Welcome to Toby Neighbors.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Northwest Arkansas, and lived for several years near Dallas Texas. When my writing grew to the point that I could write full time my family of five sold almost all we owned, packed the rest in a 5x7x8 U-Hall pod, and made the 2,000 mile trip to North Idaho. We love living in the Pacific Northwest and can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Please tell us a little about your writing.
I write mostly epic fantasy. The Five Kingdoms was my breakout series. It has seven full length novels in the series, which was a best seller on Amazon’s Fantasy lists. The Lorik trilogy was a spin off series, which was featured as an Amazon Daily Deal. I’ll be writing a new series this fall with all the characters from the Five Kingdoms and Lorik books. I’m currenly writing the final installment of my Avondale series, which is epic fantasy, but I’ve also dipped my toe into the zombie genre with Zompocalypse and I occasionally write Sci-Fi.
Where do you find inspiration?
As you might guess, I’m inspired by the beauty of the mountains all around me. I’m also inspired by the concept of someone discovering their purpose in life and chasing their dreams. I’m a storyteller first, writing is just my preferred medium. So I love movies and television shows. I grew up reading the Tarzan novels by Burrows, and the Conan books. And I love the rugged individualism of good westerns along with the mysticism of native american folklore.
Do you have a favorite character?
I love all my characters and I relate to different parts of each one. Of my main characters, I relate to Zollin’s feelings of insecurity, and Lorik’s love of strength. I love Tiberius’ sense of adventure and over all I love their loyalty. Most of my female characters are modeled in some way after my wife. She’s my muse and really is incredibly talented.
Do you have a character you dislike?
No more than normal. I don’t like the bad guys, but I can appreciate what drives them to their evil ends. I’ve had fans tell me they hated characters before, which I love because it means they really feel the characters are real.
Are your characters based on real people?
No, not on actual people, but I do pick up on personality types and issues that certain people deal with which I try to incorporate into my characters. I’ve had very narcisistic people in my life who have hurt me. In looking for ways to heal and forgive, I’ve learned a lot about what motivates people to do things, so those issues, personalties, and motivations become part of my characters.
Is there a message conveyed within your writing? Do you feel this important in a book?
Any messages in my writing are implied and never there on purpose. I believe that people can and should discover who they are and pursue their purpose in life. I was made to be a storyteller and I’ve been blessed to find an audience for my writing, but long before I sold a book I was telling stories and I always will. That concept is found in my books. Many of my characters, like many people in the world today, are looking for meaning in their lives. Sometimes they find it, sometimes they don’t. I think books that are written to convey a message have their place, but I don’t write that type of novel. I just want people to have a good time and be inspired to chase their dreams when they read my books.
Sort these into order of importance:
1.) Great Characters – I write character driven books. I lose interest quick in a story where I don’t care about the characters. I want to know each person I’m writing about, I want to feel what they are feeling, and I want my readers to fall in love with them. My books always begin with the characters that drive the story forward.
2.) Solid Plot – I think the plot is almost equally as important as the characters. I don’t want to write a book about great characters where nothing happens. I love drama, I love the way tension propels the story. I love strategy and understanding why a character does something or how they handle their often times difficult circumstances. And I think good books always have a beginning, middle, and end, even if the book is part of a series.
3.) Technically Perfect – I write mostly for e-readers and I’m a proponent of indy publishing, but I believe that writers today have a responsibilty to produce the best books they can. I don’t want a glitch on their device, or a typo, or grammatical error to jerk them out of the world they are playing in. I wouldn’t say my books are perfect, but I’m always striving for perfection.
4.) World Building – I think world building is important. In my books the world is almost like another character, but I don’t spend a lot of time creating complex rules for the worlds my books are set in. I want those worlds to be unique, but I also need them to be relatable to every reader, so I strive to make my worlds as close to the real world as I can make it.
In what formats are books available
All my books are available on Kindle and most are available in print as well. I have a couple of books in audio and plan to produce more in the future. I publish exclusively with Amazon simply because that’s where my audience is. Amazon continues to make exclusivity with them financially smart, so until that changes I’ll stick with Amazon.
Do you self edit?
Once I have written a complete draft, I read back through it and make my edits. Then I send the manuscript to a professional editor. And once that process is complete it goes to my Beta Readers. After all that, I’ll publish.
Do you think indie/self-published authors are viewed differently to traditionally published authors? Why?
Yes and no. I think for most avid readers, indy authors are loved. We produce quality books at a fast pace and at a fraction of the cost of traditionally published books. I personally don’t need a publisher to validate my work, my readers do that and allow me to retain all the rights to my books. Obviously the industry is changing and there are people who always resist change. And there are poor writers who produce poorly written, formatted, and packaged books. Unfortunately, people who are against indy publishing point to these types of books as a reason that allowing anyone to write a book and publish it is a bad idea. But I don’t feel that I need to champion change, it will happen without my help. I focus on writing the best books I can and connecting to my readers.
What experiences can a book provide that a movie or video game cannot?
A book is a magical union between a story and a reader’s imagination. I think what books bring to the art of story telling is the reader’s experiences and preferences. Visual story telling has many excellent qualities, but the audience is merely a spectator. In books, the reader interprets the story and the characters become much more real to them. Plus, a book can be enjoyed in a very low tech atmosphere. You can read for a few minutes here and there, always advancing the story. Movies and video games require a much greater time/technology commitment.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers?
- The key to success is to keep writing. Readers always want more and the more work you have to show the greater your chances are that you’ll find an audience. Plus, there’s no better way to improve as a writer than to practice your craft.
- Get help editing. It doesn’t matter what your background is, a writer needs an editor. You just can’t view your own work without bias. For instance you know what a character is trying to say, so even if the dialogue makes no sense to a reader, it will make sense to you. You have to have that independent, unbiased editor to help you. Also, don’t hire a friend to edit for you. Get a professional and treat your book to the best editing you can get. It will always be worth it.
- Don’t give up. There is no secret formula to success. Learn as much as you can about what works in marketing, but don’t fall for every fad or promise you come across. Keep putting yourself out there. It takes even the best writers time to build an audience. And treat your readers like royalty. They are the ones making your dreams come true. They deserve a moment of your time.