[To start us off, tell us a bit about The Vengeance Trilogy and its first book, The Blood of Whisperers]
Well, where does one ever start when talking about such things? Primarily The Vengeance Trilogy is a story about revenge and anger. It is told from the point of view of three protagonists: Endymion, Darius and Hana, all of whom have their own agendas. Endymion is an unschooled Empath, shunned and despised for his ability, Darius is a powerful minister in the court of Emperor Kin, the Usurper, and Hana is the daughter of Emperor Lan, the last true Emperor. There are no traditional heroes here, and no evil villains. Characters rise and characters fall, they have complex and messy relationships, and the consequences of their actions take them to places they never wanted to be.
The Blood of Whisperers, the first book in the trilogy, focuses on the rise of Katashi Otako (the sexy cover image). Katashi is the last male member of the old Imperial family. He wants to return the Crimson Throne to the Otako line, but more than anything he wants revenge against the man who executed his father. But he is not the only one with a claim on the throne, which means the war is about to get messy. Add Empaths into the mix and it is safe to say I had a lot of fun writing this book.
[What inspired your writing of The Blood of Whisperers and The Vengeance Trilogy?]
I find this a very difficult question, because I’m not always aware of what inspires me to write what I do. I have characters and they take control of my head until I’m finished. More than anything I think I wanted to write an untraditional fantasy story, where magic does not control the world and where there are no knights and dragons. These things are written very well by other people, so I wanted to do something that was more chaotic – more me.
[What other works influenced the series?]
The major influence on The Vengeance Trilogy was actually Confucius, particularly the quotes: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves” and “When two tigers fight, one limps away, terribly wounded. The other is dead”. The truth of these words really spoke to me and I wanted to write something that had this honesty in mind, a story that didn’t have a convenient happy ending, but an honest one. There was no particular literary influence, though I am a wide reader of many genres. Otherwise I was heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese culture. The book is not set in either location, but one of my own making, but The Imperial Expanse of Kisia certainly has an Asian flavour.
[What prompted your decision to crowd-fund?]
That is an easy question – I’m poor (I think most young parents are, it’s just normal). Of course there were other ways of getting my books read. I could have self-published them for practically $0 if I edited them myself and made my own cover, but what good was that going to do anyone? I believe in professional books. Whether they are produced by authors or publishing companies, the person publishing the book should produce it to the highest possible standard. Why? Because that is what we want to read. I wouldn’t pick up a book that looked like no one loved it enough to make it as good as it could possibly be, so why should I expect anyone else to? Unfortunately, publishing a book with high standards means paying lots of people – cover artist, cover designer, editor, typesetter and printer. They aren’t cheap. Actually some of them are, but you get what you pay for.
I could, of course, have sent it to a major publishing house. But this is not one of those ‘no one else would take it so I published it anyway just to spite them’ stories. In its finished form, no publishing house has been given the opportunity to turn it down. This is a journey I wanted to try for myself, to learn as much about the industry as I could in the hope that, if successful, I would never have to give up control of my work. That doesn’t mean I would never accept a traditional contract, but I rather like being able to choose my own cover artist, work with an editor of my choice who suits my vision, and not have to give up a cent of my royalties.
[How have you found the process thus far?]
Crowd-funding is very much a double-edged sword, as the saying goes, but as people constantly remind me “nothing worth doing is ever easy”. It has become a rather trite saying, but I guess in this situation it suits. This is the first time I have really put myself out in the public sphere as an author, so I was prepared for the whole gamut of awfulness, from just being ignored all the way through to people having a go at me. Fortunately it has been all positive so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun. Crowd-funding is hard work, because you can’t just set up the campaign and sit back expecting magic to happen. It doesn’t work like that. You have to send out press releases (which most people don’t answer) you have to manage the campaign (which mostly consists of sending out thank you emails and pressing refresh a lot) and you never stop thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere and no one is listening, sometimes it’s amazing (like the day you wrote MASSIVE LIKE on my link 🙂 ) and sometimes I stress so much I’m sure I’m heading for an early grave. I don’t like asking for help, so I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a charity. People get something for their money.
[What is involved?]
In the short form – I went a little into this earlier, but what crowd-funding involves is a lot of hard work. You have to try to get your project in front of as many eyes as you possibly can. Success has more to do with this than how good or bad your product is, because no matter how many people would pledge because they like it, they can’t if they don’t know it exists. Crowd-funding is all about press releases, emails and social media. Share, share, tweet, share, tweet some more. We have business cards we hand out to people and posters we put up. Most crowd-funding sites work on an all or nothing basis, so if you don’t make your target by the deadline (in my case $8000 by the 5th July) you get nothing. And that is where the stress comes from.
[What has been the most challenging part of the process?]
The most challenging part of the process is definitely managing myself. I know as an author I’m going to have to cope with all the flak that flies around on the internet these days, so it is all a good lesson, but that doesn’t mean toughening up is fun. I question myself, I doubt, I shed my tears, and then I remind myself that these books are worth it.
Awesome? Professional? At the moment we are planning on a B format paperback for the size. The cover art I am sure you have seen, my beautiful Katashi, drawn by the very talented Viktor Fetsch. I wanted it to look clean and simple, focusing on the character without the distraction of a background as well. I also didn’t want to go with the current fantasy trend of men sitting on thrones, which seems to have taken over from the hooded assassin as the way to sell fantasy books. At this point the only hardcovers produced will be for the supporters of the campaign, and a set for my shelf, so I can grin at them every day. As to the number of units we print in paperback, that will depend mostly on the campaign. However things pan out the initial print run is likely to be only 200-500 copies. And an infinite number of ebooks of course!
[What promotional strategies are you implementing (apart from posting on the always fantastic Aurealis Facebook page.)]
I think I answered for the campaign already, sending press releases to papers and radio stations, handing out business cards, hanging up flyers and posters, sharing on social media and emailing people. I’m going to be reading an excerpt from my book at an event on the 30th June as well, which will be good fun.
As for the book, we’re planning to print a number of ARCs and send enquires to reviewers and bloggers in the genre, as well as bookstores. I’m fairly new to the concept of marketing, but the good thing is that if you don’t know what is right and wrong you aren’t held back by the rules. There will be more press releases, I’ll be running writing workshops, and we will launch it with as much effort as we can throw at it.
[How is distribution going to work?]
We are in the process of contacting distributers to get it into ‘bricks and mortar’ stores, but until there is a finished cover and a printed ARC we don’t have anything solid to prove the professionalism of the project. They don’t want to distribute an inferior product that no one would want to buy, which I 100% agree with. I wouldn’t want them to distribute it if it didn’t come up to my perfectionist standards.
[Would you consider offers from traditional publishers for future books/ reprints of the Vengeance Trilogy?]
Would I consider offers from traditional publishers? – That has to be one of the hardest questions, because I am always torn by the idea. What I want to do more than anything is write books. I live to write, not to manage publication and distribution. What young writer does not dream of the publishing contract, of being accepted through the gateway and into the realm of ‘real writers’? I certainly did. But now I dream of being able to do it all myself, to prove that I can. That might only extend to this trilogy, or just to the first printing, only time will tell. What I want more than anything is to be acknowledged as a professional author and to have a long, prolific and successful career, and that is what my future decisions will all be based on. I have too many books waiting to be written.
[Why did you choose to write under a pen name?]
I use a pen name for two reasons:
1) That Tracy Sauso-Bawa is a mouthful to say and remember, and probably wouldn’t look good on a cover, and
2) Because of the prejudice toward female authors (which opens a whole can of worms you are welcome to avoid by not mentioning it).
Devin is my husband’s name, so I know that I will at least turn around if someone shouts it at me at a convention.
[What do you think the number one job of a fiction writer is?]
I think the number one job of a fiction author is to entertain. That doesn’t just mean making people laugh, but being able to transport them away from their couch to somewhere else where they can be so absorbed in someone else’s problems that they forget their own. I sometimes struggle with the definition of an author. Are we artists? Or entertainers? Perhaps we are on a fine line that sits between both, leaning more one way or the other depending on our style, but no matter how beautiful my prose, if my books aren’t entertaining you then I’ve failed in my job.
[Now it’s time for the big WHO questions: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?]
The team from Bioware, or Square Enix. I love video games and would love to write a story for one some day. I am a Final Fantasy addict, and Bioware created Jade Empire, my all time favourite game. It would just make my life to see something of my creation brought alive in game.
[If you could give any work of fiction to any real-life person, what and who would it be?]
This is like trying to decide on presents at Christmas time. I always want to give something that means something. The first fantasy series I read was David Edding’s Belgariad, and as a teenager they really gripped me and I’ve been a fantasy reader/writer ever since. One day, when my little girls are older, it would be great to give them that same gift in the hope they will get the same joy out of them that I did. Until then I’ve had to settle for giving my eldest the first book I ever wrote. I was seven and it is a very tragic tale about a Christmas tree.
[If you could be any character from The Vengeance Trilogy, who would you be?]
*Laughs* None of them! A bit player, the gardener, so I can trim the grass and quickly bugger off before things go bad. If I absolutely had to choose a named part I would choose Hope. He was the son of a lord before he was sold to Malice and turned into a Vice, and despite that he has maintained a quiet, if slightly melancholy, dignity. I like that. And I’m not insane enough to want to put myself through the ordeal of being a major character in this story.
[What are you working on at the moment?]
At the moment I am working through the final copyedit of The Blood of Whisperers before it goes for its proofread, and it is going very well indeed. The change that takes place in the editing process is truly amazing, turning good stories into great books. Unfortunately I cannot go very long without working on something new, but I’m trying to be good and just make notes for the new trilogy I’ll be starting in October. I can’t tell you much, but it’s shaping up to be another unconventional story. Honestly I have projects lined up for quite a number of years ahead, so my mind is rarely quiet.
[How can people get their hands on The Blood of Whisperers?]
The best way to get a copy is to support the campaign before July 5th! That way you can help support the project and have a copy mailed to you before it is officially released. After that? We plan on taking pre-orders via my website for some time before the official release, after which it will be available there, as well as on amazon and in bookstores and other usual places (pending contract with a distributer).
If you’re interested in Devin and her work, check out her site, http://www.devinmadson.com , follow her on Twitter (@devinmadson), Facebook or contribute to The Vengeance Trilogy’s crowd-funding campaign (ENDING 5th JULY 2013!!!).