Monday, June 27, 2016

Guest: Michael J. Sullivan

Hey IWSG. I’m Michael J. Sullivan and I want to thank Susan for inviting me here for a little guest blogging.  To set some context, I’d like to give a very brief background about my history. My first The Crown Conspiracy) was published through a very small press. While well-meaning, it didn’t do much to move the needle, and after selling out a very small press run (about 2,200 copies) the rights reverted to me. I then self-published five novels (including that first one), and just before releasing the sixth and final novel of that series, my wife thought it might be a good idea to see if we could get the series picked up by a major publisher. Hence, The Riyria Revelations was re-released through Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). Since then, I’ve been walking the hybrid road, I’ve self-published Hollow World and The Death ofDulgath and signed a four book series with Del Rey and another two-book series with Orbit. At this point I live a pretty comfortable life as a full-time author. 

Why am I telling you all that? Well it sets the stage for what I’m going to blog about today and that relates to where we all start out and how to get to where most would consider “the promised land (full-time authorship). So here goes.

I talk to a lot of writers about marketing, and many point out that promotion for me (as someone with eleven books out, 9 of which are with major publishers) is a lot different than for them who are self-published or with a small press.  To that I say….BUZZZZZZZZ. Wrong, try again. With few exceptions, all fiction writers start from the same place. A book with absolutely no following. When I put out The Crown Conspiracy in 2008 I had no blog, no following, and twitter, Facebook, and ebooks didn’t even exist. So what’s my advice? Well, first of all let’s talk about my three keys to success.

1.      Write a really good book (and yes I know what a subjective statement that is, so let me mention how I’m defining “good” for the purposes of this conversation). A “good book” is one that people enjoy so much that they’ll tell others about it.  Every book that has “blown big” has this aspect. Yes, people may bemoan some of the writing skill in Fifty Shades of Gray, The Da Vinci Code, or Twilight.  But the fact is each of those books captured readers and they spread the word.

2.      You need more than one book. Most authors that “make it” do so because they keep putting out more titles: Stephen King, James Patterson, Nora Roberts – they write and keep writing. If you need $3,000 a month to pay your bills, it’s a lot easier to do that with six books earning $500 each than one book bringing in $3,000.

3.      You need to prime the pump.  What I mean by that is #1 doesn’t work if your books are “trees falling in the forest with no one to hear.” So you have to get them in front of readers and keep working at it until you see momentum by finding people you’ve not talked to who are reading your books.

That’s it. The whole recipe for success. Of course the execution is the hard part, so let me give some further tips.

·         Tip #1 – Until you have three books on the market, don’t spend a great deal of time marketing. Your time is better spent writing book #2 and #3…then you can start pounding the sidewalk. You should spend 90% - 95% of your time writing and only 5% to 10% of your time on “marketing.”

·         Tip #2 – So what do you do with that 5% - 10% that you are spending on marketing.  Well, the most important thing is to get reviews of your book.  The second requirement to marketing (beyond the 3 book thing) is you must have at least 25 reviews on Goodreads and 10 reviews on Amazon before you start any substantial marketing efforts.  Here’s my suggestion.  Get a Goodreads account and find other books that are similar to yours. Then filter reviews of that book to those who have rated it with a 4 or 5 and sort with “latest.”  Then send some nicely worded messages to those people. Explain that you are a new author who has written a book that you think they’ll enjoy based on what they said in their review. Explain that you’d like to offer them a free copy of the book in hopes that they’ll review it.  The key here is “hope” not in “exchange for.” Keep rinsing and repeating this until you have your 25 Goodreads reviews.  When people do review your book, write to them and thank them. Then ask nicely if they wouldn’t mind cutting/pasting the review onto Amazon as it will help others who are considering the book.

·         Tip #3 – Keep writing. Maybe your first book doesn’t go well. Chances are you released before it was ready for primetime.  Fix it. Work on constant improvement. Find beta readers and critique partners.  Re-release it under another title if you need to.  Or realize that it wasn’t such a good book after all and put that behind you and do better with the next one.  This is definitely a business that rewards persistence, and the only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying.

·         Tip #4 – Be flexible. The market is always changing and you need to adapt with it.  I’ve had 2 books with small-presses, 9 books released (and three more under contract) with the big five, and 8 books self-published. Make sure any contract you sign has adequate protection if things go wrong. If you think you can make more money by self-publishing a particular title, do so.  If you think it will help your brand to sign with a big-five (even if the money will be less), than do that. You don’t have to publish all your books that way…as long as you make sure the contract doesn’t limit you.  Agility is a key to my success and I want others to keep it in mind because where we start and where we end up are hopefully not the same thing.

Well, I hope this will help some of the people here, and I’m always available to answer questions. In fact, I have an AMA (Ask Me Anything) that will be running on reddit/r/fantasy on Tuesday June 28th and Goodreads has an “Ask the Author” feature and you can post questions there. Or, just drop me an email at Michael.sullivan.dc@gmail.com.  It would help if you put “Question from an IWSG member” in the subject, as it will make it stand out. In the meantime, keep writing!!

Find all Michael's books here. And visit his blog. His newest book, Age of Myth, is being released June 28th. Come on. IWSGers, and hit him with some questions. He is a model of interacting with readers and other writers, including sharing his email. What do you all think of Michael's tips?

 

22 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Welcome, Michael!
Keep writing books - that's a big factor. I've plenty of reviews on my books but I've not written one since my last release, so no surprise sales have shrunk.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Thanks for being here, Michael. I see so many writers who keep plugging that first book without moving on to the next. You're an inspiration with your productivity and openness to your readers.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thank you so much, Michael. This is a very encouraging post. I think every new book we write gives the last one new life. Plus we learn through the process.

Pat Hatt said...

Yep, have to keep writing indeed. I've gone back and edited some of my first ones, as you learn more along the way. Good advice on the contracts too, don't want to get limited.

Bish Denham said...

Great advice, particularly #2. I think that's actually something I can do!

Thanks!

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic advice. Writing and putting out more good books is the best way to get on that road to success. Thanks for sharing your tips!

Chrys Fey said...

Good advice, but be careful when sending messages to Goodreads members. Goodreads has a notice above the message box warning authors not to send readers review requests because they consider it spam.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'd be a little leery send requests through Goodreads for the reason Chrys stated. You can send messages to top Amazon reviewers though.

Olga Godim said...

Great post, very useful. Thank you, Michael.

Toinette Thomas said...

I love this advice. Also, having more books is good if you're going to fairs and cons. Your table looks more appealing with at least two titles on it.

Lux G. said...

Your story is inspiring. Many would have given up when things didn't go well, but you didn't. And look at you now. Living comfortably doing what you love.

Thanks for these tips. I sure learned a lot. Looking forward to reading your masterpiece.

L.G. Keltner said...

Thanks for the great advice!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! Thank you, Michael for your tips and your willingness to take questions!
I haven't tried to get reviews for anything other than my first book, but now I'm going to try that avenue for all three books in my trilogy. Plus, I think I just need to keep writing.

J. D. Brink said...

Thanks for the advice and the inspiration! I've recently shifted more toward writing and I think your tip on having 3 books (I'm assuming in one series) is a great idea, which I'm working towards now. It seems to me that marketing before that isn't much worth the time and resources it takes away from writing.
Great to hear from one of our ranks who's "made it"!

diedre Knight said...

So glad to 'meet' you, Michael! This entire post has been encouraging (we can do this!), enlightening and incredibly inspiring (we want to do this!). No wonder you're so successful! Congratulations and best wishes for all you can handle :-)
Susan, thanks so much for sharing Michael with us!

dolorah said...

Hey Michael; thanks for the advice. Navigating the publishing world still seems a crap-shoot to me. But I'm glad it is working out now.

...........dhole

J.L. Campbell said...

Great tips, Micheal, and thanks for sharing your story. Being flexible is very important in today's ever-changing world of book publishing if we want to make a mark.

Robert Bennett said...

All fantastic tips for young writers. Thank you. Gonna have to share this with my readers. :)

Michelle Wallace said...

Great tips, thank you.
With regards to tip no.#4, lots of writers are experimenting with the variety of publishing options available, and I get the impression that the hybrid author is on the rise.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Susan. Hi, Michael

Thanks for all the tips and your story Michael. It was so helpful and GOOD LUCK on your release! ALL the best!

Thanks Susan for featuring Michael today. It was a fantastic interview!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great tips and advice! I'm waiting to release until I have 2 or 3 books ready to go and others started. I'm not quick so I want to be prepared! :)

Tessa Conte said...

Hello Michael!

I absolutely adore your books! I don't know how may times I've read The Riyria Revelations (I'm currently listening to the audiobook version), it's such a classic tale!!! So nice to see you here!!!