Author Interview: Michael J Sullivan

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I had a chance to interview Michael Sullivan recently. He’s a super cool guy who also happens to be a well-known fantasy author. Of all places, I met him at a Wattpad online forum, proving that you’re never too big of an author to hang out social writing sites that are want to churning out sparkly vampire fan fiction and written in aggressively passive verb tenses. Picking his brain about writing and promotion was great and he’s got some amazing things to share with writers of all stripes.

What are your books about?

Because I write the kind of books I want to read, there are some common elements across all fifteen of my novels. Each are about people I would like to have as friends, doing deeds and going on adventures I find exciting, and taking place in worlds I’d enjoy visiting.  So in general my books are light-hearted, witty, and fun rather than grim and dark. I wouldn’t want to escape to a post-apocalyptic hell scape nor would I want to be surrounded by rainbows and butterflies. There has to be challenges and setbacks but any setting that would require Prozac before reading isn’t for me. My characters have less than ideal pasts, and a lot of excess baggage, but they are generally on a path of redemption—striving to be better men and women. They are also the types that rise to the occasion when needed rather than sinking to the depths of depravity. A common aspect about my books is that you feel good when reading them and are sad when finished because you miss the time you spent with your new-found friends.

How would you describe your writing?

My books are like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid set in a fantasy world like Game of Thrones. I like writing about duos where the bonds of friendship are forged through years of watching each other’s back.

What project(s) are you working on now, what specials/sales/etc. are upcoming on your works, and where can readers go for more?

 The first book in a new series will be coming out on June 28th. I’m still doing final review of printer’s proofs and listening to the final recording of the audio book for that title. It’s called Age of Myth and it’s being released by Del Rey (fantasy imprint of Penguin Random House). All five books of this series (Legends of the First Empire) have been written, and I’m currently working on a last-pass edit to the final book. I hope to have that done by the end of April or mid-May, and then I’ll be able to start a new project while those four books go through the various post-writing phases (cover design, beta testing, publisher structural editing, etc.).  What that new project will be, I just don’t know yet. I’m trying not to think about it until I’m done editing Age of Empire. I don’t want to distract myself.

As for sales & specials, I’m going to be joining eight other authors in a joint promotion from April 15th – 20th. I’ll be significantly discounting the ebook version of The Death of Dulgath and selling it for $2.99 rather than $9.99. We haven’t officially announced that sale, but if you go to any of the major retail ebook sites on tax day you’ll see the discount.

Also, my publisher and I are going to be doing a big pre-order promotion for the book coming out in June. For it we’ll be giving away signed bookmarks and bookplates as well as a bunch of digital material including an extended preview of Age of Myth, access to high-resolution maps, screen savers featuring the amazing cover artwork (created by famed fantasy-artist Marc Simonetti), an extensive author Q&A, and character profiles to show people what inspiration I was drawing from. I’m not entirely sure when we will be announcing that promotion, I’m waiting for bookmark and bookplate designs from my publisher, but I think by the end of the month.

Can you tell us about your early writing career and what things you did/are doing that help you get your books in front of readers?

New or aspiring authors often lament about not having a following and how hard it is to establish one. The thing to remember is we’ve all started from that exact same place. When I began writing, Twitter and Facebook weren’t around, and I didn’t even have a blog or a website. The hard truth is a lot of the heavy lifting to get a book noticed is going to be done by the author. Even someone like myself (who has the marketing backing of big-five publishers) only get the spotlight shined for a few months. The publisher will always have a “next batch” of books to promote. So authors are going to have to pick up the slack when it comes to marketing, and it’s much easier than when I started out.

In the early days, you really are getting readers one at a time. For me, I utilized bloggers on goodreads—a logical choice since those sites are where readers congregate to find out about new books. Sometimes it’s a matter of reaching out to someone who likes a book similar to yours and offering them a free copy in the hopes they’ll post a review. Once they do, then others start hearing about the book, and if you keep “priming the pump” with new readers, the word will start to spread. Now, of course that requires that you’ve written a book that is so good that people WANT to tell others about it, and that is the hard part.

In many ways, you need a “body of work” so in the early days concentrate on writing mor books than promoting the first book. Once you have three books released, then you can start thinking about marketing, and before you market, make sure you have a good number of reviews…at least 12 on Amazon and 50 on goodreads. Once you have those, then you can think about spreading the word and there are whole books written on the subject, many by some great authors who have done well. I highly recommend Joanna Penn (both her blog and her books) as well as David Gaughran. For those consider going the self-publishing route I would definitely check out Guy Kawaski’s book: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a book. It has a wealth of really great information in it.

If you had to start over right now with no established name and three rough draft novels on your hard drive–what are the first things you would do to pursue a life as a writer?

The “writing gig” is so much easier now than when I started out. Heck, e-books weren’t even a thing back in 2008. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is you have to write a really good book…then do it again, and again, and again. As I mentioned before, until you have three books out, it doesn’t make much sense to do a lot of marketing. Think about it, if you “hook a reader” through constant promotion, they’ll read one book, like it, but then have nothing else to buy. But, if you have three books out, then they’ll move right in to your next one and you’ll get more money from a single customer.  So my suggestion is to concentrate on polishing the three rough drafts until you have the best possible books you can. If you start out with a quality product, then the marketing efforts are going to go so much better, so that is where I would suggest concentrating your efforts.

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