The Darkest Hour – Sabrina Chase

Woman reaching outToday I have Sabrina Chase here to talk about her experiences with the publishing industry and her reasons for going it alone.

This led to a Darkest Hour moment for Sabrina, but the results were well-worth it.


Fortunate Disaster

Head-and-shoulders shot of Sabrina ChaseThe true source of all disaster is boredom.

I like to read, mostly science fiction and fantasy.

My problem is I read a lot, and my favourite authors were not producing fast enough.

This lead to reading non-favourite authors and the utterance of the Fatal Words, “I can do better than this!”.

My first furtive scribblings were merely for my own amusement—until I learned that mere mortals like myself could, by some mystical process, become authors.

Dubious but willing, I studied how others had gone through this transformation.

All were in agreement, the path to glory was by writing short stories and submitting them to magazines. You got feedback fast, you could perfect your skills, and sometimes even get paid!

(It turns out I am a natural novel writer. I have nine books out and still haven’t sold a single short story, sigh…)

I started this effort in 1992. Years pass. I finish a novel, Firehearted, and submit it to an agent, who said: “Close but no cigar. Try rewriting.”

Another year down the tubes, but… the agent signed me on after that rewrite! Progress.

He starts sending my book around to publishers, while I write more books. I learn that publishers send their rejection letters on fancier letterhead than magazines do, but the content remains the same.

No worries, I keep writing.

This time it is a SF trilogy, the first book being The Long Way Home. My agent sends it around, and after a few years, I get nibbles.

Reward for patience! I just have to keep working…

An editor called about The Long Way Home. She liked it, but wanted some changes. I wrote them up. Another year gone.

But then I get a call from my agent, first warning me to sit down.

An actual offer had been made for the book! Finally.

After 13 years of work, I had reached the top of the mountain and could survey the glorious view, while triumphant choral music surged in the background.

There might even have been some lens flare.

Then I got the contract.

I wasn’t too shocked by the low advance ($6,000); it was low but not unexpected for a new writer. But the details were a bit vague, especially coming from a large and well-known publisher in the field.

“Author has five days to review proof manuscript” is fine, but when does the clock start to tick?

From when they send it, or from when I get it?

I sent all my suggested amendments back via my agent.

None of them had anything to do with money, or any additional cost or effort on the part of the publisher, just clarifications that should have made it better for everyone.

And the publisher refused. The contract was take it or leave it.

They were rude to my agent, who was furious (do not make a New Yorker angry; it never ends well…)

This was my Dark Night of the Soul, and it hurt.

I was desperate, after so many years of work and waiting, to be published.


But then you start noticing the ink on the pen is red and sticky, and the paper feels like asbestos, and sure you don’t really use your soul that much, but…

It was the first book in a trilogy. I had already written the second and third books.

If  I sold The Long Way Home to this publisher they would have right of refusal for the next books, and it was unlikely I could sell them to another publisher without the first book.

The most leverage I would ever have was with this contract, and it was clear I really didn’t have any.Cover - The Long Way Home

I was risking the entire trilogy by signing, and the sense I was getting is I would get no publicity, no push from these people. In some ways, worse than not being published at all.

It felt like chewing off a limb, but I told them no. (My agent was actually happy, which tells you something about how bad that contract was.)

So many years of work, down the drain. Or so I thought. But I kept writing through the depression.

Fast forward to 2011.

I had been vaguely aware that electronic books were starting to be a thing.

My first book had been submitted to all the publishers and rejected, so I read up on how to format eBooks and decided I had nothing to lose.

Maybe the publishers would notice me if it did well!

It did very well. It sold the very first day it was available.

I didn’t care about the money at that point, someone was reading my book!

I had the SF series, and another standalone fantasy. I put those up too.

The series book, the one I was offered 6K for? (that I would have had to pay 15 per cent of to my agent, by the way…) Even after paying an artist to do a cover, and an editor, I made MORE than 6K in the first two years, and it is still earning.

The series is my best earner to date.

That horrible contract was the best thing that could have happened to me.

If the publisher had been willing to change it, I would not have tried indie publishing and would probably still be tied to them.

It’s sort of like getting an inconvenient flat tire at the start of a long trip, and later learning that you missed out on having a blowout while in a mountain pass, falling over a cliff, causing an avalanche, and getting trampled by a pack of mad yaks because of it.

Best flat tire ever!

Now I have freedom to write what I want, as much as I want.

It doesn’t get much better than this.


Sabrina Chase is a software test developer, writer, and recovering physicist residing in the Pacific Northwest. She usually describes her writing style as “two-fisted tales of space adventure”(The Scent of Metal, the Sequoyah trilogy) but has also committed fantasy (The Last Mage Guardian, The Dragonhunters, Firehearted). Her latest book is YA fantasy Jinxers, and the second volume of the Scent of Metal series, One Blood, will be out later this year. Further details are available at her website,


If you enjoyed Sabrina’s post on her Darkest Hour moment, you might like to read Andy Goldman’s heartbreaking story.

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