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Author Up Close: Mel Todd – From Fanfiction to $150K


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Urban Fantasy Author, Mel Todd

Despite Mel Todd’s warning that we shouldn’t use her as a role model for our own self-publishing journeys, I think indie and traditionally published authors can learn a lot from this sci-fi and urban fantasy author who pivoted from writing in a genre she didn’t love, to writing stories on her own terms. Below, the author and creator of Bad Ash Publishing—the publishing company that houses her twenty-plus titles—shares insights into her career, her missteps, and how she went from writing fanfiction to making over $150K in one year.

GW: Thanks for agreeing to share your writing and publishing experiences with the Writer Unboxed community. The first thing I’d like to ask is what genre(s) do you write in, and why and when did you start writing with the goal of publication?

MT: I probably first thought about it seriously in 2011. I published my first novel in 2013. Originally I started in romance (mistake, I’m not that good at romance), then I had my world shatter in 2016, and I realized I’ve always read sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy, so why wasn’t I writing that? I dove back in, and in 2017 published my first work of Urban Science Fiction. I haven’t looked back.

GW: Why did you choose the self-publishing route?

MT: There are a few reasons. One – I had a friend that I knew (and still know) from my fanfiction days (which I still write) who had gone into self-publishing and was picked up by 47 North.  His second year he paid more in taxes than double what I earned that year, and I was making a good salary at the day job at the time. He encouraged me to do it, but I made that romance mistake, and I paid for that with a few years of lost opportunities.  Two – I am not good at writing mainstream stories. Agents and publishers need stories that resonate with the mainstream. My stuff is weird, and I consciously make the choice to write stories without a romance subplot now.

GW: Tell us a bit about your self-publishing journey.

MT: Laughs – I don’t mind sharing, but it would not be wise to use me as your role model for your journey. I’ve been writing fanfiction since about 2004. And in my heyday, I was getting 10k hits in the first 24 hours of posting a chapter. So, when I started to self-pub, I leveraged that existing audience. Well, the two romance novels I wrote went nowhere. Partially, it was my lack of marketing know-how (remember this was back in 2013 and 2015 that I published these) and that the fanfic I wrote wasn’t romance. Yes, I was a bit dense, but it’s complicated.

In 2017 I wrote the first book in my Kaylid Chronicles, then started publishing that series in 2018.  That year I earned $6K. I kept writing and trying. In 2019 I earned under $4k. I’m sitting there going, well this series isn’t working. Let’s try a new one. I started my Twisted Luck series—a zero sex/romance Urban Fantasy—and published book one of that series in 2020.  Something about it, and the following novels, caught fire, and I earned a bit over $20k in 2020.  Then in 2021 I earned over $150K. Right now? Well life has been busy tripping me up, so I haven’t published a novel in seven months, which is hurting sales. But I have the next book at the editor now, so hopefully that will get my sales up and going again.  I’m also pulling my Kaylid series out of KU (Kindle Unlimited) and going wide with it once I get new covers. With luck, all of this will make 2022 just as good as 2021.

 GW: I think it’s important for aspiring authors to understand that self-publishing, when done well, is about much more than just uploading your book to your retailer of choice. What are some of the things you do/have done to promote your work? What are the things that have been most successful for you thus far?

 MT: I am lucky. I want to repeat that, I am very lucky. I had fans from my fanfiction follow me, and I hit a market trend that was just emerging. Right now, I do conventions because I both love them, and they help me create lifelong fans and friends. But I’m working on Facebook Ads, Instagram, TikTok, BookBub, and swapping newsletters with people, as well as trying to find new markets. My Twisted Luck series has been translated into German, and I’m seeing a slow build in sales there. I also have audiobooks for the series, and every day I’m trying to find new places to advertise.

Now, I’m sure this sounds exhausting—and it is—but don’t think I’m doing this all alone. I hired a businessperson to help me. I have friends that chip in and help. And I don’t do anywhere near what I should, but it is a constantly changing market, and you have to do what you feel good with doing. Personally, I think fanfic is still my best bang for the buck. I just need the time to write.

GW: What advice would you give a newbie writer who someday wants to be doing what you’re doing?

MT: Know what you want to write, and don’t write to a market you don’t like or aren’t comfortable writing. Have realistic expectations; you probably won’t make $50K on your first novel. I’d written five 100K-word novels, eleven novellas, and two 80K-word books before my 100K-word urban fiction took off. I have over two million words in print, and I’m still trying to keep it going. This is not a one-hit-wonder market for the most part. If you want a steady six-figure net income, you can’t quit after one or two or even twenty books. Write and read what you want to write. Talk to people who have written LOTS not just one or two books, even if they became NYT Bestsellers. The trick to this profession is to keep going and keep improving.

 

Many thanks to Mel for giving us a peek into her author life. You can learn more about Mel by visiting her website, Bad Ash Publishing, and you can check out book one in her Twisted Luck series here.

Over to you: There’s nothing wrong with writing to market, but as Mel’s journey demonstrates, success can also come from writing what we truly love, even if what you write seems “weird.” Is the current traditional publishing market shaping what you write and how you plan to publish? If so, how?  

 

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About Grace Wynter

Grace Wynter is an author, editor, and workshop facilitator. She is co-managing editor of Tessera Editorial, a consortium of BIPOC editors working to help make publishing more accessible to all people. Grace has an MBA from Georgia State University and a Professional Certificate in Editing from the University of Chicago. Her editing clients include the Big Four and an array of self-published authors. Her debut novel, Free Falling, was a Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie Award finalist. Her first full-length work of nonfiction, Everday Economics, was released by Quarto Publishing in 2022. When she’s not alternating between the Marvel and DC universes, Grace resides in Atlanta, Georgia. You can connect with her at The Writer’s Station and GraceWynter.com.

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