I had the pleasure of interviewing fantasy author Ben Galley, known for dark fantasy in a variety of flavors, as well as for his jaw-dropping special editions. Links are at the bottom of the interview!
Dan: Thanks for joining me on the blog, Ben! Before we get into talking about your acclaimed dark epic fantasy books and your brilliant illustrated special editions, tell me: How’s your mental health these days?
Ben: You know what, it’s not too shabby! I can’t complain, even after possibly the busiest month of my life with 5 audiobooks, 1 new book, and a Kickstarter launching all within weeks of each other. I was incredibly stressed and close to burning out several weeks ago, but after catching the signs, I managed to take a few days off up in the mountains and on an island to reset my brain. The dreaded wall had infected my writing, but after that much needed mental rest, I’m pleased to say I’m back on it and positive AF.
Dan: That’s great news, and congratulations on the funding of your Kickstarter for Pale Kings! I loved seeing you hit the goal and smash the goal and then all the fun little extras for the stretch goals. I can tell you’re very into the artistic side, and I wonder if you have any art background, or are you just passionate about the visual aspect?
Ben: Thank you! It blew my tiny little mind to see the project goal funded within 30 minutes. I woke up at 5am to launch it and while I was getting some breakfast, it had already passed its goal of $10k. Seeing the support has been fantastic. I think a lot of it comes down to the visuals of the editions. The artwork by Denis Kornev is incredible and perfectly suits the dark and Nordic style of Emaneska. The typography and exterior cover design is exactly what I envisaged when I first came up with the idea to launch these Kickstarters. That’s all thanks to typographer and illustrator Rachel St Clair, who just so happens to be my partner in life and/or crime. She smashed it out of the park with that design.
As for my own visual/art skills? I have practically fuck all in terms of creating digital or traditional art. I can create a decent range of marketing images and have a good eye for putting a few graphic design elements together, but that’s about it. It probably makes any true artists and designers ill to know I use Pages for most of my graphic design and putting together cover spreads. However I’m incredibly compelled by visuals and art in general. I use it for inspiration and get as involved as politely possible in the cover design processes.
Dan: Your passion shows in the quality of the covers and the artwork, but also in the branding. There’s no way to look at one of your covers and not know it’s yours, and I got to thinking, way back in 2010, the early Wild West of indie publishing, who were your mentors or inspirations to think Hey, I can put out gorgeous books that say Ben Galley and build a brand from the ground up?
Ben: That’s a good question, as there weren’t a lot of mentors or guidance in general in the dark ages of indie publishing. Instead, there was a lot of research and guesswork and even more crossing of fingers. Joanna Penn was a great help and one of the first pioneers I came across that was vocal about the right advice, which was sorely needed. There was a huge amount of bad advice floating around back then, plus an even more blurred line between vanity and self-publishing. Plenty of authors have fallen into the traps of companies under the umbrella of and similar to Author Central. I almost did myself, but thankfully a background in being an independent artist at a music college helped me to realise I could self-publish the true DIY way, which is what has become standardised now. I made a lot of mistakes but ultimately learned a lot along the way, and that’s why I’ve spent years as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to avoid the pitfalls I fell into. As for other inspirations, I studied the traditional publishers from the outset, and quickly realised that to be taken seriously, I had to emulate – and exceed – their level of professionalism. That was where the branding came in, and focus on producing the best possible book, and not just when it comes to the story.
Dan: Well, there’s no question you’ve succeeded. In addition to the special editions of The Written and Pale Kings, you also have a graphic novel version of The Written. What was the process like for creating that, both as a writer and as a design overseer? I assume you wrote the text, and that must have been quite a complicated undertaking!
Ben: In a few words, enlightening, fun, yet lengthy. I worked with a great artist and we worked very closely regarding how the text and art should both flow. He was great in terms of style and it definitely brought my reworked words to life, but working around his other projects and with the size of the book itself, it took us almost two years to deliver. All the art was done by hand and then scanned, which gave it a really authentic look. That process of seeing the art come together was highly enjoyable, as Mike had this weird mind meld with my word-pictures and painted almost exactly what I’d envisaged of Farden the mage and Emaneska.
Dan: This leads me to my next question: will there be more graphic novelizations of your books, and more special editions? I assume the answer will be yes, but I wonder–do you envisage doing this with all of them if it’s successful enough, or are certain series higher priority for you?
Ben: With the need to rewrite and rework all the text (which did take an inordinately long time), I think I would have to find somebody or a team that could do that part in my place. That could probably drive the costs to prohibitive levels, but the completionist in me really does ache to get all the Emaneska books adapted into graphic novels. Sadly, there are a lot of books waiting in the mind-bank to be written and with two more illustrated editions to kickstart and several books to deliver for publishers, they’ll loiter on the backburner for probably a few years.
Dan: Totally understandable. I gather you write full time now; how do you structure your time between writing new books and promoting/adapting/making special editions of your current books?
Ben: On an ideal day, writing always comes first. But I have a problem with loading up my to-do list to silly proportions. There’s always something admin-y that can be done! I thoroughly enjoy being a full-time indie author and it is my life, but sometimes it’s easy to delve too deep, as the dwarves did in Moria. I have to remember balance and force myself to reorganise.
Normally, I write best in the morning and aim to get 2-4k words done by lunch. Afternoon and early evening is for the inevitable author admin and marketing, which does take a completely different mindset. If I have more words to do, I’ll write late in the evening as well. For some reason, once the sun goes down, I can focus a lot more and usually write past midnight if I’m on a word-binge or hitting a deadline. However, that’s the ideal day. Some days, admin does become more important than the wordcount. Something urgent, for example, or a big launch is coming up and there’s a lot to accomplish, such as outreach, social, ads, and all that fun stuff we authors dabble in.
Dan: I wonder if readers realize that the writing itself is actually the minority in terms of total time spent for authors.
Ben: You’re absolutely right: I’ve spent weeks not writing and instead planning out and executing launch and marketing plans. It is utterly necessary in this current landscape. Mere existence on Amazon doesn’t sell books, and getting the word out is imperative to break even and make writing your profession. However, the golden rule is that the best marketing is the next book, and so writing should… should always come first. That’s the bastard battle.
Dan: Indeed it is. And in battle, there must be rest. You mentioned getting out into the wilderness to decompress, and I gather you enjoy a good hot tub; what else do you do to destress when all the admin and writing and covers are flying around your head like a swarm of bees and you just need to get away?
Ben: Swarm of bees is bloody right! It’s helpful living in a place like Vancouver and having the mountains and wilderness only a short drive away. It still stuns me every time and can distract me like few other things can. I recently escaped up to Whistler, hence that hot tub, and also a log cabin on a lake, and together they were the perfect cure for my almost burnout. Aside from wilderness and landscapes, I game as frequently as I can – currently slaughtering zombies in Dying Light 2 – go to the archery range when I can, snowboard badly, and loiter in bars on my laptop. That’s another kind of scenery that also works to keep the words flowing.
Dan: The bar thing reminds me of my sister, who used to do most of her grad school reading and studying in loud bars because she said that helped her focus, oddly enough. I need total silence to write or read, but I get it!
Ben: The access to a pint or two helps as well 😀 Loud noises help as long as they’re almost constant. Most of my writing playlist is comprised of bands like Killswitch Engage, which drowns out other parts of my brain so I can enter that good old flow state. It’s probably why I sleep to loud rain sounds or Office episodes I’ve seen a hundred times.
Dan: On the topic of book-related-but-not, writing takes a toll on the body–hours sitting in a chair, no matter how ergonomic, and the wrist and fingers moving all the time, the back, the hips…how do you manage the physical part? I don’t know if you’re as old as I, but I definitely need to move a lot or I get seriously creaky, and writing too much always takes its toll.
Ben: I definitely crack my back about a dozen times a day and have to keep checking I’m not slouching, which I’m constantly guilty of. I can see myself becoming a hunchback in the future and living in a belltower surrounded by broken typewriters. Let’s be honest, writing isn’t the healthiest fucking activity. Gym or exercise is basically the answer, and making sure you’re not working so hard you forget to eat healthy or eat at all, which is what I also have done far too often. A good chair and desk is imperative. Take breaks. Remember to sleep. You can’t write clearly if you’re physically exhausted.
Dan: Truth bombs galore. We touched on this a bit earlier, but I want to talk about the past, the present, and the future of indie publishing. You were there at the beginning, and you’ve been a regular SPFBO contestant and finalist. How important was SPFBO in your budding career, and how do you see it now? Is it as important, more important, the same? And are you involved in any way when you’re not a contestant?
Ben: I think SPFBO has been highly important for my career and for others. Mark Lawrence has put together a great showcase and proven that indie talent can’t be dismissed or silenced, and that there’s a shitload of it out there. It has definitely put me in front of a lot of new readers, and made me dozens of author and blogger friends. It’s been something I’ve followed every year whether I have a book in the game or not, and it’s great to see the gems get dragged into the light as they should be.
Dan: I am so impressed with the contest, with Mark, with the bloggers and authors–the whole thing just brings me a lot of joy. I’m judging this year with Beth Tabler’s Before We Go Blog, and seeing it from that side, the passion reviewers have for the stories–it’s really something special. Have you read anything good from this year’s contest, or do you have any of the finalists on your TBR?
Ben: The bloggers work daaaaamn hard during the contest. It can’t be easy reading and judging that many books in a relatively short time. It’s like a separate challenge altogether, and it’s been great to make so many lasting friends with the reviewers too. As for this year, I’m well behind in following thanks to my mental October, and have a TBR mountain to climb already, but I routinely add the finalists to my TBR each year no matter what. One that has caught my eye is On Lavender Tides by Travis M Riddle. The cover immediately caught my eye. I’m shamelessly all about the cover art. Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide by Quenby Olson also look brilliant and can’t wait to dig into them. I have a signed version of the former on my shelf right this moment.
Dan: You’ve got excellent taste! I’ve only read one of those (Miss Percy) but they all look great! As we wrap up, let’s talk about the future of indie publishing, especially in this age where fantasy is expanding across media. When the fuck are we going to get an indie series picked up by a film or TV production company? Or are they just going to keep doing re-iterations and new versions of the same old? I exaggerate, of course, but it seems like it’s waaay past time. And they could probably get indie properties for cheaper, right?
Ben: For years, I’ve been waiting for Hollywood to stop rehashing (and usually ruining) old classics and start delving into the huge wealth of worlds and stories that a) can be found in the fantasy and SFF genres, and b) are produced by hard-working indies, not just the big names. It’s been wonderful seeing the success of indie authors in recent times. Legends & Lattes is a great recent example of how an indie can find – at the risk of sounding like Borat – great success, and the Amazon bestseller charts are regularly stocked with indie authors. It has, however, become harder to stand out and to keep standing out amongst the volume of books, never mind the algorithms getting trickier, to put it bluntly. My number one goal has always been to see one of my books on a screen, large or small. Who knows. It’s never been a better time for SFF content given the success of GoT, The Witcher, Dune, Expanse, and Rings of Power.
Dan: I expect it’s just a matter of time before the right person pitches the right idea to the right person, and I hope one of those people is you, as you dream!
Ben: I think we’re also going to see a lot more digitally-created content appearing, perhaps like Arcane. As animation tools get cheaper and more accessible and processors get faster, I think we’ll see far more fan content and partnerships with smaller creators, and an increasing market of indie films inspired by SFF. That could be really exciting.
Dan: Your lips to the gods’ ears, Ben. Before we go, can you tell us about what your readers have to look forward to from the Galleyverse in the coming year?
Ben: Now that Demon’s Reign is out, I’m working hard on Demon’s Rage, Bloodwood Saga 2 so that it can come out next year. I’m also continuing my serial novel on Royal Road – Somebody Has To Be The Dark Lord, which I’m excited to wrap up and publish as one big tome at some point. I’ll also be building the Dead Stars – Part One Kickstarter once Pale Kings is all wrapped up and delivered. Oh, and the final book in the Scalussen Chronicles – To Kill a God. Jesus.
Dan: Your productivity and work ethic never cease to impress. Thank you for taking time from this incredibly busy schedule to chat with me, and please drop those links so people can find out all about you and the exciting fantasy worlds you continue to create!
Ben: My pleasure and thanks for inviting me! Good to talk real shit and also book shit! All my books and links are at www.linktr.ee/bengalley
Dan: All right! I hope you get some words in this evening! And with any luck, I’ll see you around the Twitter, if Muskrat doesn’t kill it entirely!
Ben: Hah! We’ll see and fingers crossed he doesn’t seeing as it’s my main platform. Bastard. Thanks again and this was great fun!
Find out all about Ben’s books and special projects on his Linktree.
Read my interview with romantasy author Grace Draven