Writers’ Folly

There’s something beginning writers do — especially, but by no means only, self-published ones — that I don’t understand.  Beginning writers do a lot of stupid and counter-productive things, of course, but I have in mind one particular one that I find baffling.

Or maybe, now that I think about it, not all that baffling. Consider: There you are, Joe Author, and your new book Carbuncles of Mars is now available on Amazon, and you are simultaneously swollen with pride at your accomplishment, and terrified that nobody will buy it or review it or read it or acknowledge your existence in any way. You want to prove that you’re a Real Writer, and you want to sell your book.

So you join writers’ groups wherever you can find them, to prove you’re a real writer — I get that. But what I don’t get is then posting ads in them, rather than talking about, you know, writing.

I suppose it comes from forgetting that proving you’re a real writer, and selling your book, aren’t the same thing.

But you know what happens when you post ads to writers’ groups? The real writers leave. Because we aren’t looking for more stuff to read; we always have more than we can possibly keep up with. We want places where we can talk about writing, but we won’t wade through ads to do it.

I just saw this happen over on Facebook, where C.J. Cherryh left a writers’ group because it was overrun with ads. She took the trouble to say she was leaving, and why; I suspect that most of the name writers there didn’t bother, they just vanished. I’m not 100% sure why I haven’t left that particular group yet; I’ve certainly dropped out of plenty of others over the years when the ads from beginners overwhelmed the discussion.

And that’s the thing — this always happens. Every. Single. Time. Any time anyone creates a writers’ group that doesn’t have either steep membership requirements or ferocious moderation, the newbies pile in, eager to be accepted, but instead of talking about the craft or business of writing, they always, always start posting about their own latest literary accomplishments, trying to coax everyone to check out Carbuncles from Mars.


Sometimes there’s actually a substantive discussion for awhile, but it always fades out, smothered under a thousand variations of, “Lookit me! I wrote a book!”

Which is stupid. Writers aren’t your market; writers have no time or money to waste on semi-pro work from unknowns. We have enough trouble keeping up with the big names in our field. You don’t want to advertise to writers, you want to advertise to readers. Not the same group.

A few years back I was managing editor of a webzine called Helix, which pissed off a lot of beginning writers because we did not look at unsolicited submissions. We did that because our acquiring editor was a cranky guy who did not want to read slush, and we expected it to annoy our would-be contributors, but what amazed us was their argument against it: “No one will read your magazine if you don’t let us submit stories!”

Good heavens, do they really think only would-be writers read short fiction? Because if so, that’s pitiful. We were aiming at readers, not writers.

Other writers are not your audience. Really. Other writers are, in fact, a very hard sell, because we know enough about how it’s done to see everything you did wrong.

So, all you beginners, newbies, would-be writers and wannabes, stop it. Oh, join writers’ groups if you want, but don’t advertise in them. All it does is chase people away.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart?

I have an unpublished novel, Vika’s Avenger, sitting around unsold. It’s a science-fantasy story with detective elements and a revenge motive. Two different editors have been interested in buying it, but were overruled by higher-ups who couldn’t figure out how to market it; a third editor turned it down but had some useful comments about it. While it may have other failings, the largest problem seems to be that it doesn’t fit any current known market niches.

I thought about self-publishing it, but my track record there is less than stellar. I thought about sending it to a smaller publisher, such as Wildside. I thought about serializing it online, as I’ve done with recent Ethshar novels. I haven’t ruled any of these out, but none of these options has me wildly enthused.

And I’ve also thought about trying to launch it on Kickstarter.

If I do that, I’ll have some interesting options. For one thing, if it makes the basic amount I set (which would probably be $10,000), I could then set stretch goals that would include such things as commissioning a David Mattingly cover painting. I’d probably rewrite it — some of the creative choices I made when writing it were based on my perception of the market at the time, and obviously didn’t help sell it, and that third editor’s comments, along with some other events, have me thinking of ways it could be improved.

But if it doesn’t make the nut, that could be embarrassing. Not to mention that running the Kickstarter and then publishing the book would be a significant amount of work. And that $10,000 would need to cover producing and distributing the various incentives, so my net proceeds wouldn’t be all that much.

So I’m waffling. Do I try to Kickstart it, or not?

Days of Future Past

I’ve recently gotten back the rights to some of my older work, and am in the process of putting it back in print, either through Wildside Press or self-published.

The first of these old novels to see print anew is Touched by the Gods, which is now available in e-book form from Smashwords. It should be on Amazon and Barnes & Noble soon, with other outlets following in a week or two. A new trade paperback edition is planned, as well.

One-Eyed Jack

Since I wasn’t especially impressed with the terms offered by interested publishers, I’ve decided to take a plunge into the brave new world of the web. I’m self-publishing my latest novel.

One-Eyed Jack straddles the line between urban fantasy and horror. One of Gregory Kraft’s high school teachers meddled in what she thought was witchcraft, and cursed a handful of her students. From there, matters got worse.

The survivors still suffer from her spells. For Greg, that curse took the form of the ability to see the ghosts and monsters around us by night. He’s afflicted with prophetic dreams as well.

In one such dream he sees a lonely, emotionally-abused boy named Jack who has been befriended by a hungry ghost that calls itself Jenny — a ghost whose only food is human children. Jack has been appeasing the ghost with parts of himself, but he can only give up so much. He needs to find her another source of food.

Jack knows there are other desperate children…

As mentioned, Greg can see the monsters, but ordinarily he can’t affect them. He can’t stop them. This time, though, he’s determined to stop Jenny — but how?

The trade paperback edition is $14.98.

The Kindle edition is $5.99.

The NookBook (ePub) edition and Smashwords edition are also $5.99.

The trade paperback edition should be available from Amazon soon, and I believe it can be special ordered by traditional outlets — the ISBN is 9781466291539. (It’s possible it isn’t available to them yet, but, as with Amazon, it should be soon.)

Check it. Hope you like it.

Is This What Will Be, or What Might Be?

In theory, I’m currently writing a YA fantasy novel called Graveyard Girl, about fifteen-year-old Emily Macomber, who inherits a rather unpleasant psychic ability. I have 14,000 words of a planned 65-75,000 written. My wife and agent are both enthused about it, and I admit it’s probably going to be a good story, but it hasn’t really taken off yet. Partly, I think the high expectations are discouraging me.

At any rate, after almost two months of very slow progress, I decided that maybe if I had multiple projects going (as I often do), then I would at least get something done, even if it’s not whipping through the rest of Graveyard Girl. Rather than start yet another new project, though, I decided to pull out some I’d started previously. So I went looking through my “works in progress” folder, which has a few hundred projects in it in various stages of development, and pulled out some I thought were promising.

Well… that’s not quite all of the truth. I also started some new ones. My trip to San Diego for the Comic-Con spurred some ideas, and I indulged myself a little. There’s also one project that was prompted by an editor’s remark on what he was looking for.

So I’ve now written the first draft of an all-new Christmas story with the working title “Best Present Ever,” and scribbled an outline for Crosstime Charlie and the Helium Barons, and written the opening of an untitled mystery starring a guy who calls himself Bob, who only investigates murders the cops say weren’t murder. That’s the new stuff. (I’m not counting the two story ideas that never got past quick notes.)

And the old stuff — I was pleasantly surprised, looking at some of these. I think they’re pretty good, and I’m looking forward to working on them.

There’s The Dragon’s Price, a good old-fashioned fantasy, first in a series called “Signs of Power,” about Malborn Knightsbane, who was born with the magical ability to reshape his own flesh under certain circumstances. I have 16,000 words of an estimated 150,000.

There’s Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship, which was originally intended to be a YA steampunk novel to cash in on the trend, but which mutated into something else. I have 27,000 words of a planned 75,000.

There’s On A Field Sable, continuing the series begun in A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station. The viewpoint character isn’t Anrel Murau, though; it’s Mareet Saruis, who did not appear in the first two novels, though her father’s name was mentioned. Anrel has a small role. I have 41,000 words, a detailed outline, and extensive notes; I think it’ll run about 150,000 words.

And then there’s Ethshar — I’ve worked recently on Ishta’s Playmate and The Sorcerer’s Widow, but neither of them has gotten all that far yet.

Most of these older projects were put aside as not what the market wanted, but at this point, my attitude is, “Screw the market.” I’ll write what I please, and if no one in New York wants it, there are small presses that will, or if worse comes to worst, I can self-publish.

But I don’t know which of these, if any, I’ll actually finish. We’ll see.

Shifting Gears

I’m trying to adapt to the changed realities of the publishing business. While I’m certainly not giving up on traditional publishing — I have a novel out to market right now, and am working on another intended for a major publisher — I’m also putting some real effort into getting my backlist out there in e-book form, and in doing some of my own promotion. It’s also entirely possible that I’ll be publishing new stuff through the small press (mostly Wildside Press and FoxAcre Press) and self-publishing (under the name Misenchanted Press).

This means that instead of having a new novel to announce once or twice a year, I have a bunch of small projects working their way through various pipelines that I want people to know about.

I’ve therefore decided to attempt something many authors have been doing pretty much since the introduction of e-mail — a newsletter. So far it has the inspiring, stunningly original name “Lawrence Watt-Evans: The Newsletter,” and I’ve sent out two installments a week apart. I know I don’t like being barraged with promotional material, so I’ve decided that it will go out only when there’s something to report, and no more than once a week unless I need to make a correction to something that was in error or has changed.

If you’d like to receive this newsletter, e-mail me at lwe@sff.net and let me know, and I’ll add you to the list. I also have a second list — people who only want to receive it when there’s news about Ethshar — and you can sign up for that instead, if you want. (It’s the same newsletter either way, it’s just that the Ethshar list won’t get some issues.) If you sign up now, you won’t receive an issue until at least Lammas — i.e., August 2 — so if you don’t hear anything back, don’t worry right away.

If you’re already getting it and have any comments, this would be a good place to make them. I’d be happy to have some feedback, and discuss possible improvements.

Meanwhile, here are some of the projects in the pipeline:

The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies is a collection of four old stories, published by FoxAcre, available for the Kindle, and with a paper edition now available from Barnes & Noble. (Why Amazon doesn’t have the paper edition and B&N doesn’t have the e-book yet I don’t really know.)

How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, by Nathan Archer, is a 6,000-word bit of silliness available only as a 99c e-book.

In the Blood collects all my vampire stories to date — twelve of them. Originally I was only planning an e-book, but on a whim I added a paper edition from Lulu.com.

Tales of Ethshar will be a collection of the eleven short pieces of Ethshar fiction I’ve written to date. It’s been accepted at Wildside, but contracts aren’t signed yet.

Split Heirs, the humorous fantasy novel I wrote with Esther Friesner, has been accepted for reprinting and publication in e-book form by Wildside Press. Again, no contracts or other details yet.

The Unwelcome Warlock is scheduled for September publication, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s pushed back a month or two.

And I think that’s all for now.

Dredging Up the Past

Over the past thirty-plus years, I’ve had well over a hundred short stories published in a wide variety of venues. Some, like “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” which won a couple of awards, are well-known and pretty easy to find; others, like “Corners in Time,” are utterly obscure.

I’ve decided that the new ease of publishing backlist can be put to use digging out all my old stories and making them available to new readers — for a reasonable price, of course.

I’m planning to try various approaches to see which works best, and one of my first experiments (by way of FoxAcre Press) is now available for the Kindle: The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies. A paper edition is in the works.

This mini-collection contains four stories. The title piece, my only novella to date, is a seafaring fantasy adventure set in a version of the eighteenth or the nineteenth century that isn’t quite the one our ancestors lived through. Also included: “My Mother and I Go Shopping,” previously published in Adventures in the Twilight Zone; “One Million Lightbulbs,” from Coney Island Wonder Stories; and “Windwagon Smith and the Martians,” first published in Asimov’s and reprinted a few places since.

“My Mother and I Go Shopping” wanders back and forth through time, space, and Faerie. “One Million Lightbulbs” is set in Coney Island’s glory days circa 1905. “Windwagon Smith and the Martians” combines 1854 Missouri with Ray Bradbury’s Mars (used with Mr. Bradbury’s kind permission).

That’s all the pseudo-historical fantasies I could remember writing.

Other small collections I have planned: In the Blood, collecting all my vampire stories; Herding Cats, with all my cat stories; Unicornucopia & Other Stories of Hooves and Horns, which will contain all my unicorn stories and may also get a centaur or two; and Tales of Ethshar, which will collect all the short Ethshar stuff, including the Christmas story and the April Fool’s gag. I expect Tales of Ethshar to be a Wildside Press book.

Beyond those, I don’t know yet. Any suggestions?

I’m also considering publishing individual short stories as e-books — thought I’d start with “Heart of Stone” (previously published in Graven Images). Anything anyone especially wants to see? Any other suggestions?

The Old Wave Strikes Back

As some of you may have noticed, right now YA (“Young Adult”) science fiction and fantasy are selling huge numbers, while adult SF and fantasy are not. It has been pointed out to me by various people (including my agent) that this isn’t because of some huge demographic bulge of teenage readers, but because in recent years adult readers have been buying YA books for their own entertainment, in preference to the books nominally aimed at them.


Apparently, it’s because YA novels have likeable protagonists and straightforward plots. Also, they aren’t all sweetness and light, by any means, but they tend to be fairly positive in outlook.

In short, if what you’re after is escapist entertainment, you’re more likely to find it in a YA novel than in the latest adult release.

I’m cool with that.

And it occurs to me that this reflects the latest front in a war that’s been going on intermittently in the SF/fantasy field since at least 1939, and arguably longer — the battle between those who want science fiction to be respectable literature, and those who don’t give a damn about that, but they want it to be fun.

This conflict was presented most openly in the 1960s and ’70s, when the two sides were labeled the New Wave and the Old Wave — said labels being created, obviously, by the New Wave advocates. The New Wave folks dismissed traditional science fiction as simplistic, poorly-written adventure stories, and wanted to bring on a Golden Age of brilliant writing and literary experimentation in SF.

It goes back further, though. John W. Campbell became a revered icon in the SF field by insisting that his writers actually be able to write competently, and that their science have some basis in reality — in short, he was taking the “respectable literature” side and setting Astounding up in opposition to the pure escapist pulps like Planet Stories.

Some people argue that Campbell’s big innovation wasn’t better writing, just better science. These people should go look at back issues of Startling Stories, and remember that Campbell was perfectly happy to edit the pure fantasy of Unknown, so long as the writing was decent and the stories made sense.

Anyway, Campbell won out over the trashy pulps, and the New Wave more or less won out over the Old Wave — but I think the rise of YA now is a counter-revolutionary movement by readers. They want stories they can enjoy without too much effort. They want to experience the escapist pleasures they found when they first discovered SF and fantasy as teenagers — so they’re buying books aimed at teenagers.

It’s a theory, anyway.


There are times I feel a bit like a dinosaur, wondering what all these furry little bastards running around underfoot are up to, and where’d all the food go.

I’m not speaking about life in general; I’m doing okay at keeping up with the world, even if I still don’t have a smartphone or iPad.  I’m talking about writing for a living.

For about thirty years, I thought I had a handle on it.  I wrote novels, and publishers in New York bought them and paid me reasonable advances, and everything went pretty smoothly.  There were a few disappointments along the way, when a story I wanted to tell didn’t sell, or a series got dropped, or whatever, but I made a living at it, and was generally pretty happy with my situation.  I made adjustments to suit the market, but wrote more or less what I wanted to write.  I did some experimenting now and then, but my bread and butter was always the fantasy novel.  I spent fifteen years writing primarily for Del Rey Books, then switched to Tor for the next fifteen or so.

Then a couple of years ago, Tor declined to make an offer on the third and fourth books in the “Fall of the Sorcerers” series.  No big deal, I thought; I’ll just switch to another publisher again.

Except so far, other publishers don’t seem to be interested.  I keep hearing about all the wonderful new ways to get rich as a writer — paranormal romances, steampunk, urban fantasy, straight-to-ebook self-publishing, etc. — and can’t see how to make them work for me.

I don’t think it’s just me, either.  I seem to remember that back in the 20th century, the annual summaries in Locus would report about 1,400 new titles being published annually in SF, fantasy, and horror; well, for 2010 they reported 508.  (They don’t count small press or self-published titles.)  The book market seems to have undergone a massive contraction — not necessarily in total sales, but in number of titles in the genre.

So these things happen.  I’m not going to try to keep the buggy-whip factory running when everyone’s driving Fords.  My wife’s grandfather was trained as a blacksmith, but became an auto mechanic when blacksmithing dried up; my own grandfather was a carpenter’s mate on a tea clipper, but realized that was a doomed occupation and put himself through engineering school.  One must change with the times.

But I can’t figure out what to change to.

I was told urban fantasy was a hot genre, so I wrote an urban fantasy.  It hasn’t sold — it’s too emotionally cool, I’m told, and male protagonists don’t sell unless they’re named Harry Dresden.

All these damned mammals underfoot…

Please Advise Me

I find myself in a situation regarding character names that I’m not happy with.

This is for an urban fantasy where the protagonist is named Wayne Ellsworth, for good and sufficient reasons. For equally good and sufficient reason, his girlfriend/fiancee is named Georgia Fenton. These aren’t negotiable.

However, there is a third major character — probably the title character, in fact — who I have reasons to name George, specifically that he’s named that because his original given name is completely unpronounceable, and the person re-naming him was a fan of Warner cartoons, such as the Bugs Bunny one with the Abominable Snowman who wants to make Bugs his pet bunny, “and I will hug him and squeeze him, and I will call him George,” or whatever the exact line is.

I had originally thought that Elmyra Duff, from Tiny Toon Adventures, also called her pets George, but that appears to be incorrect.

So. Is having major unrelated characters named George and Georgia going to be too confusing/distracting? If so, any suggestions on what to call him instead of George? (Georgia, as I said above, isn’t negotiable.)