Having joined the sf/fantasy and readercon circuit more faithfully this year, I’ve had the extraordinary pleasure of running into people I’ve interviewed in the past – and then run into them again at a different con in a different province. You’ll see a few of these instances in the next couple of interviews.
Ryan McFadden is one of those folks. I first “met” him for an interview for The Puzzle Box, and announced him when we both appeared in the anthology Expiration Date. And though we’re both Ontario dwellers, we met for the first time in Calgary. We met again in Ottawa. I have this sneaking suspicion that one of these days I’ll go visit friends in Nova Scotia, and I’ll turn around and step on Ryan’s feet in Halifax or something.
Not that I would mind. Ryan’s a cool and laid back kinda guy. And that’s why I would like you to read this interview, and then go out and buy the first in his new series: Cursed: Black Swan.
9DW: You won an Aurora award for your novella Ghost in the Machine, but you’ve won two other Auroras. What were they for?
Ryan McFadden: I’ve won three Aurora awards, the most recent being for my novella Ghost in the Machine from the Puzzle Box by the Apocalyptic Four (a collective of four writers, which includes myself, E.C. Bell, Billie Milholland, and Randy McCharles). The two before that were shared awards: for Women of the Apocalypse in 2009 (Absolute Xpress) and Bourbon and Eggnog in 2011 (10th Circle Project).
Women of the Apocalypse was a 4-novella anthology focused on women combating the Biblical Riders of the Apocalypse on behalf of humankind. Bourbon and Eggnog was a free Christmas collection, based on our shared world called the 10th Circle.
9DW: On your website, you mention that Cursed: Black Swan is the first in your new fantasy series. What can you tell me about the time and setting of its inaugural book?
RM: Cursed: Black Swan is a European medieval setting in a low-magic world, because, well, that’s what I knew (those years of playing D&D finally paid off!). I know there’s a trend toward other cultural settings (the Arabic world, the Chinese dynasties, the Japanese Samurai) but I felt that I needed something simple and basic. I was playing a lot with the familiar fantastic tropes in this first novel including dual personalities, the lovable scoundrel but the setting isn’t overly critical – after the first draft, I considered actually moving the entire story to a pseudo modern-day Shanghai, but then listened to my own advice that I was over thinking the setting, and kept it in the Euro setting.
With that said, follow up novels tend to move toward more of a Victorian flair (but not quite steampunk).
9DW: You also mention that your Fixer books comprise a non-sequential series. What prompted the decision to write and publish in a non-chronological order?
RM: The non-chronological order came from reality: what if I couldn’t sell volume one? The publication world moves so slowly that by the time I’d realize I couldn’t sell volume one, I’d already have two and three written. It happened once. I wrote the obligatory epic-fantasy trilogy…and while I came close to selling that initial book, it never found a home. Which meant that books two and three have been sitting in a drawer. Other than a friend or two, they have never been read. I didn’t want to get stuck in that trap again.
Plus, I figured that as a new name in the bookstore, people wouldn’t necessarily follow (or wait) for subsequent books. They might read book 1, even book 2, but with the delays in publication, they might forget about me, they might not be able to find the next book…
So to do a non-sequential series I *think* will make it easier for me to market and sell the book. Haven’t read book 2? No problem, because book 4 is a completely different plot. Plus, this character is noir which leads to the next question…
9DW: Your blurb sounds almost like a film noir story set in a fantastical world, similar to another one of your stories, Through a Glass, Darkly. What kind of voice did you use for this story?
RM: It is 100% a noir setting, including many of the tropes used in film noir. The voice needed to be first person, and was a direct result of many crime novels I read, most notably American Hero by Larry Beinhart and Killing Floor by Lee Child (the initial Jack Reacher novel). There’s the femme fatale, the one man against a brutal system, as well as the nihilistic attitude of the characters. With that said, it’s not all gloom and doom. My main character, Nathaniel, is both a killer and a bit delusional, so his perspective can’t always be trusted.
9DW: You’ve dealt with a few small and medium-sized presses. What are the advantages (or disadvantages) do you think come with working with a small press?
RM: The small press – I was hesitant to sign with a small press. A small press obviously has fewer resources, smaller reach. I worried about not being in that all important BOOK STORE. Most small presses have little to no distribution (the cost of distributing a book is ridiculous) so the chances of being in a bookstore are pretty much non-existent.
What would the cover look like? Many small presses have covers that look like a cover developed by, well, a small press. You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but everyone does. A poor cover will make your book look amateurish.
But you know what? I don’t know how important the book store is for the new entrant. Don’t get me wrong as it would be awesome to be in every bookstore in North America, but unless you sign with a large press (even a medium press might be tricky) that’s just not going to happen. And it’s a bit of an ego thing too—look, ma, I’m in the bookstore! There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your book on a shelf. But how many books will an unknown author sell in a bookstore with the cover not displayed?
I can also say that I’m extremely pleased that I signed with Dragon Moon Press. So responsive, so agile, and they know their stuff. Plus, have you seen my cover? Gorgeous! The publisher, Gwen Gades, is a delight to work with, and my editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, really brought a keen eye to my book (she helped spot a major problem). Plus, being smaller, you’re not lost in the shuffle. I’m dealing with the publisher directly.
I was recently at Can Con when I spoke to another author who, like me, was humming and hawing about signing with a small press. I spoke about my experiences with DMP and at the end of the weekend, he too signed with another Canadian small press.
9DW: In terms of marketing, how can writers help to boost the advertising reach of a small press?
RM: I don’t know if writers can boost the advertising reach exactly, but I might be splitting hairs with the term ‘advertising’. I find that advertising a book doesn’t lead to direct sales. Marketing a book (and the author) can lead to future sales. Billie Milholland, one of my collaborators with the Women of the Apocalypse and the follow-up The Puzzle Box, always talked about relationship building. She didn’t think twice about talking for 20 minutes or more with a potential reader in a bookstore. She didn’t want to shove a book in someone’s hand and walk them to the cash register. She wanted to build that relationship first. At the time I didn’t really understand it, and while we have different methods, we both are now striving to continue building relationships as opposed to selling books. You need to build fans. I think the small press can give you the latitude to do that. The stakes aren’t as high as with a large press. Then again, I’ve never been published through a large press so my experience is limited in that regard.
So with a small press, you continue building relationships, continue marketing yourself, your book, and your press, each time building on the last release.
9DW: On your blog, you talk about the importance of networking. Why is it so important that writers network among themselves?
RM: I’ve talked about it so much in the past – quit worrying about cornering that agent or publisher, and instead work on just meeting people, making true connections, and building relationships. Other writers are the gateway to everything. They will make the introductions. Maybe not immediately, but someday.
In 2007, I met Eileen Bell. I was fortunate because not only did I make a life-long friend, but she was the one who brought me into the Apocalyptic Four collective with Women of the Apocalypse. Because of the opportunity another writer gave me, I was able to capitalize and begin my writing career. Let me say that again: if she hadn’t invited me into her collective, I wouldn’t have 3 Auroras and wouldn’t have my debut novel.
Going even further, there’s another project I’m just beginning (too early to talk about) that was again initiated by another writer.
Meet people. Network. Meet more people. Don’t worry about what they can do for you.
9DW: In your opinion, what’s the best way to drum up interest in a book before it launches? Drumming up interest before a book is launched?
RM: That’s a hard one because I’m not actually sure. Cursed: Black Swan is my debut novel, and though I have numerous credits to my name, the brand of Ryan T. McFadden isn’t well known. The collaborative was known as the Apocalyptic Four – that’s how our publisher branded us. I think you have to play the long game: create one fan, create two fans, and each book create more fans until they generate the buzz.
Obviously, you can let everyone know about the release, but no amount of advertising will generate many sales (I’m sure there are always exceptions). Excessive blabbing on social media will just annoy people (social media has to be an exchange – I can tell you about my book, but I need to give you something in return…even if it’s a three second diversion from their work). As for marketing – same thing. Unless you have something exceptionally clever (or the next Martian or Hunger Games) , you’re going to have to rely on the slow by steady build.
9DW: What can you tell me about Thunderclap?
RM: Thunderclap was interesting. It’s a marketing tool that I decided to use as an experiment with the release of my book. It’s a social media tool that collects supporters. Instead of donating money, they donate a tweet or status update. Thunderclap collects them all, then at a predetermined time, releases them onto the internet in a big THUNDERCLAP.
I did a full analysis over on my blog here, but to sum up: I believe it fizzled more than boomed. It was an interesting experiment, and one worth trying, but ultimately it comes down to this: people buy books based on recommendations, or past reading experiences. Seeing a non-endorsed link on someone’s page probably isn’t going to get someone to buy.
But I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t have tried. I thought that maybe it would create enough buzz that some might click and try.
So, like I said: go buy his book! Or at the very least, check him out at: