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Messages - Michael_J_Sullivan

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Writers' Cafe / Re: Latest Author Earnings Report has been posted
« on: January 24, 2018, 06:21:10 am »
I may be missing something, but to me the most useful piece of data was the $9.99 price leading the pack. I assume, although perhaps wrongly, that those are trad pub books. To me it sends a complicated message: It could be worth pursuing a trad pub contract just to get more high-dollar market penetration and then use hybrid status to sell self-published books at trad pub ebook prices and pocket the considerable profit. Rather a labyrinthine strategy, and one would give up a lot to be a HarperCollins book, for instance, but played right, it could break a romance author out of the $2.99 pit too many of us are in. In dollars, we're trailing genres that in units we completely rule.

I do exactly that. My self-published titles sell for $9.99 (my traditionally published titles are $9.99 - $14.99).  My sales for the self-published stuff is pretty much in line with the traditntal work so that allows me to really clean up on the self-published work. Also I'm doing "print-only" traditional contracts now so I can keep audio (which is huge for me) and ebook.  We'll see how that works out.

Writers' Cafe / Re: Latest on sales/borrows to rank?
« on: January 24, 2018, 06:13:00 am »
Does anyone know of sales rank to sales ratios that are adjusted for various months?  Or that get adjusted over the years?  To hit 1,000 in 2016 is much different than hitting 1,000 in 2018. Likewise 1,000 ranking in April is much different than sales at that same ranking in December.

Writers' Cafe / Re: How does success look over time?
« on: October 01, 2017, 03:53:31 pm »
Three real is a "magic number" in that until you have 3 books released, you really should spend more time writing book #2 and #3 rather than spending a lot of time marketing.  Why?  It takes a lot of effort to get someone interested, and if they buy a book and like it, they'll come looking for don't have more. By the time you do, they've forgotten about it and moved on.

I've released one or two books a year every year since 2008 (some were re-releases when they were picked up by a big-five publisher). The secret to success is to keep on producing, keep the quality of your work high, and always be grateful and respectful of the people who let you live your dream by buying your books.

Nicely detailed. Thanks for sharing. Information exchanges like this makes kboards a great resource.

Price control is HUGE. I WANT that. I've always wanted that, and I've told ACX many times through feedback.

It's my understanding that NO ONE has price control when it comes to audio and  In other words, not an author using ACX, not an audio producer like Recorded Books, and not the audio branch of a big-five (such as Hachette Audio).  All audio pricing is determined by and is, as far as I can see, greatly determined by running time (length of the work).

Hey Sylvia and Mary, thanks for interviewing. I really enjoyed our chat.

You seriously don't want to mess around with the narration. There is a good reason top narrators make good money. They can make all the difference between a hit and a flop. A good narrator will bring even a mediocre story to life. Fans of audio books know the difference and their number is growing.

That's my feeling as well...and for me, my narrator is already established with my books and I couldn't walk away from him. Does he cost more, yeah. Is he worth it? Every dime and then some!

There are many excellent narrators working for a fraction of that.

Oh, I'm sure there are. But I already have a narrator that's been used for all my other fantasy titles and my fans would string me up by my toes if I got rid of Tim Gerard Reynolds. So, yeah, my prices may be higher than what others can get and I should have mentioned that.  Same with ebook production. When self-published I recommend people try to keep their budget at $1,000 or less, but I routinely spend $3,500 (because of multiple editors and one of the best cover design artists in the business -- so yeah, my costs are higher than I would expect most people to shell out.

I wanted to jump in on this one particular point from a couple of pages ago. A quote of $10,000+ for upfront costs is kind of high. The most I've paid for a novel is about $4K. That's for over 100,000 words. I think it's fair to say I didn't trade off on quality, given the sales I've seen from Audible.

$4K is a great price good for you. Did you use a SAG-AFTRA member? My narrator is one and that is why my price may be higher.  They have a provision that you have to pay into the member's retirement fund so when you combine their wage, retirement, studio rental, and editing/master fees it gets up there. Yeah, you can do it cheaper (with non-union members and with people recording with "in-home studios" some of them are quite good. When I self-publish I generally use the same tools that my traditional publishers uses (editors, narrators, studios, etc) which is probably me paying more than I could get away with but it gives me a sense of comfort.

I love Robin. Both of you have helped so many aspiring authors - myself included. People should educate themselves on a situation before they open their mouth. 

Glad to hear we've been of help. Robin's work for authors has been really astounding. She's reviewed contracts, given free seminars, and even formatted ebooks for people who had reverted rights and didn't know how to get an ebook made. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  She really goes the extra mile and is a huge author advocate.

What have we learned boys and girls? You never know who is watching.

Someone sent me a link ;-)

Seriously I don't mind the negativity - although I do mind when people don't know full details of a situation and try to smear the name of a woman who I love dearly and has done A LOT to help authors -- even at sacrificing her own interests while doing so.

I am indeed a member and have been so for years. :) I was at one of the events in March. I'll miss the two this weekend but will be back for more. I'll make sure to say hi next time. Thanks to you and Robin for continuing to offer the learning opportunities.

Well good for you! It's a great opportunity. Robin knows her stuff and is generous with sharing it at those sessions. Sorry to hear you'll miss Saturday's sessions, but glad you'll be back int he future.

While I'm familiar with Michael's name, I'm new to his transparency (and patience).

His responses in this thread are heroic.

Michael, thanks for showing us how the sausage gets made.

You are very welcome. If you ever have any questions, don't hesitate to send me an email. (michael(dot)sullivan(dot)dc(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thanks for explaining everything, Michael.

The big question for non-hybrid Indies then is...does self-publishing with audible (I think it's a 7 year commitment now) screw up the potential for landing a deal with a publisher (or even generating any interest)? Audible appears to be a fantastic distribution channel.

You are very welcome. I do think doing a ACX deal would seriously jeopardize your chances at a big-five traditional deal. It probably isn't an issue with independent publishers, but I suspect the big-five will be "across the board" on their demand for audio - and they may be already.

Should we hold off or jump in? Is mainstream publishing even still looking at Indies, or are those deals so few and far between as to be meaningless? I think these are headaches we'd all like to have, but I think most of us would rather not shoot ourselves in the foot right out of the gate either.

Wish I knew.  The landscape, I'm sure, is much different than when I shifted from self to hybrid. I must confess I've not been "watching the deals" like I did in 2009 - 2011.  People on this forum probably have better intelligence than I do on that front. So, if a traditional deal is important to you - be VERY carful with your audio rights. we see in my case, if the audio deal is lucrative enough, you don't NEED a traditional deal. That doesn't stop someone from WANTING one, though. And I can totally understand making a decision to take "less money" to get the credentials that come with being a big-five publisher. Each person is going to be different and will weigh certain aspects higher than others. So while there isn't a single "universal right answer" there probably is one for each individual author. The important thing...and the reason I posted in the first place is to be educated of all the moving pieces so you can make an informed decision.  I wish you well.

Good to see you back around these parts, Michael! Thanks for taking the time.
I get that, and I appreciate your candor and transparency. Hopefully I'll be lucky enough to wind up in shoes like yours someday, and I hope we can compare notes at a con if it comes to that. Drinks on future me!

I do hope for you, and all authors, similar success. We need more authors earning a good living. And as for the drinks...Nope...won't have it. Drinks are definitely on me!!

Fwiw Michael, my print-only deal last year was with a big 5, so there is likely still some leeway depending on imprint and editor etc.

Yeah, huge congrats on your print-only deal. I have one of those as well, but I had to go to an indie print to get one. I'm also in the VERY early stages of talking with Kensington about another one. I suspect your ebook sales are MUCH better than mine, and you sell in a more category than "epic fantasy"  (especially if you are the "B" I think you are). I have pretty good "print + ebook sales" but when looking at "just ebooks" I'm not even making the top 100 kindle fantasy author list (although I tend to be in the mid-30's for the "fantasy books" list that includes hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks, and audio.

If you don't mind I'd like to send you a PM so we can talk more. I'm always interested in learning what various authors are able to.

In any case, certainly imprint and editor are going to have a lot to do with it. I'm just thrilled to hear there's been a recent print only deal as I thought those had pretty much dried up.


Welcome back!  Thanks for your responses here!


Hey Betsy - thanks for the welcome. You've alway done such a great job moderating the Writer's Cafe. Robin sings this forums praises all the time in the free classes she does in the Washington DC area.

That in the past he was able to get a major traditional publisher to give him a not-including-audio deal, and now that same publisher is totally unwilling to consider such deals. He feels the industry's stance on the issue has hardened. For people considering seeking a traditional deal, it could be useful to know that selling audio off separately is probably not going to be possible.

Yes, exactly.

Publishers have always wanted as many rights as they can grab, for as little as possible. That's not breaking news.

Yes, publishers have always wanted as many rights as possible...but audio rights WERE negotiable until just recently (a few months according to my publisher). Now they are 100% deal breakers - at least for Penguin Random House, and I think Harper Collins has a similar "corporate policy" and while I'm not sure if Hachette's policy is "corporate wide" I wasn't able to break them free on the two contracts I have with them. It's quite possible that the entire big-five (who typically walk in lockstep) have made a new "corporate decree" that audio is just like ebook rights in that they MUST be included in EVERY deal.

Thanks Jerry. That was not clear at all from the OP.

But I'm still confused, I have no idea what the lesson is here. Given that publishers want ALL of the rights...

Do we horde our rights for maximum leverage or parcel them off to the highest bidder?

The point I was making was.

1. Audio rights may be worth more than you think.

2. You should know what they are worth before you negotiate with a traditional publisher and make sure your happy that the advance is providing value for all three rights.

3. If you don't want to be "locked out" of a traditional deal, don't sell your audio rights first.

Actually, I think there was one more step to it.

1. Audio rights originally sold for only $2,000
2. When the contract was renewed it was for $400K
3. Because of how trade deals are structured, all subright sales done by the publisher are split 50/50
4. What wasn't a big deal when it was $2K became one when it was now $400K
5. Knowing his value had gone up, Michael sold the audio rights to the next series himself for seven figures
6. Publisher refused a print deal because audio wasn't available

Yep, you have the right of it.

Michael, how do you think they'd handle a potential hybrid author who has put their books into audio?  Does that mean that any self-pubbed series that's already in audio and locked up for seven years because of audio terms is no longer a consideration for a print deal with one of the Big 5?

Well, I can't speak for the entire Big-5, but history has proven that they tend to walk in "lock step" in such matters. What I can say is you would be locked out of Penguin Random House. I can also tell you (from some deals I didn't sign and from information that I heard from other authors) that Harper Collins has a similar "no audio, no deal" policy.  Also, I couldn't shake free audio rights from Hachette (but I don't know if that was a "corporate" thing or just for my contract). 

But, yeah, I suspect that you couldn't get a deal while that audio deal is in place. Now if you don't auto renew -- and let the rights revert then you probably could get a n audio + print + ebook deal, and you would have some good track record to value the worth of the audio. Personally, I don't think they'll pay FMV for the audio, again based on people who have been making deals where audio was attached). Also, your sales figures for audio may help or hurt. In the words if they started strong and then declined, they won't be excited by them. But if they were increasing, then they are more valuable.

Best advice I can give, before you "auto renew" ask your current publisher what additional advance they are offering, if they say none, then shop it around.  Then go back to them with competitive numbers from others, and see what they'll say - I suspect they'll beat the best offer.  And then armed with that you'll have to decide if it's worth rolling that into a print + audio + ebook deal.  Here's hoping you get a deal that is in your best interest!

Michael can clear this up better than me, but I think it was this:

1) He had the previous $400k audible rights deal where he left $200k on the table.
2) He learned from that deal that he was leaving a lot of money on the table
3) In his NEW deal, he negotiated the audible rights right off the bat for 7 figures
4) Since he had done #3, he later learned that Del Ray was now prevented from entering into print contract negotiations with him (by RP).

He's not trying to back out of the $400k deal. That's already baked in.

He's just saying that that $400k deal made him realize how much money there was to be made and he wised up with his next contract.

And because of him doing that, he found out that RP is not even going to consider contracts that do not include the audible rights.

Which is why he is no longer with Del Rey.

Which is why he posted in Reddit (to clear the air and also to educate)

Well done! The only thing that isn't 100% correct is the #1.  And it is complicated. so I'm not surprised.  Let me try to address that.  In 2010 I signed an audio + print + ebook contract with Hachette for three books - it was a low six-figure deal.  Later, Hachette sub-contracted with Recorded books (for $2,000 each) for them to produce the audio. Because Hachette sold the audio as a subsidiary right we split the audio income 50/50. What this means is I earn 3.5% of net on audio sales because I earn 50% (Hachette takes the other 50%) of 20% (Recorded Books takes the other 80%) of 35% (Audible takes the other 65%).  After my agent's fee I earned about $95,000 for a book that netted 3.2 million. And that kind of "share" is not something I want to be involved with in the future--which is why I've adopted a policy of selling audio first (Which worked out fine for the first half the series, but now "locked me out" for the second half of the series.  The whole $400,000 / $200,000 thing has to do with the fact that the license that Recorded books bought for $2,000 a book in 2010 is now MUCH more expensive -- to the tune of $400,000.  And I was kvetching that I have to split that with Orbit even though they did nothing more than sign a piece of paper.

Al the rest of your points are dead on. Thanks for filling in.

I think I misunderstood the OP. So, please, someone correct me if I'm still misunderstanding.

Michael decided that, as great as they are, Del Rey did not offer an additional $200k worth of brand enrichment.

So, he didn't refuse a $200k deal, he refused to share the $400k he already had contractually in hand.


Nope.  It's a bit confusing because my post was about two things.

1. Del Rey (who I have an ebook + print) contract for the first three books in a series is prohibited (by their parent company: Penguin Random House) to enter another print + ebook contract for the rest of the series because I already sold the audio rights Audible Studios (who offered me a seven-figure deal).

2. The $400,000 / $200,000 thing is about an entirely different deal. My first contract (with Hachette) was an audio + ebook + print deal and while my agent tried to get us to keep the audio rights, Hachette made it a "deal breaker" so we signed them.  At the time, no one expected the rights to be worth much ($2,000 a book), so it wasn't a big deal. Now, years later, the audio producer wants to extend their contract with Hachette and to get the right to sell the audio for another 5 years they are offering a $400,000 additional advance. Because my publisher split 50% of audio income that means they get $200,000 and I get $200,000. Outside of that "extended advance" the audio books on that contract have made about $3,200,000 and I've earned $95,000 or so. I was just "kvetching" about the disparity in income between the various parties and using it as an example while it's not in my best interest to bundle audio + print + ebooks since I Hearn 3.2% on those sales (50% of 20% of 35%) when the audio is attached to a publisher and Audible offers 15% when sold directly (although I get more than that, and I'm not at liberty to say how much).

Does that help clarify it?

Thanks for coming back and responding, Michael. I've enjoyed your books and the workshops you and Robin run in the DC metro area. Looking forward to your next work.

You are welcome.  Are you a member of the DCWrite2Publish group?  I hope you'll be coming to the two seminars on Saturday (one on contracts one on money and publishing).  if you haven't heard those before they are two of the best ones Robin does...and for anyone in the D.C. area - they are 100% free. They are held at the Arlington Public Library and they will be running from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm this Saturday.

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