Wednesday 3 May 2023

A long road to publication -- the bucket list

Hello there, stranger. It's been a while, hasn't it? We are indeed ships in the night, ghosts along the corridors, farts in elevators. 

Well, I come with some good news, at long last! My novel, "Bucket List" is due to be published in 2024 by Polygon Books. Polygon (part of the Birlinn Books family) are a local (Edinburgh) publisher, so a fine fit for this novel, which is set in my fair city -- the Scottish capital.

I'll tell you a bit more about the novel momentarily, but pull up a pew and lean in to listen, because I've a tale to tell first. It's a tale of my long journey to publication. It's a parable of warning, perhaps, but also of hope. I think it will be of interest to writers, or those thinking of becoming writers. This is the abridged story of my journey to novel publication.

Before the tale begins, it's worth noting that this refers specifically to "traditional publication of a novel". I've published 6 poetry collections, 1 graphic novel and 3 fantasy novels (through a primarily online-publisher) before, but having my novels traditionally published is something I've been trying to attain for about a decade now.

So let's flash back ten years or so: I had just finished my PhD, whilst being self employed as a writer of commercial thingymajigs (mostly website reviews, often dating websites -- if you've been on a dating site, I've almost certainly reviewed it -- but also a whole range of bizarre and boring sites). I had an income I could survive on, and thought "Now I've finished my PhD, this is the perfect time to really give writing a novel a try."

I was canoeing in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, when I saw a monkey on one of the mountain-like islands that sprouts from the water. It struck me that it'd be really cool if I could speak to the monkey, maybe even encourage them to jump onto the canoe. That gave me the idea for a novel: The Talkers (about a girl who seeks her parents' murderers in a world ruled by Talkers, powerful individuals who can psychically control animals). I wrote the novel and send it out to publishers and agents, with little to no success ("great writing, but no" was about the best response I got).

I wrote another novel, The Happy Land (about a girl who seeks a time-bending kidnapper into another dimension) and pretty much the same thing happened. By this point I'd sent my novels to about 70 agents, some of whom said I was a good writer but ultimately "no". I was despondent after so much rejection, but if my career in poetry had taught me anything it was that I had a thick enough skin to keep trying. Elephant Jones they call me. If by they, I mean nobody.

I had resigned myself, however, to the realisation that The Talkers and The Happy Land were my warm-up novels. They weren't going to succeed for me. And in a way I was correct, but in other ways I was wrong...

I'd given up on those novels, but my partner saw a competition and said I should submit The Talkers. It was the "Half the World Global Literati Award" -- a new competition with a $50,000 prize. Well, it was worth one final punt, right? So I submitted and, much to my surprise, my novel was shortlisted.

The last leg of the prize was based on public votes and I lost, which was a kicker because I really could have used the money (reviewing websites wasn't exactly raking in the dough). However, I also shared the news with some reporters and it must have been a slow news week because The Times ran a double-page spread about me ("Author of rejected sci-fi novel is in the running for $50,000 prize"), and the Bookseller reported it too.

Suddenly, agents were getting in touch with me. I had several offers of representation. I spoke to them about my novel and career, and decided to go with the one who seemed most enthusiastic about my work.

I finally had an agent, hooray! Looking for an agent is rubbish, probably my least favourite part of the whole process of being a writer. A long period of edits passed with my agent (there were 13 drafts in total from my first conception to it being ready to send to publishers). The novel was submitted. I was dreaming of huge book deals, my trilogy complete and loved, maybe even movie and TV deals (I had a call with TV/movie agents in LA whilst they were on their car phones, and it felt quite surreal but very exciting indeed. I may have done a little wee. I didn't. Or did I?) Things were happening! And then... 

They didn't. The book nearly sold, but it didn't sell. I fell back to earth. I wrote another novel with the support of my agent, adjusting it to what they had heard editors were looking for and we both loved it. But that too didn't sell. I was devastated -- I'd spent about five years writing these novels, putting other things aside and living by relatively meagre means. My agent was reassuring: you're a great writer, we'll get there eventually. And they had some major hits with their other clients, so hope was still alive, just. It had a weak pulse and bad breath.

I worked with the agent on a plan for a dystopian novel, but in the meantime I applied for a job as an editor for a publisher of LitRPG (a subgenre of GameLit, which is essentially novels where characters live by game-like rules as they level up and progress in fun adventure stories) because I needed money -- I had expected to make some money from my books by that point. The LitRPG publisher didn't have any editorial work in the pipeline so asked me to write my own series, and since it was pretty much a guaranteed publication (and therefore income) I agreed. Over the course of 18 months I wrote and published a trilogy of around 500,000 words. That was pretty fun, but intense. It taught me how to write quickly, and that I need a plan. Although that trilogy brought in some money and I mostly enjoyed the process, it wasn't enough moolah to sustain that pace and I wanted to return to work on a project with my agent.

But by that time, however, the pandemic had struck. I no longer wanted to write a dystopian novel any more because... well, life seemed quite dystopian! I wanted to think about a more positive and exciting prospect. So, I spoke with my agent and we agreed on my new idea: Bucket List -- an uplifting novel about a widow who wins the lottery, and then spends the money completing her bucket list with a young offender. 

I wrote Bucket List and sent it to my agent. She liked it and thought it was very well written, apparently, but said she was now too busy to continue working with me. I got dumped via a short email, and it totally sucked. I felt like I'd been sent back about 8 years, agentless and with no publications (other than my LitRPG trilogy, which had also been less successful than I hoped). This was a real low point for me, but I did at least like Bucket List and had a back catalogue to potentially sell in the future. Bucket List was a funny book, one which I thought would bring some happiness into people's lives during a pretty dark time for the world, so I had faith in it.

Following this setback, I let myself mourn for a bit (I usually do this with a bottle of fizzy wine and a cuddle of my dogs), and then sent Bucket List out to a few agents (I think about 6-7). Most of them didn't respond at all, but the one I was really keen on (a new agent who was local, recommended by a friend) got back quickly saying they loved the book and wanted to meet. It was great news, especially after such a disappointing few years.

((For comparison: when I first submitted to agents, I tried about 70 and it took about 5 years to sign with one. The second time, I submitted to about 7 and it took about 2 weeks to sign with one. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere, but I've no idea what it is.))

My new agent was full of energy and enthusiasm for my work, they gave incredibly useful and specific notes (which is what I need as a writer) and wanted to support my career as a writer of many varied things (I don't really write "similar" books, I like to write whatever takes my fancy). We went out on submission with the redrafted Bucket List and, despite pretty much everything in publishing being super slow at that point, we got an offer. Skip ahead through some negotiations and meetings, and Bucket List has been signed for publication in 2024 with Polygon.

Perhaps more surprising (and I went back and forth over whether or not to say this publicly since it might be viewed as bad practice, but it worked) I only wrote 2-2.5 drafts of Bucket List by the time it sold to Polygon: my first draft (with some slight adjustments) and one redraft with my agent (with a few minor edits after). This is very unusual, as most of my books undergo about 7 drafts before I feel they're ready (and The Talkers went through 14). So, the book which was the quickest and easiest to write was the one that finally got a traditional publication deal for me.

What's next? I have another book about to go out on submission, I'm currently writing a first draft for another uplifting novel, and I have a few more books in the planning stages, as well as a back catologue of about 5 unpublished novels. Spin those plates Elephant Jones, spin them good!

About ten years have passed since I first started this journey to traditionally publish a novel. Tenacity is what worked, I think. And if I were to give advice to a new author, I think that being tenacious is important. It's not an easy road at all, but I'm glad to be bringing out a story which I think could connect with people, and maybe even help people. I plan to publish many more novels traditionally (and otherwise), and it's great to finally have this ticked off my own bucket list.

Russell Jones

Wednesday 14 December 2022

2022 Round-up: what the hell?!

2022 Roundup


Hello fellow travellers in the sphere of chaos! It’s been a long time since we last spoke, and – much like meeting relatives at a wedding party – I’m here to give a roundup of recent(ish) events. It’s been a mixed year of highs and lows, and I think that cocktail is quite important to endure and for others (especially writers, given my occupations) to recognise that it's not all unicorn poo and rainbow dust, so here’s the dirt and the diggidy:



Con: In January, just before my birthday, my then-agent dropped me. I gotta admit, it was pretty devastating and felt like a major step backwards in my career. Finding an agent is usually a long and arduous process full of rejection (I was rejected 70 times before landing an agent) but I guess that’s the way the cookie sometimes crumbles. And my, what stinking crumble it was.

Pro: Not long after being dropped, I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful new agent in Caro Clarke at Portobello Literary. Caro has really championed my writing, is really supportive and offers great feedback. They also did a lot of hard work to get my book into editors’ hands. Good things happened, but as of this moment I’m still waiting to sign on dotted lines, so I shouldn’t say too much (but come on, you can put 2 and 3 together, you maths whizzes).


Con: I wrote no poems this year. I think the poetry well has been dry because of the pandemic (it’s too big, I have to write poems about small things… or weird things in outer space). I hope it will return some day! I did, however, write a novel this year, but it was a real struggle (more than any other I’ve written, in some respects). I felt it wasn’t coming together well enough, and maybe it’d be for the scrap heap. That happens now and again, but with all the time invested in a novel it’s a bummer. However…

Pro: Many edits later and it’s much improved. My agent, Caro, seemed to really like it so there’s hope for the poor thing yet! It’s easy to get downhearted by early drafts, but (as I like to tell mature students) editing is like sculpting a pile of crap into a statuette (made, potentially, of crap).



Con: It’s been a slow year publication-wise, as I published no books. Compared with publishing my epic fantasy trilogy over one year in 2020/21, it was a bit daunting not to know when the next advance might be coming my way. The whole traditional publishing industry seemed to move at a glacial rate, and when you’re living on book sales it’s a worry.

Pro: Despite no big publications in 2022, I do have a novella coming out in 2023 and at least another novel due in 2024. My “Beast Realms” series sales have slowed, but I’m still getting welcome chunks of money each quarter.


Con: I applied for quite a few things this year, including three or four jobs. I got one of the jobs (see below). That’s not a total loss though, as working a regular job would detract from my writing time, and mostly I love writing each day. I also missed out on a residency in South Korea, and a few other little residencies. But I’m too long in the tooth now to get overly bothered by failure. Welcome to writing!

Pro: I was lucky enough to get funding from Creative Scotland to help me edit a novel I’m currently working on. The money was hugely useful and allowed me the time to work on things. I also became a writer in residence at a primary school in Stirling, where I’ll be looking at “improving the future” with the kids next year. After losing a lot of work during the pandemic, it’s nice to be somewhat in demand again.


Con: Mark Toner and Noel Chidwick (the two founders of the magazine, who I’ve worked with since issue 1) have stepped back from the magazine and almost everything that involves. They’ll be very missed in the Shoreline engine.

Pro: But we also have new team members who are wonderful and will bring a lot of new, different energy to Shoreline of Infinity. We also gained Creative Scotland funding for our magazine and events, which is fantastic as it means we can pay everybody for their work and contributions! Here’s hoping we are equally as successful next year. We’ve put on 4 or 5 great events, and published 4 magazines this year. No small feat.


Con: I won’t lie, this has been a hard year. I spent the latter half of it feeling very anxious, primarily because I learned to drive and had a right old mare of a time with my instructor. I think the pandemic also affected me more than I realised, and found that even some simple things (which I wouldn’t blink at in the past) became difficult. It’s been one of the hardest years of my life to date, but there’s been lots to like as well…

Pros: I went to Greece and (finally, after cancelling multiple times since 2019) Florida. Okay, we were hit by a major hurricane, but it was still a lot of fun. I passed my driving test and (whilst I still don’t like driving) am now taking Pass Plus lessons to build my confidence. I also feel I reconnected with my dad a bit more, as he was great during the driving kafuffle – he came to Edinburgh and took me around in my car, so I could re-take my test (after my nightmare instructor abandoned me), as well as taking my dogs into his home when we went to Florida (and our dog sitter cancelled just a few weeks before we flew out). I managed to see my sister, her wife and kids too, which is a rare treat. I’ve also seen more of my friends in Edinburgh, which is really important to me – I’ve missed them, and hope they stick around!



Yep, I think that’s about it. As you can probably see, it’s not been an entirely jolly time, but maybe the bad bits help us to appreciate the good bits. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and all that, right? I feel like I should be Superman by new year.


I hope you’re all doing well out there in Internet Land. Peace, all!


Russell Jones

Wednesday 13 April 2022

"Deep Wood" awarded funded from Creative Scotland

Ring the bells and fetch the hatchets! My novel-in-progress, "Deep Wood", has been awarded funding from Creative Scotland!

The funding is to help me focus on editing the novel so it's ready to rock in the wild world of publishing, which includes redrafting and hiring the critical eyes of a couple of beta readers.

Huge thanks to Creative Scotland for seeing the value in this novel, and here's a little information about the story itself, which is a slight side-step for me genre-wise. It's called "Deep Wood" and is a psychological drama with horror elements...

Wanting to fix their fractured relationship and escape the strains of city life, a couple (a therapist and an artist) move to a remote forest community, where they are forced to face their failures and fears as monstrous shadows infiltrate their lives.

I'm looking forward to whittling this woodland novel into shape before (all going well!) sharing it with the world. Until then, keep your eyes on the trees...

Russell Jones

Tuesday 22 March 2022


Unless you're a close friend or family member (Are you? I don't remember you at my barbecue and you don't have my Jonesian nasal features) then you probably didn't know that around 6 weeks ago, I separated from my agent.

It was sad, but there was no argument, no big moral debate or industry-defining angst. It just didn't work out for us.

However, I am pleased as punch (and Judy) to announce that my fiction is now represented by Caro Clarke at Portobello Literary, who signed me up for Bucket List (see details in other posts). 

Not only is Caro incredibly enthusiastic about my work -- which for me is super important in an agent -- but they also have an extensive and successful background in books rights management and (perhaps even more importantly) a very VERY cute dog!

So, in short: please direct all fiction-based quieries to from now on. Ta muchly! See you at the next barbecue?

Russell Jones

Thursday 30 December 2021

2021 roundup!

Okay, please stop with all the fanmail asking me, "RJ, when are you going to update us on what you've been doing in 2021 and what you plan to do in 2022?" -- It's here, Megafans, so cool your writing hoofs. (PS: there is no fanmail, that was just an excellent joke)

So what have I been doing in 2021? Getting fatter, mostly, but also a few other points of interest...

Two new novels published
I finished my fantasy/LitRPG trilogy, "Beast Realms", published through Portal Books. The audiobooks were also narrated by Travis Baldree, who's an audiobook superstar. It's always fun listening to them being recorded live, and I especially enjoyed hearing Travis sing a sea shanty in the voice of a dog pirate.

Here are links to each of the three books in the trilogy:

One graphic novel published
I worked with artist Aimee Lockwood to publish a graphic novel called The Wilds. It's a story about a girl who's struggling to cope with the death of her mum. So, she runs into the wilderness and meets an ethereal bear, who helps her to survive and process her grief.

Aimee and I had the idea before lockdown, and when I wrote a part of the book (which is a series of 13 poems) I'd send it to her and then we'd go back and forth adjusting the words and images. We got Tapsalteerie on board to publish it, with feedback and support from Child Bereavement UK, and managed to snag enough Creative Scotland funding for Aimee to complete the illustrations. And now it's a real thing, like cheese!

And here's the link to buy The Wilds.

A novella sold
Due for publication some time in 2022, my novella "Dating Superman" is loosely based on a true story told to me by a friend who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the USA, the World, The Milky Way, The Universe. Rhiannon Bolos Da Cunha told me about a man who used to turn up for weekends in Brooklyn, dressed as Superman. He used the outfit to hook up with women while avoiding the press in his home city (where he was a big deal, I think he was a politician or some powerful businessman).

My novella is from the view of Sophie, an 8.5-year-old girl in Birmingham (England, 1980's). Sophie thinks her neighbour really is Superman, and she wants her mum to date him. It's been a while since I wrote this one, but I'm really glad it's finally been picked up by Leamington Books because it is one of my favourite things that I've written.

Leamington Books are a local Edinburgh publisher, and they'll be releasing a series of novellas in 2022. Dating Superman will likely be published within the covers of a book containing one or two other novellas, and it may come out as an e-book and/or an individual publication.

Another novel written

Just before Christmas, I finished writing a new novel called Bucket List. It's a story about an intergenerational friendship, following the exploits of Dot (72) and Max (19) as they attempt to complete Dot's bucket list after she wins the lottery.

Initially, I had planned on writing a quite dark dystopian novel to sell through my agent, Juliet Mushens. However, I was taking some time out to complete my "Beast Realms" trilogy and the pandemic hit. Given that everything in real life seemed a bit grim, I wasn't so inclined to write a downbeat novel, so decided to write Bucket List instead! It's a humourous (I hope) page-turner, meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, as though we're all filled with hot peaches.

Fingers and toes crossed that this one sells!

Shoreline of Infinity
We've been busy as bee keepers, keeping Shoreline going. We've put on lots of events online, and even one in the flesh at Cymera Fest! We published a monthly edition of the magazine this year, which was a lot of work, but will be returning to our regular thrice-yearly publication in 2022. Excitingly, we gained Creative Scotland funding to help support the magazine and some nifty online stuff, so that's all coming soon (and means we'll finally be paid for our work!!!)

We do loads of Speculative Fiction stuff (mainly sci-fi) so here's a link to check some of it out.

Poetry etc
Nope, not really. Just a few poetry commissions and poems for funerals. I've read a decent number of comics and a few novels, but poetry just hasn't been whispering to me during the pandemic. Although, I have organised and MC'ed a few poetry and other literary events (mostly online, a couple in person). 

Personal life
Well, we're still in the throes of a pandemic (although my gut says it's maybe starting to level out and things may begin to turn towards normality soon -- don't quote me during the zombie invasion though). There are a few notable things, but nothing hugely exciting to anyone who doesn't know me well:

1) Eddie's doing great - our little pup Eddie is thriving, despite having a tough start in life before coming to live with us. He's a lovely little lad who wants nothing more than cuddles, biscuits, and to chase birds. We commissioned a few pictures of him for a "rogues gallery". Pakkun is as wonderful as ever and hasn't really slowed down even though he's 12.5! What a lad! 

2) Neice to meet you - I have a neice (she's just turned 1 actually) called Eris, but I'm yet to meet her as I had to cancel flights to Wales due to the pandemic. My little nephew Lowen is also not so little now. I hope to see them soon, flying diseases allowing. (No picture for this one, I'm not sure about the morality of showing kids' pics online)

3) Driving - I passed my driving theory test on the first try (yes, I am being Mister Big Head) and aim to learn to drive in 2022.

4) Home and Away - we've not really been anywhere other than walking locally, so we've been homies. This has included fixing random stuff, installing new appliances, upgrading the hottub and rubbing puppy bellies. Thankfully I don't mind staying home, but I would really like to see my friends more at restaurants and pubs. And I want to go on the Florida trip we've had to postpone for 2 years so far.

5) Talking of friends, several have had babies and new jobs etc. I've seen them a little in my garden and out and about, but not as much as I'd like (as said just a few lines ago, were you paying attention?!) Anyway, congrats to a bunch of them for finishing PhD's, publishing books and creating new life.

Okay, that's all! If you made it this far, feel free to comment on this post and let me know what you've been up to!

Ciao, bella.

Russell Jones

Wednesday 21 July 2021

2021 update

Okay, yeah, it's kinda ridiculous that I haven't really done a "proper" update for about 7 months. But blogging is just so 2016, ain't it? Well, given the crapolastorm that has been 2019-2021, I figured perhaps we'd all like to feel like we were back in the good old days of illegal war and Pokemon Go. 

So, here's an update on what I've been up to, (mainly) writery-wise, this year!

Beast Realms

I've been working hard on my Beast Realms LitRPG novel trilogy. Book 2 (Evolution) came out in April, closely followed by the audiobook. Book 3, Revelations, is coming along nicely and should be out in the Autumn, all being well. If you've no idea what I'm talking about (you're not alone), my Beast Realms novels are set inside video games. The protagonist takes on a lizard man body, joining forces with a replicating, size-shifting bug, and they fight monsters and evildoers. There's more to it, but that's the basics.

The Wilds

This is the big one for me: my first graphic novel. Just before the pandemic struck, I met with illustrator Aimee Lockwood to talk about a full-length poetry comic. We both liked the idea, so I wrote a 13-part poem series about a girl who's struggling over the death of her mom. She escapes into a mythical/Scottish wilderness where she processes her grief, and learns to survive, with the help of a talking bear.

It's a beautiful thing, 95% because of Aimee's awesome art. The poems aren't bad either, and we worked with young folk from Child Bereavement UK to get their thoughts. We were very please (and relieved) that they connected with the story and its character, and liked the mix of poetry with comics.

The book received Creative Scotland Funding (THANK YOU CS) to complete the manual work, then we blasted through a crowdfunding target (163% funded) to get it printed. It'll be published by Tapsalteerie in September, you can find out more about it here.

What's next...?

I promised my agent that I'd write another book for "general consumption" (rather than the niche genre of LitRPG) after Beast Realms. So, we worked on a detailed plan for a novel in which women could control men with their words, provisionally titled, Conviction. Sound good? Well, sorry, you'll have to write it yourself because the pandemic put me right off writing anything dystopian or full of horror and tragedy.

So instead, I'll soon be starting work on Bucket List (again, a provisional title): a story of intergenerational friendship between an old gal and a young lad in Edinburgh. I won't say much more, because you're a dirty little ideas thief aren't you? (Really, I won't say more because it's not fully planned out yet).

Other stuff?

I've been working on regular issues of Shoreline of Infinity (Scotland's sci-fi magazine, which is now monthly!) as well as putting on lots of sci-fi themed events with them (over 70 now...!)

I tried to break into the "comics about women in STEMM" market, but it didn't quite take off. It has legs, though, I think.

I published some short stories for places like Open Book, fulfilled a few other little writing commissions. Poetry's taken a back seat for about 18 months now -- maybe it feels a bit too raw for a pandemic, maybe I just have nothing much to poeticise about right now. It's okay, it'll come back when it's ready, like a hungry dog.

And speaking of hungry dogs... we also welcomed a new member to our family: Eddie, a Brittany from Benidorm. He's had a tough life prior to coming to us, but he's a cute little guy and settling in nicely with best-bro Pakkun.

And that's about it
I'm sure there are other things to report, but I can't think of them and they probably aren't very interesting. That's my blog done for another short while, in any case. I'll try to be better about updates, but I won't make a promise. I wouldn't want to break your heart.

Russell Jones

Monday 26 April 2021

Beast Realms 2: Evolution - out now!

The second novel in the Beast Realms trilogy, is now out with Portal Books!

The Beast Realms are under threat: the land, water and air are poisoned. Its leaders are power-crazed and its people are divided. Worse still, strange and powerful Beasts have started dropping from the sky, causing carnage.

With the Beast Realms in turmoil and a ragtag group of insanely strong assassins on Team Venom’s tail, their chances of survival are slim. Escaping through man-eating jungles, seeking allies in underwater and treetop cities, Art and his team need to forge alliances to grow stronger.

As he grows in power, Art is able to unlock more and more secrets of his Gray Knight class. But skill alone will not be enough – to beat the overwhelming odds, he must tap into the unbridled power of the Beasts themselves…

Change is coming and the weak will die out – unless they evolve.

Available as:

Russell Jones