The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines

It takes a special kind of author to intentionally release a bad novel — And Jim C. Hines is that author! But he has a reason for doing it, and a way of making that bad novel — Rise of the Spider Goddess — lift itself above its station to offer what turns out to be an encouraging lesson about writing. Here’s Hines to explain.


Let’s get one thing out in the open right now. The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess (An Annotated Novel) is a bad book.

I didn’t know that when I wrote it back in 1995. I thought my novelization of the adventures of Nakor the Purple!, the character I had been playing in our college D&D game for the past year or so, was freaking brilliant! At last I could write the long-awaited tale of what happened after those adventures. There was magic and swordfighting and vampires and ancient temples, and at the heart of the story was my favorite spunky elf druid with a tragic backstory, along with his friends: an angry vampire with a tragic backstory, a spunky young thief with a tragic backstory, etc.

There were also pixies, a fire-resistant owl who became a falcon later in the book because I wasn’t paying attention, and an EVIL spider goddess named Olara.

For years, I kept this book buried in the darkest, dustiest corners of my hard drive, guarded by poison needle traps and rust monsters and worse. I swore no one would ever know just how bad my first attempts at writing had been. I wanted people to think I had sprung into this world as a fully-formed professional author, a brilliant writer of flaming spiders and nose-picking jokes and so on.

That’s total goblin dung. Every author I’ve spoken to writes crap from time to time, especially in the beginning. We all have a Rise of the Spider Goddess buried away somewhere. The idea that anyone is born with an innate ability to write brilliant fiction is a myth.

The idea behind publishing this book is all about busting that myth and owning the crap. Not just owning it, but laughing about it. I’ve added more than 5000 words of commentary and snark at my younger self’s writing, from his paper-thin worldbuilding to the over-the-top Evilness of the Evil Minions of Evil to his valiant attempt to incorporate every fantasy cliché he had ever encountered.

But even as I cringe over that kid’s lousy writing, even as I poke fun at his refusal to revise or proofread, I’ve also got to respect his determination, and to acknowledge that this was a beginning. This is how writing careers get started, not with big book deals and bestseller lists, but with people sitting down to write about their favorite D&D character, because they’ve got a story to tell, and because they just plain don’t know any better.

That deserves to be celebrated and shared. And yeah, laughed about. Because how can you not laugh at lines like this?

“Sitting casually on the floor, a guard sat honing a dagger.”

Author’s note: “Sitting casually on the floor, a guard sat…” That’s freaking art right there!

For writers, I hope this book serves both as 50,000 words of what not to do, but also as recognition that we all start somewhere, and often that place isn’t very pretty.

For my fans, I figure it could be interesting to see where my career really began. You’ll see the seeds of ideas that crop up in my later work, particularly the goblin books. You also see the beginning of my voice, as well as my habit of including groin-kicks in every book I write. (Because kicking an elf in the groin is just plain funny.)

For everyone else, well, have you ever done a group reading of The Eye of Argon? Sat down for a Mystery Science Theater marathon? If so, then hopefully you’ll have fun with this one.

I want to make it clear that I’m not advising my fellow authors to run out and publish all the broken trunk stories we locked away when we were learning to write. But I think there’s a lot to be said for acknowledging those early efforts. For sharing and even celebrating those beginnings.

For a long time, I was ashamed of this book. I was ashamed of how bad a writer I was in 1995.

Screw that. Writing a bad book is nothing to be ashamed of, because dammit, I still wrote a book. Then I wrote more of them. And with each one, I got better.

Rise of the Spider Goddess is a bad book, and I’m proud of it. I hope the notes and annotations I’ve added are enough to transform it into something you can share and laugh about and celebrate with me.


Rise of the Spider Goddess: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|Kobo|Smashwords

Visit the author blog. Follow him on Twitter.

29 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines”

  1. Its a very bad book…but its a lot of fun to read how you tear it apart, and in a way, your old self. But I like the “It gets better” sort of vibe, too, I got from the book, Jim

  2. This reminds me about what Terry Pratchett said when he re-released with edits his first novel, The Carpet People. Paraphrasing, it was: “It was almost like a collaboration, except I didn’t have to pay my co-author. Which is probably for the best. He would have just wasted it anyway.”

  3. I, unfortunately, deleted my own awful first “saga” from my hard drive eons ago, though I can still remember many awkward passages I wrote as a teenager. I’m definitely interested in reading this book!

  4. Hi Jim. I’m looking forward to it (sort of). And no, I won’t be publishing my earliest, earliest writings. Stake through the heart, baby!

  5. It is downloading onto my iPad as I type. Thank you. It’s this kind of thing that makes me feel better about my own writing –but only marginally better.

  6. Absolutely love this. It gives hope to all who want to be published some day. It is annotated by the author insitefully and humorously. And it actually was a fun read. Thank you for having the huevos to put it out there.

  7. I’m old enough that my juvenalia is all in notebooks instead of on computers. And yes, I still have those notebooks and I have hauled them around with me on numerous moves and relocations. Sometimes I read them and laugh and cringe.

    But I keep them because they’re a marker of how far I’ve come as a writer, and a reminder not to get down on other writers who are at the “can barely put a sentence together” stage.

  8. It seems to me that this would have been a great chance for one of your infamous cover pix.

  9. Interesting that you say so, Infinitefreetime. I find But What of Earth to be, despite the intentions of its author, an excellent lesson on why editors are crucial parts of the writing process.

  10. Way, way back when, in the pre-computer age, I was in a writers’ group with several other people, including one high-schooler who was working on his own fantasy novel.

    And then he came to one meeting with a rather stunned-mullet expression on his face, and told us that while he’d been out, his mother had decided to clean his room… and had thrown away all one-hundred-sixty-five pages of his novel-in-progress.

    Perhaps if he were able to read Hines’ piece here, he might be able to take some measure of solace in the fact that it probably sucked anyway.

  11. Sounds as though Jim Hines has the right spirit in doing this. It put me in mind of the reboot of “But What of Earth?” too, but it sounds completely different–in a good way. I think it’s far better to poke fun at oneself than to bitch and moan and hold onto grudges over punctuation changes and make ugly remarks about publishers and copy editors as Piers Anthony did. I bought that book in hopes for some insight into the processes of writing and editing and was disappointed by all the whining and ranting and creepy sexism. His commentary was too unpleasant to read much of, so I never did compare his “better” version with the original, and I lost all respect for Anthony. Good on you, Jim Hines for being a man with a sense of proportion and a sense of humor. *Your* book sounds actually enjoyable, and more instructive than Anthony’s, and I plan to check it out ASAP.

  12. That is an absolutely freaking brilliant idea! (Pity I didn’t keep the first things I ever wrote: they were in Dutch, so I might have stolen this idea and done a Dutch version of this…

    … and I’m going to see if I can Kindle this elf balls’ kicker right now!

  13. Please tell me there is going to be an audio version with a professional narrator and Jim voicing his takedowns.

  14. Ah yes. I read a Piers Anthony book a long time ago, on the recommendation of a SF friend of mine. Can’t remember the title but I remember that incredible sexist creepiness. The kind that almost has you washing your hands after you put down the book.
    Never read another book by him – and I have to say I looked at that friend a bit differently after that experience: he really was into P.A.

  15. I’m going to buy this, but I’d like to do so from whatever channel benefits the author most – which is it? (I’ve never purchased anything from smashwords before – is that better for the author than Kobo?)

    (This is probably the wrong forum to ask that, isn’t it?)

  16. Ah, I see a lot of other people are also remembering the Piers Anthony book (I’d forgotten the title) with its annotations. That was the book that kind of killed my affection for anything Anthony-related. This sounds like a lot more fun by a much better sport; I’ll have to pick it up.

  17. Bought and read yesterday — quick to read, and don’t be drinking anything when you get to the comments! (My own lousy writing goes back to the 60’s, and nobody’s ever gonna see it. You’re welcome.)

  18. That was a steal. Less than five dollars. I always feel slightly guilty buying through Amazon: these prices can’t be good for the writers.

    (Problem is, if you live in mainland Europe and almost exclusively read English language books, Kindle/Amazon is the only realistic choice if you are a voracious & ‘broad’ reader.

    Oh well, it’s better than Pirate Bay, I guess.

  19. Bought ten copies and now a lot of my holiday shopping is done. Thanks, Jim and John!

  20. @kangarara

    Royalty rates for each platform on a $3.99 ebook (give or take a few cents):
    Smashwords: $2.98
    Amazon: $2.48
    Other (assuming distributed by Smashwords): Mostly $2.39

    It is arguable whether ‘best’ is Smashwords or Amazon because while Smashwords nets the author roughly an extra $0.50, the Amazon sale moves the book up through the rankings, potentially leading to more sales. This is based on sales from the US storefront; most likely, the numbers won’t much different for where you live (except Kobo, which, on transactions not in US/Canada currency would earn $1.52, again assuming the book was distributed to Kobo by Smashwords, or if you lived outside of the countries where Amazon offers a 70% royalty, in which case the royalty would be $1.40).

    Note that Smashwords only has the epub version of the book, so if you buy it there, you’ll have to convert it to mobi yourself to load onto your Kindle (Smashword’s epub is DRM-free, so at least you don’t have to worry about busting the DRM to convert).


    No need to feel guilty. Even though this ebook is only $3.99, it actually generates a larger royalty than a traditionally published $12.99 ebook (which, under a ‘normal’ contract would earn $2.27 before agent’s cut).

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