All 10 finalists’ books are featured in the new StoryBundle, some of the proceeds of which go to charity. This interview with David is presented as part of that
Matt Colville: First of all I wanted to congratulate you on making the SPFBO finals. How did you first learn of Mark Lawrence’s contest?
David Benem: I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence and follow him on Twitter. Just so happened to read about it there.
MC: Did you feel any trepidation entering? Any hesitation?
DB: Absolutely. When I entered, my book hadn’t actually been published–I was still finalizing cover art and interior formatting with my artist. As a result I submitted a plain, coverless Word document. I was happy with my writing and my story but worried that such a submission would be dismissed out-of-hand. Luckily, the kind folks over at Fantasy Book Review overlooked that, and named it one of their top five of the first round a week before it was even available on Amazon. I was thrilled when they put it into the finals!
MC: What Remains of Heroes was Fantasy Book Review’s finalist. How did you find out you made it into the final round? What was your reaction?
DB: I was ecstatic! Like many of the other finalists, the SPFBO caused me to develop a rather unhealthy relationship with Twitter. With as often as I was checking the contest results, my guess is I saw FBR’s selection mere moments after it occurred.
MC: I read your blog post in response to an article in The Guardian writer’s about self publishing vs traditional publishing. What made you decide to go indie?
DB: I dabbled in query letters and agents for a time, but frankly I found the process and experience off-putting. What was more, the whole industry was shifting; successful indie authors were being snatched up by the big publishing houses and in some case with more favorable contract terms, and traditionally published authors were becoming “hybrids.” It seemed the right thing for me, and I’m happy with the decision.
MC: What’s the biggest misconception you’ve encountered about independent publishing?
DB: That we all suck. More precisely, that indie authors don’t really care about the craft of writing, that we throw our crap into cyberspace because we either can’t produce work good enough for the “big boys” or are too impatient to spend enough time honing our writing. I think every one of the books in the SPFBO finals—and many that didn’t quite get there—disprove that notion.
MC: Did you detect any change in the way independent authors are viewed online thanks to the SPFBO?
DB: I think so and I hope so. With what the ten bloggers had to say in the end it seems it had some impact, and hopefully that impact grows with SPFBO 2.
MC: What kind of impact did the SPFBO have on your sales?
DB: I’ve been fortunate with sales, and 2015 was a good year for my book. What Remains of Heroes released a week or so after being named one of Fantasy Book Review’s top 5 selections in the initial round of the contest, so I’m certain that helped it hit the ground running.
MC: Thanks to the SPFBO, we all got a lot of reviews for our work from sites that normally would never have seen it. What was your reaction to the reviews?
DB: That depends on which review you’re talking about! My book ran the gamut, scoring low with a few and being named a contest favorite or second place by four others. This resulted in a number of happy dances followed by fits of snot-bubble sobbing, and vice versa.
MC: Do you feel like you learned anything about your book from the reviews? Like a common theme running through them?
DB: If the reader connects with my characters, they like the book. If they don’t, they don’t. That holds true in looking over my Amazon reviews as well.
MC: I note in Beauty in Ruins’ review, Milne praises the way you play with established genre tropes. I think I’ve detected that as a common theme among the books that made the finals. When you were plotting What Remains of Heroes were you making a conscious decision to deploy or subvert certain genre tropes? Was that a particular goal of yours as a writer?
DB: Honestly no. I’m a bad plotter. In fact I hardly plot at all, which leads to plenty of mass executions of half-made characters. I just started plunking away about a character (Lannick deVeers) who’s lost everything and chances upon a path to redemption. I kept writing and just wanted to ride that out (along with the troubles of a few other characters). In terms of tropes, I guess I always just shied away from the usual fantasy trappings.
MC: How did you come to pick fantasy as your chosen genre?
DB: I love the genre. Always have, whether it be with books, movies, comics, whatever. I’d always promised myself I’d try my hand at the dreaded fantasy trilogy, so this is the start of it.
MC: Who were your influences as a writer?
DB: Most recently Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and R. Scott Bakker. Before that primarily Tolkien, Weis and Hickman, Lloyd Alexander, and a whole lot of AD&D. Also, and just as importantly, John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian film, John Boorman’s Excalibur, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the old Savage Sword of Conancomics, and most anything by Frank Miller.
MC: I presume all the finalists all look at our work a little differently once they made the top 10, how has being a finalist affected your perception of the work? Do you do more promotion now? Work harder on the sequel?
DB: There’s a sense of validation, for sure, and that feels great. And it has certainly made me work harder on the sequel, especially now that I’m not constantly hitting the refresh button on the SPFBO Twitter hashtag.
Thanks to David for the great answers! The SPFBO was pretty spectacular. Mark Lawrence has already started the second one, and you can pick up all the finalists from the first one in the StoryBundle for cheap!