With two hit novels at the age of 24 and no plans to stop, Ben Galley has proven himself to be a powerhouse of self-publishing talent. We caught up with the man himself to chat about fantasy fiction, the pitfalls of publishing and the merits of map-making.
When did you start writing?
I remember making a comic for my mum and dad aged 8. I think it was then that I got the creative bug. I think at 10 I started my first book. Around 15 or 16 I aimed to write and publish my first proper book. The idea was to be the youngest published author ever.
I took a break and went to music college and came back to it after that.
What brought you back to writing?
Well, I was watching Merlin! I had finished at ACM and was playing with a few bands, ready to start on the road to being a professional musician. I was watching Merlin and getting back into writing in my spare time. During one episode I just thought “I’m going to write a book. And it’s going to be better than this!” Not to anger any Merlin fans or anything like that. It was more that, I was getting back into fantasy, which I have always loved since reading Tolkien at such a young age, and having more time to get back to writing. Together with that lightning flash of an idea I had to go for it.
It started as a hobby, but the more I researched publishing, and self publishing especially, the more I found out how easy it was to get your book out to an audience.
What made you choose the route of self publishing?
Once I started the first couple of chapters [of The Written] I realised I wanted to make a go of it. I started thinking about the traditional routes, literary agents and all that, but four or five chapters into writing this book I started coming across all these articles for self publishing. Once I realised it was possible and the various pluses that came with it, it just seemed right. I wouldn’t have to put up with any rejection letters or share 20% with a literary agent. Not that that isn’t a perfectly valid route too. All the things that an agent or an editor would do, I have to do myself.
So, what skills have you had to draw together to make it all happen?
I figured that I knew enough about graphic design and web design, picked up at music college, that I could easily put together my own stuff. I’d learned all that stuff about the music industry, like publicity, marketing, all that, and how different is the book industry? All you need to do is swap the word book for music, music for book. They’re just five years behind. iTunes to iBooks. Mp3s to e-readers.
I don’t think of it as shunning traditional publishing, it’s just a different direction. It made sense.
The Emaneska series. It seems like fantasy fiction is a becoming a real trend at the moment. Did this embrace of fantasy push you towards writing your own? Do you enjoy writing works that aren’t fantasy?
Yeah, I started a sci-fi novel as a bit of a joke in between The Wanted and Pale Kings, called Destiny’s Children. I always start with a working title as it gains a bit of a personality once you give it a name. I started writing sci-fi and really enjoyed it as I’m quite a geek at heart, but I know I’ve commited myself to a series now [Emaneska] so that is taking the front position. A big influence for me is Neil Gaiman, who writes a more contemporary line of fantasy. It’s a direction I’m toying with.
Gaiman often uses the short story form for his work. Are you interested in that as a medium?
I tried writing a few short stories and I have a plan in mind to form a collection, with the working title Demons and Doldrums. Everything from fantasy fiction, sci-fi, mystery. I hope to have it all in there.
Interesting that you have started with the long form and only after that start to condense it down…
I think it suits fantasy, like Song of Ice and Fire was planned to be nine books. You’ve got Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns and Prince of Thorns AND the unnamed one –
What’s your take on ‘the trilogy’?
My take on the trilogy, or my take on THE trilogy? As long as you can keep up with the writing I don’t think you upset too many people.
Was Emaneska always going to be a trilogy?
It’s going to be six! It’s three as the Emaneska trilogy and three more in the same world. Quite separate though. It was always going to be three. Maybe it’s the Tolkien influence from when I was a kid. I think I just had too many ideas to put into one book.
Well yes, as readers can see on the website, you’ve got maps, stories, sidelines, all sorts up there. You have entire mythos there. I imagine you can’t put that all into one book!
Yeah, I think it’s a great technique to use a website alongside a book series. A few people are doing it at the moment and it adds so much. I slowly invented a whole world and I had to chart it somewhere. It’s got a whole ice-covered medieval old English vibe to it.
Not to mention the leanings towards Norse and Greek mythology. Where have you centred the mythos of the story?
Nordic mythology has always been one of my favourites. Absolutely crazy stuff happens and it is completely accepted. It happens in Greek mythology, but not in such a brilliant way.
And what about genre?
Someone said to me that a great fantasy novel isn’t actually fantasy. A great novel is rarely just the novel it pretends to be. I think that’s the right idea.
Give me an example of a great novel, something that you think does that perfectly.
American Gods [Gaiman] is that to an extent. You don’t start out thinking it’s going to be a blend of so many mythologies…
It’s a road novel.
Exactly. It really is. I think Clive Cussler has a lot of books that have sci-fi and fantasy elements. When I heard that quote I wanted to make it, instead of just a fantasy novel, a story behind a world. So I came up with the world first and I thought there needed to be mystery and crime elements as well. Some kind of impetus.
It opens up with a crime! It opens up with murder and theft.
Exactly! That brings Farden into the story immediately. The Written are essentially a police force hired out to people, countries and kingdoms to do certain things. It made sense as a way to create a mystery to drive the story.
Jumping back to self publishing. You’re doing it all yourself, and that is a lot of jobs. How do you manage it all? Let’s start with editing. How do you go about editing your own work?
I set myself very strict deadlines, like I’ll say I have to have a certain amount of chapters written by a certain time. Once that is done I do a similar thing for the editing. I put the writing away for a week to get it out of my head and then come back and go through it with a fine tooth comb. Once I’ve done that I’ll give it to my test readers, whatever you might call them. That’s something I think the self-publishing industry has borrowed from the gaming industry, the idea of releasing something that’s not a finished product. There’s no harm in it. Publishing houses are very secretive. They’ll keep it all very in-house until the last minute whereas in self-publishing it’s different. Reader feedback is so useful.
So you have a small team behind you.
Yes, it started with a couple of friends and has expanded for Pale Kings.
Is it difficult to deconstruct something that you’ve created? Something that’s so close to you.
Absolutely. If I was with a publishing house there would be someone there who would say “no” when things needed changing, but that is why I’m so lucky to have these dedicated friends who will read over these things for me.
Any pitfalls you’ve discovered?
Editing. I rushed The Written and let a few things slip. Since releasing it I have re-edited and rereleased. All the errors have been caught, fingers crossed. I’ve definitely learnt from that and try to ensure a higher level in my work.
Self publishing has this hallmark of being very low quality, both in content and cover. If you can publish a book online in four minutes and make a quick buck having your mates buy it for 99 cents of Smashwords, people will. But so many who do aren’t giving the attention to quality that literature demands and deserves.
Ben Galley has written and released two novels, The Written and Pale Kings, which are part of the Emaneska trilogy.
Find out more about his work and the world he has created at his website.
Ben is currently on a tour to launch Pale Kings.