Once upon a time, four girls went for a pizza. I was one, Mel Sherratt another. At the time, Mel had been trying to get published, without success. She longed for our ‘success’ as traditionally published authors. We told her that it was not all it was cracked up to be. Mel went on to self-publish to TREMENDOUS success. I am now following her down that path. The two other pizza-eating girls are seriously considering doing the same. I love that. And I love that I can interview Mel now about her success in taking control of her publishing career. So, here we go…
How long had you been trying to get traditionally published before you chose the self-publishing route?
Twelve very long years.
Was there one particular incident that decided you to try self-publishing?
Yes. TAUNTING THE DEAD, my first novel, went out on submission to eight publishers with my previous agent but it was rejected by them all. However, I received lots of positive feedback amongst the rejections. I even got to acquisition meetings twice with it so I knew it might have something.
Were you nervous?
What was your biggest fear?
That it would flop and I would make a fool of myself, therefore ruining my chance of ever getting a traditional deal. Mad when I look back on it, but in 2011, self-publishing was still frowned upon.
At the time, did you feel that if you took the self-publishing route it would close the door to traditional publishers?
Yes, back then, it was either one way or the other.
If so, what made you go ahead anyway?
I had nothing to lose – Kindle ereaders were the big Christmas present that year, 2011, so I self-published TAUNTING THE DEAD purposely mid December, hoping to capitalise on this.
What was the hardest thing about self-publishing?
Learning everything – but in a way it was a great experience and I’m glad it happened like this now.
What was the best thing?
The freedom and control – and the first good review from someone I didn’t know.
What was the most surprising thing?
Selling over 100,000 copies of TAUNTING THE DEAD – in total, I’ve now sold nearly 300,000 copies of my books.
What was the most disappointing thing?
The self-doubt ate at me – I wasn’t good enough for a book deal, was I? So why should anyone take me seriously? But I actually think this is more of a writer thing –lots of writers think their books are never good enough either, no matter how they are published. Self-doubt is a demon!
How many books did you self-publish?
I’ve self-published eight altogether so far. TAUNTING THE DEAD was the first, then three in THE ESTATE SERIES, a box set of THE ESTATE SERIES and a companion, SECRETS ON THE ESTATE. I also self-published two women’s fiction novels under a pen name.
How long did it take for things to take off?
A few weeks.
What was the first sign that things were taking off?
Four weeks after TAUNTING THE DEAD was released, it sat just outside the Kindle top 100. A week later, it went into the charts at Number One in Police Procedurals and stayed there for three months, reaching its highest overall charting of number 3.
What started the books to move?
TAUNTING THE DEAD was priced at 99p so I think many people would have taken a chance on a new author for that much. It had an unusual cover at the time too. Also, I had a blog at the time, High Heels and Book Deals, where, for four years, I did a lot of book reviews and author interviews. So when it came time for me to publish my own book, I had a lot of people ready to return the favour and help me with retweets, mentions, recommendations etc. All without asking – it was such a great feeling and it helped to spread the word, I think. Even now my marketing is organic. I don’t market my work but, equally, everything I do is marketing.
Did you do anything immediately to capitalise on that?
Yes. THE ESTATE SERIES had been rejected too because it was cross-genre between women’s fiction and crime thriller so I devised a strategy whereby I published books One, Two and Three within six months, creating a bit of a buzz – by cover reveals, publishing a blurb and a prologue at intervals – in between them as people waited for the next one.
What was the most effective promotional strategy you employed as a self-publisher?
The one above. If readers have another book to download after enjoying one, then that’s what they do. The best advice I ever got was ‘write another book’ – that’s the best marketing you can have.
The world of traditional publishing sat up and took notice of your success. How did that work? Who approached you? And in what context?
When FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL, the third book in THE ESTATE SERIES, was due to be released in Dec 2012, SOMEWHERE TO HIDE and BEHIND A CLOSED DOOR were doing really well, so I had seven agents approach me. I met with three and then signed with Madeleine Milburn who has her own agency.
She submitted WATCHING OVER YOU, a standalone psychological thriller, to publishers at the London Book Fair in 2013. Within two weeks, I was offered a two-book deal by Thomas & Mercer, Amazon Publishing’s mystery and thrillers imprint, who wanted to re-publish TAUNTING THE DEAD as well. I’ve since taken another two-book deal with them and I’m making TAUNTING THE DEAD the first in a series featuring Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton. Book 2 and 3, FOLLOW THE LEADER and ONLY THE BRAVE, are out in February 2015 and May 2015.
How do the two publishing worlds compare, in your experience?
Both have advantages and disadvantages. I’ve enjoyed the control and freedom of working for myself but I’ve also enjoyed having a team behind me, working with a developmental editor therefore learning how to write better with my publisher. It really is the best of both worlds – something I never thought would be possible. I enjoy them both equally.
Yes. This year, I’ve created a box set of the original three ESTATE books; I’ve published a companion to the series and am getting Book Four, WRITTEN IN THE SCARS, ready for publication early next year. I’m also planning a new series and Book Five of THE ESTATE SERIES for next year.
Are you still actively involved in promotion?
I’ve never done any promotion as such. All I do is blog and tweet and interact with my readers on Facebook and Twitter. I like to share other people’s work so people freely share mine too. Too many people use social media to shout about their books. Of course it can be a way for people to discover books but the clue is in the word social.
What is the best piece of advice you could give someone setting out on the road to self-publishing?
Do it properly. I literally learned from my mistakes but, because self-publishing was so new, everyone else was learning too. Now there are no excuses. I pay for a structural editor, a copy editor, a proofreader and a cover designer. I’m also having the interiors set out for the print editions and re-publishing them next year, plus getting them into audio. Being professional is the key – writing is a business for me. I work hard at it but I’m very lucky to be doing it.
Thanks so much, Mel, for taking the time to share your story. Feeling a sudden urge to get back writing! Learn more about Mel Sherratt and her books by visiting her website, following on twitter and checking out her amazon author page. Oh, and be inspired!