A Reedsy Success Story — Julia Laflin’s The House At Roc Noir
We see so many amazing projects go through our platform that we sometimes feel bad about not bragging more about them. So that’s we’re doing today by letting Julia Laflin share her Reedsy experiences on our blog, and offer some invaluable pieces of advice for other authors out there. Our favourite:
“My working relationship with Lane has been one of the most helpful and productive experiences that I could have wished for, so if you’re about to self-publish, don’t skimp on the editorial process and make sure you find an editor who inspires you to do better.”
I’m Julia Laflin, writer and author of The House At Roc Noir, an atmospheric novella set in the lonely wilds of Corsica, which has recently been selling very nicely as a self-published ebook. The initial draft of the book was as a long short story, however knowing that traditional publishers have little appetite for publishing single stories, I decided to take the self-publishing route.
My first step was to find an editor and cover designer. Having spent some time wondering where to find a professional editor and designer, I eventually met an author at a Byte the Book gathering who told me he’d used Reedsy. This network of professionals almost rhymes with easy-peasy — and when my turn came, Reedsy really was easy-peasy to use! What I hadn’t anticipated was just how fascinating and enjoyable the editing process would turn out to be.
Having scrolled through the CVs and biographies of all the experience editors vetted by Reedsy, I matched myself with Lane Ashfeldt. I was attracted to Lane because she’s an award-winning author who also teaches creative writing and has experience as an editor of both short fiction and novels. Even better, her published collection of fiction, SaltWater, seemed to have thematic resonances with my project. The target audience for The House At Roc Noir is more likely to be female, so it also seemed sensible to pitch for a female editor (sorry, chaps!). The only thing that was missing was a mention of a cat in her blurb. Never mind, she probably hates them. I’ll have to ask her one day. My Reedsy cover designer, Lizzie Gardiner, mentioned her cat, so that made up for it.
I was delighted when Lane and I struck our bargain and started our collaboration. Lane suggested a structural edit and, as it was a short piece at 15,000 words, she offered to do a line by line edit too. She asked for a steer on genre and target audience, as well as a synopsis and some photographs of Corsica from my travels.
She read my draft and sent me a detailed editorial assessment with developmental edit suggestions. It was like a school report but in a good way. Overall she called it ‘a very satisfying short read’, praising its ‘psychological suspense’ and ’atmospheric setting’. She then followed it with some great practical advice to develop the text even further.
The opening of the story introduces Alice and her lawyer husband Nick travelling to a remote bay in the north of the island. Lane suggested strengthening the beginning by turning the holiday location into a birthday surprise for Alice. Her guidance included better ‘ordering and sequencing’ of the journey to keep the reader in the ‘now’ of the narrative. She also made it clear however, that this did not necessitate extensive rewrites. Lane reminded me that it’s important that ‘we get the story and the other characters filtered very much through Alice’s perspective’. I’d slipped on the writer’s equivalent of that bar of soap a couple of times. Also, I needed to allow Nick to do more and develop his character which in turn, after rewrites, led to a more interesting husband and wife dynamic.
Then I spotted a margin note: ‘I’ve begun to wonder if there perhaps ought to be more definite indications of a sex life between Alice and Nick”. Given the genre and the intended readership, this did seem like a missing element. With a big gulp, I went back to the manuscript to insert some subtle steaminess into my couple’s activities! Lane liked Cally, Nick and Alice’s daughter, and the restaurant owner Antoine and she suggested that I expand both of their roles in the story. I threw in a cat too, basically a carbon copy of the tabby that’s lolling on my desk right now. Lane liked the cat but possibly only in her professional capacity as character assessor…
The end section of my story shifted to reported events, from Nick’s viewpoint. Lane pointed out (spoiler on the horizon) that although this worked it prevented an interpretation ‘that might include Alice and demonstrate her recovery from the events’. So it was back to the keyboard again to reimagine the last section with Alice at the heart of the narrative. I liked the changes, which gave the story a much greater sense of resolution.
Other points that changed in rewrites were the length and the title of the book. Lane advised that a longer read would hit the KDP pot of gold as an increased royalty rate kicks in at certain price points. The suggested revisions also extended the length significantly. The finished length was 25,000 words – technically a novella rather than a short story. My working title was ‘The Sea House’, however I hadn’t thought to check online. Lane pointed out it had been expended by Esther Freud and others —not necessarily a barrier to usage, but something she wanted to check whether I was aware of, or not. I had a think about this and came up with several possible new titles, which were duly cross-tested on a few potential buyers. Finally I selected the new title, The House At Roc Noir. Fortunately the cover art had not yet been commissioned, so making this change did not incur any additional costs.
Lane was really generous with her time and I felt that she was fully involved with the process. She was clear that while she hoped her input and suggestions made it easier for me to finish, she insisted that ‘it is important for you to own and control this story – not me!’
I soft-launched ‘The House At Roc Noir’ in mid-May and it made it half-way up the top 100 paid Kindle holiday reads in the first week of publication and the feedback so far has been positive. I’ve plenty more to do to reach out to summer holiday readers, as well as progress my Greek family saga novel. My working relationship with Lane has been one of the most helpful and productive experiences that I could have wished for, so if you’re about to self-publish, don’t skimp on the editorial process and make sure you find an editor who inspires you to do better.
Read our other success stories here:
Do you also work with a developmental editor for your stories? What has been your experience with him/her? Leave us your thoughts, or any question for Julia or Lane, in the comments below!