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Monday, November 13, 2006

Author Interview ~ Simon Haynes

Simon Haynes is the author of three Hal Spacejock novels, a number of articles on writing and publishing, and several short stories, one of which collected an Aurealis Award in 2001. He divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with the occasional round of golf thrown in for a laugh.
Born in the UK and raised in the south of Spain, Simon emigrated to Australia with his family in 1983. He's a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and lives in Perth with his wife and two children.
His goal is to write fifteen Hal Spacejock books before someone takes his keyboard away, and you can track his progress on the official website:

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My next book is the third title in the Hal Spacejock series.

Hal is an over-confident space pilot who is incapable of ordering an instant coffee from a dispenser without inflicting second-degree burns on himself while shorting out the local power grid with a misplaced teaspoon. And yet he sits at the controls of a two hundred ton space freighter, blithely unaware of his shortcomings.

Fortunately he teams up with a capable robot called Clunk. Unfortunately Clunk is not only capable but extremely old and creaky, much like an unwanted PC-XT in an era of supercomputers on every desk. Suffice it to say they’re pretty well matched.

I’m British by birth and Australian by nature, so the humour (sorry, ‘humor’) is in a similar vein to Hitchhiker’s Guide and Red Dwarf, infused with the laid-back larrikin spirit and healthy disregard for authority that Aussies are famous for.

The first two Hal books were launched in September 2005 and March 2006 respectively, with releases right across Australia and New Zealand. They’ve done very well here, with several appearances on bestseller lists and a fair swag of media reviews.

So, where’s the US in all of this? Shipments to the North American distributor were help up pending a possible rights deal, but in the end nothing eventuated and so the books are on their way as I type this.

The third in the series will be launched January ’07 in Australia, and should be available in the US around the same time.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Not so much a journey … more like a marathon with people chucking rotten fruit from the side. I started the first book almost 12 years ago, and finished the first draft in 1999. At the time Random House Australia were running an annual competition for unpublished science fiction manuscripts. First prize was publication and a $10,000 advance, which was a great motivator. In fact, I wrote four fifths of the finished draft in under three months, and made the deadline by a week.

Within a fortnight of submitting my entry I got a phone call to say I’d made the shortlist. I didn’t get ahead of myself, but it was a wonderful moment. About six months later they called again, on the day the winner was supposed to be announced, to say the judges were deadlocked and they wanted ‘another week or two’ Not such a wonderful moment – I don’t think I slept a night for the next three weeks. Then they called one last time to say I hadn’t won.

Over the next six months I submitted the same novel to three major publishers, one in Australia, one in England and one in the US. I got personalised rejection letters from two of them and a form rejection from the third.

I decided an agent would be the go, and so I sent a query letter to someone I knew represented my genre. I’m still waiting for a reply five years later, so I guess that’s a no. I also sent my submission to another US publisher at that time, and they still haven’t replied. I’m pretty sure my package was on the way to the US at exactly the same time that Anthrax scare hit, so it was almost certainly destroyed unopened. I sent them a followup letter with an SASE but they ignored that, too.

I was beginning to realise this could take years, and while all of the above was going on I managed to sell a handful of short stories to Australian print magazines. Then, to my surprise, one of those stories won an Aurealis Award. This is Australia’s premier speculative fiction award, voted on by industry professionals, and it was a major boost to my confidence.

This was in 2001. I had a manuscript and I also had proof that someone, somewhere, enjoyed my writing. And so, I decided to publish 100 copies of my novel to sell at science fiction conventions. They all sold, and the independent booksellers across Australia put them on their shelves. They continued to sell, and so I wrote another book in the same series, which I again self-published. Several branches of the major chain stores put both books on their shelves, and they also sold copies. Encouraged, I wrote a third book and published that as well.

This is where the luck came into it. Just one month after I launched that third novel, a publisher’s sales rep spotted it in a local bookstore. She took a copy back to the publisher’s fortress o’ doom, and after they’d evaluated it they rang me to ask whether I’d be happy to work with one of their editors with a view to getting all three books out under their imprint. I thought about it for a quarter of a second and then said yes.

Since then, April 2004, I’ve worked with a very good editor on all three books, tearing them apart so that I could put them back together using all the skills I’ve picked up in the years since I published the first title. Each one involved six to eight months work, but the result is a much stronger book in each case.

Self-published to best-seller … now THAT’S a journey and a half.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes, particularly when I self published. I knew about the stigma attached to the process, I knew booksellers wouldn’t want them and I knew the public would be indifferent. However, my goal wasn’t just to sell books … it was to grow as a writer and to motivate myself to keep writing more in the series.

I think the worst thing you can do is write your first novel and then spend years tweaking and resubmitting it. Instead, finish it off and start another one. Write several, and I guarantee you’ll improve with each one. Oh, and you should devour books on the craft of writing.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Back in the early days, not trying hard enough to get an agent. It’s easier to get a reputable agent than to sell your book to a reputable publisher, and I’m all for the easier option.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

You have to write a million words of fiction before you’re competent enough for publication.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
I don’t think I listened to any.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Assuming ‘No unsolicited manuscripts’ meant the same as ‘no unsolicited queries’
Assuming you could only query one agent at a time.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Not really. It’s all been uphill, but I’ve not stumbled and rolled back down again yet.
They do say it’s harder to stay published than to get published in the first place.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Martin Magnus series by William F Temple
The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov

Far too many others to mention, but I do enjoy Tom Holt’s books.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

The freshly edited versions of my books. I didn’t know how working with an editor was going to go, but the process was great.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I hate it when people complain about publishing being a closed industry; that you can only get published if you know the right people or have the right connections. That’s garbage.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I work from home full time, so I have the luxury of picking my hours. I also have a great many demands on my time, though, so it’s not all roses.

I’m at the computer by 8am to deal with emails and web browsing. Actual work starts at 10am unless I’m really under the pump. If I’m editing something I take the manuscript to another room, and if I’m writing to a deadline (say, three scenes per day) I’ll go and use the laptop until I’ve done at least two of them. I finish when I’m done, which could be 4pm or midnight.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

That’s a hard one. I have my own voice and I’m pretty happy with it.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Last month I signed with a prestigious UK agent, John Jarrold. He’s respected and well known, and worked as senior editor at several major imprints in England. Right now my goal is to see the Hal books published in England.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
Never. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was 27 years old, although I’d dashed off many short pieces before that. And I did pause for five years after our first child was born.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favourite: I’ve done quite a few school visits, and I’d really like to think one kid from one class might be inspired to stick with their writing. I’ll never know, of course, but they’re all bombarded with video games, SMS, sport and so on, and very few people are telling them it’s okay to write for fun.

Least favourite? The months between handing in a book and launch date.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

Lots, but not blatant plugging. I have three blogs, a Myspace profile, a busy website and I participate in many forums and mailing lists.

However, I get fed up when people join a forum and post nothing but Amazon links to their book, or try to turn every discussion to their pet topic so they can slip in a mention. They just don’t realise they’re doing more harm than good, and so I decided to write an article about marketing books online:

Parting words?

Thanks for the opportunity to share my story, and I hope I managed to inspire someone, somewhere, to keep at it. Getting published isn’t a quick process by any means, and you need a lot of support and encouragement over the typical 8-15 year journey.


  1. Simon, thanks so much for giving such thoughtful answers. I enjoyed your article on interneting marketing. The advice was good!

  2. And I really appreciate the interview. I'll be sure to check back from time to time in case anyone has questions for me.

  3. I hadn't heard the news about the agent, Simon! I'm so EXTREMELY excited for you! This was a great interview and a rare peek into the mind of a wonderful writer.

  4. Hey Gina thanks for such a great interview...I think Simon is great.

    LOL...not only is he a great writer but he is a smart man...Why is he a smart man you might ask? Well he knows a good thing when he sees it...LOL...he owns all the outstanding Blogshare stock (4000 shares) in MY blog...LOL...and the price is rising!

    but then again, I guess I can't rag on him too much since I own all the original stock for Novel Journey...LOL!

  5. I used to hold all the stock in Miss Snark and PBW, but after a ton of raider battles over a lengthy period of time I let them both go. I have enough artes to grab the whole lot back again any time I want ...
    And I hope you have stocks in my blogs ;-)
    May your B$ keep increasing and all your Ideas commodities earn Super Boost.

  6. Fun interview, Simon. I enjoyed your hunour (my husband is Brit) and your story. But I also gleaned a bit of wisdom off the side of your cheek, tucked around your tongue. ;o)

  7. Simon all I need it the time to come play :-) I got the B$ but that artes and stuff are beyond me. How 'bout some lessons?

  8. Sure... "Buy low, sell high"


    It took me ages to get my head around the Ideas market. Best thing is to buy some and see what happens. If you buy 10k in anything you can use them to build an artefact, and then you can use that to perform actions on blogs in that industry.

    Example: Buy 10000 English ideas for B$250 (.25c each) and build an artifact. Now you can use it once every 24 hours on blogs in the English industry - e.g. PBW. You can force the price down, or up, and you can also grab up to 500 free ideas daily by using Raid Industry.

    Hope that helps.

  9. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!Great to see a fellow Aussie (I will ignore the pommie origin!)doing so well - Congrats Simon!

  10. What the heck are you and Bonnie talking about buying shares of blogs? When did we incorporate? Good grief, I can't keep up with the internet.

  11. Encouraging words, Simon.Thanks! I'll look for your books when they hit N.Am.

  12. Ah, we're both talking about
    It's a fantasy sharemarket game which uses real blogs as the companies. They've indexed just about every blog out there, and it's interesting because you can view your own blog and see which are the most valuable incoming links.


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