My ALLi author guest this episode is Melissa Addey, who you may already know as the campaigns manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors and co-host of the Beginners Self-Publishing podcast. But Melissa is also an accomplished indie author, herself, focusing on historical fiction. She also uses her expertise to help other self-published authors find their voices.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Melissa Addey
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Melissa Addey. About the Author
Melissa Addey is a fulltime self-published author of historical fiction set in Ancient Rome, medieval Morocco and 18th century China. Her books have been picked as Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society and won the inaugural Novel London award. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and was the Leverhulme Trust Writer in Residence at the British Library, where she runs monthly workshops for writers wanting to develop their entrepreneurial skills. She works with the Alliance of Independent Authors on their campaigns to support ethics and excellence in self-publishing. Visit her at www.MelissaAddey.com to explore her books and download a free historical novella.
About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Read the Transcripts — Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Melissa Addey
Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Melissa Addey, who you may already know as the campaigns manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, and co-host of the Beginner’s Self-Publishing podcast.
But Melissa is also an accomplished indie author herself, focusing on historical fiction. She also uses her expertise to help other self-publish authors find their voices. I’ll let Melissa Addey tell her story.
Melissa Addey: Hello, my name’s Melissa Addey. I am an author of historical fiction, so I primarily focus on that. I’ve written a few other things as well. I’ve been the writer and residence at the British Library, which was a fantastic year, and I have a PhD in creative writing where I wrote about the balancing act between fact and fiction in historical fiction, and that was a very interesting three years juggling small children plus that.
I also do workshops for writers where I like to focus on them being very entrepreneurial about their approach to their writing careers, and I do a day a week with the Alliance of Independent Authors working on their campaigns, trying to support all indie authors.
So, I grew up on a farm in Italy. My mum went out to Italy when she was 18 to be an au pair girl just for the summer and kind of never came back. So, she had bought a farm in Italy and that’s where I grew up. We didn’t have TV and that equalled a lot of reading, and I turned out to be someone who was mad keen on books, so I just spent most of my childhood reading, reading, reading, and I think eventually that must have filled up the brain to the extent where it was like, okay, time to put it back out again now.
I started writing probably in, probably in my early twenties and doing a little bit, just trying to get used to what I was writing about and writing in different genres and things, and just trying to find the writing voice as it were.
Howard Lovy: But for Melissa, writing as a profession did not come until later. First, she studied marketing in college and then went into business.
Melissa Addey: So, I’d been brought up in Italy, but I was English, and so it seemed a bit odd to have never lived in England. So, I came back and lived in London and went to university here, and I did communications, which was I think, kind of, media studies. We did a bit of everything, a bit of radio and drama and journalism and tried out all different things, and that was fun. I didn’t really focus fully on the writing at that point, and then I went into business for 15 years and I worked for a major supermarket, Sainsbury’s for their head office, developing new products.
Then after that, I went to an organization that basically ran, so the government was giving out money for small businesses to do innovation projects, so I worked with them to manage those grants. So, over six years, I think I met about 500 entrepreneurs, and worked with them on different innovation projects to help them access the grants and help them develop new things.
So, always really focused on developing new products, developing new services, and somewhere along the way I got a master’s in innovation in business. So, it was always around that focus, which I think was helpful when I went self-published as an author because it made me not panic about the business side of things.
Howard Lovy: But while Melissa worked in the business world, she kept up her writing habit.
Melissa Addey: I started writing just on the side, just for fun. I did some writing courses. I wrote little bits here and there. At some point, I wrote a children’s picture book, and I thought, well, I’ll just send it out to agents, and I got an agent really quickly and I was like, oh, well that was easy, cool. Then she couldn’t sell it, which I’ve discovered since then is quite common. Agent does not equal publishing deal. So, I thought, oh, that’s really easy, but actually, I always say to people, now, I got an agent way too early because I had no writing habit whatsoever.
I had no idea of what genre I wanted to write, I just happened to be doing picture books at that point and then went off in a historical fiction direction, and the poor agent was like, but I don’t do that, that’s not where my contacts are.
So, at that point we parted ways, and I was crushed because I thought, oh my God, I blew it. I had an agent and they’re gone, and oh my God, that’s it.
So, then I started on historical fiction and started taking that a bit more seriously. The first time was just, ooh, let’s just see what happens, and the second time I was like, no, I would like this to be a thing, and went after an agent a bit harder at that point, because I knew nothing at all about self-publishing. I just knew the traditional route, and so I went for that.
Howard Lovy: Eventually, Melissa found an agent and a publisher for her historical fiction and was all set to have her first book publish. That’s when things started to fall apart.
Melissa Addey: I said, just a quick reminder, the setting is China, but the girl is not Chinese. She is Uyghur, and I said, you’re not going to find a Uyghur girl in a stock agency library. So, I was like, Turkish looking, Mediterranean, something like that. So, just to be flexible with that, and they said they said, well, you choose, here’s the stock agents; you go through and pick the pictures. And I was like, wow, look at us, we’re just working really well together.
So, I went through, and I thought also, I will not pick just one girl, I will not fixate on the one model that it can be. So, I picked 5 or 6 and I said, how about one of these?
And they said, well, how about this? And they sent me back a picture of a geisha in full costume, hair, makeup, everything, and I was like, okay, we’re in the wrong country, and geisha does not equal generic Asian woman. That’s like me saying, can I have a picture of an old lady and you sending me a picture of the queen, that’s a cultural icon you’re looking at there.
I remember just sitting there at my desk and crying and just thinking, what do I say? And I went back, and I said no, you can’t put that on there, no. And they said, you’re being really difficult. They actually said that, and I just sat there and cried a bit more.
Then I rang my agent and I said, I’ve signed the contract, do they know I’ve signed the contract? And she said no, and I said, have they signed the contract? And she said, no, not yet they’re sorting out the paperwork. And I said, I’m begging you to shred it and say I never signed it, and she did that for me, thank God. I’m so grateful to her, even now.
Howard Lovy: With that bad experience behind her, Melissa began researching self-publishing.
Melissa Addey: At that point I said, you know what, I’ve been reading about self-publishing, and I’m sick of this. This is seven years of ridiculousness and I’m going self-publishing, and I don’t care if it does well or not, I just want to put it out there and then readers can decide.
I sat there and I basically read the whole of Joanna Penn’s website for six months, because I knew nothing, and I just read it page to page as if it was a book, whilst I had a baby on the side, a second baby. So, by now I had two little ones and I’d published a non-fiction book about things to do while you were breastfeeding, just because that’s what I was doing at the time, which I wrote very quickly, and I think I wanted to put that out before the novel because the novel meant a lot, and I wanted a book that would go through the process and just prove to me that it worked and to learn with.
Then I put the novel out, and the novel was doing all right. It sold, considering I didn’t know anything about marketing or whatever, it was doing okay.
At that point, I had to decide whether to go back to work or not, and the finances really didn’t stack up because childcare, I was like, I’m not going to bring home any money. Even if I earn a really good wage, I won’t bring home any money because it’ll all go on childcare. So, I had this big moment where I said to my husband, if I do this now, if I can stay at home with the kids, but do the writing, can we manage that?
I remember just thinking, oh, please don’t just say no straight away, and he just paused for a really long time thinking about it. I was like, oh, we could do this, and so that’s when I jumped. So, I jumped whilst having two little kids, which was good in a way, because it meant that the financial expectations were not as high. It was like, okay, if you can bring in a little bit of money, then it just about balances out for those first couple of years.
Howard Lovy: Melissa has written 16 books, primarily historical fiction, and has learned enough about the self-publishing process to help other authors get started.
Melissa Addey: So, I really liked doing that. Even when I was in business, I would run workshops and things for other businesses on business topics, and I really enjoyed that. So, when I transferred into being an author, I started doing stuff like that as well with authors. So, I would look at, what’s the business aspects of being an author, and now I do a little bit of craft things as well, but I mostly stick to the entrepreneurial side of things, especially because, with the self-publishing that’s a major component of it. So, it’s quite interesting. I like spending time in a room of people where you are talking and you can see a light bulb go off because they’ve just connected something you’ve said with something that they’ve been mulling over, or how they want their author career to run, or something that’s linked to what they’re doing at the moment, and I really like those connections.
I really like watching that happen to people, and the best thing is when you do a workshop and everyone’s like, oh, that was really cool, thank you, and you’re like, great, good luck with everything, and then you don’t hear from them for a long time, and then someone years, I mean, literally years later, will suddenly come up to you and go, hi, so I’ve written six books since then and now I’m an indie author and I’m doing this, and I’m doing that, and you’re like, oh, this is so cool.
I really like that, that’s very exciting when people do that.
Howard Lovy: After she teaches authors the nuts and bolts of how to publish their books, the next most common questions involve marketing.
Melissa Addey: I really try and focus people on, it is a marathon, not a sprint, because people come barging in and they’re like, right, so my very first book, it has to have a huge launch and I’m like, why are you putting that pressure on yourself?
If you want this to be your career, you’re going to be in this for years, and you’ve been reading, you know, how to do a big launch by some really established indie author who has it all set up, you’re going to drive yourself crazy doing that. You’re going to be so stressed. I’m like, just put it out really quietly.
I mean, in the world I came from in business, you do a soft launch, you put it out really quietly. You don’t say anything about it to anyone while you make sure the logistics works and there aren’t any faults in the product, and you know a few core customers like it, and then you do a big song and dance about it.
So, I do try and get that across to people, that you don’t have to do everything all at once. It’s very draining otherwise, I think.
Howard Lovy: Melissa has noticed that even some traditionally published authors are beginning to think indie.
Melissa Addey: Recently, I’ve also been meeting traditionally published authors who I think are behaving in a very indie like way, like they’re taking on that mindset.
So, like one of them is doing it without an agent, which they really shouldn’t be according to the normal rules. The other one does things with Kickstarter. So, they’re taking on some of that mindset, and I’m quite pleased about that as well.
Howard Lovy: In addition to earning her PhD, Melissa has also been the recipient of about £75,000 pounds worth of grants to hold writing and entrepreneurial workshop. Then she got involved with the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Melissa Addey: I was a member of ALLi because, once I’d read a bit of Joanna Penn’s website, obviously I came across ALLi and I was like, oh, cool, this is good.
So, I was a member of theirs, and at some point, after a few years, so I’d got myself up and running as it were. Then I started getting annoyed because things that I wanted to go for were closed to me because I was an indie. I was really annoyed by that, because I was like, it’s absolutely fine if you think my writing is terrible or you don’t think I’m up to whatever it is that you are on offer, that’s completely fine, you can tell me so, and I’ll just take that. But you can’t prejudge me. You can’t just go, no, you are not even allowed to apply because we don’t like the way you publish.
I literally say to people, I mean, if you’re going to argue about that, then I could go back one further and I could say, okay, well I don’t think your book’s a proper book unless it’s been written by monks on vellum, by hand. If that’s what we’re going to quibble over, is how we’ve gone about publishing, that’s ridiculous.
So, I started writing rather stroppy letters to these people going, but hang on a minute, I’ve done all these things, are you seriously telling me that I’m not good enough? And by the way, other indies are doing even cooler stuff than me, so what is this?
And every time I did it, I would cc Orna and ALLi and just go, yeah, also, other indies, hello.
And after a bit, I think Orna was amused by it and after a bit she’s like, do you want to come and write some more stroppy letters like that, but you know, in-house?
And I was like yeah, I’m going to do that, yeah, I’m going to come and write stroppy letters.
So, I basically do, one day of my time is to do with campaigns, and so I focus on trying to support indie authors, obviously, because that’s what we do, but I think it’s important for all authors to try and be informed about what their publishing options are so that they can make those choices properly.
Howard Lovy: And an important part of making those choices is the ability to point at data about self-publishing income, which is a project Melissa is working on now.
Melissa Addey: That’s something we’re working on at the moment, is trying to gather more data about self-publishing because it’s all very well going, well, they’re not letting us in, but maybe they aren’t up to date, maybe they haven’t seen the latest data about what self-publishing is all about, and being able to say, well, you do realize that this, and being able to show the stats about it becomes quite important.
So, you know, when people go, well, I don’t read self-published books, you’re like, really, because about 35% of all the eBooks being published and read are by self-published authors. So, I think you might be reading them, and you don’t even realize, and you might want to think about that.
So, right at the moment, we are trying to gather together as much data as we can from different sources so that we can, not only inform ourselves, which is always good, but also go out further to all authors and say, this is the latest information on self-publishing, I would like you to know what your options are so that you make informed choices. After that, you make whatever choice you like, but you need to be informed.
And I’ve met, at festivals and things, a lot of people where they just don’t even seem informed on self-publishing, and that I’m really sorry about, because I think, well, in that case you are making choices about your publishing that are incomplete, you don’t realize what else is open to you, and I would like people to know that.
And things like not getting scammed when they do come into self-publishing, the number of people on forums where they’re quite new writers and they go, oh yeah, I’ve been published, so I’m paying £5,000 to this thing and you’re like, oh my God, please don’t. And you’re going, okay, you are not being published, you are self-publishing, and you’re being made to pay an arm and a leg for it, which you really shouldn’t be, and I would like you to know the difference. That kind of thing, it’s important.
Howard Lovy: Between her author career, workshops, and her ALLi work, Melissa has a great deal on her plate, but she plans to focus more on her writing.
Melissa Addey: I think what I’m trying to do at the moment is put a bit more attention on writing the books, do marketing that I know works, rather than chasing all the new shiny things. Yes, of course, try out new things from time to time, but do the stuff you know works, write more of the books, and then do things like the ALLi, which I enjoy because it gives me a bigger picture of what’s happening, and I like helping other people, and I like supporting other authors. So, it’s a really nice way of being able to do that. So, yeah more of the books, I think, overall.