Michael J Sullivan is the bestselling SF author of the Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles and Hollow World. Michael first self-published his novels to great success and the Riyria books were later picked up by Orbit.
Michael is a fantastic guy and was kind enough to answer a few questions for the City of Masks blog – you can find Part 1 of the interview here and Part 2 below.
....continued from Part 1
AC: I agree, it’s more fun to have no idea how they did it at first! To stay with self-publishing for a moment, I wanted to ask how you found the Kickstarter process for Hollow World? Obviously you had an awesome fan base, but I bet it was still stressful?
MS: The Hollow World Kickstarter was amazing and not the least bit stressful. But, there are two big reasons for it. First, my wife is the one who came up with the idea, and she pretty much engineered the whole thing. We discussed things like what the video should be, what were possible funding levels, what “extras” could we provide. But she had everything all organized and just went down her checklist – so she made it REALLY easy. The second reason it wasn’t stressful is the project funded right away. We were 150% funded after the first two days, so it’s not like I had to turn over rocks to find people. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the project and it’s the fans who spread the excitement about the project.
The coolest thing about Kickstarter is it’s where some of the coolest projects are being launched. The “Coolest” cooler, Pebble watches, Lumio lamps, Reading Rainbow, I could go on and on. It’s great to feel like you are part of bringing something to market that might not come into existence if it wasn’t for the backers who want it so much to pre-order. Plus I’m able to provide all kinds of “perks” to backers that you just can’t do when the book is bought from a bookstore or on Amazon. All in all, it was a great experience, and I would definitely do it again.
AC: Two days is pretty fantastic :) Is there anything on the horizon in terms of Kickstarting something new?
MS: Yes, in fact, I’m about to announce a Kickstarter for my next Riyria Chronicle (#3) called the Death of Dulgath. The project is setup, and I’m just waiting for approval from Kickstarter for it to go live. For Hollow World, I had no idea what to expect, and I was asking for money to do the production of the book (editing, cover design, etc.). For this Kickstarter, I’m going to handle those costs on my own. But I would love to release the book in bookstores which means I need a “print run.” Plus, most of my readers have been asking for hardcover copies (and my publisher hasn’t done hardcovers in the past – although my new series from Del Rey will be in that format). So, this Kickstarter is being done to see if I can raise the money to do a hardcover print run. The goal is pretty high ($26,000) and even if I hit that I’ll still be paying about $7,000 out of my own pocket. The good news is if it doesn’t fund, I’ll still put out the book. The only difference is there won’t be hardcovers. If that is the case, the book will only be available in print-on-demand trade paperbacks and ebooks.
AC: In my opinion you’re one of the most approachable writers out there – and certainly many writers are approachable, but I feel like your willingness to interact with your readers goes above and beyond, it’s impressive! Is it an easy balance for you, dividing time between interacting with readers and the writing of books?
Well, thanks for your kind words. The truth is that talking with readers, and aspiring authors, is a joy for me. It’s not a burden or something I feel “I have to do” it’s something “I look forward to doing.” Writing is a reward in itself, but it’s also very isolating. I think we all write because we want to reach out to others and touch them in some way. To hear from people who enjoyed mu writing takes my favourite activity and elevates it past amazing.
As for dividing time, I’m not sure how all writers are, but I can’t write from dusk to dawn. I have maybe four or five good hours in me for a day. There are sometimes when I can return later in the night, but I need a good amount of time away from the "writing aspect.” If I push much beyond that, the writing will need serious editing, so when I know I’ve reached that point where quality starts to diminish, it’s best to stop and do other things. Sometimes I use it as a little break. If I just finish a scene I might jump on the Internet, like getting up and stretching my legs. Then I can dive back into the story. I hope there is never a time when I’m “too busy” to thank people who have expressed their love of my work. It’s the fuel that feeds my furnace, so the interactions help immensely.
AC: I feel like that sort of rapid reader feedback is a bit like playing a gig – you get an idea about what’s working and what isn’t working pretty quick, because the audience is right there, you can make changes mid-set. Maybe self-publishing is a little similar, in that you as author-publisher, can be more nimble than a huge publisher, more able to react to audience response quicker. Has there been a particular moment where you got invaluable feedback from the audience and acted on it?
MS: Because I write the entire series before publishing the books, I really can’t “change on a dime” based on reader feedback. If a particular character isn’t well liked, or a given direction isn’t well received…well the next four or five books are already “done,” so I really can’t do much about it. But, I do have a really extensive beta process so the books have gone through a lot of eyes before publishing, and definitely changes are made on that early feedback. I’ve had characters that were slated to die that I saved, chapters that were cut, events that were re-ordered, new chapters written, all kinds of things. The beta process makes the books so much better, and by the time I’m done with the beta, the books are in great shape.
Going back to The Chronicles books for a minute…they are kinda strange, as they are “a series” but not in the same way that Revelations or The First Empire is. Those other two works have a definite start and end. But The Riyria Chronicles are like a series of standalones—same world and characters, but I can quit writing those books at any time without leaving bit plot points hanging. So for THOSE books, the readership has a big influence from a standpoint of whether there will be more books or is it time to stop. Basically I put a book out, wait for the feedback, and if people still want more, well I’d love to do so. So far, I’ve not gotten to the point where people are saying, “Stop!” but when I get the feeling I’m getting near it, I will.
AC: How hard will it be to stop if you reach that point? After writing about a pair of great characters and a world for so long, it’d have to be a tough moment?
MS: Well, I have all kinds of stories – many of which don’t involve Royce and Hadrian or the world of Elan. I guess if that wasn’t the case, then it might be more difficult to leave the pair behind. But given that I have a lot of other things that I would like to write, it’s not the end of the world. Sure, I like writing about the pair, but it also takes me away from all the new books that don’t get “out there” because my time has been spent on Riyria stuff. Ideally, I’d like to do a mix. Maybe put out a Royce and Hadrian book every two years and other books in between.
Huge thanks to Michael for agreeing to do the interview, really enjoyed reading more about your process and characters.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
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