Digital-first and beyond – Cassandra O’Leary

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By Cassandra O’Leary

I’m a debut digital-first author, but in future I’d like to be a hybrid author. If you’re bamboozled by this opening sentence or you’re wondering if I run on both oil and electricity, let me take you under my wing, newbie writer.♥

About three years ago, I decided I wanted to try writing a novel. I’d always been a big reader and did a lot of business writing, but hadn’t tried creative writing for a long time. So I was basically clueless. I didn’t let that stop me though! Oh, no. In fact, I tumbled madly into writing a romance novel in three months, with the goal of entering a major international writing contest.

I did write that novel, and it felt amazing to type ‘The End’. But of course what I had wasn’t a novel, it was a manuscript. A first draft. Then, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I started learning about publishing, the major publishing houses, how to edit and format a manuscript and how to write a blurb and synopsis (I’m still working on that one!) and most of all, I learned about e-books.

Reading e-books began as a little experiment for me as a commuter, reading on the train. But once I read a few, I was hooked. And I’m not the only one. E-books are big business, and in some genres, they make up around 50% per cent of total book sales. Personally, I like the e-book reading experience and I’ve found some fantastic books and authors that wouldn’t otherwise have been available to me in print in my local bookstore.

Which brings me back to being a ‘digital-first’ author. When I decided I wanted to try to get published, I didn’t limit myself to ‘traditional’ publishers or the agent—publisher—print book path. I wanted to find out more about e-book or digital-first publishers. One of the ways I did this was to stalk a few authors I admire (nothing sinister, just following them on Facebook and Twitter). I noticed some authors being published digitally by overseas publishers, which of course is a massive opportunity compared to the smaller market in Australia, where I live.

When I joined Romance Writers of Australia and attended my first romance writing conference in 2014, I pitched to a few digital-first publishers. One of the things that impressed me from talking to them, was their willingness to experiment and try something different. These publishers talked about introducing new sub-genres, continuing series and shorter novellas, as well as longer novels.

It might be your dream to be published in print and see your book on the shelf at the airport. If so, go for it. But keep in mind, it could be a long time before that happens. Digital-first publishers, on the other hand, may be more willing to take a risk on a new author or a story that’s a bit different.

It’s been a great experience so far, having my debut novel published by digital-first imprint, Avon Maze (a division of HarperCollins UK). Avon Maze has provided editorial expertise, an awesome cover design and social media marketing savvy.

Down the track, I’d like to work towards having books available in both digital and print formats, probably through a combination of traditional publishing and indie (self-publishing) for shorter works.

Pro tip: all of you aspiring and emerging writers, it’s worthwhile keeping an eye out for writing contests and special ‘open calls’ for submissions for your particular genres. If you take a chance, you may just find that editor or publisher looking for a book like yours, or a writer like you.


Cassandra O’Leary is a romance and women’s fiction writer, communications specialist, avid reader, film and TV fangirl and admirer of pretty, shiny things. In 2015, Cassandra won the We Heart New Talent contest run by Avon Maze/HarperCollins UK and her debut contemporary romance/romantic comedy novel, Girl on a Plane, was released in July 2016. She was also a 2015 finalist in the Lone Star writing contest, Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America, and a 2014 finalist in the First Kiss contest run by Romance Writers of Australia. Cassandra lives in Melbourne.

cassandraolearyauthor.com

1 Comment

  1. Dora

    September 11, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing your positive experience. I’ll be keeping a look out for submission calls and competions.

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