Melissa Frey is the author of the supernatural action-adventures The Secret of the Codex and The Prophecy of the Codex and the non-fiction book How to Work from Home. When she's not writing, her passion is helping fellow indie authors with writing, editing, and publishing their books at indieauthorlearning.com. You can find her online at melissafrey.com, connecting with readers and other authors on Instagram, teaching authors on her YouTube channel, and editing books and anything else she can get her hands on. She loves yoga, the mountains, super-dark chocolate, and her husband, Andrew.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It took me a long time to really commit to being a writer, claiming the title, and doing the work, but I wrote a book back in high school that set me on the path. I didn’t know it then, but that was the first time I actually wrote something I thought was worth reading — and it wasn’t that bad, actually!
2. How long does it take you to write a book?
The time varies DRASTICALLY between books. I wrote the first draft of The Secret of the Codex in a couple of months, but the editing process took me several years. Like eight, though I wasn’t working on it consistently. The Prophecy of the Codex took me just under two years to write, and the editing process wasn’t completed for another year and a half. But I wrote a book last year that took me eleven days. That was in a different genre, romance, so I think that helped it flow more quickly! The plot wasn’t nearly as complex, and I had far fewer characters to work with.
3. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I don’t really have a schedule when I’m writing. I should, because that’s sometimes why it takes me so long to finish a book! My editing schedule is even more sporadic, but I tend to work in spurts. When I’m determined to finish something, I work at it like crazy until it’s done!
4. What would you say is your unique writing quirk?
I’m not sure how unique it is, but I’m almost 100% pantser. I tried to plot my first novel, but it ended up being so far off the outline that I gave up the idea of plotting my books. I basically write what comes out, and my only structure is to pose questions or short notes to myself that I keep at the end of the document as I’m writing to remind me. As the book progresses, I’ll start seeing how things will end, but it’s always a surprise when I get there. But that’s what makes it fun.
5. Whether it be traditional, self, or story book apps, how’d you find the publishing process?
I always thought I was going to go traditional, and since this was back in the 2000s, I bought several books on it. But once I heard more about self-publishing and decided to go that route, I learned by watching YouTube videos, following other authors on Instagram, and Googling like crazy! There’s so much good information out there! 6. How much of your writing process involves research in your subject matter or plot?
It really depends on the book! The Codex Series required a lot of research on archaeology and the locations. SO MANY LOCATIONS. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, so I used Google Street View a lot to see what my characters would be seeing.
I’ve started a book with characters that are in the movie industry, which I know nothing about, so that initially required a lot of research as well!
Most of my research comes organically as I’m writing. Initially, I want to understand the characters’ professions (including any unique characteristics that the character wouldn’t even think twice about like technical jargon, standard operating procedures, etc.) and the location/setting, but then I do research as needed, as it comes up in the story. For example, time of day as it pertains to daylight or nighttime. Those details are super important to me!
7. When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book when I was sixteen or seventeen, in the late 90s/early 2000s. It was a novella length, and I wrote it completely by hand. I recently reread it, and while some things were definitely cringey, it wasn’t as bad as I expected! But I never intended to publish it — I wrote it for me, probably just to see if I could do it.
I started The Secret of the Codex in 2008, and it was the first book I intended to publish. I wrote a page, hated it, then didn’t come back to it for almost a year. I rewrote the first page then finished the book in a few months!
8. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I read a lot! I also work on Indie Author Learning, where I teach indie authors about writing, editing, and publishing their books by teaching them how to overcome common writer mindset challenges, become a better writer, and self-publish their best work to the world. And I’m a book editor! So I can get pretty busy.
9. What does your family think of your writing?
They’re really supportive! My husband is my biggest cheerleader. He helps me with formatting my books and is the best sounding board for book and business ideas, even if they don’t make sense to him. Because sometimes me talking about my books is a little hard to follow. Haha
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books (characters, location, plot)?
I was shocked to discover that once I created the characters, they told me the story. I always remember a scene in my first book where I knew someone died, but I didn’t know who until I wrote the character in the scene. That’s my favorite part about the writing process — the discovery, the feeling that it’s out of your hands, that you’re co-creating the story and have the privilege of putting it on the page.
I also learned that I could take on way more than I ever thought I could. That I could actually figure out how to write a book, get it published, and market it.
11. What is it you particularly like about the genre you write?
I’ve written in more than one genre, which is actually the part I like! I love supernatural elements, because there’s so much you can do with superpowers and supernatural beings. But I also love contemporary romance as well, because I’m a sucker for a good love story! I tend to have a variety of interests, so I get to explore those by touching on different genres, whichever happens to speak to me at the moment.
12. Do you have any suggestions to help others become writers? If so, what are they?
I have tons! Haha — it’s basically what I do. My best advice is to keep learning — both the writing craft and more business-type things like marketing — work on your mindset, be willing to put yourself out there, and never give up. And keep writing, even if no one will ever read it!
13. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do! My favorites are when they tell me they’ve read my book and loved it. I mostly rely on reviews to get a feel for how readers are feeling about my books. It’s the best way to know how the story is connecting with readers!
I’m also fortunate to have some good author friends that are willing to read my books and give me feedback before the books are published, and that’s invaluable. I’m so grateful for them!
14. Do you like to create books for your target audience?
Meaning writing to market? Generally, no. I just write what comes out — I keep it very fluid and flexible. Whatever speaks to me at the time is what gets written! I don’t fight it or try to fit it into something it’s not. But if the story happens to hit on a popular genre at the time, great!
15. What do you think makes a good story?
The key is knowing the elements of story and how they work together. And also, strong characters are super important. If the author doesn’t know the characters well and make the reader feel for them (and with them), the book will not connect with the reader.
16. How do you handle writer’s block, and what do you tell other aspiring authors who may be fighting or fearful about hitting that wall?
Because I won’t force my writing, I may experience writer’s block, but I don’t worry about it. I’ll work on another project or go awhile without writing altogether. That’s the beauty of self-publishing — I don’t have to force myself to get books out on a specific timetable.
For those struggling with writer’s block, I generally suggest a few things. First, try working on a different story. Oftentimes, your subconscious just needs time to work out your issues with the first manuscript. Second, read! Absorbing other authors’ words can help you unlock your own. Third, write nonsense. Seriously, just write whatever comes to mind to engage your muscle memory (typing or handwriting, whichever is your norm).
Sometimes it will turn into good writing, sometimes it will all need to be deleted, but either way, the action may send your thoughts in the right direction. Fourth, don’t be afraid to walk away, especially temporarily. If it’s not flowing right now, there’s a reason. If you’re meant to finish it, you will. Give yourself grace.