OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
I love to learn from professional authors who are making a great income from their books, so today's interview is a treat!
Michael J. Sullivan is an award-winning epic fantasy author. Michael has experienced publishing in all its forms and is currently signed by Orbit Books with his latest book Heir of Novron out this month. [Video at the end]
- How Michael got started writing. He tried to be a writer years ago while being a stay-at-home Dad (while wife Robin was the breadwinner). After 10 years of trying to be get published, he gave up because he was repeatedly rejected. He went back into mainstream work with a publishing agency. Harry Potter inspired him. It was fun to read and kids and adults loved it. He got excited about reading genre fiction again and then started writing again. I get excited about my own story where I was blocked by literary fiction for years and now find genre fiction is (at least currently) my niche. Michael re-frames those years as learning the craft.
- On epic fantasy as a genre. Fantasy has elements that really can't exist. Science fiction is things that could happen vs. fantasy. They fall under speculative fiction which also contains horror. Epic fantasy is about scope and in most fantasy books, there are political aspects, history, religion described for whole new worlds. Fantasy is doing well because of the popular films of The Lord of the Rings and also the Harry Potter books. George RR Martin was also put onto TV so people who didn't use to read fantasy are now reading it.
- Is fantasy a male dominated market? In general, yes. But a lot of epic fantasy written by women might not be classified as such because of the perception. I'm still considering changing my writing name for my thrillers to see if it makes a difference.
- Tips for writing fantasy. Mine history and use it in your books. Mix and match e.g. take Chinese history and bring it into the present. What would have happened if the US had taken over England instead of the other way around? It gives a certain sense of place and legitimacy if you base it on history. Writers have a tendency to create a lot but you don't need to include all the detail in your book. You need the backstory for yourself but the reader will get a sense of depth even if you don't include it all.
- On fantasy word count. It just seems to be genre rule that books are long. Michael's are only 100 – 160,000 words and actually his publisher has put them together to make them longer.
- On what an author needs to know if they want to make a living as a writer. Don't write in a vacuum. Learn from other writers and understand the craft. Write a good book, something that you want to read. Don't write like someone else. Break down the aspects of what you like and write to that. Writing in a genre is also good as it is popular/ commercial. If you want to sell, then you have a market ready for you. Write a series as well because you pick up readers over time. If you want to make a living, you need to be prolific and have a number of books. You also have to market, that's the reality of the writer's life these days! If you want people to read it, you need to let people know it's available.
- Being prolific and writing fast doesn't mean the quality is bad. Even traditional publishers expect more than one book per year. The number of books you have out there is a huge marketing tool. Self-publishers can do things faster than traditional as you can bypass the overheads. Quality is not reflected in speed. A lot of people are not just writing, people have day jobs so it takes longer. If you're writing full-time, you can get the words down and out there. Some writers are also polishing forever and never getting the books out there. Quality should be judged on how many people are buying it.
- Life as a pro-writer. Michael writes in the morning as many authors do. Then in the afternoon, he does the admin side/ interviews/chores/blogging/errands etc. A lot of the work is also thinking and that can happen all the time. You do work a lot of hours but people only give you credit for the time typing!
- On publishing. Michael has done self-publishing, small press and mainstream publishing. It depends on what you want for you and your book. Most authors don't really know what they want. Do you want money and fame? Yes. Do you want absolute control over your book? Yes. Well, you can't have everything. So decide what you want and go from there. There are pros and cons each way. Michael has to sell a lot more books to make comparatively little money with traditional publishing. But he had already sold a lot through indie so this is a new way to reach people and new goals for the books. He's getting repeated buzz and access to new opportunities. Michael got his deal through an agent who was able to leverage the existing sales. Showing sales figures meant that the publishers were more interested. I'm interested in this from my own point of view with a series that is selling already.
- I previously interviewed Michael's wife, Robin Sullivan on 6 figure indie publishing which is another great interview
They are fun adventure fantasy books. Two thieves are hired to steal a sword and instead they find the murdered body of the King. The books are their adventures as they find a conspiracy that extends over the course of 6 books.