18 February 2013

SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE Author Joanne Levy on the "awesome whirlwind" of publishing

Welcome to YA Q&A, today featuring Joanne Levy. Joanne's debut novel, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, was published by Bloomsbury in July 2012. It's the story of twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom, who is struck by lightening and develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her over-opinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.

Joanne has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her writing and publishing experiences. So I'll jump right in!

Q: Joanne, you won a number of writing contests prior to your debut novel's publication, including RWA Chick Lit and Backspace contests. Can you tell us about those contests, how they helped you on your path to publishing?

Joanne Levy
A: The contests didn’t have a direct effect on my getting published, but they did help me with my craft along the way. They taught me important lessons about writing great, hooky beginnings (because that’s generally all you can submit for contests) and also what it’s like to wait for feedback. Waiting is hard and getting feedback can be hard and very scary, especially for newbies, so I think entering contests is a great way to start out and get used to the anxiety of these terrifying, but unavoidable realities of publishing. Usually the judges are kind, but honest and they aren’t your mom. In other words, they’re not going to tell you your work is perfect and they love you and why don’t you come over for dinner Sunday—contest judges will give you useful feedback, which is what you need if you’re serious about getting published. And contests are a great way to get objective feedback before you send to agents and editors—many writers (myself included) send out their early work too soon and contests are a great buffer, especially if you get agent/editor judges to give feedback. And you never know—an agent or editor might just request after reading your work.

Q: SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE is one of my favorite book titles ever. So clever and descriptive. I find titles to be one of the most challenging aspects of writing. Did yours come to you easily? In a dream? After many months of "meh" titles? Or in collaboration with your publisher? Tell us your title story! 

A: Thank you! I actually woke up with this title in my head one day. I was working on other projects at the time, so I put it aside for a while, but it nagged at me for about a year until I figured I’d better write the book. I wish all other titles have been so easy, but typically, they come to me through writing the story.

Q: Now that your "baby" has been out there in the world for a few months, can you tell us what your debut author experience has been like? 

A: It has been a whirlwind! But an awesome whirlwind. My launch was like a second wedding, but without the expensive dress! I had a great time and for only the second time, I enjoyed being the center of attention (as a somewhat shy introvert, I try to hug the walls at most parties, if I can bring myself to attend at all). So far, the feedback on my book has been wonderful—it got good reviews from the trades and most recently was named as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. That was quite an honor which my mother was VERY happy about. But even more amazing is the feedback from kids. I actually just received a package of artwork from a class, each piece depicting the student’s favourite scene in the book. How cool is that? And I especially love that their favorite scenes are mine, too. That tells me I’m doing something right. And on a different level, this past year has been amazing for me because it’s made me stretch and grow as a human. I’ve done things I never would have dreamed of doing before, like public speaking, making videos of myself singing (I am NOT a good singer) and doing other ridiculous things. In my efforts to get the word out about me and my book, I say yes to just about everything I’m asked to do, and in the end, I’m a better person for all the scary things I’ve done. Also, I’ve met a ton of amazing people along the way that I now count as friends, so I have to say the experience of being published has been so much more than having a book on bookstore shelves. It really has been a dream come true in more ways than I could have imagined (with some nightmarish moments—not every part of it has been a bowl of cherries, but the good has far outweighed the bad).

Q: What's your writing process like, and what are you working on now?

A: My writing process is very linear and simple. I sit down and write a story pretty much from beginning to end. I almost never outline or draw up character sketeches, because for me, the joy of writing is in the drafting. That’s where I learn who the characters are, what they want/need and where they need to go to get it and also the challenges and pitfalls they’ll face along the way. Of course this means a lot of editing is required to fix details and layer stuff in later, but it’s the best (and most enjoyable, because if I’m not enjoying myself, why on earth would I do this?) way for me to work. I have a day job, so I do most of my writing in big chunks on the weekends. Some evenings I edit, but I need sizable time slots to get into a creative groove. As for what I’m working on now, I’ve just finished the first draft of a sweet and funny MG summer camp book that I think will be a good follow up to SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE and am digging into the edits as soon as I finish this interview!

Q: Saving the big question for last. I was absolutely blown away by your effort, along with Kate Messner, on the KidLit Cares fundraiser for Superstorm Sandy relief. You raised more than $60,000! Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how the KidLit community came together? I was particularly awed to see some of the author/agent/editor victims of the storm donating their time as well, even as they were without power and heat! 

A: The KidLit Cares effort was amazing in so many ways! I am in amazed by Kate who is involved in so much (on top of writing and having a family!), but still finds time for more projects, including important ones like this. She was so quick to respond to the need and got the ball rolling with some amazing talent auctions just days after Sandy hit. When I saw what she was doing, I really wanted to help; I’m an executive assistant by day, so I’m organized and good with putting things together, so it was a natural thing for me to help with the auctions. I asked Kate what I could do and she said she had too much on her plate to continue after round one and would I be interested in taking over for a round two. It didn’t take much convincing on her part since it seemed like a great way to raise funds quickly and do something I enjoy doing anyway.

I, too was awed by how many people came forward to donate their time/expertise/artwork in the efforts--so much that even with 71 auctions (just for my round!) I had to start turning people away. It was a win/win/win situation where much-needed money was raised, people got great stuff from the auctions, and I think everyone felt great about the efforts. I myself made great contacts with industry people and was able to connect with Kate on a new level and we even had the chance to get together (and meet for the first time) at NCTE in Las Vegas, which was a true highlight. So although it was a huge amount of time and work, I got way more out of the experience than I put in. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, though I think I’d take time off work and completely clear my schedule first!

Thank you, Joanne (for answering my questions and for all that you do!). Keep us posted on the new book!


  1. Thanks so much for having me, Sharon!

    1. My pleasure! Hope you'll come back to tell us about your next book.

  2. Thanks for this insightful interview. It's fun to get a peek into the creative process of other writers for children and teens.

  3. I have a new book to add to my TBR pile as well as some good insight on what to expect when my debut MG comes out in August. Joanne calmed some of my fears - and gave me a few new ones (singing) :)
    Thank you for the wonderful interview and Sharon, I'm glad to have found your blog!
    Marilee Haynes

  4. Thanks Melissa and Marilee.
    By the way, Marilee, I've found that the more ridiculous stuff I do (like singing and vlogging), the easier the regular stuff is. I also very highly suggest this book if you're not comfortable with public speaking: http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Podium-Writers-Successful-Readings/dp/0965570231/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361243312&sr=1-1&keywords=naked+at+the+podium It's geared towards writers and is a great tool for getting prepared for readings and signings.
    Good luck with your debut!