New Voices: YA Authors Tiana Smith & Addie Thorley on Inspiration, Marketing, Publication & the Writing Life

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Meet YA authors Tiana Smith and Addie Thorley as they discuss their novels, inspiration, and advice for writers. Cynsations is excited to celebrate their debuts!

Tiana Smith 

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I’ve always loved telling stories. I mean, I’m not saying I got into trouble a lot as a child for telling lies, but…. After college, I got a lot more serious about my writing and wrote my first full-length novel. Then I wrote a few more.

I’ve actually tried writing for a few other age groups, but I’ve found my writing voice is best suited to this genre. Maybe one day I’ll branch out, but for now, I’m really loving Young Adult!

They’re the books I like most to read. There’s so much possibility, change, and uncertainty there that is hard to find in other genres.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Have you ever seen the movie “She’s the Man” inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”? If so, we can be friends. If not, go watch it now.

I’ll wait.

The beginning menu of the movie sums it up by saying something like “Duke wants Olivia, who likes Sebastian, who is really Viola, whose brother is dating Monique, so she hates Olivia, who’s with Duke to make Sebastian jealous, who is really Viola, who’s crushing on Duke . . . ”

And it’s this convoluted mess of relationships that basically stems down to the fact that there’s a girl who likes a boy that she shouldn’t.

I kept wondering, what if there’s a girl who likes a boy, and she has the ability to actually make that relationship happen?

And what if fate has someone better in store for her, who wasn’t on her radar? Someone persistent, a little suave, and a whole lot swoonworthy? It’d probably get just as convoluted. I wanted to read that story, so that’s what I wrote in Match Me If You Can (Swoon Reads, 2019).

How did the outside (non-children’s-YA-lit) world react to the news of your sale?

The funny thing about the outside world is that they don’t really understand publishing at all. They don’t know how difficult it is, and they don’t know how much work goes into just one book.

So, while my friends and family were happy for me, many of them thought the path to publication was easy. I had to dispel a lot of misinformation and explain repeatedly why it would take so long for my book to be available on shelves when it’d already been picked up by a publisher.

I think this is why it’s so important to have friends inside the publishing industry. They can understand the ups and downs, encourage you when you’re feeling stressed, and be a cheerleader for your work. I’ve made great friends with a lot of authors who live by me, or online and I can’t imagine doing this without them!

Tiana with author friends Samantha Hastings, RuthAnne Snow, Erin Stewart, Sofiya Pasternack, Crystal Smith

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

As strange as it sounds, I don’t really feel I’ve changed much. It’s important to be authentic and connect with people in a real way. That said, the Internet is forever, and I’ve always been careful not to post anything that I wouldn’t want my mom or a potential boss to see.

But if you’re an aspiring author, I feel like it’s important to get started early on whatever you can, and one of those things is your online presence.

So, I had a website before I even had a book deal, and I was making friends through Twitter and connecting with people who liked the same things I did before I had anything to promote.

Yes, I do more marketing now, because I actually have a book to talk about. I try not to do too much, because I don’t want to annoy any of my followers. But also, I think it’s okay for authors to shout about their books! They’ve worked hard, and they deserve it!

I just try to make sure my promotional stuff is limited, and that it is geared toward my audience. It’s not about me. It’s about offering something of value to them.

So, if I have a giveaway, special deal, or something I think is funny or of interest, then I’ll post about it. (P.S., my Twitter is here, and you can follow me on Instagram, too, if you like this philosophy!)

I get really annoyed when I see authors posting “buy my book” a thousand times without showing me there’s a real person behind their account. I try to talk about other books I’ve loved and interact with other people in the publishing industry.

So really, those are all things you can do even as a writer without a book deal.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of books and figure out what you like or don’t like. Practice writing. (AKA don’t expect to sell your first manuscript, though it does happen). Do your best and forget the rest!

It’s something I still struggle with, honestly, but it’s so important. Writing is hard, and there are a lot of obstacles in your way if you want to get published. But focus on doing what you can, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Keep trying! Every author has faced rejection. But once they faced that rejection (multiple times, usually), they kept going. It’s all worth it in the end when you get to hold your own book in your hands.

Addie Thorley

Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?

I’ve always loved reading, but there was a period during college when I just didn’t have very much time for fiction. So when I decided to seriously pursue publication, I started reading voraciously in the YA category, across all genres. I think you have to read a ton in order to understand the market and how/where your work will fit.

On top of reading, I subscribed to a lot of amazing writing blogs that taught me so much (I particularly love the Publishing Road Map at YA Highway)

The internet is such a wealth of information—you can almost create your own “MFA program” with the wonderful resources available through blogs, podcasts, contests, and critiques. The online writing community is absolutely incredible.

Other than that, it was all about putting words on the page and learning as I went. My debut novel, An Affair of Poisons (Page Street, 2019), is the fifth manuscript I’ve written. The other four will never see the light of day, but they taught me so much and helped me build my writing chops.

I like to compare publishing to the Olympics. You would never expect someone who had only played soccer for a year or two to make the national team. The same goes with books—you can’t expect to compete at the highest level of publishing without putting in your time and doing the work day after day, year after year.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This is probably going to sound slightly creepy, but I have always had a fascination with poison. I love any book that features poison, so I always knew I wanted to write one.

I’m also a huge history nerd, so I love scouring bygone times for interesting women to write about.

One day, I happened to read about a fortune teller and poisoner, named La Voisin, who played a major role in an infamous murder scandal that took place in 17th century France called, L’affaire des poisons.

Members of the French nobility began hiring witches and poisoners to get rid of their bothersome husbands and rivals at court, and it turned into a huge scandal that reached clear to the king’s inner circle.

It sounded like something straight out of a novel–I couldn’t believe it actually happened–and I knew I wanted to dive in deeper and put my own spin on it.

Addie at Versailles

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The best moment was definitely seeing An Affair of Poisons in a bookstore for the first time. It was a dream that took years and years to come about (eight years, to be exact), and there were a lot of times I worried it would never happen for me, so it was such an emotional and fulfilling moment.

I also loved my launch party. I’m so grateful for all of the people who encouraged and supported me along the way, so it was amazing to share a fun, celebratory evening with them. We ate macarons and played hilarious poison games (don’t worry, no one was actually poisoned!) It was such a special night.

The worst moment(s) of my publishing journey are probably all of the close calls that turned into rejection. Querying and submission can be so grueling and draining—you put your blood, sweat, and tears into a book, but for one reason or another, no one is able to buy it. It can be really hard to keep plugging ahead.

But now that I’ve made it to the other side, I’m so glad my earlier manuscripts didn’t sell. My writing wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. It was essential that I went through all of those “nos” to get to the right “yes.”

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Try to separate the art of writing from the business of publishing. This can be a brutal career, where success isn’t necessarily based on merit. So much of it comes down to subjectivity, and if you let bad reviews or query rejections determine your worth as a human and a writer, it can quickly drag you down.

Learn to love writing for what it is—for how it makes you feel, for the reasons you began writing in the first place—and come to the page with those happy, positive feelings. Write the best book you possibly can, constantly strive to improve, and then accept that the rest is up to luck and timing.

Cynsational Notes

Tiana Smith is a copywriter turned novelist who grew up in the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her ninja son, reading, or binging the Disney Channel.

She has double degrees in Honors and English from Westminster College but wants to go back to school to be a lion tamer.

Match Me If You Can is her debut novel, from Swoon Reads/Macmillan.

Addie Thorley is the author of An Affair of Poisonsa YA historical fantasy, which was chosen as a Spring 2019 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title and received a starred review from School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novel, Night Spinner (Page Street), will be released in winter 2020.

She spent her childhood playing soccer, riding horses, and scribbling stories. After graduating from The University of Utah with a degree in journalism, she decided “hard news” didn’t contain enough magic and kissing, so she flung herself into the land of fiction and never looked back.

Addie now lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and wolf dog.

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.