Anatomy of a Half-Million Dollar Deal

February 11, 2015

I can say with deep pride of accomplishment that today is a very good day. Because today Del Rey Books, my client Michael J. Sullivan, and Fuse Literary announced the second biggest deal of my career: more than a half-million dollar advance for four books in Mr. Sullivan’s newest epic fantasy series, The First Empire. It was a deal over a year in the making.

There are many reasons this deal was worth so much money. Michael has been steadily increasing his author brand awareness and sales of his epic fantasy since his Riyria Revelations series was self-published in 2007 and then picked up by Big-Five publisher Orbit (Hachette) in 2011. He has won awards, hitting nearly 100 ‘Best of’ or ‘Most Anticipated’ lists. He’s hit Amazon’s Top 5 Best-selling Fantasy Authors list four separate times and spent a consecutive 617 days on their Top 100 Fantasy Authors list. He’s a dynamo on Goodreads, Reddit, and other fan-favorite sites where he loves to interact with his audience and they respond. His fan base has grown exponentially over the years. He sold foreign language translations to dozens of countries and has more than 100,000 audiobooks in the wild. Plus he’s a tireless champion for authors…especially vigilant about fairness between publishers and authors in this chaotic and challenging era of digital publishing. And his business partner and wife, Robin, keeps track of all the developments, all the chart data, all the growth in his career and had it ready for publishers to consider as this deal unfolded. Without her, I do not think we could have met with this level of success.

Some key features of Michael’s writing include: fast-pacing, memorable and likable characters, humor, and an effortless style. While there is plenty of death and drama, Michael’s writing bucks the trend of grimdark fantasy and harkens to fantasy’s classic traditions. Targeted at an adult audience, its lack of sex and profanity makes it accessible to readers of all ages. Epic Fantasy is on an upswing right now and we capitalized on it.

Best of all, Riyria Revelations has earned more than 350% of its original advance in 2.5 years, so Michael has proven he can deliver sales. And publishers reacted to that success.

Del Rey pre-empted this deal, meaning the auction I thought we were going to have with multiple publishers never came to be. So I’ll never know if we could have attained even higher heights with this deal. But what Del Rey did, the smart card they played that won the hand, was an acknowledgment of Michael’s need for the freedom to continue to self-publish. I can’t give you details of a confidential contract, but I can say that Del Rey understands that short stories and complementary novels outside The First Empire universe help build an author’s brand and are not competitive. Hybrid authors are the future. This was a critical part of what Michael was searching for in his next publisher. I hope he stays there a very long time.

I am so proud of my hybrid client and hope you’ll all share his success today. Michael J. Sullivan IS all of you writers. He shows you what is possible if you hold onto your dreams, work very hard, and keep developing your talent. Follow Michael on Twitter @Author_Sullivan. Visit his blog at And congratulate Tricia Narwani, Editorial Director at Del Rey Books for her sharp business acumen, generosity, and fairness. Like me, she was a fan of Michael’s writing before she ever became involved with him in business. I can’t wait for you all to read the first book, Rhune. Coming in 2016…