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On Juggling Your Writing With a Day Job: Interview With Debut Author Leah Stecher and The Things We Miss Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Leah Stecher here to share about her MG contemporary The Things We Miss. I love that her story includes a magical element, which makes me want to read it even more.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

J.P. Green has always felt out of step. She doesn't wear the right clothes, she doesn't say the right things, and her body…well, she'd rather not talk about it. And seventh grade is shaping up to be the worst year notorious bully Miranda O'Donnell won't stop offering unsolicited diet advice and her mom keeps trying to turn J.P. into someone she's not.

When J.P. discovers a mysterious door in her neighbor's treehouse, she doesn't hesitate before walking through. The door sends her three days forward in time. Suddenly, J.P. can skip all the worst parts of seventh Fitness tests in P.E., oral book reports, awkward conversations with her mom…she can avoid them all and no one even knows she was gone.

But can you live a life without any of the bad parts? Are there experiences out there that you can't miss?

This moving middle grade novel about mental health, body acceptance, and self-confidence asks what it truly means to show up for the people you love-and for yourself.

Hi Leah! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Hi Natalie! Thank you for having me. Professionally, I was an editor before I became I writer. I’ve always loved books and I love the puzzle-solving element of editing a narrative. I was an editor at the nonfiction publishing imprint Basic Books for about eight years, and I never really thought I would cross to the other side of the desk. But after spending time with so many other talented writers’ voices, I got curious about what my own writing would sound like and slowly revived that childhood dream of writing a book. Cut to about a decade later, and my debut novel THE THINGS WE MISS just came out on May 7!

2. That’s so cool that you started as an editor. Where did you get the idea for The Things We Miss and the door that J.P. goes through?

I originally wanted to write a scifi/fantasy novel—some big galaxy-spanning time travel adventure like the ones I used to love reading when I was in middle school. But even as a reader, I never really resonated with the plucky, brave heroines of those stories. The truth is, I never would have said yes to going on a galaxy-spanning time travel adventure when I was twelve. I would have been way too scared. And when I tried to write that big adventure story, I couldn’t get inside the head of a main character who would be excited to hop on board a spaceship—every time I put pen to paper it felt hollow.

So, in many ways this book started with J.P., who the opposite of that plucky, brave heroine. She is full of self-doubt and feels like everything about her is wrong (from the TV show she loves to the body she exists in). And if that’s your main character, what kind of magical invitation would she say yes to?

Something small. Something easy. Something seemingly without consequences. That’s where the three-day time jump came from. I wanted to keep that original element of time travel but shrank it way, way down. To a kid like J.P., a three day jump doesn’t seem scary—it seems like a wish come true. Of course—spoiler alert—you have to be careful what you wish for.

Your Writing Process and Juggling Writing and a Day Job

3. Were you a panster or a plotter when you wrote The Things We Miss? Has your process changed since you wrote this story?

I’m a plotter, but absolutely the worst and least efficient one you’ve ever met! I think that the point of plotting is to try and work out the kinks of the story before you start writing? Annoyingly, my brain has to see the whole story on the page before I can start to identify what’s wrong with it. Which means that my “process” (which is a generous term for it) is to outline and then write an entire draft, read it through, grimace, and start over from zero. And then do that about three or four times before I get a workable/editable draft. Unfortunately, my process has not changed since writing THE THINGS WE MISS, which I suspect has been a bit of a roller coaster for my poor editor. She keeps offering edits on drafts of my next book and then is surprised when I show up to the next round with essentially a whole new book.

0/10, cannot recommend this process to anyone else.

4. That’s dedication to getting it right to keep starting over like you do. In your bio, you mention that you edit policy papers for an environmental nonprofit as your day job and write middle grade stories at night. What’s your writing schedule like and how do you stay productive in your writing with your day job?

I’m extremely lucky to have a day job that I love that is emotionally fulfilling, provides a steady paycheck, and is also pretty regularly 9-5ish, so I can count on having other hours in my day available to me. To be completely transparent however, I’m pretty sure the secret is to not have kids—I have no idea how my fellow authors with children do it! I’ve built my life in such a way where, for the moment, my time is really my own and I can schedule it exactly as I like. I’m lucky I was able to do that, but it also was a conscious choice. One of the reasons I no longer work in publishing is because it was never a 9-5 job, and I wanted to reclaim those “nonwork” hours for myself.

In the day to day, my writing schedule is weirdly seasonal: in the winter I write after work and in the summer, I write before work. Additionally, I tend to write for a few hours in the morning on the weekends. But I don’t write every day unless I’m actively drafting and am worried about “falling out” of a story.

5. Share how it’s been working with your editor and having stricter deadlines after you signed your publishing contract. What are your tips for revising your book with your editor? How do you think it made The Things We Miss stronger?

My editor, Camille Kellogg at Bloomsbury, is the best! She is an absolute hero, and it was great to have someone come in with fresh eyes. By the time Camille was reading THE THINGS WE MISS, I’d been working on it for years, going through beta readers and critique partners, and then my agent gave me some fantastic edits as well. My brain was absolutely fried when it came to this book. But Camille was reading it for the first time, and she saw so many small things I never would have noticed! I also love edits (probably because I’m an editor myself). And I love that Camille tends to phrase her edits as “here’s something that’s not working and here’s one suggestion of how to fix it—but feel free to come up with a different approach.” Even if I don’t always agree with Camille’s suggestions of how to fix a problem, I have so far always agreed that the problem exists. And I’d much rather Camille point it out now than have a reader stumble over it later.

I think that’s my biggest tip for working with your editor: Remember that you’re on the same side, working toward the same goal of making the book the best it possibly can be. But also remember that it’s your name that goes on the cover. You don’t have to take your editor’s suggestions on how to resolve an issue in your book, as long as you do resolve it.

6. Thanks for the great tip. Writing on a deadline after becoming a published author is scary for many of us aspiring writers, especially when we have a day job like you. Now that you’re a published author, you must be writing a second book on a contract or at least trying to finish a second book quicker that you can try to sell to keep the momentum of your author career going. How are you writing your second book and making it polished enough to submit to your agent and publisher in a year or less when you only have evenings and weekends to write?

It’s hard! I was lucky enough to get a two-book deal with Bloomsbury and we’re hoping to publish the second book in May 2025-ish (a year after THE THINGS WE MISS comes out). I’d heard other authors talk about how hard it is to write under deadline after having all the time in the world to spend drafting your debut, but I didn’t really understand it until I was trying to cram my (awful, horrible, unwieldy) writing process into just a few months. I’ve had to be much more disciplined about creating timelines and sticking to them. After I finish a draft, I need to step away from the manuscript for a few days (preferably a few weeks) before I can go back in and start revising, so I’ve had to be smart about accounting for that down time when I think about what deadlines are realistic. Especially in the runup to the launch of THE THINGS WE MISS where my time and attention was going toward events and publicity, it was tough to focus on the next project. I had to ask for an extension on the last round of revisions and was grateful that my editor was willing to give it.

Your Road to Publication

7. Sam Farkas is your agent. Share how she became your agent and what your road to getting a publishing contract was like?

I got so lucky with Sam! THE THINGS WE MISS was the second project I queried. Sam had requested a full of my first novel and ultimately sent me a very kind rejection asking that I be sure to query her with any new projects in the future. I went back to her when I started querying THE THINGS WE MISS, and she was very quick to request a full and then offered representation. I believe we did one or two rounds of revisions to the manuscript before we went on submission.

8. How long did you go on submission before you sold The Things We Miss? Was there anything in the process that surprised you?

I was on submission for over a year before I sold THE THINGS WE MISS, and honestly was giving up hope! But my agent, Sam Farkas, never did. She believed the right editor was out there—and we kept getting very thoughtful and kind rejections that didn’t give us any reason to believe there was something wrong with the manuscript itself. It’s funny, Camille wasn’t even at Bloomsbury when we first went on submission. Sam sent it to her after she started her new job at Bloomsbury Children’s, and the rest is history.

Promoting Your Book

9. It’s great that your agent didn’t give up hope on trying to sell your manuscript. How are you celebrating the release of your book and marketing your book in general? What advice do you have for other authors about marketing their debut book, especially if they have another career like you do?

I had an event on for publication date at my local bookstore in Portland, Maine, and then another one at a bookstore in NYC the following weekend. I also bought myself a cake—just for me!

When it comes to marketing, I’m aware that I’m not hustling to market/promote my book the way that I see so many really smart and creative authors doing these days, and it’s hard not to compare and wonder if I should be doing more. But the honest answer is that when it comes to marketing THE THINGS WE MISS, I’m mostly relying on my publisher. I’ve been posting on social media as I’m able, but the truth is that doing proper self-marketing would require time and effort (and creativity! and skill!) that I just don’t have. I’m lucky that that is so far an acceptable answer, both to Bloomsbury and also for my genre/age group. With Middle Grade/KidLit, we’re not really marketing directly to our readers—we’re trying to reach the gatekeepers (teachers, librarians, parents, etc). And that’s something that I trust Bloomsbury to have more of an entry point into than I would.

10. You’re a member of the 2024 Debuts. How did you connect with this group and how has it helped you navigate being a debut author?

I got connected to the 2024 Debuts through a Facebook group for querying authors. My understanding is that these debut year groups really gained traction during the pandemic, and now exist for most upcoming debut years. The 2024 Debuts is for traditionally published authors debuting (or debuting in a new genre) in 2024, across publishers and across genres. What I’ve loved about being in contact with this fantastic group of writers is that I’ve gotten to see how the debut process is playing out for folks in other genres or at other houses, and it’s given me a much more expansive picture of what the debut experience can be. I’m encountering folks who are lead titles with six-figure deals and midlist authors with modest advances, and we’re all stressing about similar things. Being in a group like that makes the whole process feel less solitary, and you have a whole hivemind of fellow authors to check your fears and questions against. People have—with a few notable exceptions—been extremely supportive and kind, and celebratory of everyone’s wins.

11. What are you working on now?

I’m working on another middle grade novel, similarly contemporary but with a speculative twist. Keep an eye out for it in Spring 2025!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Leah. You can find Leah on Instagram at @l.stech and at leahstecherbooks.com.

Giveaway Details

Leah is generously offering a hardback of The Things We Miss for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by June 29th. If your email is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or follow Leah on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This book giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Monday, June 22nd I have a guest post by author M.R. Fournet and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Darkness & Demon Song

Wednesday, June 24th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Bethany Weaver

Monday, July 1st I’m participating in the Sparkle Time Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, July 3rd I have an interview with debut author Amber Chen and a giveaway of her YA mystery fantasy Of Jade and Dragons and my IWSG post

Monday, July 8th I have an agent spotlight interview with Rebecca Williamson and a query critique giveaway

I hope to see you on Monday!

 

17 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting! I wonder if it was tough to draft as a former professional editor. Congratulations to Leah!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is a crazy process! Although I also have to see it all on paper although I do a detailed outline before beginning.

ET Charles said...

Congratulations Leah. Thanks for sharing your process.

Danielle H. said...

I love the premise of this novel and can't wait to read how this author suspends my belief that such a door can exist. I enjoyed reading about the author/editor relationship for this novel too. I follow Natalie on Twitter, the author on Instagram, and shared this post on Twitter and tumblr. This exciting book has been on my Goodreads TBR since I first heard of it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Interesting premise and I'm interested in this novel. Please enter me!

Kate Larkindale said...

Sounds like a fun read! Congrats!

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

I rather sympathize with Leah's drafting process! I am another who makes loads of outlines and writing plans and finds it all falls apart when I start to write, and the first draft is a god-awful mess!

Greg Pattridge said...

I recently reviewed this book (https://gpattridge.com/2024/06/09/the-things-we-miss/) and the intriguing plot had me hooked from the start. The interview was excellent providing valuable insights into her writing and publishing journey. Please let someone who hasn't read the book win the giveaway. Happy MMGM!

Liz A. said...

That is definitely a great premise. My drafting process is kinda similar, although I don't write whole new drafts each time. I maybe do two... ;)

Brenda said...

What a fun premise and congratulations to Leah on her debut. Happy MMGM, I'm taking a bit of time off to get some reading and reviews completed, while getting a few things around the house fixed up.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Sounds like my middle grade years! All but the pushy mom. My mom was pretty chill, though I put stress on myself. Best of luck with the launch!

Sandra Cox said...

Leah, Right there with ya on plotting. Wishing you much success.
'Lo, Natalie;)

Samantha Bryant said...

I always assumed plotting would be more efficient if only that worked for me. It's kind of funny to learn that plotting can feel inefficient, too.

Ritu Hemnani said...

Congratulations, Leah! Your premise sounds fantastic and I cannot wait to read your book! Thanks so much for sharing your process and writing tips. Great interview. :)

Definitely entering: ritu@rituhemnani.com

T Painter said...

I love the concept of time traveling through middle school. I would have loved skipping a few things then.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

DMS said...

This book sounds like one I will love. So curious about the main character's discovery (of three days in the future and what she misses). Such an interesting interview. Thanks for sharing. I have added this one to my list. :)