By Hilton Collins
Prolific novelist Matt Wolf’s accomplished something many indie authors only dream of: a social media presence that put his debut novel, The Knife’s Edge, in front of so many eyeballs that it was at one time a Top Five Bestseller for epic fantasy on Amazon.
The Knife’s Edge dropped in 2014, the first of three books he’s self-published, followed by Citadel of Fire (2014) and Bastion of the Sun (2017). They’re the start of a nine book series Wolf plans to complete over the next several years. The entire series comprises the Ronin Saga, a sprawling storyline that involves twelve kingdoms, nine of which are pledged to a certain elemental or otherwise magical force, like water, fire, wind, metal, and flesh, among others. There was conflict between these nine kingdoms and three others, but the nine were saved and united by the Ronin, a powerful group of sword-wielding warriors. However, peace and quiet never last in dramatic storytelling, so of course something tragic and deadly throws things into chaos.
That’s the basic set-up for the Ronin Saga, a huge endeavor that took Wolf several years to get off the ground. He’s 31 today, but he started writing it when he was 18. The journey to completion’s been a long, long road.
In school he began studying astrophysics but he wasn’t that passionate about it and figured he wouldn’t make a great engineer. Besides, he was more enthralled by reading and fantasy. Novels like Wheel of Time, by Brandon Sanderson, captivated him.
“My love of reading was kind of really really high at that point. I was reading just as many books as I could,” he said. “Mostly fantasy. Everything from like, Sword of Truth, Brandon Sanderson and some of those other big guys.”
Eventually Wolf decided to write fiction himself, but he took his time. He spent years learning how to write stories, and in the meantime, life happened. Social commitments, a love life, developing his craft, and learning about himself as a person—Wolf did all these things during his journey from teenager to grown man.
He became a better writer with practice. The Matt Wolf of today is much more capable and confident writer than 18-year-old Matt Wolf did.
“I was writing good stuff and bad stuff, mostly bad stuff,” Wolf said. He sent a lot of his work to his mom for quality control. He also sought out paid editors to get their take.
Many fiction how-to books recommend that aspiring storytellers read the kinds of stories they themselves want to write. Wolf, a dedicated fantasy writer, must’ve taken that to heart. The opening chapters of The Knife’s Edge, his very first Ronin book, embody the same spirit readers find in the mainstream fantasy that traditional publishers produce.
The Knife’s Edge initial chapters are brisk and fast-paced and jump between many different characters. In the first scene, two warriors of a people called the Devari are sparring, an action scenario that allows Wolf to show off action with his characters and the mystical abilities they possess. The next few chapters span many major situations and story beats. In the next scene, a girl named Vera passes seven trials that compel her and her challengers to exhibit magical powers. And quickly thereafter murders, a cursed sword, and memory loss turn life upside down for the protagonists.
When Wolf finished The Knife’s Edge, it was about 500 pages, and he considered his publishing options. He met with agents and publishers, but they advised him to go shorter with his page count. Wolf followed their advice, but he became fed-up with the process and the recommendations to cut out words, so he abandoned traditional publishing for the self-publishing route.
He ran his first Kicsktarter campaign before The Knife’s Edge’s release to drum up interest and raised about $3,000. His next Kickstarter for Citadel of Fire yielded $5,000. Efforts like these helped him build a grassroots fanbase that propelled his novel-writing career. As of today, the first chapter of The Knife’s Edge has garnered more than 34,000 views and 55 comments on Wattpad, a social sharing sight for stories. He said his email list is also pretty huge, though he didn’t name a specific number of subscribers.
Wolf’s attending this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and he’ll be exhibiting at Booth #4817 with his first three books for sale. The booth was certainly buzzing with fan activity this Friday afternoon. He loves interacting with fans and building up a rapport with them, and this year’s activity is indicative of the energy he typically sees from fans at conventions.
“They come up to the table [and] they’re like, ‘Hey my friend told me about this series’ or ‘My uncle or whatever’ and it kind of gets passed around,” Wolf said. “I make these connections and I make these friends.”
Wolf has many bold and ambitious plans for the future. The biggest task is that he has six more books to finish before he completes the Ronin Saga, so his journey as a novelist will continue for quite some time. He’s about 250 pages into Book 4 and guesses it’ll take him about a year-and-a-half to complete each successive one. He’d also revising The Knife’s Edge for rerelease to add even more pages. In the meantime, Wolf’s studying English in grad school at the University of San Diego.