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Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!

This is a distinct pleasure, in that I have the award-winning epic fantasy author joining me: the amazing M.L. Spencer! M.L. has published novels, short stories, articles, and more. Her currently published works include: The Rhenwars Saga (Darkmage, Darklands, Darkrise, Darkfall, Darkstorm); The Chaos Cycle (Chains of Blood, Chains of Legacy);  Rivenworld Series (Dragon Mage; Champion of the Fallen*Release Date TBA*)

P.L.: Huge fan-boy moment for me here, to be able to interview you M.L.! I admire your work so much, and Dragon Mage was one of the top 20 books I read in 2022!  Thanks again for joining Six Elementals Interviews!

Your debut novel in the Rhenwars SagaDarkmage won the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy, and was a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO4) semi-finalist. Your Chains of Blood, first installment of the Chaos Cycle, won Silver in the 2020 Readers’ Favorite Awards for Fantasy. Dragon Mage has over THREE THOUSAND ratings on Goodreads. Besides all that I’ve mentioned, I believe that most would say, by any metrics of nominal success that most self-published authors achieve, you have been highly successful. How have you dealt with the pressures of success, and how do you feel about all you have achieved so far?

M.L.: I am so thrilled that you enjoy Dragon Mage! And I really appreciate you telling all your followers about it. Your reviews are really impactful and really spread the word. It means so much.

I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a successful indie writer. I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome or what, but I have to constantly keep reminding myself that my books have achieved a level of success that has exceeded any goals that I might have imagined for myself. I guess it still just hasn’t really hit. 

P.L.: In my estimation, M.L., you are DEFINITELY a successful author. Of all your novels, do you have a personal favourite, and why?

M.L.: Definitely Dragon Mage. That book was long in my imagination and the world building took years. I had been designing that world without any idea of what kind of story or characters would ever take place in it. Then when the idea for Aram came to me, I became electrified.

P.L.: I can see why. Dragon Mage was simply phenomenal, and your worldbuilding and character work in that novel was incredible. Who are your writing influences?

M.L.: Gotta say Robert Jordan, first and foremost. To me, there is no greater fantasy author. Stephen R. Donaldson, because he wrote the first fantasy novel I ever read. There are many others: Raymond E. Feist, C.S. Friedman, David Eddings…the list goes on…

P.L.: That’s a pretty impressive list. Some fabulous authors are mentioned there. Can you speak a little bit about your writing journey please? How long have you been writing, what inspired you to write, and what made you elect to publish via self-publishing rather than seeking an agent and a book deal with a “Big Five” traditional house?

M.L.: Sit back because this is going to be a long story!

I started writing little books when I was a kid, basically fanfiction. I had a desk up in my grandmother’s attic, and I would hide the little books I was writing because I was embarrassed. As I got older, I started writing bigger books. I wrote my first full-length fantasy book when I was in college. My mom hated it because that’s all I did and she thought that it was obsessive. I sent query letters to just about everyone and collected an entire notebook full of rejection letters. After that, I decided that getting short stories published in fantasy magazines was the way to go. Even then, I was met with a mountain of rejections.

So I started taking creative writing classes in college. My professors were always very supportive and said I had a talent, so they kept my dream alive. After I wrote a second book and faced another round of rejections, I got discouraged. I stopped writing altogether and didn’t do another thing with it for almost a decade.

Then one day—I don’t know why—I pulled out that book, dusted it off, and started rewriting it. That novel was Darkmage, and it was 2011. I sent it out again to agents, and again was met with nothing but rejections. But this time I didn’t just put it away. I researched self-publication. Unfortunately, I was utterly broke, and really didn’t have the resources to self-publish. I literally made my own cover art and just threw it up on Amazon without really trying to market it at all. Predictably, Darkmage did nothing. (It did win the IndieReader Discovery Award, but that really didn’t inspire any sales.)

And so Darkmage languished for years, unnoticed, until one day I saw that a Goodreads review had come in. (It hadn’t gotten a review in years, so the mere fact that someone had read it was earth-moving.) And it was a critical review, pointing out plot holes, bad pacing, etc. For this review I would like to thank, and be forever grateful for, Kyra Halland.

Kyra’s review lit a fire in me. I was determined to address the issues she had pointed out with Darkmage. So I wrote a prequel, Darkstorm. By this time, I had become aware of the fantasy community on Facebook and Twitter, and I was starting to learn about effective ways to market myself. 

Darkstorm became a SPBFO semifinalist and I started getting attention. I rewrote Darkmage and released its sequel with the help of a group of authors I had fallen in with. Suddenly, my series really took off. I think a lot of it was due to my knowledge of Amazon Ads, which a lot of people were simply not using at the time. 

By the time I released a box set of the series, I was super good with ads, and box sets were doing really well. The Rhenwars Saga shot to the top of the charts and sold tens of thousands of copies. I followed that up with The Chaos Cycle, which did not see similar success, I think because it was a sequel series to Rhenwars. But then I released Dragon Mage, and that had amazing success.

Why did I self-publish Dragon Mage?  Well, honestly, I was pretty much “done” with trying to query agents and publishers by that time. I was “done” with researching them, “done” with the process, and “done” with the deluge of rejections. I decided I would only query two agents, and then self-publish if I was rejected by them.

Well, I was rejected, as predicted. So I self-published.

I think the success of Dragon Mage was due solely to one BookTuber: Petrik Leo. I still can’t believe Petrik picked it up, but he did, and he gave it a stellar review, which absolutely floored me. Like, really, someone actually had to pick me up off the floor! Suddenly, people were talking about Dragon Mage and it got a huge buzz, which spilled over into Reddit and Instagram. I still to this day cannot believe I got so lucky. 

Another person I will be forever grateful to is Petrik Leo. And Mihir Wanchoo, who brought it to Petrik’s attention. And my editor, Sarah Chorn, who brought it to Mihir’s attention! And bloggers like you, P.L.! Forever thank you!

P.L.: Those are some wonderful bloggers to have in your corner. Petrik and Mihir are fantastic people as well as being phenomenal bloggers. And Sarah is a top-notch editor. Can you tell us a bit please, if possible, about what projects you are currently working on?

M.L.: Right now I am working on the sequel to Dragon Mage, Champion of the Fallen. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would because, well, I was never intending to write a sequel novel, it took me forever to come up with the plot for it. And then after that things in my life just kind of fell apart. I had both health and mental struggles which really delayed the writing of it. But I got myself together and it looks like Champion will be out sometime between April or May of  this year.

P.L.: Self-care comes first, last, and always. So happy to hear your triumphs, and kudos in what you have overcome. We are all eagerly awaiting your follow-up to Dragon Mage.  As a seasoned writer, do you have any advice for those authors breaking into the field today?

M.L.: My advice is to try to get into a group of authors that will help you. It helps if they are a little further along the journey than you. You will learn enormous amounts of knowledge from them, and gain their support. I think that’s critical.

P.L.: M.L., I have truly enjoyed our chat and I really appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!

M.L.: Thank you for having me, P.L.! Your support has been truly amazing and I am so very grateful!

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