Like many, too many, my road to becoming an author wasn't an easy one. I wrote in a variety of genres from 1979 to 1994 and after thirteen novels and more than a hundred rejections I quit…vowing never to write creatively again. Well, never turned out to be almost a decade, as I couldn't suppress the itch any longer. Over those eight years a story had been growing in my head and I decided I would write it on just one condition: that I wouldn't seek publication.
My plan was to write something just to please myself and to share with a few friends and family. My youngest daughter was struggling with reading (she's dyslexic), so I wrote a fantasy series with her in mind (Lord of the Rings is what ignited my passion for reading and ultimately writing when I was thirteen). Those books (written from 2002 - 2008) became my debut series, The Riyria Revelations. After reading the third book, my wife insisted my writing "just had to get out there." I refused because I knew that path led to darkness and despair),so she picked up the gauntlet on my behalf.
After about a year, Robin had amassed her own pile of agent query rejections (more than 200 if I recall), but she finally found an agent to represent the series. After a year with no offers, she closed her office to care for her terminally-ill husband. Robin considered self-publishing, but also sent the first manuscript to a few small presses that didn't require agent representations. One of the four, Aspirations Media Inc., offered a no-advance contract which I signed.in early 2008.
AMI was well intended, but also strapped for cash. There were times when the warehouse refused to ship my books to bookstores because of outstanding warehouse fees. One cold winter's day Robin and I actually drove to Ohio and purchased several hundred copies of my own books to clear the publisher's debt and return the titles to bookstore shelves. In March 2009, a month before AMI was supposed to publish the second book of the series, we learned they didn't have the money for its press run.
Because there were already events planned for April (bookstore signings and bookclub meetings) our only option was to self-publish. We reclaimed the book's rights, edited, formatted and used print-on-demand, barely making the April 1st release schedule. Because we wanted to maintain a release every six months schedule, the only choice was to continue to self-publish. About a year after AMI's release of the first book, Michael sold out the first press run and as they had no money for a second, the rights for that book reverted and we self-published it as well.
Self-publishing in the early years wasn't very profitable, but as the number of titles I released grew (along with the popularity of ereaders), things got better. By the time the four book came out I was selling a respectable 1,000 copies a month and with the release of book #5 the first month's sales jumped to over 2,500. With just one book left in the series, Robin wondered if it made sense to try New York again.
By this time, I had a foreign rights agent who had negotiated a number of overseas translations. She agreed to represent the title for English rights and Robin and I figured it would take six-months to a year before anything would come of it...and more likely than not, nothing would. Teri submitted to seventeen publishers and within a week had interest from about half of them. Orbit (fantasy imprint of big-six Hachette Book Group) made a pre-emptive six-figure offer with an accelerated release schedule. We agreed.
Now this is where the story gets really surreal. The time is November 2010, no one knows about the Orbit deal (it wasn't made public) but I, like many moderately successful self-published author) saw a remarkable increase in sales. I was suddenly selling 10,000 - 12,000 books a month and earning $45,000 - $55,000 for each of those months.
In March, we announced the Orbit deal, which unfortunately would delay the release of the last book. In August and September my self-published books were removed from the market, to make way for the Orbit editions. They took the six-book series and re-published it as three, two-book omnibus editions. The books came out in back-to-back months from November 2011 to January 2012.
During 2011 and 2012 I wrote four novels. One was a contemporary fantasy called Antithesis, which was actually a rewrite of a novel I had written in 1986 called Wizards. I wasn't satisfied with its result and it still is sitting in a drawer. Two of the novels were prequels to my Riyria Revelations, which I also sold to Orbit. The fourth was a science fiction novel called Hollow World which I had no intention to write.
Hollow World has it's own rocky road. It was pushed to the top of my writing queue (I always have about eight or nine novels just waiting their turn) purely by accident. I was asked to contribute a short story to an anthology (for charity). When my wife read the submission, she was awestruck...but felt it had so much more potential if expanded to a novel. Several people in my writing critique group gave similar reactions, so I wrote a different short for the anthology and set about expanding Hollow World.
Much like my Riyria stories, Hollow World poured out of me with effortless abandon. Concepts and themes that had been forming over decades fit like perfect puzzle pieces. When it was done, I considered it one of the best things I ever wrote...but also recognized that it was (a) controversial (b) hard to confine in most genre definitions (c) would probably be a "hard sell." to mainstream publishing.
As expected, Orbit turned down Hollow World, like Riyria, Robin was convinced his book had to "get out there" so we decided once more to self-publish. Times had changed, self-publishing had grown into a viable path for publication, but we would only self-publish if we did it "right." This meant hiring the same industry professionals that the big-five use to release their books. For the cover we wanted to use the artist that had created Michael's French edition covers. For structural editing, Betsy Mitchell was the perfect choice. Formerly editor-in-chief for Del Rey for a decade, Betsy had edited more than 150 novels, many of which were award winning and best selling. For copy editing we selected two people who had three master's degrees between them, edited multiple New York Times bestsellers, and award nominations for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Tiptree awards. Our goal was to make the self-published work indistinguishable from the big-five released titles. We anticipated this would cost about $6,000.
Robin came up with the brilliant idea of using a Kickstarter. We decided to ask for $3,000 figuring we would foot 1/2 the bill for Hollow World and hopefully readers would chip in the other half. Plus, we thought that was a goal that we should be able to reach. We were wrong. The Kickstarter ended up earning more than $31,000 and funding at more than 1000%.
After the Kickstarter another major publisher stepped forward with an attractive five-figure offer for Hollow World. The problem is they wanted the standard rights: print, ebook, and audio. Having the wide distribution of print is attractive, but we have seen a lack of innovation from publishers with regard to ebooks. Most still insist on DRM encoding, have no provision for bundling with print editions, and aren't willing to experiment with Netflix style models for book buying (such as Oyster). We turned it down. But Robin had a wild idea that we could get a print-only deal...and she was right. Award winning Tachyon Publications came in with a much smaller advance offer, which was fine with us. After all they were only getting one of the rights (and not even the piece of the pie that we expected to be the biggest income producer). Similarly, we sold the audio rights to Recorded Books, and to date we have also received German and Portuguese translation deals. Hollow World will officially launch April 2014.
So what's next? I'm currently writing a new series, tentatively called The First Empire. It's set in the distant past of the world in my Riyria Revelations and explores the difference between myth and reality as "the real" story of the events surrounding how Novron saved mankind and founded the Nyphron Church. The first two books are written (though I change them often as later books are written) and in total there will either be two or three. More on that soon. As always, I have a queue of eight or nine books waiting behind this series. But we'll take them one at a time, and realize that a story my "jump the queue" just like Hollow World did.
So, that’s a bit about me and what I’m up to from a writing perspective. If you want to reach me, contact information follows. I love hearing from readers (what author doesn’t?) so don’t be afraid to drop me a line.
Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope you’ll become a follower as that’s how I know whether people are interested in what I have to say.
HOW TO CONTACT:
facebook (personal): www.facebook.com/michael.james.sullivan
facebook (riyria): www.facebook.com/riyria