book-hive

An Interview With BookHive’s Jennifer Bowen


Back in late September I shared some good news and a bit of information about BookHive, an online service for authors which allows them to test their manuscript across a broad demographic of “Test Readers.”  The experience was so worthwhile, I thought it would be a good idea to share even more details via an interview with the “QueenBee” herself, Jennifer Bowen.  She generously agreed to provide answers to my questions.  First, a little bit about Jennifer’s background, which is also detailed on the BookHive website.

Jennifer Bowen has spent much of her professional career in advertising, but considers herself first and foremost a creative.  Her plays include the solo show Burning Down to Heaven about the poet Anne Sexton (The Marsh Theater and Venue 9 in San Francisco;  Women’s Center Stage/Culture Project in NYC),  full length plays Happiest Place on Earth (The Lark, Workshop/Reading In Violet Theater Company 2012, Trustus Playwrights Festival Finalist 2012) and in development The Little Prince$$ (Workshop Production InViolet Theater Company 2014) and Ruin (Kitchen Dog Theater Finalist 2014.) Her films include the independently produced full length Sad Sack Sally and the short films The Silent Treatment (48 Hour Philadelphia Film Festival 2012 winner), I (Eggs) You (Designer Vision/48 Hour Film Project Invitational) and the upcoming Lost and Found. Jennifer is a proud member of the InViolet Theater Company.
 
She is pitching her first YA novel in the trilogy The June Awakening Series about a young girl’s quest to find out the truth behind her parents deaths through her burgeoning psychic ability. Her greatest creative influences have been her home town of Half Moon Bay, CA, the television show Twin Peaks and the writing  of Jack Kerouac,  Jane Austen and Alice Munro. Jennifer graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Garrett who’s her faithful first reader.
THE INTERVIEW
  1. You’ve written a YA novel, and from that experience, it seems the concept of BookHive was born. Tell us more about that.

I’d been working on my first Young Adult novel. After a year of writing and getting feedback from my writers group in NYC, I was curious what a fifteen-year-old girl would think. While the people in my group dug it, they were all in their 30’s and 40’s, and I wondered if I had my finger on the pulse for my target audience. I strongly believe in the usefulness of writers groups, workshops, etc. in developing a book. But when people have read multiple drafts, they lose perspective. While my writers group continues to shape and strengthen my work, I got feedback from the teenagers that I just wasn’t getting from my writers group. I took that feedback and it truly informed my edits that next year. When I retested it a year later, it tested much stronger. That’s when I knew I might have something that could help other authors.

  1. How do you find Test Readers?

We recruit Test Readers through Book Fairs (we were at the 2014 Boston Book Fair), online ads, social media, Trade Shows, and word of mouth. Test Readers fill out a detailed form when they come to our website. Along with capturing basic demographics (gender, age, region), Test Readers give us detailed info on what kinds of books they read, how many they read a year, and a writing sample.

  1. What can an author expect when allowing BookHive to test their manuscript?

They can expect eight to ten targeted Test Readers to read the manuscript which will result in a 30+ page report full of quantitative and qualitative feedback. About 1/3rd of the survey is quantitative – questions on a 1 – 5 numerical scale (example – How hooked were you after the first ten pages?). The rest of the survey is qualitative where the Test Readers can really speak their minds (example – Who are your three favorite characters and why?; What parts were confusing?; What did you think of the ending?). We offer the author the opportunity to add three personalized questions as well.

  1. What is the process for analyzing a book’s “data” from Test Readers?

I pull out multiple mentions, both positive and critical, and look for trends in the 30+ pages of feedback. In my two to three page analysis, that I give along with the raw data, I point these things out as guideposts to the author. They can take these key points into consideration when editing, or when looking to position the book marketing wise.

  1. What have authors said about the report they receive?
  1. From Donna: One of the best parts of the BookHive report came from the summary analysis provided by Jennifer Bowen. Because the report I received was well over 25+ pages BookHive anticipates each author will receive, the summary allowed me to focus on the collective opinions of all the Test Readers, versus sifting through each individual Test Reader’s comments. (which was still a lot of fun because they did a great job at taking the time to discuss their likes/dislikes in a very professional, succinct manner) I appreciated how Jennifer keyed in on those common trends and offered helpful suggestions to make the book even better.
  2. Add any other comments you want here… J

That pretty much covers it!!!

  1. What sort of manuscripts is BookHive looking for?

Right now we are testing Adult Fiction, Middle Grade/YA and Memoir.

  1. What are your expectations for BookHive, overall?

My hope is that we are cost-effective check-in for Authors about whether their book is working or not. If they receive more of a critique, it can inform their edits. If they receive a lot of key points about what’s working, they can feel confidant to move to the next step – working with an editor, sending out to agents, or jumping to self-publishing.  

  1. What’s up next for BookHive?

We were just at the Self-Publishing Expo in NYC where I was a panelist. We will be at the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference February 13th – 15th! https://sfwriters.org/

  1. Writer to writer, what is the best advice you’ve received in regards a writing career?

I like Stephen King’s basic MO: read and write if you want to become a better writer. It really is true! And that probably leads me to the value of getting rid of editor brain. Julia Cameron’s emphasis on morning pages I think is a way to overcome this. You wouldn’t just run a marathon without training, right? I think writing is the same way. You have to practice. Even if you’re writing personally in morning pages, it gets you in the flow. Also, Hemingway’s famous quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.” That says to me that writing takes time. I always picture the early drafts as a symphony out of tune. With each draft I deepen, until hopefully, we’re creating a melody!

  1. If an author is hesitant about testing their book with BookHive, what would you say to encourage them?

As writers, I think we all want people to read our stories and be affected by them. In order to do that, and in such a competitive market, each writer has to do their part to write the best and most compelling story they can. The BookHive report helps with that process. Even with books that test fabulously (like yours, Donna!) – there were still some smaller things to consider. Whether it’s a major overhaul or minor tweaks, the BookHive report can help with the next step. Most of us have the fear – what if they don’t like my book? But better to be brave, hear the truth, and do what you can so the dream can come true – people truly being engrossed and riveted by the story you’re telling.

And there you have it.  One other bit of information I would add, and Jennifer would clarify this if you decided to test your manuscript; you can expect to have your report in about six weeks.

Jennifer also wanted me to pass this along.  If you think your work is ready to be tested (solid first drafts are accepted), go to their website, http://www.book-hive.com/ and click on the “Authors” link and follow the instructions to submit your work. They are currently offering a 50% discount to test manuscripts, cost $250.00, using the code “Beesknees.” (normally $499).

If you have other questions, share in the Comments below and I will pass them along to Jennifer and provide her answers back to you in the reply section.

Happy holidays! 

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Scary Stuff


Last year on Halloween, I received the second round of feedback from the editor on my current project, A BLACK WATER SEASON.  She’d read the first 100 pages back in the spring, and, in a nutshell, hated them.  So, I had to start the story over and when I did, I changed it by telling it from a different POV, as well as shifting to a dual narrative. I sent her the brand new sample pages and waited.  They came back about ten days later – with a thumbs up – and I recall telling her I was glad I’d received a treat – not a trick.  It was Halloween, after all.

Of course, all of you know by now, the project is finished.  You know that it received wonderful praise from a focus group of test readers out of Book-Hive.  I received Author Of The Month as it was their highest ranked manuscript in August.

What you don’t know is the editor did not like certain things about the story, and did not like it enough to have me send it straight away to my agent.  She said the characters were “miserable.”  She felt I had too much internal monologue going on with my protagonist and antagonist.  She felt there should be more shared with regards to the sheriff, Wade Malone.  And last, and worst of all, she said the story was too slow.

A lot of her feedback conflicted directly with the group of Test Readers.

When Jennifer Bowen of Book-Hive asked what the editor thought and I shared her feedback, she said, “Hmmm, well, maybe this wasn’t the story for this particular editor.”

I loved that.  Still, I was faced with this new dilemma.  With such differing opinions, what should I do with the story?

This was certainly a bit of a conundrum and the decision as to what changes I needed to make had me stalled for a while.  Eventually, I cut some, (not all) of the internal monologue.  Enough to satisfy my guilt over not taking everything the editor said to task.  I then added in a couple of new scenes between Ruby/Haskell and Wade/Ruby based on the Book-Hive feedback.  I tweaked the ending which was all of my own doing.

What has continued to pester me though is that one big thing the editor suggested I do – and didn’t.  And that was to add that new POV narrative with the sheriff.  This would have been a major re-write.  It would have destroyed the structure of the story where, for the majority of the book, each chapter picks up where the other leaves off between my good guy (girl) and bad guy. Think maybe “duel” instead of “dual” narrative.

The other thing too, was, I hadn’t set out to write a crime novel.  The story wasn’t about the investigation.  It wasn’t as if I ignored the investigative tasks altogether.  I actually had a Raleigh City police K9 detective who answered some of my questions about what a law enforcement person could or couldn’t do.  I wrote about the sheriff’s initial interview with my protagonist.  I detailed his interactions with my antagonist, and mostly, I showed his “work” on the “case,” with his interrogations via dialogue – twice with the antagonist and twice with the protagonist.

Still, if you’re like me, you begin to question every choice made about revisions once it’s out of your hands.  Did I do the right thing?  Should I have worked on it more, maybe written in that extra POV, if for not for any other reason than just to see if his voice would come through?

It’s scary stuff.  Scary because it seems as if we’re always second guessing ourselves, asking the what if’s and what about’s once we let it go.  It’s scary because we follow some advice while ignoring the rest, all the while not knowing if what we’ve ignored was spot on.

S.C.A.R.Y.

What do you do when you’ve had such diverse opinions?

Bad Moon Rising

What The…


…hell?

Obviously I’ve changed my theme and with this post on my newly designed site, I thought I’d share the reason why.

Like many writers, I spend about as much time reading about writing as…, well, as writing.  More than once, I’ve come across advice which states any social media outlet used should reflect a writer’s work, or at least convey a similar tone.

And so, here it is.  Maybe the look of it caught you by surprise?  Like maybe the site was taken over by a depraved psycho?  I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you.  What happened to the friendly, calm green background with the slanty lettered title?  No more!  The little archaic writing pad resting on the old, graying planks of wood off to the side?  Gone!

That was then…, this is now.  The last theme and all it’s spinachy, green beany, (maybe it was more like English peas?) coloration  and the ancient little notebook wasn’t right anymore.  It was too…homey.  Sure, it had been great for representing the previous two stories.  The first, a coming of age story about an eleven year old girl in Alabama, and the second told of the struggles of a young family in the Blue Ridge mountains during the late 1920’s.

However, green reflected the wrong message for the genre of the third book.  All wrong.  And it would have been wrong for the next book, and more than likely any book I write from here on out.  If the stars line up and behave.

My earlier stories certainly contained some violence  – of a different kind.  Child abuse, both physical and mental.  A drowning, a shooting and maiming in the second.  However, when I thought about the current story, it occurred to me (finally) the green blog interface was as good a fit as a pair of too tight shoes.  If I wanted to talk about this book a little more, or share an excerpt or something, it would be like viewing the body of a loved one at their funeral with the festivities of a birthday party going on.  Imagine our dismay.  Or…, (because I love making up analogies), it would be like perusing a bookstore for one of Stephen King’s books – lets say MISERY – and Oh Hell, a pretty pink and white cover jacket with a beautiful white dove floating in a pink sky?  What’s up with that?

The only proper color for this book, and any others I’m thinking about is black and gray.  Dark, pitchy, murky, and dim.  The capture across banner?  Well, with that I’m going for mysterious, or maybe even suspenseful.  Or maybe brooding.  I think it works.  I took the picture in Mississippi, just off of the deck at my in-laws house and cut it so it only shows the treeline and a pre-dawn sky.

These are my reasons, and what’s important is…

Like it?  Hate it?  Is it sending the right vibe?

Tested By Book-Hive!


Several weeks ago I took hold of a unique opportunity – even though it made me as nervous as I’ve ever been. I allowed Book-Hive’s Focus Group Reader Service to take my latest WIP and test it.  Big GULP.

Below is a snippet where the creator of Book-Hive, Jennifer Bowen, explains how the process would work:

We conduct an online focus group of 10 to 12 test readers within an author’s chosen target market. These Test Readers are sent quantitative questions (example: on a scale from 1-5, how satisfied were you with the ending?), as well as qualitative questions (example: what did you like about the book and why?). The results are a 25+ page comprehensive report which can be a great editing tool and/or potential marketing tool.”

The concept was intriguing.  I loved the idea of my book being read by, what should I call them, “real” readers?  Yes, that works.  Because I don’t mean my beta’s, or critique partner.  I mean readers who might browse a book store one day and see my book, the ones who would, if they could, offer a writer their unbiased input, opinions, and suggestions for the story.  And, what do you know?  Here was a way to do just that – in a controlled environment.

This was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  I almost fainted right here on the floor the day I sent my manuscript – which was in late July.  Good or bad, it was better to know now rather than later just what real readers might think.

It took six weeks to get the test results, and meanwhile, I had walked away from the work, while quietly having a mini nervous breakdown.  I’ve never left a ms alone for more than a week.  Honestly?  I can’t tell you what I did for all those weeks.  Jennifer emailed me close to the end of that timeframe and said the results were almost in.  My mouth went dry.  Then, she shared some good news and I quote, “it received fantastic feedback for a first draft – I think you’ll be pleased!”

Mouth went drier – if that’s possible.

And she was right. I was really, really happy. When I got the report in early September, I saw that, in short, the book’s protagonist ranked a 4.4 out of 5 for likeability, the readers were hooked within the first ten pages, and that ranked a 4.2 out of 5,  and hooked by 50 pages, ranked a 4.3 out of 5.  The overall ranking for the book was 4.0 out of 5.

And then, Jennifer said:

“The manuscript ranked the highest for the month of August, and therefore, I would be featured as their “Author-Of-The-Month,” in their September newsletter.”

I was…speechless.  Okay, not speechless, babbling.  If one can babble through email.  (I seem to have found a way to do it.)  What did Author-Of-The-Month mean to me?  Good things.  For one, the newsletter that comes out once a month would feature the book, and Book-Hive also has a Facebook page and Twitter feed which would give a shout out as well.

The Book-Hive newsletter posted today:

I’m happy to announce that Donna Everhart is BookHive’s September 2014 Author-Of-The-Month. Her novel, A BLACK WATER SEASON, begins one hot summer evening when eighteen-year-old Ruby Kemp’s parents go missing. Set in the 1970’s, in rural Mississippi, and told in alternating points of view, it’s the story of  a young woman caught up in the Dixie Mafia, an illicit organization, and a ruthless killer’s obsession. It was selected by our Test Readers as the highest rated book this September for hooking them straight away in the first ten pages, for the in depth complexity of the unlikely anti-hero, the killer, and for its fast paced, tension filled story telling.

Donna grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and has lived close to her hometown for most of her life. She currently resides in the small town of Dunn, along with her husband, and a very demanding four pound Yorkshire Terrier named Mister, a.k.a. “The Bundle.”

A BLACK WATER SEASON, her third novel, will be placed on submission by her agent in the near future.

Donna works to write the sort of stories she’d love to read, and discusses her writing journey on her blog at www.donnaeverhart.com. You can also catch up to her on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @wordstogobuy, and she hopes the good karma of such a handle will one day make her dream come true.”

Wheeeee!  Right?

Since I received all this wonderful news, I’ve been able to take the report I received from Book-Hive and apply many of the suggested changes the readers would like to have seen.  Their input has been invaluable, and I have a lot of appreciation for their thoughtful comments, their wit and humor, and mostly, for taking the time to read my story.  If you, Test Reader are reading this, I just want to say THANK YOU!  The time you took to read and comment meant a lot to me!

And to Jennifer Bowen, who was a pleasure to work with and who made my experience with Book-Hive awesome!  A huge THANK YOU!

Now, I’m back to work on revisions – with confidence – and this experience with Book-Hive gave me that.  You can check them out here.  They are offering a special rate of $100 (regular $499) to test manuscripts through the end of October.  While there, you can also read the interview Jennifer did with the Publicity Manager of Simon and Schuster, Meg Cassidy, which I thought fascinating.  It provided an in-depth view of how publicity works –  particularly for debut authors.  It’s out on the “BuzzBlog.”

 

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