Helen Ross Writes – supports Australia’s talented self published authors, small press publishing and independent publishers
I just love ‘discovering’ talented Australian authors. The talent here is endless. However, I seem to be drawn to writers with a quirky sense of humour that not only beams through in their blogs, but also in their books. Great for me as I love quirky!
One such author is Simon Haynes. Simon just happened to drop by my blog one day – saw the light on and popped in to say hello. Lucky me!
Simon Haynes is the Australian author of Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior: The Secret Signal. By day he’s a computer programmer and author, and by night he’s the same only sleepier. (Simon’s words)
Simon self-published three adult/teen novels from 2001-2003, was trade-published (four novels) between 2004 and, and is currently in the middle of publicity for his latest self/indie published title, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal.
So grab some snacks, and let’s find out Simon’s journey.
Thanks Helen for inviting me into your blog.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I’ve always been a keen reader but it never occurred to me that I might roll my own. I think this is because we moved to Spain when I was eight, and writing fiction wasn’t part of the curriculum.
When did you start writing?
I sat down to write my first novel in 1994. Before that I only wrote fiction for university or school assignments.
What writers do you think have influenced you?
Lots of them, and quite a range of genres: Agatha Christie, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Alistair Maclean, Desmond Bagley, Richmal Compton (Just William), Malcome Saville (Witchend), Mary Norton (The Borrowers) … and I’m still catching up with books published before 1980.
What genres do you write in/or have written in?
Horror, murder mystery, thriller, comedy, science fiction … and that was all in Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch. Now I can add junior fiction to my credits, which I’m very happy about.
Simon, you self-published three adult/teen novels from 2001-2003. Why did you take this path?
I started approaching publishers and agents, but couldn’t handle all the months and months of waiting around. While that was going on I sold a few short stories and scored Australia’s premier speculative fiction award (the Aurealis) for one of them. I realised I could write fiction, but it was going to take years to convince a publisher. So, I set up an imprint and did it myself.
You have also had success in trade-publication. What works have been published? Were you happy with the production and marketing of these novels?
Four Hal Spacejock novels were trade published by Fremantle Press. It was fantastic working with their team of experts, and I learnt a heap about editing and deadlines. Couldn’t fault the marketing either – they got reviews all over the place, and the first book in the series was a Dymocks bestseller for three weeks.
You recently released Hal Junior – The Secret Signal. What was the inspiration behind your latest novel?
School visits, my wife, and I needed a new mountain to scale. First off, I’ve visited a load of schools and libraries since Hal Spacejock was released. I love discussing reading and writing with upper primary ages, but every time I spoke to them I had to apologise that my books weren’t really suitable for their age group. My wife kept saying I should write a children’s book but I was focused on getting the next Hal Spacejock novel out. And finally, doing the same thing over and over sounds suspiciously like a job to me. I decided to seek a new challenge, and children’s fiction was certainly that.
So why did you decide to take the self-publishing path again with the release of Hal Junior – The Secret Signal?
I wanted Hal Junior to be released worldwide, in print, from day one. The internet is a global medium and if a blogger in Canada or Wales is kind enough to post a review of my work, anyone reading that blog should be able to order a copy locally with a couple of mouse clicks.
Traditional publishing works on tightly-defined regions, and the rest have to put up with expensive imports or wait for a local publisher to release the book to their market. You put in all this effort to get reviews and interviews, then hope that nobody reads the review from a country where your work isn’t available yet.
Ebooks are breaking down some of these barriers, but I don’t think there’s a market for junior fiction in electronic formats yet. At that age books tend to be purchased by libraries and parents, not the kids themselves. And e-readers are too expensive for the blenders we call school bags.
There was another reason for self-publishing. There are over 1000 Hal Spacejock novels in schools across Australia, and I think I can sell enough copies of Hal Junior via specialists like Wooldridges and Westbooks to make self-publishing worthwhile.
How did you get started, i.e. how did you go about self-publishing or gathering information?
I was going to publish the paperback through CreateSpace (USA) at first, then seek POD printers in the UK and Australia. That was before a friend put me onto Lightning Source. They have printing facilities in Australia, England, France and the USA, and when someone orders a copy of my novel it’s printed and despatched from the nearest facility within 48 hours.
I set up a business name and dug up my dusty old block of 100 ISBNs from 2001. They cost me $90 back then, and I think the same thing costs over $400 now so it was a better investment than the share market!
How did you go about editing Hal Junior?
I went through 15-20 drafts over several months, which is my usual finicky process, and once I ran out of things to tweak I hired a professional editor to give it a going-over. Satima Flavell spent about two weeks on the book, first highlighting any plot and character issues and then zooming in for the second pass. I got a chance to do another pass myself in between the two.
How long did the self-publishing process or independent publishing take place, ie. from the beginning to the printing of this book?
I started late July and went to print mid-September.
What obstacles did you encounter during this process, if any?
It all went very smoothly. I set up a gigantic mindmap with every step of the process, and just followed those steps one by one until it was ready.
How did you go about organising a printing company?
I signed with Lightning Source, who set up operations in Australia earlier this year. As mentioned earlier, they’re a global company with a very efficient distribution network. For example, Hal Junior is selling through online stores in Norway and Italy (at local prices), as well as the usual suspects like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
What was your print run?
That’s the thing – I ordered 150 copies for my own use (give aways, reviews, etc.) but apart from that the book doesn’t exist until someone orders a copy.
In Australia I’ve priced the book for trade distribution, which means stores can order it from their regular wholesalers at their usual discount. When they place an order their copies are printed and shipped within 48 hours.
In the US and UK the book is priced for online sales instead. They don’t have the percentage of independent booksellers we do, and high store chains in those would be unlikely to order copies in whatever the discount.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing or publishing independently?
On the down side, you can forget about walking into stores and seeing your book on the shelves. On the plus side, books don’t sit on store shelves very long these days, and once they’re returned they never reappear.
I can understand book stores not carrying older titles, but nobody can explain why Dymocks is showing three of the four Hal Spacejock books as ‘unavailable’ on their website. (The other one isn’t there at all.) My publisher has Hal Spacejock books sitting in their warehouse, so there’s a breakdown in communications somewhere.
With a self-pubbed book I’m in control. If a website says it’s out of stock I can approach them as the publisher and get it fixed.
What was your biggest learning curve? Is there anything that you did differently with the production and marketing of Hal Junior in comparison to the production and marketing of your first three self published books?
Yes, I sent out nearly ten times as many review copies. The internet has been a huge help when it comes to publicity, both in finding book bloggers and reviewers, and when it comes to contacting them.
Did you find the process easier this time round?
Yes, it was a lot more efficient.
How do you market your books? Do you come across any obstacles when dealing with bookstores, etc?
I approached three outlets personally. One ordered ten copies on the spot, and the other two are school suppliers. Apparently most school libraries close off their budgets around this time of year, but they’ll push Hal Junior in the new year.
Fortunately I’ve been able to play off my earlier books. I’ve done author events with them in the past so I’m a known quantity.
What does successful self-publishing or successful independent publishing mean to you?
Okay, there’s a big difference between my 2001 and 2011 goals. In 2001 I wanted to prove there was a market for my particular brand of quirky science fiction. I had no intention of hauling books around stores like a door-to-door salesman, and my goal was to generate interest and eventually snag a publishing contract. That’s exactly how it worked out.
In 2011 my goals are different. I’m not looking for a publishing contract, and my goal is to sell a lot of books via my own imprint. I’m hoping to make the Hal Junior series a global phenomenon and pocket a lot of cash.
What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing/publishing independently or setting up their own company?
Read everything you can on the subject, and understand what you’re letting yourself in for. If you’ve not been trade published before I recommend approaching publishers and/or agents with your work before you consider self-publishing. It’s still the best game in town for most writers.
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self-publisher, e.g. determination, patience, organisation, sales and marketing experience, self-belief …???
All of the above. My background is small business and marketing and I’m a stubborn, determined perfectionist. If you’re at the arty end of the spectrum, I definitely recommend you find a publisher.
What inspires you to keep writing?
It’s the challenge of finishing a book. Not just writing something, but putting out a good book which I truly believe others will enjoy.
Is there one person you can think of who played a significant part in your writing career?
This is where I go all soppy and mention my family, my high school English teacher, and the editors I’ve worked with over the years.
Where would you like to be in five year’s time, writing wise?
I want to learn how to write a first draft, polish it once or twice and publish it. I’ve yet to release anything which hasn’t gone through 15-20 drafts and almost as many rewrites.
If you were offered a publishing contract with a mainstream publisher, would you accept it?
Yes and no. If self-pubbed Hal Junior brings in the bikkies, I can work from home and publish more in the series. The better it does the less likely it is I’d sign with a big publisher.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m writing Hal Spacejock 5 and Hal Junior 2, both at the same time.
Would you self publish again?
Yes, that’s my future now. In August I asked Fremantle Press to revert the rights to the Hal Spacejock series, given the books were no longer stocked in book stores. They agreed, and so I’ll be releasing book five myself.
What words best describe you?
Driven but relaxed.
Have you any other words of advice?
You can always rewrite it!
And Simon, just to finish up, could you please complete the following:
At school I was …
When I was a child I wanted to be …
I still don’t have the answer to that!
I relax by …
Cycling, or messing around with my bike, writing computer software or playing computer games.
Simon’s website address:
Books can be bought from:
Hal Spacejock ebooks: http://www.spacejock.com.au/Hal1Shops.html
Hal Junior: http://www.spacejock.com.au/HalJuniorShops.html
You can find book reviews at:
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: Simon’s new series for kids (www.haljunior.com)
Thanks Simon for sharing your interesting journey. We wish you every success, and may the bikkies roll in by the truck load.
And to read my review of the page turning, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, please drop by my blog again this Wednesday. It is a great read. And comments are most welcome anytime (except for spam ones).
Helen Ross interviews Simon Haynes Copyright 30 October 2011
Helen Ross Writes – supports Australia’s talented self published authors, small press publishing and independent publishers