My journey so far as an Indie Author

My last post about the Five attributes an Indie Author needs really struck a note with readers, so I thought I’d start exploring other aspects of what it means to be a self-published author.

First up, I thought I’d share my story. There have been some ups and downs, and I’ve still got lots to learn, but I hope you can pick up some good tips from what to do (and not to do)!

My story … it’s a slow one

For years, I wanted to make a living as a writer but never took any steps to make it happen. I couldn’t get over the mental block of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘that’s an impossible dream’.

I’d been writing fiction for years (since childhood actually), but hadn’t managed to get published. Then I self-published my first Epic Fantasy, The Children of Isador, with a small-press in Australia in 2007 – an expensive and slightly depressing experience that made me wonder if I should just try harder at finding an agent/publisher.

A few years later, KDP publishing came on the scene, and I started self-publishing in 2012. Since then I have published 15 books under my two author names (Sam J. Charlton and Jayne Castel).

Around that time, I also made a shift from doing office administration (a slow death) and part time language teaching (enjoyable but exhausting) to starting up my own copy writing and web writing business. I got two short-term contracts to help me cut my teeth and then a year and a half later I struck out on my own with my business, Take My Word. Becoming a writer (albeit not a successful fiction author … yet) was a huge shift for me.

Suddenly, I could call myself a writer.

However, although I was publishing novels on Amazon I was still treating it like a hobby. I was still ‘playing’ at it, and I was also still trying to find my voice as a writer.

I initially wrote only Epic Fantasy under the name Sam J. Charlton, but then branched out under the Jayne Castel pen name into Historical Romance. My shift came as after visiting the Sutton Hoo burial site in England. The amazing historical site gave me the idea for a story set in Anglo-Saxon times, centered around the last year in the life of King Raedwald (the king thought to be buried in the Sutton Hoo longship). However, since a love-story was central to the book, and I’d be writing in a different genre, I thought I’d better use a different name. Dark Under the Cover of Night was published a few months later.

People sometimes think authors choose a pen name because they’re embarrassed about friends and family knowing what they write – but that was never the case for me. It was more an issue of not muddying the waters, and confusing readers.

Interestingly, five years on and my Jayne Castel books sell MUCH better than my others ever have!

20915616_10155113973744285_5423582492225667150_nRecently, I won a national award for one of my Jayne Castel novels. Here’s a pic of me looking very pleased with myself at the RWNZ (Romance Writers of NZ) conference, around three weeks ago. I won a Koru Award (Short, Sexy category) for my novel, Italian Undercover Affair – ironically the only contemporary romance I have ever written!

I was also a finalist at the conference in The Great Beginnings contest with my Epic Fantasy Romance, Ruled by Shadows.

Contests are great for validation … however, they don’t have anything to do with sales. It gets your name out there in the writers’ community, but it’s readers you want to reach.

These days, five years on from starting my indie author journey, I feel like I’m just starting to hit my stride. I’m branching out with Jayne Castel, not just writing Dark Ages Historical Romance, but Epic Fantasy Romance too. It’ll be interesting to see how readers react to these new books. Sam J. Charlton is on the back-burner for the moment – I’m focusing instead on building the platform I’ve built for Jayne Castel.

Last year was crucial for me. I went from being paid every three months, to getting paid every month. Currently, my monthly Amazon income pays for my monthly groceries. My next step is to get it to pay for all my monthly expenses!

In many ways, I feel that I’m just getting started … although it’s exciting to finally be gaining a little traction. That’s one of the things I love about self-publishing: the constant learning curve!

In my next post, I’ll go into some of the things I’ve implemented over the past year which have really helped sales.

But until then … what about you? Is your journey similar to mine (i.e. slow but steady), or have you recently had some amazing breakthroughs? Please share! 🙂




Five attributes an Indie Author needs

Traditional Vs Indie—for many it’s a difficult choice. There are pros and cons of both, and even though I adore self-publishing, I know it isn’t for everyone.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the RWNZ (Romance Writers of New Zealand) conference, and was amazed just how well many self-published writers are doing. There’s some really savvy authors out there who are treating their fiction as a business. I found them really inspiring!

The conference got me thinking about the qualities an indie author needs to cultivate. My day job, as a self-employed copywriter, means that I’m already in the right mind-set for a lot of these, while others I need to work on cultivating!

Here’s what I believe are the five key attributes of successful indie authors:

  1. Independence: Do you like to do your own thing? Do you like to be the one to make the decisions on things like cover design, formating and marketing? Self-publishing was made for you! For those of us who like being our own boss (I’m self-employed anyway), being an indie author is a perfect fit. However, if you like having guidelines and structure laid out for you, traditional publishing is a better fit.
  2. Multi-skilled: I love writing, but I also enjoy the entire publishing process. I must admit that editing is a drag (some writers actually find editing the most enjoyable part of the process, but I’m not one of them!), but everything else is fun. I can’t wait to design my cover, format the print book, plan out my marketing and organise the launch. I’m also computer and internet savvy, and I enjoy using my marketing copy writing skills from my day job for promoting my fiction. Being an indie author means that if you don’t have these skills, you’re going to need to cultivate them.
  3. Patience/resilence: there’s so much online that tries to sell us the idea of ‘insta-success’. This can make you feel that if you don’t hit the big time with your first (or even your third) book that you are doomed never to make a living out of your writing. Anything worth having takes time to achieve … and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You need to be patient and resilent. That means you have to keep writing, publishing and marketing your work, even during slow periods, knowing that loving what you do is part of your measure of success. Plus, you don’t need to ‘hit the it big’ to make a living. Many mid-list authors earn very well. I aim to be one of those—I want to be able to make a comfortable living from my writing.
  4. Curiosity, flexibility and thirst for knowledge: That’s actually three things, but as I see it they’re all part of the same thing. As an indie author you need to be open to new ideas. There’s no point in doggedly putting your head down and writing, publishing and marketing without studying the market, watching trends, and learning what others are doing that works. This doesn’t mean you try every piece of advice you find online—the ‘scattergun approach’ is not only exhausting but it diffuses your energy, leaving you feeling discouraged. Instead, be a strategic information gatherer: focus on the areas where you need to improve and realise you can’t do it all. Don’t let your ideas about self-publishing be set in stone, either—be open to new ideas.
  5. Faith: I’m not talking about religious faith here, but the unshakable belief that you write to fulfil yourself on a deep spiritual and emotional level: it’s not just about the money. Sure, you aim to make a living out of this, but there are so many other easier ways to do so than choosing a creative endeavour. Remember that no matter how long it takes, you are in it for love. Sometimes this can be hard. Conferences, although inspiring, can also make us compare ourselves to others. It’s not a contest, and an author you feel jealous of has probably spent years getting to that level. You also need to have faith in your ability as a writer. We all have those moments when we think “I’m a useless hack who can’t write.” Understand that those are self-sabotaging thoughts. Focus instead on writing the best books you can—the kind you want to read.

The above list isn’t exhaustive, but merely a few points to inspire all of us indie authors. What about you—do you have any other attributes you believe a self-published author needs to have in order to suceed? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

Read a sample of RULED BY SHADOWS

Just a couple of weeks till the release of RULED BY SHADOWS. 🙂 I’ve been able to take a (short) breather, sit back and watch the finale of the latest season of Game of Thrones — and think about the other writing projects I have on the go.

I’m now in the final stages of getting RULED BY SHADOWS ready for publication. I’ve heard back from two beta-readers, both of whom loved the book — which is always a relief to hear! Thankfully, corrections have been minimal this time round.
Soon, ARC copies are going out to my Review Crew (if you’re keen to become an ARC reader for the novel, please email me at, and then I’ll be gearing up for the launch (release date is 18 September, 2017).
In the meantime, I’ve been outlining the next two books in the series (essential to do now as I don’t want to discover vital plot and character details that should have been introduced in Book #1!).


Grab your free sample from Instafreebie and read the Prologue and first three chapters of my upcoming Epic Fantasy Romance!
I love Instafreebie — it allows readers to download samples and books for free, and doesn’t make you sign up for anyone’s mailing list (unless you voluntarily opt in).
RULED BY SHADOWS is an Epic Fantasy Romance about a girl named Lilia. Not your usual fantasy hero, she’s a timid young woman catapaulted into an epic adventure in a world threatened by darkness.

RULED BY SHADOWS will be released on 18 September 2017

Pre-order your copy on Amazon today:

RULED BY SHADOWS is available on preorder!

RULED BY SHADOWS_coverFor those of you eagerly awaiting RULED BY SHADOWS—the wait is almost over!

I LOVED writing this book.

You can read RULED BY SHADOWS as a stand-alone, although there will be a three-book arc which explores a larger Epic Fantasy storyline (involving three different love stories).

This Epic Fantasy Romance—Book #1 in the Light and Darkness series—is the story of Lilia, a frightened young woman who is propelled into a life-changing adventure. It’s Epic Fantasy, but not as you know it! Sure, there will be adventure, magic, a quest, and the threat of darkness that risks destroying the world. But our heroine, Lilia, isn’t a warrior princess, an assassin or a sorceress—she’s the kind of girl most of us have met. Just an ordinary young woman thrown into an extraordinary situation.

RULED BY SHADOWS will be released on 18 September 2017!

Click on one of the links below to preorder:


RULED BY SHADOWS kicks off a series. I’ll be sharing my continuing journey on this blog as I work my way through Books #2 and #3. If you look back to my previous posts, especially going back into last year, you’ll see that I used this blog as an online writing journal — it really helped me isolate the premise of the story and plan out the story arc and the characters, I’ll be doing the same with the next books.





Ruled by Shadows – BOOK TRAILER

It’s been a ‘work in progress’ for a while, but RULED BY SHADOWS is steadily inching closer to publication.

The book is now in the hands of my beta-readers, and I should hear back from them toward the end of August. That’ll give me some time to make the final changes, sort the proofreading, and send out copies to the ARC readers. The novel will be up on pre-order soon, for release mid-September. As soon as it’s up on pre-order, I’ll post a link up on this blog. 🙂

What’s RULED BY SHADOWS about?

Book #1 of the Light and Darkness series, RULED BY SHADOWS is an Epic Fantasy Romance about Lilia, a frightened young woman who is forced to leave her old life behind and embark on an epic adventure. It’s the story of an ordinary girl thrown into an extraordinary situation. It has everything I love about Epic Fantasy in it (epic adventure, dark forces, magic and huge stakes) but it’s also a character driven story about people we feel we could know. The novel is a romance as well, so the love story is central to it.

In a land ruled by shadows, the fate of all lies in the hands of a girl who is afraid of the dark.

To find out more, watch the book trailer for RULED BY SHADOWS below.

The Palâdnith Chronicles is available as a complete series!

Exciting news! The Palâdnith Chronicles: The Complete Series is now available.

If you’re into Epic Fantasy adventure on a grand-scale, this series is for you! The box-set contains all three books in the series (Journey of Shadows, The Citadel of Lies, and The Well of Secrets), plus the prequel novella, Deep-Spire. The e-book edition of the complete series costs USD$4.99 — it’s a great deal since each of the full-length novels retails at US$2.99, so if you buy them in the box-set you’re saving around $4.00!

What’s the series about?

Three brothers. One epic destiny. Get lost in the world of Palâdnith, and embark on an Epic Fantasy adventure.

Thirty years after the mysterious disappearance of their mother, cataclysmic events force Seth, Eni and Val Falkyn to abandon their old lives and identities, and run for their lives. Hunted by assassins, each brother embarks on a journey across a land torn by political turmoil and the threat of war.

Along the way, each man must face his personal demons and fears. Help comes from unlikely sources but, in the end, it is Seth, Eni and Val’s own strength, determination and courage that will decide their fates.

The Palâdnith Chronicles: The Complete Series contains Journey of Shadows (Book One), The Citadel of Lies (Book Two), and The Well of Secrets (Book Three) — as well as Deep-Spire, the prequel novella to the series.

Fans of classic Epic Fantasy Adventure and High Fantasy in the style of J.R.R Tolkien, George R.R Martin and Terry Brooks should enjoy immersing themselves in a unique fantasy world.

Where can I get a copy?

You can buy an e-book edition of the box-set at one of the following online bookstores:

If you read the series, please do consider leaving an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads — it would mean a lot to me and would ensure others find the book too!

Thanks so much for your support.

Best wishes,


How to manage story arc in Epic Fantasy

Just had a revelation about plotting Epic Fantasy novels that I had to share with you!

Writing a fantasy novel is hard work! It took me around 8 months to get the 130,000 words of the first draft of RULED BY SHADOWS written — and after a brutal structural edit I’m now over half-way through the rewrite.

I’ve changed a lot of things during the second draft—but one of the biggest discoveries for me is in how to manage the story arc.

Epic Fantasies are big, complex books. Add some romance to it and you have a lot to balance.

One of the things that has struck me during this rewrite is that Epic Fantasy novels are like matryoshka dolls (those little Russian dolls that nest inside each other) — there are stories within stories. Arcs within arcs.

What do I mean by this?

Think of the classic story arc:

  1. Set up
  2. Crisis
  3. Resolution

This is the traditional three-act structure, which of course most stories will have. The problem for me is that in a long story, these three are too over-arching, too generic.

Here’s an example of the three act structure for Star Wars (from William Coleman, Flickr):

3 act structure

That’s great — and it’s important to be able to break your story up into these three steps — but it doesn’t take into account that each section of your story needs to have it’s own arc and flow.

So, instead of just focusing on these three over-arching plot points, I’ve broken down my novel into sub-sections, and then focused on each section having it’s own arc. This process is massively important to Epic Fantasy, because these stories usually head toward some epic battle, or climatic show-down. It can be tempting to focus too much on the destination and not on the journey. Yet Fantasy is a slow-build, it’s all about world-building, character development, and creating a net of subplots that all come together in the end.

The reader should feel that each section of the novel has a sense of completion.

To do this, I broke my current work-in-progress, RULED BY SHADOWS, into sub-sections. Here they are:

  1. Set up on The Isle of Orin
  2. The First Journey (from Orin to The Royal City of Rithmar)
  3. The House of Light and Darkness
  4. The Second Journey (from the Royal City of Rithmar to the Shadefell Mountains)
  5. The Epic battle at the Shadefells and the grande finale

Not all of these sections will be the same size. Some will be six chapters, long, some nine, other’s twelve.

Once you’ve split your story up into sub-sections, decide on how long each one is going to be. This is an important step — it’s easy to let sections drag on too long, or rush them. To avoid this, figure out how many chapters you’re going to need for each stage: SET UP, CRISIS and RESOLUTION.

Let’s take section 2 of RULED BY SHADOWS as an example: The First Journey

I decided that since this journey takes place in the first third of the novel, it shouldn’t drag on too long. Not only that, but it has to move the story forward as well, not just be an entertaining diversion with my main characters travelling and encountering danger along the way.

The First Journey: 9 chapters

  1. SET UP: goal is to show that something is wrong with the world while allowing the readers to get to know the main characters.
    Ch 1: characters leave the port city of Idriss, encounter a shadow creature on the way out of town and barely escape with their lives. Very strange event as these creatures don’t usually go anywhere near towns. Not only that but the weather has gone gloomy and cold — even though its the middle of summer
    Ch 2: characters reach first town and discover that there shadow creatures have been attacking settlements after dark. There’s unrest and fear. Weather is still grey — they haven’t seen the sun in days.
    Ch 3: characters reach a village on the edge of the highlands, half-way through their journey, and discover the locals have gone rogue with fear. Our heroine saves a mother and son who are about to be sacrificed to the shadows.
  2. CRISIS: goal is to show the background menace on the journey exploding into real danger — our four companions must depend on each other for survival
    Ch 4: Rough night in the village in which shadow creatures attack and cause a lot of damage — our heroes wisely stay indoors although they see the devastation the following morning
    Ch 5: They make camp on the road and are attacked by shadow creatures during the night. Barely escape with their lives and manage to hide under a boulder until dawn. The days are still dark—no sign of the sun.
    Ch 6: They hide-out in a cave the following night but witness a bloody attack on The Brotherhood (the group of assassins who’ve been tracking them since Orin), in which all of their pursuers are butchered.
  3. RESOLUTION: goal is to bring our characters closer together as it becomes a fight for survival. Will they actually reach the capital?
    Ch 7: The companions stop for a much needed rest and our hero and heroine share a first kiss  (it’s also a romance, after all!). A much needed drawing of breath after three action-packed chapters
    Ch 8: Problems start again at dusk when they can’t find anywhere safe to hide out for the night. They’re still three days from their destination and will never make it in time. Shadow creatures close in and it seems they’ve finally been caught.
    Ch 9: A patrol of enchanters — the very people they are travelling to see at the capital — come across them, just before the shadow creatures do, and protect them just in time. The next day they safely escort them the rest of the way to their destination.

The notes above are very sketchy, and I deliberately kept them so. I like to have a bit of mystery when I write. If I plan everything out in minute detail I lose interest — there’s nothing left to discover! However, this type of planning really helps me create a strong skeleton to hang my story on.

I’ve actually just rewritten this section — here are my chapter titles:

Chapter Seventeen: The Encounter
Chapter Eighteen: By the Fireside
Chapter Nineteen: Sacrifice to the Shadows

Chapter Twenty: A Sleepless Night in Hillbrook
Chapter Twenty-one: Flight in the Dark
Chapter Twenty-two: The Valley

Chapter Twenty-three: Collecting Firewood
Chapter Twenty-four: The Net Tightens
Chapter Twenty-five: The Enchanters of the Light

My original journey was long-winded and a huge digression from the main storyline. This one develops the characters and adds to the central conflict. The journey makes the stakes higher. Not only are our characters are on the run pursued by assassins, and taking a precious talisman to safety, but even though it’s mid-summer, the days have grown dark and cold, and shadow creatures — servants of a past dictator — are now attacking towns with increasing viciousness. Everything seems to be going wrong.

When should you plan out these story arcs?

First draft would be ideal! However, second drafts are also are good place to start. By this stage you have a strong idea of your world and characters and have a greater sense of what you want to achieve.

Hopefully, you find my advice on creating multiple story arcs within your novel useful—this discovery was definitely a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson video series

Highly recommend a video series on YouTube, where fantasy author Brandon Sanderson delivers lectures about how to write Epic Fantasy.

I’m in the midst of the second draft of my Epic Fantasy Romance, RULED BY SHADOWS (around a third of the way through the rewrite) and have found his advice worth it’s weight in gold.

He had a ton of amazing tips but two that really resonated with me were:

  1. Use your Prologue and/or first chapter to create a PROMISE to your reader. Give them all the elements they will encounter later in the story, don’t hold back. Set up a promise, and then deliver on it!
  2. Epic Fantasy readers love the tropes, they just don’t want cliches. To give them what they want, create characters based on a trope (say, the wise mentor) but then subvert it by adding a dark secret and something unexpected to this character. E.g. the wise mentor who likes to knife-fight in his spare time, who is actually the bastard son of the arch-villain – a secret he’s hidden his whole life. That was just off the top of my head, but you get the idea!

Here’s the link to the first of the video series – enjoy!

Ruled by Shadows – MAPS

Every Epic Fantasy story has to have a good map or two!

I like drawing and try to create all the maps for my books. Here the two I’ve created for RULED BY SHADOWS. The first is a map of the entire continent of Serran (with its four kingdoms) and the second is a detail of the Isle of Orin, where the first third of the novel takes place.






ruled-by-shadows_coverWell, the first draft has been written. Around 130,000 words – so it’s a door-stopper as predicted!

I started writing the first draft around eight months ago (and published two novels in the meantime) so I’m pleased to finally have this manuscript done.

As I’ve mentioned before, this project is one very close to my heart. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a while. It’s a combination of an epic fantasy adventure and an epic love story, combining the elements I love best about the genres of fantasy and romance.

Am I happy with the story?

I’m currently reading through the manuscript before it heads off for a structural edit. The first ‘read-through’ as I call it is always a nerve-wracking moment. When I write a mansucript, I don’t tend to look back much until I’ve actually finished the story. I find it tends to kill my enthusiasm if I go back and try to edit chapters as I go. It kind of dilutes the magic. As I do quite a bit of planning around story arc and characters before I start writing, I have a strong idea of where I’m going. The advice ‘don’t look back until it’s done’ is good if you’re writing a big book. You’ll never get it finished otherwise!

So, I’m three-quarters of the way through the first read-through and I’m really delighted with the book!

Big sigh of relief.

There’s always that fear you’ve written 130,000 words of rubbish – although my structural editor will have the final word on that…

Why I think it works

There are a few things I think I’ve got right with this one. My previous epic fantasy novels were grand in scope and character-driven but I think they lacked depth and intimacy compared to this one. The two main characters, Lilia and Perrin, are the sort of people you feel you could know. They really bring the story to life, and I think the two secondary ones, Robana and Saul, are some of the best supporting characters I’ve ever created.

The story is a classic epic fantasy tale of a magic talisman, an epic quest and a dark lord – but my telling of it veers away from tradition. The story is told through the eyes of Lilia and Perrin as they embark not only on an adventure but on a journey of self-discovery and love.

There’s also a strong over-arching theme in the novel that has nothing to do with fantasy tropes. I explore fear and different people’s reaction to it. Does it limit our world or do we use it to grow and change? It’s a theme most of us can relate to and I really enjoyed exploring it. I also think it has added real depth to the story.

The world I’ve created – The Four Kingdoms of Serran – has come together really well. I know the Isle of Orin (where the first third of the novel takes place) so well I can close my eyes and imagine I’m there. I modelled the city of Idriss off Naples in Italy – a city that I love – and The Royal City of Rithmar on a much larger version of an Umbrian hill town. Yes, there’s a bit of Italian influence there (as I lived there for years), but the culture of this world is modelled on Dark Ages and early Medieval Ireland and Britain.

Enough about that – when’s it going to be released?

I don’t have a publication date yet but as soon it gets back from the editor and I know how much work it needs, I’ll be able to put one up on this blog. Watch this space. 🙂

Would you like a chance to read RULED BY SHADOWS before anyone else?

I’m currently getting together a REVIEW CREW for the novel. You get a free e-copy of the novel pre-publication, and in return all I ask is that you write an honest review and post it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

If you’d like receive an advance review copy (Kindle, EPub or PDF versions), then please email me at with REVIEW CREW: FANTASY in the subject line and I’ll add you to the list.