In a world where it gets harder and harder to get that elusive publishing deal, Mel Sherratt, shows how guts, determination, and talent, can win out in the end, encompassing the words of the wonderful Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Mel Sherratt – Author of ‘Taunting The Dead’
If anyone had told me that I would have self published an ebook, I would have laughed them out of town. If anyone had told me that I’d reach number three in the Kindle best sellers chart within six weeks, I wouldn’t have believed them.
For so long, I’ve dreamt of my words being read, people enjoying my story and chatting about my characters and plots, hoping that they touch readers enough to do so. But behind the ‘quick rise up the charts’ was twelve years of set backs, heartache and rejections. Years of always being the bridesmaid as author friends went on to get book deals, and then had book one, book two and book three published. Years of never giving up, but always wondering if I was ever going to be good enough for a publisher to take a chance with.
I wrote four books previous to Taunting the Dead. Thousands of words – possibly millions – that will probably never see the light of day. Some of the books I’ve written have never been near a publisher. I learnt a lot by writing all those words. My first book was women’s fiction – chick lit, if you like, but it was gritty even then with working class characters. Using my background as a housing officer, I then wrote two more books that were a mixture of women’s fiction and crime thriller. To me as a writer, it seemed a natural progression. I like writing about fear. I like creating unpleasant characters who may or may not get their comeuppance. I enjoy working out who did what and to whom. I like clue setting and writing about violence set around every day life. All these came out in those two books.
I’m lucky to have a well respected agent, within a well established and forward thinking agency. She saw more in me than I was putting into those earlier manuscripts she read. She continued to support me even when two of those previous novels were rejected. As I was writing about life on gritty estates, she encouraged me to write a murder whodunnit with the same type of characters but with a police procedural element to it too. For a while I couldn’t write anything as I thought l didn’t have that kind of novel in me. I had two false starts but on the third attempt I just kept on writing.
Taunting the Dead went out on submission but wasn’t picked up. Now as much as this devastated me, I tried to keep positive about it online. But press your index finger and your thumb together – I came that close to getting a deal from a reputable publisher. The editor who read my manuscript was a lady I’d met before and we’d really hit it off. She seemed to just ‘get me’ and my writing and I was really excited at the thought of working with her. But unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be.
Publishing as we know it is changing rapidly. In some respects this was great for me but in others, as the slots for print books became less and less each year, it made my dream more and more unreachable. But maybe it didn’t have to be that way. There were other avenues to explore and one of those was self publishing. Many authors have pursued this route and their books were being widely read and reviewed. Some were getting decent sales figures too. Since last summer, I’ve been studying the kindle best seller list: who was on it, what was selling, pricing, blurbs, product descriptions, covers. You name it, I studied it. I also started to chat online to author Mark Edwards (Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid). Mark and co-author Louise Voss were my self-publishing inspiration last year as well as Talli Roland (Build a Man).
Having seen Mark and Louise go on to get a traditional deal after selling an impressive amount of copies of their books, with the backing of my agent, we decided to self publish Taunting the Dead. Maybe I could get a sales record to tempt a publisher too. Self publishing wasn’t an option I took lightly. It meant letting go of a dream I’d had since I was a teenager. Or did it? Only time would tell. I did a whole lot of soul searching and hair pulling before I decided to try it out. It was a huge decision. What would make it sell? The price, originally set at 99p? The striking cover (well, I’m biased. I think it’s beautiful). It’s full of sex, violence and murder. It’s set in my home town of Stoke on Trent, in the Midlands, UK. It’s a book of two halves – during the first half we get to know the murder victim and the second we find out who murdered her. It’s part police procedural/part gritty drama. It contains a lot of swearing. Yet I’m told it’s full of humour and compassion, with a very strong sense of place and a feeling of menace in the air.
I was scared when I uploaded it. Because then it was up to the readers. Luckily they seem to like it. Taunting the Dead went on sale on 8 December 2011 and, with the help of a ‘launch’ on twitter plus a lot of lovely supportive people, went to #229 in the overall Amazon chart on that day. I obviously shot right back down again but I sold a few copies every day. Gradually the daily total sales went up until one day (I can tell you it was January 11) the total sold doubled, doubled again the following day and just kept on going. I hit the top one hundred and then the top ten. Next came #1 in police procedurals and then number one in all three of my categories, police procedurals, thrillers and mysteries.
To say I was flabbergasted was an understatement. I’d been writing one book or another for twelve years. Finally people were reading, and liking, my words. One question I’ve been asked a lot recently is have I had a well defined publicity campaign. Apart from the launch day, I wrote three guest posts on book blogs during that same week. I’m not sure if there is any wrong or right way for a writer to approach Twitter. I don’t see anything wrong with authors tweeting about their book – we all need to do it – as long as it isn’t incessantly in my timeline. But I use twitter as my virtual office. It’s my place to go and ‘chat’ when I need a break so I don’t want to alienate people who I enjoy chatting to. I didn’t – and still don’t – promote my book in the sense of putting a link into several tweets a day but I do tweet out if someone has been kind enough to say something good about my book, out of pure delight that they’ve done so. I’m only human – I want to share. But then I get fearful that I might annoy someone in their timeline too!
I also think book bloggers, as well as people who follow me on twitter, have played an instrumental part in promoting Taunting the Dead. It’s the only thing I can think of, apart from possibly, word of mouth – or maybe readers of my blog following my writing journey. I run a blog called High Heels and Book Deals and for the past two years have hosted author interviews and reviewed lots of books in between sharing posts about my writing. I’m often told that the blog has become a tool to learn from as there are lots of hints and tips about writing from some great authors.
Before I uploaded my ebook, I had a few crime bloggers/reviewers review the book for me and I think because they were well known and respected, it had a good effect on my sales. People were extremely kind and I hope that’s because I gave my time to some of them when their own books were out. I do my fair share of retweeting too. My followers on Twitter also tweet out things without asking and often do ‘tweet outs’ for me when I have news, for instance when I went to #3 in the overall Kindle charts.
Finaly, I priced my book low purposely. Was I underselling myself? I didn’t think so. I was a new author with no track record. If you like my sample, why not take a chance on my book for a low price? And because of this, I now have an impressive sales figure. I have a fair few good reviews (and a few not so good – it seems that readers either really like Taunting the Dead or really don’t) and hopefully a following to build on for when my next book in the series, Follow the Leader, comes out.
I’ve made a few mistakes along the way but all in all it’s been a good experience. What’s next for me? Well, that depends on a whole lot of things. I’ll still continue to strive for that book deal but, one way or another, Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton will be back in book two.
Vist Mel’s blog @ http://writermels.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow her on Twitter at @writermels
Find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mel-Sherratt/218120504951096