Spotlight 14: Sally Rigby


Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.

Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors are all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.

My name is Tom Ashford, and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit at

This week’s guest is Sally Rigby. She’s written 15 books in the thriller, young adult, and nonfiction genres, and she lives in New Zealand.

Welcome, Sally.

Sally Rigby: Hello, Tom. Good to speak to you.

Tom Ashford: Before we started, you talked about 15 books in your thriller, young adult, and nonfiction genres, but you also spoke about two different pen names. I don’t know if you wanted just to go into a little bit more in detail about that and why. Obviously, you’ve got very different genres.

Sally Rigby: I will, yes. First of all, I did some nonfiction books under my real name, Sally Rigby. And because I was working in education and doing research papers and stuff like that, when I started writing fiction, I decided I should have a different name. So I had a pen name.

And then because now I’ve gone in a totally different direction and I’m not in education and I’ve started writing crime fiction, I’m self-publishing, I decided to go back to my original name or my real name, Sally Rigby.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: Not least because when people used to say, it was Sara Hantz, my pen name, and then I’d be at conferences and people would call me Sara and I’d ignore them because I wouldn’t realize they were talking to me.

Tom Ashford: Right.

Sally Rigby: So I’m very happy being back to my original name.

Tom Ashford: Nice.

In which genre are you going to sort of be using going forward? Do you still try and tackle all of them?

Sally Rigby: Oh no, no, no, no. Absolutely not. I’ve left young adult and nonfiction, and it’s just crime fiction for me now. I’m really, really happy.

Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay, well let’s dive in with the five questions.

The first one is the biggest and hardest of them, which is why do you write?

Sally Rigby: I’ve listened to a lot of your other interviews, and I’ve noticed that many people say that they have been writing since they were really young, and it was something they’d always done. But it wasn’t the case for me at all.

I’ve always read. I’ve read loads, and as a kid I read loads. But it didn’t enter my head that I could possibly try to write and be an author, because in my head, authors weren’t normal people like you and me. They were on a higher plane, and they knew lots of long words that I didn’t. So it just didn’t enter my head.

But as I got older, and after I’d gone on to university and I’d worked in academia, I thought about writing a textbook. And then in one of the jobs I had, I had the opportunity to edit and contribute to a couple of them. I really enjoyed it.

In fact, one of them, which came out in 2001, I’m still earning royalties on even though it’s 18 years old. And so every year a few hundred dollars land in my bank account, which is very nice because it’s like free money.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: I’d done the nonfiction, then I thought I really want to write fiction. So I started writing chick lit because that was what I was reading at the time and it was really trendy. But unfortunately, the chick lit market died.

But then, fortunately I suppose, the young adult fiction market took off. So I wrote a young adult book, got an American agent, and it sold, and then I published it in 2007. And I thought, yay, that was it. I’ve got a career for life. But it didn’t quite work out like that.

The book did fairly well. It wasn’t a bestseller, but unfortunately the publisher didn’t want the option book.

Tom Ashford: Oh, okay.

Sally Rigby: So 2007 until 2012, it took me, well, however long that is. Seven, eight, nine, ten. Five years and three agents. Because I went through three more agents before I sold again, and again to another American publisher. But they were a romance publisher, although the young adult line wasn’t quite so romance.

But then it changed and then the young adult line became romance focused. But the trouble is I’m not a romance writer, and I don’t read romance. And if you ask my husband, I’m not very romantic either. Don’t tell him I said that.

Tom Ashford: Well, unless he listens to this.

Sally Rigby: Yeah, you better cut that bit out. But what I did, I found myself a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I had five books with them. The last one came out in 2017.

That’s when I decided to sort of kickstart self-publishing, I’d done a little bit before, and write crime fiction. And even that wasn’t straight forward.

I wrote a book, it was a legal thriller set in the States, and I sent it to an editor. And this was exactly a year ago. And when it came back, I looked at her comments and I thought, oh God, it’s not going to work. And I think the problem was I was trying to write American English, and I’m not, obviously, American. I’m British.

So I thought, right, drop that book. I’d got all the comments back from the editor, paid for the edit, and thought, right, I’m not writing this book. Told myself, by the next morning I was going to come up with something else to write.

I literally went to bed. I do this all the time, I have to say. And I said to my subconscious, do your thing. And by the next morning, my series, Cavendish & Walker, which is the series I’m writing, had been born. The next morning I’ve got the idea there, and I did it. And the rest is history.

In this past 12 months, I’ve now got a reader magnet and three books published. And I’m currently writing number four, and I’ve got outlines and covers for all of them, up to including number six.

And I’ve probably gone on rather too long on that question. Sorry.

Tom Ashford: No, that’s great. So you’re a hybrid author, therefore?

Sally Rigby: I am. Yes.

Tom Ashford: Would you go back and take another traditional publishing contract, or would you prefer to move forward with self-publishing?

Sally Rigby: It honestly depends on what day you asked me. And how frustrated I’m getting with everything. Because obviously some days are good, some days are bad.

It would have to be with my crime fiction series, because that is it for me. I’ve found my niche. I know it’s right for me. If someone came along and offered me a massive big advance, I’m not saying I would turn it down.

Tom Ashford: Even Mark said that if he was offered something like seven figures or something, he’d be tempted. So even though he’s doing very, very well in self-publishing, it’s never off the table if it’s the right deal.

Sally Rigby: You’re right. I wouldn’t go as far as saying seven figures.

Tom Ashford: No.

Sally Rigby: Five would do me, actually.

Tom Ashford: Exactly.

If we move on to question number two, which is how do you write? Which obviously there’s different sort of sub questions to that.

The first one would be, do you plot your stories or do you sort of pants them?

Sally Rigby: I am a plotter through and through. Absolutely. And I plan everything in real life. This would be no surprise to anyone that knows me. I write lists about making lists. So I just plan everything. When I first started writing I came across something called the snowflake technique. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

Tom Ashford: I’ve heard of it. I haven’t used it personally.

Sally Rigby: Yeah. So I used it, and I followed it religiously. I liked some parts of it, but not others. So I sort of changed it a bit to suit me.

But then from there I went on to outlining using a big sheet that one of my editors gave to me. And then once I’d done the outline, then I would write a detailed scene spreadsheet. Which obviously, every single scene in the book is detailed, so I know everything that’s going on in there. And that’s what I still use today.

I don’t use the beat sheet that this particular editor gave me, but I do use another one that I got. Not because I like doing that, because I hate it. Working out beats in stories just like, it boxes me all the time. But one of my critique partners is brilliant at structure. I just know that if I don’t do the beat sheet first, I might get the structure wrong.

Tom Ashford: Right.

Sally Rigby: But then I always have my scene spreadsheet. I print it off and I start writing the book. I scribble all over it because I do change it. I add things, take things away, scribble all over it, but I have to work to that.

I actually did try pantstering. Pantstering, is that a word? Probably.

Tom Ashford: It can be.

Sally Rigby: I tried being a pantster once, and honestly I sat in front of the screen, couldn’t write a thing. I just stared at it and I didn’t know what to do. Because I’d heard writers saying that if they plan then it loses the joy for them, so they can’t write. So they like to just, I think they discover as they go what’s going to happen. But not for me.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: I am just totally opposite.

Tom Ashford: Fair enough.

What sort of software do you use? Do you use Scrivener or Word, or what do you write with?

Sally Rigby: I use Word. I have used Scrivener in the past. But for me, I don’t really need it, because I’ve got my scene spreadsheet. I don’t use all the little cork boards and all that sort of stuff. So Word works fine for me.

Tom Ashford: Is there a certain time and place that you prefer writing?

Sally Rigby: I am a morning person. Very much a morning person. I’m surprised I’m awake now talking to you, so if you hear snoring you know what’s happened.

I get up very early in the morning and I write. I do other things, but I always write first. And I will work through the day, and I stop at five o’clock. Because at five o’clock that’s when The Chase is on, and everything stops with The Chase.

Tom Ashford: Question number three is are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?

Sally Rigby: Yes, I am a full-time author, but I’m not paying my way yet.

What was the answer to that? How did I get there? It was when we hopped over to Australia for five years, but preferred New Zealand, so came back. And we sold our business over there.

When I came back, I started life coaching, and I mainly ended up coaching writers and doing writing courses with a friend of mine. But at the end of last year I finished with all my clients, we finished with all the courses, and I thought, I’m going to commit myself totally to writing just to see if I could make a go of it.

So that’s what I’m doing. So yes, full time. But luckily we don’t need my money to survive on.

Tom Ashford: Okay. Well question number four is one that everyone definitely answers.

What mistakes do you think you’ve made? And after that, what have you got right?

Sally Rigby: Gosh, mistakes. How many?

I’ll tell you what, the worst mistake I made was probably in 2015. That was a few years ago. I’d got the rights back for that first young adult book that I sold, and I wrote a couple of young adult novellas and a nonfiction book. So I did all the research on how to publish, how to put it up on Amazon, and getting everything right. Because there was some stuff out there, I think it was Nick Stephenson was around them.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: And Catlin. Who else? There was a few people out. So I did all that. And then in my infinite wisdom, decided to ignore the bit that said you have to do some marketing, because I didn’t like marketing and I didn’t think it mattered. Because anytime when I was with a traditional publisher and they wanted us to do anything related to marketing, I just thought, oh God, no. I can’t do that.

So for the whole of 2015… Funnily enough, I happened to be looking through the other day how much money I’ve made when I was comparing what I did now. For the whole of 2015 in the self-publishing arena, I made $200.

Tom Ashford: Oh wow.

Sally Rigby: I think the moral of that story is don’t be a dick and think you know best, because in some instances you don’t.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: So that’s probably my biggest mistake, I would say.

But then I think, well, if I’d done it right, would I then now have moved on to writing what I really love doing? Which is the crime fiction stuff, which, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I wish I’d done it sooner. But I might not have done, had my self-publishing taken off with the young adult stuff. So maybe it was for the best. Who knows?

Sally Rigby: So what did I do right?

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: Probably echoing what lots of other people. Without question, 100%, taking the 101 Course in the Ads For Authors.

Tom Ashford: Of course.

Sally Rigby: And I’m not just saying that because we’re on the SPF Podcast, but there’s no way I would be where I am now if I hadn’t taken it. I didn’t know about it. It was recommended to me by an author friend here in New Zealand, and she told me that she had done the courses and made six figures in 12 months. Well, I nearly fell off my chair, because I thought, oh God, I want some of that. If I hadn’t have done that, who knows what would have happened?

And I watch all the SPF videos. In fact, I’ve watched them over and over again. And I refer to them all the time when I’m doing something like a new launch or new ads, just to refresh my memory on what to do.

And I also do also follow other people as well, because I think that’s a good thing to do. So I listen to the SPF Podcast, I listen to Joanna Penn. I read blogs. I like Nicholas Erik and David Cochran. I’ve read books by Chris Fox and David Potter, Tammi Labrecque.

The only thing that I have learned is you have to be a bit more selective because you can suffer from information overload.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: And also you get the situation where some people contradict each other. So you do have to work out what works for you, basically.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. There’s nothing absolute. Everyone’s going to have different advice and different methods that worked for them and made them successful.

Sally Rigby: 100%, yes. Yeah, you’ve got to see what works. Some will, some won’t.

Tom Ashford: Final question.

Question number five is what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Sally Rigby: I’ve thought about this a lot, because I know, obviously, that that was one of the questions. And treating it as a business and things like that, 100% important.

But when I thought, and I try not to sound too cliched here, because I suspect I might be literal with these, but anyone starting out, you have to travel your own path. Because every person’s journey, I’ve put the quote marks around journey, because I know that journey is not a word that Mark likes, so hopefully they won’t hear that. But every person’s journey is different.

And not only that, you’ve got to enjoy it. Enjoy the process. You’ve got to celebrate every little milestone, because they do add up. Each little step you take is sending you in the direction that you want to go.

And with that in mind, don’t compare yourself with others, because that’s fatal. In fact, I can tell you something that happened to me this week.

Tom Ashford: Please do.

Sally Rigby: I’m just releasing book three in my Cavendish & Walker series, and for the first time I put it on a short pre-order. So like about a week. The other day I looked in Amazon at the pre-orders, because I am in Amazon every five minutes checking everything, obviously. And I’d got 24 pre-orders. I was so excited about that.

So I emailed my critique partners, told my husband, I was really excited. So probably about 10 minutes after I did that I happened to be on Facebook, and I saw Mark had got a post up there talking about how well he’d done. And he said that he’s got a new Milton book coming out next month. 8,000 pre-orders.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: But the thing is you cannot let that deflate you. Mark and I are in different realms. And it didn’t. I didn’t care. I was still really happy, because it was my journey, my little milestone, and I’m not going to compare myself to Mark or anyone else. You’ve got to do that. You know, you’ve just got to travel your own path. That’s what I’m trying to say.

And the other thing I would also say is, so I’m giving two bits of advice really.

Tom Ashford: It’s all good.

Sally Rigby: Don’t let everything overwhelm you, because there is so much to learn and there are so many different ways of doing things. You’ve got to do it one step at a time. It’s a bit like you’ve heard the elephant joke. How do you eat an elephant?

Tom Ashford: One bite at a time.

Sally Rigby: Yeah, one bite at a time. And that is literally what you have to do with your self-publishing career. Just take it one step at a time, and that way you’re not going to get overwhelmed. So yeah, basically my advice, tread your own path, enjoy the process, and tackle everything in bite sized chunks.

Tom Ashford: Nice. And you never know, in a year’s time, or two years time, or 10 years time, you might have 9,000 pre-orders.

Sally Rigby: One can hope.

Tom Ashford: Exactly.

Sally Rigby: I’d rather not do it in 10 years time.

Tom Ashford: No. But who knows?

Sally Rigby: Yeah. I’m enjoying it, anyway.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

Sally Rigby: It’s great.

Tom Ashford: Cool. Well, that’s it for your five questions. Thank you very much for coming on. And you can go and have a sleep now.

Sally Rigby: I’ll need to.

Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight.

Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit at

And if you want to appear as a guest on the show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at

I’m Tom Ashford, and I’ll see you again next week.

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