I've been listening to a lot of Michael J Sullivan audiobooks lately. Binge listening, if you will. For those unaware, Michael wrote the Riyria Revelations series, the prequel Riyria Chronicles books, and is currently in the midst of authoring the First Empire series, which predates the events of the initial books further still. Since September, I've listened to the audiobook versions of the Riyria books almost exclusively. Prior to that, I listened to the two free Riyria short stories offered on Audible. I've talked briefly with Michael himself over Goodreads, Twitter, and Reddit, all three of which he is an active member of. As an author who made a success of his series through self-publishing before signing on with Orbit Books, Michael is kind of a folk hero among self-pub fantasy authors.
I guess you could say I'm kind of a fan.
During FanExpo, I worked through the awkward art of pitching The Summerlark Elf to complete strangers. During the pitches, I tried to think of more popular and familiar fantasy series' that I could use for comparison. Having listened to the Riyria short stories, which featured sell-swords, witty dialogue, and mention of dwarves and elves, I figured I wasn't unjustified in likening my books to Michael's in some respects. Right now, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through Heir of Novron, the last book of the series (I listened to the prequels first), and I have, over my span of time with Riyria, realized that I cannot, in good faith, ever liken my books to Michael's ever again.
The Riyria books are meticulous and masterful in their depictions of a medieval/Renaissance-esque world, so much so that I can honestly say that I think I've learned more about certain aspects of European history from these books than I had from my textbooks when I studied history in university. Everything from the Church of Novron to the treatment of mir (the half-elves of Elan), feels so well-planned that it feels like an alternate-reality earth. My books are... less so.
For a couple of days, this fact bothered me, and dredged up a bit of a case of imposter syndrome within me. What kind of paltry stuff am I writing? So much of my world feels patchworked, fast and loose by comparison. There are so many nuances of medieval warfare, of the social hierarchies of nobility, that I haven't put thought into. How will people enjoy my books if they aren't as believable?
Here's the funny thing, and it's a thing that I'm glad I realized sooner rather than later. My world isn't as thoroughly premeditated as Elan because I am not Michael J Sullivan, and that's okay.
It's very arguable that I write fantasy that's distinctly more "light" than a good number of other books on the market, but I don't think that fact is to the books' discredit. I have received a number of very positive reviews of The Summerlark Elf, and recently of The Missing Thane's War. Heck, I was recently compared to Terry Brooks! This doesn't mean that I've fooled myself into thinking that I'm some kind of master crafter of epic tomes that will be lauded for their contribution to the literary world, but at the same time, I'm proud of what I create, and the fact that it resonates with people on some level. Sometimes people want fun, and light, and I'm more than happy that I have produced (and continue to produce) books that allow people to scratch that itch.
Seriously, though, my books are pretty short, and I've only just started the third. Go read the Riyria books in the meantime. They're awesome.