SPS-389: Forging a Career with Epic Fantasy – with Ryan Cahill
Epic fantasy is known for it’s massive scope and lengthy tales. Mark and James come to this week to meet self published Ryan Cahill to talk about his history of success in the genre.
- The unique characteristics of Epic fantasy.
- Using your main character as a reader lifeline.
- Waiting on Traditional publishing.
- Why write novellas?
- Ryan’s Marketing tactics.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SPS LIVE: Get your tickets to the best self-publishing conference in Europe 20-21 June, 2023.
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Forging a Career with Epic Fantasy - with Ryan Cahill
Speaker 1: Want to sell more books? Make sure you are at the Self-Publishing Show Live this summer. Meet the biggest names in self-publishing at Europe's largest conference for independent authors. Enjoy two days packed with special guests, an exclusive networking event, and a digital ticket for watching the professionally filmed replay, including bonus sessions not included at the live show. Head over to self-publishing show.com/tickets and secure your spot. Now, the Self-Publishing Show Live is sponsored by Amazon k d p
Speaker 2: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Ryan Cahill: I suppose the difference with traditional publishing is you'll have the publisher looking after tens 20 authors who far more than that. So they're trying to build their schedule around a, a huge array of, of people and authors. Whereas for indie author, you're just, this is me, I'm looking after me. And then you can move forward whatever page suits you're reading.
Speaker 2: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join Indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Sweltering in the British Summer heats, but excited, mark, because in a week's time, in fact, this is going out on Fridays in a few days time. We're heading down to London for our, I was going to say our annual, it's not quite annual cause of Covid, but our third indie publishing conference the Self-Publishing Show Live. We believe the biggest gathering of indie authors in Europe, which is exciting. Mm.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, we think so. So I think, we'll, we'll have between 700, 750 people in, in the hall, which is good more than last year. So loads of great speakers coming down. Some flying in from the States. We let Damon Courtney even book funnels, bringing his family. Dave Che is coming over from the states. Kate Pickford, I think it's coming from the States.
James Blatch: Yes. E even though she's English.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. So lots and lots of speakers, Craig Marel coming over, loads of those people coming over. And also attendees from all around the world. And obviously most people are from Europe, but I know several Aussies and Kiwis some people from the States coming over. Yeah, so we are looking forward to it. It's going to be, it's going to be fun. The forecast is for pleasant weather. Next Tuesday night especially, which will be nice because we have our, our kind of drinks reception on the Tuesday night, which spilled out onto the terrace at the south Bank last time, which was very pleasant. As, as, as we had people coming up to us saying, you do you do know? That's Eel James, are you? And Oh yes.
James Blatch: Oh Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I'm not sure whether it should be there this time, but that was, yeah, that was good fun with people.
James Blatch: Few, a few people do just come to the party. They're obviously busy during the day and can't make it, but the party is a good, good networking event and yeah. Makes a big difference. The first year we did it on a coal ship and it was very tightly packed. Oh yeah. But last year, the summer shining, it was a beautiful June evening in London, so yeah, standing out on the, in the Concrete Jungle course the South.
Mark Dawson: Did you quite a ship, there's a ship on the river or was it a boat?
James Blatch: It was a boat.
Mark Dawson: Boat on the river, isn't it? Ship at sea. Yeah, it was, it was also, that was the it was just before Covid, which was yeah, we were basically on a floating Petri dish for but no one got into Covid.
James Blatch: More people got covid from last year. Just, it was a much lesser Lesser disease at that point. Obviously it is again now. But yeah,
Yeah, no, we got away with it. So that first year could have been a, could have been in the newspapers. We were wondering if that would happen anyway, it didn't, and then obviously we couldn't hold on during 20 during the Covid period, but we came back in 22 and this is 23. Very excited about it. Yeah, we've got some really brilliant sessions as you say. And looking forward to learning. We always want there to be kind of takeaways and inspiration and or should be one of the two things. And then lots of opportunity just to meet other authors. And we've, we've, we've spent some time and effort on that side of things as well. So there'll be genre stands around so you can go and stand with your genre and meet people writing same as you. Obviously. We've got a nice big ARD so you can identify each other and hopefully people with their long genres on there.
And still a chance to go. I think probably we'll still be selling tickets on this Friday on the weekends we've done electronically. So I don't see any reason not to sell 'em up to the last moment. So if you go to soft publishing formula.com/sps live, and if you can't attend in person, the digital sessions are going to be fantastic this year, above and beyond what we've ever done before. So you'll get all the sessions professionally produced from the conference itself. And then in addition to that, you'll get some one-on-one not one-on-one, but, so you'll get some in-person presented sessions, so going to livestream and then they'll be packaged up for you afterwards. And if you go to, I think it's self-publishing forum.com/digital for that. Yeah,
Mark Dawson: I think there may, there may even, there may even be a button on the, on the live sales page that will take you over to the Dig digital, but yes. So it's, yeah, it's going to be fun. We're going to kind of do it as like a second digital conference with some original material this year in August. So,
James Blatch: And I should say about that, that there's an early bird price, which is 75, and it goes up after the conference. So you have a few days left if you want to get in on the digital ticket of that, that starting price.
Mark Dawson: So you can, my, my dog scout is very excited by the, by the Early Bird Prize, as you might just have heard.
James Blatch: He's growling.
Mark Dawson: No, that's, that's a very loud wolf.
James Blatch: How is it? Okay, good for good. Yeah. So you are, I know you are hosting a V I P dinner, which I'm not invited or I was invited, but I'm, you are invited. I'm not going. Cause you live miles away. Mm-Hmm. and so you've got that then you'll be in London and then you are off tour a film premiere?
Mark Dawson: No, not film. Well, no, actually it could be, I suppose. Yeah, I've, I've been invited to by Amazon to an event at the British Film Institute on the Wednesday night. So we'll close the conference down. I'll then wander down the river, not too far to the BFI for, I think it's, it's a, it's possibly the launch for this creative Amazon's impact on the creative sector. I, I did an interview with a crew they set down a couple weeks ago, which was really fun actually. So they, they had, it was very professional. They have four guys, three cameras, sound guy. They had some drones flying around, so I, I kind of walked to the office and they had a drone flying overhead, which was very entertaining. So yeah, looking forward to seeing that. But then funny story about that, which I was quite entertaining my kids' books this year we had a competition when the second one went out, well, plus it was even in the first one.
But we had a competition whereby readers, young readers could write reviews and send them to us. So not post today, whether send them to us and the, the one we thought was the best review would would win a week in a house in South Ward, which is actually a house that we have in, in South Ward in, in, in Suffolk. And one of the guys from the film crew said I couldn't believe it when I found out that I was coming to interview you because my daughter won that competition and I was in your house in February, so
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: So a really small world. And he's a lovely guy. And they had, yeah, they, they, they had some family issues, I won't say any more than that, but some family shoes that that meant that they really, really valued the time together and they had a lovely time in the house. And just such a, such a coincidence that, yeah,
James Blatch: He was
Mark Dawson: His wild and then, and then he came along. It was just very strange, but, but of nice, you know, sometimes those things happen and they're quite nice when, when they happen like that. So yeah, that was, that was lovely. So yeah, I, I think that that film, I think, I know it'll be on the Amazon website and I imagine they'll put it on social and I, they did say there was a chance that might get some TV play as well, which would be pretty cool. So I know, I know they, there's another author that they interviewed and, and some like fashion I think they did and film or editing something. But basically people from creative industries that have, have found that their, their lives have been changed by the tools that Amazon's made available. So obviously I'm very happy to talk about that because you know, it's Amazon. Matt has changed my life incredibly over the last 10 years, so, you know, really happy to, to be interviewed about that. So should be fine to see that. I don't, I'll I'll let you know when it, when it's ready.
James Blatch: Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing it. Good. Excellent. Okay, well look should probably press on and to our interview today. This is Ryan Cahill, he's in New Zealand. Ryan writes Epic fantasy and he is somebody who can we can learn from in terms of the way that he cultivates his audience. He's also gone down this route of these special editions, sort of, I guess kind of Brandon Sanderson style. One of his books, your hair in the interview actually was 55 pounds. But he's still sold out of them. And that's what happens when you, you work with your audience and you make them a central part of your business operation, which is good for any business actually, but particularly us as authors. And I guess this sort of builds on the interview a couple of weeks ago with Isabelle Knight about author PR and so on. Okay, well look, let's hear from Ryan then. Mark and I be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 2: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Ryan Cahill, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. We're going to be talking about Epic fantasy and getting going from zero to where you are now. But first of all, just say you're in New Zealand. We don't have a lot of authors on the show from New Zealand. We should have more. I think we are thinking about going south at some point. Maybe not to New Zealand, but probably Australia, which is like next door. So it can't be far
Ryan Cahill: Basically the same. Yeah, it's only, you know, a few hours away.
James Blatch: Yeah. Five hour flight or something, but, okay, good. Well, first of all, let's talk about New Zealand a little bit.
What's the what's the author scene like in New Zealand?
Ryan Cahill: Honestly, I don't know too much. I moved here, what is it now, just a bit over a year ago. My partner's from New Zealand, so I moved, moved from Ireland over here. And it doesn't seem too crazy. I haven't seen many, but there's quite a few in Australia, like I said, just across the pond. This's a few, few people I've connected with over in Australia now, who hopefully I get to meet over the next year with. Strangely enough, I've managed to meet more authors in the UK since I've moved to New Zealand than I have Australian loans.
James Blatch: oh, Really?
Ryan Cahill: Just the way it's fallen.
James Blatch: What's it been like moving from Ireland to Australia to New Zealand?
Ryan Cahill: It's just, it's been strange. It's a totally different culture, totally different environment, atmosphere and you know, for the first time I know absolutely nobody, which is a weird experience because I also, when I moved over is when I moved to be a full-time author. So I went from, you know, having a, a workplace to just basically being a solitary environment in an office, which was a bit of a strange shift to then also move to a place where, you know, nobody. So it's a, it's been an interesting one.
James Blatch: Yeah. So let's talk about the writing then. So you got into this you, well you, you, I think you took the plunge fairly early into sort of being full-time, probably a little earlier than perhaps the figure should earlier
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. Earlier than most people would have. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. So just tell us about that bit.
What, what stage did you got to and, and what sort of made, prompted you to start?
Ryan Cahill: Well, it was kind of, I was, I was working in a, in a, in a pharmaceutical company. I was working as a microbiologist there and I, I started a new job and they didn't actually need me. They hired me before they needed me. And I was sitting there and I was watching Netflix, quite literally watching Netflix. I had no other work at all. I couldn't get it. I, I just, that was the way it worked, you know, they wanted someone in and they needed them in and that was it. And then after a while I said, you know what? I'm kind of just wasting time here. I may as well just start writing. And then I started doing that and it just kind of grew and then Covid hit and I had nothing else to do. It just kind of exploded from there. And I'd launched in March and it just kind of all snowballed.
James Blatch: And were you a big reader before that point?
Ryan Cahill: Massive, Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I, I'd never written anything before in my life. Well maybe like at a, pretty sure we had a story about when I was seven, but we lost on the computer. But yeah, massive reader, right. Since I was small and used to read, you know, two or three books a week.
James Blatch: And epic Fantasy is what you chose to write, was that what you were reading? Mainly,
Ryan Cahill: It's what I've always read. It's what I love, I think it's, there's always such a big divide between, you know, the kind of like literary fiction and, and, and fantasy. It's such a massive difference in the whole third world element and getting lost in, you know, things that aren't real is something that's always captured me. So there was nothing I was ever going to write except for that. At least in my debut.
James Blatch: Can You just describe the genre to us?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah, so it's, it's, what I kind of write is that classic fantasy with like a modern narrative. So it's a very much, you know, kind of the world similar to the likes of like, of Token and Gamel, but then would be more with a, a modern narrative style is what I'd often get compared to.
James Blatch: Okay.
So it's not middle earth so much as, as a more modern take or
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. So you would, you would've kinda like a talking desk setting, there would be different races, there'd be dragons and magic and it would be kind of quite high fantasy. But then the reason you'd say epic fantasy usually is steady of scope And have a, a larger world, multiple points of view. So I think at the minute running in my third book, there's 14 points of view in the book. and there'd be hundreds of named characters and it's, it's about 437,000 words along. So it's a, so that was,
James Blatch: the other book. The other thing I was going to ask about
this sort of defining characteristic of Eric Francis is they do tend to be tomes, is that the right word? Big books?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. Look, tra traditionally when I think there's a bit of, a bit of a landscape of battle going on between traditional publishing and indie publishing at the minute and many different genres. But traditionally epic fantasy and classic fantasy is larger tomes, which kind of goes against the grain. And for what works in Indi Publishing, you know, we're usually told short and fast get them out, you know, it's frequency of release over anything else. Well, not over anything else, obviously quality of content, but the frequency of release is massive, so it's kind of daunting. It was strange for me because classic epic fantasy is a, is a massive genre. It's not niche at all. But there wasn't much competition in that specific area of it when you go to the indie world because, you know, it's, it's against what you usually have. Trying to find that epic scope and those, those larger books, they're not always there.
James Blatch: And how long did it take you to write your first book then?
Ryan Cahill: I probably wrote my first book in about, I could say a year, but the reality was the first six, seven months I wasn't really writing it. You know, when you kind of, you started writing your first book ever and you're kind of, you're touching it a little bit, but when I really knuckled down and, and got to it was probably about about five or six months. And then that page just kind of quickened. So as the last book, which was 400 and yeah, like I said, 437,000 words that was written, edited and published in nine months.
James Blatch: And in terms of story and structure, did you follow any sort of non-fiction books Save the Cat and stuff like that? Or did you just do this off your gut from reading all the books you'd read?
Ryan Cahill: Very much off off My Gut. The only kind of craft stuff I'd I'd looked at really I didn't look at it, I listened to was, was Writing Excuses Brandon Sanderson's podcast. And I watched all of his lectures from the university that he posted for free on YouTube and they were amazing. And just going through that, I didn't follow any said structure. I felt like I should, you know, you feel a fraud and you're listening to these and people are talking about the different structures, but then it just, it took away the joy for me. I was kinda losing, I was trying to fit to a certain structure and it just wasn't working for my brain.
James Blatch: And when you've got 14 POVs in your book, you still have a main character, do you, would you still identify a main character and would that be the person who, who has the kind of hero's journey?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah, so it's kind of the way I've done the book. It's almost like a pseudo main character. So the, the first book has one very core p o view. You take away about 70% of the book. Okay. And then there's a few of the ones that are put throughout it for different perspectives. And then when you go to the second book, his point of view drops to 34%, I think 33, 30 4%. And the other characters take a lot more of the, the front seat. And he goes to the third book. And now his point of view drops to about 26, 20 7%. And the idea of being that, I think a lot of people would still view him as the, the main character, but his purpose in the first book a lot is almost not an audience proxy like you'd see in movies. But the idea is basically to give that traditional feeling of a hero's journey that people get so they they have something to cling onto.
And then it kind of drags them into the rest of the series where it explodes. And for me it was a way of kind of capturing the nostalgia that I would've had when I was reading those classic fantasies when I was younger, but as an adult. So it's very much aim towards adults, it's a adult fantasy and there's a lot of people now who might be picking it up as their first book in fantasy. And I wanted to make it accessible by not basically thrown Game of Thrones in there immediately and given something to grab onto something familiar that worked for, for me when I was younger. But yeah, like ageing it up.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay.
So wrote this, this book. And in terms of marketing it and publishing, did you, did you initially think you would go out and find a publisher? Did you, you were, were you aware of indie publishing right from the beginning?
Ryan Cahill: Well, when I had started writing, I was, so I probably only came into like the idea of indie publishing maybe a few months before I started writing. But as soon as I did, I'd never queried, never did anything. It was just, that was the avenue. Mostly because I'm too impatient.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Ryan Cahill: And just, I knew, I was like, I wasn't going to sit there and wait as I have this book here. And I think actually I listened to a lot of this, I think this podcast and then like Joanna Penn and six figure authors. I just, I used to go for walks during Covid and I go for like two or three hours and just podcast, podcast, podcast, you know, maybe, you know, I would go every day. And then I remember one podcast where Mark was talking about about rapid release. I think two of you were talking about rapid release and the subject came up and it was the idea of if you have a book, you know, why would you sit on it? Like as soon as you're sitting on it, that's, that's dead money. You know, you're not earning anything, but you have a book finished. And that kind of got on my head too, and I was like, no, not waiting. No way. I'm waiting.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's a
Ryan Cahill: Very patience, it
James Blatch: Is a very different experience. My friends who are traditionally published and seeing them wait 18 months, two years for one book to go through the process and get released does seem a bit odd and old fashioned.
Ryan Cahill: That's it. Exactly. I have, I have friends now who I've made over the past two years and they've released one book instead of the second book came out maybe a few months ago and now I'm finishing my sixth. And, and they're not small. They're the large books and they're, they're coming out now. And the difference in speed is just insane because the, the way you can build a readership, the kind of what I would call like, the density of content that you can release in just a small period of time can just capture people so much faster. You don't have those peaks and we, but not, not as ra not as much those peaks and troughs they have in, in traditional publishing that kind of kind of leaves you at the mercy of the advertising spend of your publisher for the next release.
James Blatch: Yeah. And it's such an obvious thing to me. It must, it must be frustrating for trad authors who've had a hit and then this long period of time, there's no other industry where, where you wouldn't want to quickly follow it up. And if you think about music, I knew a guy, boo, what was his name? Boo. So he was quite a famous, locally famous musician who wrote a big hit. He, he released it, it got into the charts, but then the record company couldn't follow, couldn't do the manufacturing quickly. And that was the old days of CDs or whatever, couldn't do the manufacturing dropped out of the charts a few years later. Somebody else had a massive hit with it. I'll think of it all in the names in a second. But I remember talking to him and him saying that was the moment they needed to get They needed to jump on that and then get the next song out and the next song out. And they, his record company two couldn't do it. That makes sense to me. Right. And that's an indie author way of doing things. We just, we, we get stuff out there trad, you've gotta feel sorry for those authors. They must lose that momentum, lose that opportunity to make it big.
Ryan Cahill: I know an author had a massive release last year, huge homes of books. Okay. He had book two and that just made a more obvious now, but he had book two turned in before book one's release and still hasn't received the okay for the edits back. That was a year ago. So, you know, way ahead of schedule book's ready to go and just being told no, I suppose the difference with traditional publishing is you'll have the publisher looking after, you know, 10 to 20 authors, well far more than that. So they're trying to build their schedule around a, a huge array of, of people and authors. Whereas for an indie author, you're just, this is me, I'm looking after me. And then you can move forward whatever pays suits you're reading.
James Blatch: Yeah, yeah. And there are, you know, there are other advantages to tra it's for, it's for some people, but I'm like, oh,
Ryan Cahill: There's loads. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. I'm like you, I've never queried. It's never been attractive to me. It's just not something I want to do. And the control, I think and is, is the main thing for me anyway. So you've you've, you've gone down the indie route, you've written your first book.
Did you go through editing and stuff like that, that you knew about that process?
Ryan Cahill: Oh yes. I, I think it's like, like anything for me, I think research is probably the most important part of, of anything, especially publishing and whether you're trad or whether you're in the, you know, the more you know about publishing, the better position you're going to be in. So I spent a lot of time going through different editors, following people on Twitter, following people everywhere just to find who was going to work. And I think now at this stage and right the way through, I haven't released anything, not even develop Link that hasn't been fully be fully copy edited and fully proofread. Which is just, it's a really important process for me. Cause I think the more and more I learned, one of the things that I think really worked for me was that I wanted to make sure that my books were as indistinguishable from traditionally published books as possible.
Because I think when you're in this sphere of indie publishing, you feel like everybody knows what Indie Publishing is, but the reality is they don't. So when you're on Amazon and you're selling your books, 90% of your readership don't know what India publishing is. They don't care. They just want a nice book. They want to enjoy themselves. And if they find a fantastic book, that's everything. So for me, trying to blur that line and Amazon was what I just needed to do. And obviously your first line, your blurb and your cover, but once they get into the book, you know, they start seeing typos everywhere. They start seeing just chunks of, you know, unbe Butler dialogue and, and everything just tossed in there. Then it's, it's just a red flag straight away. So I think for me it was just a non-negotiable.
James Blatch: So you, you released Book one by itself?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah, so I had, I had a novella. Basically what I did was I wanted to have like like a reader magnet, so have like a, a mailing list sign up. And I wanted to, to find a way to really create a closed loop for my books. So I had a novella, I'd released the first half of it. It was two short stories on a mailing list beforehand. And then when I wrote the other two short stories, I combined it into a full novella. And, and that was kind of published. So in a way half before, half after. And that kind of work to build a bit of a readership. And then now it's been, that's been massive. That Novella has been huge. It's had, you know, 60, 70,000 downloads and it kind of just feeds into the series the whole time. And I've kind of made it so that it's not required reading, but it's required reading. And there's a, a big argument in the community. It's weird for me to say the community, you,
James Blatch: You'll read the
Ryan Cahill: Community sort stuff now. Yeah, that's what it is. There's a big argument between the, of the reading orders, Cause I've written it, I wrote it in a way. So I wanted to make it as versatile as possible so I could capture a reader after they read the first book to keep them, or I could get them into the first book by giving them a sample. So I kind of made it that it could be read either way and didn't really anticipate the kind of war of words that I would see in the readership, which has been absolutely hilarious.
James Blatch: Yeah. sounds great. I love the fact that you are referring to your community, your reader community. That's how far you've come.
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. It now it's, it's mind blowing. And it's probably one of the things for me about fantasy that goes beyond, I would say almost all other genres. Because every reader, every genre has communities and every readerships Well, I think there's something very unique when it comes to fantasy because there's just this depth of a world that's not our own. And I think people just clinging to it and, and dive into it so much deeper. Because inherently when you're telling the story, there's parts of this whole new world people have never seen. And they're learning depending on what you do, like from mine, they're learning new languages, new pantheons of gods, they're learning fauna, flora, learning everything. So by the time they're finishing the books, they've learned so much about a different world that they're just so deep and invested. It's, I have, I have a reader who's read the series eight times in two years. Wow. And she can correct me and it's, it's, it's crazy.
James Blatch: Well, you should employ her, should be your Bible person when you write your next book. She's already
Ryan Cahill: Gone onto the beta reader team. Yeah. And just walked onto it basically.
James Blatch: So when was this, when did you release your first book?
Ryan Cahill: So the first book was March, March 20, 21.
James Blatch: 21. Okay. And that's when you moved south as well?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah, so I released it March, 2021, and then in May we, we'd planned to move. So the way it ended up working was I was not earning enough. I was earning good money. Like realistically I was earning good money a lot, a lot more than most people would at that early stage. I was very lucky. But it wasn't enough to, to trust it, to trust myself in going full-time because it could disappear next month. And even if it didn't disappear next month, it probably still wasn't enough to live off. But I had no choice. We moved over in May and then New Zealand had its no, no, we didn't. I left my job in May. We moved in July and then as I arrived, we had two weeks in New Zealand quarantine, six days in Freedom. And the New Zealand went into its first extreme lockdown since the very start. And I was stuck for six months.
James Blatch: They were harsh lockdowns, weren't they? You seen it.
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. It, I think it wasn't too bad until this one. And then this one they locked down from like late July, early August until Christmas. And I couldn't go, even if I wanted to go and look for a job, I, I couldn't. So I said, you know what, let's just keep writing. And then I launched book two. So I think the novella officially came out in June that year. And then I launched book two on New Year's Eve. And then from book two, as soon as book two launched, everything just skyrocketed. And my sales quadrupled from book two launched. And that was just it. There was no, no going back there. And that's kind of been the pattern ever since, which has been really nice, is released the main book and then release a novella maybe five or six months later. And then another main book and then a novella and main book and novella. And it's, it's been, yeah, really, really good Since then.
James Blatch: Why do you do the novellas in between the main books?
Ryan Cahill: Well, there's, there's two, there's, there's a few reasons. You know, from just from a reader perspective, it, it gives me a chance to explore parts of the world that maybe will be a bit tangential when I'm writing the series and would kinda destroy pacing. But I think they're really fantastic stories and I want to tell them. And then my readers really want them because they start loving the characters and they want to find out. And then what I'm also able to do is I'm able to create a lot of lore and world references in Easter eggs that, because Epic fantasy is, it's quite a reread rereads are a big thing in Epi fantasy because usually readers are kind of conditioned that books will be years and years apart. So they'll reread the series before the next one comes out. So what I wanted to do is, is kind of reward the readers that reread so that in each novella I add loads of Easter eggs that later in this series they'll be able to go, oh, this relates to this and, and tie threads.
And, and then for me, what it also did from an author perspective, from a publishing perspective is it created this in another way. Basically your read through, the further you go through the series or read through should be higher because people are more invested. You know, people who go from book one to book two could be 60% than, than you'd hope it's at least 80% from two to three. And you, you kind of create a pseudo longer series by using the develops because by the time people are on book three, they're actually on book five. And then when they're going the next, the novella makes a book six. So there's only three main books released in the series, but the readers have read six. So, you know, part of a theory for me was that you should see quite a strong increase and increase these small gaps.
And I put the novel develops at 99 cent or free for my first novella. And the idea being that they're so accessible for readers that, you know, once they read Book one, they automatically get the free one. And now before they hit book two, they've already read two. And so, like for me, I've seen fairly like, it, it it's, it's worked really well. If I could look at my read through, obviously read through isn't, I don't get too granular with it, but when I let my month settle after releases and then I can kind of look at what I'm selling each way as going through my readthrough for Kindle Limit is, is probably 80% plus from book one to two. And it's such a 90% for just ebook sales. And then it just goes higher. It, so it's, it's very, very high and which has been really, really nice for trying to, you know, survive.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well that's a great testament as well to your writing. Let's talk about the marketing then.
So how did you approach marketing at the beginning and what are you doing now?
Ryan Cahill: Well, I I, I took a very heavy, you know, very heavy, heavy community and content-based marketing approach. And I got, from listening to you guys and listening to another guy I loved is David Goran. who was fantastic. And one of the things that got pushed a lot was websites and mailing lists. And I just, I loved the idea and the idea for me was I wanted to create from the very get-go, I wanted to create a community. I wanted to create something that would kind of bring readers in and then have like a self-sustaining environment. So say like, I have my Discord, which I started which is a, like a funny story how the fact that I just decided to send out a free paperback book one time I did a giveaway. It went to a woman in Denmark who now fast forward two years later is helping to build my Wiki page.
She's an admin on my Discord server. She's a beta reader. And that's just, yeah, worked amazingly. But that Discord server now has, you know, five, 600 people on it. And then my mailing list, I think I've trim it a few times with about seven or 8,000 people on that now with an open rate of like 64, 60 5%, which is pretty solidly high. And that's kind of what I wanted to do from the start. And with the mailing list, I think a lot of authors who start them and then quit them is because they're using them as like an avenue for giving news as opposed to an opportunity to show your readers what you're like. So obviously you have to use it for an avenue for giving news to your readers new releases and stuff. But I've kind of always approached it in the vein that I want to write them the same way I write my books so that I'll kind of, I write them trying to insert my humour and joke about things and, and really kind of just put myself down.
I'll sit down for a newsletter, it'll take me about three hours. And that's kind of the approach I took from marketing from the, from the very start, you know, distinguishing marketing from advertising. But was was very much a, yeah, a community idea. I wanted to, to build this place. People would come and then my website, I went and I took my maps that I got made, put them on the website, I took my glossaries and I, like, I built my own glossies and put 'em on my website and the idea of being with all my eBooks. Then I will link, say, Hey, if you want to get this map where you can actually zoom in and use it, go onto my website. Here it is. And if you want to get the glossaries when you're reading, go onto my website. Here it is. And then I have my book progress on my website, how far I'm through in different draughts and scenarios. And what it's done is it, it keeps sending on my reader straight from my ebook to my website for things they want as opposed to things I want. And for me, I think that's been massive. So I don't send them there as much to go download the free novella. I send them there to, to use the map, but then naturally when they're there they go, oh, free book. And they get that down and, and that's, that's worked really, really, really well for me. So
James Blatch: You are getting quite a bit of traffic to your own website, which is always valuable.
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. I, I think we passed a hundred thousand hits with about 50 or 60,000 coming this year along.
James Blatch: Wow.
Ryan Cahill: Like, which, which has been for me fantastic. Cause I'm not selling anything direct on the website and it's just funnelling people towards it. And I can see that the traffic goes very heavily towards the maps, the glossary the, the book. And then also I have like an art section where any art that I've commissioned or fan art, I usually try and throw up there too. And then the book progress page, which I didn't think would get a lot of traffic, you know, I'll try to update it like weekly, but it gets a lot of hits, which is, which is really cool.
James Blatch: Makes it seem to me that you are ready for a Brandon Sunon star Kickstarter, you know, the,
Ryan Cahill: I'm there yet, but I think that's the kind of stuff like he has his, his progress. Maybe that's where he
James Blatch: Took that. Maybe not a $40 million one, but, you know, it sounds like you've got an audience who would invest in you and, and would, would pay more for a bound edition, et cetera.
Ryan Cahill: Well, so what we actually did recently, so we're just, just about sold out now. So I didn't do a Kickstarter, but there is a, a bookstore called the Broken Binding who are based in the UK who do fantastic special editions. They've started around the time I did, and they've gotten very big with a lot of the Big five publishers. But I've grown with them and they started selling my books and we started selling maybe a few hundred hardbacks in the first year to a few thousand the next year. And then they do my launches for the books. So we do 50 number of copies and we do like a hundred signed line of datas. And, and we did the launch this year for the third book. And I was watching it like, I was like a nervous child and I was hitting refresh and then I just got this thing saying, you know, this site isn't working essentially.
And then I got an email, I got a text from the guy who runs the company and he was like, he broke the website. Huh? I was like, what do you mean you broke the website? He's like, well, we, we broke it, it went up for a second. The number of copies are gone and, and now nobody can use the website. So they had to fix it. And then there was a few hundred gone in, I think that's the first like four or five minutes, which was ridiculous. Mm-Hmm. So we moved on to making a special edition of the book. And it's, it's, the proofs have come through and actually the book's finished now. So we got it. It's cloth bound reel at Gold Leaf, gilded Edges, we have foiling, the, a new cover was done by an artist in Korea. And then we have double page colour illustrations from Randy Vargas who does art for Brandon Sanderson and Felix Ortiz, who's just an amazing artist.
And yeah, that's sold nearly all the full 1500 copies now. And they're 55 pound a piece. So it's, yeah, you see the difference, what we found was we hit the spec level of like remote press underwriter. So we have like acid free paper, we have song binding, we have foil stamping Builded Edges, which take 28 days to Guild. And it was really, really high spec, but we're actually quite a bit below the market price for those books. When we released them, we actually had a couple of people, which blew my mind, a couple of people emailing, saying, Hey, these don't cost enough. Because they have kind of like book collectors and they also let book resellers who are quite a large part of their audience and, you know, they won't get as much value on the other side if the books don't cost enough at the start. And it was it blew my mind. I think the stuff for us, we had so many illustrations, we put so much into it. We have four or five artists six artists actually I think from around the world putting illustrations in the book and then the, the quality we made it to were really, really high. So I think like it was weird for me to release a 55 pound book and have people say thank you for keeping it affordable. Yeah. Which was strange.
James Blatch: Well that's that's again testament to the audience that you've built. Let's talk about the sort of more day-to-day marketing then. You,
you presumably are running paid ads to your books and, and which markets, by the way, you're in New Zealand, you are from Yep. Ireland. So I guess from Ireland, UK and.com, probably your two big AR markets. Are they Uk.Com and Australia And Australia?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. I think Australia and the UK switched sometimes and then there's months where the UK is a lot higher. So I, I do run, I'd run paid ads, but I only probably spend about about $600 like US dollars a month on those. And the way it worked was that's, I see. It's weird because some people say That's crazy. That's so much money. And then I know other people who say, how are you selling books? Yeah. with that little spend. And I think it hasn't, book one hasn't dropped outta the top five or 6,000 since I launched. So it's stayed pretty sticky up there. Yeah. which, which has been really good. See our first, I launched at 99 cent and then when I saw the sales kind of take a slight dip, I brought the price to 2 99 and started doing paid ads and just, I brought it up really, really slowly only using Amazon ads. I've tested a few others, but I've found the Amazon ones were getting the most consistent results from me. Yeah, like day to day, that's the only advertising
James Blatch: You're in Kindle Unlimited in select I think. So that's, that obviously worked well for you as well. And again, I think with the size of Epic fancy books, that's not a bad a bad option.
Ryan Cahill: Kindle Unlimited, I think limited is part of what makes it makes the indie competition against trad for these size books. It makes it feasible. So, you know, I have a lot of people I know who kind of know to give out about Amazon just because they were told to. But for me, they made this, they made me possible inde independent publishing for me anyway and continued to do so. So I think for a long while it was about 75 plus percent of my income. But that's dropped, not because Kind Limit has dropped, but because other avenues have come through probably about about 60. And I've seen a shift from the US being really dominant to Australia and UK starting to to catch up a bit more. So I'd say like the UK is probably was about nine or 10% of my market and now it's about 25 mm-hmm So there has been quite a shift, which has been, it's good to see. Cause I don't like to be dependent on any one particular thing.
James Blatch: And what about your home nations, about New Zealand and Ireland? Are you selling books there?
Ryan Cahill: It's a tough one. So when New Zealand, because they're Australia for Amazon, I can't really tell and Ireland's UK for Amazon. But I know the fun fact is I know there's bookstores in the US in Washington and LA and a few of the places who stopped my books. But I couldn't get a signing in Ireland even though I had a book club who wanted to order, I think it was like 60 hardbacks. So they're already sold. These guys are like, this is it, we want to buy them. So all I needed to do was get a bookshop to place an order for 60 and then we give them the money, it's sold already and I couldn't get a signing. Wow. couldn't get a single bookshop who would let me come in. Whereas over in the States and then over in the uk, not a problem at all. We've selling thousands of books to the broker binding in the UK and then the US they've stopped in bookstores. Yeah. But then in Ireland they wouldn't,
James Blatch: It's actually think, cause it's still a bit trad focused in Ireland or
Ryan Cahill: Yeah, I think it's that. And I think there is, there is like a bit of a look down on, on Fantasy as a genre, which I think happens in a lot of different places across, it's kind of viewed as a little bit, you know, not literary what I suppose depends your definition of literary is, but it's still one of the biggest selling genres in the world. Yeah. But I think it's just, it's just, it's just the way is a strange
James Blatch: One. I think Trad Publishing's always been slightly snobby about it despite Tolkin and so on. But Ireland seems like, like the obvious place for Epic pci. I mean the, the sort of almost folklore aspect of Ireland and game of Thrones filmed in the north. I guess I'm probably the south as well. So anyway, there you go.
Ryan Cahill: I think there's quite a, a like we're patient readership forward in Ireland, but I think some of the bookstores are still a bit slow and that, I think Indie publishing isn't quite a known thing as much as it should be a, among the book community. I think they are two separate communities. I I've found, and it's something that I've noticed since, since I have started to target more, more trad things, I've noticed my print copies exploding. Yeah. I'm selling more than it would have. And that's very much the focus for the people who are used to going at the bookstores and browsing are very different audience, the people who browse Amazon. So like that's an avenue to explore as well is if you can find that place where they cross, you can definitely increase your, your print sales, which I is starting to happen for me a lot more direct sales to bookstores and stuff. But I think it, it takes a while. Yeah.
James Blatch: We should say Ireland has produced some of the great literary writers of Oh sure. Over time as well. So maybe that's, they're still hoping for the next great great novel. This is going to come that route rather than Indie, but Abra Anyway.
So where are you going now? How many books have you got out in this series and what what are your plans for next year or two?
Ryan Cahill: So there's five at the minute, three main books and two novellas. And we're just short of a million words in this series, which is, which is pretty cool. And I'm going to break that now soon. So I'm on the sixth novella. I'm on the sixth book, which is a novella now. And I called them novellas, but I don't know if they technically are, don't don't
James Blatch: Tell me they're a hundred thousand 7 47 OK
Ryan Cahill: No, 47,000, which, you know, is technically a novel territory, but I don't think I'd get away with calling it novella if it was hundred. No. But this third one is probably going to hit similar around the, the mid forties maybe touching 50.
James Blatch: There are probably some romance series that are averaging about 50,000 words. So it's not far off. A series of novels, but yeah, 30 to 40. I I think, I think when your main books are 400 and something thousand accounts
Ryan Cahill: Myt thought process. Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I have, I have that, I try to keep the, the larger books around a year look not much more than a year to a year and a half apart because I'm trying to, I don't want to chase the indie mindset of, you know, a books coming out every month or every two months or every three months. Cause it's just not achievable in the genre without, you know, the stress crippling me. So, you know, it's something I've, I've tried to, to say with people and it's a re part of the reason why I released the novels because for two reasons. It gives me that kind of little bit of trust with, with the, with the readership because, you know, the more books you release, the more the more they trust you. So I'm kind of saying, Hey, look, I'm not going to be able to get these massive books out all the time, but I I I am consistently finishing books and I'm going to give it to you.
And, you know, in between these bigger books, there's something smaller and it kind of keeps them there. And I, I noticed the difference when last year when I released my book at the start of January and then you can see like anything have a, a spike and then it kind of starts to tell. And then it was levelling out around and dropping around around May when I released the Nevada and then ticked back up again and then con continued. So my income with those two releases stayed pretty consistent for all of last year. So it, it really does help with that anyway. Like keeping that spike in, keeping readers flowing in.
James Blatch: Have you had any film or TV interest?
Ryan Cahill: Yes, sir. No, not yet. Which is annoying. Yeah. I do know a friend, I say, I say annoying, I don't know who'll have, but I have a, I have a friend who's had some, some really good interests soon and he's put me on some people, so that would be really cool. Yeah. but I have signed with, I signed with John Gerald maybe eight months ago. He's the guy who published the first Wheel of time book. And he has some fantastic authors on his roster. And I, I signed with him with the idea of, hey, this series is not going traditionally published, but what I want to do is I want to find as many languages as we can get this book into. Yeah. You know, but yeah, so the idea of being that I want John will kind of come to me and he's working with me and he understands that I'm an India author and he understands what I want.
The idea of being that maybe later to diversify income streams, you might look that way. But for now what we're trying to do is, is push it across the world. And we've gotten some, some great interest and we've signed a couple of deals. And we're hoping to get a few more languages now soon which will be really, really nice. And it's that kind of idea of, again, diversifying an income stream and, and having, having it come from different places. Yeah. Which is, is what I really want. And I did the same with the audiobooks and
James Blatch: Yeah. I noticed your audiobooks are published. So you've, you've outsourced that, I guess who is It's got them. Yeah. podium is, it's podium. Yeah. And that's good.
I think epic fancy goes down well in audiobooks, isn't it? It seems to be quite strong, strong part of the market.
Ryan Cahill: We get quite a good value for credit Yes. Credit, the massive way people spend it. So Yeah. Like even this new one is 44 hours of an audiobook. Yeah. So, you know, you, it's a no, that's, that's a return
James Blatch: Flight. Return flight to New Zealand from London. You could
Ryan Cahill: Like, and if you listen to audiobooks, it's the way I listen to then it's about three months worth of, so. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. Yeah. Ryan, well it's been really interesting chatting to you. You've done absolutely fantastic work. And I, I think it's a testament to kind of the indie world that you can tune yourself in. If you've got your wits about you, which you clearly have, you can tune yourself into it ahead of the writing process, get things in place, and you've already hit the ground running.
Ryan Cahill: That's probably for me, if I was like to say anything to anyone looking to write at all, is just don't rush into it. That was the biggest thing for me was, was I spent months and months and months just walk and listen to you guys on podcasts, looking up everything I could. And the idea being that like once you've published the snowball falls down the hill and whether it does well or not, it doesn't matter because if it doesn't do well, then you've released it, your momentum's gone and you're sitting there worrying over what you're going to do next. And if it does do well, then you now have the clock taken in the back of your head. So the more time you take before you release, the better position you put yourself in. Yeah. And it is the way I look it anyway. I think people always say, you know, you need a bit of look and you do need a bit of look, but if you haven't put the work in and then look comes along, it's not going to matter. So yeah, that was the way I looked at it anyway.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Well look, we are talking potentially about coming to South Australia next year, so if we do, you'll have to get on an intern. I'll call, I call it an internal flights, obviously an international flight, but
James Blatch: To the next to the
Ryan Cahill: Can I, do I come over to the UK and stuff as well? I'm actually over to the UK for a convention in September and I'm going to Dragoncon in Atlanta, the US as well, just before that. Which is intimidating as hell. It's, it's like a hundred thousand attendees. That's
James Blatch: Huge, isn't it?
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. Yeah. So like I've managed to get a professional, I'm attending professional at both, both events would be, be really, really cool to see them all. But I try to go over to the uk you know, once or twice a year. But Australia it would be easier.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, we'll definitely be in touch cause I think you'd be a really interesting person to be on a panel or, or you know, be on stage at some point and tell us about your, your systems and, and how you've work. It's, it's,
Ryan Cahill: Oh, it'd be,
James Blatch: Yeah.
Ryan Cahill: Yeah. I was going to be saying to, to a group I have with a Slack group and I was saying it's a bit strange for going to the podcast that I was listening to before I was even publishing. Yeah. And which, which was a nice feeling
James Blatch: You brought value. And I do like if you're watching on YouTube to see a little R two D two looks like go, I was going to say, I've now realise there's something in front of the R two D two, but I actually thought this is very nerdy. You've got the R two D two from the throne room scene with his metal the end. But actually I think there's just something sound in front of it, but it's good.
Ryan Cahill: No, so actually what it is is it's a tiny sign with a tiny R two D two on top. It's a, so you can see the little white just over here. Yeah. And that's actually a tiny R two D two sitting on black sign. Ah, that's kind of like saying this is R two D two.
James Blatch: Yes. Brilliant. Love it. Yeah. Sci-fi fancy darn. Quite closely related.
Ryan Cahill: I fed the whole Christmas where it should have been with a family building a Lego white D two. There you go. I suppose that's part and parcel in it's work. It's
James Blatch: Worked. Well done. Brilliant Ryan, thank you so much indeed for being on the show,
Ryan Cahill: Man. Thanks so much for having me. It's been great.
Speaker 2: This is the self-publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There goes Ryan in a New Zealand and yeah epic Fantasy goes again. He's as rapid release epic fantasy in very long books, which is quite a tall order.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean I've always impressed with people who can put, put out good quality stuff on a short time table. It's not necessarily something that I'm, you know, I think three books a year for me is, is about kind of optimum for me at the moment. Maybe four if I'm lucky. But then there are lots of other competing
James Blatch: Listen, our trends in terms of booklets at the moment, because you get epic fancy has always been quite long. Mm-Hmm.
Mark Dawson: No, that's right. So you, you have, you have pretty much unfettered flexibility when it comes to doing things this way, which is, is great for which, you know, creatively you're not restricted in any way. So, you know, makes, why wouldn't you do it? Do it this way. It's just another reason to Yeah. Have a tick in the box for independent publishing.
James Blatch: Yay. Independent publishing. Okay, great. Thank you very much indeed. Last chance for you to come and see us live in person. Come and say hello. Shake our hand. I'll get a selfie, whatever you want next weekend, London, if you want to join us, come to self-publishing formula.com/sps live and we'll see you at our conference. The next interview will be with one of the people who's presenting at the conference. Christina Stanley. We're going to be talking about development and story the heart of everything we do. That is next week. And I can't wait to see you. If you're coming on Tuesday and Wednesday in London, we'll see you then. All the remains for me to today. This is goodbye from him
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye, goodbye.
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