Dragonmeet 2015

Just a quick post to say that I will be at Dragonmeet 2015 on Saturday 5th December selling my books Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. Dragonmeet’s a one day, London gaming convention. It’s a great con, that I’d strongly recommend. And if you do come, please drop by my table and say hi.


I Know I’m Biased, But…

So I was playing Lego Duplo with the little one the other day and I made her a twin-jet, medium bomber, as you do.


She was very happy with it, and was playing “flying” with it, and then she picked up a discarded piece of assembly from a previous build, and announced that she was going to add it to the plane.


Now nonsensical as this was, I’m always very concerned to not ever make her feel stupid, so I said something like, “Oh that’s a really good idea!” as she did it. And then I looked at what she’d done. And I realised.


She’d only gone and built the bloody AWACS version! How clever is that?

To KDP Select, Or Not To KDP Select… That Is The Awful Moral Choice

Below emphases in all quotes, mine:

What is KDP Select?

KDP Select is an optional program for you to reach even more readers and gives you the opportunity to earn more money. If you choose to make a book exclusive to the Kindle Store, which is a requirement during your book’s enrollment in KDP Select, the book will also be included in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). [snip] In addition, by choosing KDP Select, you will have access to a new set of promotional tools, including Kindle Countdown Deals (limited time promotional discounting for your book) and Free Book Promotion (readers worldwide can get your book free for a limited time).


When you publish an ebook, the most important decision you have to make is probably whether or not to join Amazon’s KDP Select programme, where – if you agree to sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle store – you get access to a whole bunch of promotional goodies.

How much will being exclusive hurt you in terms of lost sales elsewhere? Probably not much.

During a round-table discussion Tim said “I do a have a concern that Amazon’s dominance is causing problems. We estimate Kindle has a 95% market share of e-book sales in the UK and this is having a damaging effect… Consider the struggles of Barnes & Noble and the Nook platform, the problems of the established Txtr in Germany, and the decision here of Tesco to pull out of Blinkbox Books.”


That’s the UK, but I suspect the US is similar. And 95% is what I would call a near-monopoly position. Let’s put it this way, if being on KDP Select increases your Kindle sales by a mere 6%, then it will have made up for the sales you lost by going exclusive. Will it help you make more than 6%?

The importance of a launch for your book in the Kindle store can not be overstated. And it’s not for the reasons you think i.e. your book being read by a bunch of old fans and discovered by new ones. A book launch is important because you need to get as many downloads as you can—at this stage it doesn’t matter if it’s actually read or not—so that your book will be favourably indexed by Amazon’s algorithms. I have it on good authority that if this favourable indexing doesn’t occur, your book will languish in the bowels of the Kindle store forever, never to be found by anyone. The only way a book can recover from a non-launch (so I’m told) is to unpublish it and relaunch it with a new cover and a new ASIN.

So what’s the best way to launch your book? Lots of downloads (hundreds, thousands) in the first few days it is released; however, unless you are an established author (I’m not) with a gigantic email list (don’t have) this is difficult to achieve. The only other way to do it is to make it free, and you can only do that if you enrol your book in Kindle Select, where you are allowed five free days per quarter for each book you have enrolled. You also have to let readers know it’s free, and that means spending money (not much if you don’t want to) on promoting it.


I think at this point I’ve dropped enough dots that it’s almost an insult to the reader to join them, but forgive me if I go ahead anyway. The deal that Amazon are offering, a few extra tools in return for offering them a monopoly on your book, would not make sense were it not for the fact that they have a near monopoly position in the ebook market; by offering such a deal, and having huge numbers of authors accept it, they help cement the near monopoly position that makes that deal worthwhile.

So going with KDP Select is a no-brainer, right? You’d have to be an idiot to turn it down?

Well I’m an idiot.

I’m a Kindle user myself, not on Amazon hardware, but on my iPhone using Amazon’s free Kindle app. But I just don’t feel comfortable with telling readers who’ve bought non-Kindle devices that they can’t legally read my books, at all, ever, in ebook form. So in addition to being on Kindle, I’ve made both Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly available on Smashwords. Readers can purchase them there in a variety of DRM-free formats, but Smashwords also distribute them to the other major ebook platforms, including iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

In the short term, this decision will undoubtably hurt me. In the longer term, I’m hoping that good old-fashioned word of mouth buzz will help me catch up. And either way, while I fully respect everyone who made the decision to go with KDP Select, for now, this is a decision I feel happy with.


* * * * *

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.


Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]


Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

The Road to Publication: Part II

Previous Post: << The Road to Publication: Part I

In my previous post, I described the journey that had led to my decision to self-publish my second novel, If Pigs Could Fly. In this post, I’m going to talk a little about the nuts and bolts details that the process involved, mainly in the hope that it might prove useful for anyone following a similar path.

I’ve going to break it up into the following sections:

  • The Product
  • Formats / Dissemination
  • Platforms
  • Pricing
  • Pre-launch Publicity

I’ve presented those in a rough chronological order, but in reality it’s much more fluid than that, with considerable overlap.

The Product

My advice really starts at the point where you’ve got the text of your manuscript to as good a point as you can get it. I’m assuming that you’ve done multiple drafts, and perhaps shown it to some beta readers (friends whose opinions you trust) to get additional feedback.

One point of advice I will give on the actual writing of your manuscript is to use the specialist writers’ word processor, Scrivener. It’s just brilliant in the way it helps you organise and shape your story.

Once I reached this point, where I’d taken the manuscript as far as I could go, I employed three people to help me turn that manuscript into a novel:

Firstly, I hired Amanda Rutter as an editor. I blogged a little while ago about how Amanda helped me, but basically, I would strongly recommend that you hire an editor. You yourself are simply too close to the woods to see the trees.

The process here was that I gave Amanda the novel in Word format (it was still in traditional double-spaced, typewritten manuscript format at this point), and she then edited with the track changes feature turned on. This allows you to see the edits (both text added and text deleted) that the editor has made directly to the document, and then either approve or reject them. Also the editor can put in comments. For those of you who haven’t used this feature, this is what it looks like in Word for the Mac:


Once I’d gone through the manuscript, reviewing Amanda’s changes, and then rewriting various sections to address issues that Amanda had highlighted, I then reformatted the Word document in the actual format of the final paperback version of my novel (more about that format later). I think the technical term for this is the slightly anachronistic “typesetting”.

I then gave that “typeset” version of the novel (still a Word document) to the second person I hired, Ro Smith, to do a copy edit / proof read (they are actually slightly separate things, but that’s probably something beyond the scope of this post).

Ro was doing three things for me:

  • A second editing pass, at a more sentence-based level, and in addition, looking more specifically to catch typos.
  • Checking that I hadn’t introduced any new screw-ups in the new sections I’d written in response to Amanda’s observations.
  • Checking that I hadn’t screwed up any of the layout / formatting when creating the typeset version of the document.

In parallel to the work on the text, I was working with my cover artist Jon Hodgson, who’d been the cover artist on Game Night some seven years before. This involved me giving him some initial ideas and thoughts, then the two of us batting various ideas around, and going through several versions. I was probably quite an annoying client, but I’m thrilled with the final result.

I’d recommend all three of them.

The obvious questions for endeavours such as these are how long did it take and how much will it cost. Well it probably took around six months to go from a basic manuscript to a “typeset” Word document and a JPEG of the cover. You can do it faster if all the ducks line up, but it’s probably best not to rush it. For cost, it would be unprofessional of me to mention the actual prices changed, but between the three of them it was more than several hundred but less than several thousand, if that makes sense.

Formats / Dissemination

If you’re an independent, self-publishing author, I think you basically have two choices when it comes to the format of your book:

  • E-book only.
  • E-book plus paperback.

Paperback on its own simply isn’t an option. And there are many who argue that you should go E-book only, which isn’t as mad as it sounds. Realistically, your book isn’t going to get into bookshops and will only be available online. And even there, while people might be willing to make a punt on a self-published e-book by an author they’ve not previously heard of, they’re unlikely to spend several times that amount to purchase a paperback.

Let me illustrate this with an anecdote. Game Night is currently only really ticking over sales-wise, something that will hopefully change a bit when If Pigs Could Fly comes out. Since May/June, when I put the new version of it up in both e-book and paperback format, I’ve probably sold something like 120 copies of the e-book version. Meanwhile, I’ve only sold one copy in paperback, and that was a test purchase I made myself from my personal Amazon account, to check that it was working.

There are four reasons why I decided I wanted to do a paperback version of If Pigs Could Fly:

  1. So that I could sent out physical review copies ahead of publication (more on this later).
  2. So that I could sell the book at conventions (I’ve just come back from doing this very thing at the Irish Discworld Convention).
  3. Because it makes the Kindle version of your book look more professional and credible. This is because: a) the paperback will be shown as an alternate format on the Kindle version’s page, which puts it psychologically ahead of the mass of self-published e-books that have no paperback version; b) the Kindle version’s price will be shown as a discount against the paperback price; c) the Kindle version’s page will display a page count, that being the page count of the paperback.
  4. I wanted to be able to hold a real book in my hands. It wouldn’t feel real otherwise.

There is one big disadvantage in doing a paperback, which is that your cover design becomes more complicated. Instead of merely needing a matchbook sized front cover, you need both front and back covers and a spine, in a much larger size.


For the paperback version, I went with Amazon’s own CreateSpace service. CreateSpace offers print-on-demand publishing of your book. Once you’ve uploaded and configured your book, this basically works in two ways:

  • Your book appears on the various Amazons around the world, at a price that you’ve set. When a customer orders the book, CreateSpace/Amazon prints it and ships it to them. You don’t need to do anything, and no up front cash investment is required from you. (Theoretically, it should be available / orderable from other channels, but I have no idea how well that works).
  • You can order copies of the books yourself direct from CreateSpace. (In whatever quantity you want. If you only want 10, then you only order 10.)

I’m sure there are other, better, print-on-demand companies out there, but CreateSpace does what I need it to do, and being an Amazon service it should work well with them.

Creating a CreateSpace version of your book is relatively simple. You have to upload the interior of your book in PDF format, and the cover in JPEG format. You can download dynamically created templates for both of these items from the CreateSpace website: you enter in the dimensions of your book, and it generates an appropriately sized template.

For the e-book, I went with two separate routes. To get If Pigs Could Fly onto Kindle I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. (You can actually publish a Kindle version from the CreateSpace version, but I wanted the greater control you get when you do it directly).

For the Kindle version I had to create a separate version of the If Pigs Could Fly Word document, which I formatted differently, according to the guidelines on the KDP site. And I also needed to cut just the front cover portion of my cover JPEG into a separate JPEG.

As with CreateSpace, creating a KDP account and uploading your book is free.

Now I could have left it at that, with the e-book available for the Kindle only – and in fact Amazon do offer various inducements to do just that. In reality, Kindle is probably about 95% of the e-book market, but I didn’t take the exclusive deal, basically because: a) I don’t want to be the man that helps Amazon have a monopoly; and b) if one of my readers has bought a non-Amazon e-reader, I still very much want them to be able to read my book. (In fact, I find the idea of telling someone that they can’t read your book because they’ve bought the “wrong” e-reader objectionable on several levels).

So in addition to Kindle Direct Publishing, I created myself a Smashwords account, and uploaded a third version of the Word document there. Smashwords offers me three basic things:

  1. People can purchase the book directly from Smashwords, DRM free, in a variety of formats including PDF, .mobi, and .epub. The point being that no matter what type of reading device you have, you can purchase a copy of my book.
  2. Smashwords distributes your book to a variety of other disseminators, including the other three of the “big four”: iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.
  3. Smashwords offers authors the ability to generate voucher codes allowing readers to download free copies of your book. I’m going to use these in two ways. a) As prizes for “win a free copy of the book” type competitions; b) to allow me to offer a free e-book copy with each physical copy of the book sold at conventions.


An interesting pricing inversion often becomes apparent when you compare the prices of self-published and conventionally published books.

In paperback, the conventionally published books are usually cheaper (at least, once they’ve reached the mass-market paperback phase of their life-cycle). This is because they’re printed on conventional printing presses with runs of several thousand, which is always going to be cheaper than a book produced singly using print-on-demand technology.

By contrast, when it comes to e-books, it’s usually the self-published version that’s cheaper. This is because while the conventionally published product has to firstly cover all the costs of producing the product that aren’t related to printing (which is most of them – writing, editing, design, publicity etc), and secondly, because they don’t want to too badly undercut the paperback version. Whereas the self-published author doing it for a hobby can basically afford to sell it for 99p / 99c (the minimum price that Amazon allows).

I wanted to fight this inversion.

I’ve priced the paperback as cheaply as I can, at £6.99 / $9.99, so that its price is comparable with a conventionally published paperback. This means that I make very little on it, but I figure the reader doesn’t care about what kind of printer was used – they’re paying for the end product.

But I’ve priced the e-book at £1.99 / $2.99, because I happen to think that this is a reasonable price to pay for a full-length 90,000 word novel, and I think I should have enough pride in my work to ask for that.

There is also another factor, which is that those prices are the minimum Amazon will allow you to charge if you want 70% royalties, rather than 35%. In other words, an author receives six times as much money for a $2.99 book as for a 99c one. (Think on that, next time you refuse to buy any books priced at more than 99c!)

Pre-launch Publicity

I made sure to have everything product-wise ready at least three months ahead of my set launch date.

(One minor point. With both KDP and Smashwords you can upload your book and set in a pre-order date, which allows readers to pre-order it. You can’t do that with CreateSpace. You can upload it, and then order copies for yourself, but the only way to handle the “future launch date” thing is to keep all distribution channels turned off – so it doesn’t appear on Amazon – and then turn them on a few days ahead of launch.)

ManyBooks-MedI’d spent the previous few months assembling a list of people I could send review copies to (a.k.a. Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs). This was friends, contacts, bloggers, reviewers and so on. Once the book was up on CreateSpace, albeit not visible to the outside world, I then ordered myself a bunch of copies and sent them off to all my ARC recipients. I think I sent out about fifty in total. (After the editorial and cover costs, the purchasing and posting of the ARCs was the other big cost). As part of this, I’d ordered some nice book boxes off Amazon, and also had some stickers made up (red text on a clear background) saying “Advance Reader Copy, Not For Resale” that I stuck on each book.

Finally, I got an entry for the book up on Goodreads. For those who haven’t come across it, Goodreads is sort of a Facebook for people who like reading books. They can talk about what books they’re reading, what books they have read, what books they would like to read, and recommend books to their friends. Unlike Amazon, Goodreads allows people to post reviews of books that haven’t yet been released. But they also have a very cool feature: Goodreads Giveaways.

This feature allows an author to give away a set number of their books, one or more, for free, to Goodreads members. To the members, it’s like a free-to-enter lottery, with the prize being free books. They go to the link I just posted above, and click on any of the offered books that take their fancy. The author is responsible for shipping the books to the winners (you can limit the giveaway to specific countries to avoid punitive shipping costs).

Why do it? Well basically, in the hope that some of those who receive the books will write review of your book and / or recommend it to their friends.

Does it work? Yeah, I think so.

Between the ARCs that I sent out myself, and the Giveaways, If Pigs Could Fly now has 14 reviews on Goodreads and 17 ratings. In addition, 193 Goodreads members have added it to their “to read” list. I think that’s pretty good for a self-published book that isn’t being published until tomorrow.

I hope all the above makes sense. How successful my endeavours will be is yet to be determined. And if you want to talk about any of the above, and get more details (there’s more I could have said, but then this post would have been ridiculously long), please drop me a line (see the contact page on this site).

And finally, if you’ve found these two posts at all useful or entertaining, perhaps you might consider purchasing a copy of If Pigs Could Fly at one of the links below. I really would be hugely grateful. Thank you.

* * * * *

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.


Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]


Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

The Road to Publication: Part I

Tomorrow, Tuesday 6th October 2015, sees the publication of my second novel If Pigs Could Fly (Buy on Amazon UKBuy on Amazon US), by my own imprint Wild Jester Press. It’s been a long journey and I thought now might be a good moment to share some of what I’ve experienced along that journey, and what I’ve learned.

* * * * *

JonnyOnStandNearly eight years ago, my first novel, Game Night, was published, under a sort of hybrid small/self publishing model. My very good friend James Wallis published the book via his gaming company Magnum Opus Press, but the product (editing, cover, typesetting etc) and the marketing (publicity, posters, sales at conventions etc) were both down to me. Game Night was moderately successful, achieving something like 1700 sales in paperback in the couple of years following its launch, but in many ways, I think it was just a bit ahead of its time.

Back in 2007,  e-books were just getting started, and Game Night was printed in paperback format only. (I literally recall any conversations in which anyone suggested me printing an electronic version). Social media was also in its infancy; I didn’t join Twitter until well over a year after Game Night’s publication. Game Night achieved some initial success, with an ENnie nomination and some stunning reviews, but then essentially… stalled.  I did do a Kindle release some years later, but by then the momentum had gone.

Meanwhile, I was working on my second novel, and had hit the quoted-to-the-point of cliché but nonetheless true problem of “second album syndrome”. When I wrote Game Night I’d been riffing on the gaming humour I’d employed in my gaming webzine Critical Miss. I won’t say that writing the novel was easy, but I was in my comfort zone, in a niche with which I was familiar. For the second novel, I wanted, and felt I needed, to break out of that niche in order to reach a wider audience, and frankly, I struggled.

I started an offbeat fantasy, grew discouraged in that after 60,000 words, wrote a 100,000 word time travel novel that failed to attract any agent interest, and then eventually around 2010 or 20011, started work on the novel that would become If Pigs Could Fly. During all of this, my dream was still to be a conventionally published author. I’d had enough of trying to sell my own book. I don’t think Game Night was a failure by any means, but emotionally, it felt like one.

Along the way, I’d gone from a gaming background, where “indie publishing” was the norm, to a literary one, in which self-publishing was regarded with pity at best, and scorn at worse. I wanted to go to conventions like Eastercon wearing the reassuring status of a “published author”. I’d had enough of feeling like a pathetic wannabe, trying to be something he wasn’t, fearful of the heads being secretly shaken behind him. (I’m sure this never happened, and I’m sure no-one ever felt that way towards me. But it was how I felt, and once feelings like that get a hold of your insecurities it’s hard to banish them.)

Incidents like the one I described in a blog post from 2009, didn’t help of course:

The Big Name SF Author

I was in the audience for a panel supposedly about writing courses. For the first ten minutes or so, the four panelists managed to largely contain themselves to merely being mildly smug and self-congratulatory about the courses they’d run or attended, but then for no particularly compelling reason the big name SF author segued sideways into a long, sustained, mean-spirited and frankly vicious attack on the self-publishing industry and self-published authors, with the former being described as “evil” and the latter being described as angry, socially dysfunctional individuals with an inability to take criticism, a burning belief that they were right and that everyone else in the world was wrong, and a fanatical desire to prove the rightness of that latter conviction through the successful self-publishing of their novel.

(Midway through this, he did backtrack slightly, and concede that self-publishing firms weren’t actually evil…)

As you can no-doubt guess from the way in which I’ve described it, I was somewhat enraged both by what he said, and by the cold viciousness in which he chose to say it. I’m not saying that he’ll remain at the bottom of my “writers, personal opinion of” chart for ever, but I’d advise anyone wishing to seize that bottom place from him to begin their interaction with me by punching me hard in the face if they wish to have a fighting chance, such is the degree to which I’m still outraged by what he said.

And finally, now that he’s made me aware of just how much prejudice there is against self-published books in the publishing industry, I now always feel compelled to point out that my own novel ended up being small-press published rather than self-published. This is of course the same moral cowardice that leads people to begin attacks on homophobia with the line, “I’m not gay myself, but…”, and yes, it does leave me feeling similarly disappointed in myself.

In pursuit of this dream, I was attending various “How to get an agent / how to get published” type panels at this point. Now Game Night used to get many quotes and reviews of the following sort (emphasis mine, now, and please feel free to skim over them):

“Game Night, the debut novel by Jonny Nexus, is a work of absolute genius, and is definitely ranked as one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, and in my opinion is at least as witty as the likes of Terry Pratchett. ”

“Reviews of this book have claimed that it has an air of Discworld about it. I’d agree with that, especially Pratchett’s early work; its plot is similarly chaotic and the comedic style is similar.”

“A Pratchet-esque debut novel of gods, roleplaying, and game-night kerfuffles … Buy Game Night. It’s a fun, fresh, irreverent read that’ll ring true to any gamer even if, unlike the protagonists, you happen not to be a god.”

“Game Night is on my top 5 books of all time, and that list includes such celebs as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Jonny Nexus is hilarious!”

“I issued more laughs from reading Game Night than I do from an average Pratchett novel… Clash of The Titans meets Discworld, neatly blended with a little Red Dwarfism.”

“Start with a generous helping of Terry Prachett, add a dash of Douglas Adams, a pinch of Christopher Moore and season heavily with Dead Gentlemen’s Gamers. This is one of those few books that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. All in all, it’s a fun look at life around the gaming table through the eyes of a group of slightly dysfunctional gods.”

“Most humour books try to be novels-with-jokes, if you will. As such, aren’t as funny as say, sketch comedies which are simply a series of great jokes run together. The last novel I read that was devoted to just being a string of comedy sketches was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (taken of course, from a radio show that was a series of sketches run together). Hitchhikers was, as a result, the funniest novel I’ve ever read, and the only one that has ever made laugh out-loud. Until, that is, Game Night came along.”

All those people comparing my writing to my heroes Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett: good thing? Nope. Bad thing. Bad, bad thing. As I described in a blog post written in 2011:

…an agent who, in a very thoughtful, constructive and helpful email… turned me down. Mainly this was due to my writing not setting him on fire. That’s fine. Writing is, as he himself said, very subjective, and I think humour is doubly so. But he also said something else, that I’ve previously heard from other people, which (paraphrasing his words) is this:

As far as the mainstream book world is concerned there isn’t really such a thing as a market for, or genre of, humorous SF/Fantasy. There’s just a Terry Pratchett market, and that’s that.

Basically, the thing I’ve learned over several years is that humorous SF/F of the sort written by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett is a genre that is regarded as, if not stone-cold dead, barely luke-warm at best. At one “How to get published” type panel, I asked a question in which I said my work typically got compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and asked what the panel would advise me to do.

The reply I got from the agent on the panel, paraphrasing slightly for humour, but not by as much as you might think, was basically, “Oh you poor bastard. I’m so, so sorry.”

(I should stress, he was a very nice man. He actually sought me out later at the convention when I was doing a Game Night signing to essentially give me a personal, one-to-one apology for having to break such bad news to me. He clearly felt quite bad about it.)

Basically, it was looking like if I wanted to get published I needed to cut out the funny. And I did try, but it’s not me. (In the roleplaying field, I once observed that any straight Star Trek RPG in which I am invited to participate will inevitably turn into Galaxy Quest).

Why is humour SF/F regarded so negatively? Well to a certain extent, the why is irrelevant to me now. I accept it as a truth and will waste no further time howling and wailing at a metaphorical moon of unfairness. But if you want a theory, I think that in the 1990s, following Terry Pratchett’s breakthrough with the Discworld series, so much rip-off, derivative, copy-cat crap was published that it essentially did to the humour SF/F genre what two generations of Oklahoman farmers did to the Oklahoma soil.

Basically, the bastards dustbowled the entire sodding genre.

At one point, while trying to research what humour SF/F there was out there, I asked for recommendations from my blog/Twitter/Facebook followers and got one reply saying: “Avoid like the plague any book that compares itself to either Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett”.

Which pretty much proves the point.

Eventually, by the summer of last year – after four drafts, and two minor drafts, including a pretty radical “third act” plot transplant – If Pigs Could Fly was finished, and I started down the long, depressing, and soul-destroying path of submitting it to the handful of agents in the UK who handle SF/F (science fiction and fantasy). Alongside all of this, my situation had been changing. Work, life, family: all had cranked up over the previous two years. Responsibilities and distractions had increased exponentially. The time I had to write had shrunk.

I long known that were I to get the publishing contract of which I’d dreamed of for so many years, I’d be required to write one book a year, every year, on top of a day job, for the foreseeable future. Hell, If Pigs Could Fly had been explicitly designed to be suitable for just such a schedule. I had, and have, rough plot ideas for the first six novels.

But somewhere after the way, after a four-month work schedule in which I’d made three separate trips to Singapore, interspersed with a trip to Stockholm and a trip to Istanbul, with all those agents I’d thus far contacted coming back with rejections, something snapped.

I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it.

So I put my spreadsheet of agents away, with its names of agents still uncontacted, and decided that from now on I was going to please myself, big shot author be damned. I was going to publish the stuff I enjoyed writing, when I wanted to write it. I was going to self-publish.

In Part II of this series I’ll describe the nuts and bolts of how I went about getting If Pigs Could Fly into the hands of readers.

Next Post: The Road to Publication: Part II >>

* * * * *

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.


Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]


Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

IDWCon 2015: Sunday Morning Progress Report

BrokenMoons-SmIt’s day three now of the Irish Discworld Convention 2015, and I’m sitting in the Plaza of Broken Moons (a.k.a. the lobby) typing this. For those of you who don’t know, IDWCon (as it’s typically referred to) is an Irish version of the International Discworld convention held in the UK. Since it’s held on those years that the biennial international version isn’t held, it provides a handy home for those UK based Pratchett fans who basically want to go to a Discworld convention every year. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while I’m seeing lots of new faces, I’m seeing lots of familiar ones, also.
MeOnStandI’ve got a stand here, in the dealers area (a.k.a. Sator Square), where I’ve been setting not only my new book, If Pigs Could Fly, but the previous one, Game Night, as well, both of which I’m publishing under my own imprint, Wild Jester Press. I’m opposite the rather nice guys from Waterstones Cork, who are selling a whole range of Terry Pratchett’s books as well as other Discworld related books. And I’m next to the equally nice guys from the Discworld Emporium.

Sales so far are going pretty well, certainly better than I’d feared in the run up to the event. (I should stress that there was no-reason for me to fear bad sales. It’s simply that while merely writing a book is essentially to offer your hopes, fears and dreams up for public examination, to then attempt to sell that book is basically to take those hopes, fears and dreams and package them up in form that’s practically designed to allow easy and convenient crushing.)

Assuming sales hold up today, it looks like I will sell out all the stock I bought. (Anyone reading this who’s at the convention – you have been warned! Come to Sator Square and talk to me!)SatorSquare

I’m selling them at €7 a book, or €10 for two, the latter figure chosen partly to avoid the requirement to give out change, something that’s difficult to acquire when you’re not from the Eurozone. But the two for not much more than one offer has turned out to be a really good thing. It’s much easier to sell books when you have more then one and can thus do this kind of multi-offer. It allows you to keep the price up on a single book, something which I think is important to make it clear that this is a quality work that you have pride in, whilst still offering a deep discount to purchasers.

Turned to the wider convention, I’m really enjoying myself, except of course for one unfortunate incident in the bar last night that was clearly in no-way the fault of either the convention organisers, the hotel, or the convention itself. I refer, of course, to England’s rather crushing defeat in the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Australia. Personally, I’m now falling back on the three sixteenths of my ancestry that’s Irish. Come on you boys in… it’s green, right? (And would a chorus of “No surrender to the ECB” be appropriate?)

The hotel is a lovely base for a convention. The staff are lovely, and as for location, okay, it’s in a business park next to an airport, but given that at conventions you never leave the hotel, that doesn’t matter, and it’s awesomely convenient for people who – like me – flew in. It is literally five to ten minutes walk away from the airport terminal. And if you’re worried about aircraft noise, don’t be. Cork airport isn’t Heathrow. (I know. I was born and raised next to Heathrow.)

I’ll leave you with some pictures. Firstly, the lobby, from above, slightly gloomy due to it being an early morning picture on a not terribly good phone camera:


The convention map on the back of the programme guide:


The Opening Ceremony from Friday night, in Pseudopolis Yard.


The breakfast I had yesterday morning (an answer to a question you haven’t actually asked, that question being “What does a vegan eat for breakfast?”, with the answer being, well in a good, decent hotel, this!).


And finally, the most… “special” feature of the hotel. This is a feature that has been the subject of quite a good deal of discussion, because it just doesn’t fit in. While the rest of the hotel is pretty much a restrained “vanilla corporate”, this is… different. So far, I’m come up with two theories:

  1. The architects gave this bit of hotel to the new trainee, and he/she basically went for it, in a big way.
  2. Someone was leaving, and put this in as a prank, and it wasn’t discovered until the plans were just about to be signed off, and it was too late to changed.

Ladies, gentlemen, searchbots, I give you [drumroll] … the toilets:


To Specify Date or Not To Specify Date

A choice faced by novelists when starting a novel is whether to set it in specific time period, or “in the now”, where in the now means to write the novel in such a way that a reader will assume that it is set in the time that the reader currently lives in. So if a reader in 2015 is reading a book that was published in 2012 but set in the now, then the reader will assume that the book is set in 2015.

A novel that is set at a specific time will usually announce the date, whether that be 1870, 1942, or 1996. A novel that is set “in the now” will usually avoid mentioning specific dates. But it’s not quite as simple as not mentioning dates…

Imagine I’m now, in 2015, writing a book set in 2004, with a story that involves some geeky protagonists. I might have them all using LiveJournal; doing so will be a nice atmospheric touch that will reinforce the sense of time and place.

Of course, if I was writing, in 2015, a book set in the now, I’d have them using Facebook. But – and this is where the wheels can come up an “in the now” book – what if now, in 2015, I’m reading an “in the now” book that was written in 2004, and the characters start exchanging their LiveJournal account names. It’s going to be really jarring. I’m going to think, “Why are they using Live Journal? Are they luddites?”

But what if someone in 2028 is reading my 2015 published novel, gets to the bit about Facebook, and it turns out that reference has dated? Should I remove the reference to Facebook and replace it with something more vague?

ClownShoesYou have a similar problem when trying to foresee how people will perceive cultural elements you reference, something that becomes most apparent with features films. Now when a film is filmed as a period piece, the scriptwriters only reference those things that had stood the test of time.

For example, the film Grease, made in 1978 but set in 1959, only referenced those things as “cool” that had been cool in 1959 but were still regarded as cool nineteen years later, and which are still regarded as cool now.

Compare that with Saturday Night Fever, which was made around the same time but set in the then present day. It’s full of cultural references that contemporary audiences would have perceived as awesomely cool but that we, frankly, laugh at. The film simply doesn’t now work as designed, and it has dated in a way that Grease hasn’t.

This knowledge, this fear of how your novel might be perceived a few years down the road, is surprisingly inhibiting. I’m getting so I’m scared to even mention Facebook. Right now, I’m half tempted to just bottle it, and say, you know what, this novel’s set in 2015.

Amanda Rutter: A Recommendation

Over the last year, Amanda has edited my novels Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly as well as the Game Night prequel novella Saving Stone. And when I’ve bashed out an nth draft of If Pigs Could Fly’s sequel, Sticks and Stones, Amanda will be my number one choice on a shortlist of one to edit it.

I could leave this recommendation there. After all, the best recommendations in life are generally those from satisfied customers like myself, saying, I’ve used her services in the past, I’ll use them again, and so should you. But I feel that transparency and honesty both behove1 me to say something further.

In my case, I feel that having an editor like Amanda both adds to and complements my writing abilities, but also allows me to extend myself as a writer. The first of those is perhaps obvious: pointing out jokes or descriptions that don’t work; highlighting section that are either over-long and boring or abrupt and truncated; and spotting underlying flaws in plot or character actions.

The latter is perhaps less obvious, but I’ll try to illustrate it. Part of my writing style is, I’d like to think, that i use rich complex sentences that play with language. A member of a writing group I used to belong to once said that my writing was very “epigrammatic”. (I had to look that up, but it turned out to be good). But the flip side of this is that I can often go too far, producing a sentence so convoluted that a reader will find themselves getting lost in its labyrinthine structure, only navigating their way out after much head-scratching and re-reading.

Amanda is my safety net here, my security tether. With her at my back I can push my writing without fear, without second guessing, secure in the knowledge that if I fall, she’ll catch me. (Typically by highlighting the offending section and attaching a comment to it pointing out that a re-wording to simplify it would be good). This doesn’t mean that I’ll take her every suggestion or heed every warning; at the end of the day it’s still my work, and stubborn fool that I am, I probably jump out of the “safety net” more often than I should.

But I can say that every single point Amanda makes is thought provoking; where I don’t simply take her suggestion or correction as is, and in the vast majority of cases I do, I’ll think about it, consider it, and usually end up making some sort of change somewhere.

To me, attempting to self-edit your own fiction is like attempting to cut your own hair, and risks a similar humiliation when you expose the resulting “work” to public view. It’s not just that it’s hard to be impartial about your own creation; it’s that you simply cannot know how your words will read to someone who isn’t you. Perhaps you’ve make a joke that relies on a piece of knowledge that it turns out most people don’t know. Perhaps one piece of your story references another part of the story that you meant to put in, but forgot. Maybe – like a tired anecdote about a drunken escapade – a whole stretch of story is interesting to you only because it’s your story, and not through any actual, universal interest.

I cannot stress highly enough my belief that every story needs an editor, and if you’re looking for one, I’d suggest you check Amanda out. It’s always a pleasure working with her, and the feedback you get back will be detailed, complete, challenging, and insightful. You can find her at:


1Yes, behove’s an absurdly archaic word. I’m feeling whimsical. Shoot me!

Wild Jester Press: Upcoming Conventions

On the Wild Jester Press site, we’ve posted to say which conventions we’ll be attending:



On Cows Milk At A Vegan Event

First off, a statement. I do not consider being a vegan to being in any way comparable to being a member of an discriminated against group, be that persons who are non-white, female, gay or bisexual, trans-gendered, or members of a minority religion. However, for someone such as myself who by virtual of being a white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered heterosexual, ticks every single privilege box going, I think that being a vegan might perhaps in some partial way simulate what it might feel like to be a member of a discriminated against group. Not for real. Just for pretend. A simulation.

That said, I’ll then launch into a second statement that might sound rude, exclusionary, and frankly arseholish:

I sometimes wish that vegetarians wouldn’t turn up at what’s supposed to be a vegan event, like the one I’ve just been to. Although to be fair to them, in this case, it seemed very badly described. (Then again, the people organising it, when speaking, repeatedly referred to it as a vegan event, so I wonder if the “mis-description” was inserted in by the person who wrote the program). Here’s how it was (ambiguously) described:


(I should say, it was still a great event, I really enjoyed it, and I’m very thankful to the two women who organised it for putting it on).

The thing is, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t feel I have a huge amount in common with them. I live in a non-vegan world, where I constantly have to moderate what I say, and bite my tongue. When people ask why I don’t drink milk, I have to simply say that it’s “because I’m a vegan”, rather than give the truthful answer that lies behind that, because if I did, I’d upset people. I can’t even really give that truthful answer here, because while this is my own personal blog, it’s still a non-vegan space. It’s still me writing as a vegan in a non-vegan world. (If you really want to know, I’ve attached it as an appendix to this post).

It would be nice, just once, to go to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone. But as soon as vegetarians turn up, I have to, because it’s now back to being a non-vegan space.

Vegans tell anecdotes about the times they want to a wedding or restaurant and there was literally nothing for them to eat, and they literally went hungry. We cry that all we’re asking for is for there to be just one thing on the menu that we could eat. Just one and we’re happy. Overjoyed even. Hell, put two items on the menu and you risk rendering us catatonically indecisive, so unused are we to coping with choice.

Meanwhile, one of the vegetarians at this event just told an anecdote about going to a restaurant for a wedding dinner in the US where the punchline of the anecdote was that there was only one vegetarian option on the menu.

As you can imagine, I did somewhat fail to feel his pain.

Yeah, sure there’s a place for outreach, and bigger tents, and evangelism, and inclusiveness, and all that… But sometimes you just want to be among your own kind, you know? Where you can talk about the things that you have in common, and the things that uniquely affect you, without having to bite your tongue for fear of upsetting “the others”.

I’ve been trying to think of an anecdote about this, and the best I can come up with is (again, veganism is only a simulation of discrimination!):

Irish people living in the UK have certainly faced serious, historical discrimination in the past, and quite possibly to some extent still do. But if I was organising an event for BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) attendees at a UK convention, and an Irish person turned up, I think I’d be a bit, “Mate, really?”

And if he responded to our anecdotes about the serious and damaging discrimination we’d faced for being BAME with an anecdote about discrimination he’d faced for being Irish that was, by comparison to our experiences, quite minor…

Well I think I’d fail to share his pain.

So to go back to the “simulation” I referred to at the start of this point, when some white people get upset about things like the National Black Police Association, I’d like to think that just maybe I get it.

When you live in a world where you’re always the “other”, sometimes, just for once, just for a while, you just want to be among your own kind.

(Oh and by the way, the title refers to the fact that we ended up having cows milk bought to this supposedly vegan event by the hotel. If we’d all been vegans we could just have told them to take it away. But when a bunch of the attendees are vegetarian, that would have seemed a bit rude.)

* * * * *

The truthful answer…

Cows are mammals, and as with any mammal, they only make milk if they give birth to a child. So to get milk from a cow you have to make the cow pregnant, and when the resulting calf comes out male it’s surplus to requirements and is thus often taken straight away and killed (if not killed it will be raised for beef and then killed after several months). I’ve heard stories of cows that cry for eight days straight after their calf is taken away. I cannot see the moral principle in refusing to eat beef, but being okay with baby calves living a life that in its entirety consists of: be born, be immediately taken away from your mother and taken to a slaughter house, have brains blown out. It’s a life that spans less than 24 hours, which will entirely be spent, thirsty, hungry, scared and lonely. It seems to me that the life of a male dairy calf is about as shit, miserable, and pointless as a life is possible to be. It makes a mayfly’s life seem possibly purposeful, and every single time I think of what we do to cows and their calves it brings me to the verge of tears. That’s why I don’t drink milk. It’s not because “I’m a vegan.” It’s because I cry when I think of baby cows getting their brains blown out in slaughterhouses.