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 cut my writing-for-an-audience teeth in the early-aughts-era fanfiction world — it was A Time, for sure — but then I took a ~10 year break from fiction writing. When the Great Recession hit, bestowing me an abundance of empty hours to fill, I started writing again for escapism. After spewing out a couple novel-length documents, not taking it very seriously, I latched upon the concept which later became the first “actual book” I ever wrote.
I first queried that manuscript in September 2017 — a rookie-move, because it wasn’t “ready,” but I didn’t know that then. (Thankfully I stopped after ~25 rejections). I took a year to revise, figure out what I was doing, and get more betas, then began querying “for real” in February 2019. Three months later, I’d racked up ~45 additional rejections, plus 3 offers of representation from my top-choice agents.
My agent and I revised my manuscript for a year, and we went on submission in summer 2020. I’ve gotten some *really* glowing rejections and made it to second-reads, but so far, no offers. Submission isn’t over yet, but it’s winding down, so this book may not become my debut after all. But that’s why I’ve been busily working on my NEXT manuscript! Such is the nature of the biz.
In addition to mentoring in R8 last year, I’ve freelanced part-time as a writing consultant for the last ~6 years on a wide variety of projects. It’s all nonfiction/academic/business-type writing (or college essays) — i.e. I don’t work with fiction, professionally — but the interpersonal relationship is very similar to mentoring. Most of what I do is helping the other person figure out what THEY are trying to communicate, and then moving onto how; very psychology-oriented.
I have a Master’s degree in “Organizational Leadership,” which basically means management consulting. Much of my coursework focused on one-on-one or small-group coaching/training-sessions, evaluating projects for what’s working/not-working, brainstorming solutions, communicating feedback…mentoring stuff!
In college, I was a “Writing Fellow” for 3.5 years. This was distinct from the regular writing “tutors,” who primarily addressed comma placement and grammar. “Fellows” had to take a semester-long/for-credit course in critique-giving, and we specialized in intensive, big-picture content edits.
Plus, in general — I beta-read whenever I can, and I help critique queries in writing-groups; some of those projects have found agents, and some are getting published.
Whether in the publishing industry or a zombie apocalypse, people who try to “go it alone” get eaten alive. Community saves us. 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.
Also, listen: writing is a largely-solitary endeavor, and it can sometimes feel very lonely, too — but it doesn’t have to! There are *so many* of us out there. I want to connect with more of Our People (and that means you)!
– I enjoy books that blend genres and don’t fit neatly on any one “shelf.”
– Give me VOICE, darling. Whether the story is written in first-person or close-third, I want to hear the narrator talking into my brain. (Voice is also something I can help you with! But I need to hear glimmers of it, first.)
– I’m not looking for comedy/humor-books, but I do like sensing some playfulness behind the writing — wry observations, characters occasionally quipping jokes, embracing the perfect setup for a pun; something that shows the author enjoyed themselves while writing. The story itself may be serious overall, but reading it should still be fun.
– I like quirky stuff. I realize that’s nebulous/open-ended. But if your concept is something that, whenever some normal-person-acquaintance demands to know what your book is about, you feel the need to preface with the disclaimer “ok, it’s kind of, um…weird” — there’s a decent chance I’ll find it interesting.
– 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
In Sci-Fi: I’m looking for “soft” sci-fi only; the science/tech needs to be explained enough to feel plausible, but the story should be character/relationship-driven. I’m not the mentor for stories featuring detail-heavy space-battles with sleek fighterships going pew-pew-pew against the Evil League’s satellites for blowing up Mineralum harvesters in epic sparks-flying explosions; it’s just not my thing. (As a rule of thumb for space-books: I like Star Trek, not Star Wars.) Military-SF in general is unlikely to be a fit, unless the military-stuff is just the backdrop for the characters to interact — like in a football movie, y’know? Beyond that, surprise me! I’m a nerd. I like weird stuff.
In Fantasy: practically anything goes! I like high fantasy, low fantasy, science-fantasy, dark fantasy…I don’t even necessarily need magic. I love historical elements/influences, but also totally original, brand-new worlds. I tend not to go for contemporary fantasy, but I’m open to being surprised by a really cool, new concept. Stories with complex kingdom politics super-impress me, but I wouldn’t be good at helping projects where that’s the focus. My brain will glaze over if I need to read pages and pages of made-up history. I’m not interested in paranormal as a rule, 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). I’m also a sucker for school/“Academy”-set stories — I’d love to see an Adult-category version of this trope, perhaps from the teachers’/administrators’-POV instead of the students’.
– I don’t dislike Horror, but I don’t read much of it, and I’ve never been a scary-movies-person; so, if everything else in my profile seems *perfect* for your SFF-Horror-story, feel free to send it along! But in general, Horror-leaning manuscripts are likely better off with a different mentor.
– The presence of well-drawn LGBTQ+ characters makes any book better.
– A romantic subplot isn’t necessary for me to enjoy a story, but if there is one, be assured sex-scenes won’t offend me. (But I don’t “need” them, either; I’m just saying, whatever your characters do or don’t do re: doing the do, don’t worry I’ll be over here clutching my pearl necklace.)
– Saving the world is 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 tend to employ a fairly blunt approach to giving feedback (while always remaining kind, constructive, and professional, of course!). I personally think this is a strength, but if you’re hoping for more bubbly/warm-and-fuzziness, you may want a different mentor. With me, I’ll treat it as a given that you’ve become one of my ducklings and are therefore under my wing to be nurtured, but I won’t be constantly patting you on the head (…do ducks do that?). I’ll say straight-out when I think something is good and why — and if I say it, you can feel confident it’s because I truly mean it — but I’m not constitutionally predisposed to “gush.”
Beyond that, the approach I’ll adopt will depend on the particular project AND what you yourself need/want from me — which will likely be part of the very first conversation we have, so be aware I’ll be asking that! But I’m pretty versatile; we’ll be fine.
I kind of hate Google docs — I’d prefer working in Word and sending versions back-and-forth. But if you’ve got a strong preference the other way, or if there’s some other method you need or prefer to use for accessibility, that’s cool, too. We’ll figure it out, I’m not worried.
We’ll determine together the best way to communicate; e-mail is usually fine, or Twitter DMs, or texting, whatever. We could do Zoom or Skype calls, too. I don’t like talking on the phone, but then, who does?
FYI: I’m an extreme night-owl, so if you message me at 2am, I’ll most likely be around; if you message me at 8am, you’ll be waiting a while. (US/Central timezone)
Oh, and I tend to swear like a sailor. If that’s a problem for you, please tell me up-front and I’ll try to cool it!
My strengths as a mentor:
– I’m neurochemically great at brainstorming; I can free-associate and conjure tangentially-relevant ideas all over the place. [see also: weaknesses]
– I’m also good at the nuts and bolts of sentence structure — I took four years of Latin in high school, so doing a deep-dive into something like how to exploit the subjunctive mood’s future conditional verbs to make past-tense narration feel more “present-like” is where I LIVE. Or do you, say, have some in-universe poem/rhyming inscription you need to write? I’ll happily teach you more than you ever wanted to know about metrical feet and scansion!
– I’m good at assessing the big-picture of a project — identifying the overall, capital-P Point a story is making (or helping determine what that Point should, or is trying to, be).
– The first draft of my now-finished manuscript was 234k words long. I queried it at 105k. You will never write “in the first place” when you can write “to begin with” ever again by the time I’m done with you.
My weaknesses as a mentor:
– I’m prone to wandering off-topic and/or getting distracted. This also means my turnaround time on drafts/edits/edit-letters might be slightly slower than other mentors’, because it often takes me longer to mentally “get it together.” But I’m good with deadlines, and I won’t keep you in the dark about my schedule and/or delays. (And you should always feel free to message me and check-in, if there’s any concern.)
– Plotting. I suck at plotting. Assembling the swirling chaos of individual scene-ideas into a smooth, orderly “story” — one with a narrative structure and plot-beats and everything — is the exact kind of mental-organization-task that’s a serious struggle for me; it’s also the aspect of writing with which I’ve the least experience. If this happens to be a writing-weakness of yours, too, and/or something you already know is a big problem in your manuscript, you may want to submit to a different mentor.
- You have an open mind about how your vision could be achieved, but a clear understanding of what that vision IS. This is *your* book, and you know it a thousand times better than I ever will — not all of my ideas are going to be right! Please feel comfortable saying if/when something doesn’t mesh with your vision; you won’t hurt my feelings. All I ask is that you think critically and engage in the process. If I feel strongly about a note, I’ll likely probe your logic, (nicely) push back, and/or encourage you to just to try it out and SEE, but remember: any and all decisions are yours to make.
- You’re operating under the assumption that if I’ve selected you as my mentee, it’s because I believe your manuscript is awesome and has tons of potential. (That’s true!) *I* will be operating under the assumption that if you believed your manuscript was ready to query, you’d be querying, and therefore, you’re most interested in knowing where it’s falling short. Point being: I intend to focus on giving you critique, not endless praise. OF COURSE I will absolutely tell you what I like about it, too (because knowing what IS working is also important!)!! But you wouldn’t be submitting to AMM if you weren’t actually interested in revising — right…?
- You work well independently. You may 100% contact me any time for advice/brainstorming/ranting/whatever — seriously, if there’s a way I can help you, then PLEASE bother me! — but if I don’t hear from you outside of whatever check-ins we’ve scheduled, I’m going to assume you’re fine. Micromanaging people drives me crazy; YOU, ideally, don’t need to be sat on for accountability.
- Similar to the above — you are comfortable with a relatively unstructured, informal relationship. I’m not an authority figure over you. You won’t be getting homework from me, you won’t have assigned reading; I’ll suggest craft-books/exercises and encourage you to try them out, but I’m not going to, like, “make” you do anything. Ideally, that’s not the kind of mentor-arrangement you want, anyway.
- In an absolute perfect world, you’re willing/able to articulate “here is what 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 OK, don’t panic. 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, crackpot, mash-up premises that will make me marvel at how you’ll possibly pull it off (and maybe wonder at your sanity). Stun me with your creativity!
- I like subcultures, underdogs, protagonists who aren’t normally the protagonist of a story.
- Stylistically, I enjoy literary flourishes — extended metaphors, similes, symbolism, motifs. This is also something I can help you further develop, but I’d like to see the kernels of it, first.
- I’ve lately had a hankering for an Ocean’s Eleven-style “getting the gang back together for one more Big Event”-story full of misfit hijinks and odd couple pairings and somebody walking in on two or more REALLY unexpected people naked together. (bonus points for an entirely LGBT+ cast!)
- great clothes
- any excuse for a masquerade ball
- smart, witty banter
- feminist themes
- feisty petite women-in-charge who strike the fear of god into their underlings
- I love a good Deep Conversation full of Tension and Feelings, especially paired with 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 bed; guess we’ll need to snuggle to keep her warm…”) This can be tricky to pull off plausibly in regular-fiction, but if done well, it delights me!
- characters who are total nerds about something really 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 such loving detail that I end up becoming interested in it despite myself.
DO NOT SEND ME:
“Soft limits” — things I won’t auto-reject, but 95% of the time they just aren’t my jam, so you’re probably better off submitting to another mentor:
- Arthurian legend
- portal fantasy
- myth retellings
- Weird West
- protagonists driven solely by revenge. (Revenge as a plot-component or element of the story is fine. I just can’t connect to the pursuit of vengeance as someone’s primary life-goal; it nigh-invariably feels flat to me. **The exception here would be if it’s REALLY PETTY revenge, used as absurdity for humorous effect; by all means, send me a story about Protagonist hell-bent on crushing Villain in the upcoming magical cupcake competition for stealing his boyfriend back in middle school, or whatever.)
“Hard limits” — do not send me:
- Anything with a wordcount that’s wildly outside industry standards. For Adult SFF, the sweet spot is 100k-115k — I’d like to select something within that range, or slightly below. If you’re a LITTLE above that, it’s not a deal-breaker, just realize the higher the wordcount the less likely I am to take it on. (And above ~125k, I simply won’t.)
- Death of beloved animals. Hunting/cooking/eating meat is fine; mentioning horses/etc dying in battle is fine. But do not get me emotionally invested in a furry friend and then kill it off. Fantasy pets live forever.
- rape/sexual assault for plot progression. (If it’s sensitively explored, makes sense in the narrative, serves a purpose toward what the story overall is trying to achieve — that’s not what I’m nixing; as a rule of thumb, if you’re bothering to worry “is this okay…?”, you’re probably fine. Let’s just avoid gratutiousness, shall we?)
- casual misogyny, racism, homo/transphobia. (There’s enough of that in the real world.)
- …Beyond those items, there’s really not much I’ll flat-out refuse to read.
Queer As Folk
The West Wing/Newsroom
The Queen’s Gambit
Any nature/animal documentary (e.g. Planet Earth)
Yuri! On Ice
Serial Experiments Lain
Mulan or Belle
Sourdough [I named my starter “Quarantina”!]
Rimsky-Korsakov OR Mussorgsky