CBWC Awards Feature
Hooked on Books
Crystal Leonardi Bowerbird Publishing
Words by Janie Barton
Images by Every Moment Photography & Captured by Catherine
Crystal Leonardi’s road to publishing her first book in 2021 took her on a journey through the challenging publishing minefield that saw her achieve success not only for herself but for hundreds of other budding authors.
Following the publication of her award-winning debut novel ‘Boy of Steel’, the mum of four and farmer’s wife who lives in Julatten established Bowerbird Publishing to provide writers throughout Australia and New Zealand an opportunity to publish their books.
“My journey started as a self-published author, and I realised very quickly through networks with other writers and writers’ groups that there are so many talented writers out there who simply aren’t sharing their story because they can’t secure a book deal,” said Crystal, who was a finalist in the 2023 Cairns Business Women’s Club Sole Entrepreneur Category.
“So, very early on I found a lot of the work I was doing with Bowerbird Publishing was mentoring writers to get back on track and freshen up their manuscripts, grow their confidence and realise that their manuscript does hold merit and is publishable. Just because no one said yes doesn’t mean it’s not credible work.”
Crystal explained that the major publishing companies in Australia do not respond to the majority of submissions they receive. When writers don’t receive feedback, she said many tend to give up on their publishing dreams.
“The reality is there are 6000 books published in Australia every month,” she said. “I know myself how many manuscripts I get across my desk every month; I can’t even imagine how many the major publishing companies get.”
“I don’t think writers realise that when setting out to find a publisher. They’re very excited about the potential of their work for publishing. However, when they don’t get the validation they seek from a publisher, they give up.”
When Bowerbird Publishing started, Crystal’s aim was to help people self-publish.
“What I was trying to do was help writers recognise that getting a book deal isn’t the only way to publish,” she said. “You can absolutely become successful through self-publishing.”
She wrote a handbook called ‘6 Steps to Self-Publishing’ and started workshops around Cairns, Mossman and Mareeba. What she discovered was a common demand for her to do the publishing for them. That’s when she became a fully-fledged publisher.
“I take on writers, edit their work, do all the design work for their book including the cover, distribute the book and become their publishing agent,” said Crystal, who recently increased her skill set by studying editing and graphic design. “I’m hands-on with every step of the publishing project.
“It’s not like the author is working with a whole team of people who they don’t really know. The author has a direct line to me, so it’s a personalised professional service that’s as good as, if not better, than a traditional publisher because the author gets exactly what they want.
“I’m not manipulating manuscripts, designs or styles to be more marketable,” she added. “Bowerbird Publishing ensures that all books are a true representation of the author’s vision, while preserving their voice and style.”
Furthermore, Crystal does not take ownership of the book’s copyright, nor does she profit from the sales of the books.
Bowerbird Publishing distributes the books (both hard copy and eBooks) to Amazon and IngramSpark, which gives her authors global exposure. Her authors are listed with the National Library of Australia and suppliers to Australian and New Zealand libraries, which also market books to retailers throughout Australia and New Zealand each month. She also registers the books with Australian Library Catalogues and Lending Rights, which give authors payment when their book is borrowed from the library.
Also included in her publishing packages is marketing which includes help with a book launch, press release, website and social media announcements. All books are then listed on the Bowerbird Publishing online bookshop. Crystal, likewise, showcases authors at various events she is involved in, giving them an opportunity to speak and promote their books.
To help budding writers, Crystal offers a manuscript appraisal where, for a small fee of $150, she will read their work and present them with a comprehensive report offering advice on how to make their manuscript publishable. She provides authors with a 1000-word sample edit to further enhance their work. A publishing quote is then offered to the author, depending on their needs.
“After a manuscript appraisal, some writers come back to me for publishing, or they pitch to the leading publishing agents,” Crystal said. “Whether they choose Bowerbird or decide to go elsewhere, it helps them improve their work, and makes me very happy to have helped them bring their books to life.”
She has recently added a new service to her publishing company by working with author and scriptwriter Samantha C Ross, who has been involved in scriptwriting for television with Village Roadshow. Sam is the author of three novels and offers screen appraisals alongside script-development consultation. A Far North local, she likewise has plans to create a casting agency/talent management service to accommodate Queensland’s new world-class TV and film production facility in Cairns.
“She has lots of experience in the industry, so she brings a really amazing wealth of knowledge in an area I had no idea about,” Crystal said. “I am excited to see Samantha bring her knowledge to clients of Bowerbird Publishing, allowing authors to convert their manuscripts into screenplays and pitch their work to production companies.”
Crystal’s journey into publishing came about from writing about her two-year-old son’s diagnosis with brain cancer in her book ‘Boy of Steel’. The book landed her in the spotlight as it quickly became a beacon of hope for many.
“Only three and a half years ago we were in Queensland Children’s Hospital with a critically ill son, and now I’m flat out running a business,” she said, adding that her son is doing well, has just finished chemo and started prep this year. The family travels to Brisbane every 12 weeks for his check-ups.
Crystal has received many accolades, including being a winner in the 2022 AusMumpreneur Author of the Year Award. In 2023, she has been named a finalist for CBWC and Woman of the Year for BEAM in Business awards.
“I joined CBWC last year when I was really looking to spread my wings, and I was just blown away by the camaraderie, support, connections and networking opportunities,” she said. “I definitely recommend it.”
While she’s a one-person business right now, she has plans to employ someone soon so she can help more authors.
“There are manuscripts across my desk that are incredible, and I think to myself, why have these not been snapped up by one of the major publishing companies,” she said. “I genuinely get really excited about new talent and some of the incredible books I am privileged to read.
“I’m really passionate about my business, and it really does bring me so much joy to help other writers.”
Learn more about Crystal and Bowerbird Publishing by visiting her website www.crystalleonardi.com