Posted on 03/12/2018 at 12:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Writing about the interesting — and secret — lives of everyday people isn't anything new for author Melanie Lageschulte.
Like many writers, she spent several years as a newspaper reporter and editor, starting with the oh-so-glamorous job of typing up obituaries. And like many journalists, she found herself at a career crossroads when her job was eliminated in 2014.
So she turned to fiction writing to keep her creativity flowing and to keep herself sane while she tried to figure out what would come next. The fruits of those efforts, Growing Season and its sequel, Harvest Season, were published in 2017, and the final two books of the series — a realistic telling of a city girl’s move to the country — are set to come out this year.
We spoke to Lageschulte recently about her switch from traditional media to a newer version, and here’s what she had to say.
SADYE: During your years in journalism, did you have any inkling that a book was lying in wait inside of you?
MELANIE: It’s funny because I’d never given fiction writing much thought. Then a few years before my newspaper career was cut short, I created a long-form narrative project that revolved around my ancestors’ Civil War service. It was nonfiction of course, but turned out to have several dramatic elements and I found I enjoyed the opportunity to “write long,” which was the opposite of my past experience and training.
After I was downsized, I considered tackling that subject in a fictionalized form, but it required so much research, and quite honestly, I needed to focus on something more positive. ... I started writing these novels for fun, but this project became one of the few bright spots in my life when things got really tough.
I was working but struggling to find a good full-time job. Then my elderly cat passed away after a long illness. Six months later, Fremont Creek — the very creek that I based my imprint on — jumped its banks during a freak rainstorm and destroyed my parents’ acreage, ruining their home and forcing us to give away all our barn cats and sheep.
Being able to enter the cozy, safe world of my books and enjoy the writing process helped get me through all that. And now that my life has bounced back, I couldn’t imagine ever giving this up.
SADYE: Did you set out to write a four-book series, or did that too just happen?
MELANIE: I thought I was writing one book, and I didn’t tell anyone but my cat about it for weeks because I wasn’t sure where this was all going, or if I could even finish it.
Once I started the editing process, I had about 135,000 words. I’d read how ebook readers are tolerant of shorter novels and let go of my idea of this one larger book. I challenged myself to break it in two, and I’m so glad I did. ...
Since then, the characters have taken over. I have drafts completed for two more books in the series, which move the story into the holiday season and then the rest of winter. They’ll be published this fall.
On a whim in November, I wrote a holiday short story based on two minor characters from the books as well. I added in some recipes and a chapter from the first novel, and set it up on Amazon for 99 cents. I’ve seen some read-through to the books from this side project.
SADYE: How has your journalism background helped you in your new career?
MELANIE: It all comes back to the content. Even as a fiction author, I find I have to ask myself, “Why am I writing this?” and “Who cares and why?” That drives the narrative.
And while it’s good for authors to question themselves, we also, unfortunately, need to question every service and product that is thrown at us. There are so many people out there trying to make a fast buck off self-published authors.
Many companies are legitimate, but their services may not be what you need. Does a service work for your genre and help you reach your goals? Do your research before you hand over your hard-earned money.
SADYE: And when you started out, you didn’t really have money to hand over — how did you design a website and a book on your own?
MELANIE: My background gave me just enough skills to try to do all this on my own. While there were days I wished I hadn’t, it was a great learning experience. I chose Wix to create my website; it was affordable and had templates that were easy to change.
All the other software I used was free: With the Scribus design program, I created the interiors of my paper books and all of my covers. I used Gimp to crop and resize photos, and Krita to convert pics to the CMYK color space required by IngramSpark.
I formatted my ebooks using Amazon’s Kindle Create software. I took the photos for the covers of Growing Season and Harvest Season in my backyard and simply lucked out with decent shots.
But I’ve purchased stock photography for the covers of my next books, and a retired photographer buddy took my author pics.
SADYE: What has been the best way for you to get the word out and gain reviews?
MELANIE: I wish I could stay that I’m this social-media machine, but I’m not. ... Now that I have full-time work again, my priority has been writing more books.
I did sign up for a review service last fall to get some traction with Growing Season. There was no guarantee on how many reviews would be filed, but I was pleased with the dozen or so I received, and most were very positive.
I think what’s helped the most is putting a note in the back of the books asking people to go online and leave a review. I regularly run free days on my ebooks and have had great success with promotions through The Fussy Librarian and other such services.
I’m leery of trying to break into the bookstore market because of the cost of returns, but this spring my goal is to approach libraries in my home state of Iowa. I’m thrilled that Publishers Weekly recently reviewed Growing Season as part of its BookLife program for self-published authors, and I plan to use that blurb heavily in my marketing efforts.
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Learn more about Melanie Lageschulte on her website, where her books can also be purchased, and follow her on Twitter. Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email sadye (at) thefussylibrarian.com with a recommendation!
Categories: Author Interview