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.

If you plan to go this route, I suggest using Predators & Editors to find publishers that best suit your book/genre. Plus, y’know, it’s safer.

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*

To celebrate the pre-release, Marred is on sale at all fine retailers through November 11… for only 99 cents! Here are a few sale links (more will be available in the coming weeks): Amazon US, Amazon UK, Smashwords.

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.

All original content by Molly Greene and guests is copyright protected – did you enjoy the article? You can show your support by checking out Molly’s Amazon Author Page – and hey, buy a book while you’re there! Or, subscribe to this blog and you’ll never miss the weekly posts. Your email will NOT be sold, shared, abused, or rented – that’s a promise. If you’re not already, follow @mollygreene on Twitter. Mwah! Thank you so much.

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30 Responses to Trad Publishing: I Did It My Way

  1. Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Thanks again, Molly!

    • Molly Greene October 5, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

      Thank YOU, Sue. I think it’s important for authors to hear that your publisher listened to your input – many first-time authors would be too intimidated to speak up. I’m sure it’s all about presentation 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing, and huge good luck to you on your release. Sounds like you have a great partnership!

    • Gina October 19, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

      We keep running into each other, Sue. Thanks for this advice and information on trad publishing. And good on you for sticking to your guns (excuse the pun). If it had been in your position I would have been grovelling on my hands and knees! My stomach flipped with yours when I read the part about the email ‘I think I’ve got a publishing deal.’

      I’ve bought Marred on pre-release can’t wait to read it!

  2. Aya Walksfar October 5, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

    Wonderful article about the trip to trad pubbing, Molly. My last trad pub experience kinda soured me on trads, but I realize not all trads are created equal.

    Sue, so happy for you! Congratulations! Do you happen to have a strong female in that book? If so, would love to host you on my blog. I’m not big, but most of my peeps are pretty loyal.
    I pre-ordered your book. Looking forward to a good read.

  3. Kim Wenzler October 5, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this Sue. And, as always, thank you Molly.

    • Molly Greene October 5, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

      Our pleasure, Kim!

    • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

      It was my pleasure, Kim. Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Garry Rodgers October 5, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi Molly & Sue!

    This is a great post – straight from the heart with an awesome message of encouragement for all the writers who are dreaming the same success.

    Sue – you recently told me your mom said “You can have anything you want in life provided you’re willing to work for it.” I’m sure you have a proud mom looking down on you now.

    • Molly Greene October 5, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Garry, and thanks – and hey! My mom said that, too. 🙂

      • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

        She did, Molly? Sounds like yours was awesome too.

    • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

      Aw, I hope so, Garry. I think she would be proud. It didn’t take much to make Mom swoon. Basically, all I had to do was breathe and she would rave about how great I was. Those were the days!

  5. Deborah Jay October 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    Great post Sue, and congrats on all you’ve achieved.
    I scored a trad deal some years ago for a couple of non-fiction books, and like you, the biggest shock was the editing process. I could be heard (very frequently) shouting: “This stupid editor! Does he understand this subject at all?”
    In the end, I think the books were better for (most) of his suggestions.
    I stuck to my guns on a few things, and found that it wasn’t a big deal – that it was my choice to take or leave his recommendations. At first I’d thought I had to take them, then happily a friend who’d already had a half dozen books published put me straight.

    • Molly Greene October 5, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

      Thanks, Deborah, and I believe nearly every author with a new deal would think they needed to accept all edits, another reason why we’re so lucky we have mentors who’ve gone before and are willing to share.

      • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

        Mentor? Wow. Now you’re going to give me a big head. LOL

    • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

      Exactly, Deborah! When Sharon told me I could “accept” or “deny” changes, I almost fell off my chair. Who knew? Good thing too, because I used that deny button on a few things. LOL But yes, almost every change she was correct on. Very annoying, but she did make it shine. Live and learn, eh?

  6. Debbie A. McClure October 5, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    Well congratulations, Sue! I’m so pleased for you, and I LOVE the cover art! Once again you’ve nailed it with this post. As I keep saying, writing is a business as much as it is an art, and a very difficult business at that! Like anything in life that’s worthwhile, learning from our mistakes and successes is all part of the journey. Besides, it keeps us invested, committed (yes, maybe even that kind of committed) and growing in this crazy adventure called writing. Thanks to you and Molly for keeping us up-to-date on so many new things. Onward! 😃

    • Molly Greene October 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      Amen to that, Debbie. 95% of the reason I blog is because my guests teach me almost everything I need to know. THANKS!

    • Sue Coletta October 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

      Aw, you are too kind, Debbie. It has been an adventure. An eye-opening adventure that I was happy to share, even if I sounded a bit…for lack of a better word, headstrong. So true that we learn from our mistakes and hopefully, end up stronger for them in the end.

  7. Belinda Pollard October 5, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    Congratulations Sue, and thanks Molly for featuring Sue’s story. Sue, I think I told you on social media somewhere the other day (it gets so hard to keep track, doesn’t it??) that it was a great cover. So now I know the story behind it. 😉

    I’m glad you got your way on the dialogue issues. It’s tricky figuring out what is your voice (or your character’s voice) and what is disruptive to readers, and it sounds like you sorted out some good compromises with your editor. That’s wonderful that your publisher was willing to meet you halfway on that.

    Hope your book is a smash hit!

    • Sue Coletta October 6, 2015 at 7:09 am #

      Thank you, Belinda. It is tricky. Luckily, Sharon has a keen eye for what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. For what sells and what doesn’t. And she knew where a compromise would work and where it wouldn’t.

      Ha! Yes, it does get confusing when you speak to so many people on SM. Thank you again. I’m thrilled with the way the cover turned out.

  8. Steph Penny October 5, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    Hi Molly, it was so inspiring to read your story of surviving your first publishing deal. Your comments about staying true to our own voice and style really resonated with me. I’m writing songs as well as books ATM, and recently withdrew a song of mine from a professional recording gig because they wanted to change everything about the song. I rolled with it – to a point. Then I withdrew the song because I felt that the very essence of the song was becoming compromised. Tough decision, but I’m now working on my solo EP project. I also have my first book currently being hacked by my editor. Here’s to authentic and unique writing!

    • Molly Greene October 6, 2015 at 8:01 am #

      Hi Steph! Thanks so much for sharing your story – and all our thanks goes deservedly to my guest and the author of this article, Sue Coletta!

    • Sue Coletta October 6, 2015 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks, Steph. I’m so glad my words resonated with you. I do believe we need to stay true to our style and voice, especially if an editor is trying to totally rewrite our novels. Thankfully, I had a great editor who was willing to listen as well as teach, and the book is stronger for the effort.

      I wish you huge success in your endeavors!

  9. Nicci Carrera October 5, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    Love your story, your insights, your cover, and your blurb. Yikes! Scary. Good luck and thanks for your humorous and helpful post.

    • Sue Coletta October 6, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      Thanks, Nicci! That’s a lot of love. I’ll take it!

  10. Eliza Cross October 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    Sue, your post is so inspiring for those of us still pining for a traditional book deal. You were so smart and strategic, yet you were also willing to bend in all the right places. Now I know why your cover is so great — you persevered, even to the point of discomfort. I’m reading Marred right now and loving the dark tale and your writing, so it’s fun to be privy to the back story. Here’s to your continued success!

    • Sue Coletta October 8, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      Eliza, you’re the best. I’ve read your email about five times now, and each time it brings joyful tears to my eyes. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by such amazing, talented people like yourself (and Molly!). To hear how much you love Marred means the world to me. “Thank you” doesn’t seem enough, but I’m at a loss for what else to say, so… Thank you, thank you, thank you, with sugar on top.

      xo, Sue

  11. Maureen Grenier October 22, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Thank you for this information. All good!