GUEST POST #3: “Traditional or Self-Published, Which do I Prefer?” by Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan


Michael J Sullivan



Michael J. Sullivan is the author of the epic six-book fantasy series, The Riyria Revelations. Originally published with a small press, the series was picked up this year by Orbit books and is being released in three volumes. The first, Theft of Swords, released in November, contains the first two volumes. The second, Rise of Empire, features the third and fourth volumes and came out this month. The final volume, Heir of Novron, collecting the final two volumes of the series, is due out in January 2012.

This is the third of five posts that Michael J. Sullivan will be doing this week on BookBanter. Check back tomorrow for the next post, or you can subscribe to the BookBanter Blog by entering your email at the top right of the BookBanter Blog page.

Listen to an interview between BookBanter and Michael J. Sullivan.

Traditional or Self-Published,
Which do I Prefer?

I’m one of the few authors who are fortunate enough to have seen each side of publishing: small press (my first book, The Crown Conspiracy was released by Aspirations Media Inc); self-published (the first five books of The Riyria Revelations were put out by my wife’s company Ridan Publishing), and big-six (Orbit, the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group is re-releasing Riyria as a trilogy). So I know firsthand the benefits and downsides of each. Let me start by saying there is no “right choice.” Each author’s goals and skills are unique and which path they should take depends on what they want out of publishing.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a maverick. I hate the very idea of authority and have spent only seven of my fifty years working for someone else – and the bulk of that time was when I was a teenager or in my early twenties.  I’m also one of those people who is more comfortable when I do a job as myself and don’t like delegating to others. It’s not even a matter of me thinking someone else won’t do as good of a job. It’s merely that I know what I like…I’m very particular…so doing it myself ensures a result that at least I’m happy with.

I approached traditional publishing with a fair amount of trepidation. I know authors have little to no say over things such as titles, cover design, pricing, or marketing copy. Having total control is one of the things I liked best about self-publishing. Also, I read blogs of some of the most successful self-published authors, many of whom were previously traditionally published. These people tell horror stories of their experiences, and its tough not to listen to those who have already been there.

Given all this, I’m sure many would expect me to say I prefer self-publishing…and there is a lot that is good about this venue, but I simply could not have been happier with how my traditional publishing has gone so far.  I’m sure that not everyone’s experience would be the same…and it may be that I’m getting more attention from my particular publisher than most debut authors receive, but I can now say with 100% certainty that it was the correct choice for me.

A lot of this has to do with the quality of Orbit’s organization. When I was published through AMI I never felt comfortable, as I seemed to know more than the people producing my books. With Orbit, I don’t mind turning over “my baby” to someone else because they have proven time and again that they know what they are doing…and this makes all the difference in the world.

It’s still pretty early to determine which path would provide the highest earnings, but to be honest I don’t really care about that. I don’t need to get every ounce of income out of my books…I’m happy as long as the bills are paid, and I don’t have to eat spaghetti every night. I’m more than willing to share the income of the books with a team of talented people all striving to produce the highest quality work possible.

And therein lies the real difference—having a team. I can relax and concentrate primarily on writing, knowing that there are others who are dealing with all the other details. It’s a very liberating feeling.

Will my next books be published traditionally or self-published? Well that depends on a number of factors. Orbit hasn’t yet seen the next book (I’m still editing it), and they may decide that they are not interested.  If they are then my choices get a bit more difficult. You see…I really enjoy my “living wage” and with the higher percentage of income that is retained through self-publishing, I’m fairly confident that I could maintain my lifestyle if I self-published.  Will Orbit be willing to pay me comparably?  I don’t know.  But the wonderful thing about writing in today’s publishing climate is an author has choices. If it turns out they don’t want the work, or we can’t agree on terms I will likely self-publish. This is isn’t my first choice…but it allows me to continue doing what I like best which is writing. Hopefully that won’t be the case. I’d like nothing better than to continue traditionally publishing. I know it has somewhat a bad reputation as of late. But for me, and the experience I’ve had to date…it would certainly be my first choice for future work.

Read Michael J. Sullivan’s previous post on “Outlining Versus Discovery Writing.”

You might also like . . .

Theft of Swords Rise of Empire