Sunday, September 15, 2013

Interview with Author Jessica Dotta

by Sister Lorena

It’s always inspiring to witness the success of a fellow writer. We are pleased to introduce author Jessica Dotta and her newly released historical novel, Born of Persuasion. Jessica has agreed to answer some questions and share her publishing experience with us.

Hi Jessica, congratulations on your book release and welcome to The Writing Sisterhood! 

Thank you so much for having me!

Q: Please tell us what your publication process has been like. How did your find your agent and how long did it take you to find him/her?

A: I had a lucky break when it came to finding my agent. Chip MacGregor found me.

One of his authors sent him a sample of my work, and he sent me an e-mail, asking if I'd be willing to send him more. At that time, however, I wasn't ready to pitch out my novel because I wasn't happy with that version. I also had things happening in my personal life that needed attention and didn't want to add the stress of launching a book into the mix.

Chip understood and checked on me every six months, to see where I was at. That really impressed me.

Q: How long did it take your agent to sell your novel? What advice do you give to other writers who are struggling to get their work out?

A: Within a month of my signing with my agent, he called to let me know Tyndale House (my publisher) wanted to make an offer.

Even though that seems quick, five years prior I had another agent who tried unsuccessfully to sell the novels. The market just wasn't right at that time. Publishers weren't looking for British Historical or novels with a gothic overtones.

Timing is crucial in publishing. Write what you're supposed to write and eventually the market will shift. Artists are usually ahead of the curve, anyway.

During the ten year I worked toward publication, I was told that historicals weren't selling, novels set in Britain weren't selling, and that first person novels weren't well-received . . but as it always does, the market eventually swung again.

Q: How long did you work with your first agent and why did you part ways?

A: We worked together for about nine months to a year. At a writer's conference, in one of his classes he said that if he can't sell a book in nine months, then it's not going to sell. Your agent's philosophy on how long they'll work with a book is good to know. So because of that class, I knew going in that I was getting one of those rare shots into the industry. (My critique group calls these silver arrows.)

This agent sent the novel to approximately twelve houses that were appropriate for the book. The feedback was that they were interested and the book even went to pub board once. I wanted to know if he'd pitch my book outside his industry, as my book is a crossover (appropriate for both markets) and there were more houses we could approach. His business, however, was solidly within the Christian publishing industry and he said he feared he'd do me more harm than good. That if I were to head that direction, I needed an agent solidly connected there.  My choices were twofold. I could set these books aside and write another story and see if my agent would agree that that story needed to be pitched, or we could part ways and continue searching.

It was an agonizing choice. Those who seek publication know what a long shot it is to obtain an agent. What finally decided me was this advice, a friend said, "Those who are great, are not afraid to do what needs to be done. If you really believe in this series, and you believe it is your breakout novel, then don't make your decision based on fear, make it based on faith."

It was scary letting go, but in my heart of hearts, I knew this series was capable of becoming a breakout.

But  I wondered if I'd have another silver arrow again.

Q: Where were you when you received “the call”? How did you celebrate your book contract?

A: There's a line in an Alanis Morrissette song that says, "The moment I let go of it, was the moment I got more than I could handle."

By the time I received "the call," I pretty much had ceased investing a lot of emotion into whether or not I would publish. I never felt that I needed publication as a validation for my writing. Also my life had turned upside and I was trying to figure out how start over again.

I did get together with my best friends, however, and celebrate. They insisted, and I'm glad they did. As one friend put it, outside of getting married or having a baby, this is huge moment in your life.

Q: What is your novel about? Is this a stand-alone book?

A: Born of Persuasion is the first novel in the Price of Privilege trilogy.

They're set in Victorian England and are narrated by the protagonist, Julia Elliston, who after a lifetime of silence is finally setting the record straight about the scandal that shocked England during her teens.

Born of Persuasion begins when Julia is in her seventeenth year. She's recently orphaned and living on the charity of an anonymous guardian who intends to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia's first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own.

Q: The cover of your book is beautiful. How much input did you have on it? 

A: I was holding my breath up until the moment I finally saw them. It was surreal seeing years of hard work instantly unveiled.

Tyndale House was amazing. For the most part we discussed tone of the books, the mood, and what the costumes would have looked in each story. We also touched on what I dislike in book covers (such as seeing the full face.)

Tyndale also surveys their authors. When I saw the covers for the first time, I was stunned! I absolutely loved them. It was surreal seeing years of hard work instantly unveiled. When I went back and checked the survey, I could see Tyndale really considered my thoughts!

Q: How do you research for your novels? Any tips for other historical novelists?

A: I use books, the Internet and movies for research.

Thankfully, the kind of books I need often turn up in second hand bookstores. Not many people need Victorian specific book on their shelves, so many of the books I use are out of print.

I can also use anything written in that era – letters, books, guides or newspapers are invaluable to me. I might pick up a word I never used before, or gain a small insight into their daily lives.

I watch those extra DVD's on how they made the movie (when it’s a historical movie.) Often, they interview a historian or set designer that provide interesting bits of information.

I also watch those movies carefully. The actors –because they are in full costume and (hopefully) in a accurate set-- give little clues. For example, I might note that one of the gentlemen keep swallowing or tilting up his chin. I might through further observation see that he's wearing two cravats and needs to lift his head to keep it from brushing their chin. Well, from a writer's point of view, I'd take that little nuance of life and expand it. I'll give him a valet that annoys him by dressing him up too much, but he won't get rid of that servant. Those types of observations really help fiction pop.

Q:  Can you share your writing habits with us. Do you write every day? Do you use an outline? 

A: I need to write continuously to produce my best work.

I divide my time into my necessary work or chores, so that I can clear my schedule in order to write non-stop for 2 to 4 days in a row.

Most of the time I don't use an outline. I make up the story as I go. I'm on the last book now, which means I pretty much know what happens in the story, so I am outlining Book Three and researching it, planning my scenes before hand.

Q:  Do you have beta readers or a critique group? Do you meet regularly?

A: This novel has been through my critique partners (as has the majority of Book Two.) For Book Three, I'm probably going to get feedback from a few close friends as I write.

Q: How similar or different are you from your protagonist?

A: I think all writers pull part of the characters from themselves (perception, fears, dreams or the need to explore an issue.) And they pull part of the characters from people watching, wanting to try on a new personality, or they see their character as an alter ego.

In this case, if you were to blend Julia Elliston, Edward Auburn and Isaac Dalry together you could get a sense of who I am.

Q: Do you only write historical fiction? Is there a genre that you would never write?

A: Yes, at the moment, the only novels I'm interested in writing are historical. I rarely read contemporary—and I don't think I'd like writing it, but never say never.

Q: Who is your favorite author? And what is your favorite novel?

A: Jane Eyre is my favorite novel and usually I say Charlotte Bronte is my favorite author—but for a living author it's Arthur Golden and Geraldine Brooks.

Q: Is your book for sell yet?

A: Yes, its scheduled release date was 9/1/2013, and it's already temporarily out of stock on Amazon in Canada. On Facebook the Downton Abbey Fan Club Page featured it twice, and the US Downton Abbey Fan Club Page offered it as a giveaway—so it's been a hit with the DA group.

Thank you, Jessica, and good luck with your book!

Thank you so much!

Click here to read an excerpt of Born of Persuasion.

For more information about Jessica, please visit her website:

On a side note: this month is the third anniversary of the Writing Sisterhood! To celebrate, we decided to redesign our blog. We hope you like it!


  1. I found that last piece of information about Downton Abbey to be very interesting. I'd never thought of putting a book out when something similar in television or film is also hot on the market. It seems to be more misses with such things, so congrats to Ms. Dotta!

    This was a very interesting interview and I do enjoy seeing the road many writers travel to get to where they are now. Thank you so much Sister Lorena and Ms. Dotta! It was a fascinating read!

  2. Thank you SO much for interviewing me! Mary, I appreciate the comment. Once you've decide to enter publishing, it's like stepping foot inside Wonderland. Who knows how the paths will veer.

  3. 'Timing is crucial in publishing. Write what you're supposed to write and eventually the market will shift. Artists are usually ahead of the curve, anyway.'

    Lovely, encouraging and hopefully will be read by all of the readers of the excellent Sisterhood blog. :)

  4. Great interview, and great questions, Lorena! I really enjoyed hearing Jessica's success story, especially since I've also written about 19th-Century England. I was kind of boggled by this: "I divide my time into my necessary work or chores, so that I can clear my schedule in order to write non-stop for 2 to 4 days in a row." That sounds exhausting! But of course, when you get in the flow that kind of concentrated time can be incredibly productive. I once wrote 10,000 words in one day.

    I agree with Suze about writing what you love and the market shifting. That quote was very encouraging.

    Congratulations, Jessica!

  5. I loved this interview! Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books, too! It was so fascinating to learn about Jessica's path to publication. I just love the cover of Born of Persuasion! Wishing Jessica the best of luck!

    1. Hey Jess! Thanks for stopping by.

      Thanks everybody for your comments and my gratitude to Jessica Dotta for her insightful answers and honesty.


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