Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“The Curse of the Untouched Swag” and Other Spooky Stories for Writers

Poltergeists are scary. So are howling zombies and ghosts of dead children and skeletons that hide in closets. We writers—debut novelists in particular—have our own set of scary spectres, things that send us burrowing under our Snuggies.

Here are five heart-stopping ghost tales that lurk in the cobwebbed corners of writers’ minds.

“The Legend of the One-Hit Wonder”
Whispered over pumpkin spice lattes, this is the harrowing tale of a once-published writer who never sold a second book.

“The Story of the Empty Chairs”
Related to oneself in the wee morning hours, this is the grisly account of a highly publicized reading that no one attended, except the writer’s maiden aunt and one bookstore employee who was on the clock and texted the whole time.

“The Tale of the Replacement Editor”
Told between gulps of red wine, this is the spine-chilling story of a writer whose acquiring editor changed jobs and was replaced by someone who didn’t get the book at all.

“The Curse of the Untouched Swag”
Choked down between bites of dark chocolate, this is the true tale of unused promotional merchandise. About 6,500 bookmarks were ordered, but only 1,000 were taken off tables at signings, and half of those were spotted in nearby trash cans later.

“The Legend of the One-Star Reviewer”
Posted on writers’ chat boards around the world, this is the bleak story of an anonymous reviewer who never gives a book more than one star.

What about you? What writer-specific ghost tales haunt you?


Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, in April 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. Elisabeth lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her family in a house that is, depending on the day, either wonderful and full of promise or haunted by these writerly spectres. You can find Elisabeth at her website, on her Facebook author page, and on Twitter (@ElisabethDahl).


  1. Hahaha! Awesome post, Elisabeth! Gather 'round as I recount my own "Story of the Empty Chairs." It was a dark and blustery Tuesday night in October. A Cincinnati Reds post-season game was playing, and NOBODY left the comfort of their homes to come to my romance signing. NOT. ONE. PERSON. A kindhearted bookstore employee sat by my side the entire time and tried to distract me from my failure with spirited small talk, but in the end, I left an hour later without selling a single book...and missing a chunk of my dignity.

    But you know what? When I came home and vented via email to my publishing sisters, several best-selling authors chimed in to tell me the same thing happens to them--ALL THE TIME. That made me feel so much better.

    (I still get a shiver of fear before each book signing, though. lol.)

  2. Haha!! This was great!! Thanks for posting, Elisabeth!!

  3. Melissa! What a story. I guess we're not really authors until we've weathered our first "empty chair" event, right? I'm sure mine is coming soon.

  4. I love this, Elisabeth! ALL of the above ghost tales you mentioned haunt me!

    Here's a spooky tale I recently heard from an author who witnessed the following event:

    There once was a writer who sold a YA manuscript about sparkly vampires for a bone-rattling amount of money. A blood-curdling amount of publicity was heaped upon the book before its publication. Yet at one of this now-very-famous author's first signings--in a major city not far from her book's dark and stormy setting in Washington State--hardly anyone showed up to hear her speak. Despite all the hype, she was still a brand-new author...and she was probably shaking in her boots.

    The moral of the story: If Stephenie Meyer can endure empty chairs, so can we. :)

  5. Good one, Cat. And, as I may have told you before, my son and I once found Jeff Kinney (not long after the first DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book had come out) standing all by himself at the ABRAMS booth at ALA looking a little forlorn, no one interested in having him sign anything.

    1. I don't remember hearing that story before, Elisabeth. It's reassuring to know that a lack of early interest doesn't necessarily equate to a lack of a future as a writer.

  6. Those are enough to give any writer nightmares. ;)

  7. Thanks Elisabeth, now I won't sleep for weeks! :)