Our executive editor, Lisa Tener, first met Stephanie Meyers at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course and was taken by her insights on the impact of how we talk to our children at the dinner table, and particularly how that affects their relationship with food and eating throughout their lives. Stephanie went on to work with Lisa on her book proposal, signed with a literary agent and then got a book deal with New Harbinger Publications. On May 1, that terrific book, End the Mealtime Meltdown, was published. Here Claire Nakamura speaks with Stephanie about her book writing and publishing journey, and gets her best tips for aspiring authors.
Inspiration to write End the Mealtime Meltdown
Claire: You describe the elements that inspired your development of the Table Talk method, but what was your initial inspiration to write End the Mealtime Meltdown?
Stephanie: Time spent on playgrounds in casual conversation with other parents inspired me. Especially when they’d ask, “How do you get your kids to eat that?” (“that” being any number of foods from brussels sprouts to salmon).
I spent the better part of a decade having conversations like these with parents, grandparents, nannies and caregivers of all kinds, most of whom were feeling subpar, in one way or another, about feeding their kids. I didn’t write this book because I have all the answers; I wrote it to share the questions that I believe can really help transform family dynamics over food.
Claire: How long had you wanted to write this book before you started? Was there anything you needed to overcome to get going on the book writing and publishing journey?
Stephanie: The seeds of this book took a long time to germinate (at least five years) and there are plenty of things I’m still working to overcome! I attended writing conferences which gave me insight into what it takes to write a book but the thing that helped me get going most was Lisa Tener’s Meet your Muse exercise.
Tips for writing a book proposal
Claire: What tips do you have for writing a book proposal?
Stephanie: Hire help! Writing a book proposal is a skill unto itself, not at all like writing your actual book. Even though I’d read many of the how-to books on the topic, working one-on-one with Lisa was what enabled me to craft a proposal that landed me an agent and eventually a book deal.
How to present research in an engaging way
Claire: Did the scientific foundation behind the Table Talk Method affect the way you wrote about the method for parents? What steps did you take while writing to present your research findings as more easily palatable information and strategies for parents?
Stephanie: Yes! The basis of my approach is mindfulness; both mindful eating and mindful communication. In writing the book I tried to infuse a sense of non-judgment and show parents that the way out of mealtime struggles involves turning toward, not away from a child’s upset feelings over food.
Writing a second book based on the first
Claire: The idea of table talk doesn’t just apply to kids; you mention in Chapter 10 how some of your adult clients struggle with their own negative internal dialogue surrounding mealtime. Did you ever consider writing about the Table Talk Method for a different audience? Or did you start out with a clear definition of your audience, and the problems you were trying to solve?
Stephanie: Funny you should ask because the “guts” of a potential book (for adults) on how to overturn self-talk around food lives in a file cabinet in my office. I decided to write the parenting book first because I’m a parent myself and I believe if we change the messages kids get early on in life, they’ll have a better chance of growing up believing they deserve to be self-compassionate as eaters.
Developing the right voice for your audience
Claire: We often hear, “Write what you know.” Your insight as a parent really shines throughout the book. In End The Mealtime Meltdown you convey an empathetic and encouraging tone when offering suggestions and coaching parents to rethink their “old table talk.” How did you develop your voice and this tone throughout the book?
Stephanie: This voice arises from my daily meditation practice. By no means is it perfect (I definitely lose my cool as a parent), but my ongoing exploration of mindful self-compassion helps me get through. In fact, I hope one message every reader takes from my book is that they’re doing a better job feeding their kids than they’re giving themselves credit for.
Working with an editor at your publishing house
Claire: Can you share a bit about the publishing journey and working with your editor at the publishing house? What are the steps you went through and how much did the book change in that process?
Stephanie: My process with New Harbinger involved three phases of editing: developmental, copyediting and proofreading. A different team of editors was involved in each phase and work was done three chapters at a time so it wasn’t overwhelming. The changes to the book helped fine-tune the flow and involved things like refining chapter titles, simplifying self-reflective journal exercises and writing summary paragraphs to conclude each chapter.
Engaging your readers
Claire: Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your into the editing process. Speaking of the journal exercises, throughout the book you offer different prompts for parents to reflect on their own table talk style and goals. What do you hope parents will gain by utilizing these reflection questions while reading?
Stephanie: My intent with this book is for parents to test it out in their own life. The purpose of the exercises is for readers to engage with and take note of their own learning process. To be honest, I think reading parenting books can be kind of tiring, so I built in these questions to keep readers going when they might otherwise feel like giving up.
Writing tips for keeping the creative juices flowing
Claire: It’s as if you personally check in with your readers, and shows that you wrote the book with their reading experience in mind. You write in a gentle, compassionate way that makes reading about stressful topics for parents feel very manageable and approachable. Do you have any writing tips for our readers?
Stephanie: Yes, two things: Work with Lisa to craft your Vision Statement, then print that and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day. Second, give yourself the gift of five minutes a day to write about something other than your book. I recommend Lisa’s The Joy of Writing Journal because it keeps your creative juices flowing in a way that scaffolds your “official” writing time.
Claire: I agree, the structure of The Joy of Writing Journal helps you develop a writing routine, while the prompts and list exercises inspire and spark your creativity. Other than working with Lisa, you mentioned your literary agent in your acknowledgments section. How did you find your literary agent?
Stephanie: By talking with a friend who suggested three literary agents I should pitch. One of them became my agent!
How to approach your desired foreword writer
Claire: I know it can be very helpful to get a foreword written by a bestselling author. How did Carla Naumburg become your foreword writer?
Stephanie: I met Carla Naumburg, PhD, at a writer’s conference after getting the courage to walk up to her and introduce myself. She listened with such presence (in her therapist-way) then shared specific reasons she thought my book idea had value. Her generosity extended beyond that conversation, too. We met for lunch and she shared stories about her experiences in the publishing world, which was invaluable to me. When it was time for me to find a foreword writer there was no doubt in my mind who I would ask. Carla has been a champion of my work from day one and it’s a tremendous honor for me to have her words open my book.
In case you haven’t heard, she has TWO NEW BOOKS coming out: You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent (September 2022, Workman) and after that How to Stop Freaking Out (a book about emotional regulation for middle-schoolers).
Tips for marketing your book
Claire: What are your plans for marketing the book? Do you have any advice for our readers about book marketing?
Stephanie: If your publishing house has a publicist, connect with them early on to find out what they plan to do to publicize your book and how you can be an active participant, leveraging your platform to help spread the word.
Right now, New Harbinger has a book bundle giveaway on Instagram featuring my book and two other fabulous parenting books – enter to win by May 9th!
They’re also giving away free copies on Goodreads.
I’m also offering virtual workshops for parent/caregiver groups at schools and in workplaces.
What I’ve learned is that marketing and publicity are a team effort – so my best advice is to roll up your sleeves and have fun!
About Stephanie Meyers
Stephanie Meyers is a Dietitian, Nutritionist and Founder of Families Eating Well, a nutrition practice training parents to coach healthy eating habits in kids. She is also The Nutrition Manager in The Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a former instructor in the graduate nutrition department at Boston University. Stephanie presents seminars world-wide on mindful eating, family nutrition and cancer survivorship and her new book, End the Mealtime Meltdown: Using The Table Talk Method to Free Your Family From Daily Food Struggles and Picky Eating was published May 1, 2022.