Ask Michael: Answered

Many writers and readers ask me questions (some from right here on this site).  I’ll try to post them as they come up so that others might benefit as well.

Supporting the Author

How, as a consumer, do I make sure you (and other deserving authors) get the most money from my purchase? 

Thanks for thinking about the author’s compensation. I’ve answered, and seen this asked many times and most authors (including myself) say, “Buy whatever version you want most . We’re just glad you are wanting to support us.”  That being said…most like a bit of a peak behind the curtains.  So here goes.  Compensation depends on format.  In general it goes like this:

  • Hardcover – 10% (for the first 5,000 copies) 12.5%  (for the next 5,000) and 15% for any over that.  This is of the LIST price so if the MSRP of a hardcover is $25.99 the author gets $2.60 regardless of  how much of a discount you paid for it.
  • Paperbacks – are usually 6% – 8% – sometimes they have a similar escalator, but for instance for my trade paperbacks I get 7.5% – Again based on LIST price.  Orbit sells my books for either $16.00 or $17.00 so I earn $1.20 or $1.28 per purchase.  Mass market paperbacks (that sell for say $7.99 usually have an 8% royalty so the author earns $0.64 per sale.
  • ebooks – Are a bit different – royalties are base on “publisher’s net”  so discounting does matter.  If you buy a book on sale for $2.99 the author makes 1/3 of what they do when it’s bought at full $9.99 price.  In the old days this was really easy to calculate because there was something called the “agency model.” What this meant was the publisher set the price, the retailer couldn’t discount, and then the author got 25% of what the publisher did.  Under the agency model the retailers cut was 30% so the author earned 17.5% (25% of 70%) . So for my $9.99 ebook I get $1.74.  Nowadays there is a dispute whether ebooks should be sold on a “warehouse model” – where the retailer buys at as set discount (say 50%) and then they can discount ebooks – just like they do print books.  In fact my publisher and Amazon are in a big dispute about this right now, so I have no idea what my income on ebooks will be because it depens on what the retailers cut will be.  In such a scenario will be, but the bottom line is the publihser will earn $3 for every $1 I make regardless of how much the retailer takes.

Now all that being said…many authors, myself include. Sell our books on our own website – and there is where we earn the most money.  The reason is the retailer doesn’t have their cut.  For myself, I can buy my books from my publisher at a 50% discount, I can offer a 15% discount to the reader and I make 35%.  So for the $16.00 book I an earn $5.60 which is more than 450% what I earn when the same book is purchased through a store – plus the reader gets a personalized signature (if they want one).


Can you make sure Tim Gerard Reynolds does the audio book? He really does your story justice.

Yes I can…and I have. I can’t say enough good things about Tim and the work he has done on the Riyria Revelations and Riyria Chronicle books.  For the first two contracts, the audio rights were “bundled” in with the print/ebook contracts as a subsidiary right by Orbit.  What that means is they had 100% control over the rights and the production of the audio and so I had zero say.  Fortunately, Recorded Books approached them for the rights (so they weren’t just “sat on”) and also picked Tim for the narrator.  When the second contract was being negotiated…I wanted to keep the audio rights because I wanted to ensure Tim would continue to be involved. My agent wasn’t able to negotiate those out of the contract so Orbit once again had that responsibility.  They were going to switch to producing them through Hachette Audio…and this would have meant a pay increase from me, as I’d be making full royalty whereas when done with Recorded Books, Orbit takes 50%.  I begged them to keep it Recorded Books as I was willing to keep the lower royalty to have him involved.

As I started work on my next projects (The First Empire and the third chronicle book), I figured since I couldn’t get Orbit to give up those rights, the best thing to do was to negotiate those rights BEFORE working on the ebook/print contracts. There was a nice bidding war going on between three publishers and each of them knew that having Tim Gerard Reynolds attached was a requirement and they all promised they did.  One organization, even sweetened the deal by paying Tim twice his normal rate (in the form of a bonus)…and that meant a great deal to us so we signed The First Empire with them.  So yes, Tim is on board for my next five books.  And I couldn’t be happier.

How should an aspiring author go about finding a book editor?

Here is a good article about editors: Self-Published Authors: How To Choose An Editor.  Here is a technique that I have used with good success when looking for a copy editor:

  • Take the first 3 pages of your manuscript and add a few errors to  it (like it’s instead of its…missing a closing ” on dialog and maybe  using through instead of though.
  • Place an Ad on Craig’s list.  (costs $25) Say you have a novel  that is xxx words long and you are looking for an editor.  Explain what  in particular you are looking for (just copy editing, developmental  editing) ask them to send you an email.
  • Make a spreadsheet – first column is email of people responding.   Second column is $’s thenhave a column for each “error” (those planted  by you and others that are found and edits come in) and mark which  editors find which ones.
  • Send an email with first 3 pages, indicate that that is xxx words  of a yyy manuscript ask them to edit/return the 3 page sample then give  you an estimate for the full book based on what they have seen so far.
  • As responses come in – fill out the spreadsheet
  • Choose one or two editors from the list.

Personally I would go with two inexpensive (but thorough) editors  than one very expensive one – as no single editor will find “all the  errors” so the more eyes the better.

What is my take on the recent Harper Voyager Open Submission for ebook only fantasy releases? 

I see this as a disturbing move that may well end up becoming the standard for the “mid-list” from major publishers. Basically how I see this is Harper Voyager said to themselves….

  • Wow a lot of self-published authors are selling well
  • I bet many of them would be willing to sign with a big-press
  • We don’t have to do print or offer advances (so we can have a much lower initial investment
  • We make 52.5% and they make 17.5% WHAT A DEAL.

I think this doing this is the best way to “jack in” to already successful self-published authors (because they don’t have agents). When I saw the announcement I thought wow, I feel like George Baily in It’s a Wonderful Life who is trying to explain to people who are rushing to get their money from Potter that he’s cashing in on their mob mentality.

Fact is…the traditional publishers have a HUGE advantage in print book distribution…this is what authors need them for. When it comes to digital the playing field is level and indies do very well (toe-to-toe infact) with the stuff they are putting out (50% of the epic fantasy list is indies and 50% traditonal). This is one of those situations where it is a GREAT deal for hte publisher but the author really isn’t getting something that they couldn’t get on their own.

As for it being “unagented” – well I think that is because few agents would recommend a “digital only” deal for their authors.

If you look at the authors in the Amazon imprints (Thomas & Mercer, 47 North, Montlake, Encore) A LOT of them are high earning self-published authors. I see this as Harper Voyagers way of scooping up these people just as Amazon has done. I would suspect that quite a few who are “offered” a contract will be self-published…I also think, if they are smart…they will turn it down. But at least they will have the validation that a big publisher thought they were “good enough.”


How frequently do you refer to your outlines while composing?

I only really look at it just before I start the chapter in question.  Once I get done, I’ll go back and look at it again, to see if there is anything I missed.  If there is, it may be that I “thought” this was the right place for that particular detail but maybe it wasn’t.  So I’ll either edit the chapter to add the missing piece – or I’ll cut the bullet from the outline of that chapter and paste in in somewhere else.  In a few cases I may decide that it was a bad idea in the first place so I’ll just strike through it to indicate that I considered and decided against it.

Can you tell me a bit about how you developed the language in the Riyria series? I’m a bit of a linguist geek and I just love that Tolkien created these languages “from scratch”. Just wondering if you had any method in creating the Elvish in Riyria, or if you based it on something else.

My language is primarily related to spellings of certain words. I don’t have anywhere near the background or talent for languages that Tolkien has.  A lot of my language revolves around the introduction of  “y”s and silent “h’s”.  So the son of Maribor is “Novron” to the humans but “Nyphron” for the elves (or in the “ancient speak”).  A number of words start off as elvish but as the humans adopt them some letters are dropped for instance the eles refer to Avryn (Land of Green) as Avrylyn  – (in elvish “lyn” means land of – but the humans dropped part of it over the centuries.  A lot of the language background will come out in my new series, The Fist Empire. For instance mankind lives in small villages built on mounds called a “dahl.”  Each one has their own name like “Dahl Rhen” or “Dahl Dureya” – you might remember that Avempartha is near a city called Dahlgren – which in ancient times would be “Dalh Gren.”

There is more things like that for instance the ancient humans worshiped a God named “Mari” so Maribor – is actually a permutation of  “Mari born”.  One last thing I’ll mention. Three of the new books are based on the ancient races of: Rhune – Man, Dherg – dwarves, and Fhrey – elves.  In each one the “h” is silent and each has fie letters.

New Releases

So now that I see you finished writing the first book (of the First Empire), when do you expect to start releasing these two items, at least for pre-order?

A lot will depend on whether they end up being traditionally published or self-published. The first step is I have to write all three and my schedule for that is to have the second book written by Thanksgiving this year and the third book by April of next year.  So that means I can submit to publishers in early May 2014.  I’m going to give my agent a month or two to try and strike a deal  So that means July 2014 they could be signed. Usually books are released about 1 year after signing so that would mean Summer of 2015.  If, however, I don’t get a deal, or the deals being offered don’t look good enough then I’ll self-publish.  in that case I would be shooting for the first book to be released in October 2014 in order to be in time for the Christmas season.   So October 2014 if self, and Summer 2015 if traditional.

Riyria Questions

What I was wondering is how good is Hadrian in fighting with his bare hands? I know that there have been some instances of this, particularly at the beginning of The Crown Tower (which was pretty sweet), but still, I’ve never been able to get a general idea of his abilities in this field. It just seems to me, since he possesses the skill of the best fighters that ever lived among men, that he would be just as skilled without weapons as with, but I can’t be sure. So, could you shine some light on the subject for me?  How does Hadrian, in your mind, fight without weapons, if he is indeed proficient in this area?

You are correct in that Hadrian is proficient in any form of combat – with or without weapons.  Early on in The Riyria Revelations (opening of Avempartha) some members of the Black Diamond seek them out on a bridge. When being introduced to Hadrian one of them says, “What? He’s some kind of master swordsman? Is that it?”

Price chuckled. “Sword, spear, arrow, rock, whatever is at hand.”

He could have gone on to say, that none of those are required. It’s pretty simple, really, Hadrian has been trained in skills that have long since been forgotten and with or without weapons he can best anyone in the kingdom, and easily take on multiple people at once without problem.

How did Degan Gaunt come to possess the medallion?

Well first before I start out I should mention that this could be a spoiler for people so let me use my alert


Okay, so we learn that Royce was one of two babies born in Ratibor the night the last heir was killed. The midwife takes him (and the medallion) and sneaks out after the bloodshed.  Later, when Arcadius comes trying to piece together the events of that night he knocks on her door and questions her.  This spooks the midwife so she gets rid of Royce (it’s never said exactly how – but it is highly implied that she just abandons him on the street.  She did, however keep the pretty silver necklace.

Years pass, she has children of her own one of them being Degan Gaunt.  Now one of two things happens.  She either gives it to him as he’s setting off to make his way in the world…or more likely based on Degan’s personality…he found it and stole it before heading out. And that’s how gets a hold of it.


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