Tag Archives: Michael J. Sullivan

Authors Answer 104 – Best Advice for Authors

Welcome to a very special Authors Answer! This is our 104th edition, which means it’s the end of our second year. And just like last year, we have some guest authors giving their answer to this very important question. I’d like to thank authors Mark Lawrence, Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, and Andrew Rowe for agreeing to participate. They were very gracious when I asked them to participate. And thank you to Jacqueline Carey for her response. Unfortunately, she has her hands full at the moment, so was unable to participate. I love authors who take the time to respond when they can!

This week’s topic is an important one. Authors sometimes need a bit of help, so we’re talking about the best advice we have received in our quest for being published.

Celebrating our 2nd anniversary!

Question 104 – What is the most important piece of writing advice anyone has given you?

Mark Lawrence

It’s been a very long time since someone has given me writing advice. I did seek some out more recently when I read Stephen King’s “On Writing” but all I remember from that were the excellent anecdotes and being urged to never use adverbs in dialogue tags. And whilst that is advice I agree with, it is also advice that JK Rowling wholly ignored whilst selling hundreds of millions of books.

I guess I would have to go back to the creative writing course I took at night school in my 30s to find actual advice that was given to me. The most useful piece handed out to me in those sessions concerned the use of pinpoint detail. Readers’ imaginations are straining at the leash to do the heavy lifting for a writer. So descriptions need not be exhaustive and laboured. You just need the right seeds and the reader will grow the rest. Just the odd detail here and there can bring a scene to life. A scattering of points, dots the reader will join. Don’t describe the whole garden. Describe the rusty catch on the gate, the smell of the heaped cuttings, the rustle of dead flowers in the autumn wind. Move on.

Michael J. Sullivan

When I was starting out I didn’t know any authors, so I can’t say I had any personal advice from one. But there were writers who I followed online, and I was inspired by many of them. Joe Konrath said, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up: published.”  I think that kind of persistence was instrumental to my own success. There are so many options in today’s publishing environment that when one path doesn’t work, an author should try another. And above all, keep writing, improving, and perfecting their craft. If the first book isn’t a success, maybe the second will be.  The only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying.

Django Wexler

It’s more career advice than writing advice, honestly, but while I was in college a writing teacher told me: “Never write a sequel to a book you haven’t sold yet.”

I totally forget the context, since we didn’t usually talk about writing careers in class.  On one level, it’s solid career advice.  If for whatever reason your first book turns out to be unsellable, then if you write a sequel you’re just stuck with two unsellable books.  That’s not really *writing* advice, though, and some people might say the business of being an author is a different thing entirely.

*But*, as I’ve thought about it in later years, I actually think there’s another piece to this.  It encouraged me to think of myself as a *writer*, rather than *a person who writes a particular story*.  In the decade or so since then, I’ve met many, many writers, some successful and some less so.  One thing many (not all, there are exceptions to everything!) of the successful ones had in common was that they could start a project, *finish* that project, and then *move on*, so they had a string of completed pieces under their belts rather than a single, endlessly-tinkered-with magnum opus.  This is obviously better career-wise, since you get more shots, but I think it has a lot to recommend it craft-wise as well.  You learn things from finishing a story that can be hard to incorporate into that story, but only taken into account when you start up the *next* piece.  Completing a work and calling it done has its own reward and its own lessons.

Is it true for everyone?  Of course not, no writing advice is.  (Process is personal, as I am quick to remind anyone.)  But it came at a good time for me.  I was high on fantasy epics like THE WHEEL OF TIME, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, and at one point I was plotting out a grandiose ten-book scheme covering the creation of the universe to the end of days.  I ended up writing some more modest single-book projects, and I’m very glad I did, because my skill has (I hope) improved quite a bit since then.  The book I finally sold was my eighth or ninth overall; it’s hard to imagine it would have done as well as Book 8 of a series.

Andrew Rowe

If you love writing, don’t let anything discourage you from doing more of it.

If your beta readers don’t like your work, keep writing. Polish, improve, repeat.

If you query literary agents and they aren’t interested? Keep writing. Look at other agents. Look at other publishing options – self-publishing is getting more viable every year.

If you publish and your first book isn’t a hit? Keep writing. Focus on doing better next time. It might not even be your writing that’s the issue; sometimes it’s just bad timing or marketing.

This doesn’t mean to ignore constructive criticism; it’s great to get feedback that helps you improve. But never let the idea that you’re not perfect slow you down – no writer is going to appeal to every audience. Even the absolute top authors out there, the Tolkiens and the Martins of the world, have vast numbers of people who don’t enjoy their work.

Never let self-doubt keep you from doing what you love.

Cyrus Keith

I can’t quote her exactly. But after my thirty-oddth rejection from a publisher, I wanted to quit, to give up on my dream of being a published author. When I said this to my best friend, she shouted at me (paraphrased for family-friendly fare), “Don’t you freaking DARE quit!!!”

So I’ll pass that on to anyone else who questions their role as a writer, who sees an end to their work, who is balancing the option of burying their dream among the dust of a mundane, safe routine: Don’t you freaking DARE quit. Don’t strangle that dream out of your soul and kill it. You’re a writer. You sweat blood to make people come to life on a page, to tell your story, to drag readers by the eyeballs into your world and make them live with you until the last word on the last page, and close the book with a wistful sigh.

Don’t. You. Freaking DARE. Quit.

Elizabeth Rhodes

“Keep writing.”

I can’t give anyone credit for this because you hear it from just about everyone. It’s the only advice one really can give for getting words on the page and making them into stories of quality.

D. T. Nova

This applies to more than just writing, but “It’s never too late”.

Paul B. Spence

Read. I think the most important thing that any author can do is read. Not just in the genre they are writing in, although that is necessary, but also other genres, just to get a feel for how the craft of writing is done. I have elements of thrillers and horror in my science fiction. I also spend a lot of time reading science journals. Keeping up with the latest advances.

Gregory S. Close

Probably “write the crap first and polish the turd later.”  Agonizing over what you’re going to write is ultimately a waste of time.  Get something on the page and then FIX it later.  Getting the thoughts going and words flowing is the only way to from start to finish.

Eric Wood

The most important piece of advice I received is show not tell. I could tell you a character is shy or I could you show you. Showing you allows you to discover it on your own. Discovering it on your own pulls you into the story a bit further because you are getting to know the character as you would a friend.

C E Aylett

That writing fiction is about contrast at every level. Contrast breeds tension.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I’ve been given my fair share of writing advice over the years, but I think the most important piece is the one that I have consistently failed to follow, and that is this: Just Write. Write as much and as often as you can. Write anything and everything. Just write, write, write. Everything else can come afterward. You can figure out the editing, revisions, publishing, and everything else as it comes, but first you have to write. If you don’t actually put pen to paper and write, the game is over before it even began.

Beth Aman

I have a distinct memory of a particular critique from CC that allowed me to finally understand “Show, Don’t Tell.”  I felt like my eyes had been opened to a whole new world.  But here’s one of my favorite pieces of advice to give to new writers (I don’t remember who originally said it): Remember that the rough draft of a novel is just shoveling sand into a sandbox so later you can build sandcastles.

Jean Davis

You’ll never publish anything if you don’t finish it and then submit it. This, as someone who had fussed over a single novel for twenty-some years, rather hit home in a big way. That novel, my third to be published (because I eventually followed this advice), will be out in the Spring of 2017.

H. Anthe Davis

Just keep doing it.  Writing isn’t so much about inspiration as it is about work, and anything you practice at enough, you’ll get better at.  There is no guarantee that you’ll get published, but if you only daydream about your stories and never write them, nothing can ever happen.

Jay Dee Archer

I think a common answer would be to just write, and keep writing. Never stop. However, I’d like to take this a bit further. One thing I’ve been told that I completely agree with is to write what you would like to read. If there’s a story idea that you keep thinking, “I wish someone wrote a book about this,” then write it! It’s your idea, so create that story. And if you like it, there’s a very good chance that there are other people who will like it. Don’t just sit there, either. Once you have that idea, flesh it out and write it. It may not be the best written book, but just get it written, then worry about editing later on to make it that book that you want to read.

How about you?

If you’re an author or aspiring author, what is the best piece of advice you’ve received? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors on YouTube

When you read books, have you ever wondered what the authors sound like? Today, as I was looking for how to pronounce an author’s name, I came across his channel and was able to discover how his name is pronounced. The author is George H. Sirois. It’s a French last name, but he’s American, so I had no idea how he pronounced it. I know the French pronunciation, and no, he doesn’t pronounce it the French way.

So, this had me wondering about other authors on YouTube. Here’s the result of my pondering.

Patrick Rothfuss has a channel, and here’s a really long video.

Brandon Sanderson also has a channel. And here’s his ice bucket challenge.

Hugh Howey has quite a few videos. This is his Wool Synopsis.

And look, Michael J. Sullivan has a channel. This is his oldest video.

There are more, of course. And I’d like to know about them. Are there any authors on YouTube that you watch? Share their channels below!

Well-known Authors Who Blog

All this talk about whether authors should blog had me thinking, what famous authors actually maintain a blog? There are a few that I follow.

First is John Scalzi’s Whatever. He’s a science fiction author that seems to be quite active with readers.

Second is N. K. Jemisin’s Epiphany 2.0. She’s a fantasy author, and she also responds to comments.

Third is Hugh Howey’s The Wayfinder. He’s also a science fiction author, and probably the best-known for starting out self-publishing, getting a big book deal while still retaining digital rights. However, he doesn’t seem to respond to comments. He reads them, as he left an addendum on his most recent post responding to comments in general.

And I have to mention Michael J. Sullivan’s website, because he has contributed to this blog in the past, and he is wonderful at responding to his fans and comments.

How about you? Do you know any other more well-known authors who blog? Share the links in the comments below!

New Books Have Arrived

For the first time in quite some time, I got new books! Here they are:

These are all highly rated books on Goodreads or books I’ve been wanting to get for a long time. Five fantasy and four science fiction. They are:

  • Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, and Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
  • The Martian by Andy Weir

Nice to have these books in my collection now. I look forward to reading them all.

Which ones are you most interested in? Let me know in the comments.


Welcome Our Guest Author!

Now that I have his answers for the next three weeks, I’ll announce our guest author.

He’s the author of the popular Riyria fantasy series, his newer fantasy series The First Empire, and his first science fiction novel Hollow World. He’s great at keeping in touch with his readers, so is one of the easiest authors to be able to talk to.  So, please welcome Michael J. Sullivan to Authors Answer for the rest of December.

You can find his website here, his Twitter account here, and his Goodreads profile here.

Top Priority Books to Buy

I have a rather large to-read pile of books at home, and I won’t get through them for a while, but there are some books I really want to add to my collection.  I could buy eBooks, but I want the physical book.  I’m that kind of book collector.  Here’s a look at some books I absolutely must have.


The Stormlight Archive series

This is a highly rated series of books, and only two books of the eventual ten book series have been released.  Brandon Sanderson seems to be the hottest fantasy author at the moment.  Books in the series include The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance.


The Kingkiller Chronicle series

This series by Patrick Rothfuss is a highly rated series that has two books published so far.  They are The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. What I like about the author is that he interacts with his readers.


The Riyria Revelations trilogy

Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria series is another fantasy series that I really want to get into.  He’s also another author who is easy to get in touch with, and I interviewed him last year on this blog.  The first in his series is Theft of Swords.


Mistborn series

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is his first novel series, and also highly regarded.  And it’s not finished.  It appears to be planned for six books, with the fifth due this year and sixth next year.  The first book is Mistborn: The Final Empire.


Vorkosigan Saga

My first science fiction series in this list is Lois McMaster Bujold’s incredibly long fifteen volume (so far) Vorkosigan Saga. The first book in the series is Shards of Honour. Later novels have won both Nebula and Hugo Awards.

There’s more.  But these are my absolute top priority series to buy.  What would you suggest?

10 Questions with Michael J. Sullivan

We’re back with another interview!  This time, it’s with Michael J. Sullivan, author of The Riyria Revelations.  I decided to have the authors introduce themselves, so from now on, it’s all his words.

My name is Michael J. Sullivan and I’ve been published in just about every way you can: small press, self, big-five, foreign sales (15 countries) and audio.  I have sold over 300,000 books most of which are from my fantasy debut series: The Riyria Revelations which is six books but sold as a trilogy by Orbit. My second series, The Riyria Chronicles is two books and is just releasing now (also from Orbit). The Crown Tower (Aug 6) and The Rose and the Thorn (Sep 17).  My science fiction novel, Hollow World, will be coming out from Tachyon Publications in April, 2014 (print), Recorded Bokoks (audio), and I’ll be self-releasing the ebook.

1. What’s your favourite colour?

I’m going to go with blue as my favorite color as it has a “u” in it and being in the states I’ve removed two u’s from the question.

2. What’s your favourite food? Do you like Marmite?

I don’t really have a favorite food, but I do have two favorite drinks. Coffee – consumed in the morning to help me write and Guinness which is my preferred social beverage. I’ve never tried Marmite but be willing to try it someday.

 3. Which country would you most like to visit?

Ireland is number one because it is the home of my people. I still have a lot of relatives that live there. My daughter visited last year and absolutely loved it so I’m sure I would too.  Following that my two big bucket list locations are Australia and New Zealand…and not just for the Marmite.

4. What genres do you like to read?

It would be easier to answer what I don’t read as I read and love just about all kinds of books. The only thing I don’t read is romance and erotica, but all else I say bring it on!. That means anything from memoirs to mystery ad thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and a lot of historical fiction.

5. If you were going to write a book outside your genre(s), which genre would you choose?

I’ve really not considered myself a “genre writer.” People would classify myself as fantasy, but that’s just because it’s the first thing I got published. Prior to the books that made me famous I wrote 12 novels across a wide range of genres: coming of age, literary, mystery, thriller, science fiction, young adult…I may publish them (or stories based off of them one day). I’m excited by the possibility of releasing a book in every major genre at some point.

6. Describe your writing environment, including room, desk, sounds, etc.

We are a bit cramped for space at the moment so I used to have a writing office but now it takes up ½ of a very large bedroom. I have a  huge desk, dual monitors, lighted keyboard. The desk is clear of clutter, the only real thing on it is a pad for notes, a pen holder, and a bladeless fan for when it gets hot. I have a leather office chair and a huge framed poster of the artwork that Marc Simonetti did for my Hollow World novel over the desk.  I don’t write with music (usually) and I have to have coffee and complete isolation. If my wife steps into the room I’ll stop writing until she is gone. I won’t even let the dog in the room when I’m writing because even him just shifting position or yawning would distract me.

7. If you could have dinner with any character (person if non-fiction) from your books, who would it be?

Myron Lanaklin. He is a character that is 100% satisfied no matter what his situation. We could discuss history and philosophy and I wouldn’t have to be concerned about him crying in is beer or bemoaning this, that, or the other thing. He finds joy in the simplest of things and it would be a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

8. Do you draw maps when planning your books?

When writing fantasy I always do. In fact that is usually my first step as I need to get the lay of the land and the names of places so that I can keep things consistent as the story unfolds. For something like Hollow World, which is science fiction based on a far future earth I don’t as it really doesn’t come into play in any meaningful way. In that case it’s more about mapping a timeline of what has occurred from “our time” to the time period of the book.

 9. Do you ever read self-published books?

Sure, all the time. Unlike some people who seem to differentiate between the two, I know that the real issue is the quality of the writing, not the mode of publication. There are many self-published authors whose books (like my own) were later picked up by big-five publishers which just reinforces that there is plenty of quality there. I’ve even written a guide for Ranting Dragon on 20 self-published authors worth reading.

 10. I’m interested in fantasy, science fiction, history, and classics. Which author’s books would you recommend to me?

For fantasy I would recommend Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and newcomer Anthony Ryan. For science fiction I would go with some of the classics like Asimov and Heinlein. For historical fiction I think Ken Follett has some amazing books out. When it comes to classics I really enjoy Steinbeck’s writing.

You can contact him or follow him in several ways.  Follow him on Twitter, check out his website, and view his Facebook pages, personal, author, and Riyria.

Thank you very much, Michael.  For the record, I’m sure Australians would prefer Vegemite.  I’ll definitely check out the list of self-published authors your wrote about, and the authors you recommended.  And of course, I look forward to reading Riyria.  Thanks again!