdom and expertise. :) I am new to this world, so I'm learning a lot from these kinds of posts :)

    I have a couple of questions for you. First of all, what can a writer do to make your job easier as far as prepaing the manuscript for an editor? Secondly, and these may overlap, what things do I need to look at to make my ms as ready as possible before submitting it somewhere?

    Thanks again for being here today!

  15. Welcome to Seekerville, Natalie. We're delighted to have you here! The huge changes in publishing are both exciting and unsettling. I'm reassured by your words, that the art of storytelling will not change. Bless you for all you do to bring readers great stories.


  16. Thanks for breaking it down, Natalie. I'm always interested in reading how it all works. Have a great weekend!

  17. Stories can be from Old or New Testament -- both are full of interesting characters, many of whom we don't get many details about. This is a perfect opening for the author to imagine the person's backstory.
    For example, in a few months we'll be publishing a Biblical Novel, This Scarlet Cord, by Joan Wolf. Joan takes the story of Rahab and imagines her life leading up to the moment when she's asked to hang the red rope out of her window.
    Consider telling the story of a person who is mentioned briefly but plays an important role in the story of our faith. Readers appreciate seeing the events told within context. It helps them understand -- and remember -- the Bible stories. Anything that leads someone back to their Bible is a good thing, right?

  18. Hi Gwendolyn! It sounds like your story is Fantasy because of the time-travel element and that God transports her to ancient times. Really any genre can contain supernatural elements. We have a novel, The Promise of an Angel, by Ruth Reid, that combines an Amish love story with the supernatural intervention of angels.
    I think, in general, we're seeing most of the supernatural coming through suspense or mystery categories. So many readers love those high-stakes stories that put on stage the spiritual warfare that Christians face every day.

  19. Natalie, have you ever written a book? If not, do you think you ever want to?

    What do you find most frustrating about being an editor?

  20. Hi Lola, glad you enjoyed the Triple Threat books. Lis Wiehl has paired up with Pete Nelson in a new supernatural suspense series. The first book just came out -- Waking Hours. You should check it out. Let me know what you think.

  21. Welcome to Seekerville!

    I'm so glad you're looking for Biblical fiction. I love it! No desire to WRITE it but LOVE reading it!

    I like Cara's question about newbie authors. What mistakes can we avoid?

    Does Thomas Nelson have any romantic comedy type books in the works?

    Thank you for taking the time to stop by and answer our questions!

  22. Hi Sally. All the experience you're getting is so valuable. I usually recommend that people take this excellent on-line proofreading course:

    The industry is in need of accurate and thorough proofreaders. Once you've taken the course, email us and ask to take the proofreading test. If you do well, we can start sending you typeset pages to proofread.

    Finding a proofreader who is really good at what they do is rare. So if this is your interest, don't delay!

    If you want to work full-time at a publishing house, go to their website and check out their job postings.

    Experience is important, but equally important is your passion. Keep that alive!

  23. Hi Cara! Glad you brought up the contests. Some things I see consistently are that writers don't pack a punch on page 1. Don't start your chapter with a character thinking about something. Try to start it with an event, dialog, things that are ACTIVE. And make sure the stakes are high--it may not be physical risk, but emotional. The worst thing you can do is bore your reader. You have to hook them from the start.
    I also notice, not just with contest entries but with newer writers, that they take too many words to say something. Play this game: go into your text and try to make each sentence as short as possible. Cut out the superfluous or the words that explain things that are implied. Give your reader credit; they'll pick up on the nuance.

  24. This was an enlightening interview, thank you Natalie. Do you ever feel like you've already 'read' a story before? I seems like so many stories are similar, but I keep reading them and enjoy each one as if it was new. Do you feel the same way?


  25. Good morning, Natalie, and WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE!!

    Very insightful interview, and WOW, 30% on e-books -- I had no idea it was that high, but I can't say I'm surprised. And I do agree -- it is an exciting time in publishing, albeit a wee bit scary, too, I'm sure.

    Thanks again for the great glimpse into Thomas Nelson.


  26. Natalie, thanks for sharing some about the editing process. It is long, but well worth the steps.

    How much input does the writer have in the cover?

    Tina Pinson

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Hi Sherrinda. Supernatural meaning angels, demons, giftings,-- exactly. Christians have the corner market on this territory, right?

  29. Terrific post, Nat! I loved your analogy of building a house. No one builds a house like the Nelson fiction team. Quality all the way! :)

  30. Wren, I can't say I've ever felt like I've already read this same story before. There are parts that feel really familiar, maybe because of the story's set-up, but the details and events make the story unique.
    I chuckle when I hear someone comment that the ending to the romance was predictable. Um...yeah. It's a romance. If the guy and gal don't get together, it's not a romance! :)

  31. Hi Julie! Hi Colleen! Nice to see y'all. Wish we could go get a cup of coffee.

  32. Natalie,

    I enjoyed your interview and learning about the inner workings at Thomas Nelson!

    Thanks for all the great advice. I will copy this post for a daily reminder!

    Who are some of the authors you work with?

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  33. Cara, I don't think I could write a novel to save my life! I have so much respect for novelists. It's hard hard work. You all are like rock stars to me.

  34. Anonymous, our authors have a ton of input into our covers. Just ask Colleen Coble!
    We do several rounds of cover comps internally and when we feel like we've landed on the perfect one, we show that to the author and ask for input. On our historical and Amish titles, we often send the author jpegs of different cover models along with clothing options. Those details are critical.

  35. Susan, I edit a dozen authors. To name a few: Robert Whitlow, Beth Wiseman, Cara Lynn James :), Margaret Brownley, Dorothy Love, Denise Hunter.

  36. I've heard such great things about Denise's new book! I saw it somewhere the other day... Sam's maybe?

    It's on my TBR list!

  37. Natalie, Appreciate your giving us a great look inside the editing process at TN. Looking forward to being a part of it.

    And thanks to Seekerville for this great post.

  38. Hi Natalie:

    Sorry I got you mixed up with Beth Wiseman. I just assumed that you were giving away a copy of your own book!

    I do have a marketing question. Have you given away any of your books for free on Kindle? If so, has this worked? Do you think that giving away current books for free will train buyers to wait before buying a new book, (say 30 to 60 days), if the publisher has in the past given books away free?


    Please enter my name for “Need You Now”.

    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  39. We DO get to help with our covers. :) I've seen Nelson go back to the drawing board when nothing was right for the story. They like the author totally happy. We have a fabulous cover designer in Kristen Vasgaard!

    Lifting my coffee cup in your direction, Nat!

  40. Why don't we go ahead and do our giveaway of Need You Now by Beth Wiseman.

    I'm going to randomly select someone who has left a comment this morning.

    Drum roll please...

  41. And the winner is . . .

    Carol Moncado

    Carol, email your mailing address to


  42. Natalie, it's great to have you in Seekerville today, and thanks for sharing your insights into the current state of Christian publishing.

    I especially liked what you had to say about the unpredictability of trends. That's an important reminder for writers to focus less on what's popular at the moment and more on writing a compelling story.

  43. Wow! Thank you!

    Will sent an email shortly :).

  44. Natalie has given me a lot of input on my covers. She sends me pictures of models, and asks for pictures of different clothing styles, photographs of mansions etc. And she listens to my suggestions!!! She gives me photos of possible costumes and I get to choose.

    Thomas Nelson designs great covers!

  45. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts in this informative interview!

    Natalie, are you in Nashville? We're not too far from you if so!

  46. Thanks for the look into Thomas Nelson Natalie!!!

  47. A wonderful interview and so informative! Thank you so much Cara and Natalie!

  48. Thanks, Natalie and Seekerville, for a very interesting interview! Especially enjoyed the insights about trends and e-book sales. Judy Christie

  49. Thanks for stopping by Seekerville, Natalie. I enjoyed learning more about TN.

    Waving at everyone who's stopped by!


  50. This has been a super Seekerville week. I have learned so much. It is so kind and wonderful that the guest bloggers take time to answer each comment or question. Priceless!

  51. Hi Cara and Natalie! Thanks for the interview and sharing your insight, Natalie. I like seeing how the other side works, and finding out what you're looking for.

    I like what you said about "packing a punch" on page 1. That's something I've been working on in my current MS. What about back story? I HATE books that don't explain a character's motivation until three quarters through the book, but it seems that too much back story up front loads a book down. It feels like the trend right now is to do a big "reveal" of back story somewhere in the middle. Is that true, or is it just what I'm reading? Do you have any thoughts on this?

  52. Hello Natalie and Seekerville.

    I must tell say ya'll do a wonderful job on the bookcovers. I tend to flip back and look at the cover several times while reading. (And no, I'm not ten years old. LOL.)

    Do you have a most memorable or funny "don't" story you could share? Maybe something crazy an author did to get your attention.

  53. Hi Stephanie. You're right; front-loading backstory really bogs down the pacing. And waiting too long means the reader may put the book down before hearing the "why" of a character's actions. Noah Lukeman says in his book "The First Five Pages" something like no backstory in the first 40 pages. It makes sense that you'll need to start laying it in, say no later than the 25% point. Spread it out and only share the relevant pieces of the character's past.

  54. Natalie, I sometimes read books written twenty or more years ago. There's a lot of 'head hopping,' introspection, telling instead of showing etc. Are these poorly written books (they don't seem to be) or has the style just changed?

  55. Connie wants a "don't do this" story. I'm terrified to use a specific example and have those people wander onto this site, so I'm speak in general terms. :)
    +Don't feel like you have to design a cover for your book and include the color copy of it in your proposal. It doesn't help catch our attention and often times the artistic quality doesn't work in your favor.
    +While we love chocolate, treats, and small gifts, please don't send us these with your proposal. It doesn't increase your chances of publication and I always feel a little guilty eating/using it.
    +At Thomas Nelson, we only look at agented proposals, so this isn't necessarily a problem, but ask before you send the entire manuscript. For a proposal, it makes sense to only send the first three chapters and note that you can provide the entire ms.
    +Please please please don't be rude if you get a rejection. The publishing industry is small and people talk. You want to be known for your kindness and professionalism. Don't let your emotions get the best of you. Be gracious.

  56. Cara, that's a great question. I notice that too, particularly in older CBA novels (though I notice it in secular bestsellers too!). I do think that back then, it was more widely accepted to head hop. Readers today have less patience for this--as they should. And overall, the quality of writing in Christian fiction has gotten much better than it was in the 80s and 90s.

  57. Natalie, great to see you in Seekerville. I wish I could have stopped by earlier. I hope you're still answering questios.

    Do any Thomas Nelson books have Asian settings or are you seeking any Asian settings? (I write inspirationals set in medieval Japan, which is why I'm asking.)

    Thank you.

  58. Natalie, thanks for being with us in Seekerville today. Thanks to Cara for hosting! Great blog post filled with lots of info.

    Are you interested in romantic suspense, Natalie?

  59. Thanks for the information, Natalie. I just started a supernatural/paranormal Christian fiction. It's great to know TN would be interested in that type of story.

  60. Welcome, Natalie!

    I love these “insiders’ scoops” into the publishing industry. We as-of-yet unpubbed authors are very intrigued with what is behind the curtain!

    The proofreader information you shared with Sally is most interesting! I love both side of the industry: editorial and art. Besides writing for a Christian House, the next best thing would be working for one.

    Thomas Nelson is in that ideal publishing group for me, along with Barbour, Tyndale, Bethany, and Revell (and others!). Thanks for sharing your wisdom. : )



  61. Natalie, I'm sorry to drop by late. Welcome! Thank you so much for hanging out with us today! And for the great information.

  62. Hi there!

    I've only read two Biblical fiction stories and they were both really, really good! I lvoe that Thomas Nelson is getting interested in that!

  63. Natalie, thank you for joining us in Seekerville. Sorry for the late appearance, I see I missed a great day!

    Thanks Cara for sharing Natalie with us!

  64. Natalie & Cara,
    Thanks so much for this insightful post. Sorry I'm late to the party but work calls before partying :-)

    It's good to know that some trends last a while - and that the whole fantasy/paranormal/'weird' books are still coming out at a good pace. That gives hope to the 'outside the box' thinkers :-)

    Thanks for being here today and sharing your wisdom.

  65. it was so fun learning how all that works! Thank you ladies :)Really awesome post & interview.

  66. An interesting post & great comments. I'd love to read NEED YOU NOW thank you.


  67. Hello Natalie,

    Thanks for visiting, and for the opportunity to 'ask an editor'. I'm curious about your views on WWII WF. I have a completed novel (100,000 words) and a sequel underway. It baffles me, with the greatest generation in decline, why there wouldn't be more publishing interest in such stories. Or maybe there is, and I simply haven't found it yet... Do you have insights/suggestions on this?

    Thank you so much.

    Gail Kittleson

  68. Thanks for sharing your insights on Christian fiction publishing. Such helpful information. I was thrilled to read Thomas Nelson is interested in YA fiction that "illuminates the drama and struggles of high school." My novel, the first in a three book series, perfectly fits that description. It's currently being critiqued through two ACFW Scribes groups. Do any of Thomas Nelson's editors accept unsolicited queries or proposals? Thanks for lending your expertise to us today!

  69. Natalie, I am late to the party so not sure you will see this. Thanks for taking time for the interview and sharing with us. I had the same reaction Julie Lessman had - 30% really? I bet that figure will keep rising. Blessings!

  70. I know I am late to stop in, but I just wanted to say thanks to Natalie for sharing this information with us. Such a terrific interview!

    Wow ... 30% !?!

    Blessings! :)

  71. Great article...I do have an ereader, but I also don't ever want to see books done away with. I love the 'real thing'!

  72. I enjoyed your blog. I've read all of Beth Wiseman's book and I'd appreciate your entering me in the drawing for "Need You Now." Thank you.

  73. Thanks for the great interview!! My favorite reads are Amish storied and mysteries. The Love Inspired novels are some of my favorites vecause they are so small and easy to carry. Will there be more of them available on Kindle?

  74. I would love to win a copy of Beth Wiseman's new book..'Need You Now'...I love how Beth's books bring such a blessing and a lot of inspiration through the characters in her

  75. Thanks for the interview, Natalie. Editing seems like a fun job! It must be heartwarming to be part of encouraging new authors like Beth Wiseman

    babykf629 at gmail dot com

  76. I love the blog and all you had to say. I would love to read Beth's new book.

  77. Teresa Wade SherokeFebruary 1, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    I really enjoyed reading your article and found it very interesting. I love the Amish stories but will read anything that catches my interest. Thank you for all the hard work you put into getting books published for us to read.

  78. What happens when special prices are offered for a book. eg.BLUE MOON PROMISE by Colleen Coble was offered for one day for .99 in Kindle format. Of course, I ordered it! How are the authors paid for reuced or free ebooks? I don't want them to be starving Artists!

  79. Very interesting! After working in the Christian self-publishing world, I truly understand how important editors are - they can make or break a books' success! Regarding the Amish subgenre: you aren't kidding. Until last April,I didn't even LIKE fiction...I was give FOUR from my MIL (whom I thought did NOT know me well at all -- Fiction? Please!) Well, I'm now all aboard the Amish train and seem to never be able to get my fill! Even my four year talks of tendencies towards being an Amishaholic....while at the same time saying, "Tell Beth Wiseman I said hello!" Needless to say, I would LOVE to read Beth's latest book! Thanks for the opportunity!
    Susan Ferrell

  80. I really liked this conversation. Shows how much is involved in the making of a book. And, I hope they don't quit making books. I'm not interested in reading on e-books. Thanks, Maxie Anderson