Trad Publishing: I Did It My Way

by Sue Coletta, @SueColetta1

Marred_Coletta-webThe last time I was a guest on Molly’s blog, I discussed Pursuing a Trad-Published Dream. That process paid off for me. After sending out query letters to agents for my novel, Marred, I decided to go direct to publishers. This can be tricky, because if you shop your book around too much, you’re effectively tying agents’ hands if all you receive are rejections. So, I was careful to only query four (small to mid-sized) publishers.

Within an hour of emailing the four queries, I had two requests for full manuscripts. Anyone who’s been at this a while knows not to get overly excited about requests. Still, I was thrilled. Two weeks passed, and I received an email from Tirgearr Publishing. Part of me didn’t want to read it. Surely it was another rejection.

I clicked open the email.

Thank you again for your submission, and for thinking of Tirgearr Publishing.”

My stomach dropped. Here we go. The next line should start with, “But” or “Unfortunately.”

To my surprise, I read… “I’ve heard back from our editing team, and I’m happy to say they really enjoyed your story…We’d like to bring you on board our team.”

The contract was attached.


I glanced up from my computer, at my husband. “I think I scored a publishing deal.”

Eyes bulged, he looked like he’d swallowed his gum. “You sure? But I thought you were supposed to get a call.”

“Me too.”

Where’s the marching band? The fireworks? The champagne? I put years into this goal and all I get is an email? That’s a bit anti-climactic. Still, I was staring at a publishing contract. I could hardly believe it.

It took me ten days to sign the contract. During that time I contacted the authors they represented, dissected the contract, and notified the other three publishers. One of which also offered me a verbal deal, but they needed more time to finish the book before they could write the contract. A risk I wasn’t willing to take. Time was running out. I thanked them and politely withdrew my submission, and then sent the signed contract to Tirgearr. And we immediately proceeded to the next step:

The editing

Wow. I had no clue how this worked. Sharon, my editor, has the patience of a saint. When I first got my manuscript back, all my sentences beginning with “And” were bleeding red and my sheriff’s dialogue was corrected into proper grammar.

My hackles stood on end as I went through the rest of the manuscript. 90% of the time she was right, which was very annoying. On the other hand, I knew she was trying to make my book the best it could be, so I rolled with it. Where I could not compromise was the dialogue. I felt so strongly about it I was willing to walk away.

I wrote: “Why do you keep changing my dialogue and my “and” sentences?

She said, “It makes the writing tighter.”

Typical. “Okay, I get that. But cops don’t use proper grammar when they speak. Very few people do. I’m sorry, but this is where I draw the line.

Meanwhile, my husband was pacing the kitchen. “Do what she says, Sue. They’re publishing your book.”

Nope. I held my ground.

The dialogue wasn’t changed.

It’s funny, too, because when Marred came out Sharon posted the cover to help spread the word. I thanked her and said, “Thanks for your hard work. You really made it shine.”

Her response: “And to think I thought I merely annoyed you.”

I chose not to mention her starting her sentence with “And.”

Note: I firmly believe an author must stay true to their voice and style. If we allow editors to change our voice and style, then is it worth it? I say no. After all, it’s our voice and style that brings readers to our stories. Our voice and style that keeps them coming back—book after book, year after year. If we don’t stay true to that, then it’s not “our” voice and style they’re coming to read.

The cover

Tirgearr asked me to describe what I envisioned for my cover. That was easy. I had it all mapped out with tiny details, colors, shading, etc…thinking, surely someone will draw my cover, right? Wrong! Those days are long gone.

After they politely…ahem…straightened me out, they sent proofs. In one of them I noticed a farmhouse that was almost perfect. Almost. All it needed was a few tweaks. Like, open the barn doors and have a woman hanging from the rafters. They did as I asked, but I didn’t like the way it looked. I kept telling them to push the lady farther into the barn.

They tried to explain that I was looking at proofs, that once the cover artist was finished it would look much better, that these were placeholders and not the actual images the way they’d appear in the end. But all I saw was that it wasn’t right. Round and round we went. Email after email, with me being a royal pain. “Push the lady back! And can’t we…? How about…? Can’t you just…?

I have to say, they were wonderful to work with. Me? Not so much. A Big 5 publisher would have shut me down, but Tirgearr tried to accommodate me. Look at the results. I couldn’t be happier. The cover artist, Ellie, told me it is her favorite cover to date. Woot!


We wrapped up the editing process, Sharon secretly hoping I never wrote another book, and then…nothing. I was like, “Well, where is it? When will it be out? What’s taking so long?” That was the first week.

The second, I sent another barrage of emails. Finally, they pushed me up the list, probably so they wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore. Ha! Less than four months passed from the time I received that very first email offering publication, to the day ARCs were in my hand and Marred was available for pre-release.. That’s incredibly quick. I’ll let you in on a little secret.

*scans left, right, and behind*

It’s because I took action, and I chose to work with a mid-sized publisher.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) was doing a promotional banner with the covers of members’ 2015 releases, but there was limited space. I signed up. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. Then I hounded Tirgearr to finish my cover so I could make the deadline. Also, I wanted into Murder, USA, an anthology. In order to do that I needed buy links. Before Marred was even in book format I sent in my excerpt and said I’d add the links in a week, crossing my fingers that it was true. Again, I notified my publisher. They didn’t want me to lose that exposure, either, so they got it done. Marred scored the first placement, too, which affords me the “look inside” feature on Amazon. Yay!

Do I recommend this to other authors? Nope. See, the thing is, I had no clue how publishing worked. I thought I did. But I could not have been more wrong. There’s a process that’s been in place long before anyone ever heard of me, and will still be in place long after I’m gone. It’s the ability to bend that ultimately got my book out there, on my part and on my publishers. Had I gone with a larger press my naiveté and persistence (to put it nicely) could have resulted in a lost deal.

Promotion and marketing

When I first submitted my manuscript they asked what I planned to do to promote: Did I have a blog? What social media sites did I use? Did I have an email list?. My publisher does a lot more than most small-to-medium presses when it comes to promotion and marketing. I can’t share specifics,. but I will say that the more I do, the more they’ll do.

And like most publishers,they want authors to be proactive. The founder is one of the most supportive people I know. With hundreds of clients, she takes the time to chat on FB, “like” my posts, and is always available for questions or anything I need. Where she finds the time remains a mystery. She makes me feel like I’m her number one. And I’m sure she does the same for all of us. You’ll never find that sort of personal touch with large publishers. Authors become numbers, or dollar signs, unless your last name is King or Patterson.

No one knows what the future will hold. For now, I’m right where I’m supposed to be, living the trad-publishing dream.

My Conclusion?

Writing is an art but it’s also a business. If we don’t learn the business side, then no one will ever appreciate our art. It’s a fine line because our work tends to be so personal. We pour our hearts and soul into our writing. To let go and allow someone else to change it isn’t easy, but if we want to be successful then it’s a must. That’s what I learned through this process. Once I loosened the death-grip around my story I realized there was a talented team backing me. Each person had their specialties. Each person wanted me to succeed. My name was on the cover and yet, the folks at Tirgearr worked as hard as I did to ensure it was the best possible story it could be. That’s a great publisher.

About Marred

When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller begins tormenting Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Did you notice the “And” sentence I snuck in there? Yup. Got away with too. That’s the rebel in me. *wink*

Readers who subscribe to my Crime Lovers Lounge will get a secret key code that will unlock … I’ll reveal what I have in store for you in an upcoming newsletter. And writers, be sure to sign up for my free giveaway, 60 Ways to Murder Your Fictional Characters!

Sue-Coletta-webA member of MWA and Sisters in Crime, Sue Coletta is the author of five novels. Her debut, Marred, is slated for release on November 11, 2015. When Sue’s not writing or reading she’s hanging with her husband, dog, and/or two beautiful granddaughters. If you see her out and about, be sure to say hello. Just don’t ever call her Grandma. Visit Sue’s Amazon page, and her Tirgearr Publishing page.

Note from Molly: Check out my novels on Amazon, join my Reader’s Club for freebies and book news, and follow me on Twitter. This original content is copyright protected. Thank you so much. Mwah!

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