Episode # 73 – Michael Sullivan on Traditional and Self-Publishing

In Uncategorized by Julius S2 Comments

michaelcoverMichael Sullivan is a diversely published author, having had success with large publishers, small press, and self-publishing. In this interview he brings his positive experience from all three of these sectors of the industry and tells us a bit about the benefits and drawbacks of each. We also talk about his writing process, choosing to write an entire series before publishing a single book in it, his huge success with audiobooks, and his significantly overfunded Kickstarter campaign.

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Hollow World (Michael’s Kickstarter book)

Amazon Profile



Michael’s Kickstarter Campaign – Successfully funded, 10 times over.

Show notes:

Writing Process

 Michael writes all of the books in a series before publishing them. Right now he has three books waiting to be published because he has not finished writing the fourth. He likes to be able to go back to earlier books in the series and make tweaks, so that the whole series ties together perfectly. “I would hate to be JK Rowling writing the last book of the series, thining if only I could change one sentence in the first book I could make a killer ending!”

Although he is an experienced author, he still has a worry that the books will not be successful. He says that this is not something that will ever go away, no matter how experienced you are. He has instincts that his work is good by now, but he is never certain.

Many authors are doing this because Amazon seem to look favorable upon having a book released on a regular basis. Michael comes down on the other side of the argument saying that he would rather have some time off, and have readers excited about a new launch that is coming soon.

Self-Publishing / Publishing

Michael has worked well with Orbit (his publisher), and he usually offers books to them before he decides to self-publish. Currently he is writing the four books and hasn’t pitched them to his publisher, but if they don’t pick it up, he will still self-published.

He tried to traditionally publish for 20 years, went nowhere and gave up for a long time. He then went back wrote the Riyria books and those got picked up, but the publisher ran into financial difficulties. After that he decided to self-publish them, doing it all himself, and then put the books out every six months.

He got into writing these books after he read his daughter Harry Potter. He had been reading and wanted to write something complicated and literary, rather than something that he really enjoyed reading. It was that book that persuaded him that he should write something fun.

When he started selling 10k books a month, his wife persuaded him to pitch New York again, and he was picked up by Orbit.

On Self-Publishing

Michael says that if you want to make money then self-publishing is the way to go, but if you want to build an audience then the traditional deal is what you need. He sees his move to traditional as a pay cut/investment to get a fan base. He says there are a lot of people out there who wont by books online, or automatically discount books that are self-published.

Michael was worried that he would lose a lot more money than he did by making the switch to traditional. He found that the foreign rights, and audio, that he wouldn’t have done anyway, helped pick up the percentage hit that he took on ebooks. He does not come down one way or the other, and feels each has their merits. Ideally he says that authors should go for the hybrid author.

Publishers don’t help you out with your sales unless you are a big name author. They wont do this for 90% of authors. The success or failure of a book falls squarely on the writer, publishers sell to book stores, the author has to sell them to the readers. If you traditionally publish, you have a very short time to sell the book before it falls out of books stores because of a lack of sales.


 Michael did a Kickstarter campaign for one of his latest books and that over funded by 1000% (yes, one thousand). He also credits the Kickstarter eco system for a lot of that funding which is atypical of what authors have said to me in the past. Once the project took off on Kickstarter, a whole new group of people who didn’t know of him before, started to find his project.

Those who invested in the project got the book a year before it went out. This gave him a lot of buzz about the book before it even hit the main market, meaning that when it came out it did very well.

He says that it is important to realize that Kickstarter is not about charity. It’s about selling a product ahead of time, not about the author begging for money.


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Julius SEpisode # 73 – Michael Sullivan on Traditional and Self-Publishing
  • R.M. Prioleau

    Michael’s name has been out there for so long. He’s definitely been around the block in the publishing world and have seen it evolve. I receive the Orbit newsletters and see his books mentioned all the time. That’s great he’s doing well with his writing career. As a fantasy author, he is definitely someone I would try and learn from in order to go far in this business.

    And wow! I wish I had known about the Blackguards kickstarter earlier. I would’ve totally donated. This book looks like it’s right up my alley to read. When does it come out?

    • SimonRSP

      Yeah, it was really interesting to talk to someone who had tried so many different ways of publishing (and had a good experience with all of them!). I don’t know when the book comes out, but if Michael sees this I am sure he will jump in :).