Michael Sullivan on self-publishing, selling your rights piecemeal
Selling his audio and print rights to different publishers, while holding onto his ebook rights, worked out extraordinarily well for Michael J. Sullivan.
One of Brandon’s print-only deals was with a smaller, but well-respected organization: Tachyon Publications. They’ve had books on Publisher’s Weekly’s Best of the Year list, multiple nominations for awards such as the Hugo and Nebula and have won four awards (Nebula: 2006, 2012, 2013 & Hugo: 2013). Their founder, Jacob Weisman, loved the book and was forward thinking enough to agree on a print-only contract (the only deal I would consider). Sure, the advance wasn’t nearly as big as I had been offered for full rights, but as I plan on earning out anyway, and had already received a nice sum thanks to the Kickstarter, this wasn’t so important. What was important is that Tachyon has a great eye for award-winning speculative fiction and a proven distribution channel. I’m not sure how many copies of The Emperor’s Soul have been sold to date, but I know it is in excess of 30,000 units.
Audio books are growing in popularity and audio publishers are being aggressive about acquiring titles, even when the book isn’t attached to a big publisher. Recorded Books jumped at the chance to sign Hollow World and Audible Books was disappointed to hear they missed the window.
Writers really need to retain their audio book rights. For my two Riyria contracts, I tried and tried to get the audio books taken off the table, but wasn’t successful either time. Now, I’m taking a different tack and signing audio book rights even before approaching traditional publishers. By doing it this way, they have no choice but to remove that right (as someone else already has it signed). I’ve already completed a contract for my next series (The First Empire) and I have two audio producers vying for preemptive rights on any future Riyria books.
In our twitter conversation, Sarah mentioned, “I think it’s really inspiring how you’ve totally taken control of your career like that.” What surprises me, and what I hope this post will do, is encourage other authors to act similarly. Today there are all kinds of wars waging between those supporting self-publishing and others convinced that traditional is the only way to go. But to me it’s all about maximizing both worlds.
Traditional publishing of my Riyria books has expanded my readership immensely. At the start of September 2011 (about 2 � months before my big-press traditional debut) goodreads users had shelved my books 5,170 times. Today, just over two years later there are 74,959 books shelved…an increase of 1,450%! I’m also translated into fifteen foreign languages which has earned me double the advance as my English language edition of The Riyria Revelations. But with so much of my income coming from ebooks, and the huge profit sharing disparity, can I afford to do this exclusively? Will traditional publishing require me to have a day job, like many other others authors?
By keeping my ebook rights (and receiving 100% of the audio royalties) I anticipate making significantly more money than if I had signed that five-figure contract I was originally offered. But it’s not just about money. Publishing Hollow World as I have will allow me to better serve my readers. Those who enjoy print will still find the books in their local bookstores and libraries. Plus, they can also receive free ebooks (regardless of where the print book was sold). For the ebook only crowd, they get DRM-free editions, a cheaper list price, and I’ll even provide ebooks in multiple formats so they can read the same book on their kindle and nook without having to buy it twice.
In the old days, there really was only one choice for authors who wanted to write full-time: traditional publishing. A few years ago, self-publishing proved to be a worthy contender which provided the means for thousands of authors to quit their day jobs. But the savvy author has a wide range of possible tools at their disposal: Kickstarter, self-publishing, traditional publishing, self-produced audio books (ACX), selling audio rights for bestselling self-published titles, pre-emptive audio right sales, and yes…even print-only deals are a possibility (and not just for the million sellers). The moral of this story is take control and think outside the box. The old rules have been washed away and the slate is now clean. It’s time for authors to shape their careers in ways that makes the most sense for them, even if it isn’t something that hasn’t been done before.