Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, Patrick. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!
Shadow of a Dead God is A Mennik Thorn novel. Here’s the blurb:
A dead god. A brutal murder. A second-rate mage.
It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?
Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.
But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage…
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
This is my first time. I came across SPFBO a couple of years ago and followed the last two competitions really closely. Like a lot of people, I had been open to the idea of reading independently published books, but I had absolutely no way of figuring out where to get good ones. I had come across a few, when they were breakout successes, but other than that, it was all a confusing morass. Then I came across SPFBO. I started reading the finalists from previous years, and I discovered amazing authors like Michael McClung, Dyrk Ashton, Rob Hayes and a bunch of others. Suddenly, not only did I have a source of indie books, but they were way better than I had been expecting. And the quality has just gone up each year. Last year’s top three by ML Wang, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, and Angela Boord are all amazing books. On top of that, all the participants seemed like nice people who had created a fantastic community. When I decided to self-publish Shadow of a Dead God, it was pretty much a no-brainer to leap in. I’m genuinely proud of this novel, and I think it’s good, so I want to see what the judges think, too.
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
I’ve always written fantasy. Ever since I started writing stories as a teenager, they’ve always had some kind of speculative element to them. Fantasy offers a kind of freedom of imagination, and when you have that freedom, in my opinion, you can write better, more interesting, more impactful stories. You can create worlds that embody what you would like to see in the world, or ones that show what can go wrong, or that illuminate our world in unusual ways, or which simply allow you to have shed-loads of fun. And, of course, magic is just cool.
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
I don’t actually have a particular preference between traditional and self-publishing. I don’t think that one route is objectively better than the other. My first two books were traditionally published middle grade books. When I was finishing off Shadow of a Dead God, I was doing the preparation so that it could either be self-published or traditionally published. I queried agents while at the same time researching advertising and blogs and covers and how to have the book edited. I was balancing the advantages of trad, in that everything gets done for you, you get some automatic exposure, and you get paid upfront, versus the speed, flexibility, control, and freedom of doing it all yourself. In the end, for me right now, for this book, self publishing won out. I wanted to do this book my way. And the truth is, if I was still pursuing trad publishing, this book probably wouldn’t see the light of day for a couple of years, at least.
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
I guess I touched on some of the advantages and challenges in the previous answer, but let’s go into them a bit more here. In terms of advantages, I would say that the most important are freedom and speed. When you publish traditionally, you get no meaningful say over the cover, the price, the publication schedule, and often even over the title of the book. This can leave you pinned to someone else’s display board, unable to move. If I get the wrong cover, I can’t change it. If my publisher chooses to price the ebook at 9.99 and never drop it, I’m stuck with that. I wouldn’t have control over my own career. And then there’s speed. I said that if I went the traditional route, it could be a couple of years before my book came out, but the truth is it could also be a lot longer. My first novel was published *four years* after my publisher bought it. That’s insane. How can you build a career like that? In fact, after I finally made the decision to publish Shadow of a Dead God myself, two months later, it was in the stores, available to buy.
Of course there are challenges. With great freedom comes great responsibility, etc., etc. You’re free do everything yourself, but with that you actually do have to do everything yourself. You have to get your book produced, edited, and promoted. You have to get a good cover that works. And you have to pay for it yourself. (I’m lucky in that I’m also a cover designer, so I put my own cover together, but that’s a major expense otherwise.) And you are entirely responsible for probably the most challenging task, that of letting potential readers know that your book even exists. That is really not easy.
5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I would say the genre has become more varied and more diverse, and I think that’s a good thing. Of course, there always was a lot of variety in the genre. You could have authors like Raymond Feist and Robert Jordan publishing at the same time as Michael Moorcock, Octavia Butler, and Douglas Adams. But that variety has only increased in recent years. There’s more of an appetite for stories that come from different places and perspectives, and the genre is expanding to take that in. I think self-publishing is only helping that along. You can write exactly what you want and know that if it doesn’t fit with what a publisher is after, you can put it out yourself. That gives more freedom and control to the author’s vision, for good or bad.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Like I said, my first two books were middle grade novels. They were what one reviewed called “modern space pulp”, which I think is a good description. They were basically pulpy science fiction adventures set in the nineteenth century. I definitely want to return to middle grade fiction again at some point, although probably it’ll be fantasy rather than science fiction. For the next few years, though, I’m focusing on the adult fantasy. I can’t ever see myself writing anything that didn’t count as science fiction or fantasy. I just … don’t care enough about it.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
For me, I would put my priorities in the order:
– Great characters
– A good plot
– World building
– Original ideas.
Ideally, I would want all of them, but characters always come first. An enormous part of characters, for me, is a strong character voice. I want their personalities and desires to come over in the way they talk about and think about things.
And, of course, I want cool magic. You gotta have cool magic.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Shadow of a Dead God. The first book is pretty much self-contained, but I want to continue the story of my characters into further adventures. The second book will be called Nectar for the God (or possibly Nectar for *a* God; can’t decide which works better). It starts with an unlikely murder, and my hero, Nik Thorn, is reluctantly drawn into helping find out why it happened. Then everything goes to hell, of course…
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Make sure that what you’re producing is good enough. In fact, “good enough” isn’t good enough. You need to make it as good as you possibly can. Just because you can self-publish anything that doesn’t mean that you *should*. Get your book read by plenty of people who aren’t your family or friends, preferably other pro authors, and ask them for their genuine assessment. And it take it to heart. The truth is, almost every writer has several trunk novels that will never see the light of day. I know I do. This is a good thing. Those books shouldn’t be published.
While there are some amazing, brilliant, world class indie novels out there, there are also many books that should never have been published because they are not ready. The problem is, if you do that and lose a reader, you will probably never get them back for future novels. If you want to make a career of this, edit and edit, over and over again. Then do it some more.
You also need a professional cover, and you need to be comfortable (or at least willing) to solicit for reviews, interviews, and the like.
Self-publishing is not what it was five years ago. It is far more professional and far higher quality than it ever has been, and there is genuinely no difference in quality between the best self-pubbed books and the best traditionally-published books. If you want to stand out, you have to be that good, too. This is a tough game, but it’s worth it.