Thursday, March 31, 2005

Publicity & such

I got a nice surprise today. I enjoyed a coffee at the publisher's premises and got to chat to most of the people there, and then spent some time with Nyanda, the marketing and promotions manager. That's when I discovered my novel is coming out two months ahead of schedule, so the release date will now be September 2005. Wow, less than six months to go.

I've promised to do my bit for publicity by supplying a list of SF reviewers which the publisher can send books to. SF is a brand new field for them, so their contacts are mainstream. They'll still send out review copies as usual, but my years in the SF field are hopefully going to unearth a killer list of luminaries. I'm having a fine time at the moment scouring the web for SF reviews in Australia, hunting down names & contact details and pasting everything into a notepad file.

"That's their job," you say. Yes, the publisher might regard your input as unwanted interference from a busybody author, so a brief chat before you start suggesting hundreds of bright ideas would be wise. Just ask them what, if anything, you can do to help. If they don't want you interfering, no problem. Don't hassle them.

Ok, they're happy for you to help. "But I don't want to do that stuff," you say. Believe me, you DO. Remember, the publicity people have a dozen or more books to promote, so the effort you put in will be appreciated. If you don't do it and they don't have time, where does that leave your book?

I forgot to ask whether to confine myself to Australian reviewers. My book will be on Amazon so a 'foreign' review would still be beneficial. On the other hand, it costs around ten bucks for the publisher to post a single copy overseas, and only two bucks within Australia.

Finally for today: The official site for the Hitchhiker's guide movie The trailer is amusing. Marvin is great, and I swear that's Alan Rickman's voice. (If they ever make a Spacejock movie he's a shoe-in for the baddie in book one. Actually, he's pretty much a shoe-in for the baddie in any movie.)

Now, back to the Hal Spacejock II synopsis.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Die cast & set in concrete.

Last week my editor asked me to have a go at a back cover blurb for my novel. I confess I've had a LOT of practice at this - I self-published 3 novels, and because I only printed a tiny quantity each time I've gone through more blurbs than an ink jet goes through vastly overpriced cartridges. But this time I only have one shot at the most important sentences in the entire book (and the ones most people will read... before they stick the thing back on the shelf.)

I came up with this after much brain-scratching. It's not supposed to be finished art, just a concept which explains the idea I was toying with. Does it make the book sound interesting? Fun? Feel free to participate by posting a comment below. They'll likely use something else entirely, and I have their 'write a blurb please' request figured as (a) a cunning ruse to see if I'm really a busy-body or (b) something to keep me out of their hair for a while.

They also asked whether I could secure cover quotes. All my books have been reviewed, and I've collected a few decent comments over the years ("Hey, this doesn't suck!") But I thought it would be nice to have something new, so I contacted an author and a reviewer whose only crime was to make positive noises about the earlier editions of my book. Their punishment was to be put on the spot, to be asked for a cover quote for this new edition, something which would con your ordinary, average book buyer into thinking I'd written something worth reading. (Side note - you'll see me having a go at myself quite often. I like to get the boot in before everyone else does. Dang it, there I go again...)

While all this organising was going on I received two countersigned copies of the contract. I wanted my wife to witness my signature, since it's a big event for me and I was keen to share it with the special person in my life. Unfortunately we both had different events on over Easter, and found ourselves 400km apart for 5 days. She was playing in a concert band, I was attending a science fiction convention for the magazine I'm involved with. So, an hour or so after we both got home today (the kids were 50km away, staying with their grandparents) we did the signing thing and I mailed off the publisher's copy. Done deal.

Regarding artwork, the publisher is talking to Les Petersen, the artist who drew the original covers for all three of my novels. Because Fremantle Arts Centre Press are primarily a literary house, a lot of their books have arty covers. And my books ain't literary. I had a nagging worry (ok, I was sick with worry) that Hal Spacejock would appear with a cover which made it look all highbrow and literary and arty. But if they use Les's artwork there's stuff all chance of that, so my mind is eased. (You can see the older covers on - one picture is worth 1000 words of blog.)

I'm also keeping an eye on Amazon. Using the advanced search you can find books by a particular publisher, sorted by release date. I can already see Fremantle Arts books up to June 30, so I'm expecting November books to appear some time after July. Don't worry, I'll list the URL for the book the second it appears - I have quite a few people waiting to order it, and you can add your name here.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I have this thing with my lower back - a couple of vertebrae with bone spurs or something (looks like dracula fangs on the Xray) I found out about 3 or 4 years ago. It's nothing major, just one of those things you live with. I just have to pick things up properly (bend knees, keep back straight) and twisting with heavy weights is out.

Despite precautions, from time to time I'll do the wrong thing and endure a week or more of discomfort. Twice now I've really done it, causing all sorts of grief as I'm confined to bed for 5-7 days, totally unable to walk. Right now is one of those times.

So, I'm typing this through a haze of anti-inflammatories & heavy-duty painkillers. Lucky for me I picked up a new laptop barely 6 weeks ago. It's an el-cheapo machine, light on the features, but it has that essential component built in - a DVD player. Say no more.

On the books front, I've agreed to the draft contract and the publisher is sending me a witnessed contract to sign. This contract covers my first three novels, and while there are clauses I'd liked to have altered, I've decided to take a longer term view. After all, I didn't get into this game expecting overnight success - I typed the first words of book one over ten years ago now. These aren't the last novels I'm going to write, and I've always joked about writing 15 in the Hal Spacejock series for a start. (That's one way to get a bookstore shelf to yourself - cf. Pratchett)

You read about authors who get sick of their major characters and kill them off rather than being forced to write more books with them in. (e.g. Doyle with Sherlock Holmes) Why is this? Some want to use their fame and fortune to do something experimental or arty. Some run out of ideas. Some of them resent their popular and famous characters, who become better known than the author themselves. To wannabe writers who would sell their soul to get one book into print, let alone a never-ending series, this seems precious, selfish and dumb. Maybe when Hal 14 rolls around I'll feel different, but if people want more in the series I will feed off that demand and motivate myself to deliver. And I'd be more than happy for Hal and Clunk to be the famous ones while I pull their strings from the shadows.

I recently created PAD files for all my software programs - these are like the CIP information you find in the front of books, a sort of electronic catalogue entry. The beauty with PAD files is that you stick them in a folder on your web site and then tell the central repository where to find them. Over time, freeware and shareware sites pick up the files and list your programs in their download sections. And here's the best bit: when you change the PAD with a new version of the software, all those sites pick up the new details and update their records. I have 11 programs listed now at, and there's usually a new version of one of them every week. I double-click a batch file and records all over the planet are updated within 24 hours... science fiction indeed. Yesterday 2 sites listed updates and I immediately got 1300+ unique visitors.

Google is obviously the dominant search engine, and it can be an ego boost to go searching for your own programs to compare the rank with others. For example, my new MP3 player sofware (yPlay) leapt to the top of all searches in about 24 hours. Terms like "Freeware MP3 player" and "Freeware Ogg Player" took longer, but searching Google Australia for those terms brings my site up first. I don't understand how it works, but I guess Spacejock has a fairly good Google ranking for something so generic to go to #1 so quickly. Then again, with the transient nature of the web they could be on page 65 two months from now.

If the Spacejock novels take off it will be interesting to see how quickly the word 'Spacejock' becomes associated with my books instead of my software. Right now it's about ten thousand to one in favour of the software, but I'll certainly be keeping an eye on it.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The joys of line edits

I come to you with bleary eyes, sick of the sound of my own writing. What better time to pontificate in a blog, eh?

On Friday I received an email with a line-edited version of my novel, Hal Spacejock. This is the rewritten version which Freo Arts Press will be publishing later in the year, and the editor has gone through it line by line to find confusing bits, things which could be expressed better and so on.

I printed the revised version and jumped from one change to the next, applying the ol' red pen and approving or reversing each one. It was easy work, since the editor was kind enough to send me a version with all changes tracked.

Next I took the slab of paper and entered all my own changes into the word processor. Then I printed another copy of the book, took it away and read it cover to cover - all 81,767 words of it. There's something addictive about tweaking a fresh slab of text, and I will often find myself stripping 200 commas from one draft only to insert 250 during the next. (For example, the comma in the previous sentence isn't necessary. But if you take it out and re-read it you might find that a comma after 'text' does indeed improve it.) So, after 17 hours straight I had 250+ A4 pages covered with red scribble. I returned to the computer and entered those changes. Sunday I printed another copy and repeated the process, and this time there were only 2 or 3 changes per 6 or 7 pages. Monday I printed another copy and once again repeated the process. This time there were only 2 or 3 changes per 20 pages. Today I'm reading the book with the red pen lying on the floor beside me - with the understanding that I can only pick it up for stuff-ups.

The problem is that I don't know how my editor will react when this little hand-grenade lobs into her inbox. Am I a dedicated professional writer because I did 4 more draft copies to polish this thing to the highest possible standard I'm capable of? Or am I a perfectionist nut who's just created hours more work for an already overworked editor? I feel like the latter to be honest, although I was only striving for the former. She's going to receive this word document evocative of that old joke. (What's black and white and red all over? A draft of Hal Spacejock!) If you've used the 'track changes' mode in a word processor you'll know what I mean - it's possible to switch between the normal black and white mode, and a mode where everything you've deleted shows up in red with a strike-through line right in the middle of the text.

Oh well, tomorrow I'll discover whether I'm Pro or Nut.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

British Telly

Ok, I admit it. I'm a big fan of British Telly, particularly shows from the mid 70's to mid 80's. Probably because we emigrated to Spain in the mid-70's and I didn't SEE any telly until we moved to Australia in the mid-80's. And don't we always want what we missed?

Anyway, in the 80's I managed to catch a lot of repeats of programs like Minder & The Professionals but they were usually tucked into a midnight time slot and interspersed with cheesey ads which seemed to overwrite bits of the programs. In other words, nobody bothered to stop the program while the ads were playing.

The whole VCR revolution passed me by... I didn't buy a single film or show on video, knowing that tape wears quickly and I was basically renting the show for 3-4 years before it was unwatchable.

But when DVDs started appearing I went nuts. On my shelf I have dozens of films, including many from the SF genre, a complete set of Minder episodes (up 'til Dennis Waterman left the show), a recently purchased set of The Professionals (Bodie & Doyle plus the Cow) and I have a complete set of the Sweeney on the way.

There's something about popping a DVD into the player and watching an episode end-to-end which has been completely missing from commercial TV since ITV used to have a single intermission in the middle of a show (helpfully titled 'end of part one') I don't know how anyone puts up with animated station logos, watermarks, bouncing banner ads, flashing 'coming up next Wednesday' announcements and so on right across the program they're watching but I voted with the off button somewhere around 1994.

I have to admit I'm a sucker for boxed sets: give me 16 DVDs worth of episodes over a couple of films any day. Which is why I've yet to buy any Dr Who episodes. Well, apart from the fact they're best remembered as exciting shows from my childhood - watching them these days is like reading your own early fiction... a slow, dawning realisation that it was never as good as you thought it was. What they've done with this show is to package up each episode (4 or 5 parts, about 2 hours worth of vision) into a tardis-like box which sells for a fortune. I'm sure it's great for people who want to collect a certain fondly-remembered episode, but it ain't gonna fly for me.

But is it worth buying something like a TV program on DVD when you can watch it for free? Well, maybe they cost money but let's weigh up the financials:

On TV, a 1 hour episode contains about 17 minutes of ads, so 24 episodes equals almost 7 hours of adverts. If you value your leisure time at $10 per hour you've just saved $70, which will pay for most boxed sets.

Next, a doctor's visit might run to $25. You make me sit through 24 hours of station promos and I'll need several visits for high blood pressure, some expensive medication and a new TV thanks to the remote I'll have launched through the old one.

Then there's the 'missing episode' problem. You're about to sign a deal for a new house when you realise program X is on telly. Do you chuck the estate agent out so you can watch the episode, thus missing out on your dream home? Or do you skip the program because some things are more important than finding out who shot JR? Or do you carefully program the VCR... with the wrong channel? Aggro plus.

There was a series in the 80's called Chessgame. It was a three parter starring Terrence Stamp which was shown in six parts in Australia (so they could cram more adverts in). The problem is, back in December 1983 the final part of this gripping spy thriller was being shown 1/2 hour after our plane left for Australia. That taught me a lesson about watching multi-part shows on live TV which I've never forgotten. 3 weeks ago, some 21 years after watching parts 1 and 2, I managed to see the final part of this series. On DVD.

I rest my case.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)