Choosing The Crazy – my path to SP – Part #1

images (11)Hi all,

Often when I’m reading a novel, and come across a mistake, wrong word… whatever, assuming it is traditionally published, I may become annoyed, but I am rarely annoyed at the author – it’s the publisher and their editorial team that I am annoyed and frustrated with. It’s their publisher’s Marketing Team who either approved or insisted on the crappy cover that has about as much imagination as white-bread-toast. Writers write (and re-write and re-write), publishers are in the business of publishing.

images (20)HOWEVER – If the author self publishes… and I find an error, guess who I blame? And if there are numerous errors, guess what I do? I blame the author for not hiring editors or not listening to editors. I blame the author for not using BETAs or enough BETAs, I blame the author for a silly, generic, dull, boring cover. I blame the author for a lacklustre marketing campaign. And so on. I blame the author because there is no one else too blame.

Self Publishing IS NOT a short-cut, often it is actually 100X more work and it is up to each of you to choose your path, traditional or other. Yes self publishing offers rewards; freedom for one thing. As an example, I believe my story is a NA WF because I believe that WF written for a 50+ audience with 40/50 yo main characters is not the same as a WF written for a 18+ audience with 20-something characters. I believe their ambitions, their experiences, their motivations, their desires are vastly different and therefore, because I am self publishing I will be calling this a NA WF. I can because I am the publisher.

Having said that, if I had been accepted by an agent and/or a traditional publisher, and had they said IT’S SIMPLY WF (because NA has become – for many – another label for romance, and there isn’t enough romance and the sex scene is too adult), I would have said OK! It’s called compromise. I would have been happy to change lots of things for the right partnering, some character’s names, or the title. I w15e771dd90397d9fdaeec06e42321878ould have been willing to slash some scenes or add/increase others – compromise.

As a Self Published author, there is no need to compromise – however the ‘cost’ is as I said above – it’s all on you.

So how did I get to decide on self publishing?

Let me start at the beginning.

While it is true that I have dabbled in various writing genres pretty much all my life, and have had a few things published (poems/short stories), I didn’t look at my writing as a serious vocation until October 2009.

At the time I was living in Paris.

images (17)It was about 3.30am – freezing cold and about as gloomy as mid-October in Paris can get. I woke with an entire story formulated in my head. Characters, storyline, beginning, middle, end… the lot. I attempted to get back to sleep but the story would not leave me alone. Around 5.30am – still pitch-black outside – I gave up, put on a large pot of coffee, rugged up, kicked the heating into full swing, turned on my laptop, and started punching words, sentences, paragraphs, pages. I only took breaks to drink copious amounts of coffee… and toilet breaks. And even though I was living in what is arguably the most beautiful city in the world, I did not leave my apartment, (except for more coffee, basic food supplies and cigarettes) for the next three weeks.

After week 3 I had the 1st draft of an entire novel done. I remember leaning back, looking at the screen and saying “What now?” – I seriously had no idea! I hadn’t even heard of literary agents.

My first lesson: writing a 1st draft is not the same as writing a novel, and so my ‘apprenticeship’ started. I returned to Australia a few months later & spent the next plus three years revising, re-writing, slashing/burning, more re-writing… and making connections with actual writers/authors/agents/publishers.images (12)

During that time I tried to master the dreaded query letter and sent out over 100 queries – some of which resulted in partial requests, 4 of which resulted in full requests – but no offer.

I was about to give it all in when another idea, much the same way (fully formed), hit me. I set my original MS aside, (now a trilogy), and started on project 2. This one took me only 10 days to write to 1st draft. Six months in I thought I was ready. My query letter skills had improved (you’d hope so after 100+ sent out and at least 4x that many practised), and I got 7 full requests – but again no offer.

I was getting every frustrated. My CPs were telling me they loved my words/images but for whatever reason no agent did. I was about to throw it all in and re-focus on my visual art when a 3rd idea hit me – again fully formed. This one took just under 3 weeks to do draft one.

imagesThat was in Jan 2014.

By Jan 2015 (after leaving my full time job to work on my writing full time), I thought I was ready. Again I sent out queries, about 50 of them – got 11 partials, 4 of which became fulls, of those, 2 were a NO (but with pages of notes), and two were R&R, also with pages of notes – which were, in the end NO again.

I stepped back. Something wasn’t working.

Perhaps my CPs were not being honest.

Perhaps I was not finding the right CPs for me (one CP corrected Prussia to Persia).

Perhaps I was kidding myself.

Now, while all this was going on, I was also developing a social media presence – and making some AMAZING friendships. I yelled out for HELP – and got it.

I discovered I didn’t work well with CPs – I worked better with BETAs. Lesson Learned.

I also discovered that agents had (i) amazing memories & (ii) incredibly generous spirits.

Several agents offered to read the first few chapters (to help me – seriously!). I took every offer and worked even harder.

images (16)Several of my (successful) author friends offered to BETA for me – YES THANK YOU! & again, I took on board their comments and notes. In total, I had 4 agents read/help & 7 BETAs.

Sometimes I fully agreed.

Sometimes I was on the fence.

Sometimes I shook my head no.

I developed a system.

(i) if one comments on something that I did not agree with, I kept it in the back of my head but didn’t instantly make changes.

(ii) if two people said the same thing, I took note of it, swallowed my pride and re-wrote those pages/scenes (but kept the original – just in case)

(iii) if three or more said the same thing, I admitted defeat!

images (21)I also realised that my beginning was evading me – I just could not get it right… and I needed help. I connected with a US freelance editor by the name of Anya Kagan. You can find Anya on Twitter here:

I had heard good things about her from mutual friends, plus one of my characters was named Anya, it made sense at the time. After some discussion Anya agreed to look over my first few chapters, my query letter and my synopsis.

We agreed on $200 USD

She came back to me within days, and informed me I was categorising my MS all wrong – unbeknown to me I’d written an off-centre Womens fiction – who knew? Clearly not me!

This helped me. A. LOT. Aside from making a lot of puzzles fit into place, and focus on a strong opening page, it also helped me narrow down the right list of agents. Suddenly I had direction. I rolled through the notes, notes that now made more sense (from previous people) and re-wrote my MS in two weeks.

But I was nervous. My potential agent list was now VERY VERY limited, less than 25, and that was assuming all were open for submissions.

So I reached out to Yelena Casale.images (19)

Yelena is not only a professional editor, she is also one 1/2 of the Tina Moss / Yelena Casale author writing team as well as co-owner of City Owl Press. You can find Tina & Yelena on Facebook and on Twitter, or you can go here and connect with them:

I needed a editor to do a ‘read-though’ – not a line by line edit, but a general overview, looking for plot holes, things that stuck out for all the wrong reasons, errors that I repeated over and over – that sort of thing.

After reading the synopsis Yelena was happy to help.

Now, here’s the thing with making friends  – they do you favours, like charge you less than going rates – however, to help those of you looking to reach out to Yelena, if you want the same overall review (and assuming you have worked your butt off and really edited the life out of your project already), if you budget for around $300-400 USD you should be ballpark.

Yelena was back to me within a month – PERFECT!

I had lined up two more BETAs, I only use each BETA once for each project because I want completely fresh eyes. I worked through the notes, and by the end of May had the new MS out to my final two BETAs, both of whom promised to get the MS back within weeks – and they did.

30th June 2015 I was ready.

My MS was ready.

My new QL was ready.

images (14)My determination was ready – with the full intent of going down the traditional publishing route – EXCEPT there was an issue – timing! My story includes a section of world history, one that will commemorate a 100 year anniversary in July 2017, and I wanted to take advantage of this, so timing was critical. Basically I was on a deadline.

I sent out 23 queries. I got 7 requests (2 fulls & 5 partials) within weeks of sending the queries out. Two of the partials became another two fulls …I was happy with the interest – but I was on a deadline. I knew that I needed to get an offer from an agent by the end of October 2015 if I was to have any chance of having the novel published by a traditional publisher by the end of 2017.

August 2015: the last three partials were a no.

September 2015: one of the fulls was a no.

October 2015: and other full – no.

The last week of October I sent a polite email asking if the remaining agents had received / looked at the fulls. One sent a lovely email back with more notes/suggestions but it was a NO, as for the remaining, as you all must know, sometimes an agent answers in a day, sometimes in 12-months 😉

By November 2015, I couldn’t hold off any longer. images (15)

I hired the services of Kate Foster & Lauren McKeller as my editors **(if I was going to self publish, I was going to do it properly & that included professional eyes)**

And Sunshine Herbert as my illustrator.

All three ladies are from Australia. This was important to me as the story is set in Australia and I wanted it to be authentic, to be grammatically correct, and to feel/sound Australian – plus I wanted to support my fellow Aussie Artists. However if you’re not from Australia, please don’t let that stop you from seeking these ladies out, they have clients all over the world.

You can find Lauren here:

You can find Kate here:

You can find Sunshine here:

For the purposes of this series of posts, I intend to be as open as possible with regard to costs/fees but I also want to be fair regarding pricing. Every project is unique, therefore pricing reflects this. In the interest of disclosure I will give you some price ranges, however, as I have already done A LOT of editing, and my MS is very clean, I was always going to save money. This is a very important point. Do the work & save yourself time & money.

There are no writing short-cuts.images (18)

There are not revision short-cuts.

There are no editing short-cuts.

There are no marketing short-cuts.

Do as much as you can yourself – get as much help as you can, and then ask for professional help. As a rule, assuming your MS is fairly *clean* and in the 70-90,000 word mark, using Kate and/or Lauren, you should be able to budget for between $600-1,000 (AUD) each. This is actually a lot cheaper than most editorial services in Australia and the US – but it does depend on the state of your MS. A poorly written, grammatically incorrect, plot-hole riddled, MS could be as much as $2,500+ each. Worse, an editor may decline to do the job.

As for Sunshine, again it depends on what you want & how you want it. A basic (original artwork) piece for a front cover could start at around $1,000 AUD (occasionally even lower), a very detailed, elaborate work will be in the several thousands, $2, 3… even $4,000+ (remember this is not generic, everyone can get this, google images, this is actual original artwork, made specifically for your novel, unique, designed with you and your characters in mind). In my case, my artwork will cost me somewhere mid to high range.

images (7)So there you have it!

Thus far, I have written 5 complete manuscripts, plus numerous short stories and poems. I have re-written each one at least 30 times.

For this project, I sent out (in total, including the first round) just over 70 queries with about a 15% follow up (partial/full/R&R).

I had notes from several agents.

I had notes from nine BETAs.

I had notes from two editors (thus far)

I still have coming notes from two more editors.

I intend to BETA read once more before I call it an ARC.

COSTS TO DATE (including editorial and artwork not yet paid but quoted):

To help me and to not confuse everyone, I have converted everything into AUD and rounded.

Editorial & Artwork approx $4,000

Still to come:


Launch Party & Giveaways

uncle-festerCopies to Professional Reviewers (copies are free to reviewers but some will only accept paperback copies and that has to be included in my costs, including postage).

(Assuming sales will happen) % Fee to Amazon / Smashwords

(Assuming sales will happen) Postage Charges

(Assuming sales will happen) Taxes

(Assuming sales will happen) Stuff I haven’t even thought of yet!

writer-moments1** Before you choose Self publishing, consider:

When you have a publisher, all of the above it either done by them, or they help you sort out how to make the above happen; usually a bit of both. And if you’re lucky enough to have an agent, then they too are on your side.

Honestly, I do not recommend the Self Publishing road for everyone. You need to be motivated and stay motivated. You need good organisational skills; you need solid fiscal management skills. You need to be confident without being arrogant. You need to remain realistic. You need to plan for failure as much as planning for success, and you have to put yourself out there, for years before you even think about putting a book out there.

Yes I KNOW there are those who didn’t do this and are now sitting on millions, but there are also tens of millions of SP authors who have sold less than 20 books. Assuming you want it done properly, it’s expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s not often financially rewarding. It’s frustrating, and the buck stops with you.

Seriously, I feel like I should be playing AC/CD’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top” – and before you take the SP plunge be sure you know what you are in for.

If you still want to give it a shot – keep watching this space 🙂


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