Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.
Sebastien is the author of the acclaimed swashbuckling fantasy series, The Greatcoats. His debut novel, Traitor’s Blade, was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy and the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
You can contact him here.
1. How do I get published?
I’m a bit unrepresentative of the current publishing climate in that I got very lucky and had a relatively easy time of it. I had made the decision that, one way or another, Traitor’s Blade was going to be published. If I hadn’t been able to get a good agent and a publishing deal, I would have found another route to putting it out into the world. But that came from having the absolute confidence that I’d written the very best book I could and that it was a book that other readers like myself would enjoy.
2. How do I write the best book I can?
My best advice is this: fearlessly write the book you most want to read.
There’s nothing revolutionary in that sentence, though I want to draw your attention to the word, ‘fearlessly‘.
When I first signed my book deal I asked my editors on both continents (Quercus and Penguin) why they’d decided to buy Traitor’s Blade. Both talked about loving ‘the voice’ of the book. I mention this because it’s not something that comes up very often in books on craft or even at writing conferences. Usually the conversations are all about characters and plot, and yet, I get the sense that publishers and readers alike are really looking for fresh voices—narrative styles that are resonant but feel distinct from the rest of the pack. I, of course, had no clue about ‘voice’ at the time, but I notice now as a reader how I’m drawn to some voices and not to others.
A second point to consider is that for a publisher (including yourself when you self-publish) to be able to get readers’ attention, there needs to be something clear and strong in the premise. For example, think of a book like The Martian by Andy Weir. The premise is absolutely fabulous—a mission to Mars goes wrong and one astronaut is accidentally left behind. You instantly want to know what’s going to happen to him, how he’ll survive and whether he’ll ever get home. Note that I haven’t said anything about the character or even the plot—just the premise.
So while almost every craft book I encounter is talking about plot and character, a strong voice and an engaging premise seem to be two things that are vital to grab people’s attention right now.
So how do you get a strong voice and premise? That’s where the ‘fearlessly’ part comes in: if you love romance novels with vampires and elves, write the most romantic novel with the most vampirey-vampires and elvish-elves you can. Turn off the voices that tell you to hold back, to try and sound ‘pro’, to avoid clichés. No one gives a damn about those things while they’re crying their eyes out over how beautiful the first kiss is between your vampire and your elf. Shoot the moon in that first draft and the hell with the voices of what is or isn’t cool. Write the book you most want to read without fear or shame and you have a chance at making something truly great.
Book 4 in the Greatcoats Series.