You all are THE BEST, MOST SUPPORTIVE, and ALL AROUND greatest people there are. Thank you so much for the amazing support of this project!
Welcome to the Age of Death Kickstarter! This marks my 16th published novel and my sixth crowdfunding campaign. The previous two books in the series, Age of Legend and Age of War, made the New York Times Bestsellers list, three of the books became USA Today bestsellers, and three made it onto the Washington Post Hardcover bestseller list on multiple occasions.
What is the book about? Here's the marketing copy from the back cover:
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 for 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 really 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.
For returning readers, recaps are available so you can be reminded about what has happened so far.
If the project doesn't fund, the hardcover will still be released because I'll take out a business loan for the printing. I've already talked to my bank, and they don't see any problem with funding. Hopefully, I won't have to go that route. Here are some other things you might be interested to know about this project.
- All physical books come signed: a perk for ordering the books directly from the author).
- All ebooks are DRM-free, which means you can load them on any device: computer, smartphone, and tablet without any locking feature preventing you from moving it from place to place.
- For backing this project, your name will be printed in the Backer Acknowledgements section, so everyone will know that you are an awesome supporter of the project.
- The official release through the retail channels is Feb 4, 2020, but all levels (except SOUND ADVICE) will receive ebooks 3 months early (in late October)
- For the levels that provide a physical book, we've bundled the ebook to ensure early access to the story. If you don't want to pay for the ebook (for instance you only want a physical copy), then purchase from the pre-order links below. If you still want the other exclusive Kickstarter bonuses, you can back at the SOUND ADVICE level, and that $5 will get your name in the book and provide you all the other backer perks.
- If you are missing one or more of the previous books in the series, you can use the DOUBLE TROUBLE (2 books), THREE BOOK NIGHT (3 books), FOUR TO GO (4 books) or ALL IN (all 5 books) to purchase discounted backlist titles. You will let us know which title(s) you want during the survey process after the Kickstarter ends.
- The list price of Age of Death is $28 (as are most books in the series), but we are discounting all hardcovers from this Kickstarter. Each book is just $25. The more books you buy, the greater the savings: HARD CORE: $3 | DOUBLE TROUBLE: $5 | THREE BOOK NIGHT: $8 | FOUR TO GO: $11 | ALL IN: $14.
- For people who are interested in the story, but Kickstarter just isn't their thing, there are pre-orders at all the major retailers including Amazon (US | UK | Canada | Germany) | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Book Depository (free shipping worldwide) | !ngigo (Canada) | IndieBound | Audible.com.
The Legends of the First Empire series is a six-book epic fantasy, and the first three books have been released by Del Rey (a fantasy imprint of Penguin Random House) from 2016 - 2018. The remaining three titles are on an accelerated schedule and will be released within a span of 10 months (Age of Legend - Jul 2019 | Age of Death - Feb 2020 | Age of Empyre - May 2020).
The released books have been well-received (90% of them at 4- or 5-star), and they have garnered 75,000+ ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible.com.
The most recent book, Age of Legend, has been out for just over a month and already has more than 4,650 reviews/ratings.
In case you are not familiar with the other books in the series, here is a bit about each.
Age of Myth: Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.
Age of Swords: Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhune make it all but impossible to unite against a common foe. And even if the clans can join forces, how will they defeat an enemy whose magical prowess makes the Fhrey indistinguishable from gods? The answer lies in a faraway land populated by a reclusive and dour race. With time running out, Persephone leads a small band of misfits in a desperate search for aid, a quest that will take them into the darkest depths of Elan. There, an ancient adversary waits—an enemy as surprising as it is deadly.
Age of War: The alliance of humans and renegade Fhrey is fragile—and about to be tested as never before. Persephone keeps the human clans from turning on one another through her iron will and a compassionate heart while Nyphron, seeks to advance his own nefarious agenda. Old loyalties will be challenged while fresh conspiracies will threaten to undo all that Persephone has accomplished. In the darkest hour, when hope is all but lost, new heroes will rise . . . but at what terrible cost?
Age of Legend: After years of warfare, humanity has gained the upper hand and has pushed the Fhrey to the edge of their homeland—but no farther. Now comes the pivotal moment. Persephone’s plan to use the stalemate to seek peace is destroyed by an unexpected betrayal that threatens to hand victory to the Fhrey and leaves a dear friend in peril. Humanity’s only hope lies in the legend of a witch, a forgotten song, and a simple garden door.
Okay, so we've learned a bit about the book and the series, but what about me? Well, my name is Michael J. Sullivan, and I’m a full-time novelist. To type those words is kind of surreal, as writing isn't a career that most can make a living at. I'm eternally grateful to all my readers who make it feasible to live a dream I never thought would be possible.
Like many (too many), my road to authorship wasn't an easy one. I wrote in a variety of genres from 1979 to 1994, and after thirteen novels and more than a hundred rejections, I quit after vowing never to write creatively again. Well, never turned out to be a bit more than a decade, as I couldn't suppress the itch to write any longer. Over those years, a story had been growing in my head, and I decided to write it, but with one condition: that I wouldn't seek publication. I hoped that a few friends and my dyslexic daughter (who had always struggled with reading) would take a look, and that would be good enough for me.
After reading the books, my wife made it her mission to make sure they saw the light of day. She willed them into existence, first with a small-press (who was well-intentioned but ultimately provided us no income nor any substantial readership), later through self-publishing (which worked much better), and eventually she attracted the interest of Orbit (the fantasy imprint of a big-five publisher, Hachette Book Group). The rest, as they say, is history.
In the publishing business, I'm what's referred to as a "hybrid" because I've released books through traditional publishers as well as utilizing self-publishing. If you want to learn why I do that, you can look at the Why Self-Publish section below.
All told, I've written 31 novels: 13 are sitting in a trunk never to see the light of day, 12 are released by a traditional publisher, 10 are currently or previously self-published, and 3 are making their way through the editing and release cycle. That number includes the last 2 books in The Legends of the First Empire as well as the first novel in a new series, which is tentatively titled The Rise and the Fall.
Some of my publishing accomplishments include:
- New York Times Bestselling Author (2 times)
- USA Today Bestselling Author (2 times)
- 3 books with multiple appearances on the Washington Post Hardcover Bestseller list
- 1,980,000 English language books sold
- 416,750+ Ratings (89.6% 4 & 5-star | 8.4% 3-star | 2.0% 1 & 2-star
- 90+ foreign language contracts in 13 languages
- 7 six-figure and 1 seven-figure advance for traditionally published works
- 2,000+ days (5.5 years) on the Amazon Top 100 Fantasy Author list
- 7-time Goodreads Choice Award Nominee
- 4 Earphone Award Wins and one Audie Award Nomination
- One of the Top 50 most-followed authors on Goodreads
- Named by io9 as one of the most successful self-published science fiction and fantasy authors
- Named to more than 260 best-of or most-anticipated lists including those compiled by Library Journal, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, and Goodreads.
This handy chart provides a quick and easy way to determine what you receive at the various reward levels. Click here to view a high-resolution version that is much easier to read.
Unlike my last Kickstarter, we will be using BackerKit to aid in the fulfillment of shipped books, and by popular demand, we'll be bringing back Robin's tip jar. So, if you want to add a bit extra to your pledge for that, you'll be able to distribute the tip when the project is over.
Because we will be using BackerKit to fulfill the project, this allows us to provide you with custom rewards that combine additional items that you may wish to add to your reward level. One of the most popular items from one of our prior Kickstarters was the Montemorcey Boat Tote. For those that don't know, Montemorcey is widely considered as one of the finest wines produced on the face of Elan and this canvas tote is a unique and rare item. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to ship overseas, so this is limited to US customers only. If you REALLY want one and you aren't in the US contact me about pricing. You can add this to your current pledge by including an extra $25.
Here are the steps to add it:
- At the top of this page, click on "Manage your pledge"
- Chose "Change your pledge"
- Increase the amount of your pledge by $25 but DO NOT change your reward level.
- After the Kickstarter is over, you can "apply" that $25 credit by adding the tote to your order.
Similarly for those who want an ebook of Age of Legend, you can add $10 to your pledge and then attribute that to the ebook.
So, we funded in 25 minutes - a new record! So I guess we should need stretch goals.
- #1: $50,000 - UNLOCKED - custom designed Age of Death bookmark. If you've participated in past Kickstarters, you know we made bookmarks for each book. Here is what they look like:
- If we reach this goal, we'll design a matching one for Age of Death. For people who are getting a physical book, you'll get the bookmark for free. If you are a digital only customer and want a bookmark add the following to your pledge: add $1 for US shipping and $3 for overseas. When the Kickstarter is over, you can distribute that "extra" money toward getting your Age of Death bookmark.
- #2 - $73,164 - UNLOCKED - Short story: Autumn Mists -- why this odd number? If reached we would bump my Death of Dulgath Kickstarter and this would be come our 3rd-most funded Kickstarter
- #3 - 2,554 backers - UNLOCKED Signed bookmarks. If we reach this goal, the bookmark that was part of stretch goal #1 will be signed. In addition, the "add-on" bookmarks for that goal (the ones that are $1 (US) and $3 (Non-US) will be a full set of all 5 (so that the people who missed the bookmarks in the last Kickstarter can get the other versions. Why 2,554 backers? That will beat the Age of Legend record and make this project the 2nd most-backed fiction Kickstarter of all time.
- #4 - $100,000 - UNLOCKED: Age of Legend Digital bonuses and new short story. This stretch goal will bring in a bunch of digital content (much of which was created for the last Kickstarter, but we'll also be providing a short story which will be new for everyone. So here's what the stretch goal will provide: Short stories: 4 additional tales: Pile of Bones | The Game | Burning Alexandria | Little Wren and the Big Forest (new to this Kickstarter) Music: 10 original compositions by Will Musser which were inspired by Age of Myth, Age of Swords, Age of War, and Age of Legend. Screensavers: We'll give you the illustrations to the artwork Marc Simonetti has done for both Legends of the First Empire and two of the Riyria Chronicles, that's 6 different designs and 11 sizes for a total of 66 files. T-shirts, Posters, and Puzzles: No, we won't be making these items and shipping them (because that is a logistic nightmare), but we will make the graphics available, so you can have them printed at any number of online stores that accept custom graphics. This will include: 3 t-shirt designs, 6 posters, and 6 puzzles.
- #5 - $110,886 - UNLOCKED: Behind the scenes "making of" video. Robin and I will take you inside the creative process to show you how this book went from what it had originally been conceived as to what it ultimately became. You'll learn about the changes, the trials, and the tribulations. This video will be spoiler filled, so you shouldn't watch it until after you've finished reading the book, but it will provide an interesting behind the scenes look at the creative process. We anticipate this video will be 30 - 60 minutes in length.
Unfortunately, I'm not able to offer the audiobook as part of the Kickstarter (it's under license to Audible Studios, and only they can distribute it), but that doesn't mean you can't join the fun. You can back at either the SOUND ADVICE level (no ebook) or the DIGITAL DELIGHT level (includes ebook), and you'll still get exclusive bonus perks that only backers of the Kickstarter will receive. Oh, and the audiobook will be available on release day, so be sure to pre-order the audiobook now to receive it on Feb 4th.
We have no desire to make a profit shipping the books, so we have priced our shipping fees at cost. That said, shipping does add up and here are some of the costs.
- Postage (utilizing the USPS) - We have looked into shipping a large order to Europe and distributing from there, but until the Kickstarter is over, we won't know if the volume is high enough to make that viable. Overseas fulfillment adds a lot of additional costs including: shipping the books to a freight forwarder to put it on a ship overseas, the costs for the boat (and all kinds of add-ons like diesel rates, import fees, customs fees, VAT fees, transportation from the dock to the shipping company. So, at this time we have made all our calculations using USPS rates (but we are applying substantial discounts for international customers. For more details, see the next section. For backers within the US, we'll be using Media Mail Rates to keep your shipping costs as low as possible.
- Insurance - In the past, we haven't added insurance. This was a big mistake because lost, stolen, or damaged packages occur and we had to take more than $1,000 from the last project's profit to cover for those losses. We will now insure high value packages, especially when shipping overseas.
- Packing materials - This adds $0.75 to $1.75 depending on how many books are being sent.
- Picking fees - This is the money we pay to our fulfillment partners to package and mail the books. It ranges from $2.50 (for a single book) to $4.10 for a 5-book package. Plus there is a $2.00 surcharge for international packages (because of customs forms).
- Processing Fees: When we charge $7 for shipping, we don't actually receive that amount because of the fees involved with running a Kickstarter. The breakdown of fees are 5% to Kickstarter, 3% for credit card processing, and 2% for BackerKit. So that $7 results in just $6.30. To break even on shipping, we have to scale up the shipping cost to cover those expenses.
Overseas shipping is very expensive. For a $25 book our shipping cost ranges from $27.82 to $35.48. For a 5-book package, that goes up to $67.52 to $107.04. And to make matters worse none of that money goes into our pockets (see breakdown of shipping costs above). This is absolutely ridiculous, and while it's possible we can bring that cost down by shipping to a European fulfillment company, we won't be able to determine if that is possible until we know quantities, volume, and weights.
So, for our International customers, we will:
- Significantly slash the prices we charge for the books.
- Package and mail the books ourselves (for all countries except US and Canada) to save the fulfillment processing fees.
- Apply those savings to offset non-US shipping.
Here are the savings we'll apply to International orders:
- Non-US customers will get the ebook at 50% off (saving $5)
- For Age of Swords, Age of Legend, and Age of Death we'll take $10 off the price of the hardcovers
- For Age of Myth and Age of War (which we have to buy from our publisher) we'll take $2.50 off
- Savings in fulfillment charges will be $5 for 1 book and $6.10 for 5 books
By applying the above savings, the International shipments go down by $20 for 1 book and $46.10 for 5 books. This will drop the international shipping to a much more reasonable cost $11 - $15 for 1 book and $29 - $34 for 5 books (in most countries). By making less profit, we hope it'll make it possible for more people outside the United States to get physical copies.
Something I should note: only the HARDCORE and ALL IN reward levels are setup for non-US shipping. Why? Because we don't know which books you'll be selecting for your additional copies. Because of that, we can't determine if we should deduct $10 or $2.50. This doesn't mean you can't get the 2, 3, or 4 book rewards, it just means the process for those reward levels will be a bit different. Here's how it will work:
- Purchase at the 1-book level (HARDCORE or (H)EARLY BIRD)
- After the Kickstarter, add the other books you want to receive.
- We'll calculate the price for your specific configuration and apply the appropriate discounts within BackerKit. This will clearly show what additional money will be required to purchase the extra book(s) and pay for their shipping.
- You can then review the final price, and if the shipping looks to be too much, you can remove the additional books and go back to the original 1-book price.
- Once you are satisfied with the book(s) and shipping charges, then you'll make a payment from within BackerKit.
- We will ship all the books (those ordered from the Kickstarter, and those added on in BackerKit) in one package.
I know that sounds complicated, but I think it won't be when you go through the process, and I'm pretty sure that 90% of the backers will purchase either the 1-book hardcover or the full set of 5, so there should be very few people who fall into this category.
One last thing I should mention about non-US shipping. We've calculated the pricing and setup the Kickstarter for countries where people have purchased from us in the past. But if you find yourself in a country we didn't run the numbers for - no worries. Just send me a message through Kickstarter with the country you need, and Robin will add it to the appropriate reward levels. Hopefully we covered most of the countries so this should be a rare situation.
I have one rule when self-publishing a book: it has to be indistinguishable from titles I release through my traditional publishers. To ensure this level of quality, I hire the same professionals that my publisher uses. Could I get this done cheaper? Sure, these are professionals at the top of their game, and as such, they command high rates, but I think they are worth every penny. Here's who is working with me on this project.
- Marc Simonetti (cover artist) - Marc has created 15 covers for my books (for both the US and foreign translations) and also has 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.
- Tim Gerard Reynolds (audiobook narrator) - Tim has recorded 14 novels of mine, and he's also narrated books by Pierce Brown, Mark Lawrence, Larry Correia, Edward W. Robertson, Jonathan Renshaw, and Gail Z. Martin. He's won multiple Earphone Awards and has been nominated for several Audies.
- Laura Jorstad (copy editor) - works for multiple fantasy publishers (Del Rey, Ballantine Books, St. Martins, and Sterling Publishing just to name a few). She's edited books by David Gemmel, Naomi Novik, a number of the books in the Star Wars franchise, two New York Times Bestsellers from Steve Berry, and eight of my novels.
- Linda Branam (copy editor) - has been editing for 20+ years and has a passion for fiction. This is my seventh project with her.
- Shawn Speakman (publisher/distributor) - Shawn started up Grim Oak Press to help pay medical bills after beating cancer a second time. Generally, he's produced anthologies and premium hardcovers, and Age of Death will be the third time he's releasing a trade publication. Some of the authors Shawn has worked with include: Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Raymond E. Feist, Pierce Brown, Naomi Novik, Jacquelin Carey, Jim Butcher, Stephen R. Donaldson, Mark Lawrence, Janny Wurtz, Peter Orullian, and Barbara Hambly.
- BoxInBoxOut - is an order fulfillment company based in Madison Virginia. They've been shipping books ordered from our website for more than a year, and they expertly handled the shipping for our last Kickstarter Age of Legend. I've found them to be professional, conscientious, and hardworking. They've shipped more than 6,500 books for us and they make running a Kickstarter so much easier than when we used to do all the shipping ourselves.
This is not my first rodeo when it comes to running crowd-funding projects. My past Kickstarters have been quite successful, and they are currently ranked #2, #4, and #6 of the most-backed fiction projects of all time and they are #5, #7, and #10 when looking at the most-funded fiction projects. I'm proud to say we've received hundreds of accolades about our responsiveness and the care with which we deliver on our promises. Below is a summary of our past projects (you can see a higher resolution of the graphic at this link.
If you want to check out what people have said about our projects, you can see them at the following links.
- Age of Legend
- Disappearance of Winter's Daughter
- The Death of Dulgath
- Hollow World
- Age of Swords (Indiegogo)
I think it's important that backers know where their hard-earned cash is going. Before starting this Kickstarter, we did an analysis of the costs based on a model of a certain number of contributors and the levels we thought they would back. Based on crunching those numbers, we believe this project will cost $43,445. The price of each component is shown below.
You may have noticed that the Kickstarter's goal is set at about half of that amount. Why? Well, we look at this endeavor as a partnership, and as such I want to share in the costs.
Since 2011, most of my books have been traditionally published, and so you may be wondering why I'm self-publishing this title. There are a few reasons. The first has to do with audio rights. When we signed the original contract for the first three books in the Legends of the First Empire series, the rights included just ebook and print, which was good because the audiobook rights for the entire series had already been sold. When it came time to negotiate for the last three books, a change in corporate policy from Penguin Random House required audiobook rights as well, so for this reason, it became impossible for us to publish those books with Del Rey.
But aside from that, we've been self-publishing since 2009, and it's an approach we really enjoy. Age of Death will be my 11th indie novel (I released six books from 2009 - 2012 and another four from 2014 - 2019). Having done both self and traditional, I find producing the book myself is (a) easier (b) creates a better product (c) is more profitable and (d) offers me greater freedom. With all those advantages, it's little wonder why I'm going to be self-publishing all my titles from now on.
Now, for all the good things about self-publishing, there are some downsides as well. First, it's the publisher that pays all the out-of-pocket expenses. Hopefully, the Kickstarter will help on that front. Second, traditionally-published advances ensure a certain amount of guaranteed income to the author. With self-publishing, you could end up losing money, and again the Kickstarter helps with this. Third, self-published titles rarely make it onto shelves in bookstores and libraries. To solve this last problem, I'm partnering with Shawn Speakman at Grim Oak Press who will be using his distribution contacts to get Age of Death into bookstores worldwide. I had the same arrangement for Age of Legend, and so far it's been working wonderfully, but my contract with Shawn is quite unconventional. Basically, I'm assuming all the capital expenditures, and he'll take a cut of each copy sold through the retail chains. My hope is this will work well for both of us, and if so, then it may open a whole new business model for Shawn, someone who is already a publishing veteran and thinking outside the box.
Okay, so that's why the book is self-published, but why do a Kickstarter? The obvious answer revolves around the high cost of a large print run, but as I already mentioned, we could take out a loan for that. But having done five other crowdfunding projects, I can honestly say that we love how Kickstarter is democratizing the creation of art. It's an incredible experience to be part of a group who are all pulling for the success of a project and spreading their enthusiasm to others. Plus, getting the books in people's hands early can help build excitement before the books ship to the population at large. Also, Kickstarter provides a system for me to offer additional perks to the people who are financially backing my project. Without Kickstarter, getting people's names in the book, and distributing the bonus content would be difficult or impossible.
I also love the fact that Kickstarter removes middlemen. For instance, Amazon takes 55% off the top for any print books sold, and when you factor in the costs of the distribution partners that can mean 80% of the list price goes to others. Ebook margins are better. I only lose 30% with them, but that's still much more than doing a Kickstarter. Yes, Kickstarter is a middleman, but their fees (including BackerKit and credit card processing) is just 10%. That's a huge difference. Bottom line, doing a Kickstarter ensures the highest percentage of your purchase comes directly to the person who created the book.
Well, that's about all I can think of for now. I'll be updating the FAQ's as the project continues and adding stretch goals if the project funds. If you have any questions, just drop me a line.
Before concluding, I'd like to take a moment to thank those who have been reading my books over the last decade. It's because of you that I'm able to live my life-long dream, and it's something that I'm always grateful for. I'll keep writing, and hopefully, you'll continue reading.
-- Michael & Robin Sullivan
Risks and challenges
Generally, the most significant risks with novel projects are (a) will the author finish the book (b) can they write well and (c) can they handle the logistics of distribution? With this project, the book is already written, and my track record with other books (416,750+ ratings with 90% giving the stories 4 or 5 stars) speaks to my ability as a storyteller. As for distribution, for the last year, I've been working with BoxInBoxOut, and they've shipped more than 6,500 books for me. They will continue to be my partner for this project, and that means timely shipping and carefully packaged parcels.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (19 days)