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Paths to Publication: An Interview with Author Heather Dixon

By Rosemary Twomey

Canadian author Heather Dixon has released three books in the past six months. How did she do it? Heather sat down with Erato Magazine to discuss her path to publication.

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Heather Dixon is the author of contemporary fiction, including Burlington, Last Summer at the Lake House and The Summerville Sisters. She lives just outside of Toronto, Ontario with her husband, her three daughters and her ninety-pound Bouvier, Zoey.

Dixon has spent over a decade in the marketing and advertising industry as a copywriter and has written about motherhood for a number of established websites.

I once heard a published author say that the main reason they made it and were successful was because they refused to give up. That stuck with me because I think persistence is the key to becoming an author.

Writing one full-length novel is a huge undertaking and with three coming out this year, we wanted to ask Dixon what her writing process looks like.

“When I started writing my first book, I knew nothing about the actual structure of a novel. I just wrote intuitively because I had also been a reader all my life, so I assumed I could write a book. It definitely proved to be much harder than I anticipated!

After that first book was written and then set aside by me, I read as much as I could on the craft of writing. I also listened to podcasts and took online courses so I could learn about pacing, plotting, building tension and everything else that is crucial to writing a novel.

Now I take about 4-6 months to do a first draft of a book. Then I take about 3-6 weeks away from it to give me space. When I’m ready to open it up again, I go through the entire thing and edit it myself, and when that’s done, I send it to beta readers. After getting it back from beta readers, I do more revisions until I feel happy with where it’s at."

Many writers will shy away from having multiple projects in progress at once, but I personally feel that sometimes it can be beneficial to a creative process. Dixon shared that sentiment when asked about working on two projects at once that are in different stages.

“The only time I’ve worked on multiple projects at once was when I was editing Last Summer at the Lake House while drafting The Summerville Sisters. For me, editing and drafting are so different. I can only really focus on drafting in the mornings when my brain functions at its best. And I can only do so much in a day before I feel tapped out. But with editing, I can do it at any time of day and I can do as much or as little as needed in a sitting. So I feel like working on two projects at once is doable for me as long as they’re in different stages,” she says.

As well as being an author, Dixon is a mother of three and has a full-time career as a managing editor, showing that it's possible to find time for writing so long you have a good system. We asked her how she has managed to weave writing into her daily routine.

"When I’m drafting, my day begins very early. Usually around 5 am. I like to get up before anyone else in my house is up, and I spend about an hour to an hour and a half (two hours if I’m really lucky) on drafting. Then I help with getting the kids ready and off to school, and after that, I start my day job. I work until the kids get home and then all the evening activities and sports begin, along with dinner and dishes. If I’m in the editing phase, I take some time after dinner to work, and I can also sometimes grab snippets of time throughout the day. But the bulk of my writing is done early in the morning," Dixon explains.

She has seemed to master the art of selling her manuscripts. For many writers, this is the hardest part of writing, wondering if your work will ever sit on a bookshelf where readers can discover it. 

“With that first book that I mentioned earlier, I wrote it, had beta readers, did some revisions and then queried it. I only queried about 15 agents before I realized I didn’t know enough about writing when I set out and started the book. Rather than revise it further, I wanted to start on a new idea. 

I wrote and revised and extensively edited my second book, sent about 70 queries and had a decent number of full requests, including a revise and resubmit request. However, whenever I’m querying, in order to take my mind off of it, I start drafting my next book. So by the time I had sent 70 queries and the full requests didn’t end up with an offer, I was just about finished with my third book and decided to focus on that one instead.

After taking some time to edit and revise it as well, I started querying my third. Throughout the querying process, I paused to rewrite it based on agent feedback. With that one, I sent about 80-90 queries and had around 20-25 requests. One of those requests was from a small Canadian publisher who saw my pitch on Twitter during a pitch event called PitMad. I sent my manuscript to her, and she offered. That was how Burlington came to be!

After they accepted Burlington, I sent my publisher the second manuscript I had written, but they passed on it. So when I heard about the new publisher starting up, I sent them the same manuscript and they offered me a two-book deal. 

Now I have three books published and am working on a new one as well, but don’t yet have an agent. My path to publication has been a bit convoluted, but at the same time, I think it shows that there’s not only one way into the industry.”

Finally, we asked Dixon what her advice is to writers who are out on submission?

"For me, it has always helped to move onto the next project to take my mind off of the querying phase. Staring at your inbox and waiting for an answer is so hard. Focusing on a new manuscript helped immensely with that, and it also helped me grow as a writer because I was constantly writing and working on my craft.

I think the best advice I can give is to just keep working at it. No writing is ever wasted. It used to hurt my heart to think I could spend a year or longer on a project only to have it go nowhere. But, I learned eventually that I was growing as a writer during that time and becoming better at what I do. Not only that, shelved manuscripts can always come back at a later time. 

The other advice I would give is to read while you’re writing, too. When I found one (a book) that I loved, I would go through it again and try to determine why I loved it so much and what the author had done to make me fall in love. I think that’s helped me become a better writer as well.

Finally, I once heard a published author say that the main reason they made it and were successful was because they refused to give up. That stuck with me because I think persistence is the key to becoming an author."

If you want to hear more of Heather’s story or read her book you can find her on socials @heatherdixonwriter or listen to  her on the podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing

You can purchase her books Burlington, The Last Summer at the Lakehouse, and The Summerville Sisters here.


About the Writer:

Rosemary Twomey is a writer based out of Montreal, Canada. She fell in love with character writing and development during her time studying professional writing at the University of Toronto. She can often be found reading with a cup of tea in front of a sunny window.


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