Sunday, April 30, 2023

ChatGPT and Theft of Swords

Okay, so I  was curious, so I went into ChatGPT and asked: "Can you write a recap of Michael J. Sullivan's Theft of Swords?"

Here is what it said:

The Theft of Swords is a fantasy novel that follows the adventures of two thieves, Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, as they are hired to steal a sword belonging to a wealthy lord. The duo discovers that the theft is part of a larger conspiracy to overthrow the king, and they find themselves caught up in a dangerous political game.

As the story unfolds, Hadrian and Royce become embroiled in a series of increasingly perilous situations. They are pursued by soldiers, captured by enemy forces, and forced to fight for their lives against powerful foes. Along the way, they encounter a cast of colorful characters, including a cunning princess, a loyal squire, and a mysterious wizard.

As the conspiracy against the king deepens, Hadrian and Royce must use all of their skills and cunning to stay alive and protect those they care about. In the end, they uncover the true mastermind behind the plot and confront their greatest enemy in a thrilling showdown.

Overall, The Theft of Swords is a fast-paced and engaging adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. With its memorable characters, intricate plot, and richly imagined world, it's no wonder that Michael J. Sullivan has become one of the most popular fantasy authors of our time.

I'm good with that. Not sure who the loyal squire is but I'm thrilled with "With its memorable characters, intricate plot, and richly imagined world, it's no wonder that Michael J. Sullivan has become one of the most popular fantasy authors of our time."

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Orbit Works - but it doesn't. Not for the publisher, and certainly not for the authors.


Hey all, Robin here. I'm temporarily taking over Michael's blog about a recent development in the book industry.  As you may know, we have been published through Orbit in the past, and while both of us have benefited from that relationship, I think their new imprint: Orbit Works is a very bad idea.

What is it? Well, it's a digital-only imprint to distribute Sci-fi and Fantasy titles. A few points about them:

  • It's a digital-only imprint - so no physical books are produced or bookstore distribution (one of the best perks about going traditional. I should note that in some cases, they MAY produce print-on-demand books, but even if they do that, they won't be sold in bookstores because the unit cost of a print-on-demand book (and the fact that it has to be paid upfront) doesn't work in the retail chain where 50%+ of the book's list price goes to the retailer.

  • They don't offer advances - again, this is one of the perks of being traditionally published. You have a guarantee of income.

  • They require audio rights - right now, these are the most lucrative rights there are for books. I have several "audio only" contracts in the six-figure range and one that is seven figures to turn over these incredibly lucrative rights to a publisher that offers no advance. 

  • They pay 50% of net on ebooks and 25% of net on audio - now granted the 50% is 25% more than a standard traditional publishing contract, but given their up-front costs are so low and they don't have to shell out money for printed copies, it's still highly weighted to them.

  • They pay twice yearly - this is the same as I'm paid, but given the digital only nature of their business I don't understand why they don't pay like amazon and audible - which is monthly.
Obviously, Orbit Works is targeting the self-published authors.  But no self-publishing author who is doing well would ever accept a contract under these terms. After all, they are cutting their ebook sales in half, and their audio sales by 15% (ACX self-publsihing pays 40% of net). Given that, Orbit Works will only be getting the "bottom of the barrel" titles - and it's nearly impossible to create a silk purse from this sow's ear.  If they believe in a title, it'll go to Orbit, but for works that they feel so-so about, those will be published under the Orbit Works imprint, and that means it's going to get a bad reputation for poor quality.  

So what DOES Orbit Works do for an author?
  • Cover design

  • Editing

  • Distribution

  • Marketing

  • Audiobook production
As for the first two, self-published authors are already doing this now, and they can pick the artists they want and editors who they vet.  I'm not confident that, given how little Orbit is investing in these titles they are going to pull out all the stops for books for this imprint.  As for distribution, Oribit Works isn't going to have anything that isn't already available to self-published authors. Now, if they were doing print runs and brick-and-mortar selling, THEN they would have a leg up, but they already said they aren't doing this.  As for marketing, the sad truth is traditional publishing does next to no promotion for a large % of their titles, so why would they do a great deal for this second-rate imprint?  

On the last point, it is true that audiobook production is expensive, but self-published authors don't have to pay that for themselves. As I mentioned previously, there are a ton of self-published authors who receive audio contracts from the likes of Audible Studios, Podium Publishing, Tantor, Recorded Books, Dreamscape, and more. Not only do these companies pay for all the production costs, but they also provide advances - which Oribit Works does not.

To make matters worse, the head of this imprint recently posted on Twitter: 

This doesn't bode well.  Anyone who knows anything about the Lit RPG market knows that (a) they have been completely snubbed by publishing, (b) agents won't touch them with a ten-foot pole, and (c) there are a large number of authors that are pulling in many hundreds of thousands of dollars doing a rapid release of these types of books.  

So to answer Brit's question. The reason you don't have submissions is no one will buy these works, so agents don't sign authors who write these books. If you are trying to put forth that YOU want to be the imprint to break that mode, well, the structure of your compensation won't cut the mustard. IF you were making a REAL competitive offer for these kinds of works, you'd be coughing up some extremely high advances, and even then, most LitRPG people would turn them down because Orbit's lack of knowledge of this subgenre doesn't bode well for a "good" launch of a title in this space.  For instance, most LitRPG readers are using Kindle Unlimited (a subscription service - the Netflix of books), and with a few exceptions, traditional publishers don't release their books through that program. 

Hey, I get it.  There are self-published authors who are absolutely "killing it," and Orbit has its eyes on getting their hooks into that money. They are right to take LitRPG seriously - there is tons of money being made in a subgenre that is virtually non-existent in traditional publishing. But trying to do so with contract terms that are custom-made for the most desperate of all authors means they'll get what they pay for.  The authors who write well will continue self-publishing, and all you'll get are the truly desperate (and generally untalented authors) that would fail if self-published because their work is substandard. In other words, if all you are looking to do is pick the low-hanging fruit, you are likely to find that you have to pick up the rotting produce, and no one wants to eat that.

Anyway that's my two cents worth.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023


(This post is in response to an inquiry made by a reader asking how I created the imagery, covers, and maps for my books. The question was made on Discord, but the response was too large to be posted there. So now, everyone gets to see the response whether you wanted to or not.)

First off, I had an art scholarship to the art school Center for Creative Studies when I graduated high school. 

Center for Creative Studies Detroit

That's not to say I learned much there, and only completed a year and a half before the money ran out. I was poor. I mention this to show that I planned a career as a commercial artist long before I thought of writing for a career. Later, after landing a job at a small company as an illustrator, I used one of the first graphic computers. (It was the size of a small kitchen.) No one else at the studio could figure out how to use it, but I was fascinated and stayed late at work (2-3am) for weeks playing with it and taught myself to make logos for the companies we had as clients. Later still, I got an early Compaq personal computer and began learning how to use a couple of new programs called CorelDRAW and this other neat one called Photoshop. 

I mastered these programs.  (Back then it was a badge of advanced achievement if you knew how to create drop shadows or create embossed text.) Then I learned how to use QuarkExpress. (The leading layout program--the MS Word--of its day. Everyone hated it, because of the tech support, but everyone used it.) With these three programs I founded an advertising agency of my own at a time before computer graphics was common, and printers had to be taught how to use the files. My wife took over getting the clients and I made her my president while I handled all the creative stuff as Creative Director. We had five employees and a beautiful office in a high rise glass building. 

Highwoods office building, the home of Spectrum Design

I did ads and brochures for companies like AT&T and a few global businesses like ABB. Mostly tech stuff. 

All of this is to say that I have a strong background in commercial art, and layout design. So when it came to making my own books, I had all the necessary equipment and all the know-how and skill. I had spent a decade professionally manipulating photos, learning how to use Bryce (one of the first 3D modeling programs) and basically laying out multi-page booklets. So making a novel was easy. I also painted as a hobby since I was twelve. 


A couple of pieces I did in college — circa 1980 (so before computers)

Now, to the books

I told AMI (my first publisher) what I wanted for the cover of  Crown Conspiracy: a castle in the distance and a river. I was thinking Alan Lee, but this is what they came back with. 

I was less then pleased. It was a thumbnail, but it instilled no confidence. So, I painted a new one and gave it to them for free. 

They liked free, so they used it. They liked free so much they asked me to do Avempartha’s cover, too. Truth is, I’m not that great of an illustrator. Marc is way better, which is why I pushed for him to do my covers when I went to Del Rey. 

Now, the maps 

So mapping Elan is a story lost to history. I created the very first map way back in 1989. I also had tons of notes about the world. These were locked up in my attic. When I started writing Crown, (in 2003-4) I searched for and found the box with all these notes and the map. Then—somehow—I accidentally threw it out thinking it was trash before I ever got a chance to even look at it. Yeah, I was pretty pissed. No one to blame but myself. So, I had to recreate everything from memory…starting with the map. 

I went online and found there was mapping software. I downloaded it and played. This was very crude software (that no longer exists)  but I managed to create a land form that was close to what I needed. Then I pulled that into photoshop and built out the rest.

This, however, doesn’t print well. So, then I had to lose the colors. Grays didn’t print either, so I had to go all the way to black and white.

I never liked this map much, so when I began the Legends series, I did a complete rework. This time I went about the whole process differently. I began with the real world. Avryn is about the size of Ireland. So I began looking at satellite photos of Ireland. Starting with this, I copied and pasted sat images of different regions of the world blending them together until I had what I was looking for. Then rather than go black and white, I simply made the water white, and faded the landforms to near ghost images so the black text would be readable when printed. 

I also created all the book symbols using Illustrator (which replaced CorelDRAW as the new Vector image draw program.) 

And that’s the story of the maps and a bit about the visuals and covers. Hope this answers your question.