Guest Blog: Michael J. Sullivan and Age of Death

Guest Blog: Michael J. Sullivan and Age of Death

Hello, my name is Michael J. Sullivan, and I want to thank Grim Oak Press for having me for the cover reveal of my next story, Age of Death. This marks the 5th (and 2nd from the last) book in the Legends of the First Empire series, and it’ll be my 16th published novel.

Isn’t it amazing? That’s the artwork of famed artist, Marc Simonetti. Marc has created fifteen covers for my books, and he’s also illustrated covers for some of the biggest names in the business including George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Pratchett, and dozens more. Here are the other fantastic covers that Marc has created for this series.

So, I guess I should tell you a bit about this book. The easiest (and probably best) way to do that is to share the back of the book copy. So here it is!

"Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.

From Michael J. Sullivan (New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post bestselling author), comes the second to the last installment in the epic fantasy series, Legends of the First Empire. The series chronicles a pivotal point in Elan’s history when humans rise against the Fhrey who they once saw as gods. Set 3,000 years before the Riyria tales, Legends is a standalone fantasy series which is independent of all other Elan stories. That said, if you do read the other books, you’ll see lies revealed and the truth about historical figures unmasked."

I hope you’ll find that interesting enough to check out. And if you are, pre-order pages are posted at all major online retailers such as Amazon:

(US | UK | Canada | Germany) | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Book Depository (free shipping worldwide) | Ingigo (Canada) |

While I’m here, I want to take just a moment to talk about this book’s publishing history because it affected the telling of Age of Death’s story. Let’s begin with a discussion of audiobooks. Over the past several years, this format has grown by leaps and bounds. These days, it’s where all the growth is in the publishing industry. It’s also where I make the highest number of sales while earning the least amount of money. Why is that? Well, it’s simple, there are a lot of fingers in the pie, and that reduces the author’s income.

You see for my first two contracts, Orbit bought the audiobook rights, and they sold them to a producer, Recorded Books. Under such an arrangement, I receive just 3.5% of the income produced, whereas if I had sold them directly to Audible Studios, I could earn more than five times that amount. So, it’s little wonder that when I started writing Legends of the First Empire, I signed the audiobook rights first.

Okay, let’s get back to the books. Initially, the tale was supposed to be a trilogy, and in many ways, Age of War (book #3) wraps up a good portion of the series. But as I approached what I thought would be the final book, I came upon a possibility to dig into the bedrock of Elan and delve into the origin story of my world.

With this new direction, the fourth (and what I thought would be the final book) grew, and grew, and then grew even more. Also, when my wife (who is my alpha reader and most trusted critic) saw early drafts, she indicated the writing was “too close to the bone” and “much too rushed.”

The “too close” statement might need some clarification. What Robin pointed out is that while I had the plot points well-established, there wasn’t enough flesh on my skeleton. In my desire to fit everything in, I had been sacrificing the narrative and missing excellent opportunities for emotional impact. On reflection, I saw (as so often is the case), that she was absolutely right. So, guess, what, the book started to grow once more.

Eventually, the story became too large to fit into a single book. Yes, we could have played around with font size, the spacing between lines, and used thinner paper, but even then, we would be right up against the 2.5” spine width that limits most printers. We would also have to leave out some desired front and back matter, like the extensive glossary, my author’s note, and Robin’s afterword. We didn’t want to make all those concessions because I still think printed books matter both in look and feel. If the font is too small and the line spacing quite tight, I don’t enjoy reading the physical copy. And I wanted to love all versions of my book.

So, after much deliberation, we decided to break the fourth book into two parts. The only problem was there wasn’t an appropriate stopping place around the half-way mark. You see, when I wrote the story, I wasn’t concerned with page count, or word count, or book count. I was telling the tale in the best way that I could to make a good story. My job was to write a compelling tale, and how that saga would eventually be published wasn’t foremost in my mind.

When looking objectively at the entire story, it became evident that we had a three-act play, and two breaking points stood out. But the balance was a problem. I could have made one regular-sized book and one double-dipper volume, but that didn’t feel right to me. Plus, I liked the idea of two trilogies under the umbrella of a single epic tale. Making the last part of the series three books instead of two would split the “first half” and “second half” evenly. From a balance and symmetry perspective, it seemed like the right way to go, and since we were in a position to control such things, that’s what we did.

So, problem solved, but there was another issue. Unlike my previous books (each of which was a self-contained episode), the second half of my Legends series would end with cliffhangers. Something I really didn’t want to do, but the alternatives were even less appealing. I still think splitting the second half into three books is the right decision for this tale. After you’ve had the chance to read the entire series, I hope you’ll agree.

Now, we need to return to the publishing path discussion. As you may know, Del Rey signed the first half of the Legends series, and when it came time to negotiate for the last three books, a huge roadblock appeared. A change in corporate policy required that all future Penguin Random House acquisitions had to include audio rights. And as I mentioned, we had already sold those. So, even though we love Del Rey, and they love us, we couldn’t continue our partnership for the last three books. But when a door closes, a window sometimes opens, and we saw an opportunity on the horizon.

You see, given how two of the books ended, we wanted to get them out to readers as soon as possible. But most traditional publishers standardize on one book a year, which would mean release dates of summer 2019, 2020, and 2021. That was much longer than I was comfortable with, and since we weren’t going traditional, we could shorten the publication window. My thought was to release every six months (a rate I had previously used when self-published), but Robin wanted to be even more aggressive. She wanted the full second half to come out in a year or less. As is often the case, Robin won, and we’ll have all three books published within ten months. Here are the dates:

  • Age of Legend – July 2019
  • Age of Death – February 2020
  • Age of Empyre – May 2020

But even that accelerated schedule wasn’t quick enough for Robin. So, we’ll continue our tradition of giving Kickstarter backers the books several months before the retail release. Those who preorder during the Age of Death Kickstarter (launching August 21st), will receive the story in October 2019. We don’t yet have a date for the Age of Empyre project, but backers of it will get the last book in February instead of May.

Whew, that was a longer post than I anticipated, especially given it was supposed to be an announcement to showcase Marc’s incredible artwork. But I hope this gave you a peek into the world of publishing, and how this series evolved. As I mentioned, pre-order pages are live. But, if you decide to join us for the Kickstarters, you’ll receive bonus content that can’t be available through retail stores. What kind of things? Well, how about seeing your name in print in the acknowledgments for helping to make the hardcover possible, or having a bookmark that matches the book you are reading? These are the kind of things we’ve done in the past.

Again, I want to thank Grim Oak Press for partnering with us on this amazing journey and for revealing the cover, and as always I’ll keep writing, and I hope you’ll continue reading!


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