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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WBBT: Melissa Walker in the Spotlight and a Book Giveaway

Come on.  Admit it.  Have you ever dreamed of being discovered?  Or wondered what it would be like to be dressed in sumptuous designer clothes, strut down a runway and strike a pose?  Do you enjoy watching shows like Project Runway or America's Top Model?  

Melissa Walker (photo credit: Quito Ziegler), author of the Violet books, created an entertaining series about  a teenage girl who blossoms from plain to glamorous model and learns about self-respect, self-confidence, friendship and choices.   

Check out some of the praise for her books:
 “Melissa Walker creates fiction couture –– unique and beautiful.” —Ally Carter, bestselling author of I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

“A story for any girl who ever wondered what it would be like to have your wildest dreams come true.”
—New York Times bestselling author Sarah Dessen

“A fun, fashion-filled, fast-paced read!”
—Carolyn Mackler, author of Guyaholic

Melissa's publisher, Penguin Berkley JAM, was kind enough to donate a copy of Violet in Private to a reader. Details for the Book Giveaway are at the end of this interview.

Wait until you read what Melissa has to say.  She is smart, funny, and downright generous with her answers.  It is easy to see how much Melissa enjoys what she does and why teens love her books.  We can all learn from her.

Come on, stay awhile and meet the talented Melissa Walker...

HWM:  You’ve had what some people would consider a “glamorous” career in the magazine industry. What made you want to write books for teens? How did you get your “break” into getting published?
Melissa: I love writing for teenagers because I think they're such an honest, open audience. They'll tell you if they love a story and they'll call you out if something just sucks.

As for getting published book-wise, I did things backwards. First I contacted a fantastic YA writer I know, Carolyn Mackler, to ask her advice on pitching a YA novel. She directed me to an editor at Penguin's Berkley JAM, who was looking for new writers. That editor took a look at my magazine clips, and I sent her a one-page summary of what I imagined Violet on the Runway would be about. She asked to see the first two chapters, so I sat down to write those and sent them in.

Shockingly, she came back with an offer. I was thrilled, but also scared, so I asked her to give me a week to find an agent. I turned to published friends who gave me lots of solid advice, and eventually I talked to Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic, whom I had met at a book party five years earlier (my first book party in NYC!). I spoke with a few agents but really felt a connection with Doug. We talked, we signed.

Doug thought that we should shop the summary and chapters around, so we did, and another house also made an offer. Then he asked both Penguin and the other house to have their very best offers in by Monday at noon. (It was a total old west showdown, at least in my mind).

In the end, Berkley JAM was promising to put the book out faster, they wanted three books total, so we went with Penguin.

HWM: What inspired the Violet series?
Melissa: As soon as I started peeking behind the scenes of modeling and fashion as a magazine editor, I knew that I wanted to put a "real girl" in the middle of this crazy world, a girl who would see it from the outside and be like, "Holy crap!" It's an insane environment, so there's lots of fodder for adventure, humor and drama, especially from the point of view of a small town girl who's not yet jaded.

My time at ElleGirl especially gave me insight into the fashion world and how newer models live in NYC (which can be glamorous, scary, thrilling, and a little dark all at the same time). That knowledge kind of overlapped with my long-time dream of writing a teen novel about a small town girl in the big city (original, right?). The fashion world thing gave it more focus and helped me nail down the plot.

HWM: When you sold the books as a three-book deal, did you know how the series would end? What advice do you have for writers who want to pitch a series?
Melissa: I had no idea! I actually pitched Violet on the Runway as a standalone book, and it was the publisher who suggested a series, so I had to think up a couple more plotlines rather quickly.

HWM: How did you celebrate the release of each of your books?
Melissa: For the first and the third books, mediabistro.com threw book parties, which were very fun! For the second, we partnered with Lancome during February’s Fashion Week and did a party at one of their boutiques—also very fun!

HWM: Fashions change. Did you worry about dating your books by using some names of real designers and models?
Melissa: Nah, the names I dropped are pretty timeless, I think, and if any of them do become dated, I hope readers will just think they are made up!

HWM:  What are some of the things you had to do, in the name of research for the Violet books?
Melissa: I didn’t have to do much because my real research—being backstage at fashion shows, learning what went on with models—was already done. I had spent a few years watching and reporting on that world for magazines.

HWM: There are some topics in the Violet series that might make some parents nervous. What message, if any, would you like them to know?
Melissa: I wanted to write a realistic portrayal of the modeling world, and that does include drugs and eating disorders. I didn’t want to sugar-coat the business and make it seem like a fantasy, because it’s not. However, rest assured that though Violet struggles with some decisions, she always lands on her feet and stays true to herself, largely due to her fantastic friends from home.

HWM: You were the featured author over at readergirlz in August. There was discussion about body image, pressure, and beauty. What message would you like teens to get from your books?
Melissa: In a book about the fashion world, body image issues are impossible to ignore, so I had to let Violet deal with the issue and figure it out in her own, sometimes flawed, human way. I think the fact that she doesn’t have the issue quite clear in her head makes it less of a moralizing moment and more of a true gray area that girls encounter. I just hope that readers sympathize with Violet and can see their own situations a little more clearly.

HWM: What is your favorite part of being an author of YA books?
Melissa: The reader emails, for sure. I love engaging with people who’ve found something that resonated with them in the books. It’s inspiring!

HWM: Do you find your magazine background helped you with ideas for marketing your books to teens? Nowadays, authors need to take an active role in marketing. What are some things you’ve done?
Melissa: Yes, definitely. Because I still pitch and write for magazines regularly, I know how to craft a pitch that’s more effective than, “Please cover my book!” which is how most editors are approached by publishers, I’ve found. For example, I pitched a roundup of modeling books to the NY Times and sent them a list of titles, including Violet. They ended up running this story in the STYLE magazine that included Violet on the Runway and Model, by Cheryl Diamond.

I also made my own press kits and sent them to venues I knew my publisher wasn’t in touch with, like NC papers near my hometown (and Violet’s), which led to stories like this and this.

For those, I pitched different ideas and noted talking points that I could speak to in an interview. Those little extra touches help reporters and editors see where you’ll fit into their publications.

HWM:  Would you share some tips on how to make a good pitch to a magazine?
Melissa: In terms of pitching, there are three main keys, as I see it: 
1. Know the venue (sounds easy, but you'd be surprised at how many people try pitching parenting stories to, say, teen magazines). 
2. Know the format of the page you're pitching. Is it always a book roundup? Then come to them with a few books that fit alongside yours. Do they not to do reviews, but instead publish essays by authors? Then write an essay. It's your job to fit into what editors need, not the other way around. 
3. Be timely. Monthly magazines decide on editorial lineups 4-5 months in advance, and they need advance copies early. A galley just one month out? Send it to weeklies, dailies and blogs!

HWM: What project(s) are you working on now?
Melissa: I just finished a book for HarperTeen called LOVESTRUCK SUMMER, and it will be out in May 2009!

HWM: Congratulations on being the newest readergirlz diva! What do you hope to bring to the table?
Melissa: Thanks! I’m going to be the blogging diva, so mostly I’ll be posting news and interviews and updates and fun things on our new blog: readergirlz.blogspot.com.

HWM: All of the Violet books have been published as original paperbacks rather than hardcover. What is your opinion about this trend?
Melissa: I think teens buy paperbacks, and that’s who I wanted to sell to, so I wasn’t concerned about missing out on hardcover.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
Melissa: When I’m on a deadline for a book, I eat breakfast, then write. I don’t allow myself to have lunch until I have 1,000 words on the page. They don’t have to be good words, but they have to be there. I do that five days a week; afternoons are spent working on magazine stories. At that rate, you can get your 60,000 words in just 12 weeks. Of course, some days I play hooky in Prospect Park, some days I have lunch dates in the city so I just wrote 300 words, etc. I have to let myself enjoy the perks of being freelance sometimes! But in general, I am pretty consistent with the 1,000-word rule.
HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Melissa: Read, read, read. You’ll learn a lot that way about pacing, characterization, plot, etc.

HWM's Curiosities

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
Melissa: On the day Violet By Design was released, I walked into my local bookstore and saw a girl carrying it around. I screamed and introduced myself, and I manically signed it for her. She later myspace messaged me to say it made her happy, but I think I scared her at first!

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Melissa: It would be Violet, because she’s a lot like me in many ways, but she gets to wear amazing clothes!

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Melissa: My friends who’ve known me since I was 13. I never laugh so hard as when I’m with them.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Melissa: Too hard! I want to say “I’d like to fly” but that feels generic. Still, I would. I mean, all that wind-in-hair excitement? That’s cool.

HWM:  Thank you, Melissa!
Melissa: Thanks for having me!


Other places to find Melissa:
Her blog
Her website
readergirlz LIVE! with Melissa Walker


Now, you know you want a chance to win a copy of Melissa's most recent book...Violet in Private.  So, here's the deal.  Write a fashion (makeup, hair, clothing, accessories, etc.) tip in the comments by 11pm EST tomorrow night, Wednesday, November 19th.  The winner will be announced Thursday morning, November 20th.  

Good luck! 


m. thompson said...

This is such a great interview! Inspiring! I haven't read any of these books, but I'm going to start this week.

Fashion tip for men: Tuck in your shirt and hike up your pants.

Little Willow said...

Great interview, ladies!

Melissa, I agree that teen audiences are very, very honest. Younger kids are, too - perhaps even more so!

Three cheers for healthy lives rather than unattainable, unhealthy goals.

Go readergirlz! :)

Beth Kephart said...

Wonderful as always to get a greater glimpse of the always-delightful Melissa and her process. 1000 words a day. Yow. That's so impressive. Sometimes I manage 100. Does that count?


Thanks for the interview!

TadMack said...

Whoa -- some days I am afraid I wouldn't eat lunch!! On the other hand, that would keep a writer from getting pudgy, no?

This is definitely a different world than what most writers deal with -- having mediabistro throw you a party is just really awesome, and a great boost into the whole PR world. What interesting experiences!

jama said...

Loved this interview. Insightful answers and great questions :). I'm so stoked about reading the Violet books now.

Fashion tip: Unibrows should only be worn with a fringed skirt.

A.S. King said...

Wicked good interview! The more I read about Melissa, the more gallons of awesome I think she is.

Krysten said...

My tip is: if you have fair skin, instead of using bronzer that will make you look orange, use a brown toned blush to get a bit of healthy color.

Melissa said...

My daughter found these books and loved them (I haven't read them), mostly because Violet is so down-to-earth. I have to applaud Melissa for creating a character in the fashion world that my bookish daughter can relate to!

Fashion tip: Socks should match your pants, not your shirt. (Says the woman who's wearing white socks with black track pants today.)

Black Heart Magazine said...

A fashion tip, from a girl who doesn't concern herself with the latest trends: be yourself.

Sara said...

My fashion tip: If you're feeling unfresh and don't have time to shower or put make up on; just put your hair in a ponytail and put a big pair of sunglasses on! Instead of looking unfresh you will look glamourous!


Gerb said...

Fabulous interview. I don't need to be entered because I have all three books. Fashion tip: I little lip gloss goes a long way...

Sara said...

My tip: Have fun with makeup, but don't overdo it. A light, natural look is the most flattering.

cathy markham said...

Oh! These books sound great! And Melissa seems so cool.

Fashion tip: Buy outfits that make you feel good. If you try something on and are wishy washy about it, don't buy it just cuz it's cheap. Save your money to buy something that makes your face glow.

lauren said...

Enjoyed the interview! And I'm glad the WBBT introduced me to your blog... I'll be back for sure.

Fashion tip: Own one fabulous coat. It doesn't have to be an expensive coat, but just one that makes you look great. Winter's a lot more bearable when you have a cool coat to cover up your most lackluster sweater/jeans ensemble.

Sarahbear9789 said...

Awesome interview.
Fashion tip:
A smile can make an outfit.

Cheryl Reif said...

Thanks for the terrif interview and thanks, Melissa, for sharing so much about your writing process and your experience with the Violet books. I've been meaning to read them--keep picking up the first at B & N--so I guess it's time to get going! ~Cheryl

gwendolyn b. said...

Very interesting post and interview. Thanks for the chance to win one of these books!

Tip: Daily maintenance is easier and less expensive than than a major overhaul - use sunscreen!

geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

beckylevine said...

Fantastic interview--I love the part about leaving the gray area gray and letting Violet make her choices. Yes! I want this book. So much so that, I, who could, on any given day, make Stacy and Clinton cringe in horror, am posting my fashion tip, called: Frizzy Hair and Yoga (with due credit to Debbi Michiko Florence for getting me back into the yoga part).

In the morning, get your hair wet. REALLY wet. If you're not showering, stick it under the tap, with the water full blast.

Dry hair. Add product. NOT too much--you don't want that crinkly feel to your hair--just enough to take down some of the frizz and add back a few of the curls.

Then do your yoga. Make sure you do plenty of forward bends, breathing deeply, relaxing, and...hanging your head upside down while you "finger" the tangles out of your hair. Somehow, the combination of Yogic Calm and the Pull of Gravity gets just the right amount of volume, without--as one person put it to me--the Roseanne-Roseanna-Danna look. :)

susan259 said...

Fashion tip: dress for the body you have and not the body you wish you had...

katayoun said...

great interview!

as for the fashion tip, mmm, this is really hard, oh i know remember that being trendy is very nice and good BUT there are somethings that really don't work for you, avoid them even if they are all the rage at the moment! and oh accessorize!

Alyce said...

I am so not fashionable - I need all of the help I can get!

My tip is to have a nice outfit that is basic black. You can dress it up many different ways with accessories. I've also found that a cute pair of shoes can make a plain outfit more fun.
akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

adrienne said...

Great interview--I just put Violet on the Runway on hold so I can read it....

Erin said...

Really wonderful interview! Thanks to you both!

TheBookworm said...

Me giving fashion tips! If I could dress the way I wanted, I'm sure I would look like a little hodlum!

Well, I suppose my one fashion tip is try not to wear socks with flip-flops. If it is snowing outside I suggest you put on some sneakers. I know people do it and I suppose if I could stand to wear flip flops I would too, but it makes my pinky toes hurt just thinking about those peoples poor freezing feet!

Please enter me!


Diana Dang said...

I'm barely fashionable and me giving a tip? Lol! Let's see...

When use accessories, don't go crazy. Use a couple (like earrings and necklace) at a time. Make sure it doesn't go weird with the outfit!

Angie said...

This interview was great! I love this series. :]

Fashion tip: Rinse hair with cold water after washing. I've noticed that it makes my hair super shiny whenever I do it so I hope that helps.

leeangeli@yahoo dot com

shelburns said...

I would love this book!

Here's my tip...powder and mascara are a quick look good tip when you are in a hurry.

caribookscoops said...

Books about models would not be my normal fair, but this sounds fun. I love that Melissa addresses real life issues of drugs and eating disorders. So important not to gloss over real life in YA books.

Fashion Tip: Fun hats can go a long way to help with a bad hair day.

Paradox said...

Ugh, I'm awful at this. But I want Violet in Private!!! So here's my attempt:

Don't let a unibrow grow out unless you want people to look at you and think "Frida Kahlo."

Anna Lefler said...

Terrific interview!

Beth Kephart mentions Melissa often...I'm happy to get to "know" her and her books.

More books for my buy-and-read list!

[BTW, hope the dental appt. goes well and is Patsy-free. I'm sure it will be.]

:^) Anna

Melissa Walker said...

I am loving these tips, everyone! Awesome.

Lindsey said...

Oh dear, me give a fashion tip? lol Well, I do know that wearing a colorful scarf can really make an outfit. :-) Thanks for the great giveaway!

ladyufshalott at yahoo.com

darbyscloset said...

If you hair needs to be washed and you just aren't able to, then sprinkle some powder onto your hairbrush and then brush your hair. The powder collects the oil build up. This works great if you are in the hospital or are just recovering from a surgery and cannot stand in the shower.
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

violetcrush said...

It was so much fun reading all the tips. I want to share a nice tip I got from a famous make up artist. She said, If you want an urgent clenup of your face, all you have to do is lather some face soap and add sugar in it. And scrub it on your face for a minute.

I really love the Violet books covers. Please enter me (if international)

Dayna said...

I'd love to win this book!

Here's my fashion tip: There is never an excuse for panty lines!

rb said...

A nice tip for the guys (which the school hired a company to teach us all in preparation of prom)..don't ever wear white socks! And for the girls with just shoulder length hair, use a hairdryer set to hot to curl those edges in before they dry and curl out and make you look like you are wearing a little mop!(thou I don't listen sometimes...mop head?)

Solvang Sherrie said...

What a fabulous interview! As a freelance writer and fledgling novelist, Melissa's tips were great to know!

I'm not the most fashionable person around, but here's my tip: You can never have too many pairs of great fitting jeans. Dress them up, dress them down, jeans are always in style.

bamabelle said...

My biggest tip is to drink lots of water. It makes your skin, hair, everything look better in the long run. Also, if you have to wear lip liner, fill in the whole lip so that you don't have a dark ring showing through. :)

Patty P said...

Great interview! You always ask just the right querstions. Have to say, I admire Melissa's gutsy approach to selling her story.

bison61 said...

Fashion tip-I wear basic colors,black,gray,navy, brown and then add color with accessories

tiramisu392 (at) yahoo.com

rathacat said...

If you have a pinky English face that also gets tomato-colored ( as I do), do not wear bright red!

I tend to dress for comfort in this remote area. On hot days, light colors, to reflect sun, on cold days, dark colors to absorb it. I like embroidered shirts and pants.

AmandaSue said...

If you want pretty coloured nails that don't chip for a a week or more, use alot of coats! It makes it harder for it to chip. And if you have dry skin whipped eye whites work wonders as a facial mask, slather on and let dry and then wash away! Thanks for entering me.

Janicu said...

Fashion tip - try to have good posture. You won't believe how much thinner and better you look if you just sit up or stand up straight.

Vivian said...

Wow! There are great fashion tips here!

The Book Giveaway Contest for Violet in Private by Melissa Walker is officially closed. Thank you for participating!

I'll post the name of the winner tomorrow. Good luck!