Mel sold over 50,000 copies of her beselling crime novel Taunting the Dead last year, and her latest, Behind a Closed Door is released today. I've had the pleasure of reading it, and I'm confident it's going to be another well-deserved success for Mel.
She's a phenomenally busy woman, but I've managed to pin her down and ask her a few writing related questions.
1) What’s a typical writing day for you, Mel?
I always get up early, around 6am, so when I’m drafting a book I use the first two hours a day to either catch up on emails or write blog posts etc with my laptop on the settee. Once the battery needs recharging, I head to my office. I’ve only recently made a room into an office but I can’t tell you the difference it has made. I don’t have Twitter on my PC so from ten until one I write. A quick break for lunch and writing again until four. Then that’s me done for the day writing wise – unless I’m nearing the end of the draft. When my brain takes over, I have to work until it’s done so I’ll often write for a few hours extra during the evenings on the last couple of weeks. It’s the same when I’m editing, although I only do this during the day as I need time to switch off.
2) What’s been your experience of trying to get a publishing deal?
Really, you have time to listen? Well, pull up a chair… The short version is that I tried for twelve years to get a traditional deal but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Then last summer I started to study Amazon’s Kindle, and some of the authors on there, and wondered if I should have a go at self-publishing. At first, I did it to see if I could get a sales figure to tempt a publisher but then the book just took off. So, I’m still looking for a deal but not for Taunting the Dead.
3) You released your gritty crime novel, Taunting the Dead, as an eBook. Would you publish this way again?
Yes, I’ve recently released two in a series of psychological thrillers called The Estate. Somewhere to Hide is the first one, released in July and, whereas with Taunting the Dead it was a whodunit as a crime is solved, in this one I wanted to write more about the effects of crime. I want readers to guess the ‘twist’ early on in this book so that they read with this in mind, hopefully building up the tension. I’ve just released the next book too, Behind a Closed Door. Although I’m self-publishing this series, I never give up hope of working with a publisher. Indeed, I’m writing something with that in mind now.
4) Taunting the Dead did incredibly well, reaching number 3 in the bestseller charts, and achieved brilliant reviews on Amazon. Did you do a lot of marketing?
Actually, I was going to say no. I did a few guest blog posts around the launch of Taunting the Dead but that was all. But then I got to thinking that maybe my marketing was to price the book at 99p initially. As an unknown author, and as there were lots of books selling for 99p, I thought it would be a good way to get my name out and see if anyone liked my style. As more and more ebooks are being released at low prices, even 20p on Amazon in some cases of price matching with Sony ebooks, I’m not sure how successful this would be now. But luckily for me, I have a base to build on.
5) I’m very bad at self-promotion. What’s the key to doing it successfully without annoying anyone?!
Honestly? I don’t think self-promotion works that well. I use Twitter as a virtual office, a place to catch up with my friends too, so I get annoyed when I constantly see ‘buy my book’ links in my timeline. The odd one or two around launch are fine – we all need to do that. But I go on Twitter to chat so I don’t really want to read someone’s latest five star review… it won’t tempt me to buy a book. I’d be more inclined to click on a link to a good blog post, get to know an author and then download a sample of their book. I love going on to blogs and getting to know a writer. Having said that, even then, the ten percent download that I read has to be good enough to entice me to click the buy button.
I do have a separate author page on Facebook. This is where I know I can link to things that people who follow me may want to see. It’s also a great place to get to know readers and have a chat with them too. There’s nothing better than having a message left by someone who has enjoyed something that you have created.
So I guess it’s the same-old, same-old. Write the best book you can and readers will find it through word of mouth.
6) What’s been the most difficult aspect of your writing journey so far?
Rejections from publishers have been the toughest for me. I haven’t had many, but enough to enable the self-doubt to surface. Inferiority over feeling second best by self-publishing is another aspect (although countless authors I know tell me I shouldn’t feel that way.) And every time I hear of someone getting a book deal, I think ‘why not me?’ The market for a traditional deal is so tough at the moment and self-publishing did work for me. But I’m not sure I’d like to do it forever. I’m keeping my options open.
7) Have you always written ‘gritty’ fiction? What draws you to it?
I haven’t always written gritty fiction. I do write women’s fiction under a pen name too but it isn’t your typical girly gossip books. These books are about working class girls with issues, so I guess I am a gritty writer through and through.
What draws me to the grit is that I like to see the underdog doing well. I like to create normal, realistic characters who sometimes fall as low as they can go and then they get back up again by the end of the book. So throughout the books in The Estate series, there are some very strong women who, with a little help from their friends, get through some terrible situations and take life changing journeys.
8) Allie Shenton from Taunting the Dead is a strong character many women will relate to. Is she based on anyone you know?
Allie isn’t based on anyone in particular. She’s strong, she’s also warm, passionate, vulnerable and I think a little bit sexy. She goes after what she wants and also fights for what is right. But she is as down-to-earth as you or I. I also wanted a female protagonist who was in a loving marriage and happy with her life to be thrown into turmoil when she had feelings for another man. (I loved Allie, she a great character - I can imagine her on TV!)
9) What are you working on at the moment?
As mentioned, I’ve just finished Behind a Closed Door where I focussed on Josie Mellor. She’s a housing officer and works on the Mitchell Estate. There are a spate of burglaries and assaults taking their toll on her tenants, plus Josie deals with a lot of domestic violence issues, and when her home life starts to mirror her working life, she knows she’s in trouble. It’s full of secrets and lies.
Now that’s finished, it will be full steam ahead to get the next book, Fighting for Survival, ready. I’m also drafting out a psychological thriller. Then I might take a break for Christmas!
10) What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
That there is a book in everyone. Sure, the idea is there. But it takes guts and determination to write it up into 100,000 words, rework it, craft it, edit it, research it, hone it, edit again, listen to constructive criticism, edit it again and ignore your family and friends for months on end. But it is great fun too!
11) If you could give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t rush things. Let ideas ferment and go with the flow. And sometimes, for me, it’s as simple as giving it up for the day, sleeping on it, waking up and sitting down again. I seem to have a very active mind and wake up with so many plot-holes solved.
Also, if you feel an idea isn’t working, you don’t have to finish it – unless you’ve started several things without finishing, then that’s procrastination. But sometimes admitting something isn’t working can unblock you.
12) It’s my belief all writers love cake. What’s your favourite?
Ooh, great question. For me it has to be Bailey’s cheesecake, with extra Baileys!
Great answers, Mel thank you. And lots of luck with your novel. I'm in awe of your output.
You can find Mel's website here