Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here. It’s been a while since I last shared an interview with author on this blog; lately, it seems like every interview I did has been on my YouTube channel. But for today, we have an interview Michael Miller, the author behind The Dragon’s Blade Trilogy, Battle Spire, and Ascendant visiting the blog. I chatted with Michael about his decision to revamp the cover art of his first trilogy, which is on sale right now, and also about the rise of quality in self-publishing, and more. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Michael R. Miller!
- Hi, Michael! Thank you for stopping by at Novel Notions. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your books!
Hi Petrik! Thanks for having me. Well, I’m still young at 28 but most would consider me to have the soul of a crotchety old man. I enjoy great RPG games, cooking and keeping fit, at least when the gyms are open! I moved to London after university to study law but had a mild quarter life crisis which led me to writing my first book The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King, which I released in late 2015. I worked for a time at Bloomsbury Publishing in London (these are the Harry Potter folks) before making a bold transition to being a full time author in late 2017 and I’ve been lucky in that things have gone well since.
My Dragon’s Blade Trilogy is a fast-paced epic blending up the classic heroic tropes with some modern darker elements. It’s about an arrogant dragon price who is reborn, secretly raised by humans, and must rise to become the king his past self never was. The dragons in this world have taken human form. They are a bit like Captain America style super soldiers, only with swords as well as shields!
Fans of LitRPG will enjoy my book Battle Spire. It’s essentially World of Warcraft meets Die Hard, with the main character crafting and engineering his way out of problems.
My latest novel, Ascendant, begins a new dragon rider epic in the vein of Eragon and Pern. It’s about a serving boy who defies society to save a blind dragon from death and rises to become a dragon rider. A bit of cultivation/progression magic is sprinkled into this one.
- Recently, you gave a brand new cover art to the omnibus edition of your first trilogy: The Dragon’s Blade. Any particular reason for this decision? Not that I’m complaining, your new cover art is gorgeous and I love it even more, but the previous one was distinctive and striking already.
A few things came together to make this happen. My most recent book, Ascendant, benefited from a cover change just 4 months into launch. The first cover looked great as a piece of artwork at full size but it got lost when reduced to a cover on Amazon. Changing the cover did wonders to give that book a second wind.
Picture: The previous cover art to Ascendant
Picture: The new cover art to Ascendant. Art by Yigit Koroglu
Covers are incredibly important. We’re not supposed to judge a book by them, but we do. Having made the right choice to ‘fix’ the Ascendant cover I turned to Dragon’s Blade. I agree that the original covers are distinctive but after 5 years I think they had run their course. I felt a new cover would bring fresh eyes to the series who may have overlooked the original.
Picture: The previous cover arts to The Dragon’s Blade Trilogy. Designed by Rachel Lawston
Also, I’m in a very different position in 2021 to where I was in November 2015. I’ve got more knowledge, more resources, and a greater understanding, I think, on what sort of cover will help sell a book to a reader.
And finally, I heard a podcast with author Philip C. Quaintrell as the guest. He raved about how getting cover art from Chris McGrath really helped his success. And so, I made up my mind to try. Dragon’s Blade has done so well for me already and I felt it deserved a cool new look.
Picture: The new cover art to The Dragon’s Blade Trilogy. Art by Chris McGrath
I could not be happier with the new art. I think it suits the tone of the series perfectly. Big, bold, classic epic fantasy, with a hint of darkness but NOT grimdark.
- I definitely will have to agree that I think you made the right decision to hire Chris McGrath as your cover artist! He’s awesome. By the way, as a reader and reviewer, I’ve come to notice that self-published fantasy continues to become stronger and better—both in cover art and story quality. Will you agree with this statement?
Absolutely! There are millions of ebooks on Amazon now and, of course, not all self-published material is good, but many indie authors in fantasy are able to rank with the biggest names in the genre.
What we should bear in mind is that self-publishing has only really been a thing since 2010 at the earliest and it can take over 10 years for author to work their way into the conscious of fantasy readers. There was a time when even Sanderson was a lowly debut.
I think we’ll only see more indie authors succeed in the coming years. Will Wight is the perfect example of this, with his last two releases getting to #1 on all of Amazon.
Self-published authors are also able to spend whatever we wish on a cover. I’ve noticed a downward trend in the cover quality of traditionally published books, with many (although certainly not all) being produced with cheap stock art or graphics. The recent controversy of the Joe Abercrombie covers comes to mind. Readers can pick up on this. Indie authors are savvy about how important a high quality cover is to convey the tone and feel of our books. An added benefit of having control is that we can easily change a cover, which in my case saved the launch of Ascendant.
- One of the recent trends I notice in self-published fantasy is to publish or rerelease a hardcover edition through Kickstarter, is there any plan to do this for The Dragon’s Blade Trilogy?
This is something bubbling at the back of my mind. In short, yes, I would love to do something like this. Perhaps hardbacks of the original 3 covers + a massive trilogy edition with interior art, maps, etc. These Kickstarters require A LOT of work to get right, and I always have enough to be getting on with so I can’t say when I’ll be able to arrange it.
An added difficulty for me is being a UK author. The majority of Kickstarter backers will be fans in the USA but getting signed copies shipped overseas adds an enormous expense onto the project.
One day, yes, I’d love to do it.
- Consider me one of the reader looking forward to that Kickstarter event! You’ve written and published five novels now, which one would you say is the hardest to write?
The hardest book to write is always the one I’m writing, or that’s how it feels at least. I like to think I’m always pushing myself on each book to improve. Battle Spire was definitely the easiest and most fun of the books to write.
Ascendant became the toughest. I was a lot more critical of what I was writing and less starry eyed about the experience. I outlined, and planned, and updated those plans in detail when required. Attempting to follow in the footsteps of the great dragon rider stories came with its own pressures too – I wanted to give readers that same experience I had growing up while also delivering something fresh and new. Bad health and four weeks in hospital in 2019 didn’t help. Then the nature of the story changed dramatically. It began with the intention of going with a YA publisher but then my epic fantasy instincts took over and it grew to become my longest book yet. The magic system needed several iterations before I was happy with it. I must have read through the entire book about twelve times editing and polishing it.
Thankfully, readers have really fallen in love with Ascendant so I’m glad the effort was worth it.
- Speaking of difficulties, can you maybe tell us both the best and challenging experiences you’ve encountered as a writer?
The most challenging thing was getting that first big break, which came with my Dragon’s Blade Trilogy set. There are more books out there than most people will read. Getting anyone to pay you attention starting out, especially as a self-published writer, is an uphill challenge that you cannot appreciate until you experience it. I think a lot of writers begin bright eyed but get severely shaken by the reality of releasing a book and seemingly nobody cares. All that effort and passion, for what? The ability to stick it out is a sort of madness in itself. However, I knew this was what I wanted to do so I had no choice but to keep working at it.
One of the best experiences was a lucky invitation to join a group of excellent and successful self-published fantasy authors in the US at Michael J. Sullivan’s ranch. There was archery, whisky, axe throwing, whisky, a swimming pool, darts, and whisky. Honestly, it’s a miracle no one was injured. Fingers crossed such a trip can happen again once lockdown is over.
- That sounds incredibly fun and dangerous… Which authors would you consider as the biggest inspirations behind your books?
Rowling, Paolini, and Tolkien when growing up. Sanderson got me out of a huge reading slump during university when I discovered Mistborn and his style of magic combined with the growing LitRPG/Progression magic scene is influencing how I want to setup my own magic systems.
More recently the list includes, Miles Cameron, Bernard Cornwall (his Anglo-Saxon books in particular), and Will Wight. I’ll throw in Susanna Clarke just because I adore Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so much.
Some RPGs such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR 1 and KOTOR 2) have had a greater impact on me than any book. Chris Avellone headed up the story development of KOTOR 2 which I consider to be a masterpiece in character writing. Dragon Age fans will see a lot of inspiration from that series in Ascendant.
- Last question! What are you working on right now, and when can we expect the newest book from you?
I’m working on the sequel to Ascendant which will be book 2 in the Songs of Chaos series. I don’t yet have a title for it. It’s growing bigger than I envisioned. Already I am over 200K words through the draft. I can’t say exactly yet when it will release but I am doing everything I can to get it out for fans later in 2021.
Thank you so much for visiting Novel Notions, Michael Miller!
Dragon’s Blade Trilogy is currently on sale for just 99c in the USA or 99p in the UK until the 18th of May. Audio fans can pick up the entire 46 hour experience for just one Audible credit, or they can buy the audiobook for just $7.49 if they first purchase the ebook version for 99c during the promotion.
Website – www.michaelrmiller.co.uk
Discord link – https://discord.gg/2w2JJRwEGS