Episode # 110 – World Building with Steve Turnbull

In Uncategorized by Angela McConnell16 Comments

stevecovernewSteve Turnbull has been publishing stories in his steampunk Voidships Universe since late 2013, creating an impressive catalog of 14 titles and counting. This week, I talk to Steve about how he got started in self-publishing and how he manages to release a title a month.


Steve Turnbull

Steve Turnbull’s Amazon Author Page



Stories in the Voidships Universe (timeline)



Susan Kaye Quinn

Bryan Cohen – Best Page Forward

Caveman Timecop




RSP #46 – Writing Bestsellers While Commuting with Mark Dawson

Heinlein’s Rules

RSP #67 – Building an Audience with Podiobooks (with Nathan Lowell)

The Asylum – Largest and Longest Running Steampunk Festival in the World


Robert Blumenfeld

IDEA: International Dialects of English Archive

Show notes:


Steve got started writing steampunk fiction while working on a script for a web series. The director asked him to make it “steampunky.” Steve said, “What’s that?” The director explained: he had an idea for a universe just like ours, except for the notable difference that in 1843, Sir Michael Faraday discovers the Principle for the Partial Nullification of Gravity, resulting in steampunk flight.

They went with it and launched a Kickstarter in order to fund the project. Sadly, it failed, but Steve noted that it failed due to a lack of an pre-existing fan base. So he set out to build one…by writing books.

Steampunk Meets Agatha Christie

Bitten by the brass-riveted Steampunk bug, Steve fell into creating and expanding this alternative Edwardian universe he now called Voidships. His first title in this universe is his homage to Agatha Christie: Murder Out of the Blue, featuring Maliha Anderson, a young Anglo-Indian woman, who sets out to solve a murder that occurs during a steamliner flight.

Steve’s written several more books in the Maliha Anderson Mysteries series, but he’s also got other serieses running in the same universe at varying times in history. While Maliha Anderson solves crimes set primarily in India around 1908-1909, the two sisters in Steve’s Iron Pegasus YA series find adventure in East Africa in 1896. Steve also has an episodic adventure series set in India and China around 1909, called Frozen Beauty, a steampunky tribute to Joss Whedon’s Serenity and Firefly.

Building a Catalog One Title a Month

Even though Steve has only been publishing a little over two years, he’s got 14+ titles available on Amazon and growing…at the rate of one title a month! He writes both novellas and novels, ranging from 20k to 70k words, and shows no signs of slowing down. How does he do it?

Steve has a unique situation in that he stays in London during the week for his day job, so he tries to do most of his writing during his “extended commute.” He is a “pantser,” and writes his stories front to back knowing only the beginning and end, with the middle “up for grabs.” He follows Heinlein’s rules and doesn’t change too much from his first drafts. He uses two editors; one for continuity issues, and one for copy editing.

Finally, Steve enjoys deadlines. He creates deadlines for himself by setting up pre-orders for his titles and booking reservations with editors.


Steve had some difficulty finding a narrator on ACX who suited his stories, so he decided to record some of his stuff on his own. Excited by the audiences fellow writers were building through Podiobooks and the like, Steve DIYed a little recording pod in his cellar with acoustic foam and duvet covers, then narrated and produced his book Journey into Space 1874, as well as several crime scene extracts from the Maliha Anderson series. (These can be found on Soundcloud.)

He hopes to have some of his audio work available on CD for this year’s Asylum steampunk festival.

The Next Big Thing:

The Next Big Thing for Steve Turnbull is really a whole lot of big things. As he continues to write and release titles on a monthly basis, he’s coming up to the ninth and final installment in the Maliha Anderson series. (But don’t fret, fans…Steve assures us that she will be making future appearances elsewhere.) He’s also continuing his work in his other serieses. Given his prolificness and enthusiasm for world-building, it will be interesting to see what his Amazon Author Page looks like in a year’s time.


“I am not Joss Whedon. I want to be him when I grow up.”

“I love creating universes.”

Action Steps:

  • For love or money? Ask yourself if you love what you’re doing. Turnbull is turning out a book a month because he loves it. But he also spent a good amount of time in 2014, he says, working on a project he didn’t love, but thought would yield a good return on his efforts. He eventually abandoned that project and decided to publish a book a month in 2015, a goal that he is currently knocking out of the park.
  • Use social media to meet authors who are doing the thing you want to do. Sometimes it’s easy to forget social media is not just for marketing, building platforms, and finding readers. Reach out to other folks who are finding success in the area that you want to achieve and make friends, ask questions, and participate in the community.
  • Are you brave and can you do accents?  Consider DIYing your audiobooks. Narrating and producing your own audiobooks is hard work, but it’s doable and affordable…plus, you have an excuse to hang out in the cellar by yourself while your significant other wrangles the little ones during witching hour. (For everything you need to know about audiobook production, including how to DIY, check out Simon Whistler’s Audiobooks for Indies: The One-Stop Guide for Authors Looking to Make More Money Selling Audiobooks.)

Simon Asks:

Steve is an avid world-builder, and his passion and enthusiasm clearly drive his impressive story production. What’s your favorite part about the writing process? What is it that gets you to your desk every day?


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Angela McConnellEpisode # 110 – World Building with Steve Turnbull
  • Thanks for having me on, Simon.

    • SimonRSP

      Sure thing Steve, it was a pleasure 🙂

  • mtr amg

    There are 13 books on his goodreads listing if that helps *grins*… what I love about steampunk is that you can kind of shift it to almost any time in the past – once they had steel, of course. AND you can put anything else in it as well – Like Meljean Brooks has zombies and Gail Carriger adds vampires and werewolves. So versatile… I picked up SKQuinn’s bollypunk book recently…*rubs hands* can’t wait.

    oh, simon – you should see the ART for steampunk… amazing cathedral-like airships of glass and steel.

    the kind of stuff that makes me want to write stories to go with them.
    If challenging himself to keep up that publishing pace works for Steve – keep going!

    • SimonRSP

      Yeah, I actually spent probably too long browsing pictures of steamships/skyships to use in the image for this episode ;). Unfortunately very few were creative commons so I couldn’t use them, so ended up with that old world man. Still it was an enjoyable distraction!

      • mtr amg

        I have a tag of ‘yoghurt starter’ in tumblr and pinterest for all the pics that inspire me. Too many are steampunk.
        And Ken Liu swears his books are ‘silkpunk’ – a mix of east asian and magic tech… bamboo, paper and silk not steel and glass. The possibilities are endless!

        • SimonRSP

          “Yoghurt starter” … ?

          • mtr amg

            bwahaha – that does sound weird… in order to make some things, like sourdough bread or yoghurt, you need a small amount of live culture to combine with the new ingredients to make the new culture grow.
            So… a picture, or an image, or a piece of art that makes me think ‘hmmm… and then what happened’ … and then – I have a story.
            so, they are my yoghurt starters

  • Philip Harris

    Thanks for another really good interview, guys. And don’t worry, @disqus_FN0ipxSUtG:disqus, I remember the Acorn, even if Simon is too young.

    • SimonRSP

      Haha, sure thing Philip, thanks for listening 🙂

    • Thanks Philip – glad someone does apart form me 🙂

  • I just realised that for whatever reason, my comment didn’t go through >< So, reposting:

    Awesome episode! Steve, you had me at Agatha Christie, I'll have to save up for more books now! (Well, I already have to save up for loads of books so…)

    And I liked the bit about newsletters. I'm not a big fan, but I may just sign up for Steve's to see how it's done. ^^

  • Tim

    I still say Kickstarter can be good for building a small audience for new authors. 🙂 Yes, indeed. The difference is setting a modest fund raising goal for a publishing project. The problem Steve ran into was trying to launch a webseries project with minimum funding at 85,000 pounds. That’s a different type of audience and a massive goal considering most campaigns don’t surpass $10,000 (according to Kickstarter). At an average of 35 pounds per backer that would require over 2,400 backers to succeed. With no audience that’s a nearly impossible goal, as he discovered. So from that, it’s difficult to draw the conclusion that Kickstarter can’t help build your reader base. On the bright side, Steve seems to be doing well with his books. In the near future that might not be an unreachable goal. And a webseries would be damn sweet as a complement to a book series!

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Tim, good to hear that it can work if you get it right :). You obviously know a bit about this, do you have any resources that you would particularly recommend?

      • Tim

        Most of the best information is already put together by Kickstarter. Their stats page, blog, and the Creator Handbook were my best resources.

        • SimonRSP

          Awesome, thanks Tim!

          • Tim

            Sure thing.