I enjoyed meeting and chatting with Janny Wurts at Capricon XXVIII.
Janny is an amazing woman — a self-made artist and author who’s been in the business since 1981. The impression I received from talking to Ms. Wurts was that she is a true fantasy geek. She writes for us, not just for profit.
I caught up with Janny toward the end of the day on Saturday while she was signing autographs for her fans. Scott Kuntzelman brought about 12 books for her to sign; They were all for him! When I asked him his favorite he said, without hesitation, Circle of Fire because “It’s like you exist in the worlds she creates. She uses so much detail that it’s easy to get lost in them and become a part of the story.” Kat Crowder, another fan, stated that “the stories are so involved and detailed that nothing is predictable, I am constantly surprised with each story.”
In between fans, I got the real scoop on Ms. Wurts. She told me what it was really like being an author and an artist. It was an eye-opener. This is a tough business and to survive you must be determined, smart, lucky and persistent. I asked her how she got started as both an artist and an author:
“I had always geared to do cover art and write novels, having been impressed by Howard Pyle’s works. I broke in to the cover art world separately, and illustrated on the major market for other authors, before pairing my own novels to my own covers. These career tracks were tackled on their own merit, and then merged. There were no shortcuts. The art business was my “day job” until the novels took hold and pulled their share of the weight.”
While we were at the autograph table, an aspiring artist who wanted to break into the world of cover art asked for some tips. Janny was honest with the woman. She said that there are only a limited number of slots for cover artists. If you become a cover artist, then you are taking a spot that someone else had. In order to make it, your art needs to be better then everyone else’s. It needs to be clean and clear — not like anime (not that there is anything wrong with anime), crisp and beautiful, and above all, it needs to be different. While this is one of the few professions where men and women excel on equal footing, it is so competitive that only the best and most original survive.
Janny admitted that, along with hours of work and perseverance, she got lucky. Janny’s first editor, Terri Windling, hired her based on an incomplete manuscript:
“I sold her a short story for the anthology Elsewhere and that impressed her enough that she asked for a longer work. I had five chapters of the standalone Sorcerer’s Legacy and a tight outline. The work was tight, and ready to go, but — where I got lucky — editors do not buy incomplete manuscripts from first time authors. This one took that chance, possibly because she had met me and saw the determination, and possibly because she sensed the confidence — I had (at that time) four completed novels in my files, that were “practice” and are still there, untouched, to this day. I also had the first version of Wars of Light and Shadows, up to two volumes, completed in draft, but was wise enough to realize that the longer work was too much for a first sale, and to go with a simpler plot, first. Excellence counts. This is as true today as anytime prior. “
(When I jokingly stated that her fans will see those “practice novels” after her death, she said she would either fix them or destroy them before then.)
Not forgetting her own struggles to become successful, Janny has devoted part of her time to helping aspiring authors and artists. On her website, she not only displays her art, discusses her stories and talks fantasy, she also provides tips to aspiring authors and artists. So what advice does Janny have for aspiring authors? Get recognized and find an editor who believes in you. Publishing is a tough business. It is not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit. It requires endless hours of dedication and you must work hard to get your product before the people who will enjoy it the most.
Janny also recommends that new authors try to get their work published on-line:
“Sell to legitimate online publishing markets for which you are paid. Such byline credits will assist your career. There is a very big difference in work that is “self-published” and work that an editor paid for, online or not — I am not against self-publishing one bit — but when another party puts forth the venture capitol to back your work, it is a major statement that you value your stuff enough to be paid for it, and another party shared the belief that it was worth the investment of time, editing, and production. It does count, when approaching a major venue. Do check out WriterBeware on the SFWA website and get educated about scammers so you can recognize a legitimate market or agent from a rip-off or taker.”
And, finally, Ms. Wurts suggests that if you want to read or write fantasy, you should support the fantasy industry:
“If you want to write as an author — support the business! That leaves publishers more successful room in which to try new names. And if you are enjoying a living author, do be aware that your choices affect what becomes of their lifetime career. NEW sales, from legitimate vendors, are all that reward the efforts of the printer, the publisher, the author. These areas are what create NEW work, and provide the jobs that make NEW work possible. Resellers, used copies, resold library copies, and discounted overstock or discount sale copies do not count toward a “sales figure” — believe it or not, books do not have much profit margin! The difference in a few hundred copies can mean all the difference. I do NOT frown upon used book sales — people counting their budget so they can read — but it does help if one is aware of the consequences of applying the buying dollar and cent. An author is only as good as their last title’s performance, and a political upset, a downturn in spending, or a recession can impact a release at any time. However, if you do get a used or cheap copy, then you can make up the ground for that title by talking about what you love about that book! Other readers will see your enthusiasm, and that will help win new readers and gain ground in a very tough time for an industry caught in a rather brutal state of transition.”
So, how can we, as readers, support our favorite fantasy authors?
1. Go to fantasy forums and talk about your favorite authors. Help to get their names and work known by as many people as possible. As Janny said, not every story is for every reader and what one person may hate another may love. The more people an author can find who love their work the more successful they will be. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.
2. Go to your local bookstore and check the shelves for your favorite author’s books. If they are missing a book, order it. Computers are impersonal, but they are great at adding numbers. If a publisher’s computer gets an order for a book from a store, then it concludes that not enough books are being stocked for that author and these numbers increase. The opposite is true, too. If an author does not get orders or sales, the computer will conclude that too many books are being stocked and reduce the number of future works ordered. The numbers are important because an author only gets credit and paid for every hard cover and soft cover book sold off the regular shelves (not in the bargain bins or at online discounters).
3. Don’t buy your author’s favorite books off of bidding sites. If a book that you are trying to find is no longer published, contact the author. They may not even be aware that the book is no longer published.
4. Don’t buy advance reading copies (ARCs) of books if they are not yet available to the general public. Some ARCs are given to libraries so that they reach the broadest possible audience (including those that cannot afford such books). Some unscrupulous persons steal these books from the library and then sell them on Amazon and/or eBay. This hurts the author tremendously. Not only is the book not reaching the maximum number of people, but the sale does not count in favor of the author.
Speaking of advance copies, Janny gave me a copy of To Ride Hell’s Chasm. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it!