A classically-trained musician, Melissa McPhail chose the path of writing over music. She attributes the success of her fantasy series A Pattern of Shadow & Light to two factors: passion and a “bullheaded unwillingness to know when to quit”.
Could you share your background as an author?
How did I get started writing? I’ve been a devotee to the craft since high school, but I can’t say I truly thought of myself as a writer until I had three books published and was fielding questions, emails and comments about my epic fantasy series on a regular basis.
There are two sides to any art form: the extroverted passion to communicate that drives us to create, and the introverted “will anyone like it/understand it?” self-invalidation that I would hazard to say every artist on the planet has experienced at one point or another. It’s always a risk to put yourself out there via a medium of expression that is by its nature threaded closely through your soul. It takes a certain moxie, certainly a bit of “devil may care,” and a large dose of courage.
For me, this hazardous path began as a choice between music and writing, amid the question of which one I would be willing to do 24/7–because it takes that kind of dedication to distinguish your work from the masses of other equally talented artists. That my epic fantasy series has gained traction, that I could survive now as a writer off the income from my books (which is actually rare in this business)…sometimes I think it just comes down to a bullheaded sort of unwillingness to know when to quit.
While you do need persistence in this business, you also need passion. It’s often a lonely and to some degree thankless road. For the majority of artists/writers/creative types, receiving remuneration to a degree commensurate with the blood, sweat, tears and emotional investment put into the creative work is an uncommon trade. So you do it because you’re passionate about creating, and you keep going at it because you can’t imagine life without it. Sometimes you’re rewarded for your efforts, and sometimes your only reward is the ability to keep creating.
I say this as a preface to your question about inspiration. Because inspiration can come from anywhere–a turn of phase at the grocery store, a glimpse of light through the trees, a particularly stunning sunset, two children discussing the injustice of bedtime–but the passion that drives you on…that has to reside within you.
What do you use your mailing list for?
Despite conventional wisdom, I’m not a huge user of my mailing list. I have one. I mail to it when I have something to say – usually a release to tell people about – but I prefer to interact with both fans and prospective fans via social media. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of mailing lists, unfortunately.
Do you have any advice for aspiring or new authors regarding mailing lists or marketing in general?
I have had a lot of success with Facebook ads in the last two years, although like many others of late, I’ve noticed a decline in sales from this venue. It’s still a great way to meet other readers in my genre, however, and I enjoy the interaction.
In terms of marketing, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. First it was making your book permafree. Then it was Bookbub giveaways. Then it was book blog tours to push reviews, and now the trend is building your mailing list. All of these have worked really well for some and not as much for others.
Marketing is essentially about finding your public and communicating with them wherever they’re living. If that’s email, great. If it’s Instagram, great. You have to find a channel that reaches your public and market to them on that channel, following whatever best practices govern that channel of communication. There isn’t a workable one-size-fits-all approach to book marketing. It requires some study and a deep look at your own work and the kind of people who will appreciate it.
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