Monday, 7 November 2011

Guest Post! Michael J. Sullivan ('The Riyria Revelations')

You won't see that much of me this week but that doesn't mean that I'm just leaving you high and dry in the meantime. No sir, I've got some bits and pieces lined up for you and I'm kicking things off in fine style as none other than Michael J. Sullivan has kindly agreed to provide a guest post here. Thanks Michael! I'll leave you in his capable hands...


I want to thank Graeme for inviting me here while he’s away. I promise not to leave too much of a mess, and if you notice a beer or two missing from the fridge, well I don’t know anything about that.

I doubt many here will know who I am, but hopefully you will soon...being here is certainly a step in the right direction. I’m Michael J. Sullivan and my Riyria Revelations has just been released by Orbit (Theft of Swords available now in the UK and coming November 23 in the US.

I feel a lot like the new guy at school, certainly a freshman, and as such I try to listen and learn from the cool guys hanging out at the table reserved for seniors. Recently I was at the Baltimore Book Festival and four seasoned authors from the SWFA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America) were chatting about the biggest mistakes new author’s make. Yep, you guessed it I’ve done every single one of the things they advised against.

Don’t Self-publish: The overall consensus was that no self-respecting author would ever resort to self-publishing. I had originally been published through a small press, and after they sold out the first printing (and having decided not to reprint), the rights reverted to me. I saw self-publishing as the only way to keep the books on a six-month release cycle. In the end, I put out five of the six books of The Riyria Revelations through a small press (Ridan Publishing) started by my wife and ended up selling more than 70,000 copies (mostly in ebooks) before they went out of print to make way for the Orbit versions.

Don’t write a series: The advice was to write a standalone novel, and if that goes well, then you can always write more afterward. This way you won’t waste time on something that has no legs. Ouch. Not only is mine a series, but I wrote all of them before any attempt was made to publish the first book. So okay, I knew that was a crazy thing to do even while I was doing it. But I’m actually really glad I made this choice. The Riyria Revelations starts off simply but by the end is actually a pretty complex tale. Often I found myself having to insert something back in book one or two based on what I was writing in book four or five. I would have regretted not being able to add an important plot point because the books were already out there.

Study the market: The advice was to determine what would sell…otherwise you’re just wasting time. Yeah, on the surface that makes a lot of sense, but I went a completely different way. When I started the series I had no intention on publishing the books, you see I had tried writing for the market for more than a decade and after getting nowhere I quit. When I finally picked it up again (another ten years later) I decided to write something that was light, fun, had dashes of humor, some mysteries, and would escalate as the series progressed. My target market was very narrow (me, my wife, and our dyslexic daughter). I know nowadays a lot of people like gritty, realistic fantasy, but I concentrated on creating something reminiscent of the fantasy books I fell in love with as a kid.

Write the strongest book possible: Also makes perfect sense, and I’ll tell you right now that The Crown Conspiracy (book one of Theft of Swords) is probably the weakest of the six books – and I did that by design. Keep in mind that I wrote everything before publishing the first book and I wanted the books to escalate…for layers to build…mysteries to deepen. My goal was to make each book better than the one that came before so that the final book, Percepliquis, is actually my magnum opus. Constructing the series this way is a huge risk. Some people may find the beginning too light for their tastes and leave the series before getting the full effect. A big part of what makes the last book so good is that I slowly reveal the world and my characters…a bit at a time…with careful planning and deliberation. It won’t be until the final book is released
that I’ll really know whether my gamble paid off or not.

Don’t quit your day job:
Well, technically I had no day job, so I actually didn’t go against this advice. I started writing full time in 2005 while my very supportive wife provided our sole income. In April, we had a big enough nest egg set aside from self-publishing, Orbit’s advance, and a whole slew of foreign sales that she was able to quit her day job. I must say that as rewarding as writing this series has been, being able to do this for Robin is probably what has provided me the most joy.

So, there you have it…confessions of a fantasy author newbie who has done everything wrong and is hoping that it all turns out right in the end. I’m going to go get the vacuum now to destroy the evidence of the chips I ate while writing this. I just wanted to say once again thanks to Graeme for inviting me over and I’m hoping to see what he thinks of my little project sometime soon.


Yagiz said...

Thanks for the blog post. I'm not an aspiring writer but I really enjoyed it.

Oathsworn said...

Hello there Mr Sullivan,

first of all, you are not so unknown as you wrote and thought.
I am following your blog since it was announced (somewhere around spring this year I think)that you would be published by Orbit, and I would get a chance to get my hands at your "republished" books, what was kind of challenging here in Germany before your deal with Orbit.
Now I know what I want for Christmas already!!! ;-)

When I read your post here at Graemes' place I had to think about a quote that Edi from Edi's book lighthouse blogged last saturday under his "Quotes" section.
I take the liberty to quote "his quote" (ugly wording) here:

"A person has three choices in life. You can swim against the tide and get exhausted, or you can tread water and let the tide sweep you away, or you can swim with the tide, and let it take you where it wants you to go."

Seems sometimes it's quite worthwhile to swim against the tide.

Good luck with your series!


Brantastian said...

I wonder if the advice against self publishing is a little outdated - I think it is becoming more acceptable, and if you've spent an age writing a book then it seems better to self publish than to never see it in print at all.

I admire the ambition in writing the whole series like that. That you made the first one deliberately weaker is an interesting admission - I have to admit I haven't read it but I'm definitely intrigued.

ediFanoB said...

I'm so glad that you did not follow the advice.

I finished The Crown Conspiracy which i the first part of the Theft of Swords omnibus.
What a captivating read. I love Hadrian, Royce and Myron.

And I could read it because you did not follow the advice.

You wrote "The Crown Conspiracy (book one of Theft of Swords) is probably the weakest of the six books."

That sounds unbelievable for me after reading the first book.

I hope that many people will read your books which are a great opportunity to escape this hectic and busy world fora while. Discover the alluring Riyria Revelations.

E. KaIser Writes said...

What a great post! Thank-you for putting this info out there. I am so glad to hear that you have gone at it 'backwards' and it still worked out/is working out.
You make the world seem a more hopeful place!
Great post, Mr. Sullivan, and many happy returns!