Blake Northcott’s best-selling series The Arena Mode Saga is drawing to a conclusion with ‘Final Empire’, the third and final book of the best-selling sci-fi/superhero series by Canadian author Blake Northcott. The 300+ page novel will be available on Kickstarter beginning October 18th, and will include illustrations throughout by a number of notable artists:
- Natasha Allegri (Adventure Time, Fionna and Cake)
- John Broglia (God Complex, Unmasked)
- Joe Corroney (Star Wars, Star Trek)
- Derek Laufman (Batman Black & White, Marvel vs. Capcom)
- Mark McKenna (Star Wars: Old Republic, Justice League)
- Steve McNiven (Death of Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy)
- David Nakayama (Deadpool cover artist)
- Roc Upchurch (Rat Queens)
As well as illustrations from Thor Mangila of Iron Age Comics, and YouTube personality Comic Book Girl 19.
Three years ago, Blake was first interviewed by IndieBookWeek.com. After two fantastically successful 2013 Kickstarter campaigns for the first two books in her Arena Mode Saga, Blake is back with a third opportunity, this time for readers and fans to pre-purchase through Kickstarter the third and final book in the series.
Since we last met…
You have been busy, Blake! In fact, you have a brand new novel available for pre-sale on Kickstarter today! Tell us about it.
Blake: Yes, absolutely! I’ve been working on the conclusion of the Arena Mode Saga – it’s called Final Empire. It will be the end of the trilogy.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Arena Mode, it’s a sci-fi/superhero series that’s set in a not-too-distant future. If I had to describe the tone and overall feel, I’d say it was a cross between TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.
So after nearly three years of writing and outlines, this is the end. It’s bittersweet because I love these characters, and not everyone is going to make it out alive. I’m not going to pull a total George R.R. Martin and kill literally everyone, but some of the main characters definitely won’t be getting a happy ending.
How do people first react when they find out you write (hugely successful) novels about, among other things, superheroes? Have you considered branching out into other genres? Is there any pressure to do that?
Blake: People are surprised that I’m a full-time author. I just had Thanksgiving here in Canada last weekend, and even my family are like, “How do you make a living at this?” and ask all sorts of questions about it. Some are skeptical, others are just fascinated.
But as for pressure to branch out beyond sci-fi and superhero stuff, not really…it’s more pressure from fans who don’t want the series to end. Which is super flattering, and I wish I could just write these characters forever, but all good things come to an end. It’s better to wrap things up with a satisfying conclusion than to overstay your welcome in a series!
You have a column on CBS Man Cave Daily. How did that opportunity come about? How do you choose what to write about for your column?
Blake: CBS Man Cave contacted me after seeing some articles on my old blog. They were about comics and movies – the same stuff I write about now. They wanted me to do the same thing, but for their website, so I stopped blogging myself and started freelancing.
I basically just pitch CBS with whatever I’m thinking about at the moment, something topical, and my editor will either approve it or shoot it down. For CBS I mostly do interviews and comic previews these days, while my editorials are over at Comic Book Resources and Verily Magazine.
Have any of your works been published as audiobooks, screenplays or language translations? Is it something you are planning?
They were read by an amazing voice actress named Kiri Callaghan; she did such an incredible job at not only telling the story, but really acting out each part. She does accents, different dialects, little kid voices…it’s really unlike any audio book I’ve ever heard.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my audio editor Jeff Geddes, who has done an awesome job pulling the project together.
Attend Comic Con? What’s it like? Do you wear a costume?
Blake: I was at Toronto Fan Expo, which was so much fun! I love meeting new people, and of course everyone who I interact with on Twitter and Facebook, but don’t get a chance to meet and hug in real life. So it’s a blast.
No, I don’t cosplay! I wouldn’t be able to compete with these girls who put hundreds of hours into these amazing creations. I just don’t have the time and energy…plus I can’t sew.
You have an excellent website: clear and engaging. You also have snappy-looking PR resources. Do you have a team you work with on social media items, press opportunities, and speaking engagements?
Blake: Well, I have a handful of people who help me with various projects. I already mentioned Kiri and Jeff, who are the wizards behind my audio books.
I do have someone who handles my PR, website and graphic design, and an artist out in San Francisco named Amir Salehi is responsible for the amazing art on the Arena Mode covers.
And then there are my editors and beta readers. Jim Deley, who is working on his first solo book right now, has helped me with every book I’ve ever written, and he’s a genius at pacing and flow. J.D. Hunter is another editor who gives me amazing advice on all my projects. I’ve even enlisted my mom to help with my grammar and typos. She used to teach English so she’s a great person to have as an extra set of eyes.
It really takes a small army to put together a book!
What about your next series? Is it mapped out already, or just now taking shape in your creative mind?
Blake: Wow, that is a great question. I’ve been broadly putting together some ideas about a possible project that could take place in early 2015, which shifts gears a little and goes more into the occult and away from superheroes.
I’ve got an outline for the series as a graphic novel, so it might take that form – but if not, it could end up as a traditional novel or a series of novels. We’ll see what the next couple months holds!
Recently, you successfully funded a project through Kickstarter? What is the project? Why Kickstarter?
Blake: The first two books of the Arena Mode Saga were both successfully funded in 2013. They combined to generate more than $65,000 USD, which is more than any sci-fi/actions series in Kickstarter’s Fiction section that year.
I chose Kickstarter in part to help fund my crazy idea to add comic book art into a traditional novel – I wanted to hire the best of the best from Marvel, DC, Image, and other comic companies, so raising the capital to commission their talent was part of it.
Also, Kickstarter functioned as a pre-order platform, so people could order books, shirts, audiobooks and other goodies in advance, and I’d have the cash to produce them.
How did you go about determining how much money you needed to raise? Did you meet the amount?
Blake: I shopped around a lot, and searched for the best place to print books locally. I know some people use China, but the quality isn’t always great and they need long lead times; I’ve seen a lot of authors on Kickstarter delay their launch date by 3, 6, or even 9 months because they had to wait for China to print and ship their books over.
So I just estimated the minimum cost for a print run, and then factored in all the quotes I got from artists, and of course all the junk that goes along with running a campaign: fees deducted from Kickstarter and Amazon, taxes, packaging, shipping, and the rest of that nonsense.
What about the marketing plan? How did the approach differ, connecting with potential investors instead of potential readers?
Blake: Um, I don’t know that it differed, really. Book readers have a patience that most people don’t. In an instant gratification society where Netflix and YouTube are in everyone’s pocket, people who are willing to invest eight hours in a novel are a unique breed.
They’re the type of people who can purchase a book and wait a couple months for it to be completed and shipped. So it’s the same audience, I think.
Do you anticipate pursuing funding for future projects using Kickstarter?
Blake: I’m going to see how Final Empire goes, and then take it from there. There could be more Kickstarter campaigns in my future for 2015.
I really like the flexibility it offers to be able to give people more than they’d normally get from a store – the format really creates a win-win situation for both me and my readers, so I’m loving it so far.
Please share three pieces of advice would you give to other writers seeking to fund publication through Kickstarter.
Blake: Wow, that’s a lot of pressure! Okay, here goes:
1) Be honest with your backers and yourself – and also realistic. I know this sounds basic and dumb, but these are key components. I’ve seen so many people overpromise and under-deliver…if you’ve never written a book before, don’t promise a 600 page novel in 2 months. Know your limits, and be up front with backers. They’ll appreciate it and have more faith in you.
2) Invest. Even if you can’t afford to. If it’s a project you’re really passionate about, don’t be stingy when it comes to cover art, or building a website, or whatever it is…before I began Arena Mode I paid money that I couldn’t afford at the time for a professional logo, a cover, and other things to make the project special. Those things matter. You don’t have to break the bank, but don’t quibble over a couple hundred dollars if it’s going to make a difference; oftentimes people who do things on the cheap end up with a cheap looking product.
3) Develop a following beforehand. If you have a blog, a Twitter, Facebook, if you’re a vlogger or a journalist – whatever that is, develop it first. I didn’t do anything on Kickstarter until I’d been established for 3 years across multiple platforms.
What is one belief, personal trait, or habit of yours that is in every story you write?
Blake: That would be telling! I can’t reveal my deepest, darkest secrets!
But I can tell you this: I lived in Japan as a child, and I’ve been fascinated with the country and their culture ever since. So I’ll almost always incorporate something to do with Japan into my stories.
In Arena Mode, one of the main antagonists, Cameron Frost, is obsessed with feudal Japan, and the art of swordfighting. That’s why there is a katana through the ‘AM’ logo – it’s a nod to Frost being a Japanophile…and me as well, I guess.