Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world
Today, I’m pleased to share Melissa Roske’s writing journey…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting
to be published?
Melissa: I’ve always loved books, so after college I did what most English majors do: I landed a job in publishing; first as an assistant editor at Scholastic, in New York, and later as a freelance writer and advice columnist in London, at Just Seventeen magazine. It wasn’t until I moved back to New York, after seven years of living abroad, that I thought about writing fiction. I’d written dozens of articles for magazines and newspapers in the meantime, but I never thought I had the talent for writing fiction. Fiction was for real writers—not wannabes like me.
I’d been back in New York for about a year when I was offered a job as an online relationships adviser on TheSite.org, an advice and information website for teens. It was a great gig, because it combined the two things I enjoyed most: writing and helping people solve their problems. I liked the job so much, in fact, that I decided to take it a step further and train as a life coach at New York University. I started my coaching business, Wheels in Motion Coaching, soon after.
Pretty soon I had a full roster of clients, and it was exciting to watch these men and women realize their dreams. Unfortunately, while I was helping others attain their goals, I realized that I was ignoring mine: to write a novel. So I hired my own life coach, the amazing Sara Lewis Murre (who, in a crazy twist of fate, was an accomplished novelist before she became a coach), and embarked on my writing journey. With Sara’s help, I learned how to push away the self-doubt and set daily writing goals. By the end of 2011, I had written my first novel, a chick-lit comedy called Good Girls Don’t Go Commando. Despite querying practically every agent listed on Literary Marketplace, it did not sell. I think the title was better than the book!
Amy: What inspired the idea for your debut novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN?
Melissa: It actually started with a Chinese fortune cookie. It said: “A winsome smile is your sure protection.” I can’t say I understood the point of the fortune when I first read it, but it had a nice ring to it and I decided to keep it. Several years later, I was going through my desk when I found the fortune. For reasons I can’t explain, an image of a sassy, 11-year-old New Yorker leaped into my brain, and I knew I had to write about her. I kept writing, and writing, until I had a clearer picture of this character and who she was as a person. I slowly added parents, a best friend, a quirky school in Greenwich Village, a stepmom, a little brother. Before I knew it, I had created Kat Greene’s world – and a first draft of my first middle-grade novel.
Amy: I love your background, especially your experience with being an advice columnist for Just Seventeen in London. How much did that experience influence your writing?
Melissa: It was huge. As an advice columnist, it was my job to I read every letter that crossed my desk – and I do mean every one. Over the years, I must have read thousands. Many of the letters followed a similar pattern: problems with boys, and pimples, and periods, and friends; annoying siblings; overprotective parents; curfews… Other letters, however, were unspeakably sad. One in particular, from a 13-year-old girl whose mom had recently died of cancer, really stood out. We ended up corresponding for more than a year, until the letters stopped coming. At first, I didn’t know how to feel. Should I be relieved that this girl no longer needed to write me—or worried that something had happened to her? Either way, this experience taught me that reaching out for advice is an act of courage; a leap of faith. I wanted to explore this further in my writing.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Melissa: As Kat would say, “Oh, boy!” As I’d mentioned, I’d queried a chick-lit novel prior to querying KAT, so I kind of knew the drill. That said, I still experienced the usual highs and lows that come with the querying process. The biggest frustration for me, though, wasn’t the rejections. It was the “no answer is an answer” policy. I understand that agents are swamped with queries, and it goes without saying that their main obligation should be to their clients. But as a writer who’s spent time in query purgatory, not knowing where you stand is a nerve-racking experience. It also causes a lot of anxiety and doubt. For me, this included picturing my query languishing in the agent’s spam folder—or worse, having my query inadvertently deleted by a careless assistant. A writer’s imagination is a dangerous thing!
Amy: How many agents did you query for KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN?
Melissa: I actually queried this novel twice. The first time, 25 agents turned it down before one said yes after an R&R. We went out on submission, but the novel didn’t sell. My agent and I parted ways soon after. If I were less stubborn, I would have called it quits. But I believed in my novel, and I hoped others would too. So I took a long, hard look at the manuscript and completely reworked it. I revamped the plot, added new characters, and changed the title. I also hired a crackerjack freelance editor for a full-scale manuscript evaluation. Then I started querying my new-and-improved manuscript all over again. To my amazement, I received requests for fulls right away, and I landed an agent soon afterwards. I revised the novel yet again with my new agent and found a happy home for it with editor Julie Bliven at Charlesbridge. I’ve since switched agents—I’m now repped by the lovely and talented Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency—but I will be forever grateful that the novel I thought was over and done with received a second chance.
Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author?
Melissa: Walking into Barnes & Noble and seeing my book on the shelf tops the list, but if I had to pick one thing it would be connecting with readers on a personal level. Not just signing their books, which I know will be amazing, but sitting down with readers and asking them what they liked—and didn’t like—about my book. That way, I can learn from my mistakes and make the next book even better. Being a published author is the dream for most writers, myself included, but unless I keep improving—and, if I’m lucky, able to transport readers to a magical place along the way—I won’t feel as if I’ve done my job properly. I owe it to my readers, and to myself.
Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?
Melissa: When I first started writing fiction, it was hard for me to keep my butt in the chair. I’d find any reason to escape: trips to the supermarket, the drycleaners, the post office, the bank… Not surprisingly, I didn’t get much writing done. Instead, I felt guilty for not being that girl on Twitter who claimed to write 10,000 words a day. (I still say she’s lying.) Sessions with my writing coach helped, but even my coach, as amazing as she was, couldn’t handcuff me to my chair and make me write. That was something I had to do myself. Luckily, I had a library of self-help books from my life-coaching days, so I pulled out Debbie Ford’s 2009 bestseller, The Best Year of Your Life, and read it cover to cover. I’m paraphrasing here, but Ford says that if you have a specific goal in mind—in my case, it was writing a novel—you need to ask yourself the following question: Will my actions bring me closer to my goal—or farther away from it?
From then on, whenever I was about to do something that would distract me from writing—trying on jeans at Bloomingdale’s, say, or trolling Sephora for the perfect lip gloss—I’d ask myself Ford’s question. I still use this technique when I’m hearing the siren song of distraction, and I find it incredibly useful. It’s not foolproof, of course, but it does keep my butt in the chair… most of the time.
Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Find Melissa on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.