Celebrated New York Times best-selling writer Melanie Gideon is having a year for the books. Her first adult novel, the hotly anticipated Wife 22, has already been picked up for release in 30 different countries (yes, you read that correctly!). Acquired by Working Title films, Wife 22 is also slated to grace the big screen.
Through old-fashioned passion, persistence, and countless hours behind a computer, Melanie rose from working in fashion copy-writing to become an applauded writer of young adult fantasy books, non-fiction, and now, fiction. How did her writing develop and find commercial success beyond the young adult fantasy audience? Straight out of every writer’s dream, Melanie’s refreshingly candid “Modern Love” column for The New York Times was adapted into a full-fledged memoir about the entirely honest and all too comical ups and downs of navigating marriage and motherhood.
We believe that an Everygirl never stops honing and perfecting her craft. Melanie’s journey as a writer speaks to us because she has cultivated and transformed her literary voice across several established genres without sacrificing her signature wit and grasp on modern day matters of the heart. Instead of avoiding failure, Melanie embraces it as a natural part of her transformation. Below, Melanie shares her veteran tips on how to navigate the publishing process, cope with rejection, and find your distinct style as a writer.
Tell us, Everygirls: are you an aspiring writer?
Educational background: Bachelor of Science in Print Journalism from Emerson College in Boston, MA
Age at which you published your first book: 28
What was your first job out of college and how long did you hold that position?
I was a copywriter at a company that put on fashion trade shows. Although I loved the fashion part of my job, I didn’t last long there. I was a bad girl and wrote a good part of my first novel at work. I always felt ashamed about this, but later found out many writers wrote a good part of their first novels at work. Then I felt like I was in good company.
When and how did you know that you wanted to make a career out of writing?
I knew when I was eleven that I wanted to be a writer. I actually wrote fake blurbs that would go on the back of my future book.
Example: “Melanie Gideon has written a masterpiece and I think she is so wonderful and brilliant I have now adopted her as my daughter.” – Madeline L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time was one of those books that made me want to be a writer.
What sort of obstacles did you face early on in your career as a writer?
There are many (being a writer is not a vocation for the faint-hearted), but I’ll name the two big ones.
Rejection. For a writer rejection comes early and often. The bad news—it always hurts. The good news—eventually you recover more quickly.
Fear of public speaking. Alas, the only way through your fear is through public speaking. Lots of it. At this point in my career I’ve given dozens of talks and readings. I still get nervous the hours before, but what’s changed is I know that as long as I prepare, once I get out there I’ll be fine.
When and how were you able to fully support yourself with your writing?
I’ve written five books, but it’s only in the last five years, with the last two books, that I can truly say I can live on what I’m making. Before that, I’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful spouse who has been willing to underwrite the Melanie Gideon Struggling Author Fund.
The Slippery Year was originally a column in the New York Times. What prompted you to turn it into a memoir? And what steps did you take to see it from first draft to publication?
Before writing The Slippery Year I wrote fantasy novels for young adults. Then one day I was asked to write a personal essay for Edutopia. The only requirement was that the essay have a kid in it. Well, I had a kid and a story to tell. I had just dropped my young son off at sleep-away camp for the first time, and it just about killed me. So I wrote this essay, and it was really fun and easy; it poured right out. So I wrote another little essay about my husband buying a camper van on the Internet, and once again, I had the same liberating experience. That’s when I knew I had to write more non-fiction. From that Modern Love piece I got a book deal to write The Slippery Year.
Speaking of your memoir, how did you manage telling stories that involved family and friends? Did you ask for their permission first or for their forgiveness later? What was your experience writing yourself as the main character?
Great questions! I did NOT let anybody read it, except my editor, until it was done. Then I let anybody who was in the book read it and have a chance to vet it. And if there was something in there that they were uncomfortable with and wanted me to take out—I did. I did not want to tell tales on other people. I was willing to disclose unattractive parts of myself, but I had no interest in trashing my family. As far as my experience of writing about myself—when I finished the book I realized how profoundly lucky I was to have such amazing people in my life.
We’re big fans of your young adult novels. Where do these dream worlds you create come from? What inspires you to begin a story? And where do you start, with a plot or character?
I’m a plot girl. From the plot springs characters. As far as creating dream worlds and my best ideas—they come from heat. AKA, the shower. Hot water beating down on my head is the ultimate muse.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
When I’m working on a book and under a deadline, I write seven days a week until it’s done. I’m constantly revising and editing as I go along. I don’t work in a vacuum. I’m always sharing the work in progress with my editor and team of trusted readers. I approach my writing and books like a business. I’m not romantic about it. Here’s the secret to being a writer. Every day. Butt in the chair. Write. I don’t believe in writer’s block.
What has been the single most rewarding aspect of your career?
When I get emails from readers telling me my books made them laugh and cry.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Getting a thick skin when you are a very thin-skinned person.
Every writer deals with a great deal of rejection throughout his or her career. How do you handle having your work turned away?
Here is what I learned the hard way. And I think this applies to any line of work where you are putting yourself out there in the public marketplace. Don’t expect everybody will love your work. Rule of thumb is 35% will love it. 35% will hate it. And 35% will be indifferent. I know that adds up to 105%, but I’m a writer precisely because I’m so bad at math. My point is this: your job is to write, or blog, or design, or paint, or pick stocks, or whatever, for the 35% who believe in you and love your work. Forget about the rest.
Any coping advice you can share with Everygirls who hope to publish?
Writing is a long apprenticeship. I wish I had known this when I started out. I’ve written five books and have been at this a while now. Some people have success right out of the gate. But for most of us it’s a steady uphill climb, filled with reversals, switchbacks, and white-outs. But occasionally a supermoon will appear that is so bright and otherworldly it will make you gasp for breath and remember why you began the journey in the first place.
Your first novel for adults, Wife 22, comes out today—congrats! What has it been like waiting for publication day?
Nerve-wracking! I’m practicing the art of distraction.
How will you celebrate the book’s debut?
I’m having a party here in California and a party in New York City. I just found the perfect book party dress: one that doesn’t require me to suck my stomach in all night long (or wear Spanx), so I am very relieved.
And will you read the reviews?
I will read some of the reviews. Not all of them. I know better.
How do you find balance between your writing life and your personal one?
I’m very lucky. Usually one bleeds into the other beautifully, except for now, when I’m about to go on book tour. Then I have to think about things like how my son is going to get home from school when I’m in Austin, Texas and if I should get that keratin treatment before I go on the road (yes, yes, I know the answer is yes.)
What’s next for Melanie Gideon?
Well, after the U.S. book tour I’m going to London to do press for the UK launch, and then to Paris as well, to do a little more press (I’m very pleased that Wife 22 will be published in 30 countries and the movie rights have been sold to Working Title Films!). After that a much needed family vacation. And after that, it’s home and back to work on my next novel, POP.
What advice do you have for an Everygirl who dreams of someday making a career as a writer? What steps would you encourage her to take to achieve this goal?
Read voraciously. Write your heart out. Be patient.
What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
Don’t be scared of falling. Be scared of falling and not getting up.