Mel is a British hybrid author who has had an on and off relationship with writing for her entire life. Today she is the enormously successful author of many fiction books in many genres. We talk about why despite selling 250k books she wanted a traditional deal, what you can do to make sure you don’t neglect your health while writing, and a whole lot else. This is a interview that is sure to inspire!
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The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn interview Mel last year.
Fitness Balls – Great for sitting on, and good for the body apparently.
The Estate Series – Mel’s major self-published series.
Business Plans for Authors – Mel created a business plan, my interview with Denise Grover Swank covers this in-depth.
Mel has worked for a long time as a housing officer, where she got to see the ups and downs in people’s lives. This forms a large part of her fiction, although none of the people in her books are people that actually exist. While working full time Mel was writing in her spare time, trying to get a traditional deal.
She was made redundant after a restructuring of her department. This gave her about 12 months off to focus on her writing. During this time Kindle publishing really started to take off and Mel decided to pursue self-publishing, it was 18-months before this started taking off before, just at the point she had started applying for jobs again.
Mel had been writing books for years previously hoping to get published and so had a big back catalogue. She had updated and had edited “The Estate” series and published three books in rapid succession (a few months in between). By the time she had done that she had a large fan base of readers who loved her!
As a self-publisher Mel hasn’t put out a book since 2012.
She has been with several agents and is currently on her third. She was shopping many books around with her agent, but unfortunately not many of them went anywhere. She got feedback on the books; some publishers didn’t like that the books were set outside of London, others said they already had something like it out, others didn’t like the slow build up.
This feedback was invaluable for her editing the book and making it better. She edited it heavily to make it right for the market, and put it out self-published just before Christmas – the perfect time as Kindle was the gift that Christmas.
The book just “blew up” and Mel just doesn’t know! “It plodded along really well, just going up and up in the charts … it stayed around 100 or 150 for two weeks.” In February she sold 25,000 copies of the book. Mel didn’t put any of her books out for free, but she did price it at 99pence at the start.
Mel was only doing a newsletter when she had a book coming out, but she recently changed this so that she sends out a monthly newsletter to ‘keep the list warm.’ Mel had a blog previously which she brought across to her new list. To get inspiration for the newsletter (what to put in it) she asked her Facebook group directly. This is a great idea: don’t spend time racking your brains for ideas, just ask the recipients what they actually want to know about!
Unlike the usual advice of “write for readers or writers, not both” Mel puts in her newsletter both stuff that her readers will like, but also those for people who are budding authors. She did this simply because that is what the audience wanted. Simple.
Mel has struggled with back problems for a long time, and has had serious surgery. Most writers (or podcasters 😉 ), spend a huge amount of time hunched in front of a laptop and it is easy to ignore the health consequences of that. Russell Blake is famous for his treadmill desk, others (Mel and myself included) sit on exercise balls.
Why Strive Towards Traditional
Mel has hundreds of reviews for her books, the vast majority of them praising her. Still she does strive after the validation that a big traditional contract will bring. Despite all her success getting a traditional deal has been on her bucket list for a long time. The deal she got will not affect her self-publishing and she will continue to do it.
UK v US Sales
Mel’s books are very popular in the UK, but don’t perform brilliantly in the US. 400 reviews in the UK, and 60 in the US. Mel isn’t really certain what causes the difference, but the books are not tuned to the US market – they use UK language, and this can cause some confusion across the pond.
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