Author Interview with Phil Tucker: Getting Real about Fantasy

By Shahnaz Radjy

If you’ve heard the name Phil Tucker, it is most likely because you’re into epic fantasy and came across the Chronicles of the Black Gate.

This six-book series made me laugh, cry, and gasp out loud. It also made me curious about what else the author had written. Today, I will shed some light on how multifaceted Phil Tucker is as an author, as well as some of the ingredients of his secret sauce.


Going From All Talk To Dialogue On The Page


Phil Tucker wasn’t always a full-time author. At 30, Phil realized he had to stop thinking of himself as a writer and actually write. 

He decided to stop waiting for inspiration, and instead, approach writing as you would any other activity or hobby – or job. You carve out time to do the thing you love, and you show up. As he puts it, “writing is a craft, not something that happens based on a divinely-inspired thunderbolt.”

In 2011, when Phil decided to buckle down and write, he did it around his full-time job. That meant 5:30am to 7:30am was his time. Then he would be in the office for his marketing job, and in the evenings, he was home with his family and newborn child.


Understanding The Business Of Writing


When he started, Phil says he did it almost all wrong. Some of his mistakes were:

  1. Jumping between genres.
  2. No mailing list.
  3. Designing his own covers.
  4. He wrote a single book of various series.
  5. He edited, and edited, and edited. 

Then, he found Kindle Boards, the Writer’s CaféStudying the threads, he saw the importance of the business side of writing and publishing. 


Understanding the Art of Writing


In parallel, he was also finding his voice. He realized that a decent setting, a good plot, sex, good writing, and matching the usual length for any given genre were important, but… these weren’t enough.

His books weren’t selling. So, he did his research. He read the books that were sold and took notes. Copious notes.

He noticed that successful authors were spending a lot more time on characters getting angry at each other or having sex that wasn’t about sex. In fact, sex is a bit like fight scenes – it’s a crucible for character development.

Everything that happens to characters isn’t just about moving the narrative forward, but serves another purpose: to bring out their personality, and contribute to their arc.


Read the Reviews from the Readers  


Phil also recommends reading and learning from book reviews – not just the glorious, gushing five-star ones. He thinks that reading the negative one-star comments are educational. These critiques provide insights as to what improvements could be made to the writing, the narrative, or character development.


Find Your Siren Song


At some point, he decided to take the leap and answer his siren song: he started writing fantasy. The Chronicles of the Black Gate is a wonderful epic fantasy series, but Phil was just getting started.

He has written LitRPG stories (where you follow the hero’s adventures related to an online computer game), and will soon be releasing the last of the three-book Godsblood series. 


Don’t let the reference to the undead in The Empire of the Dead (The Godsblood Trilogy) deter you if you’re not into zombies. I have zero affinity for them and still loved the series because it’s about old gods, ancient Mesopotamia, defying the odds, and bonds that run thicker than blood.

The idea came from a podcast called “Hardcore History.” A few episodes focused on Assyrians, the complexity of their society, their rise to power, and the violence inherent to many of their traditions. So much of what was described felt alien to him that Phil thought it could make for great inspiration for a fantasy setting. I have to agree.


What’s in a Name?  What about Pen Names?


Early in his writing career, Phil wrote a paranormal romance. Think Dungeons & Dragons, werewolves, and the apocalypse. He did this under a female pen name, a choice dictated by male authors having the reputation of focusing too much on physical descriptions of characters and therefore not connecting as well with their audience.

It worked. It felt like going to creative writing school, as he learned about characterization, interiorizing, how to generate tension, and being dialogue- rather than plot-focused. He managed to generate a decent monthly income for himself, and although he has since retired his pen name, the books still sell.

Using a pen name can be a strategic decision in more ways than one. For example, if you enjoy writing various genres, only one author name could confuse the Amazon algorithm. It won’t know who to promote your books to.

Having a pen name keeps things “neat” from an algorithmic perspective, but the risk is that by managing more than one author name, you might spread yourself too thin as you’ll  probably need at least an active Facebook page for each profile.


Indie Publishing


The publishing world is complicated, to say the least. Algorithms are king. It used to be that Kindle’s approach was based on titles downloaded. This encouraged authors to publish shorter novellas. Later, there was a shift to a page-based approach.

Amazon, on the other hand, likes it when there is a pace to what you publish, and only then will they advertise your work. To cater to that, some authors have been known to “stockpile” books and then launch them one after the other to make sure they check the “good rhythm” box.

All these are significant external forces exerting pressure and having an impact on the nature of what people are writing.

Phil self-publishes because he finds the conditions very attractive, especially audio rights. He swears by mailing lists and ad campaigns on Facebook and Amazon. Book tours strike him as not being worth it, and he does not think cover reveals have ever sold books.


Just Keep Writing…


His writing output is impressive, as he typically writes fast and gets a first relatively clean first draft done in a few weeks (he averages 4000-6000 words a day, and has been known to write 2000 words per hour) before having it copy edited while an artist works on the cover.

Scrivener is his go-to platform to put the book together and is where he will spend another week or so going through edits. That’s roughly 2.5 months to get a book from start to finish!


Reviews, Social Media, and Building Community


While he has used advanced reader copies (ARCs) to get early feedback and reviews through beta readers, he feels like people aren’t impressed by a lineup of five-star reviews on launch day anymore. As a result, he has a few beta readers whose feedback he trusts, but doesn’t push for too many reviews written on day one.

As for Twitter, his Facebook page, other social media and interviews, he considers them a great way to connect with readers, find like-minded people, and build a community – but to him, they aren’t sales and marketing tools.

At the same time, he is quick to amend the above advice to say that there is no right or wrong approach to publishing (except if you’re not selling).

You have to do your research, understand what traditional publishing and self-publishing have to offer, and make a decision that works for you.

This is where connecting to the writing community can make such a big difference.

Writers tend to be friendly and happy to chat and share their thoughts on how to do things. Ask questions, listen, learn, and then make up your own mind.


Advice From One Author To Another


When I asked Phil what advice he had for other writers, he said, “Write every day. It may not be good, but it’s part of the process. Commit to a word count, and stick to it – don’t edit, just write. Give yourself permission to suck. Experience is the source of inspiration, so travel, read widely – from history to anthropology to economics, and live. Don’t forget to live.”

I’m all for implementing that advice, so if you have any book recommendations – no matter the genre, as long as it is well-written – I am all ears (or eyes, as the case may be).

You can also write up a book review and submit it to Two Drops of Ink for publication under the Library Stacks feature.

As for that finding like-minded people advice, I am on Twitter under @sradjy so don’t hesitate to look me up and connect!

Last but certainly not least, if there’s an author you would like to see interviewed, please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comment box below.


Bio: Shahnaz Radjy

Shahnaz Two drops of ink marilyn l davisShahnaz is an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover. She is a freelance writer based in Portugal as well as the co-founder of an eco-tourism project. Alumni of the World Economic Forum and the University of Pennsylvania.

Shahnaz has lived in Geneva/Switzerland, Philadelphia/USA, La Paz/Bolivia, and New York/USA.

You can read Shahnaz’s blog, visit her Medium profile, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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    • My pleasure Michelle! If there are any other authors or genres you would be curious to find out about via an author interview, don’t hesitate to let me know – I’ll do my best to find an author that matches for a next article.

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