I just signed my first traditional publishing deal

The title isn’t quite true. I’ve signed trad deals in which I’ve published other authors, and ones in which I’ve signed audiobook-only deals for my novels. Then there are magazines and anthologies. But I’m really excited about this one with Seventh Seal Press because it’s the traditional multi-format novel deal, with the exceptions that:

  • It’s much more generous than the sign away all rights forever for as little as we can give you contract.
  • Seventh Seal Press is still a new imprint, but it’s already established a reputation for winning fans, critical acclaim, and of selling a lot of books.

And that last point is the killer one for me. I’m a midlist author, and I can’t afford financially or in terms of career development to sign a deal with a publisher without a track record of good sales within the genre I write in. While I’m always open to serious offers, there are two, maybe three publishers in the world that I would definitely consider signing with. Seventh Seal Press is one of them.

For more info, I’ve written it all up with pictures here 🙂


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Dresden Files in Space?

DresdenLast year I picked up a Jim Butcher book I chanced upon at the library where I write my books. I’d heard about the author for years, but mostly during the debacle of the 2015 Hugo Awards when his Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, was no-awarded (which means voters are saying the book was so awful that it should never have been shortlisted). Was it really that bad? My experiences with contemporary fantasy novels hadn’t been successful in recent years, so my expectations weren’t high.

My reaction? Within a few months’ I’d not only devoured the entire 15-novel Dresden Files series but during an enforced break in my book project at the time (War Against the White Knights) I started writing a series of my own that in my head was ‘Dresden Files in Space’. It’s not a copy, and many details are completely and unrecognizably different, but in my little author’s head I was channeling the excitement Jim Butcher delivers in spades. And my characters too were more vivid in my imagination than ever before. I’ve been reading novels for over 40 years, and that must mean hundreds of authors — thousands — but I’ve never encountered an author who could write characters as convincingly as Jim Butcher. The guy is a writing genius. And that makes him a powerful source to channel.

I think that when creatives inspire each other to new heights, then this channeling idea is how it often works. If you try to copy another artist’s work, you’ll get an uninspired dull echo. But if you fill your head with the same vibe you get from your inspiration, and then allow your own unique creative juices to flow, then you get a much more special result. And the most gifted among us will keep that virtuous cycle going by then going on to inspire others.


Inspired novels…

I remember reading an interview in the mid-80s with Gene Simmons of KISS talking about a bass player in a contemporary rock band who was inspired by Simmons’s bass licks on the early KISS albums. Simmons was bemused by the whole thing because he couldn’t hear any echoes of his playing in his devotee, but that didn’t matter because the inspiration worked. [I’m not certain which band Simmons was talking about, but I think it might have been Toad the Wet Sprocket].


So there’s my writing tip for the day: fill your head with something good and then get writing.

Were the results of my Butcher inspiration successful? I think so. Certainly they were the most enjoyable novels to write so far. You could always find out for yourself. I launched the second novel in the series yesterday, and for a few days it will be available for 99c/99p. So will the first book, Hurt U Back.


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Interview with June Book Cover of the Month Winner, Shawn King.

steamTo succeed as a professional author, you need to write superb books, and never more than at present with the unprecedented level of competition in publishing today. (For example, when I sell a copy of a science fiction novels through Amazon, I have to compete against 169,000 other SF books, and beat every one of them.) But writing great stories is obvious; there are other things you need to do too.

I’ve been writing and publishing for a living since 2011, and if there’s one ‘other’ thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s to get the typography on your cover right for both your book and your brand. And if there’s another thing, it’s to get the right negative space on your cover. And then there’s the use of color. And having the image simple and strong enough to look good in a thumbnail.

Yes, covers sell books; there’s no getting away from that but they are also a fascinating topic in their own right. One of the most informative and fun places to think about covers is on M.L.S. Weech’s website where you get to vote on a series of cover contests to find the cover of the month. Here’s June’s winner being interviewed about his second win, for the excellent cover of ‘For Steam and Country’ by Jon Del Arroz.

Source: Interview with June Book Cover of the Month Winner, Shawn King.

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Not idle

I’ve been promising for a while to blog more on this, my home site. I keep sketching ideas on the topics of science fiction, writing and combining the two with science fiction publishing, but I keep not posting because I find I’m always too busy writing the kind of thing that pays the bills. I’ve been promising my writing group for several months that I’d post something about a series I workshopped there reaching 100,000 sales. It’s added another 25,000 since then, so I’d better do that once the family’s back at school. Once I’ve started, I don’t think I’ll stop, because there’s so many exciting things happening in science fiction publishing at the moment.

Since I last posted, I’ve sold two novelettes to major anthologies, signed a trad-publishing deal (somewhat to my surprise) and written a lot. I’m expecting five book launches during the fall. It will be busy!

I was looking back at what I’ve done this summer because my next book is not quite as ready as I’d hoped. But I realize that I can’t really say I’ve been idle.

Here are some of the things I’ve launched or written in the last quarter, many exclusive to my Legionaries mailing list (which you can join here).

and some more over the past couple of years…


I look forward to blogging more soon 🙂


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A new trend for publishing retail?

Most days I spend time looking around the world of publishing when I should really be in that world and writing novels. Here’s something I found today that really caught my eye.

Sometimes authors get together and talk about how major publishers are and will respond to the disruption coming from self-publishers, Amazon imprints, and other new publishers. For example, the consistent line spun over the past few years that print books are resurgent and would everyone please forget about eBooks and go to your nearest bookstore. It’s a fascinating topic, and an important one if you earn your living writing novels. But that’s about publishers; we don’t spend as much time debating changes to brick and mortar retailers.

Cue this article about a keynote speech by James Daunt, boss of Waterstones, one of the two remaining national bookstores in the UK (if you include WH Smith). Waterstones has been taking hammer blows from Amazon for many years now, but Daunt seems to have stabilized the business.

The change that caught my eye was that Waterstones has come off a reliance on co-op payments. Now, co-op for those who don’t know, is a complex and evolving class of negotiations that basically boil down to this: publishers pay bookstores to promote their titles. It’s not always as simple as the description I’m about to give, but if a bookstore has big stacks of a major new release on prominent display, then there’s a good chance that they’ve been paid to stock those books, and to place them in the prime real estate at the front of the store.

It’s not always this way. If I ran a bookstore, I would want plenty of copies stocked for a brand-new Harry Potter book, for example. But sometimes when you go to a store and it’s overflowing with a title, it isn’t because it’s the big new thing; it’s an illusion that the title is the next big thing that publishers hope will become self-fulfilling. And if it doesn’t, the bookstore will return many of those copies to the publisher for a refund.

Unfortunately, you still won’t find these sort of novels at Waterstones.

Coming off co-op (like ‘coming off heroin’, says Daunt) is a big part of the reason why Waterstones has shrunk their returns from 20% of stock to 3%. In other words, Waterstones are now carrying more of the books that their customers want, rather than stocking the books their suppliers want.

It’s a bold move, and it sounds like a transformational one (which only goes to show how distorted the industry had become). After all, the radical philosophy that has made the Amazon bookstore so successful is that they always put the needs of their customers ahead of their suppliers. OK, that’s the theory. Sometimes they stray a little from their core principle, but not too far. And as I think about it, that Amazon principle is how I make a living writing books. If people buy and enjoy my novels then Amazon will recommend them to people they think will also enjoy them. I don’t pay Amazon to do this (although I have also advertised separately in the clearly labelled ‘sponsored’ parts of their storefront).

I hope this works for Waterstones. I really do and maybe Daunt’s move will be copied by bookstores around the world. Perhaps Waterstones will be seen more like an indie bookstore, rather than how it used to be: a corporate chain where every store in the country looks the same and carries the same stock. (Although that wouldn’t be such a good outcome for indie stores, though).

I’m enthused… but enough to step inside Waterstones? There’s one in Bedford, just outside the library where I often write my novels during the week. Hmm… maybe not.

Here’s why.

My love of science fiction literature was suffering a long death during the noughties. I cancelled all my short story magazine subscriptions because I didn’t enjoy most of the stories. I had followed the book recommendations in those magazines, and in the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction and BSFA Vector, but too often they led me to novels that I could sometimes see were impressive in various technical ways but didn’t enthuse me. (With an occasional exception). The grimmest symptom was that not finishing a science fiction novel had changed from a rarity to the norm.  I thought my long love affair with science fiction literature had ended.

Then came the flood of new authors that hit the Kindle I received as a leaving present when I left my last ‘proper job’ at the start of 2011. They were sometimes rough and ready in the earliest years, but they told exciting stories that filled my imagination to bursting point. Instead of taking months to work my way through a book before giving up, I was now reading late into the early hours and finishing in a few days. I fell in love with science fiction literature again.

And once I’d started buying, Amazon started giving me recommendations of more great books. True, some ridiculous suggestions were thrown up, but what enabled my connection to this new talent was the Amazon principle of recommending what it thinks its customers want, not what its suppliers want.

That focus worked for me. I hope it works for Waterstones too. It won’t in my case, though, because only a tiny proportion of the authors I follow are stocked in the science fiction & fantasy shelves at Waterstones. It’s got to be a decade or more since I bought a novel at a physical bookstore.

But Waterstones has taken an interesting step in coming off co-op and I wonder where it will lead.

The article link, by the way, takes you to The Passive Voice, which quotes articles on publishing. Sometimes the comments are the most interesting aspect of the posts here as you can get a fascinating range of informed opinions, although there is a tendency to champion the many smaller rivals to the Big Five publishers and the incumbent publishing establishment. If you are interested in the world of English language publishing, and your main sources of information are the likes of major newspapers, Publishers Weekly, and The Bookseller, then you are in serious need of a more balanced view of publishing. The Passive Voice will help you to do that.


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Fake news and eBook publishing

For a bit of lunchtime fun, I tried journalism in response to today’s press release from the Publishers’ Association, which has been widely reported in the UK press, emphasizing the story that eBook sales are in a ‘slump’.

Here’s my first ever attempt at journalism:

The Publishers Association today reported a slump in eBook fiction sales across their members after a change in strategy in which they increased eBook prices in an attempt to drive consumers back to printed books.

Commenting on the 16% sales drop, Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said, “There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness from so many devices being used… [Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

However, the change in pricing strategy, and the relentless traditional publishing press briefings over the past year on the alleged consumer shift back to print, is interpreted by others as a tacit admission that the members of the Publishers Association, who dominated UK publishing until only a few years ago, have now lost control of digital book publishing, where new entrants thrive in the form of micro-publishers, self-publishers and Amazon’s own imprints.

With the Publishers Association now representing only a tiny fraction of UK publishers (although most of the largest ones are members), and the dominant eBook retailer, Amazon, refusing to disclose sales figures, it is impossible to be sure of the true state of digital book publishing in the UK. Perhaps most telling is the line in Amazon’s recently released annual report in which the retail giant stated that Kindle eBook sales rose last year, as they have every year since the Kindle’s launch. Subscription services are also booming, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service which reports 3 ½ billion page reads per month.

I actually found this very hard because to my mind journalists need to check facts and attempt a balanced point of view. In this case, the key fact (are eBook sales up or down) is impossible to know for sure. What is certain is that the Publishers Association does not represent the publishing industry, and neither do their statistics, but that doesn’t stop them issuing self-serving spin (which is understandable, for that is their purpose).

How could I phrase my report and stay neutral? Every phrasing I considered added nuance and tacit spin. Neutrality and balance is not easy! I came away with enhanced respect for genuine journalists.

However, genuine journalists seem to be a rarity in this era of ever-faker news.

For an example of a once-great newspaper that often seems to have abandoned journalism altogether, compare my attempt with the equivalent in the Guardian. Bonus points if you spot the Guardian’s spelling mistake. A million extra points if you can spot where the Guardian writer attempts to qualify the accuracy of the data reported by the Publisher’s Association (ie it isn’t at all meaningful when used to consider the industry), or to provide a balanced point of view (by considering the vast legion of publishers who are not in this trade body).


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Meet the Boss Man!

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Originally posted on J.R. Handley Blog:
INTRODUCTION TO THE HUMAN LEGION CREATOR: ? Hello Space Cadets, I wanted to offer you a treat in honor of the recently passed Halloween.  I’ve managed to snag an interview with the creator…

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Red Shirt Application

This is a great opportunity to be ‘onscreen’ (albeit for a short time).

J.R. Handley Blog

Image result for red shirt picture

Hello Space Cadets, today I wanted to take a second to make a call out for Red Shirt Applications!  In every military science fiction book, there are characters whose only role is to die.  Some die well, some run and are gunned down, but all must die.  I kill ‘em by the bushel!  In my childhood, I watched the original zombie show, Star Trek, where the walking dead were identified by their red shirts!  These characters, to date, are just fictional names I pulled out of a hat BUT they could be you!!  If you’re interested in becoming a red shirt in the Sleeping Legion Universe, send an email to jrhandley@jrhandleyinc.com telling me you want to be a red shirt!!  Then you can tell me as much about your character as you would like.  I will try to use them as I need…

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Giving book reviews – honest reviews – can be savage business for a writer

I’ve reviewed a few books over the last few months, partly because I enjoy reading, partly for the expanded view it gives me of other writing styles, and a little because I feel it’s a …

Source: Giving book reviews – honest reviews – can be savage business for a writer

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The Empire at War is available to buy

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on The Human Legion:
I’ve been published in a British-themed multi-author boxed set, which is available for Kindle pre-order now at a ridiculously low price and will be available on general release on Friday 5th Feb. We’re working…

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