Today in the Writer's Corner, we meet Philip Smith.
Amanda: Hi Phil. Welcome to the Writer’s Corner where we talk all things writing in our own corner of the world!
Phil: Hey Amanda, it’s great to be here.
Amanda: Tell us, where are you in the world? Where were you originally from?
Phil: We’ll I’m from all over. My father is a Minister, and so we’ve traveled and lived in a lot of places. If I had to pick the place I lived the longest, it would probably be Michigan, but I’ve been everywhere from Connecticut to Texas, Florida to South Africa.
Amanda: And what does a day in the life of Phil look like?
Phil: Oh Gosh, like a minefield. I’m 100% self-employed these days so some days it’s super boring and others it’s non-stop, crippling to-do lists hahaha. I’m currently in the process of not only writing and doing graphic design full time, but also starting a farm which is a whole different level of busy.
Amanda: How do you fit in writing?
Phil: Not easily let me tell you. Sometimes I’ve taken to just recording my own voice into a transcriber ap while I’m on the road just to say I DID something.
Amanda: Let’s talk about The Brotherhood. Tell us everything and anything.
Phil: Haha, well the Brotherhood is my debut novel and it came out this year in February. Took about 15 years to get it right, but finally made it hahaha. It’s the story of a young girl named Paige whose whole world comes crashing around her and she’s tasked with guarding a secret; a secret she doesn’t even know. But her sister is dragged away to a castle fortress by an evil prince so she enlists the aid of a Brotherhood of rag-tag ruffians to help bust her sister out of the dungeon. Lots of adventure, a significant amount of peril, and a whiff of magic; it’s got it all.
Amanda: Are you a world builder or a character creator?
Phil: Is it bragging to say both? I hope not, because I personally believe you can only shape a character after you have a world for them to grow up in. Just like each of us has different experiences based on where and how we grew up, I think an author’s world has to directly connect with the people they’re putting in that world, or the characters feel flat. As far as which I prefer writing, I’m a huge worldbuilder.
Amanda: Is one of your characters based on someone you know? Have you ever told them? How did they take it?
Phil: Actually, almost all of them are haha. When I was 15 I played in the woods with a group of friends and we used to beat each other to death with wood swords and homemade bows and arrows. We called ourselves the Brotherhood and we had a member that was our “little sister” named Paige.
Amanda: What did you take out of the book?
Phil: A lot. After my initial second draft rewrite I had over 270,000 words in the manuscript, a LOT of it was worldbuilding. My editor Rachel and Alpha reader Marissa helped me hack a TON of that stuff down to what it is today. I even axed an entire chapter at one point.
Amanda: The cover is amazing! How did it come to life?
Phil: So the cover is a commission from one of my favorite artists, Tom McGrath, in the UK. I knew I didn’t have the talent to bring what I wanted to see to life, so I started scrolling through DnD Paintings on DeviantArt. Any artists I liked I sent them an inquiry to see if they took commissions and Tom was the only one who wrote me back. But once I saw the rest of his portfolio, I knew he could give me what I wanted so I didn’t even bother looking for a second quote. We worked together for a couple of weeks and once he was done with it I went ahead and did the typography with a lot of help from people on several Facebook Groups. But the painting is all Tom, he’s amazing.
Amanda: And you make them into leather-bound hardcovers! That’s amazing. How did you get into that?
Phil: I’m a reenactor and cosplayer, so leather tooling is I picked up a long time ago. I was trying to think of a hook for my kickstarter to gain some traction, because I have typically zero confidence in my stories but overconfidence in my handicraft. So my grandma had left me a bookbinding press and I thought, well there’s no reason NOT to. So I did seven and they sold within 30 minutes of launching. Then I think I got a tad greedy and added seven more which also got snatched up, not realizing that the workload was going to be STUPID and it bogged me down a LOT haha. Next time I’ll probably only do five and up the Annie.
Amanda: Do you believe in writer’s block?
Phil: Amanda, I live in writer's block.
Amanda: What about reader’s block? Is that a thing?
Phil: Oh it definitely is.
Amanda: What are you reading right now?
Phil: Currently I’m sort of bouncing between my fourth read-through of “The Prince” by Machiavelli, the original journals of Lewis and Clark, and a book on Herbology and Holistic Medicine.
Amanda: How has reading impacted your writing?
Phil: Style-wise, I don’t think it has much because I very rarely actually read fiction. But I read a TON of research because accuracy is important to me. While introducing a magical healing plant into my world is an easy way out, I’d much rather use it as a chance to educate sneakily. I want a kid to go “Huh. Is this Yarrow plant real?” and then have his mind blown when he realizes chewing a leaf and applying it to a wound can actually help blood clotting. I want a sailor to say “Wow, he knows how to rig a ship” and the equine enthusiast to go “Yep! That’s EXACTLY how I steer a horse with my knees!”
Amanda: Favourite book? How did it change your life?
Phil: Definitely “The Horse and His Boy”, followed closely by “The Hobbit”. I read both when I went backpacking into the mountains along the Snake River, and it really helped to shape the world I saw in my head. A lot of books are written and then the movie is filmed in New Zealand; If I had a say these books, as well as mine, would be filmed in Appalachia and the Rockies, because that’s the world I saw when I was reading them. They also emphasized camaraderie and travel, two things I’ve always held dear.
Amanda: So you self published. Congratulations. Why?
Phil: Thanks! Mostly because I’m the greediest person that doesn’t care about money you’ll ever meet. I’ll explain; I spent 12 years on this book and I didn’t want some publisher telling me how the cover had to look, that I needed more gritty or steamy scenes to make it sell, THEN they’d take a lion’s share of the money and overcharge for my story. This is my world, and by self-publishing I got to micromanage myself as much as I wanted to. I also got to price the book lower than most books that size because I was more concerned with people getting a copy to read than I was about the money.
Amanda: Was self-publishing what you expected?
Phil: I went into it a lot less starry-eyed than most because I took my time listening to forum topics, podcasts, etc. I knew it wouldn’t be a gold mine, and I knew I’d have a LOT of stress making sure I checked all the right boxes but in the end it was pretty close to what I expected.
Amanda: Is there anything you would do again? What would you avoid?
Phil: I’d be more reasonable with timing. I wanted to publish in November, but it took another four months to be ready. You have to allow for enough time for the things that are NOT in your control; how fast an editor can get back to you, how many revisions something is realistically going to take, time for the print proof to come in and be critiqued; there's a lot of moving parts you have zero control over and you have to not let that frustrate you.
I will say this, this go around I’m going to have to shell out the big bucks for an actual copy edit. Even paying a college professor of English, getting a super alpha reader involved, and a bunch of betas, I still have over 99 mistakes I need to correct for the second edition.
Amanda: Thank you so much Phil. You are amazing! I can’t wait for book two and I wish you all the luck in the world.
You can find Philip Smith and more about The Brotherhood here: