Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Boot camp for self-published authors

What if I could tell you about a secret society which can open doors for you? Give your books a leg-up in the competitive bookselling trade?

Actually, it's not a society and it's not even secret, but it is damned hard to get in. I'm talking about trade publishing.

These days there are quite a few self-pubbed authors who have never been within a hundred miles of a publishing contract. I found one today, quite by accident, when I was going through the latest catalogue from my local bookstore. Something caught my eye and I went off to google the author. Turns out it was self-pubbed on Amazon and has now been picked up by major publishers around the world. (And all credit to the author for their success.)

There are also plenty of self- and indie-published authors who started out with trade publishers but - for whatever reason - are no longer with them. It doesn't matter what their current status is, indie or trade published, what matters is that having been trade published is like having a backstage pass.

An example: I approached a distributor who supplies local schools. As a self-pubbed author they might have considered my book, assuming it was available through their regular distributors, but chances are they'd have said no. On the other hand, I'm a previously-trade-published author who has - in the past - been invited to speak about my work at several of their functions. They've had my work on their shelves for years. As far as they're concerned I'm the same author with a new publisher.

That's just one example. Libraries, bookstores, all the schools I've visited (hundreds of which have my books in their libraries) ... each contact I've made as a trade-published author is ten times more important now I'm self-published.

Plenty of authors are now urging new writers to skip the rejection merry-go-round and build their careers via ebooks. We know it can work because we've all seen the success stories. All I'm saying is, if you're not a fantastic marketer and you'd rather write novels than sell them, consider going through 3 or 4 years of writer boot camp: that's agent hunting, querying, and hopefully trade publishing.

Who knows, with so many writers turning to self-publishing, maybe it's a little easier to get published now than it has been for some time?

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bringing people to your site

One way is to write a really great book, so everyone talks about it and you don't have to do a minute of self-promo for the rest of your life.

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

Spamming will only get you a bad name. Hitting your facebook friends and twitter followers with the same BMB posts over and over again will drive them away. Littering forums with Kindle links and snips from reviews posted by your best buddies is bad, very bad. Advertising fiction doesn't really work. CC'ing press releases to everyone you've ever received an email from is not good. So what does work?

Having more than one offering - that's good. Genuine reviews on amazon & smashwords are useful, but they won't help people to find your work in the first place. Blog reviews are great, as mentioned in previous posts. An effective website is good too - a cover shot, a synopsis, your bio, a press page with a downloadable press release, a sample ... all of these things help. A blog can be good, but it if you write about publishing and being an author, most of your readers will be writers (hi writers!) many of whom aren't interested in your genre or your novels. Fact of life.

A giveaway, posted to your website and linked from facebook and twitter - that can be effective. Free ebook copies on request. Desktop wallpaper featuring a design linked to your novel's cover art (clear this with the artist first, and provide several sizes.)

These are just some ideas. I've been posting articles on writing and publishing to my site for the past seven or eight years, and my website is the top result in many, many google searches. When I put up the page for Hal Junior, my new science fiction novel for kids, it went straight to number one for various searches (mostly Google Australia, but I'll take that ...)

When an aussie parent, teacher or librarian goes to Google and types in junior science fiction, then clicks 'pages from Australia', my yet-to-be-released novel is the very first hit. What's that worth in publicity terms?  Even on it's top of page 2, and it's the first actual book after several links to publisher and review sites.

It's taken years for me to generate the traffic and inbound links to achieve this, and who knows whether it's going to be useful long-term? I'm just pointing out that if your website provides things people are interested in, rather than being just a sales page for your novel, they will share the link and send others to have a look.

And on that note, have you seen the weekly science fiction comedy web comic featuring Hal Spacejock? It's only been out four days and it's already #10 in the google search results ...

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting reviews: self-published authors

Ah, the biggie. "Yes I could self-publish, but how will I get my name out there? Who's going to buy a book from an unknown author?"

First, make sure the writing, editing and cover are top notch. If you want to compete with the majors your product has to be in the same league. I don't mean it has to be the most beautiful literary creation in the history of the universe, just that it needs to look professional. When you flip through the pages and examine the back cover, it should be close to something you'd see in a bookstore.

Okay, it's professional. How do you get people to buy it?  Reviews, reviews, reviews. Word of mouth. More reviews.

You can approach major review sites, but they're unlikely to review self-pubbed books. Personally I'd concentrate on bloggers. There are lots out there, and as long as you read their review policies and act like a professional (there's that word again), you'll be fine. Many will post reviews to their blog, Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing and others. Every one of these multiplies your exposure. Many will allow you to quote snippets from their reviews, properly attributed, which is gold when you're trying to convince people your book is worth reading.

If they only accept paperbacks, don't try and talk them into ebooks. If they only accept ebooks, don't try and post them paperbacks. If they accept either, ask which they prefer. This is all common sense but you'd be amazed how many people think they're the exception. (What if you've published an ebook and your chosen reviewer doesn't accept them? Find another who does!)

I wrote a query letter which explained who I was and what I'd published in the past. I told them why I was excited about my new book and asked whether they'd care for a review copy. Then I thanked them for their time, attached a press release (optional) and hit send. (A word of warning: one reviewer wrote a brief reply with a link to her reviewer policy, reminding me she didn't accept e-copies. She hadn't realised the attachment was a press release, not my novel. In future I wouldn't attach anything.)

Wherever possible I start my email with their name, as long as I can find it, and if there was anything relevant to my novel in their contact page I'll mention it. For example, someone mentioned they loved Middle Grade science fiction and couldn't get enough of it. I altered my email for that reviewer so SF and MG were right there in the very first sentence.

Remember you're not fighting a battle here. If they don't want self-pub books, don't try and convince them otherwise. Some self-pub authors are combative, resentful, insecure and overly protective of their work, and your chosen reviewer has probably had to deal with all of those responses and more. Be professional, and know when to move on.

Other bloggers say they will only review books they enjoy. Cherish these people! If your novel isn't up to scratch, it's better to be widely ignored than tagged with one- or two- star reviews all over the internet. By the same token, don't send follow-up emails asking when they're going to review your book. They're not getting paid to review it. They owe you nothing.

Lastly, how do you find reviewers? I picked a novel in the same genre and searched on the title, the author, and the word 'review'. Google allows you to search blogs instead of websites, and there you go. Don't pick a really famous author because that'll return thousands of hits, many of them one-off reviews by fans.

So, that's my review plan laid out for all to see. If anyone has any feedback or comments, let me know! (If you don't have blogger I'm also on Facebook and Google+, or you can email me.)

Remember: reviewers are a precious resource. Don't annoy them, because they have even longer memories than authors do ;-)

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another way to increase your audience (SPJA)

Years ago, before Kindles and Nooks were even lines on a trademark application form, I was eager to make a name for myself. Like many in those days I turned to short fiction, which allowed me to experiment with different styles and genres without dedicating a year or more to each project.

I started about a hundred short stories, finished about a dozen and sold maybe six. Over the years, as I battled with obscurity, my wife would suggest tidying up and publishing more of these stories. I was focused on novels and didn't listen. (She also told me again and again that I should be writing children's fiction. One of these days I'll ask her to sign me as a client, because she's a much better career advisor than anyone else I know!)

Anyway, JA Konrath agrees with her: To build a presence you need a fan base, and if you're only writing novels it's way too long between drinks. Short fiction, assuming you're any good at the form, allows you to tickle your average reader like a trout, keeping them busy while you reach for the net. (Sorry readers. I don't really believe you're fishy.)

On the other hand, spamming forums and blogs with BMBs (Buy My Book! posts) is like chucking dynamite in the river. A few readers may float to the surface, dazed and disoriented, but they're not going to be long term fans.

Before you embark on a short fiction writing spree I recommend reading up on the form. Short stories should be self-contained, not just a chapter from the middle of a WIP. That means beginning, middle and end ... with the end the most important. They often focus on one character, one plot idea, one climax.

(I'm not trying to teach experienced short story writers how to go about their business here - just giving pointers.)

It can be harder to write an effective short story than a novel. Not in terms of effort or amount of work, it's just that you have a lot of room to move in a novel. You can spend whole paragraphs and chapters on background information and flashbacks, detailed characterisations and so on. In a short story you do the opposite: economical and sparse. Get in, entertain, get out.

So, I've taken all the advice (Konrath's AND my wife's) and started writing short fiction again. After years writing scenes and vignettes featuring Hal and Clunk, without really knowing what to do with them, I'm finally in a position to capitalise on all that hard work.

Recently I released my first ever Hal Spacejock short story (science fiction comedy), putting it on Kindle, Smashwords and my own site. I'll be writing more, and when I have enough I'll release them as a collection, maybe even in print. It's all good marketing, but more importantly I'm really enjoying the process.

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

Blog tours

Opinion is divided on blog tours, but I think the change of scenery can freshup up a blog. I'll be hosting Greg R. Fishbone next month, and I've agreed to appear on a couple of other blogs myself.

If you have a blog and would like me to drop by with a guest post, feel free to contact me. October would be good, what with my upcoming release and all ;-)

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dares and Deadlines

I can be an impetuous fellow at times. Right in the middle of editing Hal Junior and writing Hal book 5, I opened up the unfinished Hal Spacejock short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago. (Back then I was waiting to hear about the reversion of my rights to the series and was at a loose end.)

JA Konrath talks about the need to branch out and make more fiction available, and I agree. I've put a handful of shorts on Amazon and Smashwords but they're older things which were previously published in magazines. I've never sat down to write something for e-publication.

Anyway, this short story was 6000 words and the last two paragraphs were a bunch of ideas for the ending. I got a few chuckles out of it, but I knew it needed another 2000 words and I also knew I didn't have the time right now. Then I mentioned it on Facebook and a couple of people suggested I get on with it.

That's where the dare comes in: I rashly promised to write the missing ending, polish it and upload it to Amazon and Smashwords by Sunday night.

It's midday Saturday and I completed the 2000 words almost an hour ago. Amazing what you can achieve with a tight deadline, isn't it? Sure, I got up at 6.30 and haven't stopped for a breather, but I've finished a short story! I think the last time I did that was 2001.

I've just bashed a rough cover into shape and added all the publication details to my yWriter project, and I'm about to run off a printed copy and take it somewhere quiet with a red pen and a cup of coffee. Two passes ought to be enough, and it looks like I'll be able to share it in plenty of time.

I reckon a 99c price point is just right for a short story, and who knows - if this proves popular there could be more.

Update: Now available on Smashwords, Amazon (also UK & DE) and my own website

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why my release date is October 2011

Because Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming out in November.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SPJA - Yes, but what's your message?

When I was a kid, books were funny, adventurous, scary and entertaining. Kids got in trouble, dug themselves out of trouble, looked out for each other and basically enjoyed life. There were home-made catapults, risky behaviour, maybe a bit of aggro but it all worked out in the end.

I'm sure there are many new books which follow the same pattern, but boy are there lots of books with a Message. I don't mean subliminal, either - it's right there in the sales blurb so parents can collect the whole set: Social issues, hot topics, environmental messages ... let's wrap it in a plot and pitch it.

If kids' novels need a message to succeed then I'm in trouble, because the only message in Hal Junior is 'what's for lunch?'

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SPJA - Keeping track of everything

Right at this moment I'm in the middle of preparing Hal Junior for print and ebook release. Polishing the text is straightforward, and arranging the cover art involves a few emails and discussions. It's all the other publisher hats which can get overwhelming.

From the start I've been using Freemind, as per an earlier blog post. I set up nodes for various tasks (publicity) then sub-nodes (reviewers), then sub-sub nodes (Australia, UK, USA, etc), and then under each of those I add even more nodes: to contact, awaiting reply, heard back. Under heard back I have yes and no, and finally under Yes I have their details - website, contact email, address.

I can collapse the entire publicity node by clicking it, which means you can be looking at a screen with a few simple headings one minute - ebook version, print version, publicity, advertising, cover art, website, etc - and then you start clicking and before you know it the whole page explodes into a mad spider's nightmare.

The other good thing about Freemind (apart from the 'free' part) is that you can apply icons to your nodes. I use green ticks for items I've done, but there are also crosses, smilies, etc. You can also bold a node with Ctrl+B, and Ctrl+plus and Ctrl+minus make the font bigger or smaller, making the important ones easier to spot.

It's a handy tool, and when you add hyperlinks (to websites) and local links (to open files from your PC with a click), it's a fantastic dashboard for your entire self-pub enterprise.

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

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:, 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 (
Hal Spacejock: Think Spinal Tap, not Benny Hill (
Hal Junior: My new series for kids (

* 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)

Monday, August 22, 2011

SPJA - Structural Editing

 Editing is one of the biggies when it comes to self-published fiction, and the confusing thing is that there are many kinds of editing. Terms like proofing, editing and copyediting are sometimes used interchangeably, which doesn't help.

Deanna Hoak, a freelance copyeditor, has a blog post on Proofreading vs. Copyediting which should be required reading. (This is where I must recommend Pauline Nolet, who worked on my Hal Spacejock novels.)

When talking about editing, I'm referring to structural editing, and instead of going on and on about the subject I'll just point you to Jodi Cleghorn's blog post. (Don't you just love the labour-saving hyperlink device?)

Okay, now we're on the same page. Many self-published books need structural editing, most need copyediting, and they all need proofing.

How much you spend depends on your budget, your desire to make your book as professional as possible, and your publication schedule.

Structural editing can by provided by people you know. Just get your book into their hands, warn them it's an early draft, and ask them to point out one or more of the items from Jodi's post. The important thing is to tell them you're not asking for a pat on the back (or a raspberry). You don't have to overload your readers with a big list of things to look for - maybe split the tasks so that one person is just reporting back the most boring scenes in the book, or all the places they stopped reading and put the book down, or where they stopped reading and never got back into it.

This is why structural editing can be fraught, especially if you're precious about your work (or your relationships!) It's also why you must regard this as a first draft. I can't emphasise that enough. Tell your readers you want them to tear it apart, because this is an early version of your novel which can only improve with their help.

You'll have to convince yourself of the same thing, because if you start getting defensive and arguing with your first readers, you're sunk. We all know artistes who refuse to touch a word of their perfect prose - well, us working writers suck it up and get on with it.

By the way, you can't rewrite a novel and give it back to the original first readers. Even if they agree to read it they won't be coming at it fresh, and at best they'll skim it. Instead, give it to another set of readers. If you don't have many people to ask you can always split the book into chunks, write a brief summary of What Has Gone Before, and hand each person half a dozen chapters along with the relevant summary. Next time around, give them a different half dozen.

I always promise a signed copy of the book and I mention my first readers in the acknowledgements. (Always check with them first. Some prefer first name only, some don't want to be listed.) If you're not going for a print edition, consider a one-off ebook with a custom opening page thanking the person for their help.

That's freebies, what about a structural edit you have to pay for?  I've detailed the process my editor and I went through in a website article called 'Working with an editor'   This was on the publisher's dime, and the work I handed in was complex and intricate and needed a fair bit of untangling. What I'm saying is, don't expect anything that thorough without a large cheque (or check.)  Each pass through the book is another edit, and in the article I also mention copyediting and proofing, which are separate stages.

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

SPJA - different types of self-publishing

If you're following my SPJA (self-publishing journey acronym) series, I need to make one thing clear: My goal is to release a new junior/middle-grade science fiction series which is indistinguishable from similar titles released by major publishers. I'm hiring the same professionals the publishers do, and I'm asking them to do the same job.

If your intention is to publish your writing so you can share copies with family and close friends, you're reading the wrong blog. There's absolutely no point spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars producing something which is going to sell ten or fifty copies. You can get by with generic cover templates, clipart and the spell check & grammar tools in Word or OpenOffice.

Next: If you want to publish a professional novel but can't write fiction to a professional standard, you need to hone your craft before wasting good money on a fantastic cover and centimetre-perfect proofing. You cannot take lousy writing, polish it up, slap a cover on it and sell heaps of copies. (Yeah, I know .. insert obligatory 'What about Big Name Author X?' gag.) Contrary to popular belief, fairies and angels don't die en masse when a lousy novel is self-published and heavily promoted (aka spammed) across writing forums and Facebook. It's just hard to get other people to buy it, and if they do they'll probably litter the amazon listing with one-star reviews.

How do you judge whether you're writing professionally? Hell, I don't know. I thought I was ready after I sold a few short stories to paying markets, but looking back at my work from 1999/2000 has me backing away with my eyes firmly closed and my hands warding off evil.

Actually, there is a way: manuscript evaluation. For a first novel and an author with no publication credits of any kind, I'd say the evaluation is absolutely essential. Think of it as a driving license.

Like many things in life, you can pay for it or you can butter people up until you get it for nothing. If you pay for it you get a pro job with a guaranteed outcome. If you want to go for free, you need to join a writing forum and participate in the 'submit your work' section, reading and reviewing other peoples fiction before you unleash your efforts on them. (A ratio of five reviews to one submission is acceptable, but check the forum rules.)

The only problem with the free method is that people will sometimes go easy on you, hoping you'll do the same for them. It can become a bit of a ra-ra love-in, where nobody has a bad word for anyone else. If you scan the forum and everyone's on first name terms, awarding each other gold stars for average-looking efforts, move on.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Define your goals (SPJA)

When I first decided to self-publish the Hal Junior series my intention was to be as low key as possible. Edit and polish the book, give it a suitable cover, register the ISBN and make it available on Kindle and in print editions.  I was thinking Createspace for the paperbacks, which limited distribution to the US, and I had some vague ideas about looking for POD companies in the UK and eventually, Australia.

In the meantime I was planning to ship 50 or 100 copies from Createspace (US) to Perth, and thanks to the high Aussie dollar it was pretty cost effective.

Then I got an email from friend and local small press publisher, T. (hey T!). I'd emailed about order forms - the wholesale ones you send to bookstores and libraries and so on - and mentioned I was thinking of shipping in a few copies. T suggested I look at Lightning Source International. What was the first thing I saw when I opened the LSI web page? We just opened an Australian office - with local printing.

That's when I wrote to the publishers sitting on my Hal Junior subs, asking them to hit the delete button. It's also the point where my 'low key' plan went straight out the window.

As long as you register an ISBN, LSI books are available to every library, bookstore and school in most countries worldwide. It's POD, so they're not stocked anywhere - I won't be doing book signings at local stores, for example - but LSI's prices, and the way they allow publishers to set the trade discount, give me global reach at a very competitive price.

I can sell Hal Jnr in Australia for $11.95 and pocket five to ten times the usual trade royalties. Most kids' books sell for $14.95 and up here.  If I sell 500 copies, that's the same income as 5000 through a major publisher ... plus I'll never go out of print. And finally, there's the ebook editions as layer of cream on top of a very nice cake. No lie!

With all this rather good news pouring in, 'low key' just didn't cut it. I got serious about editing and cover art (more on these in later blogs)

I've also been reaching out to Junior Fic/Middle Grade bloggers, reviewers & teacher librarians, promising future review copies and/or guest posts as applicable. If you fit these categories (or promote Junior/Middle Grade spec fiction in any way) please leave a comment or contact me.

So that 'Define your goals' part ... what are you trying to achieve by self-publishing your work? Low key release or all-out assault on the market?

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

SPJA, week three

Now we're live - I'm writing this post at the end of week three. SPJA = self pub journey acronym

During this week I made a momentous (and very late) decision. I was playing around with the new ebook covers and I decided to see what they'd look like with a portion of Dion Hamill's Hal Spacejock from the cover of Hal 3. I snipped out just Hal's head and shoulders, with Jasmin standing next to him, and ... wow! It looked fantastic. (I can't share it because it's a rough hack job and the artist probably wouldn't appreciate me doing this to his work.) What I can do is show you the original cover (left) and the new cover (right) and you can sort of picture the middle third of the original cut out and expanded to cover the black background in the new cover. (Ignore the WASFF award pasted all over the front...)

Anyway, five minutes later I tracked down Dion's email, told him about the re-releases, and asked if he was interested in doing new covers. Impulsive, moi? I also asked about professional cover art for Hal Junior.

Dion is a traditional artist - pencil sketch first, then - I believe - acrylic on board. You can see examples of his work on his website.

Dion wrote back, and let's just say we're organising things. Because Hal Junior is slated for October (ebook and print), it turns out we'll need to do that cover first. Dion was very keen, and he's already got an idea which he's working on as I type this.

Proofing is always an issue for self-published works, but I had a cunning plan. I offer review copies of the first book through my site, and when I send them out I offer the next in the series as a freebie if you find a typo. One eagle-eyed reader scored all four, one after the other, and as a bonus I've offered them a signed copy when the first book is available in print. I uploaded replacement ebook versions of Hal 1 and 2 right away.

While that was happening starting work on DOC versions for Smashwords. Kindle is a given if you want to sell ebooks, thanks to its dominance, but I've read varying opinions on Smashwords. My take on it? Smashwords = distribution to the places Amazon cannot reach, like iTunes and other 3rd parties. Can't be a bad thing, and it's only a few hours work to prepare the file for upload.

I finished that last night, and during the day I also worked on Hal Spacejock 5. I know where this book is going now, and all the Hal activity has rekindled my passion. It's just so awe-inspiring to know the whole process is in my hands: I can finish Hal 5 by Christmas and publish it in January or February if I work hard enough. That's optimistic, but you don't get anywhere without deadlines.

To round off week three, this morning I had an email from a Hal Junior first reader (She's a fan of the adult series.) We hooked up on Skype to discuss her findings: She really enjoyed the book but found a bunch of typos and had a few questions. I ended up with two pages of things to look at, which is great. I also sent her an e-copy of Hal 4, and will send a signed Hal Jnr when I get my first copies.

All in all, three frantic weeks. There are now 20 reviews for Hal Spacejock book one on Amazon, and they're all four and five stars. That's great until someone thinks 'hah - I'll soon fix THAT'.

I'm sure I've missed a lot of stuff but the Freemind map is keeping me sane.

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

The SPJA, week two

SPJA = Self Publishing Journey Acronym.

Week two

Week two was a busy one. I decided to read Hal Spacejock and fix any little rough patches. I hadn't read it since 2003 and let's just say it took a while. I smoothed a few rough patches, broke a few long scenes into smaller ones, and inserted some new gags & puns. It's over 80,000 words, which doesn't sound much compared to a fantasy door stop but is plenty when you're weighing up every sentence.

There was also the small matter of transferring data to my Spacejock Handbook (another Freemind file, this one packed with place names, items, characters, products and companies from the four books. It's a very useful approach for series writers, and my editor suggested it a couple of years back after she'd had to contend with commsets, comm-sets, comsets and communication devices - many of them in the same book.)

When the final polishing was done I used the new proofing export from yWriter5 and loaded the resulting whole-of-novel RTF into OpenOffice for spelling and grammar checking. Afterwards I saved the RTF and imported the scene content back into yWriter.

I added a neat trick to yWriter recently: you can tag a scene as 'html', and the contents will be exported to the ebook file as-is, without any further processing. This allows me to set up the title page, copyright, series list and so on using manual html codes (centering, bold, italics, font sizes ... even inline images)

The resulting HTML file I converted with Calibre, the open source ebook library software. This generates a mobi file suitable for uploading to Amazon. No steps in between - you just click export in yWriter, convert the file with Calibre, that's it.

I uploaded Hal Spacejock using the Kindle Digital Publishing dashboard, entered the correct ISBN, added the cover and then set the price. (I won't be discussing ebook pricing now. There's plenty out there on the subject.)

Within an hour the dashboard showed the book's ASIN, and I could use that to bring up an embryonic ebook page on In my todo-list I had a section called 'do this when you have the amazon ebook page link', and I went through performing all the steps - adding the link to my website, mainly. Once the amazon page was fully active I shared it on Google+ and Facebook, and updated my sig on various writing & reading forums.

The final part of week one involved sending Hal Junior out for a little more feedback. I'm too close to it to spot flaws, and this is where you need someone else to give you the bad news. I still have to do a 'humour draft', which is where I apply a laughter polish to the whole book, refining the jokes so they're maximised. I never do this stage until the text is done, because I don't like to waste time being funny if I'm going to cut the whole chapter a week later. Let me tell you, writing comedy is really hard work.

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

Self pub week one

I've decided to blog about my self-publishing experience. I went through all this ten years ago so I know the process, but others might get some use out of my steps, mis-steps and findings. I'll try and keep you up to date along the way, until we arrive at the destination together.

This particular post is a bit of a retrospective, because in the scheme of things I'm already into week three.

(Before I start, a little background: I self-published three novels about 7 or 8 years ago, wound up with a publishing contract, saw four novels trade published across Australia and New Zealand between 2004 and 2008, then got the rights back. When I say I'm self publishing, I'm actually re-releasing those four trade-published novels to new markets. But wait, there's more... as a bonus I will also be self-publishing an entirely new middle-grade science fiction series. As a double bonus, I'm also going to be releasing POD editions using Lightning Source (LSI) so you'll get those gory details too. Now, back to the plot ...)

Week one on the SPJA (self-pub-journey-acronym) was nice and organised, with all my effort going into the huge spidery freemind diagram which will guide me through the entire process.

I created nodes for each book, then sub-nodes for the ebook and print releases, and then really went to town. This is just a tiny fragment:

I felt like Rimmer preparing for an exam, only I trust the outcome will be slightly better. The great thing is that I can tick the nodes I've completed, collapse whole trees and easily shift things about.

During week one I registered ISBNs for Hal 1-4 in ebook and print (the latter excluding Aus & NZ), and also for Hal Junior ebook and print. I still have a block of ISBNs from 2001, which gave me a head start. If you're beginning with a blank slate you'll need to organise this.

A brief aside: Should you go for your own ISBNs, or just publish to Kindle and Smashwords without bothering? Answer: Are you publishing a book or sharing your work? If you're publishing a book - really publishing it - get the ISBNs. On the other hand, if you're on a tight budget and you're not planning a print release, skip the ISBNs.

You'll need one for Kindle, one for Smashwords Epub, and another for the print edition if you're going to issue one. (The latter can be reused across printers, e.g. LSI and/or Createspace, as long as the edition is identical. You do need different ones for the Kindle and Epub editions.)

Once you get the ISBNs you have to register them with Bowker. This involves filling out a form with the book details, thus linking them to the ISBN. These details go into a universal catalogue (which is why you need distinct numbers.)

Paperwork complete, the next item on the agenda was cover art and design. Everyone, and I mean everyone, recommends hiring a professional, but I went ahead and did this step myself. My focus was on getting the ebooks up quickly, and I just wanted a cover where you could read the title and subtitle from the other side of the room. Unlike print editions, with ebooks you have this great 'redo' button where you can easily upload a replacement cover.

I know it's stark and very black, but it'll do as a placeholder. Because the books have already been released and reviewed I have a huge file of blurbs and snips to pick from, and I reckon a blurb is worth a thousand images. (More on covers later - we're still on week one.)

The final step in week one was to go over the ideas I had for Hal Junior cover art. I wanted a thumbnail or a pic embedded in each chapter, and I'd already gone through the book marking sections. I didn't want grand sweeping vistas, just line art of items mentioned in the text, or visual gags, or diagrams explaining things more fully. (E.g. the closed loop food recycling system on board ships & space stations.) Having a picture meant I didn't have to info-dump every couple of paras.

Hey, maybe adult spec fic authors should learn to draw!

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kindle editions out now (Hal 1 & 2)

Hal Spacejock (book one) and Second Course (book two) are now available for purchase worldwide via, and They're DRM-free, no rights restrictions, and each contains 80,000+ words of frenetic, lunatic science fiction.

Check the first link for the biggest selection of customer reviews. All those 5- and 4-star ratings certainly put a smile on the dial.

Hal Spacejock:
Hal 1 ($3.99)
Hal 1 (GBP 3.40)
Hal 1 (EURO 3.40)

Hal Spacejock Second Course:
Hal 2 ($3.99)
Hal 2 (GBP 3.40)
Hal 2 (EURO 3.40)

Just Desserts and No Free Lunch have already been uploaded, and should be visible RSN.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publishing an ongoing series

I'm a series author and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I love coming up with new ideas and seeing how my characters react. I love referring to previous events in passing, usually mocking myself in the process. (In book four, one of my characters points out they've already had enough mis-adventures to fill three lousy novels.)

Unfortunately the bookselling trade isn't geared for an open-ended, ongoing series, so if you're writing one, there are a few things you need to know:

First, no publisher is going to offer you a contract for six, or ten, or fifteen series books, even if you've already written them. You'll be lucky to get a contract for three, and that's if they form a self-contained trilogy.

It costs a fortune to edit, proof, design, publish and market a book. Publishers are basically big money gamblers: they weigh up the odds on each title, put up their stake and roll the dice. If the title does well they collect on the bet - as does the author. On the other hand, a poor throw means losses.

There are many, many reasons why a book fails to do as well as the publisher expected. It could be the cover, the blurbs, the writing style, the theme, the genre, the competition, bad luck ... and a hundred more. Most often, it just fails to make a big enough splash. (Let's face it - when ten thousand books are launched across the publishing spectrum, mathematically speaking only a handful can become bestsellers.)

No problem, you think. Books two and three will gee things up, and then people will seek out the first. I'm afraid not, because your first book will no longer be sitting on bookstore shelves.

Picture a conveyor belt of books entering one side of a huge warehouse. The belt is stacked with row after row of books. There are big piles of some (headline authors) and small piles of the rest (midlist and newbies)

Let's fill the warehouse with people - our bookstore customers - lined up three deep on either side of the belt. Now and then they grab a copy when something takes their fancy.

At the far end of the warehouse the belt goes into a giant mulching machine. Once a book reaches that point, it's done.

Twenty years ago this belt was one or two feet wide and it moved pretty slowly. There was plenty of time for buyers to inspect all the books, and if they missed something they could chase it down and grab a copy.

Ten years ago the belt was four feet wide, and it was moving twice as fast. There was still time to find a particular title, but it was harder.

Now the belt is 20 feet wide and it's moving at 200 miles per hour. Books appear and disappear so fast they're shipped from the printers to the recyclers, with a brief detour to bookstores along the way.

I'm not suggesting the ratios in this example are entirely accurate, nor that it's precisely how things work. I just want you to picture that 200 mph conveyor belt stacked with books when you're telling yourself that the release of books two and three in your series will drive people to book one.

So what's the solution?

I can't speak for everyone else, but I'm planning 15-20 novels in one of my series, and possibly 5-10 in the other. As per my blog of a few days ago, I believe the time is right for me to skip publishers altogether and hire the professionals myself. (Editing, cover and interior are the three biggies. For ebooks interior design is less important, provided you know exactly what you're doing. On the other hand, getting the guts of an ebook designed for you is much, much cheaper than paying someone to lay out a printed book.)

Am I expecting to outsell trade publishers? Hell no. But I'll make five to ten times as much per copy, so I can afford to sell only 1/10th as many. On top of that, I'm hardly going to can my own series because it's not selling enough copies.

Believe me, if you indie-publish and make a success of it, agents and publishers will come calling. When they do, you may have six or seven books they can release in rapid succession, increasing your chances of building that all-important audience.

To me, it's the way to go. I've never been comfortable with the glacial pace of publishing, and this way I work to my own schedule, please my own fans, and build my own career.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The future of the Hal Spacejock series

For six years now I've tried as hard as I could to make the Hal Spacejock books available to readers in the UK and USA. I signed with a literary agent in England, I talked my publisher into selling the ebooks via my site, I ran monthly competitions and posted copies all over the world at my own expense, but in the end it just didn't happen.

Until now.

I just re-acquired the worldwide rights to my Hal Spacejock novels. Kindle editions will be available as soon as Amazon finishes processing the upload (24-48 hours?), and I've signed with Lightning Source to offer trade paperbacks via their UK and US printing facilities.

The printed editions will probably take a month or two, but expect to see them before October. I'm very excited about this, as you can imagine.

I realise POD printing isn't the same as books in shops, but I've set the UK price to GBP7.99 and the US price to $11.95, which I believe is reasonable for 350-380 page 5.25" x 8" trade paperbacks. (Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.)

The ebooks will be 3.99 or 4.99, depending. I know there's a lot of noise about .99c ebooks, and I may occasionally drop the price over 24 hours as a special, but I think $4 or $5 is a reasonable price for an 80,000 word professionally-edited novel.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why I'm self-publishing

Over the past 12 months I've been working on a new science fiction series for younger readers (junior/upper primary/middle grade). I've had a lot of fun with it, and when I was reasonably happy with the first book I sent it to my current publisher to see if they were interested.

Although they really liked the book they recommended I take it to a bigger company, for reasons including distribution and the fact I was planning to write two or more of these a year.

I duly submitted the manuscript to a larger publisher in June, but over the next two months I started thinking. (Dangerous pastime...)

(c)2011 Simon Haynes

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I'd rather self-publish my new series. I'm planning a whole run of them, and the way the book-selling trade is set up it's next to impossible to launch and maintain an ongoing series. (I shouldn't complain because it's even worse in TV land, where amazing shows like Firefly are cancelled because they didn't sell enough shaving cream or nappies.)

So, I withdrew my submission, dusted off my old imprint, dug out my block of ISBNs and signed up with a POD company. I've been prepping Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, and the first book in the series will be released in October 2011 on the Kindle, on Smashwords and in print (using LSI). Hal Junior will be available worldwide.

This certainly won't be my first foray into self-pub, and I'm sure it won't be the last. At heart I'm equal parts businessman and artist, and I love to get my hands dirty with the product.

Once this title is published I'll be able to focus on my next project. Over the next few weeks I'll also be blogging a lot more about my experiences.

(c)2011 Simon Haynes

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

Saturday, August 06, 2011