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Hal Spacejock History - Continued

The Hal Spacejock series has done pretty well for itself over the years, after eventually landing with a trade publisher. One title become a national bestseller, another made the shortlist for Australia's top spec fic awards (both the Aurealis and the Ditmar), and yet another went through three printings. However, it wasn't always sunshine and roses, and I've typed up this history to give you some idea of the frustration and heartbreak involved in writing an ongoing series ... and trying to get it published in the first place!


This is Part Five. Read the previous part here)

Where do I start? I spent most of 2008 working on Hal 5, then set it aside to earn a living. (Writers have to eat too.) When I went back to it in 2009 I decided the plot was too complex, and split it into two books. I almost finished one of them, then went off to earn a living again in 2010.

While all this was going on the publishing market was turned on its head, with the rapid rise of ebooks and the even faster disappearance of bookstores. Selling an ongoing series has never been easy, but with stores reluctant to stock earlier books (e.g. Hal 1 to Hal 4), it's impossible. We also had the GFC, share market crashes, recessions, mining booms, retail woes ... good timing for a funny novel, but not for business.

With all this doom and gloom around I decided to start a new series featuring a young Hal Spacejock. Late in 2010 I wrote two and half books (thank you, NanoWrimo), then edited the first over a period of three months and submitted it to my publisher. They loved it! Unfortunately, they decided to pass.

I started approaching Aussie publishers, then withdrew my subs and released Hal Junior as an Indie title. Reviews have been great, and that encouraged me to write and release a second book in the same series:



Towards the end of 2010 I finally admitted to myself that Hal Spacejock 5 wasn't going to get published. I requested a meeting with Fremantle Press, and we agreed the series had run its course in Australia. They would like to have taken it on, but bookstores weren't prepared to order the earlier books unless customers specifically asked for them, even when bundled with a new release. As mentioned above, that's the kiss of death for any series.

None of this was a major shock to me - I'd suspected as much since 2009, when my favourite of the series (No Free Lunch) won or shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards, but didn't make too much of a splash in the shops.

In September 2011 my UK-based agent and I also agreed to terminate our agreement. He'd been lobbying British publishers with the Hal series for five years, but they weren't interested in genre comedy. Hey, it's a tough market.

So, where to from here? First, I got the rights back to the four Hal Spacejock titles, and I've already released Kindle editions. (Also on Amazon UK, DE and FR.) Lightning Source (print) editions will be out later in 2012, right after the third Hal Junior novel. Hal Spacejock, Hal Junior and all my short fiction are also on Smashwords.

When I restarted work on Hal 5 the first thing I did was excise the character who was causing me the most problems. (No, not Hal or Clunk.) I had twelve subplots going on - TWELVE! - and I reduced that to two. The other ten will form the basis of future Hal books.

Hal 5 ended up at 62,000 words, and was released in ebook and print in July 2012. The lessons I learnt writing this book will make future titles a lot easier (and quicker!)



In future I will write slightly shorter books (55-60,000 words), which are much easier to re-read and edit. I learnt this lesson by writing my 30,000 word Hal Junior novels, which I can read in a sitting. I've also been working on short stories, and Hal Spacejock Framed is on Kindle and Smashwords right now.

I'll be releasing future titles myself in ebook and print, and hoping to build word of mouth for the series over time. I'm also going to release regular books in the Hal Junior series, with book two now in progress.

Stay tuned for part 6!