Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blogs Revisited

This re-run thing is starting to become a habit now.

Normally I avoid discussing blog/review sites because I think being too chummy with my judges might be inappropriate. Recently of course, I did post an article where I listed a bunch, but even more recently, I found another. This one is very new. Only four posts and not a single comment left on any of them. It is the personal review blog of an aspiring writer and it shows in the stylishly entertaining quality of the essays. I fully admit I only found it because the second review posted was for The Crown Conspiracy, but many people have reviewed Crown now, still this site caught my attention.

I will admit that I like some reviewers more than others, and it might surprise you to learn the difference isn’t based on how much they liked my books. If a reviewer took the effort to read my work at all and then post about it, they get points. If they appear to have approached it with an open mind, they get more. And if they demonstrate that they understood it—what I am trying to accomplish and why-—then even if they conclude that it wasn’t to their taste, I have a huge amount of respect for them, even if they trash it. As an author, you get used to being judged, and you can tell the difference between honest opinion, constructive criticism, and spite—-if you can’t, you soon will. Also those reviewers who go above and beyond by doing additional homework, like reading related articles, blogs, visiting my website, and going to the effort of checking the spelling of all the crazy names I invented, are truly heroic in their dedication to their craft.

I have been blessed thus far with shockingly positive reviews, each of which I analysis to discover trends. One of my present theories is that male reviewers appear to prefer Avempartha to Nyphron Rising as opposed to female reviewers, possibly because there are more female characters central to Nyphron Rising’s plot, or perhaps because Avempartha is a tad more action oriented. None of this affects my writing; it is just interesting to try to rationalize why one person likes what another person doesn’t.

Some reviewers love my books unconditionally while others are a bit more jaded; giving the impression, they have been burned before. Some simply don’t understand them at all, jumping to false conclusions by forming preconceived assumptions. They believe they have seen everything and can spot a cliché a mile off. (Pardon the cliché.) This can be a little dangerous with my series as I have, in some situations, relied on knee-jerk expectations to try and fool the more experienced readers. Some reviewers-—and these are the real gems-—truly “get it.” They write reviews that pinpoint all the significant aspects of my creations and strategies as if they could read my mind. These are very few, but such a joy to find. They are like cooking for someone who cleans their plate, licks the fork, then comments on the subtle seasoning and how the dining room’s décor complemented the meal-—the stuff you never thought anyone would notice much less appreciate.

The blog review site I recently found is called WITH RYE'S OVERLAND DETOUR, A Fantasy Review, and while it hasn’t yet proven itself to be that insightful, it is different. For one thing, it’s side scrolling, which gives it a magazine layout feel. The overall design heightens this effect with lots of “white space,” attractive graphics, and even typography. The result is quite beautiful, but then I was into that sort of thing once. Nevertheless, it seems the creator has some experience in graphic design. But perhaps the most compelling aspect to the site is the voice of the blogger, Kevin Zhang, which is bright and full of positive excitement. He admits he is new to blogging and the fantasy genre in general, and lacks the typical cynicism of the veteran commentator. I must admit I find this refreshing along with his exuberant admiration of authors. His site is like a pristine field of freshly fallen unblemished snow and looking at it you just hope it can somehow stay that way.

His site has only been up since January, and he only has two reviews, but I hope he continues to work on it, and I will be certain to visit it even if he hates the rest of my series, or worse yet…doesn’t even read them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Somebody Redux

Only a couple of days after making my somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about being someone because I am listed on Wikipedia, I discovered this volatile article. In it, the unfortunate author launched some poorly-researched negative opinions about, which touched off a minor dust-storm of flames. The article maligns authors for releasing Podiobooks of their novels stating:

“If you are a hopeless unpublishable author yourself then the site might get you some exposure, a fan base or even lead up to a book deal. It won’t though.”

The article also states:

“The most popular and downloaded book on the site is Ravenwood by Nathan Lowell, a man so un-famous he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, unlike – for example – George Kobayashi, a Brazilian footballer who played for Japan in 1972.”

The truly fascinating thing here is that Mr. Lowell was signed by Ridan Publishing (my publisher) in early January 2010 who will be publishing his Solar Clipper series of science fiction novels. Aside from disproving one of the number of mistakes in the article, (which I won’t bother discussing here as there are numerous comments following the original post that do a fine job--kudos to the University for allowing both to remain up,) it brings up the question, why doesn’t Mr. Lowell have a Wikipedia page?

I’ve read his first book—-or rather listened to him read it—-and it’s wonderful. Addictive and insightful in the way you end up interpreting aspects of your life through elements of his story, and yet so original in idea and style that major publishers would have a hard time figuring what to do with it. And the man has a horde of fans. Not the nice quiet, stately and reserved types I have, but the rip-up-the-bleachers, paint-themselves-in-team-colors, wait-in-line-all-night, crazed fans. And there are thousands of them. His books have more than a million downloads!

So yesterday, I thought I was finally somebody, but today I have to wonder about an award from an academy who never gave an Oscar to Richard Burton, Cary Grant, or Steve McQueen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Must Be Someone Now

Milestones are what and where you find them for as a writer progress is often difficult to gauge. Getting published, hitting the bestseller list, or landing the Noble or Pulitzer Prize are obvious junctures in a career but the pinnacles aside the rest of the rungs can be less apparent. When I was first shopping for an agent I received a call from a woman who had just received my query letter—not my book, not the first chapters, just the letter. She said she wished to discuss if I would be willing to promote my novel on the various nationally televised talk shows such as Oprah and The Tonight Show. If I was okay with that they would be willing to send me a contract.

I’m not an idiot.

The moment I hung up I did an extensive Internet search on the crazy person who just phoned me. Turned out her contract would required me to pay her $3000 a year for the privilege of having her as my agent. I passed. That was the last time I harbored dreams of kicking back with Mr. Leno or one of the network morning shows discussing the relevance of post-modern medieval fantasy literature and its continuing positive effects on the cyber-society. I lost many dreams over the years it took me to bring my books to print, not the least of which was the idea of supporting my family with the proceeds. I must admit I never really expected to jet across the country appearing on talk shows, but I did think an author could make an eating wage. Such issues as this I have learned to frame properly with the understanding that writing fiction can’t be about the money. I have met aspiring authors hoping to make it rich with a fiction novel and wonder at the color of the sky in their world.

The vow of poverty aside, there are many rewards in this vocation and they often come from the most unlikely places and often in the most unexpected packaging. This week I discovered to my great surprise that I, Michael J. Sullivan, Author, is on Wikipedia. I actually have my own page complete with history, books, and references. As it turns out this is not as trite as one might think. Apparently, the folks that police Wikipedia are strict for several new authors I know have attempted to establish pages and had them promptly removed. It would seem, just being legitimately published does not cut it, there is some sort of “reason to exits” clause, meaning that the article needs to be noteworthy to the public, I would presume to avoid people from posting just anything. Having authored a book is not enough to warrant recognition. As it happens, I’ve learned my page has been there a while and does not display a flag or warning of imminent removal. From this I have deduced, that at least as far as Wikipedia is concerned…

I must be someone now.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Character Names

Back on December 5th of 2008 I gave an interview to the blog, Reality Bypass. I suspect few noticed. Comments were posted following the interview and I reposted them along with additional thoughts on my website. I thought the topic was interesting so given the weak traffic to the Discussion section of that site, I thought I would repost here.

After reading Michael's interview, (on Reality Bypass) I have to agree with him about unpronounceable names being a hinderance rather than a help in fantasy novels. I don't mind reading a character with a made-up name but I prefer them to follow pronunciation rules that jive well with the English language. There are thousands of names from the various cultures around the world that I don't see why we need to make up any new ones. I think that if you want something exotic in your fantasy world, you can look for names from different cultures.

I personally feel that choosing names for their meanings, perhaps with a baby names book, allows the name and the character to really connect. But ultimately you need your readers to be able to remember and connect with your characters, so having a name that's as difficult to spell as remember makes it more challenging for a reader to connect with your piece. Not to mention it comes right back to the simple idea of; why re-invent the wheel.


One of my friends refuses to read fantasy BECAUSE of the names. She stumbles over the weird names, finds them too confusing, and gives up. Maybe George Lucas wasn't too far off the mark in giving most of his characters short simple little memorable names. Well, except for Jar-Jar. He'll ALWAYS be off the mark there.


I think the "names with meaning" thing can go too far, since most of us don't have names that were selected specifically to match the personality we didn't yet have as infants. Sometimes a name that matches the character so very perfectly (or is too deliberately the opposite) throws me out of the story. I was re-reading the first Codex Alera book last night (because I have this feeling that when the fifth book arrives, and you've only read the first two, you should really get cracking) and there's a main character whose name is Fidelias. He's the traitor. So hahaha, somebody named "faithful" is the traitor, what terrible irony. Fortunately it isn't hammered any harder than that.


A number of devoted fantasy readers have mentioned that my names are too normal. Monikers like Archibald, Bruce, Victor, Royce and Hadrian, are jarring to people used to seeing names like Ak'frrd- Ĥvrd. Some even complained that the names were in appropriate, like "Bruce," calling it too modern despite the fact that the name Bruce was around at least since 1275, (although as a surname to Scotland's Robert.) I do use meanings, but sparingly. As mentioned, used too often and it is a giveaway. I have too many juicy mysteries to be giving such large hints, although I did love the way Rowlings used character names in associations to the subjects her Hogwartz instructors taught. Not only was that fun, but also helpful to keep track of who was who.

Monday, February 8, 2010


It might come as a surprise to learn that I’m not the only one with a blog.

As it turns out there are quite a few others out there—-people who actually post daily. Anyone who has been following this site, knows I’m not one of those, but they do exist. I’m not a big web surfer, but a number of Internet-situated reviewers spotlighted my novels, which caught my attention. What I didn’t know less than a year ago is just how much like it’s name the web really is. Touch one thread and the tremor goes out. Book reviewers read each other’s sites and from my perspective it is fascinating, like watching a new world being born, a new Madison Avenue in an electronic infancy. They all seem very cordial, friendly even; unaware they might grow up to be competitors.

It is a nice time. The turn of the cybercentury is the way I imagine the early years of the automobile industry might have been, when if you had a garage, you too could start a car company. There’s room for everyone from the conglomerate connected site to the mother of two college age kids who likes to read. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to know a few of these. They knew me before I knew them. They did a review, or made a comment that got flagged by a search engine and the tremor went out.

Some are dedicated and serious folk who work hard at reading and reviewing books and are often the only conduit for independent or otherwise off the mainstream authors. The new filter for the masses that have made a career out of doing online reviews, although I doubt many make enough money at it to consider it more than a hobby. This is something I can relate to. Rewards for the effort come elsewhere and maybe that is the source of the crosstalk.

Fact is, I feel as if I’ve made some friends with people I’ve never met, but it’s a strange relationship, like befriending a wild animal. These are not tame pets. The same person who loved this book might hate my next, and how happy will I be to read how disappointing I am. Worse I think, is the inability to say thank you to those who have helped so much. Like feeding bears in Yellowstone, the author taint might ruin them, interfere with the public integrity—-their most precious commodity. For the same reason that I would never respond to a negative review, I can’t applaud a favorable one. People on Amazon are suspicious of a review if the poster lives in the same state as the author. Imagine the contamination associated with a writer who routinely thanked a reviewer for favorable posts. At the same time, it is these very posts that have propelled my work and taken it from a lark to a happening. I feel indebted with no means to repay.

And there are others who have taken it upon themselves to champion my books. Strangers who’s fingerprints I find repeatedly on the Internet, popping up in various forums to say, “yes I read those,” or commenting on sites who’ve reviewed them. The same names echoing. I suppose they are called fans, but I have issues with that term-—it is hard to imagine that I have fans, still hard to imagine I am pretty enough to turn heads. Maybe they are just really nice people who feel sorry for me. OMG you’re an author? I’m so sorry, do you have a cup? Here’s a nickel.

So if you have the time, you might consider looking at some of these other sites. Like I said this isn’t the only blog on the net--most are better and do a great job of filling in the gaps that the traditional media can’t handle. Who knows you might find your next favorite author.

Here is a wholly inadequate list of a few such sites. (Sorry if I missed you.) If you know of any other good sites like these, please mention them.

• A Dribble Of Ink
• Adventures In Reading
• A Fantasy Reader
• Andrew Wheeler's Antick Musings
• Bill Ward: genre writer and reviewer
• Blood of the Muse
• Book Fanatic
• Booklust
• Charlotte's Library
• Cheryl's Book Nook
• Cheryl’s Mewsings
• Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
• Dave Brendon's Fantasy & Sci-Fi
• Drey's Library
• Falcata Times
• Fantasy & Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
• Fantasy Book Critic
• Fantasy Book News & Reviews
• Fantasy Debut
• Fictionstream
• Follow that Raven
• Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
• Grasping for the Wind
• Gryphonwood
• Jeff VanderMeer
• KingOfTheNerds
• Leap in the Dark
• Library Love Fest
• Mark Lord's SFF and Historical Fiction
• Marty Halpern
• My World
• NextRead
• OF Blog of the Fallen
• One Persons Journey Through A World of Books
• Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy
• Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
• Post-Weird Thoughts
• Pyr Blog
• Ramblings&More
• Realms of Speculative Fiction
• Rob's Blog o' Stuff
• Sci Fi Songs
• Sandstorm Reviews
• Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys
• SciFiGuy
• Scooper Speaks
• Seak's Stamp of Approval
• Solaris Blog
• Speculative Fiction Junkie
• Speculative Horizons
• Stomping on Yeti
• TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
• Temple Library Reviews
• The Bodhisattva
• The Book Swede
• The Book Smugglers
• The Bookshelf Reviews
• The Overlook Press Blog
• The Soulless Machine Review
• The Walrus Said
• The Wertzone
• Top Cow Blog
• Torque Control
• Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
• Walker of Worlds

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crown Returns Home

Almost exactly two years ago, my wife Robin checked her email, which for her is like climbing Mt. Everest as she gets avalanches of mail. Sometimes as many as three hundred messages a day. A week goes by and her mailbox can easily exceed a thousand. So “checking her mail” can be a daunting task more associated with cleaning out a neglected closet, or perhaps more accurately, moving from a lived-in MacMansion to a one room apartment.

Back then, Robin was trying to get me published. I’m not good at such things. I am the creative visionary, she’s the practical engineer. (She actually has a degree in electrical engineering.) Robin is my imaginer, a term I stole from Disney to describe how she manages to build my dreams into reality. You see, she’s good with numbers, finances and business ventures, so when I decided to start my own advertising agency, she brought it to life setting up the paper work, arranging the office space and bringing me my first clients. And when I decided to become an author, she found me an agent.

My agent was a wonderful woman—the first in the business who I felt really understood and appreciated what I was writing. She helped me fix a few problems and then began sending the manuscript out, starting with the big houses. Sadly, after only a year she retired from the business when her husband relapsed with leukemia.

Having lost her, Robin took over the task of being my agent. Robin sent out several queries and we were considering my options of either attacking the YA market or self-publishing. The holidays had just come through and Robin was far behind on checking her email on that particular morning in January two years ago. The day lacked some of its drama due to this particular email having arrived months ago and left unopened in the cyber-ether of a Gmail account. The message she found buried below the drifts was from a publisher named Aspirations Media, Inc. saying they wanted to publish The Crown Conspiracy.

It was a thrill. Few moments in life compare to that singular moment when after a lifetime of struggling you see that contract from a publisher offering to spend their money because they believe your work is good enough to gamble on. Instantly everything changes as if a switch is flipped. Years of wasted time, become years of well invested work. People who knew you were foolish chasing impossible dreams, become people who always knew you would make it. You switch from being embarrassed when people ask you what you do, to being proud.

Aspirations Media, Inc. did that for me. They found me. AMI has four other authors besides myself. They aren’t a large press by any means. It didn’t matter—-they were the people who granted me the mantle of Author. They proved I wasn't wasting my time and they proved it to my harshest critic--me. For this I will forever be grateful.

I signed the contract for The Crown Conspiracy and AMI went to work editing it. Based on the response of his editors—-who reported that they were having trouble editing the book because they kept getting caught up in the story-—Lee Corrie, the owner of AMI, asked to put Avempartha under contract as well, even before Crown was released. Within sixth months, I went from aspiring writer to the author of two novels. Unfortunately, the economic crisis laid into the publishing trade. Several small houses went out of business. AMI weathered the storm, but six months later did not have the finances to pay for Avempartha’s release. Lee negotiated with us and I managed to get the rights back in time to see the book released on time and on schedule through Ridan Publishing.

Now, as you may have heard, The Crown Conspiracy has sold-out its first printing. Great news, but once again AMI faced another decision, one that would require another major investment of capital. Robin and I have been waiting to hear what AMI would do. The last of the books shipped out of the warehouse and still we waited. Then we got the call.

AMI has decided not reprint The Crown Conspiracy.

By the terms of the contract, AMI had up to six-months to get the book back into print, but this could be disastrous as readers tired of not being able to purchase the book would dry up and go away. There are also subtle aspects of the contract that could have delayed the printing beyond six-months and eventually caused a lengthy custody dispute that might have dragged out for years. But none of this happened. One of the reasons I was so happy to have AMI publish my books in the first place was Lee Corrie. Lee is a decent, and honest man of integrity, and when he knew he would not reprint Crown, he released me from the contract with no strings attached. He also released his lingering contract on Avempartha. This whole thing could have gone another way, and it has been a great relief to discover my trust in Lee and AMI were not ill-founded.

What does all this mean?

It means that I now have complete control of the series. All rights belong to me. Crown is already being refitted for republication through Ridan and pushed through the pipe at lightning speed. It will be back out and available within the month.

There will be minor corrections to the text, fixing typos, but no real change to the story. What’s more, the interior layout will be reformatted to match the subsequent books. Some of you have mentioned that Crown had an odd layout with “Parts” instead of chapters and “Chapters” instead of section breaks. In addition, the headers will now contain chapter names and the book title instead of my name and the book title. It sounds like a silly little thing, and it probably is, but it is something that bothers me as I sometimes need to look up details from the previous books and I never know what chapter I’m in. There will also now be a page inside indicating that it is the first book of a series. I cringe wondering how many people have read Crown and assumed it was all there was!

The cover will also undergo a small change following the original design I created for it as well as new quotes for the back. Perhaps best of all, Crown will now match the rest of the series, so when you place it on a shelf, the spines will all line up properly.

Once re-released, Crown should no longer appear “out of stock.” In addition, I am now free to pursue audio versions as well as foreign, and motion picture rights. All of which were complicated without control of the first book in the series.

So while I have been very pleased with AMI, I must say it is nice to have Crown home again.