I’m a strong advocate for finding your own process and being true to it. What works for me or your favorite author or your critique partner might not work for you, and that’s totally okay. Create the way you and your stories need you to.
Young Adult Fantasy author Joanna Ruth Meyer is a dreamer, everyone that knows her says she’s not allowed to drive a car with a sunroof because she’ll get into an accident staring up at the stars. We catch up with her to talk about finding and listening to your critique partner, the bliss of playing with words and fitting in book marketing.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I write YA fantasy and I live in Mesa, Arizona, where it’s REALLY hot and dry, but I like writing about cold/snowy/rainy places. I’m a long-time piano teacher and share a house with one husband, one son, one cat, and one giant piano. My debut novel Beneath the Haunting Sea released in January and is about a girl who gets banished from her homeland to a gloomy island, where she becomes entangled in a series of ancient myths that compel her to embark on an impossible journey to free her mother from a malicious sea goddess. I like to pitch it as The Silmarillion meets Jane Eyre. My second novel, Echo North, releases January 15th, 2019, and is a retelling of the fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is basically Beauty and the Beast with a quest at the end.
How did you begin writing?
I think my love for writing was born from my love of reading—I’ve been writing since I was about seven years old. After a short-lived career as a poet (you should all be thankful) my initial efforts at fiction consisted of handwritten pages and (very, very) bad illustrations stapled together into something vaguely book-shaped. I entered a ton of writing contests as a kid and was desperate to be published in Stone Soup, a magazine written by and for children. After submitting and being rejected multiple times, I finally achieved that goal with a short story titled The Hummingbird when I was thirteen. I didn’t finish my first real novel until after college, when I discovered NaNoWriMo. NaNo inspired me to get words on paper and actually see my projects through—it was a huge step in the journey toward publication. Beneath the Haunting Sea began life as a NaNo novel in 2006. I’ve now written eight novels, and half a dozen unfinished ones, and there are lots more stories inside me, clamoring to be told.
What inspires you to write?
Everything. Music, movies, books (of course!), landscapes, rainy night streets and the sound of the wind in the trees, the way the moon looks shrouded in wisps of cloud… I could go on. Everyone jokes that I’m not allowed to drive a car with a sunroof because I’d get into an accident staring up at the stars or something. But seriously, there are stories everywhere. The tiniest thing can spark one. Beneath the Haunting Sea has its roots in a single frame from the first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie that for some reason made me think about a sad dying mermaid. The seed for Echo North came from a vivid dream I had about a girl riding a reindeer being chased across the ice by a bunch of wolves.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
When I first started querying, late in 2008, with an early version of Beneath the Haunting Sea, I had the very good luck to receive a full request. I was ecstatic. I also had no clue what I was doing, and for some reason thought that a full request meant I was getting an agent (I can feel you cringing from here). So I quickly emailed the other agents I’d queried withdrawing my manuscript. I know, I know. Horrifying! Inevitably, the agent passed on my full. One of the agents I withdrew the manuscript from was Sarah Davies, who I was too embarrassed to re-query for years! I signed with her in 2015 with a completely rewritten version of Sea.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Find a critique partner who gets you and your writing, and is a match for how you give/receive critiques. And then listen to what they have to say. Learning how to receive and digest critiques not only prepares you for surviving revisions with an agent or editor, it also makes you a stronger writer—which gets you closer to that end goal of publication. Win, win!
What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
I think that name recognition for yourself and your novel is hugely challenging, especially if you’re not a lead title at a big house. For me personally as an extreme introvert, marching into a bookstore or library and introducing myself/pitching my book is not an easy thing—but getting my book into the hands of teen readers is very important to me, so I’m working very hard to get more comfortable with this!
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
Connecting online with my debut group, the Electric 18s, as well as other local Arizona authors has been enormously helpful. Not only do both groups offer much-needed information and support, they’ve provided promotional opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. I’ve taken part in group giveaways, blog interviews, and recently a joint signing with two other authors. Forge those connections with your peers, and help each other succeed!
I’ve also had some good luck running Twitter giveaways, and my launch party at my local indie bookstore, Changing Hands, was very successful, thanks largely to the support from family, friends, and my local writing group.
How do you make time for your book marketing?
I squeeze it in between the cracks! I answer emails and send tweets mostly on my phone whilst wrangling my almost one-year-old. I wasn’t able to do as much for Beneath the Haunting Sea as I would have liked, but I’m learning what works for me and what doesn’t, so I’ll be more prepared with Echo North next year!
Any advice for approaching publishers?
Most of the “Big 5” publishers don’t take submissions from un-agented authors, so if that’s your ultimate goal, you’ll have to go the querying route. In that case, make sure your manuscript is the best it can be, write a query letter and synopsis, research agents who represent your genre, cling to your critique partners and/or spouse and/or cat, send out those queries and then—this is the most important part—work on something new so you’re not obsessing over checking your email five thousand times a day. Querying can take a long time, and it’s super easy to get discouraged. Throwing yourself into a new project gives you something else to focus on, plus it gives you a new manuscript in case the first one doesn’t work out. It’s also handy to have a few manuscripts under your belt in the event your publisher wants an option novel. Echo North was my backup novel in case Beneath the Haunting Sea didn’t garner me an agent—it was fantastic to be able to offer it to my publisher, and is the sole reason I’m able to put out two books in two consecutive years!
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
Honestly, there are lots of tears and ice cream involved. There was one particularly bad stretch of being on submission where I alternately sobbed on the floor and played excessive amounts of Candy Crush for, um, a while. But more seriously, I commiserate with my critique partners and my mom and my husband, and I just keep working on whatever project I’m into at the moment. Rejection hurts, and there’s a lot of it to deal with in this profession. Everyone says you have to grow a thick skin, and on some level I suppose that’s true, but it’s kind of like stage fright for me. Back when I was performing a lot in college, my nervousness never went away, I just got used to playing with it and around it and despite it. And it helps that I’m really stubborn! Oh and don’t read your GoodReads reviews (not that I have any experience in this area, of course).
How do you deal with isolation, as writing is an inherently private exercise?
Before I had my son, I went to a lot of coffee shops and was constantly meeting up with my BFF to write. I’m also on an eternal group chat with my critique partners, fairly active on Twitter, and part of a fantastic local writers’ group. But honestly (and especially since my son was born!) I enjoy the solitude. I love the days when my son is napping and I can spend an hour with a cup of tea at my desk in the office, exploring words on the page and reveling in blissful silence.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
There’s so much advice out there, so many how-to lists and do-this-if-you-want-to-succeed lists and this-is-the-only-way-to-outline lists. I’m a strong advocate for finding your own process and being true to it. What works for me or your favorite author or your critique partner might not work for you, and that’s totally okay! Create the way you and your stories need you to.