This post is part of ‘Michael J. Sullivan as featured author for an entire week’. During the week we will be having a number of posts by Michael. You can find the details here. There will also be a giveaway happening for Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, which is the first book in the Riyria Revelations series. Details of the giveaway can be found here.
Now let’s move on to today’s post.
Most of us know Michael Sullivan creates great stories. They are stories that reel us in and never let go. We’ve been hooked for five books and are now eagerly waiting for the sixth and final one to complete a story which we started reading just a few years ago, but has been in the making for a long time.
The story he is telling us today is about his journey through the ups and downs of being an author. This has as much drama as any good book you can name. So without taking too much space here, let’s move onto Michael’s story:
Michael J. Sullivan – An Author’s Journey
Here is the true story of the first experience I can remember related to writing. I was young, maybe eight or nine, and was playing hide and seek at a friend’s house. In my friend’s basement I found a manual typewriter and actually put in a piece of paper and typed: It was a dark and stormy night and a shot rang out. At the time I thought that was the “classic novel start,” after all I had seen Snoopy using it, and I had no clue what a cliché was. My friend eventually found me and dragged me away to go outside to “alley pick” (looking through piles of junk that people had discarded) and I kept hoping to find a typewriter. Sometime later, maybe a few months, my mom had me cleaning out the front closet and in a small hard case I came across…you guessed it…a typewriter (it had been my sister’s but she hadn’t used it in years). I ferreted off to my room and from that point on I was transfixed.
I never went to college for writing. I did have a scholarship for art school but I left that after a year. I decided to “self teach” myself writing. I would read books and take them apart like a watch. I studied the techniques that were being used by authors such as Stephen King, Ayn Rand, and John Steinbeck. When my wife and I decided to start our family we wanted one of us to stay at home to raise our kids, and as my wife made more money than I did, she went off to be the breadwinner, and I would write while the kids napped. I would generally write a novel a year and made some feeble attempts to find an agent. My thirteenth novel was the one that I really thought would have a chance at publishing. It was the best thing I had written, and I thought then (and still feel so today) that it was well worth an audience. When I got nowhere with that one after several years of serious effort, I decided writing was just a waste of time so I stopped altogether. It was pretty dramatic—I actually vowed never to write creatively again.
Even during my hiatus, stories kept filling my head. I wouldn’t write them down or even take notes but I couldn’t silence them. What would become The Riyria Revelations occupied the majority of my time. After about ten years my then thirteen-year-old daughter was struggling in school due to dyslexia. I had bought her the first Harry Potter book (which had come out a few years previously) thinking it might be something she would enjoy reading. I didn’t know anything about the series, other than it was very popular. One day I picked it up and was immediately captivated. The last book I had written before quitting was a literary fiction piece where I toiled over every sentence. To this day I still think it is beautifully written, but it was a lot of work, and quite frankly, not a lot of fun to write. After reading Rowlings, I said, “Screw it…I’m going to write something just for fun. Something that I would like to read that Sarah and my wife my also enjoy.” I had no intention on publishing it. But Sarah has “issues” with reading from a manuscript layout (in other words on 8 ½” x 11” double spaced paper). She told me that in order for her to read it she needed it published as a real book where she could bend back the spine and the pages were smaller and the type closer together.
So this time I approached publishing a bit more smartly. I wrote a really pathetic query and showed it to my wife and explained my plans to send out one query a week. She of course saw how ludicrous this was and by that time she was also hooked on the first book and felt that I just might have something. So she pushed me aside, redid the letter and started sending them out by the hundreds. She did eventually get me an agent, not one of the biggest or most connected, but she loved my work and that was a turning point for me as she was the first stranger to give my writing some validation. Kat tried to sell the series for about a year. She had exhausted most of the places and about the same time her husband, who had been in remission from Leukemia, relapsed. This made her quit the business and in parting suggested we try publishing from a small press.
While Kat had been “shopping” the book around Robin had started reading up on self-publishing. We had previously run a marketing company together so we already knew how to deal with printing, layout, and the like. Robin did put together a proposal and sent it out to four small publishers who specialized in fantasy, but we weren’t holding our breath. She came up with the idea of a company named Ridan (nadir spelled backward) and we put together the first book and printed up a few hundred copies, which we were going to use as ARC’s. She hadn’t been checking her email and when she finally got around it, discovered that a small publisher, Aspirations Media Inc., had indicated that they were interested in publishing The Crown Conspiracy. Seeing as Robin already had a pretty demanding “day job,” we signed with AMI since they were already established and in the business.
While the management at AMI were “good people” they weren’t the best businessmen and many of the decisions they made (like no ebook versions, and not indicating it was part of a series) didn’t set well with me. The first sketch of the cover they sent over left much to be desired, so I put together a new cover and sent it over to them as an example of what I thought would be better. They liked it, and thankfully used it. Even before the first book was released they were excited enough to sign on for the second, Avempartha. It was due to come out in April of 2009. As it turned out they didn’t have the cash for a print run so that book reverted to us just a few weeks before it’s scheduled release. We put it out through the newly resurrected Ridan label, later when The Crown Conspiracy sold out of its initial print run, it also reverted to us.
From April 2008 until October 2010 we continued to put out my Riyria Revelations through Ridan, with a book released each six months. Sales grew steadily and in April 2010 I was selling a respectable 1,000 books a month (across four titles). In October, when the fifth book was released sales accelerated and I started showing up on the cross-sales pages of some pretty major players in the fantasy community: Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, and about thirty others. Previously I had a couple of publishers from the Czech Republic vying for translations rights and so I had an agent working foreign sales. Robin thought there might be enough success from the self-publishing to interest New York, but we thought it would take months or years before anything would materialize.
The big-six track went much faster than we had anticipated. Teri, my agent, had put together a proposal and sent it to seventeen editors, giving them a limited time to respond. Immediately seven (or was it eight…I don’t recall now) said they were interested and Orbit moved very quickly to put together a pre-emptive offer. I had always been impressed with Orbit; they weren’t the biggest, but they had a good solid track record of producing high quality novels. They were willing to move very quickly and fast-track the series and I figured even if someone came in with a bit more money, Orbit would still be my first choice so we agreed to terms in mid-November.
From November until June I worked with the editors at Orbit to refine the books. I was pleased that they did not see the need for widespread changes, but they did bring up a number of good points that could be easily addressed. While I was doing that, the self-published books were still on the market and sales of them were going crazy. From November – February I sold more than 10,000 copies a month. It wasn’t because of the Orbit deal (we hadn’t announced anything yet) but I was one of the “freshman class” of indie authors who rode the Tsunami when ebooks really started to take off.
Where he is today:
So that’s a bit about my writing history from my early days, until now. As I’m writing this, the first book has been out for about six weeks, and the second for two. Both books have already gone into a second printing. The third and final one will come out at the end of January. By all accounts things are going well. In addition to the deal with Orbit, Teri has also sold foreign translations to: France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and that original Czech Republic deal. Between these deals and the money I made when self-publishing we were able to save enough money so that Robin quit her day job last April and so now I’m repaying her for all the years she supported me. I think we are just at the beginning and there is so much more that may still lie ahead. For instance, Teri has the head of the book to film division at ICM working on television/movie rights for the series. The books have been well received, both in their original and new versions. For instance Library Journal named Theft of Swords as one of the Top Ten Scifi/Fantasy novels of 2011 and the books are found on several bloggers sites both as anticipated reads of 2012 and top books of 2011. For those that aren’t familiar with the series here is how the books break down:
Theft of Swords consisting of The Crown Conspiracy & Avempartha
Rise of Empire consisting of Nyphron Rising & The Emerald Storm
Heir of Novron consisting of Wintertide & Percepliquis*
* Which will also be released as a standalone so that those with the original series can finish their sets.