Episode # 61 – Bucket Lists, Health, and Selling 250k Books with Mel Sherratt

In Podcast by Julius S15 Comments

Mel Sherratt cover

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!

RSP is supported by 99Designs < Use that link to get a free “power pack” upgrade. Power pack = More designers working on your project, so more designs to choose from. 

Within 24 hours I had 8 cover options. Here are two I really like:

AFI2

AFI1

 

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Links:

Taunting the Dead

Amazon Profile

Website

Mentions:

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.

Show notes:

Background

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!

Agents

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.

Newsletters

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.

Health

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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Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Julius SEpisode # 61 – Bucket Lists, Health, and Selling 250k Books with Mel Sherratt
  • This was a great interview! I have to admire both your abilities to sit for that many hours! That is a lot. It was also great to hear a writer discuss health issues. I used to be a dancer and an old knee injury began giving me problems. I never thought a Medicine Ball—we call it that—could be such a help. When we’re young we have so much elasticity in our bodies that I suppose we don’t realize how these injuries can recurr. Now I don’t feel so alone!
    Also, as an American who lived in England for 9 years, I have found a difference in readers. I write Gothics. In the UK, Gothic includes the occult—Tanith Lee , for instance, has lots of occult references. Since I know a lot about that subject, and I read almost exclusively British authors, I use occult themes in my books and have begun getting flak from US readers who go into a red tirade over it. As if I ambushed them, or something. (Ahem—read the blurb…???)
    Americans can be super naive. I was. Not any more. They can handle a lot of TV violence by the looks of it. But they do not, most of them, get British humor, or gallows humor, and are irony deprived.

    • SimonRSP

      Hi Alyne, I knew there was another name for it other than just an “exercise ball” ;). It is interesting, I often think that it’s just the occasional word blip that separates the US and UK cultures, but some things just don’t cross the pond so well (in one direction or another). Peanut butter and jelly for example!

      • I think in time this will work itself out like with the Brit coms on TV. I don’t know what the peanut and jelly problem is. But there are some hilarious um…misunderstandings.:) like cigarettes for instance.

        • SimonRSP

          Yep yep, who knew asking for a cigarette could have such a massively different meaning 😉

          • R.M. Prioleau

            What’s the peanut butter and jelly problem?? (I hate jelly with peanut butter, btw. eww…)
            I have a lot of awesome UK friends and sometimes we get silly, jabbing at each other’s culture shocks 😛

            And I like the yellow cover better. I don’t know why, but at first glance of the grey cover, I thought the ‘O’ was a dinner plate or something. lol

          • SimonRSP

            Yeah, I drifted away from the gray cover as a couple of even better designs came in. http://imgur.com/P09qWIM,zpvfVrS,fVjx6zD#2

          • I think perhaps they don’t have peanut and jelly in the UK. I never had one there but I did have tuna with sweet corn–that was really good! And Horlicks.

  • Ari Lessiers

    i like the dark grey one. its more unusual and eye catching

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Ari, me too. I actually have a new leading contender. http://imgur.com/P09qWIM,zpvfVrS,fVjx6zD#2

      What do you think?

      • S. A. Hollen

        The best so far. One thing to consider is this will make for an excellent and easily readable thumbnail photo as well.

        • SimonRSP

          Agreed, thanks for the feedback 🙂

      • Ari Lessiers

        Personally prefer the 3rd image on Imgur but the 2nd’s use of imagery clearly talking about audiobooks. I don’t like the 1st as the apple headphones makes me think less of audiobooks than running (randomly)

      • The yellow. I think because its the color of a bull horn.

  • plainlyspoken

    Another great podcast Simon. I like the yellow cover. Very clean and easy to read. I was struck by the discussion you and Mel had regarding health issues for writers because I am currently going through physical (or physio as you Brits say) therapy for shoulder impingement. Very painful condition that involves the neck, shoulder and arm and reduces range of motion, and is a direct result of exactly what you described in your podcast: Sitting hunched over a desk or computer for hours. My PT says that it is vital for writers and other “desk” workers to get into the habit of stretching (good habit) to counter balance the bad habits we build up sitting at the desk for so long. I set up a standing desk thinking that this was better than sitting all day, but developed a knee problem as well. I thought I was in pretty good shape, and I was, but these are all over-use or repetitive stress injuries that come from maintaining one position or movement for far too long. Turns out, anything we do can be damaging if we don’t take stretch breaks and simply change our position. Re: the treadmill desks (which I was dying to get until recently), PT says the jury is still out for him on this piece of equipment. The orthopedic surgeon I just saw said the same thing (“This might be okay, but you’d be better off and money in your pocket if you just got up, stretched and moved around for a few minutes every hour”). Both the PT and the MD feel that constant walking all day on the treadmill is not good either, and the best plan is to sit (or stand) for about 45 minutes and then stretch for about ten minutes and take a walk around the block or take a sit break if you’ve been standing. I know it sounds difficult when we want to be at our computers writing or marketing our work, but chronic pain, PT and MD appointments, therapeutic massage to relieve chronic pain and regain range of motion are very time consuming and the downside to all of this is that I had to take a hiatus from writing because I was making it worse (and facing surgery if I didn’t change my unhealthy habits. Another consideration is having a supportive mattress. It may sound silly, but many orthopedic problems are exacerbated by a less than supportive mattress. I have returned to yoga, take breaks every 45 minutes and the pay-off for stretching and moving for a few minutes far outweighs the time lost at the computer. I’m sharing this because I don’t want anyone to end up with the potentially chronic painful conditions that come from spending too much time sitting at the computer (or standing, too–hello torn meniscus from planting my feet and turning too quickly). In the end, I think we either put in the time required to take care of ourselves and prevent these injuries or we just pay someone to fix us after we’re broken (if we can be fixed). I’m doing quite well–no surgery! But… I am also changing my routine, getting trigger-point release massages (those tension knots from repetitive stress), stretching and giving up my eight to ten hour working marathons. I still manage to knock out about 2,000 words a day (and work my day job), so it can be done. Best of luck to you and your followers.

    • SimonRSP

      I understand, I’m also in pretty good shape as I do a lot of running, but I still get the aches and pains from sitting at the desk all day. I’m not nearly rigorous enough with my stretching, I do it for a while, but then end up just making coffee instead or something!

      I hope that you find a combination that works for you :). It sounds like you are on the way to that at least 🙂