Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A letter to reviewers

As you know (Bob), reviewers are swamped by self-published books and many refuse to consider them. However, times are changing and that self-published book they're dismissing out of hand might not be the unedited mess they're expecting. With that in mind, I thought I'd explain myself in a cover letter to one particular reviewer, and after I'd written the thing I decided to share.

I'm Simon Haynes, a stay-at-home dad with a love of writing.

I gave up my day job in 2005, and have been here for my two daughters as they went through upper primary and now high school*. (The eldest graduates in a couple of months ... gulp.) Over the years I've got by with my programming skills and the occasional royalty cheque. Sometimes a struggle, sometimes stressful but always a family.

Anyway ... I've had four comedy scifi novels published by Fremantle Press since 2005. They were distributed by Penguin Australia across Australia and New Zealand, and they've been moderately successful. For example, book one had three printings and a couple of the others made the shortlist for prestigious genre awards.

Since my first novel came out I've done a load of school visits to enthuse about writing, most of them for upper primary ages.  Alas my books weren't really suitable for the audience, since Hal Spacejock was written for ages 15+.  This changed last year, when I decided to start a new series for kids.

I had an absolute blast writing the first book, drawing on the wild things my brother and I used to get up to growing up in the south of Spain. When I'm writing, if I don't have tears of laughter running down my face I'm not doing it properly.

I talk about growing up when I do my school visits, much to teachers' horror. Fortunately the book omits my alleged experiences with home made explosives, unlicensed air rifles, overhead power lines, scavenging for neat stuff at the local tip, riding motorbikes without a helmet at fourteen (and falling off, and treating my own gravel rash) and so on and so on. How I made it to adulthood is beyond belief, but boy do I have a lot of material for future novels. I've already used plenty in the Hal Spacejock series, but somehow there's an endless reservoir.

Anyway, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is my first kids' novel, and it'll be released in October ... but there's a bit of a twist.

It's really tough maintaining an open-ended series. No sooner would I release one Hal Spacejock book than the previous one would disappear from the shops. People weren't buying the new books because they couldn't find the first one, and it was impossible to attract new readers.

I was supposed to be writing Hal Spacejock book five instead of embarking on a whole new series, but I couldn't get motivated when I knew it would fail in the shops. Given the upheaval in the bookselling trade things began to look worse and worse, and in the end I approached my publisher for meeting. I went in there intending to ask for my electronic rights back (determined to e-publish Hal Spacejock for the US and UK markets), but they'd already decided not to proceed with book five. So .. freedom!

I fired off a few queries for my new series, then started thinking. Why go through the same demoralising process all over again? I know the Hal Spacejock cover artist personally - indeed, I suggested him to my publisher. I know two very good editors. I'm a computer programmer with 25 years experience and have oodles of small business skills. I have dozens of people willing to proofread and give me feedback along the way. My publisher calls me the one-man-marketing machine.

You can see where this is going - yes, Hal Junior is a self-published title. I'm one of the new wave of midlist authors ditching trade publishers to branch out on our own. I'm hiring the professionals who usually work on my novels and handling the business and publicity side myself. I'm also re-releasing all the Hal Spacejock novels to date in new, revised editions.

That's my story in a large nutshell. All I really wanted to ask is whether you're interested in a review copy but I'm afraid this email got out of hand. I believe Hal Junior is a very funny, very fast-moving scifi comedy for 9-12 year olds, and obviously I don't want it to languish in a digital catalogue, unread and unknown to the kids I wrote it for.

Hal Junior will be available through regular Australian trade distributors: TheNile.com.au, Emporium Books Online, Dennis Jones & Associates, ALS Library Services, James Bennett, and DA Information Services.

There are many more outlets overseas, all listed on the home page.

Hal Junior won't be stocked in bookstores but my plan is to target schools directly. I have good contacts in that area, some of them already involved in feedback for the book. If I'm right about the book, word of mouth will do the trick.

Sorry about the monster email - just trying to cover all bases!

If you're willing to take a chance on my work, please contact me for a review copy. If Hal Junior pans out I may be able to work from home long enough to see both my lovely daughters through university.

Simon Haynes
Author & Programmer
Spacejock Software: FCharts, yWriter and more (www.spacejock.com)
Hal Spacejock: Think Spinal Tap, not Benny Hill (www.spacejock.com.au)
Hal Junior: My new series for kids (www.haljunior.com)

* In Australia, High School runs from year 8 to year 12 (Graduates are usually 17 or 18, although my eldest will be 16.)

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


Carissa said...

Is aurealisXpress on your list of reviewers? We'll take a look. See http://aurealisxpress.blogspot.com/p/about.html

Simon Haynes said...

Thanks Carissa - I was definitely planning to reach out to the spec-fic scene in this country. I wasn't sure how many places were keen to see junior fiction, but I guess I'll find out ;-)

Caesia said...

Have you tried contacting Scholastic? If you want to market in primary schools, that would be the way to go.

And when you say you'll be revising Hal Spacejock - does that mean I'll have to buy them all again? Because I will if I have to! :)

Satima Flavell said...

At the Specusphere, we have a policy of not reviewing self-published books - unless the author has already been published by a paying market. When we first started, we reviewed a few self-pubbed books, gave them the reviews they deserved and in a couple of cases found the authors did not know how to behave professionally - i.e. to take it on the chin. Instead, they wrote scathing letters to us and to mailing lists. So we decided that reviewing self-published books by amateurs was simply not worth the hassle. It's a pity, because there are actually some very good self-pubbed books around, but a few rotten apples can spoil the entire barrel.

Simon Haynes said...

Caesia - I queried Scholastic re publishing Hal Jnr at the beginning of June but am not holding my breath. My plans have changed now, in any case, and I'm going ahead with my own imprint. As for distribution, I'm pretty sure they'd only do that for their own titles. (On distribution, I had a bit of a win yesterday: A school books supplier in my state wants a couple of evaluation copies for their reps.)

Re you buying any and all revised editions ... hmm, maybe I don't need to write new books after all! Hal 1 has been rewritten but I'll email you the ebook if you contact me via my website.

Satima - as you say, the unprofessional behaviour of a few can wreck things for everyone. Quite a few blog reviewers have a policy of not posting bad reviews. (If they don't like a book they don't read it, they ditch it.) If you don't agree with the policy, they suggest you don't send them a review copy.

To me this sounds like a win-win. Why? Because if you write a lousy self-pubbed book and it's panned everywhere, you may never recover. On the other hand, if you rewrite it and release a new version which is actually quite good, you don't want all those negative reviews of an earlier edition associated with it (or your name!)

Caesia said...

That makes sense. And that would be amazing, I'll send you through an email right away!