My Writing Life: Melissa F. Miller
“Don’t get it right; get it written. There’s a huge psychological effect, for me at least, of getting that first draft down. Once it’s written, you can perfect your story. But, you have to get that sucker down on paper first!”
Like the protagonist of her legal thrillers, Melissa F. Miller is a practicing litigator who lives in Pittsburgh. Her Sasha McCandless series has sold over 60,000 copies and includes Irreparable Harm, Inadvertent Disclosure, Irretrievably Broken. The latest installment, Indispensable Party, was published earlier this year.
When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?
Like so many writers, I started writing as a young child. I was, and still am, an avid reader, but I wouldn’t say there was a particular book that made me want to write. I did write my first complete novel as an adult after a cross-country flight during which I read Michael Connelly’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER on the first leg and Paolo Coehlo’s THE ALCHEMIST on the second leg. The first is an example of the type of book I love to read and wanted to write. The second is the kick in the pants I needed to do it!
Where do you get your story ideas?
For my legal thriller series, I usually get the seed of an idea from an article, news report, or case that I’ve read (I am also a practicing lawyer). I also have an Evernote folder full of story ideas that don’t work for this series but that have been rattling around in my brain.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
“Don’t get it right; get it written.” There’s a huge psychological effect, for me at least, of getting that first draft down. Once it’s written, you can perfect your story. But, you have to get that sucker down on paper first!
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
No. I like this quote by Phillip Pullman: “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”
But, I also have found something that Rachel Aaron says very helpful. She claims that “if writing is like pulling teeth, you’re doing it wrong.” In other words, that feeling of being unable to write or dreading writing probably means there’s something wrong with the scene you’re working on and your subconscious realizes it. Once I started thinking about it that way, so-called writer’s block became a call to reexamine my plot, structure, character development arc and try to suss out whether something was wrong.
What made you decide to self-publish?
I had written (and hidden in a drawer) one very bad novel that will never see the light of day (I call it my training wheels novel) and then I wrote Irreparable Harm. I gave it to my husband, who read it (with some trepidation, I’m sure, having read my first one!), and he loved it. It was December of 2010 and I was gearing up to send out query letters, when my husband emailed me a lifehacker.com article about self-publishing. That led me to J.A. Konrath’s website, which led me to the Writer’s Cafe on kb.com. And after having done all that research, I realized self-publishing was the better choice for me. I run a small business already (our law firm), I have NO patience, and I had actually worked in publishing for a few years between college and law school. It just seemed like a better fit for my personality to be able to plot my own course.
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
I do think the best promotion you can do is to write the next book. That’s not a sexy answer, but I think it’s true. The more ways there are for readers to find you, the better. That’s not to say that I don’t promote, because I do. But, I try to balance things like blog tours or giveaways with writing time. It must be working. I published the first book in my series in April 2011, and to date I have sold over 60,000 copies of the series. That’s not a jaw-dropping number like some indie superstars have, but I have to pinch myself when I realize that there are many people out there who have paid good money to read my stories!
On a craft point: I would say, find what works for you. There’s no one system that’s going to work for every writer–or even every book by a single writer. Read. Read in your genre but also read widely. And write.
What is the one writing tool you could not do without?
Coffee. Specifically, fair trade, organic, farmer friendly, cafe cubano roast by Mayorga Coffee Roasters. I buy it 5 lbs at a time direct from the roaster. Without my coffee, there would be no Sasha McCandless legal thriller series. And with that, it’s time for another cup!