Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tuesday should have been a good day...

Tuesday at least started out well. The announcment that Orbit was going to release my series was like graduating from a thirty year college. At long last my dream achieved. I was anxious to share this with those who helped, who cheered me on, those who supported me. I was pretty happy…for about two hours. After that I had to seriously ask myself if I ever wanted to write again.

While many comments here and elsewhere have been positive, there has been a good number that have not. Readers have vented frustration at not being able to obtain a complete set of the printed series. Some have accused me of orchestrating this in order to resell the series to make more money. Others have directed their anger at Orbit (apparently because all publishers are the devil incarnate.) Still others are just mad that they will have to wait eleven more months for the final book.

I suppose it was naive of me to expect everyone would be happy at this turn of events. I knew that those who had purchased the print editions would want the full set. To be honest, I want the full set, too. I spent six years making this series. I wrote it, edited it, designed the covers, the interior layouts, all the little symbols, and the back cover texts. Just imagine how much I would like to have the series that I created sitting on my shelf at home.

So why am I signing with Orbit if that won’t happen? It’s not because of the money. Orbit did offer me a generous advance, but given my present sales, I would very likely make more money selling independently. The reason is despite the surge in electronic sales, ebooks still only make up a fraction of the total books sold. There are venues I can’t access with Ridan. These are audiences I can’t reach without Orbit. Also the legitimacy of a major publisher allows for an increased chance to offer the books worldwide.

While I greatly regret disappointing all of you who wanted that six book set (and disappointing myself as well,) I had to weigh that frustration against all those others who will never have the chance to know my books exist. There is still a large segment of the population that refuse to purchase anything through the Internet. Most of my family is this way, which is why you don’t see reviews by them on Amazon. I thought it was more important to give the largest number of people the chance to read these books.

Why is Orbit producing a trilogy as opposed to a six book set? Actually that has more to do with you readers than Orbit. I have read numerous comments and emails where readers have berated my books for their length. Fantasy readers have come to expect thick books. Anything short of six hundred pages is considered a cheat. Some have even accused Ridan of purposely dividing the story into six books as a means of making more money. (Once again denouncing publishers as the devil—not realizing that Ridan is a company my wife created.) The interesting thing is that the Orbit’s version of Riyria will very likely be cheaper as readers will be getting two books for the price of one. Orbit’s reasoning is that readers appreciate longer books for their money, and that it will make it easier for readers to find the whole series on bookstore shelves. With six books, invariably there will always be one or two volumes missing. So for those of you who think Orbit is the “bad guy” here, you might want to reconsider.

In any case, I’ve asked Orbit to help those who want that last book. I did this knowing that if I were Orbit I would refuse. The vast majority purchased ebook versions, and producing a small run of the sixth book would be logistically difficult to make available. I fully expected Orbit to immediately, refuse, and yet they haven’t. At the present time they are considering a POD and ebook solution for the last book. The subject is still being debated and I’ll keep you informed as to what can be done. For those that are interested, send an email to indicating how many copies you are interested in so I can get an idea of the counts required.

After reading the barrage of messages I received, many of them surprisingly negative, I have to admit, I felt like crap. The deal with Orbit will grant me the ability to devote more time to writing and make my work available to a larger audience. I would have thought this is what you would have wanted as well. But now, quite frankly, I’m so depressed I can’t even think about doing the remaining edits on Percepliquis, much less writing anything else.

All I can say is, I’m sorry I let some of you down. I have only ever wanted to do the best I could by everyone—including Royce and Hadrian.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Little Indie That Could

For those of you who have been watching this blog and waiting...this is the post you've been waiting for.

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I will be disappointing my fans in just the way I promised not to. The final book in the Riyria Revelations, Percepliquis, will be late. After the frustrations with several far more established authors delaying their next book, I was trying my very best to insure that such a thing did not happen with my series. And yet here we are.

I am certain many of you are disappointed to hear this, but I do have an excuse, and I think it is a pretty good one. Which brings us to the good news...

Orbit Book
s, an imprint of Hachett Book Group, the publisher of such celebrated authors as Brent Weeks, Gail Carriger, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyers, Jon Stewart, and according to Publisher's Weekly's 2009 ranking, the sixth largest publisher in the world, made an offer to me for the entire Riyria series.

Royce and Hadrian, have made it to the big time.

The Riyria Revelations will be re-edited and produced as a trilogy, with each book having two parts, and will be released one per month starting this next coming November. The three books, are tentatively entitled: Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron. They will have new covers designed by the Orbit Art Department and artist Larry Rostant.

I know this will leave many of you in a bind. You have the whole series minus one book. A series that will remain incomplete. To be honest, this was a factor in my decision as I mentally debated accepting Orbit's generous offer. I really hated the idea of letting down those of you who traveled so far and helped bring me to this point. On the other hand, to come this far and not accept what is assuredly the dream of every aspiring writer felt, oddly enough, like an insult to all those who wished they had this opportunity. It would also be disappointing I think, to all those who had worked hard to promote me--all of the bloggers, reviewers, fans and friends. So while it is unfortunate that the Riyria Series of Six will not be complete, (at least domestically, France will be producing the full set of six books. Russia and the Czech Republic are on track to do the same.) I hope you agree with me that pushing the books to the next level is worth that sacrifice.

Orbit is a wonderful publisher. I don't think I could have picked a better one if I had a list and a year to decide. Not only do they have a very good and growing name in the fantasy industry, they invest a good deal in all their authors, nurturing and building each like fine craftsmen. So far they have made me feel very welcome, and for a man who has spent the better part of the last seven years carefully giving birth to this most precious series, that's not as easy as it might sound. One tends to become attached to characters you've lived with for nearly a decade. Still, I feel that they have all found a good home.

So now (assuming there are no problems with the pending contract) I will be a legitimate, full-fledged, honest-to-God, New York published, author. I will have graduated from self-pub, to the Indies, to The Show. And I have all of you to thank for that. For me the agent-to-publisher route didn't work. I could have given up, but my wife never accepted defeat. We found a home in the Indies, and rose on a tide of readers who took chances reading small press authors. You lifted me from obscurity. You spread the word. You all got together and turned the great wheel of momentum, a wheel too big for merely Robin and I to crank.

It was Scott over at Iceberg Ink that first called me "The Little Indie That Could." He was more prophetic than even he knew.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Literary Agent 007

Okay, so I have a female James Bond as my agent.

Teri is a petite, young woman whom I met face-to-face for the first time at a Coney Island in Michigan. While she lives and works in NYC, like Robin and I, she grew up in the Detroit area. We managed a meeting while we were both back for Thanksgiving. At that time I had no idea who I was sitting across from. I assumed she was just a very nice, lawyer-turned-successful literary-agent who had transplanted to New York. I imagined her like a much nicer version of Tom Hank’s girl friend in You’ve Got Mail, the one that makes coffee nervous. I pictured cab rides, a high rise work space, weekends in Central Park, maybe even a small dog with a paid walker. Highlights of her life I imagined were dinner parties and power lunches.

Then in a recent phone conversation she apologized about having the flu and that it was interfering with her normal workaholic ethic. Again I saw her in a tiny apartment filled with cute knick-knacks, wrapped in a camel blanket, and holding a box of Kleenex while her cat swirled between her ankles. Somewhere in the background soft jazz played. Then she said something odd. She mentioned how she was so sick she even had to cancel her plans to go ice climbing.

Ice climbing? I had heard of this sport, if suicidal tendencies can be called sports. This extreme activity involves climbing frozen waterfalls, which is not only physically demanding, but dangerous. Ice climbing, really? That just did not fit into my Nora Ephron vision, but I let it slide thinking perhaps I just mis-heard, or she mis-spoke. Perhaps she meant to say rice timing, if she was cooking or lice rhyming as I heard New York had problems with lice. Why she wanted to rhyme with lice, I had no idea, but there was no point in embarrassing the woman who might be suffering from a very high fever.

Then she went on to explain about how her cold was aggravating as it prevented her from exercising, and how being cooped up and inactive was a problem for her as she is used to solo climbing limestone cliffs in Thailand or crevice scaling crags in Wyoming.

At this point I just listened, and she followed this revelation with the reason for the call. She had just completed the France deal selling my full series after a little bidding war when she got a call from her Russian contact. He had heard through the international grapevine that there was this new fantasy series and he wanted in. My over active writer’s imagination clicked on at this point. I pictured a scene where this stocky man in a heavy black dress coat wearing a typical Russian flap-hat, with a large face wreathed by a salt and pepper beard sat with arms folded and his lower lip pushed out. He glared down at Teri, this tiny, lithe woman with long black hair dressed in a dark trench coat with matching gloves, and sunglasses. She also had a blazing white scarf. Why the white scarf? I have no idea, it just seemed stylish and I always imagine Teri as very stylish.

“I have heard much about this Riyria, Teri.” I of course heard him speaking broken English from some 1980’s Tom Clancy book-made-into-movie. “It is good, no?”

“It is very good, Demetri.” I don’t actually know his name, but Demetri just seemed right somehow.

Demetri leaned back against his black sedan that was perfectly lit under the street light that reflected the oiling looking cobblestone in front of the old-world bridge. In the far background the lights of Prague twinkled. It was night of course, which just made the fact that Teri was wearing sunglasses that much cooler. He took off his little round bifocals and cleaned them with a linen handkerchief while humming to himself. Teri, being the super agent that she is, revealed nothing.

“Why are you holding out on me then? You have another Russian buyer?”

“Honestly, I haven’t had time to even think about Russia yet. I’ve been too busy with France and Spain.”

“I see,” Demetri said, but his tone indicated he did not believe a word. “Don’t think I don’t know what you are doing, and I won’t let you. I must have this Riyria. I offer you double any other offer you have.”

“I don’t have any other offers yet. Like I said I—”

“Ya, ya. Don’t play games with me, Terinova.” I imagine that he likes to call her that when he gets excited as if she is also Russian. “I will give you more than what we paid for Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Glen Cook, and George R.R.Martin, but not quite as much as Dan Brown. No one gets as much as Dan Brown.”

At this point Teri’s left eyebrow quivered just enough to give her away.

“Ah-hah! So, we have deal, yes?”

“Alright, Demetri,” Teri says with that sexy Laura Bacall tone. “I’ll talk to him. See what I can arrange.”

“Wonderful, Teri. Where are you off to now?”

“Monte Carlo.”

“Ah yes, the big baccarat game. But you are late how can you get there in time?”

“HALO jump.”

“What’s that?”

“High altitude, low opening parachuting, with a HGU 55/P ballistic helmet, MC-4 Halo parachute assembly, Airox VIII O2 regulator, and High Altitude Altimeters for a 28,500 foot bailout. I just hope the Casino Royale’s martini olives are fresh.”

And so, this is how I discovered I had offers for my series in both France and Russia, and how I learned that my agent is a literary reps version of James Bond.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Popular Highlights

I’m not sure when this first appeared, but I only recently noticed that Amazon was including Popular Highlights on their eBook pages. In case you don’t know what Popular Highlights are, these are passages in books that people highlight in their Kindles. Apparently people are prone to do this sort of thing. The option was made available because people often underlined or highlighted passages in paper books.

The very thought of this is disturbing to me. I grew up with a reverence for books of any kind, and the idea of defacing one with pen marks makes me shudder. I’m one of those people who won’t even open a paperback too far for fear of creasing the binding.

In the eBook world things are a bit different, because when a reader highlights a section, unless they go to the bother of turning off the feature, the information gets transmitted back to Amazon. These highlights are included in the text when a new reader downloads a book, so they can then see what others have noted. The identity of the highlighter is not disclosed but this has still spurred all sorts of privacy issues, but I’m not posting to discuss that. Instead what I recently discovered is that the accumulated data from these highlights are being posted on the individual book pages on Amazon.

While this might not mean much more to a reader than the chance to look and say, “Ah, I liked that line too.” For an author this is amazing.

It is great to hear that people liked your book. It is wonderful to have them mention that they liked this character or that scene, but to actually see the very sentence or passage that resonated enough with a reader for them to take the moment to mark it, is very fun. And interestingly enough, they are mostly the sentences I knew were standouts when I wrote them.

While each book has about nine quotes each here are the top rated quotes for each of my books. (Keep in mind that more people read the earlier books than the later ones so the number of highlights are a bit skewed.)

The Crown Conspiracy:
“Lying. The abbot told me once that lying was a betrayal to one’s self. It’s evidence of self-loathing. You see, when you are so ashamed of your actions, thoughts, or intentions, you lie to hide it rather than accept yourself for who you really are. The idea of how others see you becomes more important than the reality of you.”
Highlighted by 62 Kindle users

Your best ally in any discussion is silence. Learn to develop that skill. Learn to listen instead of speaking and you will weather many storms.”
Highlighted by 42 Kindle users

Nyphron Rising:
“One truth doesn’t refute another. Truth doesn’t lie in the object, but in how we see it.”
Highlighted by 40 Kindle users

The Emerald Storm
“Breathe the air, taste the wine, kiss the girls, and always remember that the tales of another are never as wondrous as your own.
Highlighted by 16 Kindle users

“Happiness comes from moving toward something. When you run away, ofttimes you bring your misery with you.”
Highlighted by 46 Kindle users

Most of my favorite lines were noted on the Amazon list, although I was disappointed one of my favorites received no mention at all: “Myron considered how he might like to be a mole or shrew, not a Dusky or Greater White-tooth, or even a Lesser White-tooth Shrew, but just a common shrew, or perhaps a mole.” This was originally part of a section that was cut, but by virtue of that line it was brought back. I was however pleased to see the Esrahaddon line about sharks and chickens made the list, as did his quote about magic and fiddles, as well as Denek’s mention of big butter churns and wicked old ladies, Myron’s description of kids as drunks and Hadrian’s line about anger.

It would seem however that most of the highlights are more philosophical in nature. The kind of thing you might find on one of those posters featuring a beautiful photograph, or on a laminated wooden plaque in your mother’s kitchen. I had no idea I had a knack for such things. In fact, in reading the lists of things harvested from my books I was really impressed. Taken out of context I sound quite impressive.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I'm Not Michael J. Sullivan

When I first decided to publish The Crown Conspiracy, back around 2005--which at that time was actually entitled Heirs to the Throne--there arouse the question of what name to put on the book cover. My full name is Michael James Sullivan, and choosing "Michael Sullivan" seemed like a no-brainer. Then I did a Google search and discovered that Michael Sullivan is not a unique name. There's actually more than one. More than two even. In fact, "slew" doesn't quite describe it.

No problem, I thought. I'll add the middle initial--Michael J. Sullivan--and do another search.

There is a Mayor of the city of Lawrence, Mass.

Several US attorneys.

The General President of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association.

A professional golfer.

A hand surgeon in Brunswick.

A general contractor in Pompano Beach.

And a St. Paul Police Officer who died on June 26, 1914 on duty, fatally injured by accidental electrocution.

The list goes on. I tried using "James" instead of "J" but by then I had a publisher and they balked saying the name was too long for the cover.

At least there were no writers with the same name, I thought...I was wrong. There's an author of stories for boys in Portsmouth, and an author of a stack of math books. Still it could be worse.

Then on March 30th 2010 Michael J. Sullivan published a book called Necessary Heartbreak through Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. And no I'm not him either.

I’ve received inquires and even fan mail for these other authors, which I respond to by providing links to their intended recipient. The most humorous is when those thinking I am the author of the math books question me. If you knew how awful I am at math, you’d get the joke. And of course, most recently as mentioned in the previous post, Laura Donoghue mistook me for the author of Necessary Heartbreak in her book on successful ebook authors.

It’s at times like these I almost wish I had been named Drinselteen Winterthistle--okay, maybe not.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hocking Fame by Association

A funny thing happened on my way to work today. That first sentence would be far more interesting if you realized that my commute consists of booting up my computer in the morning. It is also amusing that my previous post mentioned looking for indications that I have advanced in my career, because I stumbled on another one. And honestly, I never expected to see this happen.

Someone wrote a book about me—well, not actually about me, but rather about Amanda Hocking and success in the eBook publishing world in general. Nevertheless, I was mentioned in the blurb, and twice in the little sample pages made available for preview. Along with me, Donaghue also mentions H P Mallory, J A Konrath, and Sam Torode as examples of success in the independent eBook world.

To my knowledge there have been two instances when people have posted about other author’s works and referenced my work as a means of comparison. I thought those were massive wow moments. But being mentioned so prominently in a non-fiction book is staggering. The book isn’t being featured on the Daily Show, and as far as I can see, isn’t even available on Amazon, but only through Smashwords, still the idea that someone actually researched me for a publication like this is a kick.

Sadly the author, Laura Donoghue, never contacted me as part of her research, or I would have been happy to provide her with more information than what she must have gleaned off the Internet. For example I am not the author of the novel Necessary Heartbreak which was written by a different Michael J. Sullivan and published through Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Of course I can see how she could make that mistake. I have to assume Donoghue has at least interviewed Amanda given that the book is entitled: Amanda Hocking and Her Success Secrets.

And in case you are wondering who Amanda Hocking is, she’s the leading independent eBook author in terms of sales. USA Today did an article on her this past week.

I have no idea how good Donoghue’s book is…yet. Of course I am going to read it. I feel like one of those celebrities who just found out they were mentioned in a “tell-all” memoir. And I suspect Donoghue is assured of at least five sales. After all Konrath, Mallory, Torode, Hocking and I all want to know—how did we do it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fan Mail

I never expected to get fan mail, and I didn’t, not for two years. I was happy if I sold a handful of books a week and if reviewers didn’t rip me apart. Then book sales rapidly increased and I was very content. Then about six months ago I began receiving fan mail. Just one or two over the course of a month. Each time I was shocked. Someone took the time to track down my email address and actually wrote to tell me they liked my books?

I found this surprising because I never wrote to an author before--never even dreamed of it. Authors, I imagined, were these important people with a staff who handled such annoying things as fan mail. That little email address on their website, or the back of their books, were really just addresses to their publicist or some office in their publisher’s establishment, and some mail room inductee was responsible for stamping out pleasant replies. If not, they would view a brazen message from the unknown likes of me as a terrible intrusion on their personal privacy. So I never wrote any such thing, and I certainly never expected anyone to write me. Not because I was so intimidating a prospect, but because I really never thought anyone would be that interested.

Over the course of three or four months I had received about five pieces of fan mail which I relished and even made a special folder in my email app to hold them like tiny treasures. I responded to all of them, even rereading them several times and telling myself I just wanted to be sure I understood everything written there so I could make a better response. To most all I began by saying, “I don’t get much fan mail,” which was certainly the truth--until recently.

I am always looking for measures of success. There are many posts on writing blogs about when you can call yourself a writer. There are a lot of opinions on this. Some argue that you can call yourself a writer when you feel you are. Others insist you must have training pointing out that someone can’t just one day call themselves a doctor. Still others say you are only a writer when you’ve been published by a traditional publisher, and still others feel you are not a real writer unless you can support yourself with your writing. I personally feel that all of these are true, the difference lies in where you are in your career when the question is asked.

When I stayed home and wrote forty hours a week while watching my kids, I thought of myself as a writer though I had never been published nor made a dime. After I was published I had to admit that I felt that was the true measure of a real writer, even though I was hardly selling any of my books and had yet to see a dime from those I did sell. Then when I began making enough money to support myself, that was the real demarcation line. And I suppose when I am published through a major New York house, that will become my new standard.

The writing business is a lot like adulthood. You’re grown up when you’re in 8th grade and at the top of the food chain in elementary school. Then you hit high school and look back and think what a child you were. When you become a junior, you look back at the freshman and sophomores as kids, and as a senior--they all are. You hit college and realize your high school years were kid stuff, now you really are an adult--until you graduate.

So like a teenager looking in the mirror for signs of upper-lip hair, I watch for signs of success, events that indicate a new phase and separate me more from the last. The jump in sales was great, and so are the translation deals--those signed and those in the works. And now there is fan mail.

I decided this was a milestone when I realized I had to set aside a portion of my day to respond to them. They all have the same attitude, they all apologize for bothering me. I’ve never felt anything was quite so absurd. Does anyone think a music band feels bothered by the audience applauding? “Please, if you feel the need to clap, go over to our marketing staff and clap at them, we are trying to play here and you are making a nuisance.” I just don’t see it happening. Yet everyone comments on how their message is clearly trite and a waste of my valuable time. They insist they don’t want me to bother writing back, they merely wanted to thank me.

Thank me…are you kidding? They want to thank—me? I read these letters and just shake my head. These people have no idea.

I know there are writers who write for money. For them the whole enterprise is more of a business. For me it is a craft, a love of creation, and that being the case, the fuel I thrive on is not a paycheck. I have quit jobs weeks after being given a massive raise merely because I did not feel appreciated by those I worked for. The money helps me justify this endeavor, the money allows me to spend more time working on it, but the money isn’t the reason I write. I spent a decade penning over ten novels that no one ever read--no one wanted to. That sort of thing can bring on depression and a total lack of self-worth. These fans who email, or send me genuine letters, appear oblivious, but each line of appreciation they meekly offer, are drops of water in a very hot dry desert.

They vary from the simple, “thank you, keep up the good work,” to the life altering accounts that blow me away. When someone writes to tell you your book helped them deal with serious real-life problems, that’s the kind of reward money can’t come close to buying. And still these people apologize for writing to tell me how much my work has meant to them. Seriously? I mean I could honestly kiss these people.

So everyday now I set aside some time to reply to each piece of fan mail I receive. Trust me this is not a hardship. This is not a problem. This is the favorite part of my day, and an utter joy.

I apologize for taking up so much of your time with this post, but I just wanted to say thank you because your writing has meant so much to me.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Atlas Nudged

When I first started writing the series I created a map merely as a means of keeping straight in my head where everything was, and as a creative tool to allow me to envision obsticals that my characters would need to deal with.

As I wrote I added places and land features, but after a certain point I no longer needed the map as the world was fairly well formed in my head. This allowed the map to become a bit dated as it left out the locations of some popular sites like Drondil Fields, Hintindar and such.

I’ve learned that the maps in some of the eBook versions of my series have been fuzzy or otherwise hard to read. Still not sure how that happened. Many have found the maps on my website, but I wondered how many haven’t. As such and as the last book is on it’s way, I thought it might be good to offer a new improved glimpse of the world.

Here then is the most accurate map of the world of Elan to date.

Below is a simplified map showing the poltical divisions. The colored areas show the four nations of Apeladorn, the blue outlined divisions in Avryn indicate the eight kingdoms that comprise it.

I have learned that some readers never look at the map, others rely on it, and a few had no idea there was one. Regardless of which you might be, I hope this helps illuminate the world a little better for you.