Saturday, February 04, 2006

Print-on-Demand Realities - My Publishing Program

Soon I will be publishing a second edition of my novel THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER as a print-on-demand book via

What follows is an overview of my publishing program plus some comments on print-on-demand.

At this stage I have no indication of what the commercial payoffs might be, if any, but this ambitious publishing project (four books already in print and several more to come) certainly solves the problem of what I'm going to do with all my spare time.


When THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER is done, it will be sold online by from my storefront.

The storefront is at:

Print-on-demand is an elegant process which sidesteps the main problem of traditional publishing: the necessity to produce large print runs which create financial liabilities in the form of unsold inventory.

With print-on-demand, the book exists without cost as a computer file until you order it. Then a big machine prints off one copy, your copy, to meet the demand. As of 2006, that copy is delivered by Federal Express, which delivers to pretty much every place on planet Earth.

Satisfied customers report that the books arrive promptly, well-packaged and in good condition. See the site for shipping details. is the storefront for sales of Hugh Cook's books. Three titles have their own ISBNs and may be bought on These three titles are BAMBOO HORSES, CANCER PATIENT and TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER. The other books listed here do not have ISBNs, the unique identifying numbers used by libraries and bookshops, and so are only on offer from

An ISBN has to be paid for, and, though it is a small expense, it is a real expense. The decision to do without ISBNs for all but the three books already mentioned was conditioned by the perception that the likelihood of libraries buying them was small, and that interested readers (CHRONICLES fans determined to run down the three books which have been out of print for some years, for example) would find their way to the storefront easily enough.

Wi thought ISBNs, the author's up-front capital outlay for the publication of each of these titles ranged from zero (for the ARC OF LIGHT poetry collection) to six New Zealand dollars for THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER. The NZ $6 was paid to the local copy shop to scan four maps from a copy of the first edition and put them onto a CD.

My financial deal with is that I pay them nothing. I upload my file to them and, thereafter, it is available on my storefront. If someone buys a copy directly from, charges the buyer a price which represents the production cost, the shipping cost, a royalty for me and a royalty for If I set my own royalty at US $4 per copy, for example, then gets a royalty on the same book of US $1.

For me, there are no charges involved in designing the books, making covers, editing, proofreading and preparing the necessary computer files, as I do all that work myself. My perception of the financial realities of this kind of publication is that if I were to pay someone to do all that work (and the hours do add up) then it would be money I would never see again.

The advantage of print-on-demand technology is that it allows a book, any book, to meet its market. The global market for a particular book may be, in practice, no more than half a dozen copies or so, but being in a minority position does not mean that you have no right to exist. English literature should not be restricted to the twenty titles which, in any given week, can win themselves space on the supermarket shelves between the music CDs and the latest DVDs.

At this point, a sanity check on reasonable expectations for a POD project. I went to the site of one of's competitors where they had the large number of titles they had in print and the very large number of volumes they had printed and distributed. My pocket calculator cheerfully divided "very large" by "large" and arrived at a figure fifty, suggesting that this is the number of readers the average print-on-demand book finds, rather than the fifty million which the fond author might perhaps be imagining.

While these notes touch on how things work for me with, they do not form an introduction to's services or the arcana of (optionally) buying ISBN services, for which see the site.

For the second edition of THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER with I went for a format which is 8.5 inches by 11 inches, which makes for a reading line which is a little longer than usual, and which some readers may be uncomfortable with.

For all my other print-on-demand projects with, I am using a standard paperback format, 6 inches by 9 inches, which results in something that looks, feels, smells and handles exactly like an ordinary printed book, because that, in practice, is exactly what it is.

Books in Hugh Cook's Print-on-Demand Publishing Project

In Print Now


A fantasy novel with murder mystery elements set in a world like ours and yet unlike. Yes, they have cellphones and the Internet. But, whereas we eat with chopsticks, they eat with scissors.


When I enter Tanto's bedroom, it is in darkness. My hand sweeps across the wall, seeking the light switch, but fails to find it. I can't remember where it is.

Abandoning the search, I advance on the bed, guided by the illumination spilling in from the corridor. A familiar smell meets my nostrils. I remember this smell. I remember the early days of fatherhood, the babies urinating an incredible ten, twenty, thirty, forty times a day. (Unbelievable facts of the universe!) Those days are far behind us. But, even so, if my nostrils can be trusted, Tanto, at the age of fourteen, has wet his bed.

And yet is still asleep, tumultuously asleep, locked in the rhythms of monstrosity. Somehow, my wife knows that. Tanto has screamed but he has screamed in his sleep. He has not succeeded in waking himself up. Maybe he cannot wake up. He is trapped in a world of nightmare, trapped in a world of slaughter from which he cannot awaken. He is sobbing and growling, torn by fear mingled with rage.

Taking Tanto by the shoulder, I shake him, my own concern making me rougher than I should be.

And he grabs my throat, and in the next thirty seconds he almost succeeds in killing me, and where he got the strength for that I cannot imagine. But Grandfather Hondo's lessons are with me, even after all these years.

"You want me to break this arm for you?"

Those are my words but the voice is that of Grandfather Hondo. For a moment, in a most disconcerting way, I have become my grandfather. I have hauled Tanto to his feet and I have his arm bent up behind his back, and I could break it, yes, I could break his arm, then follow through and kill him.

Tanto's body relaxes. A ploy? I give him a little spin and let him fall onto his back, stepping clear as he falls. He slumps onto the bed like a sack of loose shadows. His eyes are glazed and his breathing is shallow.

In the dim light I study my son, watching him closely for any signs of recovery and aggression. Something is happening to his skin. I can see it. My hand explores. His skin changes under my fingers. Becomes damp, soft, tallowy. To my amazement, I realize that he is going into shock. It's happening very fast, and it's very, very severe.

"Tanto!" I say.

But he does not respond. His eyes are wide open but he does not seem to be seeing me. Does he see anything? I think so. But what he sees is not in this room. Not in this universe, perhaps.


Hugh Cook's medical memoir dealing with initial problems, the diagnosis of cancer and treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Yes, there are alternative realities, modes of existence quite different from this one.


Before I had my MRI, the staff at the MRI center had some basic questions to ask me. For example, did I have any allergies? They needed to ask this because they planned to inject a dye to enhance contrast, and some people prove to be allergic to the dye. I was able to respond that, no, I did not have any allergies. Furthermore, at one stage, iodine had been injected into a vein for a CT scan, with no ill effects.

While I was answering these questions, I was sitting comfortably in a chair talking to someone who was sitting behind a desk. It was a safe and comfortable environment. We hadn't yet gone anywhere near the MRI machine, and, besides, having had an MRI in Japan, I knew it was a totally painless procedure, and I had no apprehension about it.

Even so, it was there at the MRI center that I had my most terrifying experience. As I was speaking, answering a question, my voice began to run down like an exhausted mechanical clock getting slower and slower. I knew exactly what I intended to say. I had formulated the relevant sentence in my mind. And I was succeeding in producing the sentence, as planned. But the words were coming out more and more slowly. My speech was slowing down and there was no way for me to stop this happening. I could still speak, but I had lost control over the speed at which I was speaking.

This was a moment of absolutely appalling horror. This was the very worst thing that happened to me during the entire course of my disease and treatment. Suffering partial paralysis had been bad enough but I had always known that, of course, people do sometimes suffer paralysis. But nobody had ever told me that you could lose control of how you spoke. Being unable to speak, yes, I'd heard of that, but I'd never heard of any condition that forced you to speak more and more slowly, willpower no longer sufficient to control communication.

Losing my velocity control in this manner was terrifying because nothing in my entire life had prepared me for it. I had no script for this. My willpower was thwarted. I was trying to speak at a normal pace but my voice did not respond to my attempt to command it. The other thing which was truly horrifying was the speed with which this problem came on. I answered a couple of questions normally, with no problem at all. And then, on the next question, my voice betrayed me. Mutinied. Became no longer mine to command as I would.

The thing which is the most terrifying is something which is absolutely unknown. Blindness, paralysis — these were threats for which I had been imaginatively prepared.

Suffering partial blindness was a big negative, as was suffering partial paralysis, but I'd been trained to deal with such problems. Not formally, true, but my imagination had confronted those possible outcomes.

But having my voice run down like a bit of machinery driven by a clockwork spring which had unwound to a point near that of total exhaustion — that was not in my repertoire of imaginative scripts.

Maybe the fact that I've always been supremely confident of my verbal skills is relevant to my extremely negative reaction to losing control over my own voice.


Billed as "the ultimate fantasy novel", this fairly long alternative reality suicide bomber novel (about 200,000 words) deals with the excesses of the war on terror in the city state of Oolong Morblock, where a certain proportion of the astral minority have a disconcerting ability: they can, at will, cause themselves to explode.

Suicide, suicide bombing, a machinegun massacre, a condom three meters tall and gloopy with elephant ejaculate, torture with electricity, torture with a whip -- this one doesn't hold back.

The main viewpoint character is Ibrahim Chess, the last sane man left in the city state, who finds the role of terrorist mastermind being forced upon him, chiefly by the delinquencies of the less than totally competent tyrants of the nation state, a self-indulgent mob almost as bad as the leaders we actually live with, all caught up in their own private dramas, more focused on fame, money and caviar than on the job of mastering an increasingly chaotic situation.

Interacting with Ibrahim at various points is Sable Tauranga, intrepid girl reporter. The excerpt is from her first meeting with Ibrahim Chess, one of the astrals, the paranormals.

Some of these astrals, remember, can self-explode. But which ones? Well, you only find out that when they detonate.


As her mother had often told her, Sable was not the model of tact and discretion, but she did have the basics of etiquette under control.

At last, however, Sable's curiosity overcame her, and she asked a question which, even as she asked it, she knew to be out of line.

"Where is your familiar?" said Sable.

"In adult life," said Ibrahim, "familiars often wander far from their primaries. Not always but often. Sometimes they may be gone for days, weeks. Years, even."

"That's not really an answer," said Sable.

"Then it follows that I'm probably trying to avoid the question. It's not really polite."

"Why is that?" said Sable.

"Well, if you were followed around through life by a familiar, you wouldn't want to dwell on the subject."

"I see," said Sable.

She sort of did and sort of didn't. Maybe it could be inconvenient if you had a large familiar, or one that was inappropriately smelly, and that was bumping around your legs when you were busy shopping at the makeup counter or sitting having your hair done.

Even so, she was disappointed that Ibrahim's familiar was nowhere to be seen. She would have liked to have seen a familiar.

When she had been much younger, old enough to be concerned about making herself pretty but not really sure why she was doing it, she had been a great fan of the comic book character Splooky Domain, the hapless astral, who was accompanied through life by an astral skunk, Beauty Boots, a female skunk which would show up at comically inappropriate moments, for example when Splooky was having an interview with his bank manager.

Unfortunately the cartoon strip, Astral Frolics, had been cancelled on the grounds of political correctness. Which was a great shame. If strange minorities don't exist for us to have a bit of fun with them, then why do they exist?

"Okay," said Sable. "Time to get down to business, I think. Let's talk about your boats."


Poems. Sixty poems on various subjects, including surfing, studying crystal formation through a microscope, night in the big city, the Trojan War, the Cold War, training for war, the Iraq war, breastfeeding and cancer.

The collection includes a poem about genesis (creation seen as an act of infliction), Eden (Adam gets bored and accelerates the script), a dragon, a kraken, and the men without amnesty. And who are they? Well, they're the torturers.

Full text of the ARC OF LIGHT collection online at Sales through

As a sample, I've chosen a pregnancy poem. In the midst of death, life. This child, this child of mine. Building a life. Building it from what is to hand: the debris of the perished stars.



She's standing at the counter, fairly serious,
Lips pursed, filling in a form —
A minion of the quotidian,
A functionary of the realms of order,
The output of the input of the timeclock.

She is pregnant.

In a world without clocks
Something which is not yet someone
Is swimming.
Five centimeters —
Mozart the Fish, evolution's astronaut,
Infinite in the confines of Mother Earth,
Alive within the oceans of her pulse.

Later, it will be simplified:
Name, rank and serial number.
It will be dumbed down, constrained
To pay taxes, build cruise missiles, kill cockroaches
And bow down to God.
It will be colonized by the minor technicalities
Of speech, fashion sense, resumes and toilet training.
But that comes later.

For the moment, it is suzerain,
An empire of metabolizing iron,
Replicating Parthenons, building
Constellations of significance.
Five centimeters of infinity,
Dynastic inheritor,
Building from the debris of the stars
Its seven days.

(2006 – 2008)


A collection of poems on the topic of death, dying and the associated weirdness of the world. Looked up the encyclopedia I had on my hard disk and there was one entry, and one only, for "ars moriendi", the art of death. Hip hop dancing was much more important. And interior decorating? That was what the scroll button was designed for.

Death poems, then, a book of them. Text of the collection online at



The death of birds is never a photo opportunity.
Their publicists don't get you on the phone to tee it up.
They die
In solitudes of their own making,
Anonymous in silences
Accompanied by no video promo clips.
Dying with discretion
They skip
The product placement payoffs;
They need no monies
For the funding of their mausoleums.
Dead, they launch no lawsuits;
With death
Their interest in the passing world
Has ceased.
The death of birds
Is conducted without weeping.
They are not mourned for,
Nor do they mourn for themselves.
They know
That each thing has its season
And that their season
Is short
And, of necessity, is done.


check for progress

• THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD, volume two of the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series, published in the United States as two volumes, THE QUESTING HERO and THE HERO'S RETURN. A second edition without textual changes.

• THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY, the ninth volume of the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS. Again, a second edition which follows the original text.

• THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES. A collection of short stories, some of which are already online at

• Conceivably, a second edition of THE SHIFT, a short and fast-paced science fiction novel featuring a machine which can change reality.

• For the sake of completeness, a second edition of my first-ever novel, PLAGUE SUMMER, about drug smuggling and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a novel set firmly in New Zealand in the Twentieth Century.

Also in the Pipeline


OCEANS OF LIGHT IS A fantasy trilogy set in the archipelago of Chalakanesia and consisting of the three books WEST OF HEAVEN, EAST OF HELL and NORTH OF PARADISE. All three books have been completed, and all that remains is the mechanical job of readying them for print-on-demand publication.



And the building shook as a buffet of wind took it hard and fast, and she realized the weather outside must already have
shocked up to storm, and then came a knock at the door.

"It's open!" yelled Atlanta, expecting Yulius.

But it was her grandfather Zinjanthrop who came staggering in, red with blood from head to toe, a slaughterhouse refugee, a horrorhouse apparition.

"Are you hurt?" said Atlanta, with reluctant concern.

"Hurt?" said Zinjanthrop. Then, realizing what she was on about: "Oh, no, no. It was just the rain. It's raining blood outside, or was."

"That's come up suddenly," said Atlanta.

"Sudden?" said Zinjanthrop, pushing his way into the office. "What do you expect? This is Lombok."

His clothes were sodden with blood. His skin was dripping with it. Atlanta stood well clear, protective of her legal grey.

"The merry sport of mass murder," she murdered.

"Look like a comic book, do I?" said Zinjanthrop. "May I sit? I'm here to talk."

"Talk?" said Atlanta. "About Yulius, you mean?

Automatically, she went on the defensive, as if Yulius was a child who needed to be sheltered, to be protected. Certainly the boy lacked the strength of will to do battle with Zinjanthrop unaided.



Immediately he was aboard, Heineman tried to stand, thinking to wave to the folks on shore, to give them a good eyeful of presidential candidate Heineman.

"Sit down!" yelled Dug Mantis, his weightlifting cousin, skinmaster supreme.

Hammered by that voice, Heineman sat abruptly, huddling down beside Atlanta. She had recovered the model skyship and was showing it to one of the Gan, a stranger to Heineman, though maybe Dug Mantis worked with the fellow.

Nobody asked Heineman for help, and he would have been
totally unable to give it in any case: to him, the prau was an
intricated mystery of shadows and flaring light, of snaking ropes and rocking water, of ribbed wood and bags of canvas. The adaptive skins, hollow tubular creatures, pulsed rhythmically, excited by the prospect of diving, of melding with humans, of blood-feeding.

Flaring light glowed on the whip-thin sensory stalks which fringed their tube-openings, and Heineman saw those stalks were writhing, data-gathering with a vengeance. It made him feel sick.

Confused by the boat, frightened by the skins, shocked by the failure of the miraculous ship from Barth Banchup Bakchakris, Heineman diligently played ballast as the sail was raised, and the prau began to make its way out to the Spliars, the pinnacle-rocks which lay offshore near the southern end of Eastbeach.



For the moment, Heineman was entirely innocent of any
knowledge of the future. He didn't know about Gorkindachina. Or about the fryguns. Or about the plan for arson. He didn't even know about the assassin. He hadn't even realized that people were out to kill him, and that he'd be dead very shortly unless he was exceptionally quick on his feet.

Heineman though his presidency was unshakable. The only thing he was worried about was the carpet. Heineman didn't know anything about the assassin, but he knew all about the carpet. The carpet was trying to kill him.

Note that each book in the OCEANS OF LIGHT trilogy is a complete novel in itself, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The novels can be read in isolation, as, too, can the books in my CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series, of which THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER is the tenth and final volume.


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