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Keep On Keeping On: Making Your Own Opportunities with Mel Sherratt

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By Mel Sherratt

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I love Twitter – there I said it. I know for some it seems a waste of time and I would say to that, only use it if you like it. It’s one of many social media platforms to try out. But unlike a lot of people, I don’t use it directly to sell books. Of course, I occasionally tweet out the best bits of my writing journey, but I use it mainly to chat to friends and engage with readers.

So it was lovely when one of my followers, who I now call a friend even though we haven’t met, started writing a series of blog posts about writers who had inspired her. I was the first one she wrote about and she had picked up on me using the hashtag #keeponkeepingon. Writing is hard for every writer when it’s not going so well. But equally it’s fantastic when it is going well. So I use that hashtag for the good days and the not so good days.

mel SherrattI tried for twelve years to get a publishing deal. Over those years, I wrote book after book, hoping that the next one I wrote would be accepted. Rejection after rejection, year after year, really destroys the soul. But I kept on going. In December 2011, at the end of my tether, and with nothing to lose, I self-published my first novel, Taunting the Dead, as an ebook. A few weeks later, it hit the Kindle top 100. I couldn’t believe it when it was at number one in three different categories – police procedurals, thrillers and mysteries, and number three in the overall top ten at the beginning of 2012. I was on my second agent by this time and I made the decision to part company with her and self-publish some of the other books I had written and make them into a series. I wanted to see if, by getting good sales figures for these as well, I might be able to tempt a publisher to offer me my dream of a two-book deal.

Several publishers had turned down the first two books in the series because they were cross-genre between women’s fiction and crime thriller. I agreed with the overall comment but I didn’t want to change them. Indeed, these books are still hard to market as there doesn’t seem to be a valid genre that they fit in online categories. I lovingly refer to them as grit-lit.

I purposely published book 1, 2 and 3 of The Estate series in quick succession. I had studied the Kindle for months before publishing Taunting the Dead – what was selling, what wasn’t, prices, covers, genres etc. so before putting out my series, I did it again. I noticed that if I had more than one book out, I could perhaps create a buzz around the next one’s release date.

It worked! Somewhere to Hide, book 1, was number one in psychological thrillers Christmas 2012. And, ten days after its release on December 21 2012, Fighting for Survival, book 3, knocked it off the top spot and was at number one for three weeks.

All these chartings gained the interest of five literary agents. I met with three and chose one, Madeleine Milburn. I was writing another book by then and, four months later, Watching Over You, was pitched at the London Book Fair and two weeks after that, I had a two book deal with Thomas and Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Because of my success with Taunting the Dead, they offered me a deal for that too. It was repackaged and republished on December 3.

Bord Gais Book Club - win books every month!So, after keeping on keeping on, year after year, suddenly I have a whole team behind me. I have an editor, a copyeditor and a cover designer. I have PR reps and a marketing people to help me launch the books. There is a lot of self in self-publishing and although I’m going forward as a hybrid author, it’s great to have so many people on board now.

Watching Over You is out today. Am I nervous about its reception? I can’t begin to tell you just how much – it is really dark and sexy. But I already have a following and lots of emails from readers waiting for it – and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the plunge to self-publish.

So my advice to anyone is keep at it, for as long as you enjoy writing. If you want to self-publish, self-publish. If you want to look for an agent and go for a traditional deal, then do that. Just make sure it is what you want to do and it will always be worth aiming for. And, yes it is hard at times to keep going in the face of rejection. I often felt that I was just being stubborn and if I hadn’t got a deal by now, I was never going to get one. But, well, writing is my passion and it would never go away. And look, finally I can say that I have a book deal – fourteen years after sitting down to write the beginning of my very first book.

(c) Mel Sherratt

Mel Sherratt has been a self-described “meddler of words” ever since she can remember. She lives in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, with her husband and her terrier, Dexter (named after the TV serial killer, with some help from her Twitter fans), and makes liberal use of her hometown as a backdrop for her writing. You can find her website here and you can also find her on Twitter at @writermels

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