I’m so delighted to be hosting the wonderful writer Mel Sherratt on the blog today. I’ve had quite a few people asking me about self-publishing over on Facebook, and because my experience is only in traditional I decided I needed a bit of an expert to step in, and Mel very kindly agreed to answer a few questions. Mel has been both self and traditionally published, so she really does know both sides of the coin, and in addition to that she’s an incredibly successful author with over one million copies sold across her books. She writes crime novels under her own name (all of which have become bestsellers) and women’s fiction under the pen name Marcie Steele. Shortlisted for the prestigious CWA (Crime Writer’s Association) Dagger in Library Award 2014, her inspiration comes from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes.
I for one am completely in awe of Mel, and it was fascinating to hear her answer the below questions. Without further ado…
Q: You have been extremely successful in both the self-publishing and traditional publishing spheres. What initially drew you to self-publishing, and can you tell us a bit about how you first started?
My journey to publication was a very long one. I started writing and trying to get a publishing deal in 1999. Back then there was no Kindle so the main way to get one was to submit to an agent and then they would get the deal for you. Two agents and twelve years later, I was still trying to get the deal. I got to many acquisition meetings but was often told that my work was cross genre – a mixture of women’s fiction and crime, so very hard for them to market.
As the Kindle became the new ‘toy’ under everyone’s Christmas tree around 2011, I decided to self-publish. I didn’t think I had anything to lose – I just wanted to publish my book. It turned out that it was the best thing I ever did. That novel, Taunting the Dead, has gone on to sell over 200,000 copies and I now have over one million sales across fourteen books. I still pinch myself!
Q: What would you say the main challenge of self-publishing is?
When I first started self-publishing there were 35,000 novels in the crime and thriller category. There must be eight times as many as that now. Discoverability is much harder, as well as maintaining visibility once you have been published.
Way before books are published though, they need to be professionally edited, proofread, have covers designed and product description polished etc. Then there is the marketing – plan and strategy. Actually, come to think of it, time is a big issue! I fitted all this around a full-time job for many years.
Q: What would you say the main benefit of self-publishing is?
For me, I was able to find my audience, build on my brand of ‘grit-lit’ which is still a mixture of women’s fiction and crime thriller, and then have a sales figure that I could approach a publisher with. After the success of Taunting the Dead (and books written under my pen name of Marcie Steele) I decided to part ways with my second agent and self-publish a series. The Estate Series had been rejected by mainstream publishers too – but it was perfect for me to self-publish. Once I was doing well I had agents, editors and publishers coming after me. I had proved there was a market for my books.
Q: What made you want to try traditional publishing too and how has the experience been so far?
From a young girl, I’ve wanted to see my books in shops and yes, places to be seen are dwindling and there is competition for shelf space and more people are buying digital books but I believe there is a market for both. Digital and print readers are different buyers, you need two different marketing and promotional strategies – one should complement the other, not one size fits all.
I’m too early working with my first traditional publisher for me to say how the experience has been publishing wise, but the journey getting the book ready so far has been great and I’m really looking forward to next year, introducing a new series character, DS Grace Allendale.
Q: Some writers worry about having to do their own publicity and marketing if they are self-published. Can you tell us a bit about how you did yours, and how this aspect has changed when going through a traditional publisher?
I always did indirect marketing. When I was trying to get published, I ran a blog called High Heels and Book Deals. I used to interview authors and do book reviews and I got to know a lot of people in the publishing world through this. When I became an author I transferred this strategy to a Facebook page and a mailing list and got to know my readers. I don’t have as much time to blog now but I aim to start up again in the new year.
Promotional things – I do signed book giveaways. I buy merchandise with my book covers on them – mugs, fridge magnets, chocolate bars, notepads – and I have Facebook ‘launch’ parties. They are great fun but you do need an audience to start off with. I’ve been doing this for six years. It all takes time to nurture, and keep going too.
Q: Do you feel that being traditionally published gives you more time to focus on the actual writing?
I’m not sure yet but I’m hoping it does! It would be great to ‘sit back’ and not have to run a business, constantly watching out for ways to improve sales. But to be fair, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do that now. I suppose as the author, I’m the only one who can interact with my readers, and I enjoy that as much as them.
Although, lots of authors are running Facebook and Amazon ads but I find the whole thing a bit like being a data analysis person so I just don’t do it. For me now, I think the best form of advertising is giving my readers what they want, and that is something new to read. Having sold so many books, I know I have an audience waiting, if I deliver a good enough product.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise when making the transition to traditional publishing (although I know you’re continuing to do both)?
At first, I thought it was the time to get the book to market but the more I go through the procedure with my new publishers, I can see exactly why [it takes longer]. I self-publish ebooks – they are available in print and audio but the majority of my sales are digital. I don’t have a clue how the traditional side of things works and that’s where I am now, fortunate to be working with a team dedicated to both sides.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who was considering the pros and cons of both publishing routes? Is there anything you’d like to tell your younger self?
I think the best advice is not to listen to too much of it, and figure out what is the right way forward for you. What do you want from it, what are your values? How much time do you have to dedicate to it? Do you want a best seller or are you happy to sell a certain amount of books per month and make a stable living? Do you want to side hustle, or do this full-time?
Once you know this, work out a business plan of what to do and by when. Have some deadlines – it helps, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a few. If you miss a lot, then your heart isn’t in it. You may have to admit defeat then.
As well, if you want to have a go at self-publishing, go for it. Same with going for a traditional deal. Nowadays you can submit straight to a publisher so decide if you want an agent or not. Above all, enjoy it. Once it becomes a job (because it is work at the end of the day, so be it the best job ever) or if you ever lose the sense of achievement and fulfillment, then stop.
Thank you so much for these insightful tips, Mel. Mel has a brand new series publishing in both paperback and ebook with Avon HarperCollins next year, and her latest novel, She Did It, is available to download now – and it’s actually FREE with Kindle Unlimited for a short time so be quick! (Trust me, you’ll like it!) You can also buy my book here if you feel like a double dose of crime!
Thanks for visiting my blog and if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me using the contact form on this site! 🙂
2 thoughts on “Self-publishing vs traditional: author interview with Mel Sherratt”
Great article. Deciding what the right way for you is and what your ultimate outcome would be is a great way to realise what route to put your energies into. My ultimate goal was to hold a copy of my book in my hand and self-publishing got me there. That others have enjoyed it too has put me on a new journey.
Good to weigh the pros and cons and really decide if one or the other is worth the effort and time. Excellent and useful post!