Here's what Michael had to say.
SoY: I understand that Orbit is publishing the series as a trilogy. Is it going to be two Ridan books to each Orbit book or will they be broken down in a more complicated fashion?
MJS: Yes, Orbit’s books break down as follows: Theft of Swords (Volume 1) will contain The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha; Rise of Empire (Volume 2) contains Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm; Heir of Novron (Volume 3) will contain Wintertide and Percepliquis. For those reading in print, they can get the entire series for half the price. If given the choice, I would prefer more readers than money so making the series affordable is very attractive to me.
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MJS: All the books have already gone through editing, which was a frightening time for me. I had worked so hard to develop the arc of the series that I waited on pins and needles afraid of what Orbit might want different. Orbit assigned their senior editor to the project, Devi Pellai, and I had heard from others in the industry that she is one of the best in the business so I was willing to keep an open mind on any changes she might require.
To my great surprise and relief, there weren’t any major changes. Most of the comments concerned adding additional detail about places, the political system, and clarifying minor characters. That being said, having a whole new series allowed me to make some minor changes. For instance, there will be a new starting chapter for the first book, which will immediately introduce the main characters, Royce and Hadrian. This wasn’t something Orbit required, but Devi wanted to get to them faster. I’ve also had some readers who thought Archibald Ballentyne (a very minor character) was the focus of the book as he was the first person who was originally introduced. The fact that Archie is a disagreeable fellow turned a few people off of the book as they thought it might be about him. One other little tweak I made was to rewrite history with regards to one of my characters. Originally, he was forced to kill someone in self-defense and that never sat well with me regarding his character, so he’s been saved from such a hardship, for which he has expressed his gratitude.
One thing I would like to point out about editing. There have been people who have complained that there are a number of errors in the original books, typos, misplaced commas, and the like. This has led some to think the books were not edited, which was not true. In fact, they each have had multiple editors and proof readers. That being said, the copy editing of Orbit has been superlative. Their attention to detail has been astonishing and I’ve been totally impressed.
SoY: Reviewers have been saying great things about the self published Riyria Revelations for years now and I believe they've been fairly successful as far as independent/small press books go. How does it feel to have your writing (and other people's reviews) validated by a major publisher?
MJS: I’ve always thought the series was good, but then again I wrote it primarily for myself and my family. Because they were tailor made, it is no surprise that I like them. For me, the real validation came when sales started to take off on their own. This told me that people were referring the books to others and that made me think I had written something that had a wider appeal.
With the release of the fifth book, Wintertide, my sales went from 1,000 books a month to more than 10,000. I was impressed, but really didn’t have anything to compare that to until I was at a recent fantasy/scifi convention and talked to some other traditionally published authors. I discovered that I sold more in one month, then many did over their books lives.
Of course almost every author wants validation from a major publisher. There is always a twinge of pain when some naysayer says, “Well if the books were any good, why did he have to self-publish.” It never occurs to these people that I hadn’t submitted them—that I chose self-publishing. They just assume the books were turned down and self-published as a last resort. When we finally did submit, I was floored that we had multiple publishers immediately interested. That was a real kick in the head. Especially since this was before I started selling so well. At the time, my sales record was a respectable 1,000 books a month but nothing like the explosion that occurred later in 2010 and early 2011.
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MJS: Well, it wasn’t intentional. I thought any contract would come long after the last book was released. My wife, Robin, spends a lot of time studying various aspects of Amazon, like the fantasy bestsellers lists and the people also bought listings. I appeared on many fantasy lists but so did a lot of other self-published indie authors. But at some point, Amazon added a new feature where they showed buying habits on an author by author basis instead of book by book. If you look on the author’s page, or at the bottom of a books page, you’ll see sixteen authors whose books sell well with the audience of the author you were looking at. Robin noticed that on pages such as Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, V.S. Reddick, Brent Weeks, and about thirty others, mine was the only self-published author listed. There were even a number of places where I was number one or two. This was a real eye opener, which demonstrated that I was selling very well against major authors in the genre. Seeing this made Robin think she could leverage this success.
I had a foreign rights agent, and we asked her if it would make sense to make a try in the US market. She agreed and put together a proposal and sent it to seventeen houses. Usually publishing moves very slowly, and I figured it would take years before we saw any results. I figured that when the last book was out, and hopefully selling well, that we could get generate some interest. I had no idea it would snowball so quickly and seven houses immediately expressed an interest. I really like the choices Orbit has made and how they are growing their brand so we agreed on a six-figure deal with them just a few weeks after the original submission.
SoY: If you don't mind me asking, do you prefer the Ridan covers or the Orbit ones? Did you have any input as to the content?
MJS: The Orbit covers are very professional and much more in line with other books in the genre. They each depict the major characters, Royce and Hadrian. In general, I don’t like seeing the faces of characters on book covers. I prefer the reader to come up with their own idea of what they look like. That being said, I fully understand that Orbit is developing covers from a marketing perspective and they feel showing the characters is a good idea. I will say that if I saw both theirs and mine on a shelf I would be drawn to Orbit’s over my own.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the covers I did are pretty good and I get a lot of compliments on them. But in a lot of respects, the covers reflect what I’m capable of producing. I didn’t choose the scenes and landscapes motif because I thought they would sell best, or to try to put out something different. To be honest, I selected something that I was capable of producing well. I could never have created anything like what Orbit did. So, for the most part, I made the best covers I could with my limited resources.
As for input on the content, in general authors usually don’t get much say in the cover designs and many have a problem with this. I have a background in marketing, so I understand that the cover design is one that is selected to maximize sales. We talked about various ideas, but until I saw them I really didn’t know which way they had decided to go. If the covers had turned out badly, I suspect I would have had a lot to say. Luckily for me that wasn’t necessary.
Most authors don’t have the advantage of producing their books with their covers. Because I already had released them with my vision I really didn’t have a desire to interfere with Orbit’s ideas. In general I have like the covers they’ve done for other books, and I trusted them to do whatever they felt was best. The result was a very positive one and I’m very pleased with what they came up with.
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MJS: They will be able to complete their sets. We made a deal with Orbit that when their last book is released (the one that has Percepliquis in it) Ridan can also publish a limited edition of Percepliquis for a limited time with my covers and formatting. I think this is an exceedingly generous offer for Orbit to allow them to complete their sets and is just one of the reasons that I’m confident that I picked the right publisher to work with. Oh, and for those who prefer digital, Orbit will be putting out a Percepliquis only ebook version (using my cover), which will be half the price of the two-book set so that people who already paid for Wintertide won’t have to purchase it again.
For those people who are interested in the Percepliquis only version you should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll email them a buy link as soon as it is available.