Natalia Leigh, author of HIGHBORN, WAY OF SPEARS, and SONG OF THE DRYAD, joins iWriterly for an exclusive interview about her latest book.
Heya, book nerds! I’m excited to be joined by Natalia on the iWriterly blog for a Q&A about her book, SONG OF THE DRYAD. As some of you may know, Natalia and I did a YouTube collab on self vs. traditional publishing in April of 2018. Not only is Natalia a delight to talk to, but she’s also very knowledgeable about the self publication process, which she shares on her YouTube channel.
Before we get into the discussion, for those of you who haven’t yet heard of SONG OF THE DRYAD, here are the basics:
Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Barclay is still haunted by an encounter she had eight years ago – a run-in with a fairy beast that had eyes like witchlight and a taste for flesh. Charlotte has avoided the Greenwood ever since, pretending fairies don’t exist and choosing instead to focus her energies on graduating from high school and perfecting her audition piece for the Bellini Institute. However, everything changes when her mom goes missing, kidnapped by the fairies that haunt the forest behind Charlotte’s home.
When Charlotte’s search for her mom leads her into the fairy realm, she discovers that she hails from a line of Shrine Keepers – humans tasked with maintaining ancient fairy shrines. Charlotte’s family has failed their duties to the fae, and now she has no choice but to strike a deal with the dryad, an ancient and powerful tree nymph responsible for her mom’s disappearance. But the dryad only gives her a month to complete her task: retrieve five stolen fairy stones and return them to the ancient fairy shrine. If she doesn’t return the stones in time, the dryad has threatened to imprison another of Charlotte’s loved ones.
Charlotte dives into a world as magical as it is deadly, coming face-to-face with fairy creatures that never get mentioned in the story books – including the creature that haunts her dreams. She must embrace her task and conquer her fears, or else she’ll never see her mom again.
Q&A With Natalia Leigh,
Author of the SONG OF THE DRYAD
MEG LATORRE: Thanks so much for joining us today! To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you begin your journey as a writer?
NATALIA LEIGH: Thanks so much for having me, Meg! I enjoyed writing even as a kid, and always preferred writing paragraphs and essays over other school assignments. I liked working alone and being in my own little world, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that I realized my love for storytelling. I started my writing journey in online forums. I participated in something called text-based roleplay, meaning I created characters and stories and wrote about them with other members on community forums. I loved paranormal roleplay, contemporary roleplay, and anything involving animals. It was on these friendly forums that I started learning about voice, style, POV, and more. I even owned and managed my own successful roleplay forum for six years, from age sixteen to age twenty-two, at which point I unfortunately had to let it go due to college, full-time work, etc. I still miss it and am forever grateful for all that those forums taught me.
MEG: What inspired the story of SONG OF THE DRYAD? What made you decide to write a story about fairies?
NATALIA: I can remember the exact moment the story idea came to me. I was on a hike with my partner, Greg, and we stopped to take a break on this old, creaky wooden bridge that stretched over a tiny, trickling stream. While I stood there looking around at the lush greenery and listening to the wind in the leaves, I thought, “This is where fairies would live”. I knew nothing of fairies or fairy folklore at the time, but NaNoWriMo was coming up, and I wanted to have a story idea ready to go. I went to the library and picked up a bunch of books about fairies and Celtic folklore, and the story grew slowly from there. I am now fascinated by fairies and hope someday to visit Ireland and immerse myself in fairy-friendly culture.
MEG: Originally, you had considered pursuing traditional publication for SONG OF THE DRYAD. What made you decide to self-publish this book instead?
NATALIA: Yes I did! For about a year I went back and forth about this book and how I wanted to share it with readers. I was, and still am, very interested in everything traditional publishing can offer. You’d have an amazing and talented team to work with, an agent to guide you through the process, and would get to celebrate seeing your book on shelves in bookstores. I love the idea of that! However, after a few weeks of sending queries, I started to get the feeling that traditional publishing may not be the right market for my book. I already had an excited audience, a polished draft, and time on my hands to dedicate myself to the tedious process of self-publishing. It wasn’t an easy decision, but once I started to pursue the self-publishing path, I knew it was the right choice. There was still a lot of work to be done. I needed to hire an editor, work with a cover designer, and figure out how to launch a book. I still consider myself a newbie at these things, but I’m learning a little bit more every day, and I’m enjoying every step of the process!
MEG: Your cover is GORGEOUS. Who designed it? If you hired a designer, what was the process of finding and working with one like?
NATALIA: Thank you so much! I’m absolutely thrilled with how the cover turned out! I worked with Eight Little Pages, a business that has recently expanded into indie publishing as well as offering cover design and interior formatting services. I found them through YouTube, actually. I saw other indie authors posting reviews of their services and was absolutely blown-away by the covers they were creating. I contacted Claire, the designer, back in June or July, and she was already booked. I was devastated, but she was gracious enough to slip me into a spot in August, which she hadn’t originally intended on filling. The process was rather drawn out, six weeks to be exact, because Claire had lots of other projects she was working on, but I was so happy with the first concepts she showed me that there wasn’t a whole lot of change that needed to happen to the cover. She originally sent me a long questionnaire, asking me to provide examples of covers I love and hate, and (with what I provided her) she came up with two beautiful concepts. Then I moved forward with my preferred concept, which underwent a few small changes to become the cover it is today. She has such a good eye that I really didn’t have to do too much work. If you’re booking far in advance and are prepared to wait patiently for your cover design, I’d recommend Eight Little Pages!
MEG: Marketing is a topic so many aspiring authors have questions (and concerns) about. What sorts of marketing tasks have you taken on? Of the marketing campaigns you have done, what has had the greatest return on investment? (Such as social media marketing, paid campaigns, blog tours, giveaways, etc.)
NATALIA: I’ll admit that I’ve been rather conservative with my marketing, and much of this is because I’m still new to the process of launching a book. I also rushed this process a bit, so I wasn’t able to get everything done in time for the book launch. That was my error, of course, and I’ll know better for next time! My favorite marketing strategy has simply been participating in our writing community on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. If not for my social media platforms, no one would even know that my book exists, and then I’d have to try way harder to market it properly. I haven’t spent any money on marketing campaigns, but I did spend money on my cover, and that has been a huge help in catching people’s attention and getting them interested in the book. We’re visual creatures, so having an eye-catching cover is incredibly important. I’ll honestly say that participating in the community and developing friendships has been my most successful form of marketing. If people love you, then they want to support you, and they’ll be excited and talk about your book when it comes out. Marketing is about reaching people, and for me, I’ve done that through friendships and community. (But next time, I’ll do more marketing campaigns for sure! You live and learn, right?)
MEG: I know you and I have chatted about finding freelance editors, but for our readers—what was the process of finding freelance editors like and what went into your selection decision? What freelance editors did you end up working with (developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, etc.)?
NATALIA: I’ve been so thankful for your help, Meg—if not for your guidance I would have had a much more difficult time finding my editor! I started by first asking around to see if any of my writer friends had an editor that they really loved and were happy with. A few had positive editor experiences and a few had negative experiences, which I was thankful to be told about. I ended up using The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) to find my editor. I searched through their database of editors to find someone that loved working with YA fantasy, and I narrowed my options down to two talented editors. I spoke to them both, one on the phone and one via email, and got all of my questions answered. I chose the editor that had the most love for fantasy stories, because I felt my work would be appreciated and well taken care of. It was an expensive investment, but well worth it! My editor was thorough, efficient, and always on time. As for the type of editor I chose, I decided to go with a copy editor. Because of how expensive editors are, I couldn’t afford all three, so I chose the editor that could help me polish my work and my words and make it as squeaky-clean as possible. Because I couldn’t afford multiple editors, I opted for multiple rounds of beta reader feedback to help me hone in on plot, character arcs, etc. and then used the copy editor for the tedious line edits and fact checking. I hope to be able to work with a developmental editor in the future and to learn more about storytelling along the way.
MEG: In your opinion, when is the best time to work with freelance editors? What did you wish you knew before working with freelance editors?
NATALIA: I’d say to go through multiple rounds of edits on your own before approaching an editor. Don’t write your first draft and then send it off to an editor right away. They’re not going to be able to help you as effectively if you haven’t already done the work to clean up the manuscript as much as you can. Use beta readers and critique partners to clean up the story itself, and challenge yourself to learn as many grammar and punctuation rules as possible. The Chicago Manual of Style is what I’ve been using, and I really enjoy the learning process. Long story short, get your work polished and clean and nearly there before you choose to work with an editor. That way, you’re getting the most bang for your buck! As for what I wish I had known before working with an editor—they’re actually very kind people and not nearly as scary as I thought they would be! I was really intimidated going into the process, but we’re all lovers of stories, and your editor just wants to help you write the best story you can. So go forth with excitement instead of fear!
MEG: I’ve always been curious about the formatting part of self-publication. What is that like? What tools do you use? How can a writer navigate this part of the process (relatively seamlessly)?
NATALIA: Ah, formatting. I actually love formatting, but it can be tedious and incredibly frustrating. I used a formatter for SONG OF THE DRYAD, and it turned out beautifully, but I much prefer to format myself. Having to ask someone else to constantly make teeny, tiny changes is time-consuming and kind of a drag, so I’ll be doing all my own formatting in the future. If formatting terrifies you, you can use templates and write directly into them, which really simplifies the process. There are also programs you can use to help with the formatting, but I’m basic and cheap and enjoy using Microsoft Word. If you’re learning for the first time, I recommend pulling out a few of your favorite books to have as reference while you’re formatting. Mimic how they format the copyright page, learn from their title page and chapter headings, and start off simple. It will take time, and it’ll no doubt frustrate you, but as long as you’re not in a hurry, then you’ll absolutely be able to figure it out.
MEG: Let’s shift back to the heart of why we’re here—your story! What sorts of fairy lore can readers expect to see in SONG OF THE DRYAD?
NATALIA: Ooh, yes! I love talking about fairy folklore! You can expect to see all kinds of fairy creatures, from tree nymphs to goblins to friendly (or grumpy!) brownies. They’re all inspired by research I did, and I tried to hold true to the nature of these quirky creatures.
MEG: What drew you to write fantasy/this story, in particular?
NATALIA: I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, probably because I struggle to cope in our current world, and fantasy is an escape for me. This story, full of fairies and magic and dark woods, feels like a story of my heart. I didn’t mean to, but I poured a lot of myself into this book, which I think will be clear to anyone who knows me well.
MEG: I love that there’s a creepy aspect with the flesh-eating fairy beast. What inspired a diversion from the typical gorgeous, elf-like fae that we often see in published YA books? How do the fairies, fae, dryads, etc. overlap in this world? (Does it take place on Earth and in the fairy realm?)
NATALIA: Thank you for this question! I love the humanesque fairies that we see in a lot of YA fiction, but I was more interested in actual folklore and in pulling from traditional stories that have been passed down through generations of storytellers. I love finding magic in our everyday world, and fairies provide that for me. Whether I find a cluster of mushrooms in the forest, or hear music on the wind when I shouldn’t, those are the fairies, and I wanted to tell their story in a way that would be reminiscent of their roots in folklore. As for the setting, the story takes place both in a contemporary small-town, as well as a fantasy world in the fairy realm. I wanted this book to communicate to readers that magic is right there, right out your door and waiting for you in the woods. Because of this, the contemporary setting, punctuated by a fairy realm, makes navigating the new world less intimidating than in traditional fantasies.
MEG: I also think the fairy shrine part of your story is wicked cool. What sort of research went into this book? Do fairy shrines exist? How much of what we will see in SONG OF THE DRYAD is based on mythologies vs. unique to the book?
NATALIA: I get so excited to talk about this! A lot of research went into this book. I looked at artwork, read stories passed down through oral traditions in Irish culture, and listened to music that spoke of fairies and their secret, magical world. The shrines in SONG OF THE DRYAD are places of great power, where a human may step from the human realm into the fairy realm. Traditionally, fairies may steal human children or whisk weary travelers off into their magic world, and the walker need be hesitant of fairy rings—circles of mushrooms where the fairies dance. I used all of this to create the fairy shrines and also to build the foundation that my fairy world stands on. Much of the magic and world building in SONG OF THE DRYAD is based off of mythology, and then I took my own creativity to make that mythology work with the book.
MEG: In your opinion, what is the coolest aspect of this book?
NATALIA: Ooh, that’s such a hard question! I’d say the possibility that fairy magic brings into the world is the coolest part of the book, for me. Fairy magic can be gentle and compassionate and nurturing, and I enjoyed combining my love of magic with my respect for nature. Experiencing this fairy magic has completely changed the way I look at the world, and a hike through the woods will never be the same. Instead of watching where I’m walking, I’m now always busy looking for fairy rings and signs of fairies in the trees.
MEG: How has the reception of SONG OF THE DRYAD been thus far?
NATALIA: I’d say it’s been quite positive! We’re always hard on our own work, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear that people have enjoyed it! I know that some people won’t enjoy the story, and that’s something that can be said of any creative work. But at this point, I’m ready to share this story with the world and let readers do what they like with it. My fairies are yours to experience and enjoy!
MEG: What is one thing you wish you knew before starting your journey as a writer? Any advice you’d like to give to aspiring authors?
NATALIA: I wish I knew that it was possible. I spent years thinking I’d never achieve anything or amount to anything, but that’s just not true. Like all else, you have to be willing to truly dedicate yourself to the craft of writing, but it’s absolutely possible to write the book that’s been stuck in your heart for years and years. I abandoned more novels than I can count, but each of those “failures” taught me something important; so even if you’re struggling right now, know that this is all part of the process. And remember that you can do this. Your success is in your own hands.
MEG: Do you have other manuscripts coming down the pipeline that we can keep an eye out for?
NATALIA: I do! I’ve been outlining a new novel in the SONG OF THE DRYAD universe, and I plan to write the first draft for NaNoWriMo this year. It’s not necessarily a sequel, but more of a companion novel, and I can’t wait to get started!
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THANKS SO MUCH TO NATALIA FOR JOINING US TODAY!
Natalia Leigh graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. While in school she enjoyed blogging for her university and had multiple articles published in CSU’s school paper, The Collegian. Natalia worked as an English tutor out of college and now enjoys assisting her clients with their own fictional works, as well as sharing her writing experience on her YouTube channel.
When not writing, Natalia can usually be found caring for her many pet-sitting clients, honing her practice on a yoga mat, or staring out a window at her favorite coffee shop. Song of the Dryad is her third novel.