“A favorite T-shirt of mine has this saying on it: “It takes as long as it takes.” Which is not to say, screw deadlines, who cares! But simply: take your time with your drafts and revisions. Go deep and get messy.” -Jill Meyers
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 28th Annual A&E Conference, taking place September 17-19, 2021, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Jill Meyers
Jill Meyers is the editorial director of A Strange Object, an Austin-based imprint dedicated to publishing powerful stories and stirring debuts in literary fiction. Titles from A Strange Object have appeared on NPR’s Best Books of the Year list and won a number of industry awards, including The Believer Book Award. Formerly, Jill served as editor for the celebrated literary magazine American Short Fiction. Jill is also the cofounder and chair of Lit Crawl Austin, a freewheeling literary showcase now in its eleventh year, and she serves on the advisory board for the Texas Book Festival. She holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of Houston.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Jill Meyers: Collaborative, open, and full of curiosity—especially about what’s best for the book. I ask lots of questions upfront about what the author wants for their project, what other books this one is in conversation with and how the book fits (or doesn’t fit) into the current publishing environment, what book covers the author admires, all kinds of things. This is to get context for the project and to help us start casting our lines into the future.
As we move along in the editing process, these questions deepen and grow in specificity even as we circle back to earlier ones to make sure we’re aligned on the vision of the book. Ultimately, I want us to strive together to make this book singular and the best version of itself it can be.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
JM: An original, distinctive voice; courage to tell the stories that need telling; dedication to their vision along with a willingness to work hard and be flexible. Plus a sense of humor/genuine playfulness.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
JM: A favorite T-shirt of mine has this saying on it: “It takes as long as it takes.” Which is not to say, screw deadlines, who cares! But simply: take your time with your drafts and revisions. Go deep and get messy. Before a book gets to its final, polished form, often the writer will need to work through some anarchic drafts to explore new ideas, shift dynamics between characters, do serious world building—and find the writing that excites them. That’s incredibly important!
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
JM: The wealth of new voices and methods. The continued rise of indie publishers. BIPOC publishing professionals coming into positions of power. More people having access to tell their stories.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about?
JM: Dalia Azim’s COUNTRY OF ORIGIN is a debut novel about a family from Egypt that is both sweeping and intimate. It’s a book that handles mental illness, incarceration, inheritance, and the process of becoming an artist with deftness and intelligence, and it’s filled with moments of hope, tenderness, and surprise. There is a scene in a mosque that is unlike anything I’ve ever read and will stay with me forever. I want everyone to read this book.
Click here for more information on the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (September 17-19) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.