Indie Author Interview, with A.L. Butcher: Date of Interview: February/20/2014
Today I’m honored to be interviewing A.L Butcher (Alexandra) author of adult fantasy series the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles.
Hi, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi, and thanks for the interview. I am a British author, currently living in Bristol (South West England) but born and raised in Buckinghamshire. Do I come from a family of writers? No, no really, although my grandmother had some published local history books, but we all grew up with a love of books and reading. Storytelling was an important aspect of my childhood and for this I am very grateful. These were the days when computer games were in their infancy, TV only had 3 or 4 channels and there was only 1 TV set in the house. Now that seems hard to believe.
What were you like at school?
Rebellious! Oh, I don’t mean I burned down the school or anything like that, but let’s just say I exhibited my individuality. I was probably a pain to teach if I didn’t like or see the point of the subject, but if I enjoyed it then I put in my heart and soul. I loved English, biology and chemistry, history and drama. These were subjects which stayed with me as I grew up. I loved music too, although I am not great at it, but I sang in the choir, played a keyboard (fairly badly), participated in a number of school plays and was often in the music room. I don’t suffer fools easily and as in any environment there were plenty of those. I was also bullied, so my school days are not that fondly remembered. That is something which, unfortunately, often stays with a person. Certainly my college and Uni years were fairly… eventful.
Were you good at English?
Yes, as I said earlier, I liked English, especially English Literature, which I also took at college (High School to the Americans). I love to read and my teacher was fantastic, so even books I would not have otherwise enjoyed were brought to life when discussed. As I was creative I was usually the one who wrote the poem or short story for the school display. Both my degree in Politics and Sociology and my diploma in Classical Studies required a decent grasp of English and the ability to express oneself.
So, what have you written?
The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles – Book I is the first in the fantasy/fantasy romance series of novels. These are set in the world of Erana where elves are classed as a lower race and mostly live in hiding or as slaves. Magic is illegal, although this does not stop people having it, they must use it in secret or risk imprisonment or death. This book follows the adventures of Dii, an Elven sorceress who flees for her life from her master’s house and those she befriends in the quest to find some elves taken by slavers. Elves are not mighty and powerful, they are oppressed, they are fragmented and their culture is almost gone. These elves are not standard fantasy elves as this story contains much more than just an adventure. There is love and there is hate, there is romance and revenge and there is hope and despair.
The Shining Citadel, which is Book II of the series. This book follows the characters from Book I and a couple more as they seek to find an even Citadel lost for centuries. Intrigue, lies and unwelcome truths abound here; there are monsters from a time long past, creatures which should not exist, but do and many discoveries come to light which will change the future.
These are all meant for an adult audience and there are some scenes of violence and of a sexual nature.
Both of the currently published novels are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, I-books and all the Smashwords associate stores, both are available in print on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (see the links or visit my blog for details).
Bethkail – a short fantasy story about a lonely mage who summons a companion from the storm and their love and loss.
The Glass-Eyed Monster – a short poem.
Both feature in A Splendid Salmagundi – a collection of short stories and poems from the writers of the UK Kindle Goodreads Group. This anthology won the Indie Book Bargains Award for Anthologies in 2012.
The Blue Phial – a short fantasy story set in the world of the novels, which recounts the adventures of an herbalist.
Monday Imps – a humorous dark fantasy flash fiction tale about why Mondays are bad.
Both feature in Wyrd Worlds, a free speculative fiction anthology.
The Tale of Freelah the Beloved – a fantasy romance short story set in Erana about a maiden and the sun and moon who both court the lady.
Featured in No Sleeves and Short Dresses, a summer charity anthology.
The Legend of Oeliena – a short fantasy romance tale set in Erana which is a mythic tale of love and revenge.
Featured in Kiss and Tales: A Romance Anthology by the Indie Collaboration.
Just One Mistake – a short fantasy tale set in Erana which features a reluctant hero who teaches a slaver a lesson.
Featured in Nine Heroes – Tales of Heroic Fantasy.
These are all available on Amazon.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Give us an insight into your main character in Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles. What does he/she do that is so special?
Dii, my main female lead, is an Elven sorceress who used to be a slave. Why is she so special? Despite all she has endured, she is brave, kind, clever and compassionate. She is also very powerful, although she isn’t aware of exactly what power she holds. She is the key to the future and the past.
What is your favorite plot twist in the Shining Citadel.
I love the turnabouts in the Shining Citadel. A trap against one is turned about to be a trap against another.
Are you working on anything new at the moment? Yes, a few things actually. Book III of the series is about half written, plus I am working on some more short stories for an anthology, and a co-written fantasy story with an author friend.
How much research do you do?
For Book II I researched herb-lore, flora and fauna of swamp and mountain terrain, medieval weaponry, writing fight scenes and anything else needed as I went through. Research is important in establishing plausibility, even in fantasy.
Do you write every day, 5 days a week or so and when?
No, I work full-time so I only get to write in the evenings and at weekends. I also need to find time to promote so I don’t always manage to write every day.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Oh gosh, I think I am more confident now. I was terrified when I published Book I that no one would buy it and if they did would they like it. Of course not everyone will and that is fine, people have different tastes, but I have had some good reviews and nice comments so at least some people like it! Aside from that I have style guides I’ve used and a writing course I have completed so I think I have gained knowledge of the writing process. There is a lot to learn when publishing a book, not just the rules of grammar and spelling, but what makes a good story and what makes an interesting character. I have many ideas for short stories and twice that amount of unused ideas and scenes.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Read, watch a movie, go for a walk or write something unrelated to that scene. Even it is rubbish it might inspire something better.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors.
I read a lot, usually with several books on the go. In fact I am reading 3 at the moment. I usually read a novel on kindle, preferring fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction. I also read true crime, mystery, history, and classics. Favorite authors include Colin Wilson, Janet Morris, Ellis Peters, Charlotte Bronte, Alexandre Dumas, Terry Pratchett, Oscar Wilde, Gaston Leroux and Victor Hugo.
You are self published; What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
I’m self-published and at the moment that works for me. I like the freedom it brings; I am not set on any timescale so if I decide to work on something else or take a break I can. I also get a larger royalty for my work. I guess disadvantages are I haven’t got the support network of a publisher, or the marketing clout. Also, there are a lot of readers who choose not to read self-published authors, which is a shame as there are some real gems from self-published authors. Would I consider the traditional publishing route? I might, it depends on which publisher and what they offered. I won’t rule it out, but for now I am happy as I am.
There is a lot of confusion out there, with people using the term ‘indie’ interchangeably with ‘self-published’. Which term do you think best describes you and why? I’d say I am self-published. Indies can be small press published too, I believe. (See wiki link). I have no big publisher behind my work. The choices I’ve made about my book are mine, and mine alone. Self-published authors can either be part of a self-pubbing press or in charge of the whole process, as it were. Many self-published authors write, edit, format and upload the manuscripts themselves. Some hire an editor and formatter, but upload themselves. They also must market and promote themselves. There is a lot of freedom involved, as there are no deadlines, except the one the author sets him/herself and the author can set the price.
‘Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-publishing_press http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_press
What does the term “Indie Author” mean to you personally?
I am proud to be an indie/self-published author. It is a choice I have made to bring out my books. The indie author community tends to be a friendly and supportive one; we all face the same challenges. I’ve also read some great books by other indies and try and support my colleagues in buying their books. A lot of indie books are less mainstream and more daring or unusual and a mainstream publisher might not take a chance. Most mainstream publishers only take a small amount of manuscripts submitted and the rest are rejected, not because they are badly written, but because at that time the publisher doesn’t have the space or doesn’t feel they will turn a profit.
How have you embraced this title?
If anyone asks me, I will tell them I am self-published. As I’ve said I try and read books by other self pubbed/indie authors. Some I’ve liked some I haven’t.
Do you think Indie authors get passed over more so than the authors who publish traditionally? Why do you think that is?
Without a doubt. Many readers will not read self-published or indie books. There are a few badly written, unedited manuscripts, or authors who are rude, or even threatening, but it is a few. Unfortunately, such behavior means indies get labelled. Many readers believe self-published authors aren’t real writers. Some folks won’t take a chance and risk finding slush. Hopefully the great indie books will stand out enough to counteract the terrible ones. Traditional publishing doesn’t always equate to a good book. I have read trad pubbed books full of typos or inconsistencies, weak characters and bad grammar. Somehow this is not perceived as the same. I’ve seen plenty of arguments against self pubbed authors on places like Good Reads, which is a shame as there are a lot of good books, but really it is a reader’s choice what they pick up to read. A reader is entitled to his or her opinion.
How do you describe what you do to people who are unfamiliar with the term (Title you prefer to use Indie, self pub, Author etc.)
I just tell them I am a writer. If they ask further I tell them I am indie or self-published. If they ask what that means I tell them.
How do you market your books?
Marketing is hard! There are so many strategies and what works for one doesn’t work for another. There is also the question of budget. Interviews such as this provide exposure; I have a blog, but that mostly promotes other people. I also use Facebook and Goodreads. Both are useful for networking, but one has to be careful not to spam groups. I have business cards too, which are useful for local promotion.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Find a strategy which works for you, but this might take some time. Network, reciprocate with interviews and such like and treat others who you wish to be treated. If you have a good book people will find it, but you need to put in the time to market it. If no one knows it is there, then people won’t buy it.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
Reviews are mainly for readers, not authors. Although of course they are nice to have! Good reviews are welcome, but HONEST reviews are more important. Hopefully readers will like a book, but sometimes they won’t. It happens. Bad reviews are part of being a writer, there will always be someone who dislikes an aspect of a book, or is offended by something. Just move on. A good mix of reviews is healthy, it shows a balanced view. For authors don’t comment on them, it isn’t worth it. Even if the reviewer makes unjustified comments it is an opinion, nothing more. Reviews which say very little, are overly gushing or overly unkind will be ignored by readers anyway.
What are your views on social media for marketing?
As I’ve said social media are vital to international marketing. How else can a British Author attract readers in the US, or India, Canada or anywhere else in the world? It is a great tool for those with a small budget – Facebook ads are fairly cheap, and even if you don’t want to pay there are groups which let you promote. I’ve bought books as a result of author promotion on Facebook and Good Reads, in fact, that is where I find most of my books these days. I’ve made friends too, I mean real friends I talk to every day, not just people I occasionally chat with online. Of course it is a two edged sword, the anonymity of the internet means there are trolls and other online bullies, pirates and other such people to contend with. Once something is on the internet it is very difficult to make it go away. Something said in haste or anger can go viral in no time.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Don’t spam, find out what the group’s rules are about promotion and try and stick to them. Reciprocate. If someone tweets your book, then tweet something of theirs. Treat others how you wish to be treated, if you are unkind or rude then don’t expect others to help you out, or be nice to you. Don’t bitch about people, really if you have to rant find a friend to listen or talk to the cat. As an author you are the brand and many readers won’t read a book by an author they see as badly behaved, and nor will their friends. There will always be someone who is an idiot about. Just walk away.
Why do you think that other well written books just don’t sell?
Exposure, luck, the millions of other books available. Getting a book noticed is hard and it takes time to generate a following.
What do you think of “trailers” for books?
It isn’t something I have used, but I’ve seen a few. They are a nice tool if done properly.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
I actually did a couple of guest posts on Mythic Scribes last year about this. I collected a group of authors and readers, some who supported free books and some which didn’t. It was an interesting exercise. Both sides are often vehement in their views. Do I use it myself? Yes, I have and I do. I am not in Kindle Select anymore as I chose to publish elsewhere as well, but I did have a couple of free promotions on Book I. The second one was more successful as I saw a small uptick in sales after, including some stores, like Amazon Germany where I don’t often sell. Smashwords is useful as they allow an author to generate a coupon to give to readers – this is useful for review copies, gifts or giveaways. I’ve done a couple of giveaways as well – not massively successful, but they have generated a couple of reviews and gained some extra readers. I know authors who use free books as a promotional a lot, and others who dislike them. Some of my short stories are in free anthologies, the idea being a reader will download the book and like a particular author’s work and then hopefully buy something else by that writer. The Indie Collaboration (which published Kiss and Tales) have this idea at the core of the ideology. All their works are free or very cheap in the hope to gain a bit of publicity for the authors participating. Of course free means no royalties but it is good exposure and may reach a wider audience. As a reader, I have downloaded free books and I have gone on to buy further works from authors I’ve liked. Are some of the free books rubbish, yes, but the same is true for some I have bought full price. Being free doesn’t make a book terrible, bad writing does that. I will say though it is a tool to be used with thought and care. Many authors run a free promotion and expect instantaneous results, people don’t always read a book immediately and any reviews may be months after the event. Some people feel it devalues an author’s work. Really, it is an individual author’s choice. It is a strategy which works for some, but by no means all.
What is your favorite quote? I have several. I love Oscar Wilde so one of my favorite quotes is “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Also, I love a line from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “The truth isn’t easy to define. We both have truth, is yours the same as mine?”
Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
Again I have several. Living – Sir David Attenborough the naturalist, he has done more to promote the natural world than anyone one else. He has been such a personality for good on TV and his work is so fascinating. I love the fact that even after 60 plus years he still has the same wonder for the natural world. Sir Terry Pratchett – I love the Discworld books and he has such a witty way of writing. Again he has done a lot to promote the preservation of the natural world, it is very sad he is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Stephen Hawkin – possibly the greatest mind of our age. HM Queen Elizabeth, as she has been such a stalwart figure in Britain for so long.
Dead – JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Homer, Gaston Leroux, Oscar Wilde, Julius Caesar, Sun Tzu, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Queen Elizabeth I, The Brontes, Jane Austen, Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Darwin, William Wallace, Ronnie Barker, Tony Benn, the left wing politician (who I’ve met actually), Winston Churchill, Queen Matilda, Queen Victoria, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Sir Laurence Olivier, Marcus Aurelius, Karl Marx, George Orwell, HG Wells, Mozart, Beethoven, Agatha Christie, Alexander the Great.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep at it. Write and write and write. It is a steep learning curve. Read style guides, get beta readers and read all the FAQs on the publishing sites. Write what you love, not what you think you should write. Be patient and don’t expect to earn big money. It rarely happens.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I think E-books will become ever more popular, but print books won’t disappear. Some people will continue to buy them and perhaps they will become collector’s items. I think the option of self-publishing has opened the way for many great authors who write more daring work. Publishers only take on a few manuscripts, usually ones they think are a reasonably sure bet so the rest of us have to keep submitting, change what we write or go for other options. I think eventually there will be more gatekeepers for self-publishing and the attitude that it is somehow substandard will ease.
What does your family think of your writing?
I’ve been lucky that they have been supportive. My mother died 18 months or so ago, but I am so glad she lived long enough to see Book I in print. She was so proud, even though she was pretty much bed bound by then. She would ask me about the books all the time. My Dad is partially blind so is unable to read much these days and isn’t keen on fantasy, but my sisters have read the books and spread the word among their friends.
What do you think makes a good story?
Good, well-written characters who are believable. I hate shallow characters. A well-crafted world. I read a lot of fantasy and one of the aspects I love about fantasy are the diverse worlds. With good characters and a ‘real world’ the story comes to life.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Let me see. When I was about four I wanted to be a JCB driver, then a squirrel, then a steam train driver, although I’d still be keen on that. For years I wanted to be a pilot and I almost joined the Air Force, although there weren’t any female fighter pilots. I’d have been terrible at it! I think I wanted to be a vet, an astronaut, a poet, a singer and naturalist, I’d like to work in a historical based job now. Or maybe a theatre critic. As you can see I still have no clue. For now I work to pay the bills and keep writing, maybe one day I will be able to do that full time.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
Firstly recommend it to others, word of mouth is very important to making a book successful. Secondly, leave a review, even if it is just twenty words or so it all helps.
Before you go, how about giving us a snippet from your newest book? Tales of Erana: Myths and Legends. Can you tell us a little about the new book?
The new book is: Five short tales of fantasy and fantasy romance set in the world of my (A.L. Butcher’s novels.) They are mythic in style, with tales of Gods and Goddesses, mortals and magic. It is a great coffee break read.
Excerpt from “Moon in the Water” A short story in “Tales of Erana: Myths and Legends”
“Atop a rock, on a bed of moss they made love, the goddess and the warrior. She had never loved before, and the heady emotions brought such ecstasy, such delight to the lonely goddess of the mountain. Beneath a waterfall he took her, with the water roaring past them. In a cave filled with crystals which glittered like stars she took him, their cries echoing about them. He had never been loved with such passion, and his heart was entirely hers. War was but a memory when they lay together.
War did not know this, and battle will be fought when it chooses. Trolls, elves and men are but its creatures. So the war continued, month after bloody month, and neither side prevailed. With battle came those things which walk alongside war – disharmony, chaos and hatred. It took much persuasion, and whispered entreaties in the passion of lovemaking to convince Acionna to fight for the Var. When gods become involved in war the odds are unfair and a price must surely be paid, but from whom is never clear.”
Excerpts from A.L. Butcher’s previously published works:
The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles – Book I
The elven mage awoke long before the dawn, cold in the autumn frosts. Crawling from under the thin blanket, she left the small canvas tent to see the fire dwindled in the rain of the previous night. Reaching for her staff the young woman poked the end of it into the sodden embers trying to get some life back into the fire. The wood she had managed to gather was damp and would not ignite easily. Piling a little of it onto the fire pit the girl murmured as she held out a slender hand in which a flame appeared. A small flickering red fire, which shone a faint glow in the half-light and made her flame red hair shine, danced above her slender fingers. Smiling, the mage gently blew the flame onto the wet wood which an instant later smoked into fire enough to boil water, toast bread and warm numb fingers.
Shivering Dii pulled her old woolen cloak around her and looked at the sky, the stars now fading into the gray dawn. Mages could sense the weather, Dii knew that more rain would follow this day; even now she could sense the pressure in the air. Hunger made her belly grumble and as she looked at the thin tent she knew it would not protect her from the late autumn weather much longer, or indeed the many other dangers which stalked the night. Dangers which were very real for one such as her; an elf, a woman and a mage, for such was it that she was not free.
Dii was well aware her Keeper was wealthy, a nobleman, and thus rich and powerful. He was a man of influence, but she was also acutely aware where a lot of that money had come from. She had not dared take his gold, although he deserved to be robbed of it, she thought bitterly. It was simply self-preservation on her part more than any sense of morality. Desperately she hoped he would not seek her, but were she thought a thief, he might be more inclined to do so. So Dii had left with a few meager possessions, such as her clothes, staff, dagger and a small bag of coins and everything else remained in her Keeper’s house. More afraid of what lay within than without she had risked her life to flee, both in physically escaping and being out alone in these lands. So far she had been lucky not to have been spotted by anyone unfriendly to her kind, and she thanked the gods for that. Not knowing the trails and roads well she had nothing to trust, but her luck and her skills.
A Kept owned nothing by right; Dii knew her favors paid well and her lovers sometimes gave her coin or trinket if she had pleased them, or a grateful villager would pass on a few copper coins for the potions or herb-lore she distributed. Most of the common people had little healing knowledge beyond basic remedies passed generation to generation and many communities did not have an apothecary. People often turned a blind eye to the local “wise folk” although this was not always the case, and many a mage had found themselves in the “hospitality of the Order of Witch-Hunters” due to failure to heal someone successfully or from mere spite or fear. To be in possession of magic was illegal and in many cases meant imprisonment or even death.
“Show me, guide me, and take me there. I am Archos, Lord of Magic and you will obey me,” he snapped to the fickle artifact and his eyes glowed silver.
The Mirror began to sing and the glass shimmered dark blue; pushing the mists apart Archos stepped through. He felt the sudden cold of the Astral Winds tug him and the sharp sting of Power as he entered the Arcane Realm. As he approached Archos saw the portal was weak, fading and the light slowly dimming. The bolt of Power he sent crackled blue for a moment and disappeared but the portal brightened.
Stepping through with some difficulty, he caught his breath again in the chamber of the ruins, and he scanned the old place quickly, noting he was not familiar with this particular ruin, one of many remnants of the past. The room was empty save a skeleton in tarnished armor with an ax, a few empty carapaces and the skittering of some creature.
The old Mirror stood before him, and he could feel its Power failing. He was alone, yet the Archmage could sense her, even taste her trail in the magical air. The feeling sent a shiver down his spine and a bolt of desire to his loins. A scent lingered above the damp tinny smell, lavender and herbs, sensual like a heady perfume. Yet he knew she was gone, not long, yet he could not sense her nearby.
Thank you again A.L Butcher, for taking time to speak with us today. We look forward to reading more from you in the future. Remember readers that A.L Butcher’s books can be found at:
“Tales of Erana: Myths and Legends” http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JCHQWJK
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexandra-Butcher/e/B008BQFCC6