Interview with Ryan Toxopeus

What's the story behind your latest book?
My current work in progress (WIP) starts at the end of the sea voyage that begins at the end of my second book, A Wizard's Gambit. After suffering a terrible loss, they return home to find things have changed in the months since they left. The three protagonists split up to do some soul searching, trying to make sense of everything. When they pull back together, their heroic journey really begins!
When did you first start writing?
Does Kindergarten count? I've always loved creative writing, but I would say my first real attempts at it were in my early university days. I wrote a mammoth science fiction (space opera) that will never see the light of day. I also wrote a short story about a WWII POW for a competition at my university, and took the top prize. The judges were intrigued because they were not used to seeing strong entries from engineering students. I'd say that success paved the way for me to take up the pen again a decade later.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
At first I sent my book A Noble's Quest out to agents. I think I sent it to a dozen or so. While I was waiting, I joined Google+ and started getting in touch with writing groups and authors. I started learning a lot about the business angle, and realized that traditionally published authors really don't make a lot of money for the time spent working. When rejection letters started coming in, they weren't necessarily negative. I got a lot of "the boss doesn't think it fits into what he's looking for right now, but try again with your next book" sort of responses, and that told me I had something good. They don't put that much effort into a rejection if you've sent them garbage. So, instead of sending it out to another batch of agents, I decided to go it alone. It's tough not having a marketing team working for you, but I like being in control of my own destiny.
How do you approach cover design?
Initially I thought I'd do my own. While I was happy with the end product for A Noble's Quest, a friend of mine pointed out a fatal flaw: it didn't give people any idea what was in the book. It looked nice, but didn't grab people's attention. Although I've heard a lot of people say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, most people do, and when there's a sea of indie books all competing for people's attention, you really need that amazing image to capture people's attention. I found an amazing artist who I will be commissioning to do some phenomenal art work, and I'm really excited to give my books the cover art they deserve.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Watching the characters come alive. Although I do a rough outline for everything I'm going to write, the details don't show up until I sit down and start writing. There are times I'm surprised with what my characters say or do. I think that's important, because if I am pleasantly surprised, the reader should be to. That said, the single greatest moment of joy I have felt so far was seeing a professional sketch for a new cover that's coming out for A Noble's Quest with Eliza Winston crouched over a dead goblin shaman. She's perfect, with the intensity in her gaze, and her functional (read: not ridiculously revealing) leather armour, I think she's a female character that women would be proud to have their daughters love. I can't wait to see the final version in colour!
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything. Without the positive feedback I received after releasing A Noble's Quest, I would have quit. My plan was to put out one book as a stand alone, and see how it did. If it was slammed, I fully intended to stop then and there. But after a couple great reviews, and a lot of private compliments and kind words, I knew I was in it for the long haul. As much as I love the entire writing process, from dreaming up the world and mechanics to editing the final copy, the best feeling is having someone say they read my book, and they couldn't put it down. I've heard it a few times now, and it still blows me away that people fall into my writing. I'm committed now to finishing this trilogy in a timely manner, and seeing where it takes me next. I want to keep my fans happy!
What are you working on next?
I have a few projects on the go.
My novella, Demon Invasion, is currently being edited. It looks at the backstory to the antagonist in A Wizard's Gambit, from his rise to power, to his eventual servitude to the Emperor.
I have a short story that I'm trying to farm out to traditional publishers. That story, 1430 AGW, follows a merchant who is indebted to a local crime lord, Ielam Quickhands. When his daughter is threatened, he takes on a simple job to clear his debt.
Finally, work continues on the last book in my Empire's Foundation trilogy. A Hero's Birth is coming along nicely, and I anticipate being done the first draft by the end of November, or early December 2015. This should put me on track to publish it in 2017, as I anticipate editing to take a while.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word-of-mouth has the dubious title of best and worst in terms of effectiveness.
People have enjoyed my writing, and reviews - whether posted online or told to me personally - have been good. Sometimes this leads to other people finding my books, but just as often it doesn't go anywhere.
Perhaps better is talking one-on-one with people who are interested in reading fantasy. It's slow, but people love to talk with an author. At the conference I went to in 2014, and the Book Bash I attended in 2015, I sold several books after talking to people about the stories.
I wish I had a "magic bullet" to share, but there isn't one. Just be persistent and keep writing.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favourite is R. A. Salvatore. I've been following Drizzt since I was a teenager. I've also enjoyed some of his books that have gone to different worlds and characters.
In terms of authors who have inspired me, I would say Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, and GRR Martin, but not necessarily in the ways you might think. From Goodkind I learned that you need to keep your plots fresh. By the third time Richard and Kahlan were torn apart, I was growing pretty fed up with the repetitive story arc. Jordan taught me to stay focused. Although I know a lot of people who are fans of the entire Wheel of Time series, I also know a lot of people who couldn't get far into it because the scope is absolutely massive with a cast of characters no one can keep straight in their heads. And I dislike Martin's approach where he likes to "shock" his readers/viewers... because if you go into it with the intent of killing everyone, your readers aren't going to care about the characters. I'm big on trying to create a cast of characters readers will love, and I don't want to constantly slaughter them. That said, A Hero's Birth is generating a rather large body count.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It's a city that, in its heyday, sported several pulp and paper mills. Currently the city's pulp and paper industry is gutted, and I feel a sense of sadness when I return home for a visit, seeing how run down large sections of the city are. It was never what I would call a pretty town, but it's definitely gotten worse. That community weighed heavily on my writing, as two of the protagonists are lumberjacks in a destitute town just trying to make ends meet. I imagine Whampello has a lot in common with Thunder Bay.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I actively seek out works from other indie authors. I have 1300+ people in my writing circle on Google+, so when I need something new to read, I make a post asking for suggestions from my fellow indie authors. It's nice to support the community. Books I've enjoyed have been The Only City Left (and sequel The Fifth House) by Andy Goldman, Derelict by Lisa Cohen (her sequel, Ithaka Rising is on my TBR list), Without Bloodshed by Matthew Graybosch, and Grimme by Peter Smalley. You can see all the indie books I've reviewed at:
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Hardly at all, honestly. When I started out, I sent everyone Smashwords links because I thought people would like the option to get non-mobi files. But Amazon has been by far the best source of sales, probably followed by paperback books from I rarely get sales through Smashwords.
Describe your desk
A disaster. I believe genius can handle chaos.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I work full time as a research associate and lab technician. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time with my wife and kids, playing games, and working around the house. Between work, writing, and family, there isn't a lot of time left!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Necessity. My cat meowing at me, usually some time between 6:30 and 7am like he's going to die if I don't feed him at that moment. If that doesn't work, my kids do the job.
Published 2015-10-30.
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