A Legend of Ethshar on the Installment Plan
What is this?
This page is the original home of an experiment in alternative publishing.
I'm Lawrence Watt-Evans, author more than four dozen novels and hundreds of short stories, articles, etc. One of my best-known series was the Legends of Ethshar, consisting as of 2004, when this began, of eight novels originally published by Del Rey Books or Tor Books, and seven short stories that appeared in various anthologies. (As of 2020, the series is up to fourteen novels and eleven short stories.)
Alas, I learned in 2004 that no major mainstream publisher was interested in continuing the Ethshar series. On the other hand, I had several readers saying they desperately want to see more. I decided to see whether enough of them were willing to put their money where their mouths are to finance more Ethshar stories -- and perhaps eventually continuations of other series that no longer have major publishers.
To my surprise, there were enough. My fans came through, and I wrote the ninth Ethshar novel, The Spriggan Mirror, financed entirely by reader contributions rather than an advance from a publisher. The finished novel was published in the February 2006 issue of a now-defunct webzine called Son and Foe, and in various formats by Wildside Press, but its writing was made financially possible by contributions from readers during its serialization.
I was sufficiently impressed to try it again, with The Vondish Ambassador. It worked again. A third serial, not Ethshar this time, didn't do as well -- that was Realms of Light -- but more Ethshar, specifically The Unwelcome Warlock, The Sorcerer's Widow, and Relics of War, did all right.
Interest seemed to be flagging, though, so I don't plan to do any more serials. Subsequent Ethshar novels are being published by Wildside Press in the traditional fashion, but I may see about financing some through Kickstarter, or just self-publishing them at my own expense.
Below I try to answer all your questions about my little experiment, but if I've missed anything, e-mail me and ask.
How did it work?
From April to October of 2005 I posted the first draft of The Spriggan Mirror, the ninth novel in the series, chapter by chapter. The last two chapters, along with the epilogue and some endnotes, were posted on October 16, 2005. Each week, if I'd received another $100 in donations (as I always did), I posted another chapter.
If I hadn't received $100 to pay for a given week's chapter, it wouldn't have been posted -- but that never happened. If more than the $100 target came in, as it usually did, the extra was credited toward the following chapter. No one needed to worry about "wasting" a payment if I received more than was needed for a particular chapter.
This system was partly inspired by the Street Performer Protocol, and by the system known as the Storyteller's Bowl, but I modified them to suit my purposes. Similar things have been attempted before, I'm not inventing anything entirely new, but my model seems to have been unusually successful.
I'm pleased to say I appear to have been part of the inspiration for other such online serials, such as Diane Duane's The Big Meow.
Are you going to do more serials this way?
Probably not. But I'm not totally ruling it out.
Can we read The Spriggan Mirror here for free?
Not any more; I took most of it down at the request of its eventual publishers. The Spriggan Mirror is available in various formats elsewhere. I have no plans to restore the original free version.
In the unlikely event I do any more serials they'll probably be free while they're in progress, but if the money stops coming in I'll stop writing them, and they'll probably be taken down once they've found a real publisher.
How do we make donations?
You don't anymore. When the serial was active I tried a couple of methods, but after the first couple of serials I wound up relying entirely on PayPal, since that's where at least 90% of the donations were coming in.
If I haven't read the other Ethshar novels, will this one make any sense to me?
I certainly hope so; every book in the series is intended to stand on its own, though there are cross-references and interconnections. If you haven't read the others, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of this one -- does it work without any background?
It's been pointed out to me that this story gives away some of the plot of With A Single Spell, and a couple of plot points from The Spell of the Black Dagger. If you were thinking of reading those and don't want spoilers, well...
Why did you do it this way?
Tor dropped the Ethshar series because while it was selling decently, my other fantasy was selling significantly better, and they want me to write what will make them the most money. I sympathize with that; I like money, too. And taking the series to another major publisher didn't seem practical, given the realities of today's publishing business, where they want every book to be a blockbuster.
But I knew there were a lot of disappointed Ethshar fans out there, and I like Ethshar and wanted to write more, and this seemed like a way to do it. Strictly as a sideline, though -- even though this brought in far more money than I expected, it's still only a small fraction of what I made writing for Tor. But hey, Ethshar is fun, and having multiple projects going at once helps keep me fresh.
What happened after it was all posted?
It was revised and professionally edited; the final version is roughly 8,000 words longer than the first draft. That final, more polished version was in the second issue of Son and Foe, and has been published on paper by Wildside Press. Both editions contain the complete revised text of The Spriggan Mirror, and the e-book edition includes a bonus short story, "Sirinita's Dragon," that originally appeared in an anthology called The Ultimate Dragon.
What are we paying for?
Now? Nothing. I will still happily accept donations for The Spriggan Mirror, but at this point you're giving me money out of simple generosity, as you would a street musician. Thank you. I'll add your name to the mailing list for e-mail updates on the project along with the other donors, but that's it. (You can also opt out of the e-mails, if you prefer.)
However, if you donated money while the serial was ongoing, it counted as an advance order against the finished novel.
I needed to charge more per chapter on all other serials than I did on The Spriggan Mirror. After I'd done it once I could see that while receipts were more than I'd expected, so were costs, and once I sent out all the paid-for books I hadn't even earned minimum wage.
Please note that while I accurately called payments "donations," this was not a non-profit enterprise and they were not tax deductible.
If you have any suggestions, comments on page design or payment methods, or other things you think I should hear about, e-mail me.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: