Friday, July 25, 2014

Goodreads Most Followed

Many years ago I wrote a blog post about sign posts--indicators that you might be getting somewhere with this whole "writing gig."  After writing 25 books (and releasing 9) I still think of myself as the new kid trying to find a place to put my tray in the lunchroom filled with real authors.  How I even got into the school is a mystery, but has a lot to do with me finding an unlocked back door. I see the various cool kid tables and wouldn't dare put my tray down at one of those.  Maybe someday...if I keep at it, but not yet.

So it was funny when Robin mentioned today that I'm one of the most followed people on goodreads (#48 over the last year). 

Now the list only goes to #50, so I'm really near the bottom. But I still find this amazing.  After all other people on the list include:

And of course many more. I'm not sure I deserve to be listed among people, but I certainly am glad for all the readers of my books who have followed me.  I'm assuming they are following me because of my books, it certainly isn't because of my book reviews, which are few and far between.  So thank you fellow goodreaders. You made my day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why is the Raccoon Falling?

(Now that I sent out critiques, I’m receiving responses to the First Five Pages Project. No suicides, so that’s good. A few of the writers mentioned having read and appreciated the writing advice essays I’ve posted on this blog and are presently ensconced in the bar on the right. I had no idea my ramblings on writing had impact, but since it appears to have, and because I see a number of people struggling with how to start a story, I thought I would make another.)

Take offs and landings are always the scariest parts of any flight—stories are no different. Getting off the ground in time to clear the trees and not spill the luggage from the overhead bins isn’t as easy as skilled pilots make it seem.

Writers, invented world fantasy writers especially, often feel like the concerned friend walking into the living room of a horder. Where do you even begin? When you set a story in a new universe, there is so much you need to get across to the reader before they can begin to grasp the story you want to tell. The result is often an explosion of information, what I call the wall of noise, and others refer to, more affectionately as, the learning curve. Many authors have famously built giant walls with indifference to the reader. This sink or swim mentality is often lauded—among those who swim. The deeper the water, the stronger the deadly current, and the farther the opposite shore, the more the successful swimmers brag of the author’s excellence, mostly due to their own sense of pride in having survived the struggle. This hazing initiation has its merits, but I feel it has even more detriments. The most obvious is lack of audience, and quite often lack of career.

So how can you avoid the wall of noise in a story where many words don’t even have definitions yet? And how can you build characterization and setting without huge piles of exposition? And how can you grab a reader’s interest, and hold it?

One way to approach the opening of a novel is to treat it as a short story with a loose end, and that loose end can work as a splinter in the skin of the reader. But such a splinter can’t be inflicted on a reader without some context. A scream, or someone yelling “help!” isn’t too likely to elicit a response because anyone hearing them won’t know the circumstance. Maybe the shouting person is just kidding, or playing a game. This is why a fantastically exciting start to a story isn’t good enough. Without context, it can be bewildering. If, however, you can see the person screaming is a child standing next to an adult who is bleeding on the street, a response is more likely to result. To truly set the splinter deep, you first need to establish what’s going on, and who is involved.

The trick to this is that the situation needn’t be complex. It can, and often should be, simple. A character can be in a panic having lost their keys or glasses. They can run out of hot water in the shower. They can step in a puddle on the way to a crime scene, or they can be determining which wire to cut on a bomb with ten seconds left to decide. The point is that the issue at hand needs to be easily comprehended by the reader, because the problem, or tension, in the scene isn’t the point. The real purpose of the scene is to establish the character and setting. The crisis is merely the vehicle. Allowing the reader to quickly, and easily, grasp the situation—the goal and the obstacles to success—grants them the ability to focus on the Who and Where. And how the players in the drama act is the means by which a writer can establish characters, and show rather than tell.

In the opening scene of House of Cards, the main character is faced with a mortally injured dog. This has nothing at all to do with the plot of the series, or even the episode, but everything to do with establishing the character’s personality and the tone of the show. Often the opening of a story isn’t about The Big Event, but a scaled down version, the first symptom, or instance, of the coming storm—as in Stephen King’s The Stand. Sometimes this first instance can be a failure that provides the learning experience that comes in handy in the big moment. This is best handled as an insignificant event that the reader will dismiss, such as losing one’s glasses or keys.

You never want to confuse a reader. That is the surest way to get a closed book. Boredom is another and often holds hands with confusion, as being confused is often boring. Just present the situation, and after that you can have fun.

This brings me to the raccoon.

I know you’ve been wondering about the raccoon since you read the title, and have been thinking, “what does all this have to do with a falling raccoon?” That’s the point. Imagine a story that begins…

“The raccoon fell from the bridge and Bob had to catch it.”

This is easy to read and simple to understand and yet it asks so many questions that readers will need to read on to find the answers to. Why is a raccoon falling from a bridge? Why does Bob have to catch it? Who is Bob? What bridge? What is this all about?

Okay, a catchy opening isn’t that hard. Just throw out some absurd sentence (or raccoon) and you’ll catch attention. So, of course, that’s not enough. You need to back it up. A bait and switch will make a reader dislike you very quickly. Writing: “The President killed…!” only to follow it up with, “with his State of the Union speech,” won’t win you an audience. The opening has to be a shining example of your style and tone going forward. (This is often why many writers just write a book and then cut off the first chapter or two, starting where the story gets going, where they’ve hit their stride.) Creating a short story, or limited scenario, at the start helps this, and also helps limit the scope. You don’t need to explain everything; you just need to explain this one little thing.

The landmine to avoid is the explanations that you feel a need to make to ensure the reader knows why. Resist it. Make it clear what is happening, but drag your feet on why. The reader is a bystander with bad timing. As a writer you hold your finger up toward the reader and say, “Hang on a minute—I’m busy. Can’t you see the falling raccoon?”

String the reader along. After all, you have a perfectly good reason—the raccoon. You’ll explain later, but right now you have this issue of a plummeting animal to deal with, so let’s focus on that right now, okay? And by the time the crisis is over, this bystander (the reader) is impressed by the ingenuity, the courage, the quirky cynicism, the hilarious optimism, or the incredible skill or superpower of the main character, and the focus stops being on why did this raccoon fall and more on who is this interesting person I just met who catches raccoons?

So the first scene should be immediate, active, simple, engaging, and not necessarily connected to the main storyline except in a symbolic or hidden manner, but allow for character and scene development on a limited scale. Once this little intro-short story is over, the reader should be adequately ensnared in your web of words and hopelessly unable to escape your bonds of intriguing questions. At that point you can begin filling them in, a bit at a time leading them ever deeper into your world, a place from which they will never leave, or want to.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hide and Create Writing Podcast

I've recorded a couple of podcasts with the peole over at Hide and Create, and as I've not embarrassed myself (too much) they are going to have me as a regular contributor. Hide and Create is kinda like eavesdropping on a conference panel without having to travel or pay the fees.  It has panelists offering some diversity so that multiple perspectives are covered.  For interest hosts represent New York Time Best seller, tie-in writers, editors, small press published and self-published. Here is a bit about the current roster.

Jordan Ellinger has been called a “standout” in a starred review in Publishers Weekly. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), is a first place winner of Writers of the Future, a graduate of the prestigious Clarion West writers workshop, an award-winning screenplay writer, and author of more than twenty works of fiction, including popular series and media tie-ins (i.e., “Warhammer” and “Star Citizen”). He has collaborated with internationally best-selling authors like Mike Resnick and Steven Savile (with whom he co-authored “Martyrs,” a military thriller). He is a professional editor, having worked as Executive Editor at Every Day Publishing and on the Animism Transmedia Campaign. His film, “Tender Threads,” won the jury prize at Bloodshots Canada and was screened by master of horror, George A. Romero. He is experienced both in programming and writing games (including RPG’s) with focus on Artificial Intelligence systems, and has shipped games for publishers such as THQ and EA.
Portrait of Joshua EssoeJoshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s been editing and writing for twenty years in one form or another, but has focused on speculative fiction since 2009. He’s done work for David Farland, Dean Lorey, Moses Siregar and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. Joshua describes his editing style and approach in a guest article written for

Debbie Viguie
Debbie Viguié is the New York Times Bestselling author of over a dozen novels including the Wicked series and the new Crusade series co-authored with Nancy Holder. Much of Debbie’s writing has a dark edge to it, including her retold fairy tales, her latest being Violet Eyes, a retelling of The Princess and the Pea. In addition to her epic dark fantasy work Debbie also writes thrillers including The Psalm 23 Mysteries and the upcoming Kiss trilogy. When Debbie isn’t busy writing she enjoys spending time with her husband, Scott, visiting theme parks. They live in Florida with their cat, Schrödinger.
Moses Siregar
Moses Siregar III is the author of the award-winning indie fantasy novel The Black God’s War and the forthcoming Splendor and Ruin trilogy. He is a producer and co-host of the Parsec Award-winning Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast. He blogs occasionally at Moses and Dionysus Walk Into a Bar …but you’re more likely to find him sharing the lulz via Facebook and TwitterCheck out Moses’ debut novel “The Black God’s War” on

Moses is going to be leaving the show (he needs to focus on his writing and has a new baby coming - congrats Moses!)  and I'll be taking his place as kinda the "self-publishing" expert.  The first podcast I did was: How to get Reviews for Your Book and Get Noticed just click the link to listen in. The most recent podcast was: Facebook for Writers which I'm not on - which just might be an even bigger reason to listen to it ;-) 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Presenting at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference

In just a few weeks I'll be speaking at the 2014 Writer's Digest Annual Conference. I'm honored to be included with some amazing industry experts and best-selling authors. This will be a great educational and networking opportunity which will include:
  • Seven New York Times bestselling authors:  Kimberla Lawson Robey, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Dani Shapiro, Cheryl St. John, Dan Hampton, Barry Lyga and Harlan Coben!
  • Four dedicated tracks of instruction: Getting Published, Platform and Promotion, Craft and Self-Publishing
  • The Pitch Slam, the Conference's signature event, with more than 50 agents and editors slated to be on hand scouting new talent. 

I should also note there are actually two events:
  • Writer's Digest Pro (Friday) which is an all day event with one track designed for advanced writers with a more intimate knowledge of how the publishing and self-publishing industries work – sessions like advanced social media and promotion techniques, author branding, hybrid authorship, contract negotiations, and much more.  Writer's Digest Pro can be added onto any registration type for an additional $99.
  • Main Conference (Sat - Sunday) generally has four simultaneous tracks on a wide range of subjects. You can delve deeper into your craft and hone your skills or learn more about the complexities of contemporary publishing. 
As to my own schedule I'll be presenting in both conferences:
  • Author Branding (Pro: Fri at 11:10) - Words such as marketing, branding, or author platform cause many authors to break into hives, but in today’s publishing landscape building an audience is just as important to an author’s career as the writing itself. Branding is often misunderstood, frequently done poorly, or ignored altogether. In this session, successful hybrid author Michael J. Sullivan will demystify branding and illustrate five important tools you need to develop a persona that will organically attract the people most interested in the types of books you write. 
  • Panel: Marketing Strategies for Independent Authors: (Main: Sat at 11:10) - The biggest challenge facing an independent author is getting the effectively promoting your work and motivating the public to buy it. There are a number of strategies for doing this right and making the best use of your time. But what if you haven’t got time? What if you don’t like or understand social media? Is it worth investing time and effort into setting up book signings? Are online retailers the key to success? Are specialty markets worth pursuing? Should you hire a freelance publicist and, if so, what should your expectations be? You’ll learn all of this and more, plus have an opportunity to ask your own questions at this invaluable session.
  • Goodreads: The Platform That Can Make Your Career (Main: Sat at 2:40 pm) - In a recent Forbes’ article, Patrick Brown, the Director for Author Marketing at Goodreads, was asked to cite one of the most effective authors, he named Michael J. Sullivan “without hesitation.” Goodreads is an exceptional environment for audience building, but if done poorly, it can have disastrous results. Michael will share the techniques he uses and provide more than a dozen helpful strategies such as how to maximize book giveaways, creating “secret-private" groups, and how to maximize author discoverability.
I'll be speaking more next week about some of the other presenters and sessions that are going on, but if you think you want to come see me then I can get you $50 off your admission. Just use the code WDSPEAKER when you register.  Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unfettered on sale for just $2.99

Cover Art by Todd Lockwood

One of the anthologies I'm most proud of participating in is Unfettered. For those who don't know, it's a work where none of the authors made a dime even though it has sold incredibly well.  It wasn't meant to make us any money...its sole purpose was to help pay off the medical bills of Shawn Speakman who amassed hundreds of thousands during his fight (and win) against cancer. We met our goal, Shawn is medical debt free, has put aside a nice nest egg for future insurance, and now is using the excess to help other authors who have medical bills that are overwhelming them.

I got an email from Shawn that he has put the US version of Unfettered on sale (the UK version is licensed to Orbit and Shawn doesn't control that price...but he is working with the publisher to try and get it reduced as well) Unfettered was a no-brainer at $9.99, at $2.99 it's a steal.  Just look at who has contributed stories:

  • Terry Brooks
  • Patrick Rothfuss
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Michael J. Sullivan
  • Kevin Hearne
  • Mark Lawrence
  • Lev Grossman
  • Tad Williams
  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Daniel Abraham
  • Peter V. Brett
  • Robert VS Redick
  • Peter Orullian
  • RA Salvatore
  • Naomi Novik
  • Todd Lockwood
  • Carrie Vaughn
  • Blake Charlton
  • David Anthony Durham
  • Jennifer Bosworth
  • Eldon Thompson
  • Shawn Speakman
For my own part, I submitted The Jester, a Royce and Hadrian short story. Here's a bit about it:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A thief, a candlemaker, an ex-mercenary, and a pig farmer walk into a trap…and what happens is no joke. When Riyria is hired to retrieve a jester’s treasure, Royce and Hadrian must match wits with a dwarf who proves to be anything but a fool. Difficult choices will need to be made, and in the end those who laugh last do so because they are the only ones to survive.

This is a standalone short story of 7,200 words. No prior knowledge of The Riyria Revelations or The Riyria Chronicles is required to enjoy it to its fullest, making this a perfect introduction for new readers or a chance for Riyria veterans to spend a little more time with old friends. The Jester is a story of adventure, bonds of friendship, and a recognition that the choices we make dictates the future we find.
I hope you'll get your hands on Unfettered during the sale, even if you've read my story (I've given away quite a few copies for free) you'll certainly find others to enjoy. Here are some links to help you buy: Amazon Kindle •  Barnes & Noble Nook  •  Kobo

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

International Authors' Day Giveaway

I was honored to receive an email from Jenn at Book Reviews and Giveaways that not only was I her "favorite author" but that she wanted to feature me for a blog hop for International Authors' Day.  Part of the hop involves free giveaways of the work the bloggers love the most, and I was more than happy to participate.

For those who aren't familiar with blog's when a bunch of bloggers get together to feature a particular event or theme.  This one is organized by Lynn Thompson and will run from July 14th - July 18th. Here are a small sampling of participating blogs:

There are many more, and I wish I could list them all, but the list is just too long. But let's focus on Jenn's entry.  Here is part of what she had to say for her post:
My favorite genre is Fantasy. My first taste was playing games based on Dungeons & Dragons and I fell in love. I’ve read quite a lot in this genre, with several series or authors I really like. My favorite author has to be Michael J. Sullivan. His writing always feels like you are right there with the characters. You can feel what they are going through and you connect with them on so many levels. You find yourself caring what happens and experiencing emotions as though they were your closest friends. The descriptions are perfect. Never too much, never too little. You can visualize what he describes like it is being painted right before your eyes. I love how he can take so many plot threads along with the main plot and weave them expertly through more than just one book. You can’t help but stay up late just to read another chapter.
Jenn is running a "raffle copter" to giveaway one of my stories, but I was so thrilled to be part of this that I'm offering three of my short stories, not just to a single winner - but for anyone who signs up. Here is what I'm providing from this link.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A thief, a candlemaker, an ex-mercenary, and a pig farmer walk into a trap…and what happens is no joke. When Riyria is hired to retrieve a jester’s treasure, Royce and Hadrian must match wits with a dwarf who proves to be anything but a fool. Difficult choices will need to be made, and in the end those who laugh last do so because they are the only ones to survive.

NOTE: This short story was originally published in the Unfettered Anthology edited by Shawn Speakman.

A band of thieves set upon two lonely riders in the middle of the night. They had a larger party. They had the element of surprise. There was no reason to be concerned, but they didn’t realize who they were dealing with.

NOTE: This was originally published as the first chapter of Theft of Swords (Book #1 and Book #2 of The Riyria Revelations), so for those who have that already have this story.

Eleven years before they were framed for the murder of a king, Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater were practically strangers. Unlikely associates, this cynical thief decides to teach his idealist swordsman partner that no good deed goes unpunished. But who is really the student and who is the master?

NOTE: This short story was the seed that became The Riyria Chronicles, it eventually found it's way in Chapter 2 of The Rose and the Thorn.

I know that people on my site have probably already read these shorts, in one format or another...but I thought I should mention it in case you have friends/family that you want to introduce to Royce and Hadrian for free.

Thanks Jenn, and all the bloggers participating on the blog hop.  It's so nice to have a day (or three) devoted to authors and I'm honored to be included.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stretch Goal Reached

Marc Simonetti's Coverama Crowd funding project hit it's next stretch goal ($30,000) so there will be five additional signed prints sent with all the books. I'm not sure if this is going to be one of them or not, but I do hope so.  At the very least, it will be included in the book.  There are still three days left to get in on this exceptional coffee table book.  You can get your copy here.

One of the cool thing about this picture, is that Marc painted it while recording through Livestream, and he has included his commentary as he worked on it, which will be a great help to other artists. It's amazing to see him go from nothing to a finished picture and you can watch along as he does.

Here is the first installment: