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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