Melissa R. Work is a fantasy author born and raised in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. After a four-year stint studying psychology in upstate New York, she traded blizzards for humidity and fled 800 miles south. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
A lifelong “maker of stuff,” Melissa has quilted quilts, built bookshelves, blown glass, baked bread, mixed skincare products, and attempted nearly every art-and/or-craft at least once. Now she writes novels. (It was a natural progression.) She’s also played the oboe and English horn for many years. Melissa is extremely fond of animals, with a special affection for wheaten terriers.
I got my start in fiction-writing in the early-aughts-era fanfiction world. Later, when the Great Recession hit, I picked up writing again for escapism, but I didn’t take any of it seriously. After spewing out a couple novel-length documents, I then latched upon the concept which became my first “actual book.”
I queried that manuscript in September 2017 (very prematurely), but thankfully stopped after ~25 rejections. After taking a year to revise, I began querying “for real” in February 2019. By mid-May 2019, I’d racked up ~45 additional rejections, plus 3 offers of representation.
My agent and I finally went on submission in summer 2020. As I keep on patiently waiting (and waiting and waiting), I’m writing my next book, applying the lessons I learned from the many, many mistakes I made with my first one, and looking forward!
For the last ~6 years I’ve freelanced part-time as a writing consultant on a wide variety of nonfiction/business/academic-type writing projects. I also have a Master’s degree in “Organizational Leadership” (which basically means management consulting; ergo, much of my coursework was re: one-on-one or small-group coaching/training-sessions, evaluating projects for what’s working/not-working, brainstorming solutions, communicating feedback…) Back in college, I worked as a “Writing Fellow,” specializing in intensive, big-picture content edits.
Plus, in general — I beta-read whenever I can squeeze it in, and I help critique queries in writing-groups; some of those projects have found agents, and some are getting published.
Consider a career within the traditional publishing industry as not unlike the conditions of a zombie apocalypse: people who try to “go it alone” get eaten alive by the soulless phalanx of demicorpses choking each road. Community, however, saves us and allows us to thrive. I’ve had plenty of people help me along the way; now, I want to help YOU. We give back best by paying it forward.
Send me gorgeous prose, psychologically complex characters, quirky concepts, genre-mashups, and VOICE, darling.
(What do I mean by “quirky”? I don’t know yet! But if your concept is something that, whenever some foolish-but-well-meaning Normal Person asks what your book is about, you feel the need first to caution them “well, it’s kind of, um…weird” — there’s a decent chance I’ll think it’s cool.)
I welcome #ownvoices submissions and stories from under-represented/marginalized creators.
Some recent(ish) books I’ve loved that represent my current tastes:
- GIDEON THE NINTH
- THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA
- THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
- THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
This genre is my first love, and I enjoy all kinds of stuff. I like magic, but I don’t require magic; I like historical elements/influences, but I also like totally unfamiliar worlds; I’m more of a dragon-girl than a unicorn-girl, but I’ve read plenty of both kinds of books. Honestly, it’s easier to indicate the subgenres I’m LESS-into than the ones I like —
- Fairytale retellings *usually* aren’t my thing, and I tend not to go for contemporary fantasy, but I’m open to being surprised by a cool, new concept in those subgenres. (Especially if it reflects a less-commonly-represented cultural influence or perspective.)
- I’m not the right mentor for Arthurian legend. (This refers specifically to Camelot, knights of the round table, Merlin, etc.; stories inspired by that historical era and/or those military/political/social conflicts are totally fair game!)
- Epic fantasy is cool, just be aware I’m unlikely to select a chonky doorstopper (see anti-MSWL section).
- I like stories featuring complex kingdom politics and interpersonal power-plays, but my current WIP is kinda like that, so for everyone’s sake I’ll be avoiding those manuscripts.
- I’m not very interested in paranormal, but I do have a soft spot for punkrock vampires (LOST SOULS by Poppy Z Brite was very important to me during my 9th grade goth phase).
- Otherwise, practically anything goes! If you don’t see your story overtly reflected in my preferences, I encourage you not to self-reject.
I’m looking for “soft” sci-fi; the science/tech needs to be explained enough to feel plausible, but the story should be character/relationship-driven.
- I like science-fantasy. Can your robots do magic? Can your scientists summon demons via math equations? Let’s see it!
- I’m not the mentor for stories emphasizing detail-heavy space-battles with lots of laser-y pew-pew-pew blowing up Imperial satellites in epic explosions; it’s just not my thing. (Give me Star Trek, not Star Wars.)
- Military-SF is unlikely to be a fit, unless the military-stuff is just the backdrop for the characters to interact (like, in the way that football movies consist of locker room scenes and practice montages and lots of sports-talk, but the football-aspect is kinda irrelevant, because that’s not what the movie is actually “about” — ya know?).
- Beyond that, surprise me! If it’s nerdy and clever with a strong character-focus, I’ll probably like it.
Please note — the **only** Romance-subs I’ll consider will be those set in an alternate universe; basically, where you’re wondering “do I query this as Romantic Fantasy, or Fantasy Romance?” (And ideally, leaning towards the Fantasy-side.) Otherwise, I promise I am NOT the mentor you want.
(Seriously: don’t waste one of your submission-slots by sending me your contemporary rom-com! I might absolutely love it, but I’m not going to select it — the regular-Romance genre is vast and nuanced, and I don’t know enough about it to be offering advice.)
- I don’t dislike Horror, but I don’t read much of it; if everything else in my profile seems a perfect match for your SFF-Horror-story, please send it along! But if you’re stuck between mentors, Horror submissions are *probably* better off with someone else.
- The presence of well-drawn LGBTQ+ characters makes any book better. (And the more, the merrier!)
- “Saving the world”-plots are a little boring to me. It’s not an automatic no-go, but I tend to prefer stakes that are “smaller” and more personal.
I WILL PROVIDE:
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
- Skype or phone call
- Freestyle in chat
- I default to a fairly “direct” approach to giving feedback (while always remaining kind and constructive, of course!); I’ll treat it as a given that you’ve become one of my ducklings and are therefore under my wing to be nurtured, just be aware I’m not predisposed to bubbly chirpy warm-and-fuzziness.
- I’d prefer to work in Word and send versions back-and-forth. But if you’ve got a strong preference for Google docs (or whatever), or if there’s another method you need/prefer to use for accessibility, that’s cool, too. We’ll figure it out. I’m not worried.
- I believe in open lines of communication! E-mail, Twitter DMs, Facebook messenger…we could do Zoom or Skype, too; whatever you want. (I don’t like talking on the regular-phone, but then, does anyone?)
Honestly, I’m pretty chill. If there’s ever a problem, just tell me. We’ll be fine.
- nuts and bolts of sentence rhythm and phrasing
- deep psychological character-analysis
- identifying the overall, capital-P Point a story is making, or trying to make
- explaining more than anyone wants to know about the subjunctive mood
- whatever it was that enabled me to trim 129k words off the first draft of my manuscript
- plotting. (Like, the step-by-step assembly of which specific scenes go in what order.) If this happens to be a writing-weakness of yours, too, and/or an issue you know your manuscript needs major help with, you may want to submit to someone else.
- my turnaround time on drafts/edits/edit-letters might be slightly slower than other mentors’; it sometimes takes my brain a bit longer than average to focus and generally “get it together.” (But I’m good with deadlines, and I’ll keep you apprised of my progress/schedule.)
- You have a clear vision for your book.
- You are eager to work. (Because you wouldn’t be subbing your manuscript to AMM if you weren’t actually interested in changing anything — right…?)
- You work well independently. (If you need me, PLEASE contact me, and I’ll definitely be checking in, but if I don’t otherwise hear from you, I’m going to assume you’re fine.)
- In an absolute perfect world, you are willing/able to articulate “here is the kind of help I need from you; here is how I work best.” (If reading that sends you spiraling because you have no freaking idea, then shhh, it’s okay, really; just tell me THAT! We’ll work it out!)
(Besides what I indicated elsewhere…)
- Strong internal/character-arcs. Complex introspection. Messy existential crises. Complicated angst.
- out-there premises that will make me marvel at how you’ll possibly pull it off (and maybe wonder at your sanity, too).
- I appreciate a sense of humor, or at least some occasional playfulness. Wry observations; characters who quip jokes; embracing the perfect setup for a pun… The story itself may be serious overall, but you still had fun writing it, I hope! I like having fun, too.
- subcultures, underdogs, protagonists we don’t often see as the protagonist of a story.
- great clothes
- balls, masquerades, circus shows
- witty banter
- sexual consent done sexily
- petite women-in-charge who strike the fear of god in their underlings
- Stylistically, I enjoy literary flourishes — extended metaphors, similes, symbolism, motifs…
- I’ve lately had a hankering for an intense hero/antagonist pairing with lots of spite and rivalry and crackling sexual chemistry that they’re both perhaps halfway-aware-of but could never, EVER act on, of course, because it’d just be sooo *wrong*… (bonus points for LGBT+ pairing!)
- I love a good Intimate Conversation Full Of Tension and Feelings, especially paired with self-indulgent/so-bad-it’s-good fanfiction tropes. (“Oh no, my secret beloved has fallen feverishly ill, but we’re snowed-in at this rustic mountain cabin and there’s only one blanket; guess I’ll need to use my body-heat to keep her warm…”) This can be tricky to execute plausibly in regular-fiction, but if done well, it delights me!
- characters who are total nerds about something esoteric, and/or who do an unusual profession I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about, and/or who are like, REALLY INTO a particular odd hobby and describe it in loving deep detail.
General FYI: I’m comfortable reading sex-scenes if they’re there; I’m also comfortable with fade-to-black. I’m also fine with no romantic subplot whatsoever. Basically, whatever your characters do or don’t do re: doing the do, don’t worry that I’ll be over here clutching my pearls.
DO NOT SEND ME:
(Besides what I indicated elsewhere…)
- Anything with a wordcount that’s wildly outside industry standards for debut Adult SFF. I’d like to select something that’s between 100k-115k, with 90k and 125k being the outer limits.
- Anything wherein a beloved pet dies. Hunting/cooking/eating meat is fine; mentioning horses/etc dying in battle is fine. But please don’t get me emotionally invested in an animal and then kill it off. (This goes double if it’s a dog! I’m already grieving a dog; please respect this.)
- I’m not into angels. If you’ve got some *wildly* original take on the subject that isn’t bible-based, I’ll take a look, but Christian/inspirational stuff just reeeeally isn’t for me.
- Rape as plot progression and/or trauma porn. Now: if sexual assault is an inextricable part of your character’s backstory, their lived experience, or identity; is sensitively and authentically explored; is a formative component of what your book overall is trying to achieve — that’s not what I’m refusing to read. What I DO NOT want are gratuitous scenes/details that solely exist for the sake of enhancing atmospheric depravity, or to make us sympathize with a character or hate another character, or to serve as the triggering event witnessed by the hero that incites his fury and sends him on his adventure, etc. There are other ways to accomplish those ends. I’m not interested.
- Casual misogyny, racism, homo/transphobia. (There’s enough of that in the real world.)
- “bury your gays” trope.
- If your story is driven primarily by the hero’s pursuit of revenge, I’m probably not the right mentor for you. I love a good antihero arc as much as anyone, but the overwhelming, all-consuming NEED for vengeance as a protagonist’s main life-goal almost invariably feels flat to me. (Revenge as a plot-component or element of the story is fine; I have no “problem” with revenge! I merely have trouble buying into it as the big Thing the Protagonist Wants.)
*** If I haven’t said anything, pro or con, that describes your story, don’t self-reject! Give it a shot!
Whenever someone asks me a “what’s your favorite___?” question, I always instantly forget everything I’ve ever experienced. But: as a random and wildly incomplete sampling of “stuff I like,” in no particular order…
- Downton Abbey
- Queer As Folk
- The Queen’s Gambit
- The Newsroom
- Last Week Tonight
- Gilmore Girls
- GoT before it became shitty
- Mean Girls
- both Pride & Prejudice movies (granted, the BBC one was technically a mini-series, which tbh is a much better medium for recreating a Jane Austen novel, since a big part of what makes her books so effective is their skillfully-understated sense of temporality, which you’re just plain GOING to lose in a standard-length movie format given the need to cram in the full plot — but I digress)
- ….There are definitely others, too… (although, to be honest, I’m actually not a big movie-person)
- Yuri! On Ice
- Serial Experiments Lain
- black raspberry