Melody Pendlebury is an Amazon best-selling author who lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
Jacksonville is often considered to be where Florida begins, but Pendlebury’s story started further south in Spring Hill, a small town located about an hour’s drive from Tampa.
“The only claim to fame Spring Hill has are the Weeki Wachee mermaids. Other than that, there is just Applebee’s and Chili’s,” Pendlebury says of her hometown, which partly explains why after graduating high school, the now-author decided to venture east to Orlando for her freshman year of college.
It was there that Pendlebury began working on obtaining her teaching degree, but just a year after arriving in Orlando she was on the move once again, this time enrolling at a local college in Jacksonville.
“And I’ve been living in Jacksonville ever since,” she shares.
Despite her literary accolades, Pendlebury is still putting to use the teaching degree she earned in Jacksonville, educating the next generation of Floridians at an elementary school where she has been tasked with developing her students’ reading and writing skills.
Considering that teachers work long hours that often extend beyond the final bell, authoring just one book would make Pendlebury unique, but since entering the literary world five years ago, Pendlebury has already written and published seven books.
“Of those, I’ve written three books about my dog, Gatsby. The books are modern fairytales with a corgi twist,” she explains.
Pendlebury also co-authored a book with Amanda Young, another talented writer who yearns to inspire people to care about the world around them.
“Amanda used to be an animal trainer, so I reached out to her to write this book since I loved animals and also because I wanted to collaborate with someone who understood the perspective of animals,” Pendlebury says of Jumo the Unicorn: Manda’s Magical Zoo, a children’s book that is part of the genre that has been a staple of Pendlebury’s brief but impressive career.
Pendlebury attributes much of her fascination with children’s books to her occupation, crediting her impressive oeuvre to the students who have become an integral part of her life over the last few years.
“Storytelling is a big part of being a teacher,” Pendlebury notes.
“Every year I keep trying to hold my students’ interest because I am really attached to them, and my books help me do that.”
Much like her students, Pendlebury is constantly evolving.
While much of her work to date has been in the children’s book genre, Pendlebury recently wrote a young teens novel, A Girl Called Ruthless, a 181-page coming-of-age story that has shot up to as high as #35 in Amazon’s Best Seller rankings.
Unlike her self-published children’s books, A Girl Called Ruthless was picked up by Darkstroke, a European company who specializes in publishing dark fiction.
Pendlebury was ecstatic about inking a deal with Darkstroke, a move that not only benefitted her financially, but also keyed her in to how the world of traditional publishing operates.
“I know exactly what it takes to self-publish, but I wanted to go the traditional route in order to get two different perspectives,” she says.
Doing so meant Pendlebury was agreeing to give Darkstroke a large percentage of the royalties from her book, but it also meant that Pendlebury wouldn’t have to hire an editor to refine her manuscript, nor an artist to design her book’s cover.
That being said, Pendlebury is quick to emphasize that her deal with Darkstroke didn’t come easy.
“In talking with other writers, I knew that getting picked up by a traditional publisher was going to be hard, especially because there are so many other authors who are trying to get traditionally published. I was also trying to do all this right after quarantine had begun, so the market was even more inflated,” Pendlebury recalls.
Hampered by an oversaturated literary market, plus the adversity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pendlebury admits there were many nights she wondered if her artistic dreams would ever come to fruition.
At the same time, the pride of Spring Hill was determined to see things through, so once the state of Florida began to pull back on restrictions related to the pandemic, Pendlebury took advantage of The Sunshine State’s favorable guidelines and signed up to attend a conference where authors could go meet literary agents and pitch their books.
“I was so sure that it was my time, that I was going to meet an agent, and that they were going to love my book,” Pendlebury says of the conference, adding that shortly after the event began her goals looked to be on the verge of coming true.
“Every agent I met with loved my book and asked for fulls [the entire manuscript].”
Naturally, the agents’ feedback had given Pendlebury reason to be optimistic, but as the months passed, rejection letters from every agent slowly filtered in.
“Thinking about the $300 I spent to go to the conference, perhaps I shouldn’t have gone, but it was a good learning experience,” she acknowledges.
Following her setback at the conference, Pendlebury doubled down and began sending more queries to agents and publishing houses, a practice that is common among aspiring authors.
“Querying is when you send agents and publishers a brief synopsis of what your book is about, the first few chapters, a couple title options, and your personal accomplishments,” Pendlebury says of the process, one that for many is arduous because of the limited and often negative feedback that comes with it.
Fortunately, Pendlebury’s experience was less soul-crushing than what many of her peers were accustomed to.
“I got eight requests for my full novel from the thirty people I queried,” she notes.
With momentum slowly building, Pendlebury then participated in several book pitch events on Twitter, which caught the attention of the brass over at Darkstroke.
From there, things quickly materialized.
“Within two weeks they [Darkstroke] had read my entire book and offered me a contract,” Pendlebury giddily shares.
With A Girl Called Ruthless currently available in bookstores nationwide, Pendlebury is satisfied with the platform Darkstroke has given her, but she also mentions that her partnership with the traditional publisher was not necessarily what she expected it to be.
“One thing I found out during the traditional publishing process is that it is so different from what people expect,” Pendlebury says.
“People expect that a publisher is going to pick up your book and then you sit back and do nothing while a publisher sells your book, but that’s not the case, even for the top five publishing houses.”
This is because even at renowned publishers like Random House or Penguin, an author’s take-home pay is far from what many might assume.
In most instances, Pendlebury says that writers only get ten percent of the sales from the book, so if a publisher sells their client’s work for $20, the author is only receiving $2 per copy sold.
In addition to the low royalty percentage, Pendlebury also reveals that very few authors have their work marketed and promoted by their publisher, meaning any traction generated is primarily done by the authors themselves.
“In my case, every year my publisher picks only two books that they are going to spend their marketing budget on,” Pendlebury says.
“My book is still put into every bookstore, but the publisher is not going to spend money on marketing it because these days marketing is done primarily through social media.”
Ultimately, while traditional publishing does have its pitfalls, Pendlebury insists that it is still the ideal route for a writer to take in order to further their career.
“Purely from a financial perspective, traditional publishing is better because without a company behind you, you could easily spend $3,000 on four rounds of edits for your manuscript,” she says, and that figure doesn’t include hiring someone to design the cover, or a third-party to print and distribute the final product.
Now, as her loyal readers continue to embrace A Girl Called Ruthless and look forward to her next book, Pendlebury once again finds herself debating the trajectory of her career.
Branching out into young adult fiction in 2021 was a huge step, but the Jacksonville resident also is unsure just how far she wants to stretch her comfort zone.
“At this rate, I’m going to be writing for geriatrics because I keep moving up my target audience,” she says with a laugh.
“I don’t consider myself to be a serious person, which is why I think I’m drawn to writing for younger audiences. Although there are more mature topics within that, it’s also easier to be genuine writing for kids. With adult novels, trying to be a profound author who doesn’t incorporate a bit of corniness into their work scares me.”
As Pendlebury’s brand and reputation continue to ascend, so too do her commitments, which is why it won’t be long before Pendlebury steps away from backpacks and blackboards and fully immerses herself in a professional writing career.
“I love teaching, but the way the education system is set up, it’s not sustainable long-term,” she says.
“Right now, I’m trying to set my life up in a way that will allow me to be a full-time writer. So far, that is looking like it is going to be possible sooner rather than later.”
For a young talent like Pendlebury, her career is already beginning to unfold, but whether you’re a penurious scribe or a hedge fund manager looking to break into writing, Pendlebury encourages all unpublished authors to dive right in.
“I find that a lot of new writers take a long time to write their first book. That’s understandable, but in my opinion, writers should take off and not think about if their book is good or bad,” she says, then explaining that beyond removing self-doubt, it is also crucial for new writers to maintain some type of consistency with their craft.
“I follow a strict writing schedule where I write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.”
Yet, at the end of every creative process, one thing is certain:
A writer has created something they can forever call their own.
As for the fate of a book’s success, well, Pendlebury suggests having measured expectations:
“All you can do is just keep moving forward. If you hit a wall, you hit a wall. If things are meant to happen for you and your book, they will happen.” QS
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