Advice from IR Approved Author MJ Pankey: “…choose a designer who can create a book cover that clues readers in that your book belongs beside comparable titles.”

Epic of Helinthia received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author MJ Pankey.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

Epic of Helinthia, and it publishes 1 October 2023

What’s the book’s first line?

The flames consuming the agora rose above the rooftops, smothering the stars in orange smoke.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

On an ancient Greek island ravaged by famine, five heroes make plans to overthrow the king to win back the favor of the gods and restore prosperity to their home, but they soon discover that not all the gods want them to succeed, leading them on a journey full of danger, deception, and the wrath of both gods and men.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

I drew inspiration from so many places for this book, but it started from a love of the Iliad and wanting more long-form Greek myths, since nearly all of them, except for the epics, are shorter. I was especially inspired by the portrayal of gods and their relationship with mortals–how they use them against other mortals to enhance their own standing. The immortal game always fascinated me.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

Ancient Greek fantasy retellings are a hot item right now and people are in love with gods and heroes and heroines and magical creatures from the ancient world. But I think there’s a lot of expectation from readers about what those retellings should look like and include, and nothing about the plot is really a surprise in the same way other fantasy novels are. I think there’s a bit of a void in Greek mythology fantasies where the plot is original and unique, where readers can experience the intrigue of a totally new adventure, but in a world they love and is familiar to them. I believe Epic of Helinthia fills this void.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

I have five main characters in this book, and they all have flaws and misguided beliefs which influence how they respond to the conflict around them. Some of this was inspired by my own personal journey over the years as I made relationships and real life rushed in and called me out on fantastical notions I held about the world in different stages of my life. Pulling from these personal experiences and thinking about how they reshaped my values moving forward provided me a way to connect deeper with my characters, understand their motivations and point of view, and develop them organically so that readers could engage with them and find them believable. So in a sense, all of my characters remind me a little bit of myself or someone I was very close to.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I’m a technical editor and a freelance fiction editor. The technical editing I do because it pays well, but the second is what I really enjoy. Working with authors and helping them polish their manuscripts is a privilege and a pleasure.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

I’m a mom of three so most of my day outside of work is already devoted to them. Any spare moment I have after they go to bed is dedicated to physically writing words, provided I have any energy left or they actually go to bed on time, but my stories are ever present in my head and I’m constantly daydreaming about where I want my plot to go or how I want a character’s arc to develop.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?

The best and hardest part of being an indie is that I’m doing it all myself. I have the freedom to make the changes I want, edit how I want, design the book cover how I want, and market how I want, but that’s also the hardest part. Doing it myself means it’s incredibly time-consuming and often frustrating figuring out how to do each of these things effectively, and there’s a learning curve to everything. I have managed to develop strong indie networks along the way that have helped tremendously in each of these avenues, but there is a lot to be said for traditional publishers who have an entire team to devote to a single title. I’m incredibly happy with my decision to self-publish, but I’d be lying if I said it was easy. But it’s also incredibly rewarding seeing my hard work and dedication paying off in so many ways. If I had known how difficult this would be before choosing this route though, I would probably have tried the traditional publishing route first.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Research your comp titles and choose a cover designer who can create a book cover for your work that immediately clues readers in that your book belongs on the shelf beside those comp titles. I can’t stress how important this is to being a successful indie author. Readers know what they like, and very few will take a chance on a book that even looks like it won’t check some of their boxes. With a limited amount of free time in today’s world, readers want to know immediately if they’re spending their time and money on something that will bring them joy, and your cover is the first thing that will let them know your book is a good investment for them. Of the ARC readers who have requested my book on Netgalley, 33% chose it because of the cover, 29% because of the description (back cover), and 22% because of the title. That amounts to judging a book by its cover being 84% of the reason why a reader decided to click on my book, and I can’t help but feel this is an accurate representation of the majority of indie authors. As much as we don’t want to judge a book by its cover, the reality is that it is.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?

It’s hard to say what I would do if a traditional publisher offered me a deal. I would love to be able to quit my job and just write full-time and get this series done. But the offer would have to be quite high for that to be a possibility, so my first thought is no, at least for book 1.

Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)

I would love my story to reach thousands of people. It would be nice to be a bestselling author, but what really motivates me is the notion that my creations are alive now, that my characters are real to so many people and not just me anymore, and that’s truly an amazing feeling. It’s like being able to release a great secret that I’ve been carrying for decades by myself, and it’s a liberating feeling (Very similar to one of the characters in Epic of Helinthia in fact). I can’t wait to finish their story and share it with the world.


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