Monday, 9 December 2013

In Conversation with Ben Galley

Ben GalleyBen Galley is an independent author, advisor, entrepreneur and speaker. Here he tells JJ Marsh how he does it.

Ben, you’re one of the leading lights in the indie publishing world, quite literally doing everything yourself. Why did you choose this route?

Why thank you very much—very kind. I can sum up my answer in two words: ‘Freedom’ and ‘Control’. The self-publishing revolution has opened the gates very wide for entrepreneurial authors, and we now have the ability to reach readers directly, and most importantly make a living, without the help of a traditional publishing house. Because of this, we can operate with very few constraints. Yes, we forego some of the benefits too, such as the marketing punch, or the advance, but ours is a long-tail method. We start small and aim high, building our own little book empires bit by bit, reader by reader. You run a business, as well as write books, and all the while you retain control. Your books. Your business. Your responsibility. That’s what I like about being indie.  

Of all the indie covers, I think yours are some of the most beautiful, and apt, I’ve seen. Would you talk a little about the process of creating those images?

Promo 2013 BannerI’d be happy to! The covers for the Emaneska Series were all done by one very talented artist based in Sweden. I brought him on board for the whole lot after he did such an amazing job with my 2010 debut, The Written. Originally I used CrowdSpring to find a designer. I’m a great advocate of this platform (and others such as DesignCrowd or PeoplePerHour) as well as crowd-sourcing in general. All I did was post my ideas and scribbles on the back of napkins to CrowdSpring’s public forum, and designers soon started submitting their ideas for designs—not just outlining them in words, but also producing mock-ups that I could look at and imagine on a shelf. My designer Mikael entered about 24 hours before the project’s closing deadline, and I’m so very glad he did. His vision for the style of the covers was perfect—in my opinion the style is bold, and yet very true to the fantasy genre at the same time. Definitely better than my badly-drawn stick-figure waving a sword.  

You wear many hats, but let’s talk about Ben the Writer. The Emaneska SeriesLord of the Rings meets Sin City—tell us more.

You've basically hit the nail on the head there. I always describe the Series as a mix of Lord of the Rings and Sin City—a blend of mythology and brutal action, of mystery and magic. In fact, the whole flow of the plot is an ever-changing, ever-deepening mystery surrounding the main character, Farden. Farden is a strange beast. He’s a Written mage, which makes him a walking weapon, but he’s also a troubled soul—a loner with a tendency for bloody violence, haunted by the disgrace of his dead, mad uncle. He’s also got a tendency for bad luck, or so it would seem. Farden is not only addicted to a drug banned to his kind, he’s dallying with the one princess you’re not supposed to dally with. All of these things make him a tool, a tool for the forces setting a vast plot in motion, one that spans four books, several decades, and thousands of miles of Emaneska’s wild and icy terrain. The Written kicks off with the theft of a book from the libraries of Arfell, during which five scholars are brutally murdered by somebody with immense skill in magic, somebody looking to either start a war, destroy the world, or both at the same time. Farden is sent to investigate, and soon finds himself caught in a whirlpool of politics, myths, legends, and lies. I won’t tell you too much more—don’t want to spoil it! I wanted to make Emaneska very Scandinavian, and I used a lot of Norse poems and eddas, which feature heavily in Middle Earth too. That’s why Lord of the Rings was such an inspiration for the canvas behind all the bloody action of its Sin City/300-esque story. Emaneska is a pseudo-medieval world, almost a world trapped between two ice ages that history forgot. But it’s a wild world, full of the echoes of daemons and gods. Dragons, minotaurs, vampyres, lycans, they’re all in there. Emaneska drips magic and myth. I’m sure you’ll like it.  

SH Logo 13 SmallI’ve learnt a lot from ShelfHelp, your advice site for indie authors. Now you’ve co-written a book called Choosing a Self-Publishing Service for ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors). So writers supporting writers is important to you?
Incredibly so. Good self-publishing advice can be hard to come by these days. With so many opinions and facts flying around, it can be hard to know which ones to believe. There are sadly a few companies that exploit authors too, charging ridiculous sums for sub-standard services. This is what I’m trying to combat with Shelf Help and why I helped with the ALLi Guide, and also what the numerous author communities are doing by coming together and sharing good information. We’re a friendly bunch really, eager to share. I’m a member of the ALLi community, and I’m always blown away by the amount of notifications I get on a daily basis, all posts and comments from like-minded authors, all great stuff. It’s a must for new and upcoming authors to seek out communities, and to invest in sources of good advice like the Choosing a Self-Publishing Service Guide. Knowledge is the key to good decisions, I think.

You’ve taken the engaging-with-readers concept to a new level, by using Kickstarter to fund the graphic novel version of The Written. What are the benefits for you?

There’s one reason I love platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and that’s engagement. Thanks to our good old friend the internet, I can chat to fans all around the world in the blink of an eye. I can stay current, relevant, and keep my fans up to date in the process. The speed and ease of transmitting information has now united disparate fan bases, and given opportunity to those who are still looking to build theirs. Kickstarter was a way of using this sudden surge of being social to fund a project I have been yearning to do for years. Sharing is so ubiquitous and commonplace these days, and so when people find something they like (such as a graphic novel project like mine) social media stimulates a viral response, and the project spreads from one person to the next. Without it, it would be much, much harder to get things done. It’s great to be a part of that. At the same time as funding my project, I’m also building up my fanbase and making friends. In turn, my backers get to be part of something exclusive, something they can all share in. It’s at times like these that you think, 'God bless you, internet'.  

Changing format from novels to a graphic series and interactive apps must require some story re-imagination and a whole set of new skills. And you’re now working with an artist. For such an independent mind, how’s the collaboration process going?

Very well, thank you. It’s been a long road getting from funding to plan to artwork, but we’re full steam ahead now, aiming for a release in the next few months, maybe even by Christmas, if we’re lucky. My artist Mike Shipley has a brilliant mind as well as an incredible knack for artwork and capturing scenes. He broke down the book into chunks that suited his style, and yet kept my story. It’s also enabled us to mix it up a bit, and create something the same, but also slightly different. I can’t wait to release it.  

You provide wise advice on understanding metrics. Why is that so crucial for the indie author? Or any author?

Simply speaking, it allows indies to market smarter. In a market that’s very noisy, it can be a challenge to market your books, so what indies need to do is gather data to help them analyse what works and what doesn’t. I speak about this at length in my forthcoming Shelf Help book, but in a nutshell, if I know that making videos has a higher conversion rate (one that I can physically track in numbers) than tweeting, I’ll spend more time on the videos. I can only know this through data, and that’s why it’s important for authors, when they want to take a break from writing, to sit down and take a good hard look at things like sales stats and web analytics.  

Not content with writing, touring, collaborating and helping other writers, you’re now taking on Amazon. Why set up an indies-only eBookstore?
Logo_f_smallLike the graphic novel, Libiro was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I highly appreciate and support what stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing for indie authors, but those stores are vast, and indie authors can often have a hard time standing out. Some of us are also getting a bad rap—self-publishing is unfairly notorious for bad quality and bad books. (It’s the few that spoil it for the many, unfortunately, as there are a lot of authors like me that put a lot of time and effort aiming for professional standards.) I wanted to combat both things at once, while at the same time injecting a little of that local bookshop feel into an online store. That goes missing sometimes, and that’s a shame. In doing so, I want Libiro to be popular with both readers and writers. And so we have now launched a simple and friendly store that only sells books by indie authors and small/independent presses. In the two-and-a-half months we’ve got almost 450 books on the store, and we’ve got a lot of ideas in the pipeline too. I’m looking forward to seeing what Libiro can become!

I have to ask: top tips for time-management?

Now that’s a hard one! My top tips would be:
  • Calendar.
  • To-Do list.
  • Notepad.
Using those three together is vital, I can tell you that. I am a little guilty of piling the responsibility plate high—I’m a little zealous, I can’t help it. But I’ve also learnt, at my peril, that prioritisation is paramount. Knowing what is the most important thing to be working on will help you focus. And, hey, don’t forget to take a day off once in a while, to get some perspective. Self-publishing is hard work, but it’s worth it.  

Ben Galley is a young self-published author from sunny England. He is the author of the epic and gritty fantasy series, The Emaneska Series. He has published four books to date, and doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. Ben is incredibly zealous about inspiring other authors and writers. He runs the popular advice site Shelf Help, where he offers advice about writing, publishing, and marketing. Ben is also the proud co-founder and director of eBook store Libiro, a store exclusive to indie authors. If you want to know more, Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley) or at his website,

By JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. The Beatrice Stubbs Boxset is out now.


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