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Horror Roundtable 10 – The Long Hard Road


When: July 17, 2013
Time: 8.30pm EST (use the Time Zone Converter to find your local time)

The Long Hard Road

One thousand and one (or perhaps a few less) lessons learned along the long hard road to publication. Tips and suggestions that might help other writers get published, things you’ve discovered the hard way through trial and error–or should these mistakes be withheld from new writers so they can ‘earn their stripes?’ Let’s cover the gambit, from writing classes and critique groups, submitting via the top down approach or to ‘exposure’ markets first, replying to rejections, hounding editors and other writers at cons–the list goes on…

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You can follow the Roundtable discussion in the comments section of this post.

Note: the page will auto refresh every 5 minutes.

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Special Guests:

John Shirley   Benjamin Kane Ethridge   Tim Waggoner   JG Faherty

John Shirley is a novelist, screenwriter, television writer, songwriter and author of numerous story collections. He is a past Guest of Honor at a World Horror Convention and won the Bram Stoker Award for his story collection Black Butterflies. His screenplays include “The Crow”. He has written teleplays for Poltergeist: The Legacy, Deep Space Nine and other shows. His novels include CITY COME A-WALKIN’, A SPLENDID CHAOS, SILICON EMBRACE, DEMONS (Del Rey Books, latest edition 2012), the A SONG CALLED YOUTH trilogy (Warner Books, Prime Books published the omnibus 2012), WETBONES (Mark Ziesing and eReads, latest edition 2010), BIOSHOCK: RAPTURE (Tor 2012), BLEAK HISTORY (Simon & Schuster 2009) and EVERYTHING IS BROKEN from Prime Books, 2012. His newest books are NEW TABOOS from PM Press (2013) and DOYLE AFTER DEATH from HarperCollins (2013). His latest story collection is IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY (Underland Press, 2012). His two-CD album of songs, Broken Mirror Glass, was recently released from Black October Records. He has written eighteen song lyrics recorded by the Blue Oyster Cult.

Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE, BOTTLED ABYSS, and several other novels. For his master’s thesis he wrote, “CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film.” Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn’t writing, Benjamin’s defending California’s waterways from pollution.

twitter: @bkethridge
email: ben@bkethridge.com

Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels, over a hundred stories, and his articles on writing have appeared in many publications. His most recent releases are the collection Bone Whispers and the tie-in novel Supernatural: Carved in Flesh. His novella “The Men Upstairs” was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award in the Long Fiction category. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. Visit him on the web at www.timwaggoner.com.

JG Faherty is the author of THE BURNING TIME, CEMETERY CLUB, CARNIVAL OF FEAR, THE COLD SPOT, HE WAITS, and the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY, along with more than 50 short stories. His next novel, HELLRIDER, comes out in 2014. He writes adult and YA horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy. He enjoys urban exploring, photography, hiking, and playing the guitar. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, http://about.me/jgfaherty, and www.jgfaherty.com.

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139 comments on “Horror Roundtable 10 – The Long Hard Road

  1. I can echo Tim’s thoughts even though they might sound contradictory to what I said earlier. I left a formal writers group because I started getting too many evals that were just praise, without any critiques. Which, to me, meant I needed to find a group of people who were A) more honest and B) either equally or more talented than I was. That’s when I took my Borderlands Bootcamp classes and got hooked up with one of the HWA’s mentors (I had the good luck to get Deb LeBlanc, who at that time was the HWA President). After, I found some professional writers and that was the group I ended up joining, some of whom still serve as 2nd eyes for me today, and vice versa. But it’s no longer a writers group; rather, it’s several writers who simply help each other.

    Each person needs something different; it’s up to the individual to figure it out, through trial and error. Honestly, I’m a nit-picking writer; I don’t turn something in unless I’m pretty sure I’ve found as many mistakes as humanly possible. That’s why I use my beta readers before submitting or turning in to an editor. Even then, though, the editors find stuff. Or at least the good ones do. A lot of companies these days are not using top quality editors/proofreaders anymore, which is why I always quadruple check.

    Think how often you pick up a magazine or book and find all sorts of typos, problems with continuity (like a name that changes halfway through), or an ending that seems rushed or implausible. I never want to be in a situation where people say that about one of my books. A while back, I had a novel come out that had something go wrong during the first print run, which luckily was only a few hundred books, mostly for reviewers and pre-orders. An entire paragraph on one page got repeated twice on the page, and a paragraph that should have been underneath it got deleted. Now, to me, this means something in the typesetting process got botched. I didn’t find out until I read about it in an actual review. The reviewer gave the book a highly flattering review, but mentioned that the book’s publisher seemed ‘sloppy.’

    For a week afterwards, I was sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

    But back to critique groups. In the end, it doesn’t matter what works for you, as long as you have some people who read your stuff and find the mistakes. No writer can do it alone. That’s one of the dangers of self-publishing. A person writes something and puts it out for the world to see but they’ve never bothered to get any editorial feedback beforehand. And so you end up serving a pile of poo to readers, thus turning those readers off to anything you might write down the road.

  2. I do pay attention to reviews, though — even those on Amazon. I want to know what readers’ reactions to my work are, and I try to use their comments to improve. It can be hard to see negative comments, but I force myself to consider them. I try not to make too much of them, though. If I did, I’d end up being too self-conscious when I write.

  3. (Sorry to keep writing in small bursts, but I don’t want the page to refresh on me and delete my comments before I can post them.) You can outgrow groups, too. I had a friend who was the only published writer in his group. He stayed with them even thought they didn’t help him much — and in fact they looked upon him as an unofficial teacher — because he couldn’t bring himself to leave them. So it can work against you to stay with a group you’ve outgrown. Now all that said, a lot of pros have writers groups and beta readers, and they find them enormously helpful. I haven’t been in a group for almost twenty years now. I reply on feedback from my agents and editors. But some of that is simply because I have a lot of projects with specific deadlines, and I don’t have time to get work to beta readers before it’s due to an editor! 🙂

  4. They can also become creative activities in and of themselves. I’ve known people who don’t do anything but share with their group. That alone fulfills them, and they never submit anything. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to get into a group with three professionally published writers: Dennis L. McKiernan, Lois McMaster Bujold, and J. Calvin Pierce. Getting critiques from them was quite valuable. But critiques from other members of the group? Less so. They would echo what the pros said, telling me how good my work was and reiterating whatever suggestions the pros made. When none of the pros could make it, they tore my work to shreds, either out of jealousy or because they weren’t confident to tell me what they really thought and contradict the pros. Either way, they weren’t much help to me.

  5. As for critique groups, there are lots of differing views. And the workshop method is one of the criticisms of creative writing education in America. Critics of the method say that it produces bland, writing-by-committee work. Technically proficient, perhaps, but lacking energy and individuality. Critique groups can be the blind leading the blind, in which case, no one ever really improves very much. People catch your typos and any big logic flaws maybe, but that might be it.

  6. I’ve always had a day job. Right now, I’m a tenured full professor of English at a community college with sixteen more years to go before I retire. (Not that I’m counting.) After that, I’ll probably write full time. The idea of sitting around the house all day doing nothing but writing sounds awful to me. what the hell would I write about? Sitting around the house writing? Getting out into the world is what gives me material to write about. Plus, a day job gives me a regular income and health insurance. I’ve known a number of full-time writers who worry so much about money and their lack of insurance that they don’t produce any more work than writers with day jobs. I think writers should resist any career paradigm others want to thrust upon them (such as, you’re not a REAL writer until you quit your day job and write full time), and do whatever helps them be the best, most productive writer they can be, whatever that is.

  7. Stephen,
    I still hold a full-time job; many writers do. Most, probably. I own an internet-based resume company, so I have the advantage of working from home. I get up at 6:30am, write/edit until 8am, and then start the day job. I work until 4pm. Then I write until 5. On weekends, I write from 7am to 10am, and I also squeeze in extra writing whenever I can, like when my wife goes on a business trip or goes out with her girlfriends, when she falls asleep watching TV, etc. It doesn’t seem like much on a daily basis, but it allows me to produce about 200,000 – 250,000 words a year, in the form of short stories and novels. It would probably be even more than that if it wasn’t for my commitments to the HWA, attending conferences, and sucked into the black hole of Facebook, not to mention the little things like maintaining a website, catching a cold, etc.

    But it’s not that hard to write even with a family and a job – just set aside 1 hour per day, whether that means getting up early or going to bed a little later or skipping that first hour of TV with the family after dinner. In the beginning, explain it as a hobby, no different than if you played the guitar or built models or liked to paint. Once you start making money, people tend to leave you alone about it!

    Since I still work, I can’t comment on when I decided to give up working, but I can say this: Writing is a fickle thing, and I wouldn’t give up my day job unless I knew my writing was producing enough money where I could live comfortably for at least three years without selling a new book. And by comfortably I mean having all bills paid without worries, being able to vacation a couple of times a year, and eating better than macaroni and cheese for dinner. It helps, of course, to have a wife who works, but I live in NY and that’s not a 1-income state for most people. Everyone’s financial situations are different, of course, but I would advise against quitting your job to write full time unless it won’t impact you financially. Other peoples’ opinions might differ. I don’t like to take huge risks when I don’t have to!

    As far as critique groups, I think they’re excellent, especially when you’re just beginning. I was in two when I first started getting serious about writing, a public (one of the big genre ones you can join), and a private (6 writers who shared stories each month). After a while, the public one got to be too much, as you had to crit 3 works for every one you sent in. The private one closed and morphed over the years; now there are just 3 of us left in it but we still share all the time. Along the way, I’ve also picked up some new sets of eyes that I work with one-on-one; I send them chapters or stories, and they do the same, but not on a regular basis. Just whenever we need that 2nd set of eyes.

    Like someone said earlier, no writer can succeed without help from their peers. We all need those beta readers to help us find the mistakes we can’t see. The only question is finding the right type of group to suit your individual needs. Just make sure they’re not close friends or family who are going to automatically love anything you write. You need honest, brutal critiques, not gushing compliments. Critiques also help you develop a thick skin, and the ability to look at your work like an outsider, to see it as something flawed and in need of reshaping rather than as a delicate baby to coddled.

  8. I have some questions about writing while also working a day job, and about transitioning to writing full-time. Are you all writing full-time now? Did you ever work another job simultaneously? What led you to decide or realize that the time was right to transition? Any advice on transitioning, or on how to keep up a good writing schedule while also working elsewhere? How long did you do double duty, so to speak?

    Also, any thoughts on peer critique groups?


  9. Become the best writer you can be, and the markets will be there for you. “If you build it, they will come,” right? Not sure this is good market advice, though it might be good long-term career advice.

  10. Now it’s my turn to be writing something and have the page refresh and destroy my comments before I could post them. I was replying to John’s point about horror markets. (And I’d love to know who the editors looking for literary horror are!) I guess if a writer is willing to play the long game, he or she might eventually grow a career for themselves as opposed to “break in,” if that makes any sense.

  11. Literary horror? Maybe they should get 4 other writers for that topic, not us

  12. It’s…it’s so dark in here…my voice is echoing back to me…the darkness closes in…

  13. Ben better not leave or…well…I’ll say no more…

    Ben–*ethanol will save you*…it’s the antidote..

  14. Well, for our writers, this portion of the blog is over. You are welcome to stay logged on, or check back from time to time to answer questions. I just want to say thank you to John, Tim, and Ben for taking part and for sharing their insights. Visit their websites and Facebook pages and buy their books, too!

  15. But how much market is there, Tim, for horror fiction for the writer breaking in, outside small press? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction might print some if it’s extra good… as for book publishers… well how DID that Lovely Bones woman do it? My agent told me, “They’re looking for kinda literary horror writers, people with a mainstream flavor but still very dark, like The Lovely Bones writer…” True? I was just at readercon and Straub said that there are few major book publishers for new horror writers and believe me, he wasn’t pleased with that…

  16. This has been great. I’m definitely going to go back and read everything I missed.

  17. Aren’t we done soon? I’m talking too much anyway. I think I hear my words echoing in an empty room…weren’t there supposed to be questions from visiting people? Are there none? Are we alone? Does anyone have a flashlight?

  18. This is awesome. Stepping away because I feel as though everyone else is shy, so far, and I’m hogging you guys. Awesome answers, though. Thank you.

  19. Even though horror is my first love, I tried (as I said earlier) writing and publishing all kinds of things. But it’s my horror that readers seem to respond to the most, and people have referred to me as a horror writer for years. I no longer bother saying, “But I write other stuff, too!” I was talking with Lawrence Connelly at Seton Hill recently, and he mentioned a quote he’d heard: “The world will decide what you are remembered for.” So if the world wants me to be a horror writer, so be it! 🙂 It’s more than fine with me.

  20. Tim I too wrote some ad copy and wrote for lit mags. I also wrote soft core sort of stuff for Penthouse and its sister mags for a thousand bucks apiece. In the old days…you punks wouldn’t remember…writers often broke in writing for “stag” magazines. Those that publish fiction are few now far as I know.

    It also used to be the case that you could get *pretty good* input from the Writer’s Market yearly books. But now that stuff is all online. I don’t know if it’s useful or not but check it out, new writers, and see…

  21. On the other hand there’s much to be said for going with your personal JOY as a writer, the genre that excites you. But if you’re comfortably able to be flexible and cross genre, or multi genre, then it does give you some advantages…and perhaps more cash…

  22. I’ve written crime novels, noir…television scripts…movies (The Crow is the best known)…you have to be a PRO and respond to the market place if you want to survive as a writer… I learned that from Harlan Ellison…but if you’re a good writer, your best writing will find a venue…

  23. Sure JG but it was an advice column for Sex with One Legged Red Headed Dwarves Magazine

    but yeah you’re right. I astonished myself by writing a YA romance short story for Paula Guran’s recent original anthology. My new novel, here comes the plug, Doyle After Death, is a dark fantasy…I’ve written (under a pseudonym) male action novels (this is not gay sex novels no, it’s, like, The Executioner, it was thirty years ago) …I’ve written sf, fantasy, horror…IF you can do that, you have more markets…eventually you may find one that is a fit for you…

  24. I worked as a staff reporter for a small weekely newspaper. I wrote ad copy for my college when I was an undergrad. I was the editor of the student lit mag when I was an undergrad. The more you write, and the more kind of things you write, the better you’ll get.

  25. Don’t limit yourself. I write horror, sf, fantasy, ya paranormal romance, and erotic horror. I’ve also been in several Chicken Soup for the Soul books and I once wrote an advice column for a magazine.

  26. Karl– I think it goes without saying. Cross-reading should be employed because without it, you’re going to regurgitate everything within the box.

    I think of Dan Simmon’s THE TERROR. It’s a historical horror novel. The man has obviously read a nautical tale or two in his time and because of that we get this very rich horror story, rather than another version of Hostel or “Creepy Kid in the Haunted House” books.

  27. You learn to write from lots of things. But writing itself is, if you’re intended to be a writer, a learning experience…

  28. JG: I wrote a blog about that topic recently (everyone can find a link to my blog at my website timwaggoner dot com). I’ve seen a lot of writers put off editors by taking too much of a hard-sell approach. I advise writers to just be a person first and interacting with editors and agents as if they were real people too. 🙂 Evetually, they’ll ask you what you’re working on, and that’s your cue to talk about your work. Still avoid the hard-sell. Talk about your work, but don’t desperately try to sell it.

  29. Tim Powers doesn’t write rapidly, in terms of coming to a completed book he’s happy with, but he has actually accumulated a lot of work over the years. So he’s an example of that tortoise and the hare thing. And he’s hugely respected. I’m reading his latest novel now and I don’t read much fiction (mostly biographies and historical stuff at this point, having read giant heaps of fiction when young)…

  30. Yeah you have to have talent and the fire in your belly, as the cliche is, and you have to have persistence. Being prolific is good, up to a point… You know, Dickens was prolific. Was all his stuff of equal quality? No. Was Sam Clemens stuff all of equal quality? No. Whose is? No one. But it was important for them to be prolific and it gave them more chances to connect with readers… Others do pretty well being not overly prolific… so I won’t recommend being prolific but I will recommend writing A LOT till you get to what you’re sure is your voice and the story you want to tell.

  31. I tried writing anything that sounded interesting to me. I tried my hand at horror, fantasy, SF, mystery, action-adventure, erotica, westerns, literary/mainstream, tie-ins, xperimental, absurdist, plays, etc. I definitely think the more forms a writer explores, the better. Besides, who knows which form you may fall in love with or strike gold (critically or financially) with?

  32. Since we’re trying to help new writers, I’d like to bring up convention etiquette. My number one rule would be don’t be a fulltime salesperson. Every conversation needn’t center on your book.

  33. I have a writer friend who told me a story once about how she was asked at a Con party by a well reputed horror magazine to submit something. She said, “I already did last month.” The editor then told her to send it straight to him. So, she did, and it was accepted right away.

    Then, a month after the story was actually published in the magazine, she got a form rejection letter from the original submission.


  34. You know, the ideal is to be good and publishable both, of course, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I reluctantly admit Neil Gaiman’s pretty good. And he’s eminently publishable. Of course there’s, for example, John Kennedy Toole who wrote the critically beloved AND best selling A Confederacy of Dunces and THAT guy KILLED HIMSELF before it was published. Edgar Allan Poe got some recognition during his life but not that much. He proved in time to be pretty damn popular and is very respected. But lots of people are just good at some one thing that people like and they get published and they’re of transient interest — but they DID succeed at writing professionally and I respect that.

  35. And talent may be the least of it. I’ve known lots of people with writing talent — talent that I’d kill for. But they have no real desire to do anything with it.

  36. Wrong genre-the dwarf thing.
    On the subject of genre,though. I understand that reading outside of one’s genre is crucial, but does anyone think that there is value in writing across genre as part of one’s “training”?

  37. They used to say that writers needed any two of the following to get published: talent, luck, and persistence. These days you need all three.

  38. Well usually you need talent AND luck. Some people have more luck than talent but they have to have some competence at storytelling and structure. Persistence and being prolific–those things help.

  39. Is this over? Did everyone leave? Are there more questions? Besides this one?

  40. Now, in terms of getting published, there is always the talent vs. luck aspect. You have to have the chops, but you also have to have the right book or story at the right time in front of the right editor.

  41. My comment is awaiting moderation because it was the url of that essay karl asked about…and urls are scary…well i might’ve put up the url to “sex with one legged red haired dwarves dot com”

  42. John, I discovered your writing thru BOC, so there’s that. New Sabbath is outstanding.

  43. I hope that Mr. Shirley remembers to post that link for his essay aimed at new writers.

  44. Tim–whatever works. Writers should find the environment that allows the writing to flow.

  45. No noise for me. I have to get away from my screaming children.

    But I’m liking all these bands mentioned… I need to get that new Sabbath too… oh yes.

    Well, except John says I’ll be dead soon, so to hell with it. I’ll put on some older Metallica.

  46. I wrote 18 songs for the Blue Oyster Cult, the lyrics (sadly not their hits) so JG Faherty now can do no wrong.

  47. The thing is with publishing is 1) it’s really hard to break in but 2) they always look for new people. These two contradictory facts are always at work. Writers should remember both of them. But how to break in? The traditional way for horror, far as I know, is to write short stories, publish them, hope you get some recognition from that, then write a novel. But that girl that wrote THE LOVELY BONES…what did she do? I think she just wrote that thing and submitted it around. I’m not sure. But I don’t think she built herself up a lot first (not that I follow the field that closely, I’m too busy). Maybe I’m mistaken about that. But if it’s not true with her, well, it’s still true that rules were made to be broken…

  48. I have to have some kind of noise to block out when I write or I can’t concentrate. (I grew up in a noisy house.)Music with lyrics is too distracting. I often go out to a coffeehouse to write. Yeah, I’m a cliche.

  49. I’m finding the new Black Sabbath album ’13’ good dark fantasy (or horror) writing music even though it’s lyrically heavy… it just is…so are the first four Blue Oyster Cult albums…so is, I think, for me at least, White Zombie and Rob Zombie… some of that really dissonant stuff too just seems to soak up my distraction…as if the distractable part of my mind is absorbed into noisy dark music and the writer part of my mind doesn’t consciously hear it. But some people need abject silence. Find a tomb and take your laptop to it.

  50. John – new HWA members can get paired with an established writer to have their stories or novel worked on like in a writing class.

  51. In Seton Hill’s program, mentors read sections of student novels and provide critique, that’s all.

  52. I have to concur with Tim about “who is the teacher” and “who are the class.”

    I recall some of my creative writing classes in my Masters program.. I had to shadow a teacher who thought that SciFi, Fantasy and Horror wasn’t real writing… that everything should be literary. Funny thing was, he had a class full of fantasy geeks. It didn’t go well.

  53. This Roundtable is now open to the general public, so if anyone wants to ask a question or comment on something said above, now’s your chance.

    And a huge thank you to JG, John, Tim, and Benjamin, for providing a fantastic discussion filled with lots of valuable information.

  54. Yeah there are some very lame writing course teachers, there really are. Do it like with doctors–get a recommendation.

    What the hell is the mentor program? Jeez I have enough problems. But that’s good, you young writers should check out the mentoring program. Whatever it is.

  55. Seton Hill’s program is getting a strong rep. At the last WHC, Don D’Auria told me that when he receives a submission from a Seton Hill student, he knows it will be high quality. (But as I’m a faculty mentor in Seton Hill’s program, I may be a tad biased :))

  56. And don’t forget the HWA’s mentor program – I graduated from it and have since mentored several other writers.

  57. I would love to go to these workshops! In any capacity. I remember the late Robert Jordan saying that if he could put anything on his tombstone it would be: “He always tried to get better at it.”

    I’m assuming he meant writing 🙂

    It’s funny though how many people out there who only have a few years writing under their belt and they think they don’t need another set of eyes. This is why some established writers’ work begins to lose something, because of that assumption they’ve reached beyond the point of critique.

  58. Clarion, Borderlands Boot Camp, Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, Odyssey . . . I think Stonecoast has an MFA option for genre fiction, too. Lots of great places for people to go learn about writing in general and writing genre fiction in particular.

  59. I’m listening to the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” right now as i type this, for real, Benjamin. That might be apt.

    I do listen to music when I write too, often. If it’s loud and energetic enough, it doesn’t distract me, as it does most others. I sometimes listen to, for example, Beethoven and Stravinski, but more often it’s, for example, Rammstein.They’re good because they sing mostly in German so it doesn’t distract me with lyrics. But I can’t listen to Leonard Cohen because his lyrics, very good lyrics, are too distracting…

    “No one cares, John.”

  60. Well, as a writing teacher, you’d think I’d recommend writing courses, but a lot depends on who’s teaching the class and who your fellow students are. Creative writing education in America is still based on the apprenticeship and artist community models. You want a teacher who can write well, who’s published his or her work professionally, has the ability to understand the process of writing, has the ability to communicate this understanding to others, and understands that there’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to writing. And you want someone open to letting you write what you want to write, as opposed to what he or she thinks of as “acceptable” fiction.

  61. I think workshops can be useful. Besides Clarion (where I took acid one night and…never mind) I went to the legendary Milford West workshop with Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm. You young punks wouldn’t remember them. Gene Wolfe was a student there with me and Joe Haldeman. I didn’t know how lucky I was.

  62. And Tim and John – you both brought up key points just now on my list of things to mention. Submit from the top down, and use editorial feedback to learn from.

  63. Writing courses–there are good ones and it depends on who’s teachin’. Hell if I’d known TIM was teaching one I’d probably go there incognito and get him to read my stuff. He’d be, “You know what mistake you’re making…” and probably be right. So Tim is teaching. There you go. And there’s Clarion which is open to horror. They’re good (I went there and taught there one time) and there are some good ones in colleges IF you research who’s teaching them…and you might be surprised at the good editorial input you can get at so humble a place at writers.com where I put in some time teaching… and many of my students got published too, so there…

  64. Benjamin–it’s too late. You won’t really feel anything either till this whole panel thing is over. A few minutes after…

    Just go lay down somewhere pleasant and tell your loved ones goodbye.

  65. Earlier, someone mentioned learning about their craft as being important. How do you all feel about writing courses? I’ve taken the borderlands Boot camp programs for novel and short story, and I felt they were invaluable for my career.

  66. Some small presses are evanescent, were scarcely there in the first place. Research them. Start at the best of them and work your way down.

    Back in the day, he said, waving his cane, why, we used to say, “Start with Playboy magazine, with your short fiction” because it paid the best and had huge circulation. When they rejected it (and they published Bradbury, Matheson, Bloch, Beaumont, all kinds of greats), you tried the next mag down in terms of payment and circulation, by which I mean mags that took genre stuff. So the same kind of goes with small press publishers now…

    This is better than the old chatrooms in some ways, because it provides room to write an actual paragraph…

  67. There’s more chance for editorial feedback in the small press, too. When I first starting submitting stories to publishers in the 80’s, I began with F&SF, Asimov’s, etc., and received form rejections for the most part. After a while I started submitting to small press magazins and began getting real responses that gave me reasons for what editors liked about my work but why my work was ultimately rejected. I submitted to small press markets for two years, then sat down with all my rejection slips, analyzed the responses, then made a list of areas I needed to improve on. One of the best things I ever did for myself as a writer.

  68. Oh and here’s a marketing mistake to avoid. Don’t place Ad banners for your work on Horror Film websites– even the really high traffic ones. You would think that Horror Movie Fans = Horror Book Fans but signs point to, “Not Very Likely.”

  69. Lansdale kind of made his mark with small press. And being prolific in it.

  70. Yes Tim is right and some small presses have stayed vital. . .I’ve published with the annoying and yet lamented Nightshade, with Scream Press and Ziesing going back, with Cemetery Dance, with Subterranean… books I mean…shorter stuff with a lot more…

  71. Sure Ben. Those people who died from the Tylenol poisonings also had store bought Tylenol. But…i’ll say…no more.

  72. One of the wonderful things about horror is that the genre has a strong small press. There’s a place for all kinds of interesting, quirky, very individual work.

  73. I had the same experience with my next novel, Hell rider, coming out next year. Publishers loved it but deemed it too non-politcally correct for mainstream. So it ended up in the small press.

  74. “We really pulled for you, but there’s no place in our line for it.” as Ben says–yes that’s happened to me too. Often it’s the beancounters, ultimately, who say no. I had a story at The Atlantic magazine once years ago for like a year. Finally the editor wrote back and said he couldn’t talk someone into doing it, it was just too weird… and eventually it was published and was picked for Datlow’s Year’s Best… I think indeed it was in the small press…

  75. Good example Tim. Some of that lemonade is that stuff that’s like lemonade kool aid they sell…made from a powder…

  76. Ben’s right too. . .JG is also right. Rudy Rucker has done okay with self publishing, having made his name. . .A few successful self published people are the exception that proves the rule…

  77. Self-publishing is like living in a neighborhood where everyone has a lemonade stand in their yard. How the hell do you get people to try your lemonade? Especially when they can go to the grocery or convenience store and buy professional produced lemonade they are confident will taste good.

  78. Now, when speaking of smaller presses, my second novel was with Penguin and a several other large houses for a couple of years, and I ultimately got the, “We really pulled for you, but there’s no place in our line for it.” That happened across the board, so I decided to go small press with it. I could have attempted more submissions elsewhere, but I guess that my patience had a certain limit and I’d learned that the novel, by evidence, wasn’t made for mass appeal.

  79. TIM is right when he says “I tell students there’s no reason for the world to give a damn about your book. It’s up to you to give the world a reason. Just crapping out several thousand words is not in and of itself a reason people should beat a path to your door and shove money at you for the privilege of reading your novel”

  80. I’ve always felt that self-publishing is really only viable for people who’ve already made a name for themselves in the industry, or who have unlimited funds at their disposal for marketing.

  81. I don’t allow myself to freeze. I may stop from exhaustion but freezing? No. My advice to people is finish the story but don’t submit it. Just finish it. Then sleep on it, go back to it. You may or may not cut the thing by 2/3rds or however much. But it’s important to create a writing continuity, if you’ve got a good idea. I just think that real pros have to be disciplined and work when they don’t feel like it. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m wrong…I don’t, however, mean writing really mindless sloppy churned-out first drafts. You can think about the thing. But you do have to let it flow, in my opinion, and sometimes you have to write when you feel stuck. I remember Robert Silverberg said he got stuck on writing, he didn’t know how to get from point A to point C, he didn’t know what B should be. So he called Barry Malzberg and asked his advice. Malzberg said, and I quote, “literary it up”. He meant, just get poetic and so on, for awhile to bridge the gap–for now. So Silverberg did and it worked. Silverberg went back later and cut most of that ‘literary it up’ stuff. But he’d created the psychological bridge across it–the creative thread.

  82. Fell in love. Although FEEL in Love brings up some interesting possibilities . . .

  83. Tim, I want a t-shirt with this: “Focus on the story, not on yourself.”


  84. Regarding those self-published authors who are astonished no one is buying their books: I tell students there’s no reason for the world to give a damn about your book. It’s up to you to give the world a reason. Just crapping out several thousand words is not in and of itself a reason people should beat a path to your door and shove money at you for the privilege of reading your novel I FEEL IN LOVE WITH JOHN SHIRLEY’S WEREWOLF. 🙂

  85. Since Tim and I have both mentioned Self Publishing, I’ll just add that unless you are in love with assuming yet another role beyond being a writer, editor, marketer, etc, then you probably shouldn’t do it. Writers have enough to handle already.

  86. I agree, self-publishing now may be a bit more viable than in the old days before epublishing. But not that much more viable. For every person you’ve heard about that scored with their vampire zombie post-holocaust self published novel, there are thousands, tens of thousands perhaps, who just wasted their time and money. One sees them on facebook, *astonished* that their fb friends are not buying their oh-so-appealingly inexpensive book about how they fell in love with a werewolf.

  87. I have doubts about my work all the time. My family tells me that if I think a story or novel sucks, that’s how they know it’s good! 🙂 I was talking about “Mr. Punch” earlier. When writing that story, I got to a point where I realized it was good. Really good. Better than anything I’d ever done. And froze. I walked away from the keyboard, too afraid to finish the story. What if I screwed it up? But eventually I took a deep breath, returned to the computer, and finished the story. And as I said earlier, it was my first professional sale. Years later, I was on a panel with Gary A. Braunbeck and Charles Coleman Finley, and it turned out they had exactly the same experience writing their first professionally published stories. You just have to keep writing.

  88. I am so far from being a billionaire I can’t even spell it.

    I have to psyche myself into writing and believing in my writing…

  89. Joking aside, I’m enjoying these responses, getting caught up reading some of them.

    Another mistake I see newer writers make is rushing into self publishing because they get impatient. You have to give your work some time in court at least… and even then, there are great independent presses that have a passion for publishing.

  90. What Ben was typing would have changed his life and made him a billionare.

    But it’s gone now.

  91. Tim, John, you two have been writing for a while now; Ben and are relative newcomers to this but we do have a bunch of novels and short stories out. Do any of you ever get plagued by insecurity as a writer, get that feeling that your best days are behind you or the book you just put out is crap? I know for me, that feeling hits me at least once each time I write a novel, and I have to go back and read something else I’ve had published to remind myself I don’t completely suck.
    What do you all do to keep the doubts at bay?

  92. Again as a teacher, I’m finding that students have less and less patience for process as time goes on. (Probably because all their technology gives them what they want instantly, so they don’t use or even see much process to do things anymore.) I’m so grateful that I started writing in the 80’s. I wrote a number of novels before I wrote a publishable one. If I started writing today, I’d probably be tempted to self-publish my work just “to get it out there,” as the kids say these days. There’s so much I wouldn’t have learned, so many ways I wouldn’t have grown, if I’d started out self-publishing.

  93. Yeah, I was typing something and it refreshed and now it’s gone 🙁

  94. John, Tim, there is also the problem that today’s writers are also the same generation brought up with attention spans shortened by MTV, fast editing in movies and tv shows, and video games that go a mile a minute. They are the texting and emailing generation, who in some cases never even had to learn the grammar and things we did in our English classes.

  95. Towards the end here I’ll provide a url, if that’s allowed, for my article for new writers…

    JG and Tim are both right, in what they just said. Just do what they say. OBEY THEM.

  96. Part of knowing the audience is really knowing who your audience is; for a magazine or anthology, it’s the editor. But for a novel, it’s both the editor and the people who will make up your core audience. In this month’s Publisher’s Weekly, there’s an article about how to write the the correct audience, and that’s by developing a fictional ‘reader’ who represents the people you think will make up your audience, and then comparing what you right to how you think that person will understand or enjoy it.

  97. As a creative writing teacher, I see a lot of student stories that are obviously influenced by media other than written fiction, so I’m right there with you, John. These days, I think a lot of people write because it’s easier than trying to make films on their own. Reading work inside and outside of your chosen genre, reading literature both high and low (if those distinctions have any real meaning) is vital.

  98. Not all writers…but too many are lazy about that. And they seem to have never heard of copyediting. And since many publishers are cheaping out on real, adequate copyediting now, you’d better do it yourself.

  99. I wrote bizarre horrific science fiction first. Maybe it was really “science fantasy” whatever that may be.

    JG: Sheesh

    I want to say that writers now,the whippersnappers, make the mistake of not really READING enough (even more than I did) before getting around to writing, of basing their writing of prose on watching television and movies, and not using proper spelling or grammar. There’s no excuse for the spelling, with spellcheck. Spellcheck just told me, ironically, that I put an extra l in spelling. I took it out.

  100. Knowing the audience is important, but sometimes it’s important to know when to ignore the audience, too. The first horror story I wrote that I think of as MY horror was “Mr. Punc” (which appeared in the anthology YOUNG BLOOD). My writers’ group was perplexed by the story, especially the surreal ending. And a friend of mine who I used to swap stories with for critque dripped red pain all over it. If I’d listened to them, I’d have changed the story and ruined it. (I guess this is the story of how I found my confidence to write horror! :))

  101. John – this blog only refreshes every 5 minutes; to see replies sooner, you need to hit your refresh button in IE or whatever internet platform you’re using.

  102. Since this is the HWA roundtable, I should also say that one of my biggest mistakes was not having the confidence to try writing horror at first. I wrote a few (really bad) horror stories, but mostly I avoided horror, and it was years before I could bring myself to try a horror novel. To me, horror was the pinnacle of genre fiction, and I just didn’t think I’d be good enough at it.

  103. Faherty’s right about reading the market before submitting to it, and researching what the editor’s into.

  104. Ben, you mentioned knowing your audience. One piece of advice new authors always get is read a magazine before you submit to it, and research an editor before you pitch or submit to him/her. I pretty much follow this rule of thumb – how about the rest of you?

  105. Probably it was also a mistake to blare angrily at Harlan Ellison in a fanzine column. That cost me. He rallied his friends. Also I shouldn’t have done it because it was just stupid and uncool to do… later on we got to be friends again…why isn’t anyone else posting?

  106. I think not spending enough time on my education; not revising enough; those were both mistakes of equal weight.

  107. I also remember back in the days of printing out submissions, that on 2 occasions I sent stories to magazines and in my cover letter I had the wrong name for the editor, which taught me to never use a template with names in it!

  108. Biggest mistake. I’m sure others have said this, but it’s hare to choose one. It’s been a long time too. I lost my first novel in the mail–though I had an offer for it based on an outline and premise–but trust me, that might have been a good thing. Theoretically I should have had a copy. that was in primeval times before PCs.

  109. You’re here, John! We’re asking our panel what the biggest mistake they made was, when first starting out.

  110. For me, I suppose it’s a matter of not stopping to think about audience. Who was I writing for? Just me? A handful of people? The independent horror scene? Mass audiences? I never considered that. Some writers say you shouldn’t. Write what you’re going to write and leave it at that. However, the duties of a writer are forever changing and when you are tasked with marketing your books– if you really want to be successful at that part of this game– then you have to stop and think about your target market. If not obsess about it, try to somehow include it in your end-plan.

  111. Biggest mistake, huh? Hard to say. I started submitting in 1982. You didn’t need an agent to sub to major publishers then. I submitted sample chapters of my first novel, a fantasy called A WIZARD’S WORLD, to Del Rey. I picked what I thought were the three best chapters, packed them in shirt box, then used the removalable paper strips (this was from the dot matrix printer paper we used then)as packing material. I mailed it off with a cover letter and got a personak reply with a month or two. The feedback was kind, probably kinder than it should’ve been. 🙂

    I submitted my third novel, what today would be called an urban fantasy, titled LYCANTHROPE to Del Rey, too. This time the personal response basically accused me of ripping off Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series. I hadn’t meant to do that, so I never submitted the novel again. I should’ve had more confidence in my own take on contemporary fantasy.

  112. Well, hello, folks! My name is JG Faherty, and it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s members of our latest horror round table, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and Benjamin Kane Ethridge. We’re here to pass on a combined millennium or so of hopefully useful experience for submitting and surviving in the world of writing. So, without further ado, let’s get the ball rolling. I’d like to start things off with a simple but profound (and possibly embarrassing) question:

    What was the biggest mistake you made when starting out as a writer? I know for me, it was sending out a novel well before it was ready; I proofed it once, no one else read it, and I submitted it to all the big publishing houses. At the time, I wasn’t an HWA member nor did I know a thing about blogs, beta readers, etc. Needless to say, it was bloated with about 20K extra words and got rejected by everyone.

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