Saturday, December 31, 2016
Sure, it has a lot to do with Age of Myth being in Audible's 2-for-1 sale, but there are plenty of other books in that sale, so I'll take a success story where I can find it. In any case, there is only a few more hours left in the sale, so check out the titles and grab a few from your wish list before the sale ends tonight at 11:59 PM PST. I'm sure you'll be busy kissing in the new year. so better check out the sale now ;-)
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
The Christmas holidays is over, but you can still get something just for you! Audible is running a 2 for 1 sale, and thanks to so many people picking up a copy of Age of Myth, it's once more #1 on the Best Selling Epic Fantasy charts for audio books!! Thanks to everyone who is interested enough to give it a try. As with my other works, it's narrated by the amazing Tim Gerard Reynolds-a performance that shouldn't be missed!
Monday, December 26, 2016
So it was with great honor, and extreme pleasure to find Age of Myth made Sarah's Bookworm Blues Top picks for 2016. Sarah is works tirelessly to unite readers and writers, and I'm so pleased to see how her blog has grown over the years to be one of the pre-eminent site in the fantasy blogging community.
|A Green and Ancient Light||Frederic S. Durbin||-||4.10||416|
|The Devil You Know||K.J. Parker||Book 2|
|Borderline||Mishell Baker||Book 1|
|All the Birds in the Sky||Charlie Jane Anders||-||3.59||9,702|
|The Last Days of Magic||Mark Tompkins||-||3.24||1,008|
|The Wolf Road||Beth Lewis||-||4.03||1,583|
|The Forgetting Moon||Brian Lee Durfee||Book 1|
Five Warrior Angels
|The Last Days of Jack Sparks||Jason Arnopp||-||3.92||1,071|
|A Gathering of Shadows||V.E. Schwab||Book 2|
Shades of Magic
|False Hearts||Laura Lam||Book 1|
|Stiletto||Daniel O’Malley||Book 2|
|Wall of Storms||Ken Liu||Book 2|
|The Wheel of Osheim||Mark Lawrence||Book 3|
Red Queen's War
|Age of Myth||Michael J. Sullivan||Book 1|
Legends of the First Empire
|After Atlas||Emma Newman||Book 2|
Friday, December 23, 2016
In my last post about why it takes so long between books, I promised some additional details about the various steps a book goes through (at least for me and my novels). So here it is. Get ready, it's kinda long:
- (1) Before I start a book, it’s usually been banging around in my head for a year or more. Not the whole story, just certain scenes or ideas. So step #1 is to get a Moleskine notebook and write down all those bits and pieces. While doing that, I start forming the basis of the outline.
- (2) Next comes research. If I’m going to write about bronze-age peoples, I need to know what kind of buildings they lived in and how to build them. How did people cook before pots and pans? Did you know you could boil water in a bag made from an animal’s stomach? I have to learn all kinds of “daily life” facts. If my book takes place on the high seas, then I need to know the various ranks and customs. I do the research up front, so I don’t have to pause during the writing stage.
- (3) Step three is to make my Scrivener file. In it, I assign names to characters and places (I have a long list that I’m always adding to, and I usually pick from there). I also create character profiles, so I don’t change a person’s hair color midway through the novel because I forgot what I used earlier in the story. Next, I’ll set up my chapters and how many sections each contains and determine who is the best person to be the POV (point of view) to see that scene through. That can, and often does, change. For instance, when I started the book I’m working on now, (the fourth Riyria Chronicle), I wrote the first chapter from one person’s POV, and it just wasn’t flowing well. When reading the opening the next day, I picked someone else, and now it has improved significantly.
- (4) Then comes the writing stage. I write every morning, no days off. At the end of each day, if I don’t have a clear idea for the next day’s section, I’ll go for a walk to work on that. By doing this, I always have the next day’s scenes figured out (and sometimes many days’ worth). I write sequentially through the book (never understood how some writers can skip around as they do), and as I mentioned earlier, I sometimes will take side trips during the journey or change my ending destination complete.
- (5) When I finish the first draft, I have a list of things I need to fix up written in my Moleskine. These are from my side trips or new things that I discovered that need a foundation laid. I’ll also examine the story as a whole to see if I can “take it to the next level.” In some cases, that’s led to a twist even I didn’t see coming. This part of the process doesn’t last long. Usually, I’ll spend a week or two on it.
- (6) As I mentioned, I edit the previous day’s work at the start of the next day, so the prose is in relatively good shape. At this stage, it’s getting close to being ready for others, but I still have to read it cover to cover and make minor adjustments and fix sentences that are weak or wordy.
- (7)Now we’re at the stage where other eyes can see it, and that starts with my alpha reader, Robin. She’s my wife and an exceptional structural editor. She’ll go through the whole book and come back with a list of impressions: things she liked, those she didn’t, plot holes or problems in motivation (she’s great at those). She’ll also provide suggested changes, but more often than not, I’m able to come up with a better solution. We’ll also have long detailed conversations on various topics, and in a few days, I have a new list of things to address. I spend about one to three weeks implementing those.
- (8) At this point, the book is probably 90% of the way to the final product, but that last 10% requires A LOT of work (mostly by people other than myself).
- (9) Robin will copy and line edit the whole book. She’s polishing the apple and removing some of the wordiness that I missed. I then read through her work accepting most of it but reverting maybe 10%. At this stage, it’s ready for input from the “outside world.”
- (10) Now the book goes to my agent, editor, and beta readers. Robin runs the beta reading program, and it’s quite extensive. From those three sources she gathers all the feedback and organizes it, so I can quickly evaluate all the input. I go through and make the changes I agree with. Generally, this means only minor tweaks here and there. In one case, a passionate beta reader saved the life of a character who had died, and I was able to spin his “living” into a new plot which I could pull on in future books.
- (11) After I make those changes, Robin goes over it again—more copy and line editing polish. Then the book goes to Linda (an editor I’ve used for both my traditional and self-published works). She’s great. Her changes are usually in the accept/reject category, and Robin is so familiar with my style that she can handle 90% of the things Linda points out. She flags any issues she’s uncomfortable dealing with on her own. And, of course, I read the whole book through again. I may make a few adjustments or undo a change they made, but at this point, it’s simply a matter of nitpicking.
- (12) Now it’s ready for the publisher’s copy editor (if traditionally published). If I’m self-publishing, I usually have a second freelance editor go over it. Again, their changes are almost 100% accepted by Robin, and I might adjust 5% or so.
- (13) Now the book is ready for layout, and at this stage, there shouldn’t be any content changes. Once it is laid out, I read it one final time and might adjust a handful of sentences across the entire book. It’s also possible to find a few typos at this stage, but beyond those kinds of things, nothing else is changed to prevent layout issues.
- (14) Finally, the book is off to the printer, and the anticipation starts. Waiting to hear from the readers about how the book turned out is always stressful, so I pour my energy into the next project.
Now, let's bring this back to the books I'm working on now, and where each stands.
- Untitled Book #4 of Riyria Chronicles: is on step #4. It's still very early in the process, and has been hampered with work on the cabin, reviewing Age of Swords before final copyediting, and various holiday stuff. Still, I plan on having it to Robin for beta reading around the end of February.
- Age of Swords: is on step #12 and sometime in January I should get the copyedits back. It only takes a few days to go through them then the book will be off to layout.
- Age of War: is at step #7 - Robin is going through the book, and making a list of structural edits that she thinks needs addressing.
- Age of Legends, Age of Wonder Age of Empire: have all gone through a first set of alpha reading and my implemented changes but because the work was so extensive it is basically at a pre-step #7 stage as Robin will have to do a whole new alpha read on those books. This really can't happen until she is done with Age of War which will be about the time I'm done with Riyria Chronicles #4. Since Riyria Chronicles #4 and Age of War will both be hitting much sooner than any of these books, it is likely that these will sit for a bit, but once work on them starts, I suspect we'll rip through all of them in one fell swoop.
And that, as they say is that. So as I alluded to in my last post there really is a lot of difference between written and done. But we're hard at work making sure you get the books just as soon as you can. Thanks for your continued support!!
Thursday, December 22, 2016
It's a question I've often heard since the release of Age of Myth, mainly because people know I wrote the entire series before submitting the first book to a publisher. Some have even speculated that it's a nefarious plan to extend the time between books artificially. I assure you that's not true. What is the truth? Simple. There's a big difference between finished and done. Let's pull back the veil a bit, so that you can see behind the curtain.
Del Rey offered a substantial advance for a four-book deal. The only wrinkle was they didn't want any other books coming out from me until their series was fully released (plus a six month period of exclusivity). Since we were negotiating the contract in early 2015 and their first book wouldn't come out until June 2016, that meant six years before another Riyria Chronicle release. That just didn't work for me. So, it was time to get creative, and we came up with the following:
- Riyria Chronicle #3 (The Death of Dulgath) could be released before the Legend's books as long as it could hit in 2015.
- Del Rey would receive the first three books of the Legends of the First Empire and a fourth yet to be named book based in Elan. This last book could be another Riyria Chronicle (assuming people wanted more after book #3's release), the 4th book of The Legend Series, or the first book in a new series that explores when the First Empire fell. This last story is essentially the backstory for Esrahaddon, Jerish, and Nevrik. If you've read the Riyria Revelations, those names will have some meaning to you.
- We placed the release schedule at once book a year because (a) I knew there was still a lot of work to finish and (b) I knew I'd be able to hit those deadlines.
Okay, so with that decided, the clock began ticking. Priority one was to write the third Riyria Chronicle tale. The good news is it came together quickly and without any major plot issues. I finished the first rough draft in just 68 days. Not a record for me, but faster than I usually work. Robin's first read indicated it was the cleanest of all the books I'd written, and there were remarkably few things that needed addressing. I only needed to spend a few additional days on it, and then I was able to go back to work on the ending of Legends books.
Robin's feedback about the ending requiring work was right on the nose, and I started to implement the changes. I also saw several missed opportunities, and I was able to add additional layers that didn't exist in the original draft. I spent about a year on that, and the series grew from five books to six. Looking back at it now I can see how the series divided quite nicely down the middle with the first three books covering one of the major aspects of the book, and the last three deviating to a whole new setting to provide the finish I wanted. The time was well spent, but it also meant the second book (Age of Swords) sat idle for a very long time.
Polishing the first draft of the second book didn't start again until the summer of 2016. And it was mostly Robin who needed to copy and line edit to prepare the novel for submission to Del Rey and the beta readers. The deadlines to make the June 20th release date were:
- Book submitted for approval by October 1, 2016.
- Book ready for copyediting by mid-December 2016.
Because the book was in such good shape, these deadlines were challenging but doable, and we hit them both.
In early fall, I was feeling quite confident about the series. Age of Myth had debuted with excellent sales and was garnering positive reviews from new and existing readers. Age of Swords was on schedule for its release, and the rest of the series had gone through the required heavy lifting. With a lot of the uncertainty eliminated, we could now look at dates for the remaining books, so Robin, Joshua (my agent) and Tricia (my editor) started looking at various proposals The goals were as follows:
- To release the Legend's books more frequently than once a year.
- To release another Riyria Chronicle novel (feedback from The Death of Dulgath indicated that the duo hadn't yet overstayed their welcome)
- To release the fourth Riyria Chronicle in a way that wouldn't adversely affect Del Rey's books.
From this we developed the following schedule:
- June 2017 - Age of Swords
- Oct/Nov 2017 - Riyria Chronicles #4 for Audible/Kickstarter/direct sales
- Jan/Feb 2018 - Age of War
- later 2018 - Book #4/possibly Age of Legends
That's four full-length novels in 2 years! An aggressive but workable schedule. I started this post by mentioning there is a big difference between written and done, and I've not been able to discuss the various steps involved. Given this post is already quite long, I'll leave that discussion for another time. But there are two last things I want to bring up before I go.
- If you are interested in getting a copy of the 4th Chronicle book, it won't be available in bookstores initially. You will be able to get the ebooks, trade paperbacks and hopefully hardcovers directly from me. (NOTE: audio versions will be on sale as well). Since they won't be in stores, you should sign up here, if you want a copy and we'll be sure to let you know about its release.
- Retailers have posted pre-order pages for Age of Swords. If you're excited to read the next book, then please consider pre-ordering. Early sales are critical to a book's success as they determine how much exposure a book gets in the stores and also the size of the print run. More pre-orders also means higher marketing dollars from the publisher. Some of the places where you can pre-order the book now include: Amazon US | B&N.com | Amazon UK | Indigo (Chapters) | Books-a-Million | iBookstore.
And that's the skinny. For those who are stressed by the wait between book #1 and #2, that won't be a problem going forward. I want the books out just as fast as possible, but I also don't want to sacrifice quality. I think we're well position going forward to satisfy both goals.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
The shortest day of the year reminds me that it's going to get better from here on out. Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Wintertide. And speaking of Wintertide, Here's the painting I did which eventually became the cover of the self-published book. If you have a copy of that, consider yourself fortunate. They're aren't many print versions running around.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Being an author is an unusual profession and often shrouded in mystery. Readers are frequently surprised to discover just how little an author makes, and how many writers rely on "day jobs" because writing doesn't produce a living wage.
I think part of the problem comes from the fact that discussing income isn't favorably looked upon in many circles, but that lack of information makes it darn hard to know what you are getting into if you're considering writing for a living. Thankfully there is Jim C. Hines who has been good enough to share his income on his blog. Here's a chart of Jim's data (compiled from several posts).
- I'd classify Jim as a "solid mid-list author." Which is to say one that has had a good amount of success, but not so much as to be considered an outlier. In other words, he nicely represents what is possible for authors that write well and keep producing.
- Jim spent a decade honing his craft. He started writing novels in 1995, and his first published book was in 2006. That's pretty much on par with many authors, myself included.
- Jim writes popular fiction (fantasy) with a major publisher. He sells well enough to earn out his advances, and he has significant income from foreign language translations. With his most recent series, he's graduated to hardcovers. The format used by publishers for their top authors.
- Jim quit his day job in 2015, after releasing his 11th book. He's now one of the rare breeds of writers who earn a living entirely from their craft.
- The fluctuations in Jim's income is typical. Because of the way advances are paid (more on this in a minute), a strong year can be followed by several lean ones. Jim had a great 2008, but if he had quit his day job then, he would have found 2009 - 2012 to be a financial struggle. Once he had several years producing more than $50,000 he finally cut the cords to his day job. Smart man.
A pie with many pieces
One of the reasons authors earn so little is the large number of fingers in the proverbial pie. I'm going to set aside a discussion of advances for now, but we'll circle back to it. So, let's look at money from the perspective of the amount spent by the reader and who gets what.
- Royalties (a small amount of money earned every time a book sells), are what provide authors their income. Standard royalties are as follows:
- 10% - 15% of LIST price for hardcovers
- 6% - 8% of LIST price for paperbacks
- 25% of NET (the amount paid to the publisher) for eBooks
- Agents earn their money from the author's share (15% for books sold in the US, and 20% for books with foreign language translations)
- The publisher bears the financial responsibility for creating and selling the book. They incur initial investments to produce the product (editors, cover designers, author advances), and also the cost of goods sold expenses such as printing, discounts provided to retailers, warehousing fees, shipping, and the losses from returned books too damaged to be re-sold.
- Retailer fees can run 50% - 60% for print books and 30% - 35% for electronic books.
- Printing costs depend on the size of the print run. Larger print runs have a lower per unit cost, but they require a higher initial investment. For instance, 2,000 trade paperbacks might cost $5,000 to print ($2.50 a book), but 10,000 copies might run $12,500 ($1.25 per book).
- Warehousing fees include storage costs (based on the volume of product stored), and distribution fees for picking and shipping books to retailers as orders come in. These costs could run 15% - 20% of the book's list price.
- Shipping costs are not the fees to ship a book to a consumer, because he retailer bears that responsibility. But the publisher has to pay the expenses to move the books from place to place: printer to the warehouse, warehouse to retailer, returns (unsold books) sent back to storage (many of which are too damaged to sell again), and so on.
Okay, with all that in mind, let's look at a $25.00 hardcover printed in a relatively large quantity and bought from Amazon.
- Amazon: $13.75 (some of this money may be passed onto the consumer through a discount)
- Printer: $1.50
- Ingram (warehouse and distributor) $3.75
- Book overhead: shipping, damaged books, and books provided free for reviewers: $0.49
- Author: $2.13
- Agent: $0.38
- Publisher: $3.00
eBooks simplify matters considerably as there is no printing, warehousing, or shipping fees to contend with. The breakdown for a $9.99 ebook sold on Amazon would be.
- Amazon: $3.00
- Author: $1.49
- Agent: $0.26
- Publisher: $5.24
In summary, the author earns 8.52% for hardcovers and 14.9% for an ebook.
The best way to think of advances is that it is a loan against future earnings. That's not entirely accurate, since an author doesn't pay back the advance if the books don't sell well, but it's a close analogy. When an author's royalties exceed their advance, a book has reached the earned out status. In that case, the author will get a payment twice a year for the sales above the advance that sold in the previous six-month period. Yes, successful books result in two paychecks a year, and that's part of the reason it's had for authors to manage cash flow. I should note that most books never earn out (only about 20% do), so in most cases, the advance will be the only money an author receives.
The other thing to mention about advances is that not all publishers are offering them these days, or if they do, the amounts are significantly less than they have historically been. For those that do, the author doesn't receive all their money at once. Depending on the contract the advance is divided into three, four, or five payments (larger advances are spread out more than small ones). Here are some typical divisions:
- 1/3 when the contract is signed.
- 1/3 when the book has been edited to the "acceptance" milestone (meaning the publisher will definitely be publishing it).
- 1/3 when the book is released.
A book with a larger advance might be divided thusly:
- 1/4 when the contract is signed.
- 1/4 when the book is accepted.
- 1/4 when the hardcover edition is published.
- 1/4 when the paperback edition is published (or sometimes based on some time period after the hardcover release, one year is typical).
Now the big question is how much of an advance can an author expect? Well, that depends on many factors: the size of the publisher, how "important" the book will be in a particular release season, past sales history, and publisher's income potential projections. Publisher's Marketplace is a venue where agents regularly report book deals and they divide sales into a number of levels:
- $1 - $49,999 = "a nice deal"
- $50,000 - $99,999 = "a very nice deal"
- $100,000 - $249,999 = "a good deal"
- $250,000 - $499,999 = "a significant deal"
- $500,000 and above = "a major deal"
About 80% of the debut authors will fall into the "nice deal" camp, and I'm sad to say that the medium advance is around $10,000. John Scalzi (a higher than mid-list science fiction author) and a few of his author friends came up with what they think is a better breakdown of advances. You can read the whole post here. But it goes like this:
- $0 - $2,999 = "a shitty deal"
- $3,000 - $4,999 = "a contemptible deal"
- $5,000 - $9,999 = "a "meh" deal"
- $10,000 - $19,999 = "a not bad deal"
- $20,000 - $99,999 = "a "shut up!" deal" (said in an envious tone by fellow admiring authors)
- $100,000+ = "I'm getting the next round deal" because you can buy and sell all other authors at your drinking table.
Self-publishing: cutting out some middle men
One of the reasons why self-publishing has become so popular is because more of the reader's money is kept in the author's pocket. The important thing to note, however, is that in this case the author is doing multiple jobs and act as both the author AND the publisher. Generally, self-publishers utilize POD (print on demand) which has a higher per book price but eliminates the need for warehousing, shipping, and book returns as printing only happens once orders are placed. Also, because no agent is involved, the author gets to keep that money as well. Let's look at the breakdown in self-publishing.
For the following calculations, let's assume a 350 page novel that is sold on Amazon for $14.95 (trade paperback) and $4.95 (ebook). Using print on demand, the paperback distribution of money would breakdown as follows:
- Amazon $5.98
- Printer: $5.05 (assuming CreateSpace - slightly higher for Ingram Spark)
- Author: $3.92
For ebooks the breakdown would be:
- Amazon: $1.49
- Author: $3.46
So the author/publisher earns 26.2% on print and 70% on ebooks. That's a 300% increase on print books and and 470% increase on ebooks over traditional publishing. But again, keep in mind the author has now assumed all the costs of producing the book including editing, cover design, and layout.
Self-publishing & self-selling: highest income potential
Robin has come up with a crazy idea. It's not her first, and it won't be her last. It's because of her crazy ideas that (a) I've signed 12 books with two of the big-five publishers (b) I've self-published 7 books (c) neither of us have needed day jobs to pay the bills since 2011 and (d) we have a future that is more secure than when we worked for others. For these reasons, and many more, I'm willing to go along with it. What's the idea? Well, she cut out publishers and agents through self-publishing, and she now wants to remove even more middle men by removing the retailer. The goal is to eliminate everyone except the reader and the author. Okay, we can't actually trim back that far. We're not going to be laser printing books and binding them in our basement, but we can get the process down to just the printer, writer, and credit card processor.
As some may know, I'm currently writing my fourth Riyria Chronicle, and we've already sold the audio rights to that book to Audible Studios (it's how we maximize audio income in that venue). They've already done an amazing job with the release of The Death of Dulgath (more than 20,000 copies sold in it's first year) and their production quality is top notch -- oh, and, of course, Tim Gerard Reynolds will be the narrator - we've made sure of that!
Anyway, the advance for that audio book is enough to allow for a safety net of sorts, so we're going to release the 4th book in a really unusual way...it won't be in stores. Yes, you heard right...you won't be able to get it online or in brick-and-mortar stores-- well at least not initially.
You see, books (especially when in a series), have a huge sales spike when they are first released. After a few months, sales fall off considerably. For some authors, they earn 90% of the lifetime income of a book in the first 4 weeks! Given that, it makes sense to maximize the income as much as possible on the early sales. People will still be able to get all formats of the book: audio, hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, even limited edition versions, but they'll get them directly from us. We've already done something similar in the past (both by using Kickstarter and selling books directly from my website), but those were always supplemental sales and the bulk was purchased through the retail chain, and they took their massive bites from the overall pie.
To do this will mean a lot of up-front investment for editors, cover designer, layout, formatting, and a good-sized print run. To help with that, we'll run another Kickstarter, which is a great way for people to pre-order copies while helping to to cover these up-front costs. If the Kickstarter doesn't fund, we'll still go ahead with our plans to sell direct, the only difference is there won't be hardcovers and we'll have higher per book costs due to the use of print on demand. Let's look at some of the possibilities:
- $9.99 ebook - $0.59 credit card processing fee = $9.40.
- $14.95 paperback with print run ($2.00), warehousing/fulfillment ($1.50), and credit card processing fees $0.43 = $11.02
- $24.95 hardcover with print run ($3.00), warehousing/fulfillment ($1.50) and credit card processing fees ($1.02) = $19.43
- $14.95 paperback using print-on-demand ($5.05) and credit card processing fee ($0.43) = $9.47
So the % going to the us increases to 94% for ebooks, 73.7% for trade paperbacks, 77.9% for hardcovers, and 63.3% if we use print on demand. If we can manage it, that'd be an amazing case study and could blaze a trail to convince other authors to do likewise. If others are able to make more than a few percentage points, maybe many of them won't need their day jobs.
Now, the buy-direct model will be temporary, and eventually the books will be offered through the retail chain. I'm not 100% sure when we'll cut over. I've committed to at least a six-month period of "no retail ebook and print" with Audible (to reward them for providing the seed money to try this experiment). Also, not having a new Riyria boos in the retail chain helps with the non-compete clause in my current Del Rey contract. A lot will depend on the sales numbers for both the Riyria books and the Legends novels, but they will eventually be for sale (at least online). Until then, readers can get any format they want, and since they'll be coming straight from me, they can get them signed!
If you are interested in supporting this experiment, please sign-up using this link. That way you'll be notified when the Kickstarter goes live, and if Kickstarter isn't your thing, then you'll get an email for when and how you can buy the book direct. It'll be an interesting experiment. I'm cautiously optimistic about it's possibilities. I hope you are as well.