by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
This week I released my latest novel, Tasmanian Gothic. I first started drafting it back in 2016, so it seems strange that it should be now, six years later, that it’s finally out in the world. But, this book has always been a bit of a strange beast (in content and in character), and its path to publication a long and winding road.
While no two publication journeys are the same, this one – competing with other WIPs, going through major structural changes, querying for traditional publication, being ghosted by agents, and finally preparing for independent publication – is its own story to be told.
So settle in for a tale of excitement, frustration, hope, resignation, and joy.
In the Beginning
It all started in 2015. I was heavily pregnant with my first child and in the final drafting/early editing stages of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) and, my brain taking a step away from Divided Elements, became fixated on a new story idea. Many writers I know have faced the temptation of a shiny new story seed when they’re in the drafting and editing trenches – it’s easy to be seduced by the excitement of a new and unknown story when you’re struggling to wrangle an existing one into place – but this one stuck with me.
The problem was, I didn’t have time to write it – not yet. There were still the follow-up books in the Divided Elements trilogy to draft, edit, and publish. And yet, I couldn’t just let this new idea go. So, I jotted down some words in a notebook and got back to work on Divided Elements.
Even from those first notes, Tasmanian Gothic was always going to be Carnivale-esque story of border walls, gangland wars, divided families, and exotic mutants. But a lot changed between those initial notes and the first draft – and most of it was in the worldbuilding and the protagonist’s motivation. The worldbuilding changed because logistically/pragmatically/scientifically the original idea was (close to, if not completely) impossible [I’m still keeping it under my hat though, in case I can ever untangle its impracticalities and use it in another story], and the protagonist’s motivation changed because it added more drama and conflict to the story. [No spoilers, but if after reading Tasmanian Gothic you want to know what Solari was originally motivated by, drop me an email and I’ll let you know :)]
I love looking back on those early notes. Just look at that list of comparative stories – Outsiders, The Warriors, Westside Story, Sons of Anarchy… No wonder I loved writing this story so much. And all of those comps still shine through – in a post-apocalyptic, biopunk world of war-torn streets and lush mutant expanses.
The Sneaky First Draft
Confession: Even though I had planned to avoid the shiny new story idea while finishing Divided Elements, that plan hit a snag come 2016…
Look, writing sequels is hard. At the end of 2016, after all the major editing had been completed on Resistance and the manuscript had been handed over to the proofreader, I started working on Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). But, I kept getting stuck. So, in a moment of weakness, I decided to start drafting the new WIP – which back then was simply titled Solari (there have been a number of working titles over the years – Reviled Revered, Lepidopterae, Tasmania, Tasmanian Darkness. Tasmanian Gothic was the original one I used for my completed draft (all the way back in 2016)).
I signed up to Camp Nano with the idea of writing 15k words, but ended up with close to 27k words – the most I had ever written in a month, ever. (It helped that I was on maternity leave and had a newborn that slept a lot).
After Camp Nano, I decided to write Tasmanian Gothic and Rebellion simultaneously. Sounds a little crazy, but it really worked for me – every time I’d get stuck on Tasmanian Gothic (where to take the story next, how to tighten the plot, how to build the world), I’d move back to Rebellion which had already figured all those things out (thanks to Book 1). And when I’d get tripped up with Rebellion (second-guessing whether the story was interesting, whether my pacing was off, whether I was staying true to the characters introduced in Book 1), I’d move back to Tasmanian Gothic, which was shiny and new and had none of those expectations/baggage/constraints. Total win-win.
A Tale of Two Tenses
A total win-win. Until it wasn’t.
As my awesome readers know, Divided Elements is a story told in the present tense from a close third-person perspective. When I first started writing Tasmanian Gothic, it was in the same present tense, third-person perspective.
And then, early in the critique process, with Tasmanian Gothic drafted well into Act 2B, I figured that it wasn’t working as a present-tense story. (Don’t ask me why – I think I’ve scrubbed the whole traumatic episode from my writer’s memory). So, reader, I spent month and months, slogging through to change every is to was, every hack to hacked, every croon to crooned, every shiver to shivered.
So many words to change, so many words…
Suffice to say: changing tenses is not fun. I feel for writers who have had to change tenses AND perspectives (thank God I don’t ever write in first person…)
In the Query Trenches
Finally – after a small hiatus while I finished Rebellion and finalised the stupid tense changes, and successive revisions and edits – Tasmanian Gothic was ready to be queried. I was so excited. Here was a story I loved, that was dark and quirky and different, that was perfect for fans of China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, and Kameron Hurley – with its morally questionable protagonist, punk vibes, bug-punk mutant weirdness, and a roadtrip across a divided and war-torn Tasmania. Someone was sure to pick it up. Right?
In 2019, I started researching agents and developing my query letter and synopsis. And let me tell you, that first query attempt was terrible. It was 580 words! (When, ideally, they should be no more than 300). It was long and messy and not good.
Finally, with version 1.16 (which is now the blurb on ebook sites), I took the plunge and sent out the initial queries. I queried 28 agents in the first month. And the responses flew in, then trickled in, then disappeared. And all of it was rejection.
There was a mix of personalised responses like these ones:
And form responses like this one:
But mostly it was silence.
But that was okay – I knew querying wouldn’t be easy. Sure, I’d daydreamed about multiple dream agents requesting fulls and me having to send ‘thanks but sorry’ emails to the ones I chose to pass on, but hey – that’s part of the fun of being a writer: the daydreaming. I wasn’t dejected (yet) or ready to give up (yet), so I kept querying.
The next month I sent out another 11 queries, and the month after that another 3. All met with rejection or silence. By 2020, I’d decided that trad publishing just didn’t want this ‘too hard to market’ book, and that I’d independently publish it. At the time, I was busy writing Revolution (Divided Elements #3), so it was a project for future Mikhaeyla. I’d chalk up the last few months to experience and move on.
Occasionally, I’d see an agent that I thought might like Tasmanian Gothic and send them a query, but mostly I’d given up on traditional publication for this book…
Lost in Email
When you’re querying, you check your email constantly. I’m talking multiple times an hour, every day, every week. Refresh, scroll, refresh, scroll, check junk mail, refresh, scroll. Rinse and repeat.
But, after months of query rejection and silence, you start to avoid email. There’s nothing to look for, after all – either the agents you queried have already rejected you, or the queries themselves are so old, they’re basically gathering dust in an archive box. I’d go weeks without looking at email. And even then I’d only skim.
And then, one day in November 2020, I see a “Query Reply” subject in my email inbox. That had been sent three weeks earlier.
Going into Query Manager, I saw this wasn’t the first time that this particular agent had request the full manuscript of Tasmanian Gothic – they’d also sent a request back in August.
Now, it’s important to disclose that this agent was one of the first I queried back in Oct 2019. And now, ten months later, they were asking for a full manuscript.
So, I quickly submitted the manuscript and waited to see what happened next.
And, readers, that request got me excited about querying again. Maybe this book did have a chance and place with a publishing house. And so, over the next six months, I queried another 11 agents. And, again, felt the sting of rejection and silence. But, hey – there was at least one agent that was interested. The flame was still flickering…
A different kind of silence
A couple of months after submitting the full manuscript, I contacted the agent to let them know I was considering submitting a short story to Grimdark Magazine that was set in the same world as Tasmanian Gothic and using the same characters, and wanted to know what impact this would have on my chances of future publication and what boundaries I needed to be aware of (i.e. okay to use the same world, but not characters, or okay to use characters, just not the main ones).
But, that’s fine. Agents are busy people. And maybe it was best not to risk it. So, I didn’t go ahead with the short story and just kept biding my time (i.e. editing Revolution). (I later found out this agent was going through some personal issues at the time, which made sense regarding the silence).
In September 2021, ten months after I had submitted the full manuscript for consideration, I sent a message via Query Manager:
Nothing. No response. For weeks, months.
So, in January 2022, two years and three months after submitting the query, and more than a year since submitting the full, I withdrew Tasmanian Gothic from this agent’s consideration. I’d sent a few queries to other agents I thought might be a good fit, and got another request for a full, but in the end I decided the traditional publishing path wasn’t for me. The thought of waiting another year for an agent to read and respond, and then (if they did take me on as a client) another year or two on submission to publishing houses, and then another year or two to be fit into a publication schedule ravaged by Covid delays…
No, thank you.
I knew Tasmanian Gothic was a weird beast – dark, quirky, confronting, punk, strange. I knew it would struggle to find its place in the large, commercial book industry. But, I also knew there were readers out there that would be perfect for it, and it for them. They were people like me – the ones on the fringes that liked the weird stories and the strange movies.
So it shall be written, so it shall be done
The best thing about independent publishing is that it is quick. Even though I had thrown out a few ad-hoc queries over the final months, I’d essentially kept independent publishing in my back pocket. The cover artist I had used for Divided Elements had expressed an interest in Tasmanian Gothic when I’d first told him about it, so (on the same day I formally withdrew from the original agent) I contacted him to see whether he was up for designing a punk book cover featuring a female with wings and male with metal plates running down his arm. Being the legend he is, he was totally up for it.
Six weeks later, I had the final cover, a formatted ebook and paperback, ISBNs, and promo graphics ready to roll. And now, after all the swings and roundabouts this book has navigated, it is finally out in the world.
Tasmanian Gothic is officially released in August 2022, but you can pre-order it now from Apple Books, Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. A paperback version will also be released in August. If sales are strong enough, I’ll release an audiobook by the end of the year.
If you’ve enjoyed this tell-all expose 🙂 or anything I’ve published on this site about writing and publishing, please consider pre-ordering it – especially since it’s at the crazy-low price of USD 2.99 (after the pre-order period, it will jump back up to its normal price of USD 5.99).
Your pre-order, much more than a tube of toothpaste, will go so far in supporting this indie author and getting Tasmanian Gothic the exposure and interest it needs to reach new readers!!
Also, if you want to stay up-to-date with how the launch campaign is going, sign up to my author newsletter here.
And let me know in the comments whether you’re excited about this release, or just drop a note to share your own author horror stories or nerd out about your favourite dark, weird, punk stories like ‘Perdido Street Station’, ‘Red Sister’, or ‘Annhilation’.
A wonderful read, Mikhaeyla. Thank you.
It makes my decision to self-publish seem all the more sensible.
Keep ‘em coming!
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Thanks Ned! I think traditional publishing and indie publishing both have their advantages and disadvantages – like most things, it all depends on your goals, your priorities, and your non-negotiables. Different courses for different horses, and all that 🙂
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