Simon Haynes Interview, Author of Hal Junior Illustrated Science Fiction

What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?

To be honest, I felt it was expected when writing for middle grade. We have a gigantic stash of books for that age group, and many of them have illustrations. A stray picture here and there can help to break up the text, particularly if you’re writing a longer book. (Hal Junior is about 30,000 words. In comparison, my adult books are about 80,000)

How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?

My original plan was to write novels featuring the character from my adult books as a boy. I thought back to my own childhood, and I realized the overriding memories of my teen years involved zits, braces, awkwardness with girls and other unpleasantness. On the other hand, life at ten or eleven was uncomplicated and a whole lot of fun.

On top of that, I’ve done a lot of school visits for middle grade classes. At that age many kids still think authors are pretty cool.

Do you also illustrate your books? If not, how did you find your illustrator/artist? Any suggestions for hiring an illustrator?

My original plan for Hal Junior was for a very low-key release. I even designed a cover using my own vector art, which came out well but looked too young for the book.

I drew all the internal art with pencil, then scanned it into my computer and manually re-traced it using vectors.

At this point, six weeks before release, I decided to approach the cover artist from my adult novels. We shook hands on an agreement (via email) and he turned in a fantastic piece of work. It was all kept very simple, contract-wise, but we’ve known each other for quite a few years now.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?

I did share a few ideas. It was a little easier because he’s based on the adult character, so that was a basis for the image. Putting him in a space suit bypassed the need for futuristic clothing. (Hal Junior is set in the distant future.)

How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?

I wanted one or two per chapter. I think I ended up with 30 or so, and there are 25 chapters.

I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this? Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?

Yes, seeing the character in the flesh can detract from imagining them yourself. I’ve seen middle grade fiction where the characters on the cover look like 18-year-olds, but apparently this is an industry thing where kids (apparently) don’t want to read their own age group, they want to read and experience life as older characters. That’s one reason I decided my original cover wasn’t up to the job.

Re the illustrations, they’re a great way to explain something without filling the text with info-dump. For example, the characters use an airlock, and instead of explaining at length I just included a diagram. Another character feels ill when he learns where their food comes from, but instead of going into the whole process I illustrated it.

There are also many sight gags. E.g. Hal Junior notices how spaceships, stations, etc, all seem to be the same shade of grey (gray, even.) There’s an illustration showing piles of paint cans with ‘Grey’, ‘More Grey’, ‘Yes, it’s Grey’ and ‘Red’ on the labels. (The latter crossed out with ‘Grey’ written in.)

What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?

It’s still a week until the official release, and first reader feedback on the images has been sketchy. (Hah!) One reviewer commented that the illustrations were ‘witty’, and that’s good enough for me.

How did you promote your book?

Do we have another 2000 words? 😉 I don’t set much store in trailers, I’m afraid. I’d sooner spend the money giving away free copies. I do have a website, and I’m active on many forums and book sites. It’s important not to annoy people by posting ‘buy my book’ messages all over the internet.

I believe libraries and schools will be the primary market for my book, so I’ve been concentrating on these venues. There’s a big hole in the market where junior science fiction ought to be.

Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book? Do you offer a print version or digital only? Any tips you can offer?

I’m offering Hal Junior as an ebook and a print title.

I’m a programmer as well as an author, and one of my projects is the yWriter novel-writing software. I recently modified the program to make it easy to export to ebook-ready HTML and print-ready LaTeX (which can be converted to PDF.)

Once the programming was done, I laid out my novel in yWriter in such a way that I could generate both types of file from the same project.

What are your sales numbers? Are your illustrated book(s) selling better than your other titles?

It’s too early to answer this yet – not released.

How did you determine pricing? Have you played with pricing? How has it affected your sales?

I looked at similar titles with a similar page length. I believe $4.99 for the ebook is about right, and $6.99 for the paperback is cheap. I can always raise the paperback price later if need be.

How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?

Hal Junior is my first illustrated book. None of my adult titles contain illustrations.

Do you have more planned?

I’m torn between writing Hal Junior 2 and Hal Spacejock 5. The Junior books are quicker and easier to write, but Hal 5 is well overdue!

What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?

Decide what you want the illustrations to do. Are you adding to the text, or supplying full-page illustrations of scenes from the book?

Simon Haynes was born in England and grew up in Spain, where he enjoyed an amazing childhood of camping, motorbikes, mateship, air rifles and paper planes. His family moved to Australia when he was 16.
From 1986 to 1988 Simon studied at Curtin University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, Creative Writing and Literature.
Simon returned to Curtin in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.

Simon has four Hal Spacejock novels and several short stories in print. Sleight of Hand won the Aurealis Award (short fiction) in 2001, and Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch was a finalist in both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards for 2008.
Simon divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with frequent bike rides to blow away the cobwebs.
His goal is to write fifteen Hal books (Spacejock OR Junior!) before someone takes his keyboard away.
Follow Simon on Facebook and Twitter.