BookHive met author Donna Everhart when we read and beta tested her novel A BLACK WATER SEASON, which went on to be one of our highest rated books. Please check out the interview below with Jennifer Bowen as she discusses that delicious moment she was picked up by a publisher for the first time, and the release of her latest novel THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE this last October 25th.
JB: You tested your manuscript A BLACK WATER SEASON with BookHive about two years ago. How was that experience for you?
DE: It was a great experience and very valuable to me as a writer. With BLACK WATER I’d been writing in a genre I’d never written before, a suspense or crime novel – honestly, I wasn’t sure which. I had a lot of doubts about what I was doing and the way I was doing it. And, I’d only ever written in first person POV. This was written in third, plus I was writing from two points of view, the protagonist and the antagonist. It was a tremendous relief when the story resonated so well with the Test Readers. And when I got such a detailed report, with the important pieces consolidated and the suggestions for areas to work on, it was so helpful. And then I got Author of the Month, so, I was really excited about that and felt all that angst had been worth it!
JB: Can you walk us through if you made any changes based on the testing? Also, your agent was about to submit the manuscript, right?
DE: I did make changes – using at least three or four suggestions which had been highlighted as being the key areas given the testing results. With that done, and the manuscript edited and as clean as I could get it, I sent it to my agent. With the holidays coming quickly I wasn’t sure when I’d hear back, but I got his email around the first of December 2015, and he was quite enthusiastic about it.
JB: How did the submission process go? Please elaborate on your other manuscript being picked up.
DE: In mid-February 2015, my agent, John Talbot, sent BLACK WATER off to several editors, one of them was editor in chief of Kensington Publishing Corporation, John Scognamiglio. John S passed on BW, but indicated he really liked the writing, and would be interested in seeing something else. This is when my agent, John T, saw a connection with Southern Fiction and John S’s portfolio of authors. So, he sent him THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE. This information was shared with me and I was actually more focused on the other eight editors who had BLACK WATER and had yet to respond. Honestly, I sort of forgot about DIXIE DUPREE being with John S. About six weeks laterI received an email from John T. It had arrived late one night and I didn’t see it until the next morning, but, I thought it was about BLACK WATER because the subject line said “Re: A BLACK WATER SEASON.” I thought, ah, darn it, another rejection, and didn’t open it right away. I went about my business for a couple hours (crazy!) and when I finally DID open it, the first line was, “We have an offer on DIXIE DUPREE.” By 9:00 a.m. that same morning, John T and I had talked, both of us so excited about it, and later on that afternoon after he talked to John S at Kensington, he emailed me and said, “We have a deal.”
You wonder how you’ll feel when you go through “the dream” actually happening. I know I’d spent a lot of time wondering exactly that and the feeling was almost strange, surreal. You read the words and they register – sort of. It takes a while for it all to sink in, and then, you still end up reading THE EMAIL over and over, just to be sure you’ve wrung every single emotion out of your body. Then you go lie down.
JB: Tell us about your writing process. How often and when do you write? Are you in a writers group?
DE: There’s no set schedule, no specific process. Although, for my next book, I worked with an outline. On. The. Floor. I’ve been a true pantster all along, but oddly, I stuck to it for this next book. In general, I write all the time. Usually if a day goes by and for some reason I don’t write – which is unusual – then I try to make up for it the next day. I do try to set a minimum goal of that magical one thousand words a day. I also know that even if I don’t get to that, and only achieve, say three hundred, I don’t worry about it. It will get done, one way or the other because, hey. Debut book. Wouldn’t I like to keep on keeping on now THAT’S happened? Yes. So, that meant – write another book!
JB: What was it like working with an editor in preparation for your books release?
DE: There’s something very special about this. You’ve got this person, this advocate, who reads your stuff, and can see “things” you don’t. They have their eyes on a lot of writing, day in and out, which makes them Subject Matter Experts, on what works, and what doesn’t. As writers, we tend to get down in the weeds, while an editor is able to step back and envision what he’d like to see – a manicured lawn. Only wait, there seems to be a weed problem there, get rid of those, and oh, there’s a bare spot on that section, can you lay some sod in? You get the idea. They can see what we don’t and help give direction on what to fix. It helps to have written the sort of story they love beforehand, and to have the manuscript in good shape. This was the case with DIXIE DUPREE, and that wassomething I was proud to have done. Despite that, there were still areas that needed to be expanded on, and having the fresh input from a skilled editor is what can make that come clear and make all the difference in the world.
JB: Do you ever get writers block? If so, how do you break out of it?
DE: I have, at least I think that’s what it is. It’s what I call being stuck. When I’m stuck, I know it’s really because I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, or I’m struggling to find the right way to describe something in a fresh way which works with the current “voice” of the main character, or just the right way to describe a setting. When I get like that, I tend to tweak what I already have written and move sentences around. The very best thing I can do is to leave it alone – at least for a few hours. I’ve found that a good majority of my writing issues have been resolved during my runs. And there’s actually a study on exercising and solving problems. I want to say it was done by Duke Medicine. All I know is going for a run has helped me almost every single time.
JB: Why do you find working with beta readers through BookHive a valuable part of the process?
DE: They are “real” readers, and by that, I mean the only difference between them and those who go into a bookstore to buy a book is they are engaging at an earlier point in the process, when they can actually affect the direction of a story. Imagine the times we’ve all read that one book – or more – and said, “I wished the author had…” Or, “why didn’t the author see the character needed…” I know I’ve had those thoughts. This is a win/win for both sides, in my opinion. And, they are a potential future audience.
JB: What has the final stages of editing and marketing been like as you prepared for the release a few weeks ago?
DE: The final stage of editing happened in March 2016 when I received what’s called “final page proofs,” i.e., the manuscript printed out just like a reader sees in a finished book. At that point I and another proof reader went through it the final time, while keeping changes to a minimum. I’d already made editing changes caught by John S months before. Then it went to a copy editor for the grammatical and fine tuning of word suggestions etc. And then, I got the page proofs – and as you can imagine, by then it’s in pretty good shape. I only found six other corrections that needed to be made at that point. Marketing from the publisher included print advertising in a few magazines, and online advertising to popular literary sites.
JB: Tell us about “The Indie Next List” and your involvement?
DE: This was a truly wonderful moment. I’d found out sometime around late summer THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE had become an “in house favorite,” at Kensington. The Sales folks (and it seemed everyone else too!) were very excited about the book. When that happens, it means the sales team is really enthusiastic about handselling to their contacts. And they must have done a tremendous job. The Indie Next List pick came from the American Booksellers Association, by way of a process where the independent bookstores across the U.S. share their enthusiasm for a particular title. There were a total of sixteen books selected as an Indie Next Pick for November 2016, and THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE was one of them.
JB: Your book has been added to a few must read lists, tell us about that?
DE: Yes, it has. Just like amongst the “regular” readers out there, I guess word of mouth, various reviews that start to come in, or perhaps by way of the Indie Next Pick selection, there comes the chance for others to read and determine for themselves which books they want to add to their seasonal reading lists. In my case, Deep South magazine, Bookbub, and Bustle, all chose THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE to be added to their Fall/Winter 2016 reading lists. As well, Library Journal selected it as their “Book Club Selection,” and Business Insider selected it as an “Insider Pick.”
The latest “big” news is Amazon selected THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE as one of their Top Ten Picks for November 2016, as well as making it their “Featured Debut.” There was a really nice review from an Amazon editor as well, about their impression of the book, which is placed on the book’s Amazon page. The book has exceeded my expectations for how it would be received, and considering the dark subject matter it deals with, I’m happy the story is resonating so well with so many people!
See DIXIE DUPREE on Amazon’s Top Picks below:
DIXIE DUPREE is also on the American Booksellers Association “Bestsellers In Fiction” list for the week ending Nov. 9th! Donna, we are so impressed and thrilled for you.
For the latest news on Donna – please follow her on Twitter @wordstogobuy and check out www.donnaeverhart.com
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Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and works with BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.
She currently lives in Astoria and at the Strand Bookstore.