Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Debut Author Interview: Donna Earnhardt

Updated: 10/22/12 
(Please see additional question at the end of this post)
Donna Earnhardt is a wife, mother to 3 home-schooled children, and a first-time picture book author of BEING FRANK, by Flashlight Press.  In fact, this month marks the release of her new book. 

Happy Birthday BEING FRANK!

Well, what better way to celebrate than by reminiscing about her journey to being published as a first-time picture book author!  Here, Donna talks about finding time to write, finding a critique group, books she recommends, and querying.  Let's all welcome Donna!

As CEO of your household and mother to 3 home-schooled children, when do you find time to write?
This is a big issue at my house. I try to sneak in writing during the nooks and crannies of life. If the kids have a reading block, I am writing. If they are in a gymnastics class, I am jotting down ideas. If they are in bed, I am usually writing until the wee hours of the morning. But…this is in waves. I might have an idea that eats at me all day for a week that I just have to get down on paper. But then – nothing. I am appreciative of those down times because then I can sleep for more than 5 hours a night!

How did you come up with your story idea, BEING FRANK?
In 2009, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, but I participated as a rebel. (You’ll have to look that up!) So one morning during NaNoWriMo, I was in the shower praying and thinking. The first line of Being Frank popped into my head. I kept repeating it over and over, made sure all the soap was out of my hair, then hurried out to type it up!

How long did it take you to write your story before you decided it was submission ready?
This is kind of embarrassing. I usually spend weeks (and sometimes months) on picture books before querying or subbing the whole manuscript. But with Being Frank, I wrote it in about a week (revising as I went) then subbed a query to Flashlight Press.  FTR: I do NOT recommend this method!

After Shari Greenspan asked for the whole manuscript, I had to pick up my jaw from the floor. Then I asked for an emergency critique from my ShortStuff critique group. They gave me feedback, I revised, then subbed the whole thing.

I had to do a good bit of revisions with Shari. She knew what Frank needed! Shari is a fabulous editor and if you ever have a chance to receive help from her for your manuscript… take it! J 

Do you belong to a critique group?
I've been a member of several critique groups over the years, but I didn't have a perfect fit with all of them. They were all good… but I had to find the ones that fit me. After a year or so, I settled with the Mudskippers writing/critique group and the ShortStuff critique group.
In addition to the critique groups, I have writing partners that aren't in my critique groups. And since the Mudskippers are no longer meeting in person, many of us still share manuscripts and critique one another’s work.

How did you find them?
The Mudskippers grew out of a call on our local SCBWI yahoo group for an in-person group. We met together for 4 years. The Shortstuff group came from a call for online critique partners on Verla Kay’s message board for Children and from another critique group I was with at the time.

How did you know they were a good fit for you?
I can’t give a firm answer as to how I knew the Mudskippers and Shortstuff groups were the ones for me. I just know that we gave ourselves time to get to know each other and learn our different writing styles. Sometimes we “get” it, sometimes we don’t. And we have buckets and buckets of grace for each other. We also know to carry a salt shaker with us when we are receiving and giving critiques!

What classes have you taken to help you become a better writer?
Recommended resource
Ooooh… I have attended several SCBWI-Carolinas conferences and Write2Ignite conferences. Before I started attending conferences, I didn't know that picture books should NOT be over 4,000 words. I wish I had known that six months prior to my first conference. A few NY editors wish I had known that, too! 

I recommend reading books on writing, too.  Here are some I recommend:
Self-editing for Fiction Writers (2nd edition) - Browne and King
Plot and Structure - James Scott Bell 

The Emotion Thesaurus - Ackerman and Puglisi

Did you have much marketing to do on your own?
I have done a little marketing, but most of it is on Facebook, Twitter, my blog and through gracious writer friends (like you!) who interview me on their blogs. I also set up my book signings. I do let folks know that I am interested in school visits, too. 

But Flashlight Press is the driving force behind the big-picture plan in marketing. If you visit my publisher’s website, you will see the wonderful accolades many of their books have received. Flashlight Press is a fabulous company. They support their authors and believe in their books. Their track record is proof!

What's next for you?
I have several completed picture books, a few chapter books and a couple of other projects I’m working on right now. I’m subbing to agents and hope to find one loves me and my work!

Thank you, Donna, for sharing your journey with us.  I wish you well with your future works.  I look forward to reading more of your books!

For those who haven't already, please pick up your copy of

Some interesting tidbits for aspiring writers about BEING FRANK:
  • It sold unagented
  • Flashlight Press was the first house that Donna subbed to and got accepted
  • It had been revised about an estimated 15 times with editor, Shari Greenspan
  • It took 1-2 days for Flashlight Press to respond to her Query and a little longer to respond to her ms
Tina Cho asked:  How did you know Flashlight Press would be a good match for your manuscript before you queried? 

Great question! Previously, I queried Flashlight Press with a few other projects. None were a good fit... at all. I tried and tried to write one that worked, but to no avail. But the last story I subbed to Flashlight Press (before Being Frank) was on the suggestion of a good friend. Shari didn't like that one, either! BUT - that was kind of the jumping point for sending her Being Frank. And for the record -- I also did a lot of praying! That certainly helped with all the jittery butterflies flying around in my tummy when waiting to hear back! :)
If Flashlight Press hadn't wanted Being Frank, I would have eventually sent it to other houses. But I really , really wanted Flashlight Press to love it... and I'm so glad they did!  

Thank you, Tina, for asking that question!  If you want to read about a middle grade novelist, visit Tina's TIdbits.  There she interviewed Mirka M.G. Breen, author of "The Voice of Thunder," which was just released in August 2012.

For more debut author interviews check out:
Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE
Karin LeFranc, author of A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS


  1. First, thanks a lot for ruining my toast. I started reading this great interview and completely forgot about my hot toast. What a great story! I think those ideas that hit you over the head, rush out of your fingers, and beg to go right to the publisher even if they aren't ready are probably the best ideas of all.

    1. So true! When inspiration strikes, you just have to go with it. Okay, Laura. I owe you a toast.

  2. :) Thank you for sharing my story, R! I enjoyed this very much!

    And Lauri - I hope you fixed another piece of toast! :)

  3. Wow! I loved hearing the story behind the story! Congratulations to you, Donna!

    1. Yes. Who knew BEING FRANK started in the shower!

  4. What a neat story of how her story came to be. The cover is adorable and it sounds like a cute book. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Jessica. Also check out the books she recommended. The Emotion Thesaurus is a must-have for every writer! I just learned about the book from Donna.

  5. Great interview, Donna & Romelle! These debut interviews are very encouraging. Donna, did you research publishers and know that Flashlight would be a good match for your ms before you queried? Anyway, thanks for the story behind the story. As I also homeschool and write!

    1. Great question that deserves an answer! My post has been updated because of your question. Thank you!

  6. Great interview, Romelle. I enjoyed hearing more about the background of this book. I hear such good things about Flashlight Press, and every book I've read by them is wonderful. They've made a really strong start.

    I appreciated the craft book recommendations, too. I'm always on the lookout for good ones. Thanks, Donna!

    1. Yes, I'm learning that about Flashlight Press too! Thanks for stopping by, Carrie.

  7. I love your debut author interviews, Romelle. Lots of good information and inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Sylvia! And your blog gives me inspiration too!

  8. Thanks to Romelle for interviewing me and huge thaks to everyone for such encouraging comments!



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