The Story Behind my Imprint: Myrtales Press

Eucalyptus Torquata, also known as Coolgardie gum or Coral gum is indigenous to a very small part of Western Australia, to the east around the goldfields. It grows from six to twelve metres and loves dry summers, one of the reasons I’ve planted it in my backyard — the one I’m doing my best to turn into a mini Aussie native forest. I also planted a couple of Silver Princess gums and a Red Capped Gum, all of which belong to the botanical order: Myrtales.

I’m so in love with these trees, I named my book publishing imprint after them: Myrtales Press.

Myrtales also hints at story telling, and one of these days I’ll make up a logo to go on my book title page: a tiny sketch of a eucalypt flower.

Meanwhile here are some pictures of my forest. Eighteen months ago, this land was bare, black sand. It’s quite alkaline and one of the first things we did was bring in a truckload of organic compost to encourage beneficial bacteria, lower the Ph and feed the soil, then later, several trailer-loads of pine mulch to preserve moisture. Most of these plants were babies when we planted them. Look at them now: well on the way to becoming established.

Above, is Woolly Bush (foreground), behind that an Olive Leaf Grevillea. To the right of that by the window is an Eremophila (silver leaves and purple flowers) and beyond that by the back fence is an almost half-grown Lillipilli screening hedge and a Brachychiton which is a Queensland Bottle Tree x Illawarra Flame tree.

Hiding behind the Olive Leaf Grevillea is the birdbath; and just as I took this photo, a Willy Wagtail dove in for a bit of a splash. You can just see her on the left. The greenery at the foot of the birdbath is a prostrate Acacia. To the right is a white Kangaroo Paw. And the others are varieties of Bottlebrushes and Banksias and a Raspberry Jam Wattle.

The little tree in the foreground is my Coral Gum, growing like the clappers. Can’t wait to see it flower, hopefully in a year or two.

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher: Part 4

My Own Worst Enemy:

Four years ago — and ten years after I started this novel — I finally had it to what I believed to be a publishable standard. Next came the job of writing the dreaded elevator pitch and synopsis. I must admit I did a terrible job of both. Although the elevator pitch had successfully reduced my plot to a single sentence, it was boring. As for my synopsis…

I knew I had to focus on the main narrative thread, but I just couldn’t get my head around doing that. As a result, my attempts were either too much or too little. In the end, I went for the middle road and unfortunately the result turned out to be as boring as my elevator pitch. Looking back, I imagine very few editors or agents got past the first paragraph.

My title didn’t do anything towards selling itself either…

Having said that, it suited my novel perfectly, but it was long and may well have put people off my submission without having to read further than the subject line of my email:

A TRUE HISTORY OF FORSHAM: LOVE & THE INDUSTRIALISATION OF MAGIC.

I still like that title. But unfortunately it was yet another one of those darlings that had to go.

Regardless, this time around I managed to get an expression of interest from a small press publisher, but after a two year wait, I realised this wasn’t going to happen, so I took it back. Life is tough in the publishing industry.

I tried a few more agents and received another piece of feedback: “It’s not quite ready.” And although I was marketing it as steampunk, the fact that one of my characters was a shapeshifter led the agent to categorise it as urban fantasy and they weren’t interested in representing that.

Time to take control, I decided. If I was to get this thing published, I needed to do it myself.

My first job was to get editor Pete Kempshall to do a structural edit. This ended up being money well spent because it not only fixed a lot of rookie errors but also taught me how to organise my ideas into a coherent plan. It was like having a master class with my novel as the focus. Once that was done, I sent it back for a line edit, and finally the novel was starting to look polished. Almost.

This was where Amanda J Spedding came in. As far as I could tell, I had fixed all the internal inconsistencies, eliminated clunky prose and repetitions, fixed grammatical errors; but in the process of doing so had probably created a few more. Not only that, I ended up rewriting two chapters completely, and knew they’d need yet another professional eye.

So that was it! Three edits, by two professionals. At last I felt confident enough to upload it to Amazon.

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 3

Difficult Decisions…

After much reading and rereading of my multi-rejected novel, I realised it was time to work out exactly what I wanted to do. Give up? Or punish myself further?

Before deciding, I combed through it for the umpteenth time, and gave it my most critical eye yet. There was one particular chapter in the first quarter that, in my mind, was the best I’d ever written. Everything about it seemed to shine: pace, character, world building, description; only to deliver a surprising twist at the end.

I loved this chapter so much, but it was at odds with the remainder of the novel. In other words, it was exceedingly pretty and a lot of fun, but failed to do anything to progress the plot. Was this a “darling”? I asked myself. Should I murder it in the way that has often been advised to aspiring novelists like myself?

This chapter has to go, I decided. It obviously didn’t fit. Nevertheless, the thought of losing it made me not only sad, but increasingly apprehensive. Why discard something I loved? What could I do to make it work? Desperate, I reached for my box of editing patches – looking for any number of ploys to make the remainder of the novel match up.

I got to work, popping in a symbol here, adding a few allusions there. I made my character remember parts of that fabulous scene in dialogue, in flashback…

All quite useless really. After several thousand wasted words, and yet another string of rejections, it was time to face the truth, regardless of how difficult or unpalatable.

That darling had to go!

Fortunately truths aren’t always as black and white as they seem. In the end, I kept that chapter; then deleted the remainder of the novel instead.

So now, I had around 5,000 words of what used to be a 110,000 word manuscript. A good many months later, when the new draft took shape far better than expected, that darling chapter functioned in all the ways it was supposed to.

Looking back, I have nothing to regret.

Part 1: Without Thinking

Part 2: Learning Curve

Part 4: My Own worst Enemy

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 2

Learning Curve

One of the first things I learned when I decided to write a novel was: “You can’t polish a turd”. Many a time I’d written a story that appeared so unworkable the best course of action was to save it under ‘trash’. This strategy seemed the kindest thing to do.

I have since learned that sometimes turds can be polished; and if you don’t believe me, Mythbusters have already proved it.

Having said that, there really is no point in trying to fix a lacklustre novel by putting all your efforts into buffing it up. To keep it from falling apart, you’ve got to re-mould the underlying structure first.

Flash back to nine years ago, four years after that initial chapter I wrote for my PhD. I found myself faced with one of the greatest strokes of luck a writer could wish for: an agent from London had somehow seen my opening chapters on the internet. The following day, I received a request for the full manuscript.

As much as I wanted to believe this would be my big break, I should have explained, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.” But I was way too inexperienced, and although my novel held more than a little promise, my attempts at making it saleable had turned it into an unwieldy, unfocussed dog’s breakfast.

Fortunately, the agent was amazingly generous. He read my novel, then sent me a fabulous critique and an offer to resend. I followed his advice as well as I could, but at the same time made a serious rookie error. Instead of taking the idea of restructuring my novel seriously, I ignored too many interior flaws and added a new layer of polish to the outside instead. In doing so, I effectively set myself up for the first in a long string of rejections.

Although I already knew I had a lot to learn, I now understood there was more to this editing business than I’d imagined. Daunted, I took a break.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher Part 1: Without Thinking…

Part 3: Difficult Decisions

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 1:

Without Thinking…

When I started my first and hitherto only finished novel nearly fourteen years ago, I had dreams of it being picked up by a major publisher. Sometimes I imagined an agent would discover me. But the more I wrote, the more I’d see myself as a victim of self-delusion. All too regularly I’d wonder if the best course of action would be to give up.

Not that the prospect of being the worst writer in the world would stop me. I’ve always enjoyed penning stories, even as ten year old when someone – probably my mother – gifted me with a diary. I’d take it up every day after school, and if there was nothing interesting to record, I’d make stuff up.

I decided to get serious about writing back in 2000 when I had one of my very early stories published in Eidolon 29/30 edited by Jeremey G Byrne; and it came with a fabulous cover by Shaun Tan.

Image from Eidolon.net

Back then I wasn’t much of a plotter, at least when faced with a blank page. Usually I’d begin with an idea, then think about a character, conflict, belief, misbelief. I’d drop them into the barest sketch of a setting, add a pinch of world building and let the plot unfold on its own. At some stage, I’d start getting a feel for the big picture and hope that my characters would figure out what to do next. A little later I’d discover an end.

I’m not sure what kind of writer than makes me. Chaotic evil perhaps?

Anyhow, this is how a very early (since deleted) draft of Chapter One of The Eternal Machine materialised; and it was a reasonable chapter because it went towards my successful application to Clarion West 2008. It was also the beginning of the creative component for my PhD that focussed on writing steampunk from the perspective of a fantasy writer.

This was before Steampunk made its big comeback in the late 2000s. I remember talking to people about it and most would say, “Steampunk? What’s that?” Fast forward to four years later when it was time to think about selling my novel and the usual reply would be, “Steampunk? Not again?”

Of course that wasn’t the only reason why I couldn’t make a sale. As an academic piece written alongside an exegesis, it worked pretty well. In fact, it earned me lots of encouraging praise from my examiners.

There was, however, another comment I should have paid more attention to much earlier than I did. One that suggested I send it out for a professional edit. Instead, I spent a few more months tinkering here and there, running it through my writers’ group, then re-polishing it as well as I could.

Back then, there was this interesting place called Authonomy run by Harper Collins. It was a huge online community where writers could post chapters from their novel and then post critiques about each other’s work. If you were lucky enough to rise to the top of the critiquing ladder, you’d get your novel looked at by a Harper Collins editor. The problem was: that ladder was dauntingly long. If it were real it would have probably reached all the way to the moon via Alpha Centauri.

“You’ve got to be in it to win it,” I told myself. Then promptly posted a handful of chapters and started critiquing chapters for others. A week later, when the first of the required trillion steps seemed an inch or two closer, an email appeared in my inbox from a literary agent in London . He’d read my chapters on Authonomy and asked if I’d be happy to submit a full manuscript.

“Would I be happy?” I thought. “How about elated?”

I must point out, I was very, very green back then. A handful of my stories had appeared in small press magazines, but none had received feedback as promising as this.

After I calmed down, I told myself the sensible thing to do was to not believe a word of it. Just to be sure, I googled that agent to check him out. Much to my surprise, he was real.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self Publisher – Part 2: Learning Curve…

Book News: The Eternal Machine

The trailer is here…

Thumbnail images adapted from images by: 
Jessicahyde (Adobe), frenta (Adobe) & Atelier Sommerland (Adobe)

After nearly 14 years of writing, rewriting, sending out, waiting for rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting for more rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting, rewriting, sending out, waiting, forever and ever…

I finally opted to self-publish.

That was over a year ago, and I realised that if this book was to end up being anything worth finding its way into the world I needed to put it through a professional editing process.

Three times: structural, line edit, and copy edit.

Thanks to these two fabulous Aussie editors Pete Kempshall and Amanda J Spedding that process was most enjoyable, especially now everything has been polished up to a standard I am super excited to promote.

Why has it taken me so long to do this? Why did I get so many rejections? Why am I self-publishing? I’ll blog about that later.

Meanwhile, my debut novel, The Eternal Machine, is a steampunk, fantasy/science fictional alternative reality set in an Australian city where magic and science are equally valid disciplines. It is now available for pre-order worldwide at Amazon, including US, Australia & UK. Currently only the ebook is being offered, but there will also be a paperback as soon as I’ve finished my layouts and the cover is ready.

Here’s the blurb

A woman with the strength to rebel.
A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead.
Together, they face a lethal enemy.

Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat.

In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly. Desperate for change, she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponize her magic and stop the abuse of workers.

Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades-long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons.

What they discover will forever change their lives.

Or end them…