Now Available: Hal Junior The Secret Signal

I'm pleased to report that Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is now available.

This is my first children's book, and getting it ready on time was one of the most demanding things I've ever done. I'm talking 18+ hour days for several weeks on end.

It was worth it though: there are already a bunch of four- and five-star reviews across Goodreads, Amazon, Librarything and B&N.

The Secret Signal is available worldwide in paperback and ebook formats. For a synopsis, sample chapters, plans for a killer paper plane and more, visit the home page.

Hal Junior Cover

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Apart from being a lot of fun (who doesn't enjoy their moment on the soapbox?), writing guest posts is an effective way to reach new people. I've been busy answering interview questions and writing posts on topics close to my heart.

If you have a favourite topic, seek out blogs on the same subject and offer them a guest post. The worst that can happen is they say no. There are plenty of upsides though, for both guest and host. They get free content and extra traffic, and you get a bit of publicity. It's just like one of those symbiotic relationships we had to study in biology.

Some of my recent appearances:

I have a guest post on : Where's all the junior science fiction?

Yesterday I had a guest post on the Boomerang Books website (George Ivanoff's blog) on the importance of editing for self-published writers.

And a week or so back I had a guest post on the Kids Book Review website which explains why I switched from adult to junior fiction.

Several more to come ... stay tuned!

PS Hal Junior is out!

Hal Spacejock 1 & 2 Kindle releases

You'll have to forgive my flurry of posts, but I've been waiting a long time for this.

I'm pleased to announce 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
Hal 1
Hal 1

Hal Spacejock Second Course:
Hal 2
Hal 2
Hal 2

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

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.

(c)2011 Simon Haynes

A Hal moment of my own

For the past decade I've been writing novels about a broke, error-prone freighter pilot called Hal Spacejock. 'Error prone' explains why he's forced to land his spaceship on the remotest landing pads in the dodgiest spaceports ... and I use 'land' in the broad, all-empassing, 'well, at least we survived' sort of way. *

Over the past twelve months I've become a cycling nut, riding everywhere on a bike even when a car was clearly the better option. (A 30km round trip to deliver a large metal frame to a powdercoater springs to mind.)

These two facts ARE related, and I'm about to tell you why.

Picture the scene. I'm returning from a shopping centre and it's raining heavily. Naturally, I'm riding my bike. You'd think I was caught out by the weather, perhaps riding to the shops when it was sunny only to watch in horror as storm clouds gathered. Nah, it was raining heavily when I set out on my 20km ride. The phrases 'cycling nut' and 'even when a car was clearly the better option' should have clued you in.

Clad in wet weather gear, squinting against the driving rain, I was negotiating a bike path Slartibartfast would be proud of. I don't know why, but in Western Australia they design dual-use bike paths by flinging wet spaghetti at maps and tracing the contours with an HB pencil. I don't know why they bother putting lots of gears on bikes, because you rarely get out of second before the next 45-degree bend. But I digress.

There I am, rowing home on two wheels, when I encounter yet another bend in the path. At the time I was shaking my helmet to get the drops off, and thus distracted I missed the six-inch drop and the deep, soft sand on the side of the path. Actually, I missed it but the front wheel didn't.

I was travelling at 30km/h, which is pretty nippy for a heavily-laden bike with panniers, but as I went over the handlebars I still had time to grin at the shocked look on the face of an approaching dog-walker. She was at least a hundred meters away, so she was unlikely to get hurt by collatoral damage from my fall, but obviously she hadn't been expecting this impromptu circus act.

By now I'm eight or ten feet in the air, which is a novel experience even for me. (I'm 6'3", and I ride an XL size bike. When sitting in the saddle I tower over other riders like an SUV owner in a sea of convertables.)

As I describe a graceful arc, arms outstretched, I glance back to make sure my bike isn't going to hit anything. The bike is upside down, cartwheeling, but I don't think it's going to hit me. It still hasn't dawned on me that I'm going to hit something, and very soon.

I'm still in mid-air, and I'm wondering how I can incorporate a bike crash into my next novel. Then I remember I've already made Hal Spacejock fall off a jetbike, a fence, several buildings and a planet or two. All of them were really funny at the time.

The ground approaches, and I put my hands out. Now, at this point I should note that I never ride without my fingerless gloves. They're specially designed with a thick pad over the palm, and I wear them because I went over the handlebars of a motorbike when I was fifteen and not having the use of my hands for a couple of weeks was very frustrating.

At this point, time sped up. I felt the ground on my hands, I absorbed the impact by bringing them sharply towards my face, I rolled right and used the momentum to drive me to my feet. The bike slithered to a stop alongside me, I bent to pick it up, then climbed aboard and rode past the dog-walker, who was still rooted to the spot with her mouth wide open.

For two days I had a very minor ache in my right shoulder, but I got off very lightly.  I'm still riding my bike when a car would be the better option, and I have full use of my hands.

* Hal 1

Where next for Hal Junior?

When my current publisher passed on the Hal Junior series (see my previous blog post) I realised I was sitting at a fork in the road. Start the submission/rejection merry-go-round, or go straight to ebook?

I must admit I was tempted by the idea of publishing an ebook right away. Commission a cover and internal art, edit and polish the text and then make the work available to all and sundry via the magic of Amazon, Smashwords and my own website. I've already published a number of short stories this way, and my ebook-generating scripts could be rejigged in a matter of minutes.

If this were an adult series I wouldn't have hesitated: you'd be able to buy & download the ebook right now. Unfortunately I don't think the market for kids ebooks is there yet - lack of dedicated readers in kids' hands, most kids books seem to be bought as gifts, etc, etc.

Therefore I have two queries for my junior Hal Spacejock novel out at the moment, and one submission. Each of these Australian publishers specify a 3-4 month response time, and I'm not expecting any favours just because I've been published before.

If I haven't heard anything positive by the first week in September I'm going to prepare the ebook edition of Hal Spacejock Jnr book one. If nothing else I'll be able to put that one out of my mind and move on to book two.

(Cue overwhelming sense of deja vu. A decade ago I went through the exact same process with the adult Hal Spacejock series, only back then we didn't have dedicated ebook readers. I put out an ebook version first, followed by a POD edition, and there were three books in the series available before I finally scored a publishing deal in 2004.)

Slings 'n' arrows 'n' silver linings

This was a bit long for Twitter, so I've turned it into a blog post of sorts.

I've mentioned my new Hal Spacejock Junior series a few times, and a while back I decided to post all the ups and downs I encountered on the way to eventual (hopefully) publication. Today was a down and an up.

I submitted the first book to the Hal Spacejock publisher a couple of months ago, then put it out of my mind to get on with other things. The response came this morning, and the upshot was something along these lines: We loved the book, we're pleased you offered it to us first but we think it needs to go to a bigger publisher.

I'm not kidding here, my initial reaction was 'bring it on!'  I loved writing this book, I believe the series has a big future and now that future lies squarely in my own hands.

So, I have some homework to do. I'm going to make a list of aussie publishers putting out kids books and find out who to approach, and then it's submission time.

I'll keep you posted.

Writing Childrens' fiction

In my article on how to get published I mention how important it is not to get hung up on selling your first novel. Sometimes it takes three or four completed novels before a writer brings it all together and makes that all-important sale.

There's nothing to say those three or four novels have to be full length adult works.

By way of example, last year I finally sat down to write the junior SF novel I'd had on the back-burner for a couple of years, and it was so much fun I went straight on to write a second novel in the series ... and half of the third. It was a different experience to writing my adult novels - lighter, more enjoyable ... and quicker.

After a few months of editing I put aside the junior novels and went back to my current adult work ... and what a revelation that was. I usually strive for clean, unvarnished prose with a minimum of description (x10 when it comes to junior fic) but I realised I could easily cut 10-15% of Hal Spacejock book 5 just by tighting up the writing.

And that's why I'm going to suggest the following. If you have one or two adult novels doing the rounds and can't face writing another just yet, why not write a childrens book? I aimed for middle grade (roughly ages 9-12), and my goal was 25,000 words of fast-moving and entertaining reading. I had a lot of fun with it, and it made a nice change from the vastly more complex adult novels with their multiple viewpoints, twisty subplots, and sheer word count.

Most of us have kids, or neices & nephews, or grandkids, or someone in the 9-12 age group. I didn't stress about writing the next Big Thing (as if!), I just pictured a couple of my younger relatives reading the book, and wrote the sort of story I hoped they'd enjoy.

Changing gears to write a shorter childrens book may just give you the tools you need to sharpen your adult works. If it doesn't work out, so what? I told myself 25,000 words was a nice bit of practice, if nothing else.

Counting ebook sales

I've been following Joe Konrath's blog for some years now, cheering him on as he went from experimenting with ebooks to selling metric tons of the things every single day.

His success is gratifying, but he's a big name in his chosen genre. How would ebook sales work for the rest of us?

This week my publisher gave me permission to sell my novels in ebook format via my website, and because they're available through my own server I'm handling every sale through a home-brew delivery system.

It's running fine so far, but a programmer's work is never done. Just this morning I thought to myself ... wouldn't it be neat if I could set up a page showing realtime sales figures for the four ebooks? And what if I made that page public, so anyone thinking about publishing their work in ebook format could pop over and see how it's doing for me?

Never one to hang around, I wrote the code, tested it, and put the page online right here.

Note that it only tracks sales made through my own site, not Amazon or others.