She was the very first winner of the Ampersand Project, Hardie Grant Egmont’s fantastic opportunity for unpublished writers of YA. Her debut novel, Life In Outer Space, absolutely captured my heart and I believe provided a great insight into Australian school culture and a young teenage boy’s mind. Without further ado, I give you Melissa Keil!
Give us a brief guide to your publishing story.
I had been working with my writing group on what was then called The Camilla Carter Project for about a year, and I was at the point where I felt that the draft was in the best shape I knew it could be. But I was still planning on sitting on in and tinkering, mainly because the idea of sending it out into the world was far too daunting to contemplate. Some people in my writing group had heard about the Ampersand project, and they encouraged me to send in the manuscript. With a bit of cajoling from them and my beta reader, I submitted it, not really expecting anything but a polite rejection letter (as I don’t know many writers whose first novels have been accepted by their first choice of publisher). But I got incredibly lucky, in that it landed on the right desk at the right time, and found its way into the hands of some people who just ‘got’ it. I can never discount how much luck and good timing played in the process!
What was it like, being the first project in this inaugural event? Were you nervous?
Extremely nervous! Coupled with all the usual first-novel anxieties, I knew the risks that Hardie Grant Egmont were taking in putting so much time and resources into an unknown author. But I also had an amazing, supportive publishing team behind Life in Outer Space, with lots of (much needed) hand-holding along the way. It always felt like a team effort; I think everyone involved was just as excited as me to see the book finally make it onto the shelves.
How did you find the editing process? Was it different or similar to what you expected?
My day job is as a children’s book editor, so I thought I knew exactly what to expect. What I wasn’t at all prepared for was how emotionally difficult the editorial process was going to be. I had lived with these characters for such a long time and knew their little world inside out, and it was much harder than I imagined to take a step backwards and view it with objective eyes. Luckily I had some very patient, collaborative editors who were willing to have conversations with me about everything from the big-picture themes, to single word choices and comma placement! As hard as it was at the time, I know that the final book is a thousand times better than the manuscript I submitted.
Tell us about the highs; what did this book do that you never thought it could?
I still have a moment of disbelief every time I see Life in Outer Space on a bookstore shelf, so needless to say, everything that has happened since I received my letter of offer two years ago has been something of a high! The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and the support that readers and reviewers and booksellers have given the Ampersand Project is just incredible. Being invited to various writers’ festivals, and speaking on panels alongside authors that I’ve admired for years has been fairly surreal. Finding US and German publishers, and receiving lovely kind words from the other side of the world has been insanely exciting. The biggest high, though, has been meeting and hearing from young readers who have connected with the book. Getting fan mail from kids who have loved Sam and Camilla and have taken the time to write to me still gives me an incredible buzz.
What Australian author do you most look up to and why?
There are far too many to count! As a YA writer (and reader), I think Melina Marchetta has had an incredible career, both in terms of the impact of her work and her ability to transcend the confines of any particular genre. As an editor, I’ve been fortunate to work with some fabulous Australian authors who I’ve leant a lot from – Sue Lawson, Carole Wilkinson and Karen Tayleur among others.
BUT WAIT! Do you like prizes?
To celebrate our first birthday, Aussie Owned and Read hosted a blog hop on Australia Day (check out the posts on our linky list here!). We also held a huge giveaway with a heap of great prizes that ends this week, so make sure you hop on over and enter today.
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