What does ChatGPT mean for writers?

–Berthold Gambrel

You probably know about the new AI chatbot, ChatGPT. If you somehow don’t, Kevin Brennan wrote a blog post about it here.

There is a lot of concern in the community that it will mean the end of writing as we know it. And, understandably so. After all, AI destroying everything is an age-old science fiction trope. Everyone knows it, and yet people build it anyway. Welcome to the Torment Nexus, ladies and gentlemen!

However, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. The optimistic view on this is that, as the traditional publishing industry turns towards churning out mediocre by-the-numbers writing, people will start to long for that hand-crafted touch that only a human writer can provide. Enter indie authors, who can produce unique, offbeat, and interesting stories that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch.

So, basically, the same as now, only more so. 🙂

Of course, there is a possibility the AI will get so powerful it can produce truly human-like writing. However, if that happens, we’ll probably have much bigger problems to worry about than just our future careers as writers. Survival of the species, for example.

I say, don’t worry about what you can’t control, and in the meantime make the best of things. You can’t compete with the machine, so don’t. Instead, produce things so original and creative that you’re in a completely different market than the computer-generated pablum.

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming

Mark Paxson

Stepping away from posts about writing and publishing and the like, I want to share a book I just finished.

Regular viewers of our video chats will know that several of us are big P.G. Wodehouse fans. That does not include me. Just as evidence of my lack of fandom, I originally typed P.D. and thought that was correct until I looked it up.

In our most recent video chat, which is still going through editing and should be posted soon, after more discussion about P.G. Wodehouse, I agreed that I would read one of his stories and asked for a recommendation. And that is how Right Ho, Jeeves appeared on my Kindle.

I finished the book a day or two ago and here’s what I think. First off, I appreciated that unlike may books written way back when, it was not dense. It was not filled with pages of unnecessary description. No, instead, there was a lot of dialogue and things happening. While the narrator, Bertram Wooster, occasionally wallowed in his head at times, it was not excessive. I actually found the story enjoyable and easy to read.

That said, and Berthold knows this about me, I simply don’t get comedy in stories. I rarely laugh while reading. Nary a chuckle rumbles from within while I’m reading something that is supposed to be funny. It was the same with Right Ho, Jeeves. I believe I slightly chuckled one time while reading it and I think that one incident related to something I interpreted as a comment on the art and challenge of writing, more than what was going on within the story.

Other than that, however, I read the thing with a straight face and … well, while I could see people being amused by the some of the shenanigans, even laughing at the events and dialogue and the names and all that, it just doesn’t work that way for me. So … I did not laugh. Instead of seeing humor in the story, I saw silliness. Which, I admit a lot of humor derives from silliness. I mean, one of my most favorite movies is The Holy Grail – a monument to silliness.

I guess I just don’t see silliness and feel it when I’m reading.

I asked the others during this last video chat if I was weird because of that. Fortunately, Richard came to my defense and acknowledged family members who have said the same thing.

What about you? Do you find humor in what you read? Whether the humor was intentional or not. And if not that, is there some other hole in your ability to appreciate what you read. Some other genre or trick of the trade that simply doesn’t work on you?

Before I forget, in case I don’t blog anything else in the next week or two, may you and yours have the most joyous of holiday seasons, regardless of how you choose to celebrate. And in 2023 … write on!

The Lark Returns From Query Hell

This is my followup to a post from July 2 2022 called “Through Query Hell on a Lark” that can found here:


In it I described how and why I decided to see if I could get my most recent novel traditionally published by going through the time honored query process. The short answer is that on a whim I had submitted the novel to Gollancz, a British SF publisher, during one of their rare open windows when they accept manuscripts from authors directly.Since I would not hear back from them for six to nine months,I had the time to see if I could find an agent to represent it. I have not yet heard back from Gollancz yet, but I am drawing a line under the query process.

Over the course of the summer and fall I submitted my query letter to 15 agents, four on the first of each month starting in July, from my list of 31 agents who handled science fiction and accepted queries from unpublished writers. The remaining 16 were either closed for submission or did not seem worth the trouble. To date I’ve received 7 form letter rejection emails, and with the last submission 6 weeks ago, I think I can safely conclude that the other 8 queries are rejections by default.

Given that I did not expect to sell my book, and I was going through the process on, as I said, on a lark, the process was actually sort of fun – a challenge that resulted in several very good things.

The first positive thing was I joined a discord channel run by a “Traditionally published Fantasy Author” which he set up to raise a little money and provide a forum for writers to help each other on their quest to get published. It was not as active as I had expected, but it did provide a forum to talk about the writing experience, see the work of other writers. I was able to get into the mindset of people who are serious about being traditionally published.

Secondly, it was interesting to think about my story and how I could sell the story to an agent and publisher. I tried several different query letters and actually changed the title of the novel from The Road to EuraEast to the rather tongue-in-cheek title of The Girl on the Kerb to make the story sound more mainstream. Nothing worked, but qua sera, sera.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I used the extra time I had in waiting on the publisher and the querying process to rewrite and improve the final third of the story, adding nearly 6,000 words to it in the process. I had some little nagging doubts about some parts and the time to address them. Now, I don’t know if those nagging doubts would’ve kept me from releasing the book myself since by the time I was finished writing it I knew I needed to submit it to the publisher within two weeks. However, the extra time I had gave me the time and eto improve the story – a lesson learned for any future story. Usually I’m too impatient to let a story sit around for several months. At my age I could be dead tomorrow and no eyebrows would be raised.

Fourthly, I now have a much better appreciation of what thousands of writers have to go through in their pursuit of their dream of being a traditionally published author A “real” author in their mind.And how crushing every rejection email, or perhaps even worse, silence, must be for them. I have to admire the strength of their commitment to their dream. Still, better them than me.

Fifthly, because of the process I looked deeper into the realities of traditional publishing, and it’s not a good place. Between discussions on the discord channel and what the Penguin/Random House-Simon and Schuster trial revealed about the publishing business, it is clear that the so-called midlist author is a dying breed. Traditional publishing is dominated by multinational corporations who only care for the bottom line, and as I reported in the post below, best selling books are the ones that pay the bills.


I’ve heard both, booksellers and authors lament that authors these days are only given a book two to become a bestselling author before they are out the door of the big publishers. In fact, the author running the discord channel had his first two trilogies published by one of the big five publishers, but when the second trilogy did not sell as well as expected, he was out the door. His last two books have been published by a small press. And while it’s not one of those very small presses,it is a definite step down, career wise. Now it ain’t easy in indie-publishing, but it ain’t any easier in traditional publishing – even after they let you in the door.

And lastly I have come to really appreciate my decision to release my own books directly to readers. I was 65 in 2015 when I decided to self-publish my books so it was a no-brainer decision, but still… Now I really appreciate the fact that my creative endeavors had not been held hostage by a few dozen agents – people who judge a book by reading the query letter, and maybe glancing over the first five pages of the manuscript. And how lucky I am that real people read and enjoy them. That’s what it’s all about.

So, all in all, my travels in Query Hell was a worthwhile experience. Once.

Road Blocks to Reading

Mark Paxson

Over at her blog, Audrey put up a post about what makes her close a book before she reaches The End. Her list of four includes: animal abuse; graphic violence or grossness as the point of the book; a hateful main character; long sections of action unrelieved by dialogue, description, or backstory.

I thought I’d bring that conversation over here because it’s an interesting topic for writers to consider as they write their stories. Not that I think one reader’s view of the road blocks is determinative. No, definitely not that. And Audrey mentions in her post how reading a book is a complex thing, an interaction between the writer’s imagination and the reader’s imagination. The result of that interaction is that the experience, the outcome, may just be different for every reader.

But, still, there are good reasons a writer might want to consider the possibility of road blocks. Each of Audrey’s road blocks is legitimate and likely held by a lot of readers. People don’t want to read about animal abuse (or child abuse), and endless graphic violence can turn off a lot of people. And, of course, one of the rules of writing is that there has to be something appealing about the main character. Right?

I commented on Audrey’s post about one of my road blocks and decided to post a few more here. But … before I do that, let me first acknowledge that I almost never have a “did not finish” on books that I read. I almost always power my way through to the bitter end. Although, I did one time stop reading a book with less than ten pages to go because … I. Just. Didn’t. Care. Anymore. Nope. I didn’t care what happened to the characters. I didn’t care how the author wrapped things up. I just didn’t care. So I stopped reading.

And that’s the first road block.

  1. Characters and/or a story line that I don’t care about. Yes, that’s vague and very specific to me. What am I going to care about? How can the writer know? I have no idea and I can’t really explain what it is that I’m looking for, but I’ve got to care about what I’m reading. Good luck writers of the world!
  2. Too many characters introduced too quickly. This really is at the top of my list, and it’s what I mentioned over on Audrey’s blog. If ten pages in, you have introduced 15 different people to me, I’m not really going to be very happy. Even worse, is if they have similar names or similar relationships. You know, like Andrew, who has four sisters — Ann, Anna, Annie, Annalisa. And Andrew’s best friend is Anthony. Stop it already!
  3. Taking too long to expose what the story actually is. I’m not sure how I select books to read, but frequently I do so without reading the blurb. Or, if I read the blurb, I don’t immediately start reading the book. It may sit in the stack for a month or two before I crack it open and, by then, I have long forgotten what the blurb disclosed. As a result, frequently, when I start reading, I have no idea what the story is actually about. And it absolutely pisses me off if the author doesn’t get into the story line and disclose something that gives me an idea pretty early on. Seriously, if I get to page 50 and I still have no idea what I’m reading and why I’m reading it, I’m going to start wondering why I’m bothering when there are other books in that stack.
  4. Too much description. How much is too much? I don’t know. I just don’t need or want a lot of description in what I read. See above about the importance of the reader’s imagination contributing to the outcome of the story for that specific reader.

The thing about this list, as I state above, is that none of these things typically rise to the point where I close the book and don’t finish it. And it’s a good thing in some instances. For example, the first time I read Kite Runner, I wanted to close the book after the first 20 pages or so. I read the first chapter (or was it two?), and I had no idea what I was reading. But I didn’t, and that book is now in my list of favorite books. I’ve read it several times since and still enjoy it.

That’s why I think I finish almost everything I start. I may miss something spectacular if I put a book away before it’s time. Yes, FOMO is a real thing!!

One final comment regarding Audrey’s list. I totally get people who don’t want to read about abuse and violence, particularly if it feels egregious and unnecessary. Those things, however, are not on my list of road blocks to reading. Instead, those things frequently draw me into a story. It’s like with movies — most of my favorite movies are intense and dark and, yes, violent.

Sadly, violence and abuse are a part of the human condition and I don’t want to shy away from those things when I read or watch. In my current stack of books to read the next couple of months is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I read it a few years ago. I will never recommend it to any other reader. It is the most brutal book I’ve ever read. Over 800 pages of the most horrendous stuff I’ve ever read. One of the main characters is absolutely beaten and brutalized throughout his life. But … here’s the deal for me … buried in those 800+ pages of brutality is the potential for hope and for love. And I need to read it again to see if my memory is correct about that — to remind myself of how it ended and that hope and love are always there.

So … if you haven’t commented over on Audrey’s post, now that you’re here, what don’t you want to read when you’re reading? What do you shy away from when you’re writing? Do you think about the reader’s experience and imagination while you’re writing?

No More Promo Sites!

Mark Paxson

When I published my first novel back in 2012, I ran several promos on EReaderNews Today. Some were free promos, some were .99 promos. the end result of those promos was that thousands downloaded that novel and I actually made a couple thousand dollars on the book.

When I published a YA novel in 2021, I looked forward to running a promo on ENT and watching the sales soar. Well … that’s not what happened. My promo produced 11 downloads of the book. At .99, that meant I didn’t even reach $4 in earnings for a promo I paid someting like $40-50 for.

In August, I published a domestic thriller novella. I published it on Draft2Digital, as I’ve discussed here several times. D2D provides access to various promos the different e-book retailers and I’ve signed up for those. Unfortunately, D2D and the retailers don’t always let you know if you were selected for one of their promos. So … I have no idea what, if anything, has happened with those promos. Except that I haven’t seen any uptick in my sales.

Somewhere along the way, I read something about Written Word Media — another paid promo option. Like most, they have an email list and promise to include your book in an email that will go to hundreds of thousands of readers. So … I decided to try again.

First up, on November 30, my new domestic thriller novella. The promo cost $65 and promised an email to over 200,000 readers. The day the promo ran, I got about a dozen new downloads. In the days since, there have been more, bringing the downloads for that book since November 30 to about thirty. Meaning, I may make $20 on a promo that cost me $65.

I also ran a promo for that YA novel. This one was only $25 and promised to be sent to over 100,000 readers. As of this writing, that promo produced 4 downloads. So … $25 produced about $1.30 in revenue.

This simply is not a workable concept anymore. (I’d love to hear if other writers out there have experienced better success with these.) I’m convinced that the problem is that the market is just absolutely over-saturated at this point.

And, of course, there’s the other dynamic … do people actually read these emails and buy books from them. Well, obviously, a few do, but is it a meaningful number who do so? It’s not looking that way. I also wonder just how many people on their email lists are other writers, who signed up so they could run their own promo.

Anyway, I’m done with getting sucked into these promo sites. Next up is that I’m going to try some Facebook ads and see what happens. Oh, and I’m also going back to my earlier books and will be publishing them through D2D, to get away from the Amazon monopoly with those as well.


Mark Paxson

In response to Berthold’s post, I have thoughts.

When I first started writing, I was a regular on a website called Toasted Cheese. It’s still around and produces one of the best literary e-zines there is. But, back then, I remember posting something about whether stories have to have “a point.”

So … let me back up a bit more. Back to high school. I hated English class because we were always asked to analyze what the writer meant. What their point was. And all I thought was … maybe the writer wrote the story or the poem simply because they wanted to write a story. Must every story have a point?!

I still feel this way. But when I asked this question on Toasted Cheese, the response I remember getting was something like “yes, every story has a point even if you don’t think there is one.” Yes, even my stories … had a point, whether I intended a point or not.

And that just continues to rankle me. With one exception, I haven’t stories with the intention of making a point. I just write stories based on an idea and to see what I can do with that idea.

Which brings up Berthold’s question. Depth. I feel like this is related to whether or not a story should have a point. Sure, some stories have a point. That doesn’t mean all stories have a point. Nor do all stories have to have “depth,” which, to be honest, I’m not sure what that actually means.

I now this. My first novel was what I believed was a simple story. Since then, my ideas have got more complex, more layered. But not necessarily more “depth.” At least as I understand the term.

One of my current works in progress is a dystopian take on the U.S. in the near future. It has some complexities to it, but ultimately is a simple tale. Recently though I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which are also a dystopian tale. They provide me with some ideas for even more complexity, and more depth to the story I’m working on. And I think about that and wonder if I want to go there. Do I really want to write something other than the “simple” story I thought of when I started this thing? Do I really want to include within the story ruminations of human nature and how people can get to the point where they get to in my story? Or do I just want that stuff to happen organically.

That’s where I have a difficulty with “depth” in stories. Frequently, I feel like the author uses a chain saw where a scalpel would have done. The “depth” or the “point” becomes so oppressive that it destroys the story that is really what I want to read. My preference is that a story be the story and that readers take from it what they will. Even if one reader says “ah, yes, the moon is made of green cheese,” while another reader says “now I understand the Pythagorean theorem.”

This is the beauty of writing. Of fiction. A writer writers. Readers read and take from it what they will. There doesn’t have to be a point. There doesn’t have to be depth. Except for that which the reader gets from the words on the page.

How Much Depth?

Section MMX, paragraph a, clause ii, of the Rules For Writers specifies that a story shall have a depth of not less than….

Just kidding. Here at WSW, we don’t think much of so-called “rules for writers.” This is purely an exploration of a question Chuck Litka brought up in response to my post on my writerly dream. Namely, how much depth should a book have?

By “depth,” I mean both things like re-readability as well as how many subtle nuances it has.

There are some stories that are fun, but don’t really bear multiple readings. There are other stories that are so incredibly dense you can’t even tell what they’re about without consulting reference books.

In my opinion, it’s better to write the former than the latter. But best of all is to write something that works as a story, but can also be re-analyzed over again and reveal new facets.

One example of a book like this is Dune. The main plot of Dune is actually very simple. (In the broadest terms, it’s the same basic plot as The Lion King.) But everything else about Dune is not very simple. The world of Dune is full of complex political ideas, Islamic influences, environmentalist themes, abstract philosophical concepts, and some really trippy things that are probably best chalked up to being written in the 1960s. Herbert himself said the book had many different layers.

If you like Dune, you can re-read it multiple times to follow all these different threads. But if not, you can still think of it as a book about a guy on a quest to avenge his father and claim the throne and leave it at that.

Note that I’m not saying a story needs to have this level of depth to be great. Right Ho, Jeeves is one of my favorite books ever, but I wouldn’t call it multifaceted. It’s just fun, plain and simple.

But say you want to write a fantasy epic of immense depth and complexity. It needs some serious of world-building. Or what about literary fiction? Should you work to fill it with layers of meaning and symbolism?

And maybe the most critical question of all: how much “depth” in fiction is in the eye of the writer, and how much the reader? Hemingway said of The Old Man and the Sea: “The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man.” This hasn’t stopped many people from saying otherwise. So maybe every book is as deep or as shallow as the reader wants it to be.

When the Dream Dies

When and why might the dream of being a writer dies and you decide to call it quits?

For some authors their dream dies when they can no longer write. Like when they are dead. Or when health issues prevent them from writing, despite their desire to continue on. Sometimes real world events in their lives do not allow them the time and/or energy to write. But for some writers, it is a conscious decision to lay down the pen.

For traditionally published authors the end may come when they can no longer sell their books to publishers. When new contracts are not offered. You’re only as good as your last book, so if sales disappoint, new contracts may not be offered and self-publishing may be too daunting or simply unappealing to continue writing. Since writing is a side-hustle for most authors, moving on frees time for other endeavors, even if it means leaving the dream behind.

Much the same dynamics may end the career of self-publishing authors as well. Though in this case, it would be the readers who are either not finding or not buying their book or books in any appreciable numbers. Disappointing sales may lead an author to decide that writing and self-publishing is simply not worth their time, effort, and in many cases, their money.

In both these cases, authors may still have stories to write, but they, or their publisher, don’t see a market for more stories. Books cost money to be produced. Most lose money, so they can’t be published by companies or writers willy-nilly.

On the other hand, a lack of new story ideas may cause both traditional and self-published authors to put down their pen. The spring of their inspiration runs dry leaving them with nothing new or interesting to write. Now this could simply be a case of “writer’s block” that will pass, but only time will tell. In any event, a writer is left waiting for an inspiration that may never ever come.

Another reason for quitting is that an author finds that the pleasure of writing is gone. Writing no longer gives them the satisfaction and joy it once did. It has become a chore, even, [yikes!] a job. And given that for most authors writing is a very low paying job, an author may decide that writing needs to be more than a job to be worthwhile, especially if they don’t have a book contract to fulfill. Or thousands of fans clamoring for the next book.

Or perhaps the writer finds that the need to write – that strange passion – that drove them to spend oh, so many hours pursuing something so iffy as writing stories has been sated. Looking at what they’ve written, they may decide that it’s sufficient. Enough is enough, there is no need to write more. They have nothing left to prove. They have a the hill they’re willing to die on. A legacy that they are willing to be remembered for.

Most likely, when an author draws a line under their dream of being a writer and lays down their pen, it is for more than one reason, it’s a mixture of many different reasons and emotions as well – sadness and relief, regret and pride, and hopefully, a sense of moving on.

I have some experience in endings.

I have been an artist all my life, and indeed for half a dozen years, a very successful starving artist, starving being the operative word. But even when I decided to take down my shingle and stop selling my paintings I continued to paint. However, as the years went by, less and less so. I had taken to painting from imagination rather than photos or life, having no interest – or perhaps not enough talent – to paint from life, so when my wellspring of imagination no longer produced new ideas, I could either just revisit old ideas, or stop painting. I didn’t want to paint the same thing over and over again, so I pretty much stopped, save for painting my book covers, which is more of a chore than a joy. Aiding and abetting this decision was the fact that I had painted something like 2,000 paintings of various sizes, styles, and in mediums over the last 30 years and still have maybe 1,500 of them in a closet under the stairs. I have my hill to die on.

That said, I would like to paint again. I hope to return to painting. But for that to happen I will have to come up with something new to paint, or a new way to paint. But if I don’t, so be it.

I sense the same thing may be happening in my writing as well. Ideas are increasingly hard to come by. I was delighted to be able to assemble a new novel out of several discarded ones this past winter. But while parts of it were fun to write, other parts were more of a chore than I would like – and while I would like to think the story is my best, being my latest, I don’t think it is my favorite, which is discouraging. In short, I fear that my well of inspiration is slowly drying up, just as it did with painting. Still, I have written and self-published 10 novels, 3 novellas, with another novel written and ready to be published. So, if or when it comes time to put down the pen, I have that hill to die on for my books as well. But hopefully not just yet.

So how about you? Do you envision a day when you will no longer be able or want to write? How do you think the end will come to you? Will you die in harness, or call it quits for any of the reasons above, or others I haven’ thought of?

My Writing Dream

Audrey Driscoll

First, my thanks to Mark for starting this topic. All writers start with a vision or intention that could be called a dream. Those of us who actually complete a book and get it published one way or another get to live that dream. And naturally it changes as we pursue the journey.

In one or more of our WSW video chats, I admitted that until I was in my forties, I assumed being a writer was something you started when you were young or not at all. But then I had an idea for a novel that I could not let go of. “Why not?” I thought. In November 2000, I started writing, and spent the next decade in the grip of a happy obsession.

Did I get published? Yes, but not the way I originally thought I would. During the dizzy first year of writing, I thought of course my book was supremely publish-worthy. Agents would be falling over themselves to snap it up. I even wondered if my holiday time from work would be enough for a book tour. (Remembering this, I blush and giggle.)

The pinnacle of Dream 1.0 was where I would be interviewed on one or another radio (yes, radio!) program on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). That’s still my outlet of choice for information and music. I’ve heard many author interviews. The well-read, well-spoken host asks the author what inspired their book, and the two go on to have a civilized and witty chat. To me, that would have been the ultimate in validation.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. In 2010, I published my first novel myself, as an ebook via Smashwords. Over the next decade, I went on to publish six more books, on Amazon as well as Smashwords, and in print as well as ebook.

By now, I’m onto Dream 3.7, at least. I no longer intend to submit or query. I’m content with the way I publish. I’m lucky that I don’t need to depend on any income at all from my writing. I call all the shots.

But what is my long-term dream?

Like Mark, I hope my books will be read and even reread. Like Berthold, I hope my characters and their experiences will linger in the minds and imaginations of readers. That readers will close my books with a sigh of contentment and a wave of biblio-bereavement. My first novel was inspired by another writer’s story. I would be delighted if a future writer found enough substance in one of my works to be similarly inspired.