Great interview with Evan Winter today! If you’re not familiar with Evan, I suspect you will be soon. His debut novel The Rage of Dragons was self-published to incredible success and he was picked up by Big 5 publisher Orbit for the series. They released a new and improved (?) The Rage of Dragons, and it’s now live in eBook, hardback, and audio.
Both cover images go to the same book. The first is Orbit’s new cover, and the second is Evan’s old one which he references below. Who deserves two covers this good for one book?!?
Anyway, Evan is an author on the way up, and he’s really a nice guy who is a lot of fun to talk to. I recommend you keep an eye on this one!
AC: Hi Evan, thank you for joining me today. First of all, congratulations on your publishing deal with Orbit! My fans know I’m an Indie Publishing evangelist, but it’s awesome to see someone who’s had success in that arena find a Traditional deal that works for them — and by all appearances looks to be on their way for even bigger success. While I like Indie Publishing, it’s worth noting there is more than one way to skin this cat! So, first off, can you tell us a little bit about your debut, The Rage of Dragons, and what else is in store for the series, The Burning?
EW: Hi AC and thanks very much for taking the time to do this with me. I was really glad you asked and can’t wait to talk ‘shop’! I guess, to answer your first question, I’d say that The Rage of Dragonsis book 1 in a planned 4-book series and, to give you a quick sense of what book 1 is about, it’s best described as either Game of Thrones meets Gladiator or The Count of Monte Cristo meets Gladiator.
AC: What inspired you to write the series?
EW: I’ve always loved fantasy as a literary genre and The Rage of Dragons, the whole series really, is me in conversation with all my favorite stories. When I write, it’s perhaps a little selfish because I’m trying to tell myself a story that I would think is amazing. I’m trying to connect more tightly to this thing that’s been a wonderful constant in my life by offering up the best of everything it’s given me as seen through the perspective with which I view the world. I’m writing the series because, as wonderful as the genre has been to me, it was hard for me to feel that its stories were actually for or about me, and I wanted to play some small part in changing that.
AC: I agree, it seems to me the best stories are the ones we write for ourselves. That’s deep, we’d better bring it back! As someone who successfully self-published a book and is heading toward what I’m sure will be an awesome relationship with Orbit (it’s out now!) can you talk a little about what is different between the two publishing methods, and if anything surprised you about either one?
EW: I have to start by saying that I’m new to both publishing methods. I only self-published one book and now that one book is being traditionally published. So, while I’m almost the opposite of an expert in either system, I’m more than happy to talk about the things I’ve noticed:
First up, I was surprised by how much a self-publisher needs to understand their publishing platform(s) if they want to succeed. For example, if you publish on Amazon and aren’t aware of how the platform treats new releases versus old releases, pricing sweet spots, appropriate cover styles given the genre, advertising, etc, etc, etc, it’ll be really difficult to get your book read by more than family and friends. A successful self-publisher is a businessperson every bit as much as they are a creative person. I think it’s important to note that. <AC – this is very true>
On the traditional publishing side, writing to a contractual deadline is hard. It’s harder than I thought and finishing off a second book (which people tend to say are always the most troublesome) under a deadline has been interesting. Also, I thought that working with a Big 5 publisher would mean giving up a lot of creative control over the story, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Editors and publishers aren’t there to change your story. They’re there to help you tell the story you want to tell to the very best of your ability and learning that made me much more comfortable.
Lastly, even in the short time I’ve been with a traditional publishing house, it’s been eye-opening to see the types of opportunities that they can offer, which simply weren’t available to me when I was self-publishing. From putting my book in big chain stores and independent shops across the continent to lining up interviews with major media outlets to providing the extra social proof that helps make things like movie or TV deals happen, traditional publishing can open doors that would still be too heavy to open on my own.
AC: Major media outlets? You are too kind! Wait, you weren’t talking about me, were you? Hmph… Let’s move on. Before writing, what were you up to, and do you think it helped in this new career?
EW: Before writing, I worked in film. I was a music video director/producer, and I do think it helped me as a writer. Music video directors write the scripts for the videos and I’d been doing pitches and sharpening up scripts for two decades.
The work was a masterclass in valuing your creativity while balancing it against the needs of the business. I think doing that for so long taught me not to conflate my own identity with the creative output. My identity goes into the creative, but I am not the creative and I must be able to step back and be clear-headed in how to improve it while it’s still a work in progress and then, when it’s delivered and ‘on-air,’ I must be able to let it go so that I can create again.
AC: I saw you mentioned bartending in two different countries. This is a subject near and dear to my heart ;) What’s your best drink?
EW: Haha! Great question! I make a mean mojito and my personal favorite, if not a good bourbon straight, is probably an old-fashioned.
AC: While trying to research your bartending, I found this in your bio: “Born in England to South American parents, Evan Winter was raised in Africa near the historical territory of his Xhosa ancestors.” Break it down for us! Where did you grow up?
EW: Another tricky one, eh? I grew up in Zambia in central Africa. I was there for my formative years and then my family moved to Canada (hence the ‘eh’). :)
AC: Where do you live now, and why did you end up there?
EW: I’m in Toronto now and, before that, I was in Los Angeles doing the film thing. At the moment, I have connections to four different continents and I keep thinking it might be nice to turn that four into five…
AC: I imagine in interviews you get questions about diversity a lot. Instead of me trying to lead you somewhere with a question, can you tell us your thoughts on diversity in fantasy?
EW: A very good and very difficult question. It’s hard to answer in a way that gets across my true feelings in anything less than an essay, but I’ll try.
I have worked in some form of storytelling for the entirety of my adult life and I believe that stories have an incredible amount of power, much more power than they are typically credited in having. For example, the largest consumer brands have learned that they can best effect our buying choices not by appealing to our intellect but our emotions and connections to stories.
So, instead of telling us things like, “buy the Zune it has a 3xM processor, 5GB of memory, and a Formula 3 hard drive.” They learned to say, “Here’s something new for people like you. For people with taste and style. Here’s 1,000 songs in your pocket, because your life deserves its own soundtrack.”
It’s why the Olympics come with a story on every major athlete. It’s why politics speaks in terms of the narrative of the day or moment. Stories matter. Stories change minds and opinions and the form your story takes, the people it chooses as its protagonists, those things matter too.
So, ‘diversity is important’ and ‘representation matters’ — both are true, because stories have power and they, in good part, point to the edges of how far we can go while also suggesting how far we can fall. They can uplift, cause change, help, or hurt, and America’s greatest export is its stories. Its stories have changed the way the world looks at itself and at each other.
Stories have power, and in the best world possible, the heroes and heroines in them will not look only one way.
AC: Great answer!Stories matter. Somehow in this day and age with access to mind-blowing technology that we were promised would make us all connected, we’ve somehow become strangers with each other. A big fat epic fantasy novel is a pretty pleasant way to bridge that gap… In my own books, my childhood tends to inspire the themes, and travel as an adult tends to work its way into worldbuilding and the more tangible aspects / inspirations of the story. Do you find your past playing a significant role in your imaginary world, and how so?
EW: I think we experience this similarly because the world within which my first series takes place is entirely the world of my childhood. I took Zambia, as I remember it, and put it on the page. I did not try to align my child’s memories with my knowledge as an adult. Instead, I very much wanted the world to look like what I knew it to be when I was 5, 7, 9, 10.
AC: I first noticed you gaining popularity on Reddit’s r/Fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about how that occurred, and give us some thoughts on how social media has changed the way authors interact with fans?
EW: Reddit’s r/Fantasy is probably the world’s single largest group of fantasy fans. It has over 600,000 subscribers and it’s a great place to go to get to know fantasy a bit better. Or, if you already know the genre well, it’s a fantastic destination if you’d like to talk genre ‘shop.’
I’d been subscribed to r/Fantasy for about ten years (I think) under a different account and I’d visit every day. I didn’t post though. I was a total lurker. I just read and consumed the content.
But, when I finished The Rage of Dragons, I wanted to share it with people who I thought might like it. I mean, I shared it on Facebook and my family and friends were super supportive, but most of them don’t read fantasy. They were just happy for me that I’d written a book. r/Fantasy was the dream share. I had no idea if anyone would care about the book, but if anyone would, it would be r/Fantasy.
So, I had an animated version of my book cover (I was going to use it in Facebook ads) and I made a post using the animated cover because I thought it might attract a bit more attention than me simply saying that I’d written something. I was lucky, the cover caught a lot of eyes and that drew people into the post to see what the book was about. Like I said, r/Fantasy is a big place and, though it was only a fraction of the everyone there, enough people were interested and gave the book a try to shoot it up into the top 250 books on Amazon. That push, so early in launching the book, gave it a chance to be seen by fantasy readers on Amazon, and that’s what really got the ball rolling…
AC: What is something readers don’t know about you?
EW: I surfed Bondi Beach in Australia and it was awesome!