Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Melanie Crowder, who has received many honors for her debut novel, PARCHED, including Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Silver Medal in the Parents’ Choice Awards, and a starred review from the Bulletin.
Her second book, AUDACITY, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Her third novel, A NEARER MOON, releases September 8 from Atheneum Books / S&S.
Melanie holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t writing, Melanie can be found teaching, reading, daydreaming or exploring the beautiful state of Colorado where she lives with her family.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I usually begin by writing really short drafts without much pre-planning to find the voice and tone for a new book. Then I step back and give it a read. I make a million notes and chart out the plot and character arcs—where I want the book to go thematically and structurally. Finally, I use all that planning to dig back in and write a much thicker, much stronger second draft.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I have no idea, to be honest! Maybe 3 months to get to that second draft? Another month or two to before I’ll show it to my editor? Six months or more in revisions with my editor? So I suppose that’s about a year to D&A. Good to know—thanks for asking!
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I like to keep my focus in one place, mostly. That sort of single-minded attention means my mind is working on the story all the time—while I’m sleeping, or driving, or out on a walk. But there are always gaps in my revision schedule where, if I don’t turn to something new, then I wouldn’t be writing at all. Or, like what happened last week: I’m in the middle of revisions for one book when the first pass comes through for a different book and I have no choice but to switch gears. Sometimes it’s a little jarring to jump between different manuscripts, especially since the different projects are so different in tone and style, but that’s the job, and I love it!
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
When I first started, I had no idea how little I understood about how to write a book. So I didn’t really have any fears then—I didn’t know any better!
I definitely feel it now, though. There are always fears and insecurities that can get in the way of the creative process. The trick is to acknowledge them and then put them behind you.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
I worked on 4 books before I found my agent and editor: 2 before my MFA, and 2 during. I think of them as learning books—I doubt I’ll ever go back to them, and I’m so glad I had the time to work through those stories and improve before my work went out there into the world. SO glad!
Have you ever quit on a ms, and how did you know it was time?
Only during my MFA program. When I got to the point with a manuscript where I had learned all I needed to, then I moved on and started fresh with a story that would be stronger from the very first word because of all I had learned on the previous one.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
I work with Ammi-Joan Paquette. We found each other through an unusual process in that I was already connected with my editor and the book was already on its way to acquisitions when I signed with her.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I think it was about six months of obsessive email checking before I got that YES. So glad that’s behind me!
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
What they say really is true—keep writing. Send your manuscript out and start working on something else. If you’re willing to stick with it and push yourself to constantly improve your craft, it’s not so much if you will get an agent, but when. Hang in there!
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
There’s nothing like it. Just today, I saw a librarian featuring Audacity on a morning TV show, and I got that same thrill. That’s my name on the cover. It’s an awesome feeling!
How much input do you have on cover art?
Virtually none. I see the publishing process as a partnership and I’m happy to let other members of the team make the decisions they are best qualified to make. I do the writing, they do the rest, and together we make great books!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I think just the sheer number of books published in a single year. And good ones, too! Something like 750 books for children & young adults receive starred reviews in a single year. That’s amazing! I’m seriously behind in my reading.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I have a website, I tweet, and I also just started using Instagram—it’s fun!
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think it depends. Do you enjoy learning about the industry through social media posts? Then do that. Do you enjoy learning about writing craft through blog posts? Then do that. Do you like engaging with current issues on Twitter? Then do that. Would you rather be writing? Then do that. Just grab your domain name for now and call it good.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I’m on the fence about that, to be honest. I think the most important thing to do as a writer is to write, so that’s where I put my energy. I could blog every day or tweet all the time and it wouldn’t be half as effective in reaching readers as the enthusiastic posts they see from other readers who just have to tell everyone how much they loved my book. That’s genuine, and it’s meaningful both to me, and to potential readers.