Why I chose to go Indie-Part 1: or the 9 Steps to Traditional Publishing

1880's Girl Asks why

You are self-publishing? Why? Isn’t your writing good enough to be picked up?

There is still a common misconception about why people choose to self-publish. The general belief being your work isn’t good enough for traditional publishers. This is perhaps what your next door neighbour thinks, or the lady at the shops or even your own family.

But for thousands of Indie’s out there, it has nothing to do with being a substandard writer.

More and more writers are choosing to go Indie as a first choice, and each has their own reasons unique to their lifestyle and career goals.

Before deciding which publishing path suits your needs and expectations do your research.

Doing publishing Research

As a writer, I read extensively, especially things about writing: books, magazines, blogs, twitter it’s a sort of writerly compulsion.

I also listen to author interviews on ABC radio, RN Radio and podcasts.

I primarily listen to two podcasts: So You Want to be a Writer from the Australian Writers Centre and The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn.

The former covers a broad spectrum of writing from features, to copy, to novels but primarily in the sphere of traditional publishing. The later is all things Indie.

Other sources I used to make an informed publishing decision are: author websites, The Perth Writer’s Festival, Publisher websites and Indie publishing platforms such as KDP and Kobo.

The sum of the matter, all things having been heard is that for my genre, my expectation, intentions and the writing lifestyle I want to build, Indie publishing best meets my needs at this time, for this project.

In this and future posts, I will be covering the main reasons for this decision.

 Reason #1 for self-publishing: stress

I thought this an apt but more tasteful illustration than a chicken with it’s head cut off.

This is the first circumstance that led me to consider self-publishing. The amount of time, effort and stress it took to research and submit to publishers or agents was overwhelming.

Sure it’s easy to say, “Stop griping and toughen up, it’s just part of the business.”

I don’t gripe.

I know it’s part of the business.

That is why, in 2009, I decided I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer, not a published one anyway, and stopped submitting.

why it causes Stress

To people who can skim articles and read quickly, to those with a background in research or journalism, to those who have been formally trained in a BA or MFA program this is probably not a big deal.

But for a person who is dyslexic, who also struggles with depression and anxiety and an auto-immune disease, researching publishers and agents is incredibly time-consuming, tedious, confusing and head-bangingly frustrating.

For the uninitiated here is the 9 step process to traditional publishing:

Step 1:  Finish your manuscript

Step 2:  Find a list of potential publishers: you can use free or paid subscriber on-line sources or buy a physical book (something like the yellow pages for publishers) or you can go scour the library/bookstore for books in your genre and check who publishes them.

Step 3: Check the website for each publisher of interest answering these questions:

  • What are their submission guidelines? (outside of magazines pretty much no one in the US takes unsolicited manuscripts. In Australia submissions are generally limited to specific days or months)
  • What do they publish?
  • How many books a year?
  • Of those books how many if any are from unsolicited manuscripts? (this means the slush pile, manuscripts they did not specifically ask to see)

Step 4: For each publisher that looks promising, you now need to check their recent catalogue and their backlist and come up with convincing reasons why this company should publish your book. Where does it fit in their catalogue? Have they already published three picture books about wombats or do they already have a series about a lady detective set in 1860?

Step 5: If none of your ideal publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts go back to start. Follow the method above, only this time in search of a literary agent,  before proceeding to step 6.

Step 6:  You finally have a short list, in order of preference, your dream publishers: Now you must sell your book to the publisher in a letter no longer than one page that summarises these points:

  • The story (What is it’s hook?)
  • Why should they publish it?
  • Where does it fit in the market?
  • Any pertinent information about you (publishing credits, awards etc)

All this information must be written in so compelling and concise a manner that the sub-editor can’t wait to read more. To this letter attach your manuscript (the whole thing for picture books, an excerpt for longer works as per submission guidelines)

Step 7: You press send (or you stick the stamp and put it in the nearest postbox) then you wait. While you wait you write more stories, you do author business, build your platform.  You wait some more and then just keep waiting.

Step 8: After 3-6 months the rejection arrives, though some publishers don’t even send rejections their guidelines say that if you don’t hear back within 6 months assume they are not interested.

Step 9: Repeat.

side effects of the 9 step process

For a healthy person without dyslexic complications, this is not such a big deal. But I found it impossible to both write AND successfully research for submission.

I became grumpy, short-tempered and occasionally pulled out my hair and screamed like a banshee. The gatekeepers of the publishing world loomed in nightmarish proportions over my shoulder until my writing ground to a halt.

It wasn’t the rejection. I had some very nice rejection letters.

It was about the time and frustration it took to acquire those few precious rejections.

how do you want to spend your time?

  • I would rather use my limited time and energy to write stories than submission letters.
  • I’d rather be researching my novel than publishers and agents.
  • I’d rather be editing and honing my craft than my pitch.
  • I’d rather pitch to readers than editors/agents.

Before Amazon, before Kobo and Create Space and Draft to Digital and Smashwords there really wasn’t much choice. These nine steps were the only way to publication.

Now there is a choice.

I finished Helen’s Summer and turned it into a series for the purpose of self-publish.

I never submitted it to publishers because Indie publishing was my first choice.

Why not have a read and decide for yourself if it is “good enough”.

Click below to read Helen’s Summer

How about you?

I’d love to hear which road to publication you have or want to follow and why!

Leave a comment or connect on twitter @SeahAmber.



From Idea to Book-5 lessons you can learn from my journey with Helen’s Summer

Where will an idea take you?

I hear from time to time writers complain about being asked where their ideas come from. Maybe it is my interest in the brain, thought processes and the origins of everything from words to scissors but I find it fascinating to hear how random events come together to form a plot, a setting or a character.

What makes that one thought different?

Why does that one idea keep niggling at us until we just have to write it down?

And once written down why do some ideas take on a life of their own and others stay quietly in dusty journals?

The short answer is: Nobody knows.

The long answer is the individual retelling of a book’s journey-conception to completion. Here is the genesis of Helen’s Seasons and five lessons you can take away from the journey.

1. It’s True good ideas really will stick

Recently both on “So You Want to Be a Writer” and on “The Creative Penn” podcasts I have heard authors renounce the age old wisdom of writing down every scrap of an idea.

As a journal devotee from the age of 8, I baulked at so cavalier an attitude to those precious seeds, known as random-thoughts-that-might-make-a-good-story-someday.

Victorian Gardening, Victorian Advertising, Where ideas come from

Seeds can sprout years after they are first collected.

Of course, the original idea doesn’t at all resemble the final product.

The original seed for Helen’s Summer was sown in September 1997, when I was 17 years old, yes it was 20 years in the making. and yes I did record the moment in a journal but when the seed first sprouted in 2004 I had recently moved to Perth and had no access to my journals.  I did eventually find them and review my entries but not until after the first draft was written.

Good ideas really do stick!!

My parents took brother number 2 and I to New York to visit brother number 1 and his wife who were living in Brooklyn Heights. At that age, I was avidly and continuously researching the history of New York City and Brooklyn in relation to child labour; especially newsies, factory workers, immigrants and orphans.

So thorough was my knowledge of Manhattan I could navigate the streets from Brooklyn heights to Central Park without a map. Oh if only I could remember it now.

2. Inspiration Rarely strikes where you expect

To my surprise, it wasn’t the Metropolitan Museum, or the historical buildings or Grand Central that triggered my imagination. It was getting lost somewhere on the borders of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I don’t remember what my brother wanted to show us but we found ourselves pulling up to the Vanderbilt’s summer house on the banks of the Hudson.

It was getting lost somewhere on the borders of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I don’t remember what my brother wanted to show us but we found ourselves pulling up to the Vanderbilt’s summer house on the banks of the Hudson.

We were too late to tour the house but went through the displays in the stable block, the grandest stables I have ever seen, even the Vanderbilt’s horses were kept in palatial elegance.

And the Gardens.

The Inspiration for the Garden’s at Hamilton Hill In Helen’s Summer
Picture from VAMAmediapics.


The Garden’s were magnificent. I would have gladly spent an entire day there but there was not much in the Victorian gardens to interest the male members of our party beyond speculation on the quality of the fishing and if you could farm edible fish in the decorative pond and if so how big they might get.

As I walked I naturally saw the gardens through the eyes of an impoverished city child, one of those tenement raised young ones who had never seen grass and thought it was something to eat. What would they make of all this green?

The Vanderbilt summer house

The inspiration for Hamilton Hill in Helen’s Summer.

Then standing at the back of the house, peeping in the windows and surveying the afternoon sun across the terrace I could see a young woman, simply dressed, with a bouquet in her hand and complete delight on her face at the novelty of such flowers.

That was the birth of Helen.

3. It’s okay to put seeds into storage

My original idea was a cross between Mansfield Park and An Old Fashioned Girl, a lower middle-class girl who had never been outside the city, makes friends with a rich girl who out of pity and compassion invites her to the country for the summer. The story was going to be about friendship across the social divide and of course, the girl was going to meet some improbable person and marry very well.

I never wrote that story, but the image of the girl and the feeling of the place never left me.

Then in 2004, I moved with my husband to Perth, Western Australia where most of the flowers and trees were entirely unknown to me. Every visit to Kings Park, or Whiteman Park or John Forrest National Park was an exploration, a discovery and a delight.

We were still newlyweds and temporarily living with my in-laws which brought home to me how disparate was my background from my husbands. When I think of my early childhood six people in a single-wide trailer on a dirt road in Wyoming compared with my husband’s childhood in Singapore I marvelled anew at how we came together to form such a good team.

I learnt that his mother came from a family with servants and they were not the sort of people who go to expensive San Francisco restaurants and order nothing but clam chowder but the sort who don’t look at prices and order multiple dishes.

For some reason the botanical wonder of my new surroundings and learning more about my husbands background converged with the image of that New York city girl crossing the lawn at the Vanderbilt’s house with a posy in her hand.

4. when the seed finally sprouts- ask lots of questions

When the first tap root emerges ask lots of questions to firmly establish the idea.                              Photo by J. J. Harrison

Who was that girl? Why was she there? Who does she meet? How do they meet?

A rags-to-riches story had lost its appeal. I wanted something more probable, I wanted a real heroine, with grit, and wit, hard working but naive. That ruled out her being associated with the wealthy family.

I wanted an educated working girl, that brought me around to a tradesman’s daughter.

A forgotten trip to the Whiteman Park Print shop resurfaced in my memory, combined with my own love of tactile work, metal, ink and words.

A print shop was the obvious place for Helen to be.

The seed finally sprouted!  I wrote feverishly every chance I could and completed a first draft in a few weeks. My first completed novel!

I decided to go over it, edit it and print it out for my Mom when she came to visit in August 2005, and I shared it with a very few close friends (namely my two Jessica’s).

5. don’t be afraid to try new avenues

Then at the end of 2014 one of my Jessica’s was encouraging me to try self-publishing. She said something to the effect of “Don’t you have that story about a girl and those gardens, why don’t you work it over and publish that as a practice.”

“What a good idea,” thought I. ” I’ll spend 2 months on it, clean it up and publish it in time to give my niece when we attend the wedding of brother number 3.”

But as I read through the story I thought Helen and Theodore deserved better than that.

So here we are March 2017 and Helen’s Summer is finally released with Helen’s Autumn and Winter in production.

I am a blogger, a twitter aficionado, an Indie author with my own imprint, 1880’s Press, and my first series underway all starting from a little seed of an idea 20 years ago.

To read Helen’s Summer for yourself and see how my scattered collection of seeds bore fruit go….

Travel Guide for New York City-1885

Welcome! It’s New York 1885


Fast facts

  1. Population: approx. 1,360,800 (this is only Manhattan) Almost  25% of the population was ‘foreign-born’.
  2. Mayor: William R Grace, the first Irish Catholic Mayor.
  3. Governor: 1885 was an election year so Steven Grover Cleveland saw 1885 in, David Bennet Hill saw the year out. 
  4. President: Grover Cleveland (left New York for Washington DC)
  5. In 1885 Manhattan was New York City. Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were separate cities.
  6. Main Newspapers: The New York…Times, Herald, Tribune, World and Sun. And there was stiff competition.
  7. The Statue of Liberty arrived June 17, 1885, but wasn’t dedicated until Oct 28, 1886
  8. The City was already being progressively electrified following the opening of  Edison’s Pearl St Station in 1882.

Though all the sources say it was 1885 this picture is dated November 25, 1884, was it anticipatory promotion?

When you go to visit a new city what do you want to know?

Where to stay, where to eat and what to do. Right? Right

Where to Stay

  •  Astor House Hotel, 200 Fifth Ave.–For the business traveller
  • Sinclair House the corner of Broadway and Fifth–Gentlemen only
  • Grand Central Hotel-acceptable for the whole family, though some may object to its proximity to the theatre district.
19th century New York hotels in 1880

Sinclair house was a decent place for a gentleman to stay. See the advertisement below.

New York City Manhattan 1880's Grand Central Hotel

Notice this hotel is on the European plan.

So what exactly is the European plan?

Well Hotels, lodging houses and vacation rentals would advertise as either American Plan hotels or European plan hotels.

On the American Plan, three meals a day were included in the cost of the room.

On the European plan, no meals were included. Notice in the flyer below that there is a restaurant on the premises for those who wish to dine in.

19th ce Hotel Advertisement, 1880's

This is the sort of flyer that would be printed at William Kerr’s Fine Printery in my Helen’s Season’s series.

There was no shortage of places to stay, there was something for everyone in every imaginable price bracket. If travelling as a family I would look for something on the American plan but if you decide to go out to eat….

where to eat

The inestimable Delmonico’s nicknamed “The Citadel”. Pictured above is the original Restaurant 2 South William Street but by 1885 the Delmonico family had three other restaurants to choose from; 22 Broad St; Corner of Fifth and Twenty-sixth and 112 Broadway.

Most hotels had restaurants. And there were plenty of bakeries and small shops in which to grab a cup of coffee or a quick dinner (lunch).

What to Do

In the 1880’s I would venture to say there was at least the same if not more variety to choose from than today’s offerings.

Take your pick: an educational lecture, light opera, farce, dancing (and dance lessons), there were rooftop garden orchestras, and places to promenade. There were public gardens and private collections open to the public. There was live music on terraces, in restaurants and in theatres.

Operettas were very popular, the best seats will set you back $1.50, 25c for family seating in the gallery.


Visit the National Academy Museum opened in 1825 to encourage art and architecture outside of aristocratic patronage. In the 1880’s it was housed in this building.

New York museum 1880

The National Acadamy Museum circa 1880. Image from The Museum of the City of New York.

Or maybe natural history is more your thing, take stroll down to the American Museum of Natural History

Hand Coloured slide of the American Museum of Natural History, 19th Century New York Museums from the 1880's

Hand Coloured Slide of the Original building built in 1883. From the AMNH archives

Or you could pop by the 15-year-old Metropolitan Museum at its new location in Central Park.

19th century New York Museums in 1880

The Metropolitan Museum of Art moved into this new building in 1880, by 1888 it was already in need of an extension.  Image from the Met

Enjoy your stay in New York City!

Feel free to send 1880’s girl a postcard.

If you love the 1880’s and New York and a satisfying love story check out my new book Helen’s Summer

Purchase it here for Kindle and here for Kobo and here in paperback.

A Work of Fiction–Introducing Helen’s World


Step inside Manhattan 1885.

Helen Kerr’s world smells of paper and ink, warm metal and machine oil. Her world is fronted with gleaming glass with the name carefully applied:

William Kerr’s Fine Printery.

And Fine it was.

Behind the shopfront, is a counter made of special drawers…


Drawers full of samples. There were calling cards pinned artistically to faded blue velvet.


A variation on the sample calling cards.
By SU Professional & Technical Writing

There were invitations to garden parties and at homes and soirees, guild edged mourning cards, customised stationery, playbills, pamphlets and newsletters.

They printed flyers for shops and advertisements for hopeful entrepreneurs.

From the age of 7, Helen thought that being the owner of a print shop was a very fine thing. Like being a fairy godmother, you made dreams come true, at least the dreams of authors, brides and businessmen.

The hours were long but there was almost always time for coffee; except at Christmas when everyone doubled their orders but wanted to pay half the price.

The Foundation and Tone of Helen’s World were set by her father

William Kerr held that a good printery is one with heart.

There was comfort in going over the details of stationary requirements for mourning with Mr Kerr. He was always kind, having you step into the parlour where people wouldn’t comment if you gave way to tears.

And a good printery has a conscience.

He had in his younger days, at his own expense, published an abolitionist newspaper. He, himself stayed up all night typesetting reprints of Fredrick Douglas’s speeches for broader local distribution.

Of course, that was long before Helen was born but she felt her father’s legacy deeply.

His code of conduct was hers: Never published an item which offends your conscience, no matter how much money is offered or how influential the person placing the order.

What was the point of owning a press if you did not use it for the betterment of society?

As a result of these scruples, William Kerr’s Fine Printery was not always as prosperous as it might have been. There were times when bread and dripping were all that Helen had in her lunch pail. But while they might live off bread and dripping for a fortnight here or there, Helen’s school fees were always paid.

There were times when bread and dripping were all that Helen had in her lunch pail. But while they might live off bread and dripping for a fortnight here or there, Helen’s school fees were always paid.

A sacrifice she did not always appreciate.

Helen preferred to be in the press room all day laying the type in neat rows, fingering the brass letters on their wooden mounts, mixing ink or sketching embellishments for their artist to transform into custom scrolling and profusions of leaves found only at their fine printery.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Stamp Division http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003654729/

A woman printing stamps 1880’s

On the matter of education, Mr Kerr was firm. No printer could hold his, or her, head up if their headlines were misspelt and no amount of decoration made up for incorrect punctuation. So, to school she went, every day until she turned 16. When she turned her full attention to learning the family business.

At 19 she thought she had her whole life mapped out, but that was before she went away for the summer. That was before she met Theodore Wrenwood.

To find out what happens that fateful summer when Helen leaves behind her ink-stained apron for garden gloves read Helen’s Summer, the first book in the Helen’s Seasons Series containing the adventures and misadventures of a working class Manhattan girl as she takes on the world with honesty and humor.

5 Tools For the Victorian Gardner

Do you like the feel of a wooden handle? The weight of a well-crafted tool?

I know I do.

It’s time to rummage in the shed and dust off those tools whether you are looking forward to the spring thaw or are preparing your garden for winter. Here in Perth, I do all my gardening from autumn to spring as summer gardening is just too disheartening.

Here are  5 Handy Tools from the Victorian shed


1.The Cloche

The bell shaped glass cloche creates a protective environment for tender young shoots

The bell-shaped glass cloche creates a protective environment for tender young shoots

On first seeing this word I thought it was perhaps french for clock, maybe some sort of sundial?

It is French, French for bell, as in a bell shaped glass to ward off frost from tender young plants and extend the growing season in chilly climates.

Presumably, cloches used to all be bell shaped but by the Victorian age many looked like glass lanterns with wooden or metal frames and panes of glass. They range in size from small enough to be carried in one hand for the protection of a single young plant to large enough to pass for a portable greenhouse requiring two persons to move it.

Most of the tools we use in the garden today are variations on those that have been around since the middle ages.

2. The billhook


I had a vague idea this was a tool used in butchering animals, another erroneous conclusion.

The billhook is a cross between a machete and a butter knife, the fat rounded type of butterknife. It has a hook-shaped blade, with the sharp edge on the inside curve.

It is a tool of precision for pruning, shaping decorative hedges and grafting. However it can be a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of an enthusiastic novice gardener, both to the plants and the gardener,

It should always be kept sharp, dry and out of the reach of children and novices.

3. The Dibbler


I want one of these just so I can say, “Pass me the dibbler love.”

A perfectly formed wooden instrument worn smooth from years of frequent use or a metal handle and wooden spike, a dibbler looks like the top of a shovel sawn off, its tip whittled to a rounded point for the purpose of making holes for seed.

Essentially it is a large substitute finger to save strain on your own digits.

4. the Daisy Grubber

Daisy Grubber by Amber Seah

What I always called the snake-tongued-weeding-thing has a name!

Daisy grubber is so much more concise than my long-tail name for it. It is for getting the daisies out of your lawn by the roots with minimal damage to the lawn.

The metal loop at the back is for leverage. For obvious reasons, these are still immensely popular today and can be found at any gardening store.

5. the Mattock

Mattock by Amber Seah

Vital for trench digging or tree root removal

I have heard the word mattock but did not know what it was.

It has a pick on one end and a cutting tool on the other. In my family, we call it a pick-ax.

You need a mattock for preparing a new garden bed, digging out a square of lawn or making a trench for drainage and reticulation. The only time I’ve used one was for digging a trench to lay down new plumbing.

They come in a variety of sizes, some measure a meter long and weigh several kilos requiring the strength of a well-built man to even lift let alone swing. Others are of more modest, manageable proportions suitable to the rest of us.

Helen in the Garden

All of these would have been new but indispensable tools, to Helen Kerr when she first arrived at Hamilton Hill for her summer as an under gardener. Personally, I’d keep her away from the billhook and give her a wide berth if swinging a mattock.

To read about Helen’s adventure from print shop to garden shed click here for Kindle and here for Kobo

For more information on the history of gardens and gardening see The History of the Garden in Fifty Tools by Bill Laws

a Note on the artwork

The pictures of the cloche, the billhook and the dibbler I sketched on my Wacom tablet, trying to get the hang of computer drawing. Then we moved house and I put the Wacom somewhere very safe and cannot locate it so the daisy grubber and mattock were sketched on ordinary A5 paper with colour pencils and scanned.

I haven’t picked up a sketch pad in years so beg your patience as I flex my illustrating muscles and try to work them back into shape.

What is your favourite garden tool or word? 

leave a comment here or on twitter @SeahAmber.