I asked Graham if he’d be willing to let me interview him about his book, and also about self-publishing in general. He was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions. I also went online a while ago and asked people what they’d want to ask an author who has experience with self-publishing. I chose some of the best questions, and asked Graham. I hope you guys enjoy the interview.
Onto the interview!
One of the first things I noticed about Faithless is how well researched the entire novel was. In fact, when I was editing, I remember being incredibly surprised that you haven’t had a long and illustrious history involving mining. Can you talk a bit about your research process, and perhaps give any tips and insights to readers and writers about researching, and inserting research realistically into the books they are writing?
I’ve been into a few cave systems and disused mines on tours when I was younger, that’s a part of it. I remember the cold and the damp, the sound of water dripping somewhere. I also remember the darkness when they turned the lights out. How it was so unlike the darkness of above ground. I have a friend I talk to from Australia who talked me through some of the aspects of mining, but a lot of it I found online. I spent a lot of time reading about Roman mining techniques and how mining was performed before we had explosives and large machinery. There are a lot of great documentaries out there as well. There is a fine line between describing something and info-dumping and I’ve been known to struggle with it. I have my own personal “comic book guy” from The Simpsons in my head, poking holes and making sure that things make sense.
Faithless has a lot of really fun, unique technology. I hate asking authors how they came up with ideas for stuff, but I think I have to right now. How did you dream up things like chemlamps? What kind of influences, and research, did you use to help you create some of the technology used deep in the mines?
The chemlamps came out of necessity. I knew that I had to mention firedamp, or as I call it in the book “the Father’s Wrath.” If miners couldn’t use flames for lamps then I had to have an alternative. I vaguely remember a book where a character mixed two kinds of sand or powder together in a bowl to make a light, that was the root of chemlamps. It made sense to me that a chemical reaction like that could generate heat, and I’d thought up the scene with Kharios and the glowtube from the very beginning, so things just sort of developed.
Faithless is interesting for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest ones, I think, is the fact that this is sort of a “closed world.” There are hints of the outside world, but really the entire book takes place in two main locations. You really had to develop entire complex cultures and a huge, powerful religion, for this one big, but closed, location. Was that hard? What sort of things did you focus on when creating this world – the mines and the temple?
I wanted, from the outset for this to be a book through the eyes of the main characters. My last trilogy has multiple characters all looking at a massive conflict from various sides and perspectives. So much of Faithless is about how the characters failings, about selfishness and cowardice, that I really wanted to focus on it. The “world” they inhabit, in the temple and the mines reinforces that, it’s sort of designed to reflect how Wynn and Kharios are trapped within their own flaws. This all sounds terribly well planned out, but most of it just worked out this way.
Regarding the religion, there’s a lot of myth and mystery involved in Faithless. Did you use any real-world influences to create some of these religious aspects and myths?
The myths are all original but I drew quite heavily on Islamic history for some of it. I wrote my MA thesis on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, there is a huge sense of lost grandeur, of yearning for lost empire within fundamentalist Islam and I wanted to try and recreate that. The legends of the Forgefather, of the powers of his priests and defenders all come from this idea.
Wynn’s story is rather tragic. You really aren’t afraid of making this poor guy suffer in life. What are some aspects of Wynn’s life that really resonate with you, and was it hard for you to write any of his struggles?
I had a really hard time with the sexual abuse. I had to get a lot of advice from people on how to handle it, and I made a lot of revisions once my betareaders came back to me on the early drafts. It’s not a fun topic. It wasn’t easy to read and my intention, from the start, was to make it uncomfortable reading.
One thing I remarked on quite often when I was editing Faithless was how wonderful the pacing was. Are you an author who outlines or do you fly by the seat of your pants, and how did you manage to keep the pacing going so well? Any tips for other authors?
I don’t plot, at all. I’ve tried it before and all that ends up happening is that I deviate from the plan and end up having wasted my time. I stuck to a three chapter pattern where we flick back and forth between the two main characters, but other than that I had no plans at all. If the pacing is good then that’s a happy accident. I do think that any writer will develop a feel for how a story will build over time. Perhaps reading a lot helps. I don’t know.
I want to talk a bit about self-publishing. You have experience with self-publishing. Can you tell readers a bit about your time as a self-published author? How has self-publishing changed over the years? How have these changes impacted your experience in the marketplace, if at all?
I wrote a blog post about this some time ago called “My Experience in Self-Publishing (or what not to do)”. I’ve done just about everything wrong in my writing career, from releasing a book before it is truly ready, to being that guy screaming out “buy my books!” I suppose the only thing I’ve done right is listen and learn over time. Self-publishing has grown a lot since 2014 which is both good and bad. Good because it’s a lot easier to find quality editors (I’ve had some shocking ones at times) and artwork for covers (I’ve done well there), but also bad because self-publishing comes with it’s own stigma. Many believe that a SP book will amateurish and poorly edited. It’s probably a carry over from the days of vanity presses but unfortunately, for every great self-published book, there are probably ten that really aren’t. Fighting against that stigma makes it hard for writers to get traction and it’s this belief that the SPFBO has to battle against.
You decided to enter Faithless into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Why did you choose to do that and what are you expecting out of the competition?
I released Fae – The Sins of the Wyrde in December of 2015. I’ve been in this game since 2014 and have been lucky enough to gain some traction, and attract my own small following of readers – enough to let me write full-time and make a modest living. That said, there is a momentum to maintain. I would have liked Faithless to be traditionally published but that is not a quick process. The agents that had been suggested to me all advised I keep looking, but it took longer than I would have liked and I was running out of time with the SPFBO. I see the SPFBO as the best of both worlds, a way to gain more exposure and release Faithless, and also, if I am extremely lucky, attract an agent.
The cover art for Faithless is absolutely amazing. Who was your artist, and what went into creating this cover?
Pen Astridge did my cover art. She’s worked with Mark Lawrence before and did the cover for his book Road Brothers. I didn’t give her much to go on, just that I wanted a hammer and anvil involved somehow. She’s come up with an amazing cover and she’s great to work with. I’d recommend her to anyone.
I asked some readers on various social networking sites to ask you some questions about self-publishing, so here are a few I chose:
What led you to self-publishing, rather than finding an agent or submitting directly to the publisher?
If I’m honest, it was largely down to my own impatience. As I mentioned, I released my first book before it was really ready. It went out to agents before it was ready too. I had to claw it back and re-edit and re-release. Most agents aren’t interested once a book has been self-published, not unless you’ve already sold in the tens of thousands. I was was mid-way into a series by this point and so it made sense to finish it before starting to look for agents again.
What are some of the struggles regarding promotion with self-publishing? How do you approach promotion, and what are some of the best promotional techniques you’ve come across in your time as a self-published author?
Promotion within self-publishing is hard work. There are an awful lot of people out there screaming ‘buy my book’, and I think people become blind to it. I’ve tried just about every advertising technique. I have had a lot of success with Bookbub which is a service readers can sign up to for free and get emails about discounted books. They have many competitors but Bookbub is the largest, and they vet the books they advertise thoroughly so people know they are only going to be told about quality books. It is notoriously difficult for authors to get a slot with though, which means you can’t rely solely upon it.
I think probably the most effective technique is to interact through the various groups and forums related to your genre. Stop trying to ram your book down people’s throat and just share your love of the genre and of reading. It helps if you don’t act like a jerk.
Are there any tools, websites, videos, books to read or anything of that nature that you’d recommend for people considering self-publishing? Any resources you can offer to help them learn the nuts and bolts of self-publishing and how to put a book up for sale?
There are a wealth of resources on a forum called Kboards that will set most people on the right path. I’m not a big believer in doing everything myself, I’d much rather hire in an expert and know the job has been done properly. I know my limitations and I’m a rubbish proofreader, and an even worse artist.
I recently experimented with a platform called Reedsy with which you can find all manner of editors and services. They are all rated and reviewed and I’d happily use them again.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!