Paperback Writer: New Author’s Journey to Self-Publishing Bliss

In late September, self-published author Robert Mottley sent the final revisions for his novel, Prayers of God. Though Robert, 71, has spent decades as a writer and editor for various publications, the Christian-themed fiction novel is his first brave foray into full-length book publishing.

Robert was kind enough to share his personal story and his experience as a first-time book author with Outskirts Press. His journey is a long, colorful trek into self-publishing.

Robert Mottley is more experienced than most writers. However, his entree into novels began, in a way, on Sept. 11, 2001, when Mottley was nearly killed by falling concrete at the American Shipper office in the New York’s World Trade Center. The life-altering event is described in Prayers of God, which he began writing in earnest after his retirement in 2006.

“I have always been a cynic, snark-mouthed and foul-witted, keeping well clear of churches, ministers and (especially) priests,” Robert says. “So it came as a huge shock to find myself writing a novel about what might drive a deity to pray, why and how. It started with short stories that grew into each other and then became a coherent if broad tapestry.”

Prayers of GodPrayers of God by Robert Mottley

Would empathy for humans ever compel god to pray? If so, to whom and for what?

In almost every religion sustained by fear-mongering, shamans dissuade their faithful sheep from contemplating the countenance of whatever deity they worship, citing abiding damnation as a well-deserved punishment for anyone who is reckless enough to do so. Exodus 33:20-23 suggests an alternative, albeit one that divinity students are advised never to quote publicly. The Hebrews’ Lord tells Moses that “while my glory passeth by, I will cover thee with my hand. And I will take away my hand and thou shall see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen.” Yet all caveats about viewing either end of a divine construct seem one-sided. Who warns God about looking too closely at humankind? This novel, a mosaic tapestry in which timelines and genres interweave, suggests how a modern-era deity would cope with the trauma surely induced by such exposure. Prayers of God developed from “an odd trinity of catalysts: Rabelais, Martin Luther and Wikipedia.”

“Terrific, superbly paced, pitch-perfect, wonderful in so many ways.” — William John Kennedy, professor of comparative literature, Cornell

It was in 2011 that a mutual friend persuaded the well-known Cornell professor of comparative literature, William Kennedy, to read Mottley’s manuscript. “Kennedy really liked my work, saying that it was as good as anything he taught,says Robert.

He spent the next 20 months refining his manuscript until there was no more he could do with it – except to publish. Before his book could see the light of day through any “traditional” publishing means, he admits, he and his manuscript faced a few hurdles:

  1. First was the “closed circle” of the publishing world that can prove impossible to penetrate, even for previously published authors. “According to sources within major-house publishing, editors and agents play a very neat game. The former, as a rule, read no [unsolicited] submissions, while the latter are not taking on new clients.”
  2. The second hurdle was getting an agent or editor, once they’ve accepted the manuscript, to actually read it. None was likely to scroll down 109,000 words of the unknown and unproven on a computer monitor. “This is a book you must have in your hands to appreciate its intent,” Robert says. “Given the hermetic circle cited above, even a bound manuscript ($50 from Staples) would likely be tossed at the door.”
  3. “A third problem would be the reception awaiting my novel if it were actually accepted in manuscript form by a major publisher. There’s a lot of satire that stings, very black humor, and enough sex to vex prudes on patrol. I would be urged, probably required, to soften if not mute the text.”

So, last May, Robert began researching self-publishing firms online, and eventually came across Outskirts Press. His first contact was Publishing Consultant, Jamie Belt.

“In our first talks and then subsequent emails, I began to think that I was in a kind of publishing Brigadoon. There was no arrogance, no bluster – just straightforward information.”

Robert chose the affordable Sapphire option, opting for a paperback edition he could send to selected editors, agents and writing grant sources. For those purposes, his book would need to be as close to perfect as he and his self-publishing team could get it. “I knew that critical and merciless eyes would be reading it, and that even small flaws would have the effect of gravel in a sandwich.”

“Brie Curtis helped me with the cover options. She was remarkably intuitive in guiding me toward what might work best within my budget constraints. I chose a black military-style script appearing on a pure white background. Seeing that on the galley screen gave a real jolt, love at first sight.”

With the cover nailed down, that left Robert with his next concern: the proofs. “There were traps aplenty awaiting any designer setting my pages. Prayers of God is a mix of prose, scenes from a play, scenes from a screenplay, free-standing scripts of dialogue, and counterpoint called ‘antiphons.’ I had indicated in the text files what had to be in boldface or italic type. Much was not optional. One character speaks entirely in italic, another all in capital letters. Stylistically, it could have been a shambles.

“… Except that it wasn’t. The galley pages surpassed what I had hoped for. The chosen typeface was easy on the eye and yet not clinical-appearing. Brie Curtis’ design team had made all of the right aesthetic choices. The overall format of the text was absolutely on target. The eventual look of the published book is stunningly effective. (A friend who had brought her copy to read while waiting for a medical appointment had it yanked out of her hand by her doctor, who demanded to know what it was.)”

Robert Mottley also gives kudos to copy editing, which caught scores of typos and formatting irregularities that are to be expected in an unedited or self-edited manuscripts. “Outskirts’ correction fees are certainly not unreasonable. My total outlay thus far, for the paperback’s initial printing and subsequent corrections, is $902.50. That, in perspective, is less than the cost of a replacement tooth. That is also an interesting commentary on the supposed high costs always cited by major publishing houses in justifying their alleged overheads, usually at an author’s expense.”


Robert Mottley began his writing career as a reporter and columnist for his hometown newspaper in Roanoke, Va. He later moved to New York City where, for 34 years, he worked as a staff editor for a maritime union publication for eight years; then for 12 years at Colonial Homes, a Hearst home shelter magazine; and at American Shipper, an international shipping and logistics magazine, for 11 years. Mottley also edited a journal for the American Montessori Society for 16 years in addition to regular freelancing. Mottley taught writing workshops for New York University’s School of Continuing Education and lectured about logistics for both military and civilian college classes. He edited an anthology of essays by Marya Mannes, a pioneering media commentator, and published by a former Doubleday editor under his own imprint.

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