An Interview With Jen J. Danna, author of “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It”

Last Updated on: February 21st, 2016

I am an avid reader of murder-mysteries, crime dramas, and novels that utilize forensic science techniques. I have favorite authors that I consistently read, but I also read books by authors whom I have previously not read, too, as long as I am somehow drawn to the plot or think that it will be a “good read”. Recently, I came across the website of a “new” writer, Jen J. Danna, who offers the first three chapters of her novel, Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It for the perusal of the general public.  I began reading it, and decided to contact her and strike a “deal” with her.

DeadWithoutAStoneFront 72dpi

Our Deal: I would blog about her book and write a review for her on Goodreads if she sent me an autographed copy to read. (I know I just wrote about this in another post, but I felt I needed to mention it again!)

I also asked her if I could do a casual “interview” with her, to glean some information about the publishing process, from a traditional publishing standpoint. (You may recall that I interviewed author Melissa Bowersock to learn about self-publishing.) I was very pleased when Jen J. Danna responded favorably to my request!

I had the opportunity to speak with Jen on May 31, 2013. We spoke for nearly an hour-and-a-half!

I learned a few things from her, which I will share with you.

Before I do, however, let me give you my opinion of her novel.

IT WAS GREAT!!! I loved, loved, LOVED reading it! I did not want my reading experience to end! I read a lot of books, and I can say with confidence, that you will be missing out on not just a good read, but a great read, if you do not read this book! (This is my personal opinion; I am not getting anything from Jen to help “promote” her…other than the book she sent me!)

I have written a review of Jen J. Danna’s book, Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It, on Goodreads.

Here is what I wrote:

What a way to make a debut! I am a voracious reader, and LOVE mysteries, murder mysteries, and crime novels. Authors Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan have a talent for writing AND and a talent for crafting a gripping, interesting, and twisting story! I did not want this book to end! Each line was a pleasure to read. Never have I said that about another novel. I am saying it here, simply because it’s the truth.

“Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It” is an excellent book. When recommending books to others, I usually rate my overall reading experience on a 1 – 10 scale. Not too many make it past 8. I have only ever given one 10. I give this book a 9! (I don’t do “halves”, otherwise I would have to give it a 9.5!)Rounding up, I have to give it 5 stars here!

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who (a) loves a good mystery or (b) loves to read great writing. The best part: there are at least two more books that we can look forward to—this is the first book in a series! I know this since I interviewed Jen J. Danna on my blog! (Watch for the post.)

Congratulations on making your debut novel an awesome one, Jen and Ann!

I meant every word, and I couldn’t resist plugging this blog just a bit… 🙂Prior to our chat, I wrote out a few questions, and filled in the answers with what she told me. I also asked her questions that weren’t on my list. The main goal was to learn about her experience with the publishing process. However, we (naturally) discussed her book, too!

Here  is a summary of the things I learned:

  • Jen and Ann started to write together in 2007 and wrote 5 practice novels together in the next 2 years. In 2009 they started to write a new series with an eye towards traditional publishing. “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It” is the result of those efforts.
  • Jen told me that she did 100% of the writing, but that she and Ann share the editing, the plotting, the brainstorming, and the outlining/milestoning of their novels (at least two more will be published, as “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It” is the first book in a series!)
  • The first draft was 109 000 words. It increased to 118 000 after working on it with her agent Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency (and her agent’s added sections are all still in the book, so Nicole obviously knew what was missing). Jen then cut it down to 86 000 words for Five Star Publishing to accept it, then finally down to 82 000 words with her editor. The deletion of some scenes may be posted on Jen J. Danna’s website—she is still deciding this… (more about this in our interview, below)
  • The editing process involves many people and many suggestions, from changes suggested by several editors at the publishing house and her agent—the developmental editor, the copywriting editor, and Nicole. Jen’s critique team also helped! Her “critique team” originally consisted of eight “beta readers”. From this group of 8, they found 4 “shining stars”. Those 4 now comprise Jen and Ann’s critique team–2 authors, 1 editor and 1 technical specialist. This is the team that works on every project with them… often multiple times.
  • Nicole was #136 of the 146 agents Jen queried.
  • Jen queried 146 agents. (Yes, I know I am repeating myself. I just wanted to emphasize that 146 is a lot! It also demonstrates that, if you believe in yourself, you should NEVER give up!)
  • The novel, “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It” was accepted by a couple of people at the same time! Jen had to decide who to choose…(we know she chose “Nic”)…You can read about the story and Jen and Ann’s decision in a guest post Jen wrote for Scott Eagan, “No Agent is Better Than a Bad Agent”.
  • “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It” is the first in a series. Two more books WILL be released in the next year, and it was up to the publishing house to decide whether or not to include a sample chapter (or chapters) at the end of the first one. However, the second instalment was not accepted until the first one was being produced, so no “teasers” are offered to the readers. I should note that I, as a reader, was left wanting more!

Now, to get to the things I learned from her about publishing…

I wanted to know how to go from “being at home with the story sitting in a file on a computer” to “getting this story published”.  Specifically, what are the steps in this process?

Step 1.

Write the story. Edit the story. Leave it alone. Go back and edit it again. Repeat if needed.

Step 2.

Find an agent.

Step 3.

Don’t give up when looking for an agent. Believe in yourself. Cry when you get a rejection. Keep querying agents until you find one! (Even if it takes you 146 tries!)

Step 4.

Let your agent find you a publishing house. When he/she does, he/she will negotiate a contract for you to sign.

Step 5.

The agent will send your submission to the publisher, who will tell you what changes need to be made, if any. Not everyone has to go through this step before the manuscript is accepted.

Step 6.

Make the suggested changes.

Step 7.

Re-submit your manuscript to the publisher.

Step 8.

The publisher will assign a developmental editor to your manuscript. He/she will read it, and instruct you on what to change.

Step 9.

Make the changes.

Step 10.

Re-submit your manuscript.

Step 11.

The publisher will assign a copy editor who will look at the language and flow of your manuscript. More changes may be made.

Step 12.

The publisher will assign a production manager to do the cover art and formatting for your book.

Step 13.

Communications between everyone are maintained until everyone is happy, and then production of the ARCs begin. ARC = Advanced Reading Copy

Step 14.

If any errors have not been corrected, they should be found in the ARC. Errors will be then corrected/fixed, and publication of the final copy will begin.

Step 15.

The final copy is printed, distributed, and sold.

Step 16. (just for fun) The author rakes in millions! (I knew you’d all laugh!)

It is important to note that any monies received in advance are kept by the author, regardless of how many books get sold. However, the opportunity for selling future books is eliminated if the book is not well-received.

Jen Danna headshot

Our interview:

Although I spoke with Jen J. Danna at length, I had some additional questions for her, so I emailed them to her, and she responded to them. Here they are, with her responses:

Me: Are you going to post “deleted scenes” from Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It on your blog? If so, when?

Jen: I do have several deleted scenes from DEAD. Posting them is more of a matter of time right now. I need to edit them before posting as they were from early drafts, so possibly sometime in the summer?

Me: How much marketing, and what type, does your publisher expect from you?

Jen: Most publishers are the same. They expect their authors to be out in social media being accessible to their readers, guest posting on blogs, visiting stores in person, and doing readings and signings.

Me: What does the publisher do to market your book?

Jen: They produce all the Advanced Reading Copies and send them out to major review sites and bloggers to ensure that sites like Kirkus reviews and Publishers Weekly get copies. They produce catalogue to market directly to distributors and libraries. They take care of the uploading of all the digital information to the major sales sites (ie. Amazon etc.). They nominate for special awards like the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards. And more…

Me: When do you find the time to write, given that you still work?

Jen: I write in every spare moment of the day–in the morning before work, at lunch, after work, after dinner. My family is VERY understanding and VERY patient with me.

Me: Are you going to quit working to write full-time?

Jen: That’s doubtful seeing as I only have 8 years to go to early retirement from the University. When I hit that point I may very well consider retiring to write full time.

Me: What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Jen: Be persistent. If it’s something you really want to do, give it your all. I always thought that it was better to try and fail than to not have the courage to try and then look back in 20 years and wonder ‘what if…?’. Failure was preferable to regret.

Me: Did you begin blogging to promote your book, or did you have another reason for starting? (I know we talked about this already.)

Jen: I started blogging two years ago as part of building my platform–partly to support my writing for the publishing house and partly to start to gather readers who are interested in mysteries and forensics and who would be interested in our novels.

Me: The title comes from a poem, which I think is really neat, and an honor to the poet. Tell me more about how you decided on the title, and whose idea it was.

Jen: My partner Ann found the title in a poem called “Across the Lines”, written by Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers in 1865. Composed during the American Civil War, the poem tells of a Union soldier, fallen on the battlefield and on the brink of death, who fears being buried in an unmarked grave without a headstone to tell the world of his passing. It was a perfect fit for the main theme of the novel.

Dead? and here — where yonder banner
Flaunts its scanty group of stars,
And that rebel emblem binds me
Close within those bloody bars.
Dead? without a stone to tell it,
Nor a flower above my breast!
Dead? where none will whisper softly,
“Here a brave man lies at rest!”

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your book launch?

Jen:  It was a lot of work but a LOT of fun. I decided to do swag bags as a thank you to everyone who came out and my whole family helped out. We made beautiful organza and satin ribbon bookmarks and hand crafted white chocolate bones. We had a crowd of about 125 at our family church, the members of which graciously put on lunch for everyone who came out. I did a little speech and then a full chapter reading. And then about 90 minutes of signing. It was really a blast!

Me: What are the titles of the next two books in this series?

Jen:  The novella, which will be out this fall, is entitled NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL. The second full length novel in the series, A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, releases in hardcover and ebook in May 2014.

Me: Thank you so much for letting me interview you. I appreciate it I hope you remember me when you doing your “raking”, and I hope that we can re-connect in the future, at some point!

Jen: Definitely! It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for hosting me!

Me: You’re welcome!

Jen J. Danna is an author, research scientist, wife, mother, and blogger, who lives in Canada. You can connect with Jen on Twitter or on her blog, and you can buy a copy of her fabulous book on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble. The first three chapters are available for your perusal here.

Readers: Jen will be available for a few days to respond to comments and questions, so please don’t be shy. Have your say in the comment section. I will also, as always, be responding to the comments you leave! I LOVE getting comments, as you know!  🙂 So, please, speak up, and have your say! 🙂

23 thoughts on “An Interview With Jen J. Danna, author of “Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It”

  1. Glynis Jolly says

    I’ll have to go over to GoodReads to read more of your reviews. Reviews are a form of writing I should get involved with.

    I’ve read that some authors are now doing self-publishing. When I read about it, I couldn’t help but wonder just how good their work would be. I would think that obtaining an agent would let you know that your writing is worthwhile. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Self-publishing has been debated for a long time. Anyone can self-publish. Some self-published books are great, some are not. Many are riddled with typos and editing errors, but that is because the authors do not take the time to hire an editor or edit their own work, believing that they know all there is to know about editing. I could write a whole blog post about this, but I think that you should read a few of my older posts, such as the interview I did with Melissa Bowersock. Take a look on my page (located on the red ribbon at the top of this page) for a page called “Post List”. Click on that, and you will see how I have organized all the posts I have published to date!

      Jen, if you want to add to Glynis’s “answer”, please feel free. Glynis is a blogger and a writer, too, who I have been encouraging for a while now! Perhaps you can address the part about agents, since I don’t have any experience (yet) with one…

    • The position of ‘gatekeeper’ has definitely moved. It used to be the publishing houses, but now that word processing is so accessible and more and more people have the opportunity to write because almost everyone owns a computer, agents have taken on that role. And you are correct, obtaining an agent does give you validation. But you have to remember that it is a VERY subjective business and agents pick up only the projects they have the interest in, skills for, and contacts to sell. So your writing might be excellent, but if it’s in a niche that won’t sell, no one will touch it. So just take the whole validation argument with a grain of salt.

      That said, no matter what the self-pubbers tell you about how self-publishing has lost it’s stigma, let me tell you that it definitely has not. When I visited independent bookstores in my area to talk about carrying DEAD, they wouldn’t talk to me until it was clear that my books came from a professional house and through a respected distributor. Professionals still feel, by and large, that self-pubbers cut corners and don’t have the talent perhaps to make it in traditional publishing. This is a HUGE generalization. There is some excellent self-publishing going on out there by authors that take their writing very seriously. My partner and I just finished out novella that we’ll be self-publishing in the fall (so I guess that will make us hybrid authors), but we wrote it just like any of our novels and then paid to have the novella professionally edited. Cover art will also be done professionally. So, just because it’s self-published, it doesn’t mean that it’s done carelessly. But, to be honest, you could do it carelessly and just toss the material up on Amazon etc. And in a lot of cases, it’s that work that gives self-publishing overall a bad name.

      • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

        Thanks, Jen, for your input. This topic will remain a controversial subject forever, I think!

        There are good and “poor” self-published books out there. I think the key is to judge for yourself who you like, and who you don’t.

        Listening to others (whom you trust) is also important. For example, people who know me and trust my opinion are more likely to buy a book I recommended or reviewed than if it did not have support from me. I am always honest with my reviews, too, which adds to my credibility.

        On a similar note, it is not unheard of for authors to “buy” great reviews to help their book sales. This has been done by many authors, and it works. I just read an article the other day about this, and this was a topic of discussion in one of my LinkedIn writing groups. Another topic of controversy is whether or not an author will ever pay for a review. I would like to think that I never would, but if helps me sell hundreds or thousands of books, I might! Therein lies the moral dilemma.

        Jen, it would seem that I only further muddled this issue. 🙂

  2. says

    Great article! It is so refreshing to read about real authors making it big. This step-by-step process is what all writers need to know about. We only hear about the successes, but never about the process and the the time it takes to get “discovered”. Thanks for sharing your interview and for giving amateur writers to courage to persist until publication.

    • It really is a process, in a big way. And it takes a long time, so try not to get discouraged. We even turned down a shady agent half way through that process, and let me assure you, that REALLY hurt. But Nic was worth waiting for and it was definitely the right thing to do.

      Thanks for your comment!

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