#306 – Debut Novels and Dark Fantasy with Meg Smitherman

In this episode, we spoke with Meg Smitherman, debut indie author of Destroyer, the first book in a new adult, dark fantasy romance duology. Meg chatted with us about her new novel, fanfiction, finding a writing community on TikTok, her experience getting an MFA in London, England, finally writing in the ideal genre for her, and much more.

In this episode, we spoke with Meg Smitherman, debut indie author of Destroyer, the first book in a new adult, dark fantasy romance duology. Meg chatted with us about her new novel, fanfiction, finding a writing community on TikTok, her experience getting an MFA in London, England, finally writing in the ideal genre for her, and much more. Meg also offers amazing writing advice and writing updates via her TikTok – follow her here!

Destroyer is available now on Kobo and wherever eBooks are sold. You can find out more about Meg on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, or her website.

In this episode:

  • We talk to Meg about her debut novel, Destroyer, a dark fantasy romance novel
  • Meg discusses her writing process, writing five books before finally publishing one, and how she writes now – including how her latest draft was written via National Novel Writing Month’s annual writing challenge
  • She also discusses creating her characters, developing her fantasy world, and how she focused on writing the kind of novel that she wanted to see in the world
  • Meg chats about some of her writing inspirations, including video games, and how she drew from her own interests in order to exercise her creativity
  • She also tells us about her TikTok presence, how she uses TikTok to promote her book, what writing advice she offers to her followers, how to gain a following, and more
  • We hear some great advice for writing, with a focus on drafting now and editing later
  • Meg candidly discusses her experience completing an MFA, and how to determine if pursuing creative writing in academia is for you
  • And much more!

Useful Links

Meg on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram

Meg’s website

Destroyer

Mentioned in this episode:

Emily Blackwood

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow the Ninth by Tamysyn Muir

Redwall series by Brian Jacques

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Meg Smitherman writes romantic stories about magic and world-ending stakes. She is also an avid gamer, so if you ever see similarities between her work and Dragon Age, no you didn’t. Based in Los Angeles, Meg shares her life with a chihuahua, a cat, and a handsome Englishman. Destroyer is her debut novel.

Episode Transcript

Transcription by www.speechpad.com

Laura: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Laura, KWL’s author engagement manager.

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, promotion specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Laura: On today’s podcast, we talk to Meg Smitherman, who is an LA-based writer with two degrees in creative writing, including a master’s from Brunel University in London. Meg has always been an avid reader and writer, and she is incredibly excited about her debut novel, “Destroyer,” which is part one in a dark fantasy romance duology.

Rachel: We had so much fun talking to Meg about her journey to becoming a published author, which included a very fascinating start in incredibly specific fanfiction. To becoming a published author, we spoke to her about how this book came to be. She wrote the first draft of “Destroyer” in three weeks. So we talked about how it went from that skeleton first draft to a fully fleshed-out fantasy book, we talked about the world-building and the really unique names for her characters that she came up with. And we talked a lot about Meg’s TikTok. Meg is incredibly active on the app. And she gave some great advice for finding your own writing community and creating content on TikTok. And it was a lot of fun, and I really hope you enjoy.

Laura: We are joined today by debut author, Meg Smitherman. Meg, thank you so much for joining us.

Meg: Thanks for having me.

Laura: Can you kick us off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Meg: Sure. So my name is Meg. I have a creative writing degree. I’ve written a lot of books, but none of them are published. So this is my first debut book. I live in Los Angeles. I’m a huge nerd. I play lots of video games. I have a Chihuahua. What else about me is interesting? Yeah, that’s about it, really. I lived in London for a year. That’s an interesting anecdote. That’s where I got my master’s degree in writing.

Laura: So as you mentioned, “Destroyer” is your debut novel, debut published novel, it comes out November 1st. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about it?

Meg: Yeah, I would call a new adult, dark fantasy romance. It’s about a scientist, she’s an archaeologist. She’s very nerdy. She’s not your typical, like, hero who learns how to fight or can fight. She is like the opposite of that. So when a fight comes up, she’s completely useless. But she’s summoned to investigate a mysterious artifact in a forbidden ruin and finds that this artifact is actually calling to her and talking to her, and she doesn’t understand why. And that kind of sweeps her into this whole political intrigue, sort of, dark academia where she and a handsome mysterious stranger are trying to figure out what this artifact is, why it’s talking to her. And then there’s other political players who want the artifact for themselves, there’s romance. There’s lots of dusty books in the library. But yeah, and it’s the first in a duology. So I’m working on the second book now. Well, I will be for NaNoWriMo.

Rachel: Laura and I both read “Destroyer” prior to the interview, and both very much enjoyed it. It is definitely a lot of dusty books, but in like a really fun way. We love a library here. You are very active and honest on TikTok about your writing journey and your publishing journey. And I wanna get into TikTok in a minute, but I wanna stay on “Destroyer” right now. But on TikTok, you talk a lot about how you wrote this book in three weeks. And I would love to know what that process was like, of sitting down… And it’s not a short novel. Like last I saw, it’s like over 100,000 words. And that was in three weeks. So I’m so curious how you did that.

Meg: Okay, so first off, it was the first draft that I wrote in three weeks. And that was more like 75,000 words, still …

Rachel: Still impressive, Meg.

Meg: Okay. But, yeah, it was one of those things where this story had been percolating in my head for months ahead of time. And I was kind of afraid to start writing it because I hadn’t written anything in a long time. I burnt out the last time I tried to write anything because I was forcing myself. And so I was like in this kind of dry spell, but I have this idea for a story, and I thought about it, and I thought about it, and then I had the whole thing like visualized in my mind. So basically, by the time I finally convinced myself to start writing it, it just flowed out of me really fast. And also, I do wanna caveat all of this by saying I work part-time. So I had like lots of time to write. I don’t know, it just flowed out of me, man. It was kind of a mania, a little bit of an obsessive, like manic episode, I will admit. But yeah, it was only three weeks that I wrote the draft.

Rachel: So you said that like the idea it was percolating for a while. What was the first part of the plot that you were like, “This is what I want?” Like, was it the artifact? Was it one of your characters?

Meg: It was both the love interest character, Fenn, and the artifact. I don’t know how much you want me to… Do you want me to, like, do spoilers?

Rachel: Don’t spoil the ending at all. Come on, here.

Meg: Okay. Well, I don’t know. I don’t know what this podcast is like. So yeah, my idea was, I kind of wanted like this, as we all want, a dark haired, morally gray, love interest. But I had this idea of the artifact because I also wanted a science woman, like I wanted to write the female version of Daniel Jackson from “Stargate SG-1.” So I love the concept of like a scientist who believes in something that no one else does. And it’s really ridiculous. So in “Stargate,” Daniel Jackson believes in aliens, the aliens built the pyramids. Everyone’s like, rightly, “You’re ridiculous. This isn’t real.” So I kind of wanted that for my main character. And I wanted her to be like believing in magic and no one else does. So like her character, the idea of this like ancient mysterious, perhaps, evil artifact being discovered by her. And then this like mysterious, dark-haired man who seemingly comes out of nowhere, and is very invested in rue. She’s like a protagonist, her and the artifact, like that was kind of where it came from.

Rachel: You weren’t lying off the top when you said you were a nerd because I don’t know if we’ve had many “Stargate SG-1” references on this podcast. I’m constantly bringing up Buffy, but I don’t know if Stargate has ever made it. So while this idea is like percolating in your head, and you’re sitting down to write, did you have any plotting done beforehand? Or was this all just flowing out of you, and then it was restructured in edits?

Meg: No, I outlined it a little bit. Usually, when I’m writing, I’ll do like a scene-by-scene outline. That’s like 5000-plus words long. But this one was much looser because I felt like I already knew what was gonna happen roughly. So I just kind of wrote down, like, reminders to myself, kind of like five acts, the main thing that happens in each act, and then I just went for it. So my outline was like maybe a page-long, it wasn’t very structured. So it was like a half plot, half pants, if you will.

Laura: Do you have any advice for authors who are looking to kind of get more words on the page, or who are looking for more motivation to get the first draft finished?

Meg: Yes. My advice, which I always give, and I make a lot of TikToks about this, is that you need to let go of the idea that the first draft should be good in any way. Like, it’s not supposed to be good. It’s a rough, horrible, lurching skeleton to which you will graft like muscle, and skin, and organs, and then arrange them later. But your first draft should be like terrible, and you just like vomit words onto the page. That’s what it should be. I think a lot of people, because authors tend to be perfectionist, myself included, are like, “I need to… Like, I can’t go on unless I know that I like what I’ve just written.” Don’t do that. Just keep writing. Don’t go back and look at what you wrote. Just, like, push on through, you can always fix it later. That’s my advice.

Laura: I think that’s one of the best descriptions we’ve had of what a first draft is, the skeleton that you’re adding skin to, that’s amazing.

Meg: I’m also reading “Gideon the Ninth,” so that’s probably why.

Laura: Rachel’s very happy to hear that. Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s really hard for us, especially if we have any, like, editing background at all to kind of turn off that perfectionist mindset. That’s something that I always have a really hard time with when I’m doing NaNoWriMo or anything like that. So yeah, that’s a good reminder for everyone.

Rachel: Yeah, our team is…so we’re recording this right before the beginning of November. So we are all gearing up for Nano. So that is excellent advice. I am curious about the editing process because like we’ve already discussed, your first draft was, your words, skeleton, and it was also 30,000 words shorter than your finished product. What was the editing process like for you going from that first skeleton draft and adding to it, taking away things that didn’t work, etc.?

Meg: It was is a much more long and arduous process than drafting, I will say. So my personal process is that before I even send the draft to my editor, I’m like, “This has to be, at least somewhat, like, not terrible. So I’ll reread it myself and then start fleshing it out.” I was really lucky this time in that my rough draft was pretty much exactly the skeleton I used. I didn’t remove a lot of things, I mostly just added scenes.

When I’m editing, I like to think about setting a lot and adding fleshing out the setting, the world, and then character, like adding character moments, making sure that this doesn’t read as like, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, which is kind of how my rough drafts are. But also, yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard because this one was honestly really easy to edit compared to a lot of my other books in terms of, like, just knowing what the story was, like it was already there. So yeah, I feel really bad for the listeners. I’m like, “Yeah, I just like added a couple scenes, and that was it, guys, why can’t you write a book in three weeks?” It’s not easy.

Rachel: But comparatively speaking, like, the first draft was written in three weeks, but then how long did the editing process take until you were like, “Okay, this is it. I’m uploading my ePub?”

Meg: Okay. So I wrote the book in like March and April. And then I uploaded the book in, like, October, beginning of October. So it was a long process, definitely very long. I think like the developmental edits took maybe a couple months. And then line and copy took about a month to do. So it’s a lot more in-depth, especially because when you’re working with an editor, it’s like, you have to hand it off, and then sort of wait for them to read it and get things done. And that can be really stressful because you’re like, “Oh, my God, they’re gonna hate it, oh.” But if you have a really good editor, it’s a really good process.

My editor totally understood the book. Every single piece of feedback from your editor, if they are the right one, is gonna be like such a good thing for your book. Like, the long process was totally worth it because she just saw, like, what was missing. “Oh, there’s an eyeball missing from your skeleton, you need to add it here,” and I’d be like, “Okay,” and then I graft on an eyeball. And then, like, it’s a perfect human by the end of it. So I’m sorry for that disgusting analogy. But yeah, drafting is the easy party.

Rachel: No, we love your analogy. Yeah, no, I’m here for the skeleton analogy very much so.

Laura: So “Destroyer” is a fantasy novel. As you mentioned, it includes a lot of world-building. So how did you kind of go about creating your own world?

Meg: I don’t even know. I feel like these worlds just appear in my head, and then all I have to do is describe them. Which is like an insufferable writer thing to say, but it’s true. Yeah, like when I’m thinking of a story, the world comes with it. So I just, I imagined, because we’re talking about, I guess, a scientist, a woman, and there’s, you know, a lot of, like, weird science jargon, and like, “Oh, what’s the definition of a hypothesis, like things I have to figure out while I’m writing?”

So I needed the world to be a little bit like scientific. I couldn’t really do… I mean, I could, but I didn’t wanna do like a medieval world, you know, where maybe like, more superstitions and like, magical beliefs would have been, like, less maligned. So I kind of went with a world that was more like the Age of Enlightenment era, sort of, like ‘1600, ‘1700s, that was the vibe I wanted, where it’s still kind of like fun, historical, we get like fun gowns, and there could be swords, and horseback riding, and all of that kind of thing. But there’s also like the beginnings of scientific advancement and like scientific instruments.

So I did a lot of googling to figure out like when certain scientific things, like when did they invent that microscope? When did they invent this kind of, like, little scientific belief? I don’t know. So it was a lot of, like, it was in my head. But I also had to, like, do like a little bit of googling. I try to do as little research as possible because I’m writing fantasy, and I shouldn’t have to, like, use my brain or look things up. That’s what my editor is for. But seriously, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know beyond that. I did draw a lot of inspiration from “Dragon Age,” I will say, for the city. There’s a city in the book called Mirith. And I was very much inspired by “Dragon Age 2.” Maybe people will catch if they still play “Dragon Age” and if they read my book.

Rachel: And for listeners unfamiliar, “Dragon Age,” is a video game that everyone should play, including myself. I haven’t played it yet.

Laura: I was gonna ask if you had played it, Rach. Are you loving the…

Rachel: It shocks a lot of people.

Laura: Are you loving the nerdy references?

Rachel: Oh, this is why I’m here.

Laura: Yeah, exactly.

Rachel: I came here for the nerd content.

Laura: So one of the other things I loved about the book was the character names. Where did you get the inspiration for those names from, because they’re pretty unique?

Meg: Every answer I give is so unintelligent and uninteresting. A lot of places, actually. So some of them I just think of on the spot. I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So there’s a character named Lyr, L-Y-R, just randomly popped into my head. And I was like, “Cool, I like that.” And it stuck. For the main characters, Ru, which is short for Ruellian and Fen, which is short for Fenn, I will often sort of write down a list of possibilities for the name, I go to, like, baby name sites. There’s this one site called like 20, 000-names.com, or something. And it’s been the exact same since the year like 2002, when I first discovered it, when I was writing and posting on like fanfic.net. And so it’s like this horrible janky site that’s like a black background and like this neon yellow text. But you have to check it out because it has like lists of like every single country and, like, ethnicity, and like historical, like, Vikings and all these type of things and like Arthurian, and then you click on one of these things, and it brings up like a whole list of names that go along with that.

So I love spending like hours on this site, and I will just click on random, like, oh, Slovenian names, click, and then I’ll scroll through and see which ones sound good to my ear. And then I write them down on a piece of paper. And then I go through the final list of names and decide which one sounds the most like main characters in my head. That’s my process for the main characters, anyway. The other ones were kind of like what pops into my head, honestly.

Laura: Have you ever had an experience where you have chosen your character name and you’re writing the book and then like halfway through, you’re like, “This doesn’t actually work?” And you have to change the character name? Or are you pretty sure who your character is off the top?

Meg: Yeah, I’ve changed character names a lot. I think I usually end up changing at least one or two when I’m writing, either because I’ll realize I’ve given all the characters a similar-sounding name, or everyone’s name starts with the same letter, or something like that. And then I’m like, “Oh, no, this is like House of the Dragon where everyone has an exact identical name.” Yeah, so, I often am changing names, honestly. Or sometimes I’ll just change the spelling. There’s one character who is just sort of like a tertiary, like historical character named Taryel And then I googled that name just to make sure it wasn’t like being used already. And I saw that it was a “Magic: The Gathering Card” called Taryel.  And it was like dark god or something. And I was like, “Okay, well, I’m just gonna change one letter in this name, and we’ll be good. So I did.

Rachel: I think that’s a very elegant solution. I love it. Do you wanna talk a bit about “Destroyer?” But when you mentioned fanfic.net, I realized that we haven’t discussed your, like, journey as a writer, like have you always wanted to write, and how did you go from writing on fanfic.net and who was your ship to publishing your first book?

Meg: Oh, God, I opened myself up for a world of shame.

Rachel: No, we love fanfiction on this podcast.

Meg: Okay, good. Because so do I, obviously. Okay, well, I’ve always wanted to write since, like, I was like, 10 and I realized I could, and I used to write about animals. So this segues right into my fanfic history. So I don’t know if you guys are aware of the “Redwall” series by, like, Brian Jacques. I don’t know how you pronounce his last name. But it’s about these animals who, they’re like medieval animals and they live in like medieval Abbey and they fight bad guys. But I was so obsessed with this series in middle school that I wrote a self-insert fic where I was, as a human, like, transported to the world of “Redwall,” so I became a, I think I was an otter, me and obviously my middle school crush, were both transported to the world of “Redwall.”

We were both otters and then we had to like defend the abbey from the attacking ferrets or something like that. Like, it’s always like the ferrets, the rats, those are like the bad guys. And it was a really long…it was like 100 pages-long fanfic. And I was probably like 12 or 13 at the time I wrote that. Yeah, and then I graduated to “Liberty’s Kids” fanfiction. Are you guys aware of this show?

Rachel: We’re Canadian, but I am aware of it.

Meg: Okay, so it was like an animated…it was an animated kid’s show about the American Revolution. And the main characters were like these teenage journalists who hung out with Benjamin Franklin. And there was an American, English girl, and a French kid, just to present every point of view, right, from the war. But I really shipped the American boy and the British girl. And so I wrote like Avril Lavigne songfic about those two characters. That’s all say about that.

Rachel: Your writing history has so much depth to it. I love it. It’s just so many layers. But fanfiction is a great place to start learning how to write and learning how to craft story and learn about characters. So, no shame.

Meg: It is though.

Rachel: It’s a great tool to use as a writer.

Meg: It is, because you’re given the characters, you’re given the setting, and then you get to sort of just play around with it and figure out, “What’s my writing style? What do I like to write?” You know, you can take those characters, put them in an alternate universe, and then find out, “Oh, I really like spaceships.” I’m a sci-fi writer now. So yeah, I love fanfic.

Laura: Do you think you’ll ever release any of your fanfic as bonus content for your fans?

Meg: Absolutely not. Because I haven’t written actual fanfics since I was like a teenager. I don’t even know if it exists, and we will not go digging for it.

Rachel: I just think that sounds like excellent TikTok content. That’s all I’m saying.

Meg: Oh, don’t say that. Because now I’m gonna make a TikTok content. Now I’m gonna go digging for it. Thank you.

Laura: That’s actually a pretty good segue into talking about TikTok. So like I mentioned before, you’re very active on the app, talking about your writing, your publishing journey. What is it been like finding your writing community online like this?

Meg: It has actually been really wild and really incredibly rewarding and really nice. Like, I did not think… Okay, so I went into TikTok. I started taking it seriously back in April. And I had like 300 followers, one of which, like most of them were probably from my mom, because she has like 36,000 followers on TikTok. And occasionally, I would comment on her TikToks, and people would follow me because of that. So, I had like 300 followers, and then I started taking it seriously and talking about writing, and books, and slowly started building a following. And I just started following, like, every indie author I saw posting, I would follow them. And, like, watch their stuff and show interest because I was genuinely interested, like this whole indie author thing, totally new to me.

And so, I found that everyone I followed and talked to and everyone who followed me who was an indie author was, like, extremely kind, and supportive, and welcoming. I feel very lucky in that I have slowly been building a very supportive community of people who are not gatekeepers. So just really open, sharing the process, sharing like their sales numbers, like the amount of money they made. One of the authors I am friends with is Emily Blackwood. And her books are, like, huge right now on TikTok, and they’re really fun. And she always does these posts that are breaking down, like how much she’s earned and all this stuff, which I think is like such a cool transparent thing to do as a indie author.

Anyway, I digress. But I’ve just found this, like, world of friends that I didn’t have before only a few months ago who are super supportive, really excited for my book to come out, and like I’m excited for their books to come out. We’re like reading each other’s books and posting about it. It’s really nice. Like, I don’t think I could have done this whole indie publishing thing without this group, this community of authors helping me answering questions and also just like encouraging me along the way. It’s been really cool.

Rachel: That’s one thing we hear a lot, is that the indie author community is so open about sharing. There’s no like a huge sense of competition, like, there can only be one book. Like, there’s a lot of information sharing and cross-promoting each other’s books. And it’s so heartwarming to know that it exists on TikTok too.

Meg: Yeah, it’s really nice. I mean, there are like, you know, anywhere, there’s gonna be probably negative experiences. I haven’t really had that many. I feel very lucky. But yeah, I’m loving the indie author community. Everyone just seems so welcoming and kind because I’m like, brand new. I just appeared out of nowhere, like, “Hey, guys, so I’m an indie author now. Can I join you?” And then we’re like, “Yeah, come on in.”

Laura: So do you have any advice for people who are new to being an indie author and trying to get into TikTok for the first time and maybe find it a little intimidating?

Meg: Yeah. I think just be genuine and be yourself. And don’t be afraid to just start talking to people. The way I did it is I just, like I said, I just started following people who seemed… I was like, “Okay, they seem interesting. Like, they write in a similar genre as me, follow,” and then I just started commenting on their videos. And I think if you interact with people on TikTok, especially authors, they will respond positively. Like, I love it when people talk to me, like anyone who engages with me in a nice way, I’m like, “Okay, follow back immediately.” If they DM me, I’m so happy to respond, and I think a lot of people feel that way. So you kind of just have to, like, it can be embarrassing and nerve-wracking, talking to strangers in a community that you’re not necessarily part of yet. But yeah, I would just say don’t be afraid. Start just interacting with people and you will find that people are much happier to talk to you than you might have thought.

Laura: Now, I have a question about creating content for TikTok because I am an avid TikTok user. But I do not create content. How do you come up with what content you’re gonna release? Because like I said, you’re very active. And how do you kind of get over the, like, feeling of feeling a little bit weird just talking at your phone?

Meg: So the only way to get over it is just to do it a lot. It is really embarrassing. It’s still embarrassing. I’ve been doing it now for like six months seriously, and I’ll still like set up the tripod, and I’ll turn on the video and I’m like, “God, I hope my fiancé isn’t listening. Like, this is so embarrassing.” So yeah, you kind of have to, like, accept that it’s dorky. So I kind of have a little bit of a strategy in terms of like my content. I post a few different kinds of things. I’ll post promo for my book, I’ll post just about other books, like recommending books, and then I will do like the trending sounds, which is where you’re like, there’s a song and you, like, do whatever trend is associated with it, like lip-sync with it or do like some fun transition. I’m sorry, these are all TikTok terms. I don’t know how to define them.

And then the number one way I have found to get followers is to give some type of advice or to offer something to people and tell them to follow you. So I give writing advice, and sometimes like self-publishing advice, or like just sharing my experience with self-publishing. And I try to post all these different types of content, like, regularly, at least once a day. And I have a notes in my notes app, I have one document that just says TikTok Ideas. And I just write down like, “Okay, so this sound, I’m gonna do this and this,” or just like just silly ideas are like, “Oh, I wanna talk about like dialogue. I’m gonna give dialogue tips.” So I write down that. And then if I am dry on ideas for TikTok, I look at my notes app, and I’m like, “Okay, cool. I’ll do that one today.” So there’s a little bit of strategy, but it’s also kind of just like, “What do I feel like posting that day?”

Rachel: And how do you find balancing creating content because, like, making TikToks can get complicated, especially if there’s any editing involved. So how do you balance the time it takes to create content and to be active on the community with writing a book?

Meg: It’s hard. If you go on TikTok, if you’re on like book-talk and writer-talk, you will see a lot of posts and people being like “Ahaha I should be writing, but I’m scrolling TikTok.” And that’s like real, that’s so real. Yeah, I’ll be like scrolling TikTok, like “Oh, my God, I need to make a post. I need to promote my book.” When really what I should be doing is just writing. So there’s an amount of, like, I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the balance, the work-life writing TikTok balance. But it’s hard because as an author, especially an indie author, I think TikTok is a huge platform now for, like, promoting your book. And there’s so many authors I know who made it “big” by using TikTok or going viral on TikTok.

And so, a lot of authors, I think, feel this internal pressure. Like, if we’re not constantly creating content, if we’re not constantly talking about our book, no one’s gonna buy it. And I think that that…it becomes a little bit stressful. I’m currently feeling because my book comes out… I know this episode comes out after my book is out already. But my book comes out in, like, four days, five days. And I’m like, “I need to be pushing it, I need to be making content, I need to be talking about it constantly.” Because on days I don’t talk about my book, I don’t get any preorders. But I’m very burnt-out, and it has become kind of a weight on my shoulders. So if you’re an indie author listening to this, please take time for yourself and your work. And remember that TikTok is just a silly app, and we all need to take breaks from it. So don’t burn out like me.

Laura: That is good advice for all of us who have to put our phones down every once in a while. You use beta readers and ARC readers for “Destroyer.” How do you go about finding these readers? Is it through TikTok, or did you find them somewhere else?

Meg: Pretty much only TikTok. I think a few on Instagram as well. But yeah, I just kind of was…I was kind of lazy about it. I did like two or three TkToks where I was like, “Hey, guys, if you wanna be an ARC reader, fill out this form. Thanks.” And that was it. And I think I got like maybe 70 responses total, which is pretty solid, I thought, yeah. Then they filled out the form. And I sent it out to every single person who filled out the form. So I think it was nice that I already had, by that time, by the time I asked for ARC readers, I already had, like, a sizable following on TikTok. So it was easy. Well, I don’t know if it was easy. But I was lucky in that I didn’t have to, like, push it that hard. But yeah, that’s all I did. Honestly, like I was in England at the time, like, figuring out stuff for my wedding, which is in a few months. And I was just kind of like, “Oh, I gotta get this done.” And then I just made a few posts. And it was all very, like, rushed, I will admit. Yeah.

Rachel: No, I think that’s great. And I think, like, it helps to know that you should start promoting your book far out from when the release date is so that you can utilize the following that you potentially could create to find the ARC readers you need. Did you find that you had a good return on, like, ARC readers for reviews?

Meg: Yeah, I did. I don’t go on Goodreads anymore because I got one negative review, and I was like, “No, we’re not doing it.” But I think I have like 40-something ratings on there now, which means a sizable percentage of ARC readers have either reviewed it or rated it, which is great. And there’s been several who have made Instagram posts or posts on TikTok, which has been really wonderful. So yeah, I would say, yeah, most people have been very positive and very supportive. And it’s really wonderful.

Rachel: I’m gonna take a hard left turn away from TikTok right now. I wanna talk a little bit about your master’s in creative writing. Because we hear, I don’t wanna say like mixed things, but kind of, have you found the Masters in Creative Writing useful in your writing and publishing journey. Do you think it’s something that if people have the means to do, should pursue in their writing career?

Meg: Oh, this is such a hard one because it’s both yes and no. So I just want to give some background on my creative writing master’s program. It was a one-year program, and it was in London, in the UK. And the entire reason I went to grad school was because I wanted to live in London. So you need to know that first off. I wasn’t like, “I wanna learn more about writing. I wanna get a job.” I was like, “I wanna live in London,” because I had a friend who was going to grad school in London, and I wanted to do with her. So that is why I did it.

And obviously, creative writing because I loved writing and I still do love writing. And I was like, “Oh, okay, they have a novel writing program. That sounds cool. I’ll do that.” So I was literally scrolling through, like, the programs at these London universities like, “Which one do I wanna do?” And like, “Ch, creative writing. Cool.” All that said, I have no regrets. I think it was actually an incredibly informative, enlightening experience in terms of both writing and publishing because the workshops that you will do in a master’s program are incredible. They’re really stressful at first because you’re letting all of your classmates read your work and then critique it. But workshops, I think, are just invaluable for any writers, like you need it, you have to do a workshop if you wanna be published, in my opinion.

And then we learned a lot about the publishing industry, we had one course that was just talking about how it all works, and giving us advice, and how to query an agent, and all this stuff. And I think that’s really cool and really helpful. And I did like an internship at Little Brown. And that was really interesting, just learning about how everything worked there. So that, I mean, you can’t really get an internship at Little Brown unless you have an in. So that was really cool.

So if that’s the kind of thing, you know, you wanna do, and you wanna spend 60,000 American dollars doing it, I will say I have not paid back a single cent of that money. And it’s now, I have $16,000 in interest as well. So, you know, it’s almost kind of frozen, gone. But what I say on…I’ve said this on TikTok, and I’ll say it here, if you wanna learn how to write, and you wanna get better at writing, you do not need a degree, you do not need to go and get a master’s degree in creative writing. Okay? Like, I have done workshops, just at local writing groups in Portland, in Salt Lake City, where people just read each other’s stuff, and they give each other feedback. And, like, that’s the literally the same thing you would get spending $60,000 at a university. So I think if you want the experience, and you’re willing to pay the incredible amount of money that a master’s degree to grad school costs, then, yes, do it, go for it. If you just wanna get better at writing, don’t do it. Don’t do it. There’s free ways to get better at writing. That’s all I have to say on that.

Rachel: I think that’s a very honest and good answer, that there’s both pros and cons to doing it. But it’s good to know that a lot of the, especially like the writing and improving your writing aspects of it are available through other avenues. Because like you said, grad school is not cheap.

Meg: No, it’s not cheap. And yeah, getting better at… Like you don’t need a degree, you don’t have to…like, if you’re trying to query an agent, you don’t need to say, “I have a degree from such and such place.” No, you just have to have written a good book, really, and be good at pitching it, you know? So don’t do it, really, ultimately. Unless you just wanna live in London, and that’s your only way, don’t do it.

Laura: So coming from more of like a traditional publishing background, like you mentioned, was there anything that surprised you about indie publishing?

Meg: Oh, my God, yes. The entire process. So yeah, like, I knew all about traditional publishing. I had an agent actually for, like, four years. And so that was all like, I knew that. But indie, I didn’t realize how hard it was. It is so hard. Like, I think when you are looking to be traditionally published, and that’s your only sort of framework for published authors, you think, “Oh, well, anyone can just write a book and then self-publish it. That’s the easy way. I’m gonna do the hard way.” And I thought that way until very recently, indie is not easy. Self-publishing a book is incredibly hard. You have to learn how to become an entire publishing company, a one-woman publishing company.

So you have to figure out like, what’s an ISBN, what is a formatter? You have to figure out, like, the weird admin stuff that goes along with publishing a book, you have to figure out strange tech issues, you have to figure out what specs to give your cover artist, you have to figure out like the strangest things that you would have never thought of before. And I swear, every single step in this process has been a stumbling block. And I’ve made some kind of error, or come upon some kind of, like, confusing, horrible thing that has thrown me for a loop. It’s been an extremely steep learning curve, but also really rewarding because I feel like at the beginning of this, I was like, “Oh, well, I’m self-publishing a book. So it’s like, not that like, it’s not that much of a thing to be proud of, or whatever.” And now, I’m like, “I self-published a book. Like, you guys don’t understand the work that went into this.” This has been like six straight months of just, like, pure hard work. So yeah, really surprising how hard it’s been.

Laura: So given the steep learning curve, like you mentioned “Destroyer,” as part of a duology, is there anything that you’ve already planned to do differently for the release of Book 2?

Meg: Yes, definitely. So I used a few different distributors, I don’t know, print-on-demand places to print the print versions of “Destroyer,” right? So I’m doing Amazon KDP, which is Kindle Direct Publishing for paperback. I’m doing Barnes & Noble Press, and then also Ingram Spark. So what I didn’t know going into this was that Ingram Spark and Barnes & Noble Press basically are the same. Like, they use the same system, they use the same printer, I think, like not literally just one printer in a room that they use. But anyway.

So there’s somehow like a mesh. So for some bizarre reason, you can’t do a print book with the same ISBN for both. You can only do one. So had I known that, I would have just done Ingram Spark and then have them distributed to Barnes & Noble because they do that. So that’s what I’m gonna do for my second book. We’re not doing Barnes & Noble Press, we’re gonna do just Ingram Spark. But I will say, Barnes & Noble Press, because I was able to put my book on preorder through them, and Barnes & Noble doesn’t have the amount of sales as Amazon does, for example, I hit the bestseller list on Barnes & Noble, which was incredibly fun and really cool. And I’m glad that I went through them just so that I could have that experience of being like, “Oh, my God, I’m like, number one in new sci-fi fantasy.” Like, that was a really fun moment that I got. So I have no regrets. No regrets.

Rachel: That’s really cool. And it’s great that, like you said, it’s such a learning process. And I imagine you will learn more new things for book two that will then keep learning as you continue to write and publish books.

Meg: Yeah, I hope so. Because I feel like I barely know anything still.

Rachel: I feel like every indie author feels like that at some point. So you’re fitting right in.

Meg: Good. Good. I’m glad.

Rachel: Can you give us a little sneak peek about book two without giving away too many spoilers about the end of book one?

Meg: Yeah, sure. So book one is very much like, takes place in, like, places of academia. It’s kind of a mystery. And there’s a lot of unanswered questions. Book two is going to be very… It takes place in the city. There’s lots of political intrigue, there’s a lot more character development. We obviously answer all the mysterious questions. But I’m really excited to tackle, like, in the first book, Ru, the protagonist is kind of like, she starts out kind of like vilified by her academic community, because she, like, truly believes in magic, and tried to prove it with a scientific paper, and everyone just made fun of the paper. But now, in the second book, she is much more in a place of, like, academic, like, she knows who she is, she’s figured out who she is. And she’s also, no spoily, but she’s also very angry. She’s angry, and she’s full of, like, righteous fury. And I think she’s gonna be much more sure of herself, sure of what she wants, and not taking shit from anyone. Whereas, in the first book, she’s kind of just like figuring things out, doesn’t really know what’s going on. And I’m really excited. I’m actually gonna be writing book two for NaNoWriMo. And the plan is to write the entire first draft in November. So I actually already wrote a first draft, and I hated it. So this is version two of book two.

Rachel: Just tossing that first skeleton just right into the ground.

Meg: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel: Love it. Do you have any plans or any new ideas percolating for once the “Shattered City,” duology is complete?

Meg: I do. I have this idea for a story that takes place in the same world, but, like, hundreds of years before. So more of like a sort of medieval setting, enemies to lovers, like, more political intrigue, because I love that, and there always has to be a masquerade ball. Like there will be a masquerade ball, and everything I write, and if you like that, good, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. But yeah, that’s the plan for the next book.

Rachel: And just kind of a follow up question, you mentioned that you have like “Destroyer” is not the first book you’ve written you have written several books. Do you have any plans to revisit those, or are you kind of done with them for now?

Meg: I think I’m done with them for now because, well, the first book that I ever finished was the first book I ever wrote, obviously, and people tell you, “Your first book isn’t gonna be good when you write it,” you’re like, “No, no, no, no, this is actually good. It’s not good. So no one will ever see that. It’s bad.” And then I’ve written some YA books. And I’m not, like, feeling the way right now. So I think I’m gonna set them aside. Maybe later, I’ll do something with them. But I’m kind of more… I think I’ve finally found the genre that I really am interested in writing. And that’s like new adult, or adult with, like, a little bit of spice, definitely romance. Yeah. So we’ll see. But for now, no, they’re just gone.

Laura: Are there any fantasy authors you admire? And do you have any must-read recommendations from them for our listeners?

Meg: I have so many. So I think probably like one of my favorite authors, and my favorite book ever is “Sabriel” by Garth Nix. This was like a formative YA fantasy book for me. And funnily, some of my ARC readers said they could see the influence of “Sabriel” and Garth Nix on “Destroyer,” which made me really happy. So I think if you have not read that book, you need to read it. “Sabriel” Garth Nix. There’s a whole series. They’re very good. It’s about necromancers, but instead of waking the dead, they put them to sleep. And then I’m obviously… Speaking of necromancers, you gotta read the “Locked Tomb Series.” I’m obsessed with it. It’s probably “Gideon the Ninth,” is the best book I’ve read in like the past five years. I’m rereading them now because the third book just came out last month, two months ago. I don’t know. But yeah, that’s another book series about necromancers. Everybody should read. Maybe I’ll write a book about necromancers now.

Rachel: Do it. I’m gonna second “Gideon the Ninth” just because I still have to read “harrow” which is the second book. So that’s like on my shelf ready to go.

Meg: It’s so good.

Rachel: But I’ve never read anything like, “Gideon the Ninth.” So also highly recommend. It’s a weird book, but it’s so good.

Meg: It’s so good.

Laura: This podcast had more about like skeletons and necromancer than I was expecting, but I’m not complaining. Good turn of events.

Rachel: I’m glad that Laura kind of because I feel like you and I could talk about the “Locked Tomb Series” for like years. So I’m gonna wrap this up and just ask you one last question. Where can listeners find you online?

Meg: You can find me on TikTok, Meg Smitherman, that’s M-E-G S-M-I-T-E-R-M-A-N. It’s a long name. I’m so sorry. Same handle on Instagram. You can find me on Twitter @megsauce. I will never change that username M-E-G-S-A-U-C-E. I think that’s the only place I am. Those are my only active socials right now. Please follow me and be my friend.

Laura: We will link to all of those in the show notes so people can follow you and be your friend. And, Meg, thank you so much for joining us. This was a lot of fun.

Meg: Thank you so much for having me. This was such a wonderful way to start the day.

Laura: Yes, this was great. Thank you so much.

Meg: Thank you.

Laura: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you’re interested in picking up Meg’s book, “Destroyer” or following her on all of her socials, we will include links to all those in our show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com, and be sure you are following us on all of our socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

This episode was hosted by Laura Granger and Rachel Wharton with production by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker, and thanks to Meg Smitherman for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today a kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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