Joan F. Smith is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and dance instructor from Massachusetts. She is obsessed with humor, unanswerable questions, and the intersection between truth and lies. Joan does her best writing on airplanes, and her worst with no caffeine. She studied creative writing and social science at Providence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. When she isn’t writing, Joan teaches dance, travels, exercises, works in higher ed, mentors writers, and wrangles her kids. She is the author of the young adult novel The Half Orphan’s Handbook, coming from Macmillan/Imprint in Winter 2021. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and kids, where her daily requirement as a parent includes dance parties in the kitchen. You can find more about her at joanfsmithbooks.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jf_smit.
After grieving my dad’s death through thesis-writing in my MFA program, I took a break from long-form fiction. I got married, had my first child, and drifted back toward novel writing in 2014, followed by a few years of starting and shelving manuscripts. In 2016, I wrote my first finished novel, THE HALF ORPHAN’S HANDBOOK, about a girl desperate to learn the reasons behind her father’s suicide who heads to grief camp for the summer, where she falls in love with a boy who is not who he claims to be. I revised it in 2017, had another baby, was mentored by Rebecca Phillips in 2018, signed with my agent shortly thereafter, and wrote a second and part of a third novel while on submission/selling in 2019.
I work in higher ed as an associate dean, but I began teaching at the college level when I was 22 years old (midway through my MFA). I used to be the sort of professor who would leap on desks and throw chalk, but now I teach online, so I leap on desks and throw chalk either via video or text. I design creative writing programs and curriculum, and have been on editorial boards at multiple publications. My CPs call my feedback “Joan Level” and my Round 6 mentee says I “uncover problems to the bone” and “help her build them back up.”
The concept of “paying it forward” is so simple, positive, and effective. I wouldn’t be where I am now without mentors. I know the feeling of looking at your work, knowing you’ve done your due diligence with it, and having the benefit of a mentor or critique partner work their magic to help you level up. I want to pay that feeling forward. Helping others is a positive thing all around, and I’m invested in lifting other writers up. I treasure my mentor/mentee relationships and being a part of such a vibrant community.
I’m drawn to authors who are driven to level up, and characters making the most difficult choices of their life. In both adult and YA, I love coming-of-age, engaging and/or unique premises/problems, and unforgettable voices. I love to laugh. In contemporary with a speculative bent or magical realism, I want to be immersed in the rules of the world you’ve penned. If they’re compelling, then I am here for your issue book, too. I am down with books with a strong romantic element (of any kind), but it’s not required – friendship stories are also so needed. I also love to learn. If you have a cool angle where you’ll educate me about the world, then I’m your mentor. In any genre, I want something well-told – so immersive that it makes me want to give my kids screen time so I can finish it.
YA & Adult:
- Magical Realism/Fabulism
- HUrban/Contemporary Fantasy
Nothing is a must-have to me. Please don’t self-reject! If you think we’re a good fit, then send it along. That said:
Enemies to lovers
Smart and witty
Unique structures/timelines or storytelling practices
I don’t typically enjoy:
Implausible reasons why parents are not present
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
- Freestyle in chat
I provide high-level and line-edit feedback via both an edit letter and a manuscript line edit. If you’re comfortable with it, we can talk about everything from food to music to movies to plot problems via DM or text. As a next step, I’ll ask you to do a little bit of homework (sorry not sorry) and develop what I call a Revision Action Plan, where you take my critique and decide how/if you’ll implement the notes. As soon as we’re matched up and beyond, I’ll be available to touch base by text or chat, too – I prefer written methods to phone. To close, I’m a dance coach/instructor and I spent a season as a cheerleading captain (long story), and I’m fiercely loyal, so I will soften my critical feedback with a shower of positive praise, too. If I adore your story and your voice, I hope we can keep our partnership going beyond Round 7. My Round 6 mentee was agented shortly after she finished her AMM revisions, and we still chat regularly.
You’re willing to tackle your manuscript, tear it apart, try new things, and work hard with a great attitude. People grow when they’re uncomfortable, and you’re willing to take a hard look at what you’ve got, where you’re at, and be willing to rise up to what you can become as a writer. You have a sense of humor. You are well-read in your genre. Your manuscript is the best it can be, and if you’re being very real and honest with yourself, you’ve really polished it. You are eager to learn, willing to work, excited, and communicative about your questions and needs.
- Writing that strikes the happy place between commercial and literary (or wants to)
- Immersive settings, sensory description, new comparisons
- Funny. I am fluent in sarcasm.
- Complex characters making the most difficult decision of their lives
- Coming of age
- Family sagas
- Themes/questions that are not answerable
- Unique structures
DO NOT SEND ME:
- All-white casts
- Glorification of suicide
- Romance-only plots
Books or Authors I Love:
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith
J. Courtney Sullivan, John Irving, and Jodi Picoult
WE ARE OKAY by Nina LaCour
LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green
THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS by Laura Taylor Namey
THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA by Tahereh Mafi
RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy
OUR YEAR OF MAYBE by Rachel Lynn Solomon
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli
Movies: Forrest Gump, Get Out, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
TV Shows: Breaking Bad, Succession, Veep, Westworld, The Good Place, Ozark, Grey’s, This Is Us, Stranger Things, Riverdale, True Blood, Dead to Me
World Products: Coffee, wine, bookstores, dance studios, podcasts, running sneakers