“Honey, come quick” I screamed to my husband who was in the back yard. He came barrelling into the house expecting to find me backed up against a wall, with a dinner plate-sized spider in my midst. I live in the bush and we get loads of spiders who think it’s perfectly acceptable to take up residence in our home. I think otherwise. Well, maybe the spiders aren’t actually dinner plate-size, but they are still fast and hairy and terrifying.
Back to the urgent summons of my husband. He found me sitting at our computer, mutely pointing to the screen. He quickly read the opened email. It was from a publisher. He turned to me. “What does it mean?” I said, “I think I’m going to be published.” He jumped in the car, drove to the nearest bottle shop and came home with a bottle of champagne. Okay, I lie; it was sparkling white wine. The celebrating was also premature. The email was a step – albeit an exciting step – in a VERY long journey.
In 2014 I started writing because I wanted a decent night’s sleep. There were two characters in my head who wouldn’t leave me alone. They would keep me awake at night. They would invade my thoughts when I was driving. They would distract me at work. If I tried to read a book, they would pull me out of the story with ideas for their own. In short, my hero and heroine demanded I tell their story. So I sat down and started typing. Three months and 70,000 words later, I typed “The End” and promptly burst into tears; I didn’t want the journey to be over.
Then came the “what happens next?” conundrum. Needing feedback, I uploaded my story – drip feeding a chapter each week – to a website where people can read stories for free. I developed quite a following. At a very distinct point in my MS, the story took a turn. My readers were not happy and told me so. That was my “aha” moment. This was exactly what I was looking for. To explain further, I write erotic romance. The only person who knew I wrote, was my husband and as much as I love him, he wasn’t exactly a good judge – he’s more of an action/thriller/dystopia reader!
So, I made changes to my MS then started researching publishers – 54 in total. I narrowed this down to my top ten. I started at the bottom of my top ten and worked my way up. The process was not enjoyable – every publisher had different submission requirements. I was constantly expanding or contracting my synopsis, reformatting my MS and rewriting my pitch. As an aside, for my first submission, I had to google synopsis – I had no idea what it was. In case you’re wondering, it’s torture. Alright, I may be exaggerating. Essentially, you have to contract your story into “x” amount of words (pick somewhere between 200 and 1000) including the ending.
After eight rejections (mostly in the form of silence), I reached number two on my top ten list and submitted to an American publisher. This particular publisher wanted to expand their line into erotic romance and were seeking submissions. Six weeks later, I received the aforementioned email that had me screaming for my husband to come running.
It was February 2016. A contract swiftly followed. Fortunately I was a member of Queensland Writers Centre (QWC). As a member of QWC, I was eligible for a discounted contract evaluation through ASA (Australian Society of Authors), which was invaluable because, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. Writing a story was one thing, negotiating a contract was another. To throw a further spanner in the works, I wasn’t concerned with royalty percentage. My main concern was ensuring I’d be allowed to retain Australian terminology and spelling. I also wanted an assurance the cover of my book would not feature a man’s six pack abs. My heroine was not the sort to be impressed by a six pack, so it was very important to me that the cover of my book did not feature one!
ASA gave me some pointers to tighten my contract. This commenced the long, back and forth dance, with the publisher. Don’t get me wrong, my publisher was very cognisant of the fact I was as green as they come. They were incredibly kind and patient. I signed on the dotted line in May. Then I waited. Months. I was desperate for news but didn’t want to be that annoying writer who pestered the publisher.
I waited more months. Christmas 2016 was approaching. I convinced myself my story was going to be included in the publisher’s Christmas line up – my story started in November and travelled through December. Silly me! American’s looooove a white Christmas. A prelude to Christmas that included sweltering Queensland temperatures was never “gunna” cut it.
When I’d all but given up hope my MS was ever going to be published, I received a structural edit. A structural edit is the first stage of the editing process. I’d heard horror stories where authors were asked to make drastic changes which all but obliterated the story the author was trying to tell. I got off very lightly. I was told my hero needed a stronger back story. I duly gave him one. In return I received a publication date – 27 April 2017. At the time it felt like years away.
Next came the copy edit. This is where issues with grammar and punctuation are picked up; or so I thought. The copy editor assigned to my MS had a field day. While my grammar and punctuation was left largely unscathed, the copy editor clearly didn’t like my “voice”. It was very confronting to have something you held dear returned to you, covered in red tracking and being told – admittedly in the kindest words possible – to clean it up. So much for me getting off lightly! I held fast with my Aussie flavour but accepted other changes as a compromise.
Then came the fun part – working with the art department to come up with a cover. I was sent a questionnaire so they could envision my hero (H) and heroine (h) and get the gist of my story. I was also asked to provide links of images that were similar to my H and h; think istock and shutterstock. I LOVED this part of the process. I spent hours looking at images of strapping, blue-eyed men (not a six pack to be seen) and feisty red-headed ladies. As often happens with the internet, I ended up down a rabbit hole of images and found inspiration for my next book. I digress…
I returned my vision and waited. I’m pretty sure I’ve never checked my email account as often. Then came three mock-ups. I must admit they weren’t quite what I envisaged but I accepted one and requested a few tweaks which were granted. It was February 2017. Then I waited.
Silence. But my publishers weren’t sitting idle. They were submitting ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. Review teams receive ARCs before a book is published and generate a review. This may, or may not, give the story a fighting chance against the thousands of books that are released on a daily basis. My publisher used NetGallery. In my continued theme of complete ignorance, I stumbled across my first review courtesy of Facebook – as I follow my publisher, an image of the cover of my book appeared in my feed! I clicked and held my breath. I was redirected to NetGallery. I had one review. This is what it said: “I read this book in one sitting.” The review was five stars. I screamed, yet again, for my husband. He came running, bless him.
Mexican J.P. Combe has been proud to call Brisbane home for the past 15 years. Her hobbies are reading and drinking wine (preferably at the same time). She has the uncanny ability to make all things electronic stop working and frequently deletes things she didn’t mean to. When J.P’s not cursing technology, she can be found cooking unpalatable meals for her long suffering husband (the dog doesn’t mind) or helping their kids with homework – aka the blind leading the blind.
J.P’s debut novel was released earlier this year.