Monthly archives for October, 2010

The New World of Publishing: An Idea to Take Shots At

Over the last couple weeks in the workshops here, a number of professional writers and I have been trying (during side discussions) to come up with reasons why an idea won’t work. Novelist Scott William Carter (who was my co-instructor at the New Tech workshop) and I talked this over and then I started to ask others about it and the discussions continued with no result other than positive. So I figured I would open it up here and see what comes. Since this group is diverse and at all levels in both belief in myths and also the impact of the changes of this new world of publishing, I figure this might get interesting.

At the moment neither Scott or I are saying that this is the way to do it. Just opening to feedback on the idea.


Step One: Novelist finished a new manuscript that is NOT under contract, NOT an option book in any way for an existing contract. Just a brand new book for the writer. (Again, this is a novel.)

Step Two: Novelist gets the manuscript into shape with some first readers and maybe a good copyedit, then launches it on electronic sites and gets it through a POD publisher such as CreateSpace, which will give you cheap author’s copies in their $39 pro program.  (Step two could take up to three months or so, especially with the proofing and the time involved in the POD process.)

Step Three: Do a short three page synopsis of the book, then put a copy of the trade paperback book with the synopsis and a cover letter into a flat rate priority envelope and mail to an editor with a #10 SASE. Be clear to the editor that the book is up on both electronic publishing and POD under your own press name, but you would be glad to pull it down if the publisher is interested in making an offer. (Do NOT say sales numbers or any such thing like that. And if you book doesn’t look professional and have good back cover copy, don’t bother.)

Step Four: If the publisher makes an offer, by then you will have some sales history on the book to see how it is selling. (Traditional publishers offers often take six months to a year to come to an author after submission.)

If an offer does come in you have some math to do. Figure if a traditional publisher makes an offer and you can work a good contract, you will sign over control of the book for about eight years. You will get the traditional publisher’s push, sure, but figure what your book would make in electronic and POD if you kept it for eight years and then balance the offer from the publisher with the projected income you will make over eight years on your own.  (Easy math. For example, if your book is selling for $4.99 electronically and selling 25 copies per month TOTAL across ALL electronic sites, and also selling 5 copies POD per month at a $3.00 average income, your income per month is about $102.50.  Or about $1,230.00 per year or just under $10,000 for eight years. If a publisher offers you $10,000 or anything close, you have a real decision to make.)

Note: Many fiction authors are going to feel they want to be published by a traditional publishing house no matter how well their book is selling through their own press. Fine, this idea does not block that either. Just don’t do the math and go with the traditional publisher.


Upside #1: You are making some money while your novel is under submission. And growing readers. Maybe not many, but some, and if all traditional publishers turn you down, you are still making money even at very, very low levels of sales and gaining a readership. (This solves the biggest complaint I have heard about publishing these days, how editors are so slow to respond or never respond, which is beyond rude in my opinion, but seems to be almost normal now.)

Upside #2: Editors hate to toss a book away, so instead of tossing your submission away if it doesn’t fit (all you have sent along is a #10 SASE for a response and you say in your cover letter they can keep the book), they will toss your book into a free pile in the office. Those books are there for anyone to take. Someone in the office picks it up, likes it and either becomes a fan, or writes you about the book. Both are positive. Or they donate it to a used bookstore and a fan finds it there. And buys more of your other work. Again, positive. Again, anyone working as an editor hates tossing away a book. So your free copy to the editor will find a home eventually.

Upside #3: If you are good at blurbs and back cover copy, the editor will see it on your book and be able to use what you have written, which will save them time in writing them (Yes, editors write blurbs and back cover copy). If your book looks professional, she can use it to convince the sales force and others. (Don’t expect or demand they use your cover or anything. Again, be willing and say so in the cover letter that if they want the book, you will be willing to pull your edition down before their edition appears if you can come to an agreement in the contract.)

Upside #4: Editors are more willing to read books over manuscripts any day, and if you have it up electronically, tell the editor in the cover letter that if she is interested, you will also be glad to send her the book electronically, either by download or a coupon system. You will have also done a copyedit and some cleaning on the book before publishing it, so the editor will be reading in her world what seems to be a very clean submission copy.

Upside #5: Your book might start selling more copies than you imagined. If that happened, no offer from New York short of six figures would offset your income. If you book is selling very well and an editor makes an offer, you tell them your numbers and their offer might just go up. If the offer doesn’t, just keep selling it yourself and turn down the traditional offer. Again, both sides of that are positive for the writer.

There are more upsides on this, but those are the major ones.


Downside #1: Running into an editor who still thinks that all self-published or small-published books are garbage. There are still a few left since this new world is changing so fast. The editor won’t remember you, so that won’t matter. The editor will then just toss the book into the free pile and ignore your submission. Your book might find another editor in the building from that pile, or worst case a new fan in a used bookstore. Not much of a downside. Very minor.

Downside #2: Slightly more cost per submission. When you figure toner costs and paper costs for a regular submission and compare them to the price of an author copy through CreateSpace, your costs will be about $1.50 more per submission. Minor downside considering that a fan will find the book at some point in the process if the book is rejected and you might make more sales.

Downside #3: If you suck at cover design and back cover copy, and I mean really suck, it might hurt your submission to editors instead of help by presenting them a clean and professional product. That is a controllable downside and again minor. Just make sure you have someone who can help you with understanding covers and blurbs.

That’s all that a bunch of us, all selling professional writers, could see on the downside, which bothers me a great deal. I keep thinking there should be more downside to this. Anyone?

Everything is Changing Fast

This might be one of the ways of the future world of submissions. In fact, unless someone can come up with more downsides on this, I sure can’t see why this wouldn’t be a major way of doing things in the future. It allows writers to make some money on their novel while it is under submission and while editors in large publishers are going through their long process in buying a book. It allows authors to test-run a book to see response and judge the value over a long haul for the book. And it allows editors to use some of the package to help in their sales if you are good at putting a book together in a professional manner.

It is a balanced approach that uses both your own publishing venture and traditional publishers, without any real waste of time. Win/win as far as I can see for novelists.

Comments? Problems? More upsides?

This new world of publishing has certainly become a great deal of fun.

The New World of Publishing: My Biggest Fears

I have numbers of worries and fears about this new world of publishing where writers sometimes create their own publishing company or even publish a story or novel under their own name.

And not one of my fears deals with money and how much can be made. Or about cutting through the “noise” as everyone calls it. Or about the problems of beginning writers putting up slush-pile level fiction. I have no worries at all about those and think they are just straw dogs, to be honest.

And let me be very clear, I am excited beyond belief with this new world that is shaping up. I believe this new world will allow stories now blocked to find readers and literature will be better served in the long run because of that. And I believe it will free up writers to write more and more.

But just because I am excited and teaching people last week and this week how to take advantage of this new world doesn’t mean I don’t have some worries at the same time.

So let me outline what are my biggest fears about this wonderful new world of publishing.

Fear #1

Writers will spend their writing time publishing their old work and not create new.

Now, for me or Kris, this is not a worry at all, even though we both have massive backlists of fiction that need to get out. Both of us are having the opposite problem, actually. Suddenly, with the freedom that this new world gives us, we suddenly have a ton of projects that were pushed aside as not being marketable that now are demanding to be written.  I’m writing more Poker Boy stories and a second novel, Kris is planning to continue The Fey series.

But over and over I have heard about writers, especially writers who don’t have much writing time to begin with because of day jobs, spending their time and energy publishing stories. That scares me, because simply put, the only way to make a name and a living at fiction is write the next story, the next novel. I’ve taught that for 15 years now and I will continue to teach that, no matter what publishing system the writer uses.

Bluntly put, if you are not writing the next story, the next novel, you are not writing and thus not a writer.

But that said, the small-publishing side of this is so much fun. Seeing a book go live on Kindle is a blast, seeing your story or novel at B& is great fun. But a book cover can always be worked on more to make it look better and a manuscript fixed to make it cleaner on Amazon. In fact, publishing takes time. It’s why there are so many people who work in those large buildings in New York.

Compared to just a few years ago, self-publishing is easy. But it still takes a learning curve that takes time. Doing a cover, formatting an already written short story and putting it up online can only take a couple of hours if you have done it a number of times. But if you only have a few hours of writing a day or a week, then by putting that old story up you are taking time away from your writing. And maybe that next story, that next novel that you don’t write would have been the one to make you rich or famous.

My suggestion:

Again balance is the key. Don’t let the publishing time cut at all into your writing time. Ever. You are a writer first, a publisher second. Hold that line and you will find a balance. Any of us can always carve out a few extra hours each week to get up a story online. Just don’t give away your writing time. Creating inventory is more important than anything else. In the long run, a lot of inventory will be the only thing that will draw readers.

Fear #2

Writers will get discouraged far too quickly in this new world of publishing.

I can’t begin to tell you how tempting it is to watch “the numbers” on different sites. Put up a couple novels or stories and then wonder why you are not making Konrath numbers in two days. So instead of continuing to write and put up new work online and sell to traditional publishers, you get discouraged and quit. You think rejections are discouraging, watching the numbers every couple days make dealing with rejection from traditional publishers seem easy.

I hate to break this to all you new writers in a hurry, but publishing takes time. Both sides of this take time, both online and traditional publishing. And small publishing of your own work online and in POD takes even more time than the years it takes to develop a career in traditional publishing.

To make decent money in electronic publishing, you must build an inventory. And I don’t mean just a few novels and six short stories. You must have a lot of work up there for readers to find. Otherwise the numbers never will grow. Konrath had a long-term career in traditional publishing before he switched over to electronic. He spent years slowly building readers and when he switched, his publishers already had things up electronically. He just added into it and kept building. But overall it took him years, not to build readers, but to build inventory.

If you are not into this new world for the long haul, meaning starting your publishing company with a ten-year plan and a bunch of long-term goals for your writing, run now. You will just be disappointed and then go online and discourage others who should not be discouraged just because you are impatient.

Building a writing career takes time. Building a publishing business also takes time.

My suggestion:

Watch the numbers once a month. Never more. And record each total to see how the growth is from month-to-month. There will be some down months, accept them and expect them. Plan for the long haul. And expect small numbers until you get past 15 or more products for the first jump, then expect still low numbers until you get up into around fifty different titles of short stories or novels or collections up. Then it will jump again.

Fear #3

Writers will want someone else to do all the work and be taken by scammers.

Trust me, building a cover and formatting a book takes time and some learning curves that 95% of all writers won’t want to take. So they will turn to others to help them and scams are already building.

Scam #1: The Agent Scam

Yup, here I go again worrying about agents, but across this country agents are starting to see that their jobs are on the line and are starting to step in and offer to take care of these “chores” for the writers. That means that those agents have stepped across the line and become a publisher. And taking 15% or 25% as one agent is charging of a book that sells even small numbers (say $1,000 a year) FOREVER (meaning the author’s life plus 70) is a ton of money for a few hours work.  All because the author was too lazy to do the work and wanted someone to take care of them.

And, of course, the agents will want to get all the money and paperwork first, because the writer needs to be “taken care of” and trust me, that’s exactly what the agents will do for your money, but you won’t see much of it. You think it’s hard to track publishing money from overseas and large corporations, try tracking money dripping in from fifty different sources for electronic publishing.

Simple solution to this one:


Scam #2: The New Packager

Again, most writers as I have disgustingly discovered want someone to take care of them, so they will give these over to some upstart business who claims that for a flat fee or a percentage they will do all this work for them.  CAUTION!!!

There will be good and bad of these new businesses. How you can do this right means that you still have to take some responsibility. For example, there are a ton of great freelance editors out there to help you. Go to them or use your trusted first readers for that. As far as covers and layout, a friend of mine set up this service for writers and she set up the service in the ONLY WAY I AGREE WITH. She has a menu. You as a writer, if uncomfortable with doing say a cover, for a set price can get a cover from her company. You know up front what a cover will cost and you pay half ahead and half when satisfied for the service. No percentage of forever sales.  Then you can do the rest. You can pick off the menu what will help you and your small publishing company. That works for the writer who needs help. It does not work for the writers who want someone to take care of everything.


Those are my three major fears for writers in general. Electronic publishing and POD publishing with the opening of the distribution channels has allowed writers to set up small publishing companies and write what we want. If it doesn’t sell to a traditional publisher, we can publish it ourselves. We have the freedom to write and publish how we want now. And the future looks bright. But there are huge problems with this future as well.  What would have happened if J.K. Rowling had given up when her agent wanted her to give up and self-published that first book? Would we have that wonderful series? Maybe, but maybe not.

Stay balanced and if you are going into this new world, take the responsibility of doing it yourself and watch out for the scammers. And for heaven’s sake, never use your writing time to do publishing chores.

Use this new world to push you to write more. Then we all win.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

At some point, just as with the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, I will publish this series as a book. And this installment is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

And if want to read back installments of this series, check out the top of the web page for the site link.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter or any of the earlier chapters along to others who might get some help from it.

Thanks, Dean

The New World of Publishing: The Rolling Stone is Gaining Speed.

The rolling stone of small and self-publishing is gaining speed as every day goes by.

Starting on last Thursday evening and running for three days, novelist Scott William Carter and I led a discussion with a little over thirty well-published professional writers on the reasons, the art, and the promise of both electronic publishing and POD (print on demand) publishing for fiction writers.

Fun doesn’t even begin to describe the three days we called “The New Tech Workshop.” Tiring would be a understatement. We worked with the writers on the ease of doing web sites, then worked on taking a story and making sure the organization and formatting were correct, then we spent about two hours while everyone in the room built from scratch a cover for their story. Then we worked them through getting that story on Amazon Kindle. And frighteningly enough, at that point we weren’t even halfway through the three days. We talked POD, marketing, building a publishing company and so much more.

And it went from there. Lunch discussions, dinner discussion, late into both nights snacking on chips and salsa and candy and talking. Thirty-plus well-published professional fiction writers stepping into the New World of Publishing. Well, not stepping, more like sprinting into the new world.

Wow, am I tired. Wow, was that fun. Wow, am I excited about this new world writers live in.


Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, large publishers started to have lots of meetings about the coming electronic books. Many of the meetings were planning on what they would do to both take advantage of the new way to sell books and also protect themselves from having electronic books put them out of business.

Then nothing happened. The sky hadn’t fallen, the sales of electronic books was so small as to not even count as a fraction of a percentage.

So a few years went by, more meetings, another electronic threat seemed to hit the publishers in the mid-1990s and there were even more meetings, more worry, and then nothing happened. Again the sky had not fallen. Lots of worry and discussion for nothing.

Again the wave of fear hit large publishers in the early 2000 and more meetings and more worry and nothing happened. Nope, not a sign of any pieces of any of the sky scattered around on the floor. Electronic books were still not even a blip on any percentage of sale chart.

And yet again in 2005 the sky was about to fall, but then nothing happened and by this time New York publishers and editors were tired of sitting in meetings talking about the coming problems that were clearly never coming.

Then Amazon came out with the Kindle and by this time a jaded bunch of New York publishers just shrugged. And did nothing. Who cared if a few writers got in and put some of their own work on the Kindle? It would make no difference.

Suddenly 8% of all books sold are electronic and that number is growing, headed for that nasty tipping point of 25%. Hundreds of different reading devices were announced or coming out, and the iPad smashed into even more places. And no one should forget that the kids, the next generation of readers, love to read on their smart phones.

Oops, the sky has fallen.

At the same time as the sky was tumbling down, publishers, being tight because of a distribution system collapse decided to save money and outsource the slush and finding new authors. Things got silly and tight. And the sales forces of most publishers took over the control of what was bought, only letting in clones of the very same thing that had sold before. And many writers got tired, many writers said why bother, and many others looked around and said, “Hey, I can start my own little publishing company and get into basically the same distribution channels as the large publishers.”

Really, really, oops.

The big publishers had lost control of their main advantage, the ability to distribute books, both print and electronically to readers. For two decades the big publishers had listened to the sky-is-falling stories and nothing had happened. When the sky actually did fall, they were caught by surprise.

And then to make it worse they made stupid decisions with how they acquired the very work they needed to keep their business in business. We all hate how the airlines have made it just flat horrid to fly. No one I know gets on a plane anymore unless they just have to. Big Publishers have done the exact same thing to writers, the very suppliers of all of their product. Not a really smart idea because now, with the new technology, we don’t have to play those stupid games anymore.

Really, really, really, oops.

The New World

I glanced at one point in the workshop at the thirty plus well-published writers, many with large backlists sitting in file cabinets, and realized there were at least thirty new publishing companies in that room. Publishing companies that can get books to readers in the same fashion and in the same way as a large publisher.

To use a really bad cliche, the barn door has been opened and now can’t be closed. There is simply no way large publishers can get their distribution systems back under their control. The readers like the new ways of getting books and the writers are starting to catch a clue, mostly forced out on their own by the publishing stupidity of outsourcing the purchasing of the very books and new talent that keeps publishers alive.

So, as one longterm professional has been asking at the bottom of his letters now for six months, “What service does large traditional publishers offer writers that is worth 90% of the money?”

Large traditional publishers in trying to answer that question now have reverted to such lame answers as “We do the editing.” Or… “We have great cover designers.”  Or… “We are quality control for writers.”

Okay, let me simply say this. Anyone in that room during the three days of the workshop could hire a freelance editor. (Some in that room were freelance editors, actually.) EVERYONE in that room designed and produced a professional-looking cover in two hours. And “Quality Control?”  Uhhh…publishers, remember you farmed quality control over new product to a bunch of agents fresh out of college who mostly wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them. And then to top that you let your sales force dictate to top editors what can be bought.  Sorry, not really believing that quality control argument anymore.

So what do traditional large publishers offer that any writer in that room with their own small publishing company can’t do?  How about getting the books on the shelves at Barnes &Noble?  Uhh, any small publisher has the same shot as any book out of traditional publishers, since a vast majority of traditionally published books don’t make B&N shelves. And with a simple POD book through CreateSpace or LightningSource, you can get into the exact same catalogs as any big publisher for Ingrams or B&N or ID stores. Oh, yeah, don’t forget library distribution through both as well.

So I ask the question one more time? “What do traditional large publishers offer that any writer with their own small publishing company can’t do?”

Answer? In 2010, Not much.

Remember my produce analogy? (You can read it here.) Large Publishers by their very profit and loss system, must treat books as produce. They must launch them hard and fast and hope they sell well quickly, then clear the warehouse shelves for the next produce to arrive. So those Large Publishers can drive a book into many reader’s hands. That’s what they can do. And they will pay the author up front some money as well. That’s a positive. And if writers have other books published under their own small publishing companies, the shove of the Large Publisher will help the writer sell more of their own products.  That is a huge plus.

So now my advice to writers is to play a balancing game. If the book looks like it might have a slot in big publishing, get it to editors. Give it a shot. If not, publish it yourself.

Getting into traditional publishing now takes either guts to send a package to editors directly or the writer has to find an agent who loves a book and knows what they are doing. And selling one book or three or five no longer means you can sell more to the publisher because the sales force, not your editor is now in charge. So keep that in mind as well. In other words, use the Large Publishers now to help you promote your own published books. Use their produce method to help shove your long term-books as well.

The Big Advantage of Selling Your Own Books and Using Big Publishers at the Same Time.

I can write anything I want and make money on it and find readers. Some of my stories and novels, long considered dead, can now find a new generation of readers. As writers, this new world has suddenly freed us up. If I have a new book, I might send it to a Big Publisher. I might publish it through a small publisher or do it myself completely. I have choices and I am no longer at the mercy of an agent or a publisher or a sales force.

I have never in all my years of writing been so excited about writing new work.

So let me say this clearly and simply. For all of you out on the front lines shouting about this new world, I want to thank you. Mike Stackpole, Joe Konrath, and others. Thank you from all of us. But I want you all to know that there are hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of professional writers who never say anything who are jumping into this new world as well. There were over thirty professional writers in a room on the Oregon Coast for three days this weekend. Thirty writers with hundreds of traditionally published novels among them, not counting mine. And we all got a story out to readers this weekend.

And those writers are all headed home to do even more, get more of their work to their fans.

And if that doesn’t scare the Large Publishers, I don’t know what will.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

At some point, just as with the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, I will publish this series as a book. And this installment is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

Thanks, Dean

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Can Trust Your Agent

Okay, I’m going to grab hold of the third rail of fiction publishing with this one and see how long I can hold on.

Myth: You can trust your fiction agent. Major myth, actually. And one I have tried to deal with in a number of ways in this book.

For some reason, the same person who will give a stranger all their money and the paperwork for that money will at the same time shout about a reader stealing a book online. I shake my head at that. That’s like complaining someone stole the mirror off your car while at the same time a moving van has backed up to your house and strangers are stealing everything you own. But, of course, theft in modern fiction publishing conversations is limited to the theft of the mirror and we just won’t notice how all the furniture is gone.

In some great comments under a recent post with Laura Resnick and C.E. Petit, the topic of how to check money you get from publishers came up, along with how much agents can help you with the money from publishers, and how much they can’t. You can read all the comments here.

The myth (the deeply held belief until smashed out of a fiction writer by hard knocks) is that once you will get an agent they will take care of you, and all your money, and make sure that you get all the money you are owed. Well, in theory, that’s the way it should work. Sadly, it doesn’t anymore, if it ever did.

Now fiction agents are far too busy to chase money, or check royalty statements for their clients to see if the math is correct, or even bother to send the money along to their clients. And keeping track of paperwork is just beyond them these days. For example, I had a top agency for seventeen years and sold a ton of books through them. However, two days ago I got a huge packet of royalty statements from one of my publishers through my former agent’s office. In the packet were royalty statements from two other writers (and not my pen names I’m afraid). My former agency couldn’t even sort out the royalty statements by name, let alone check them for accuracy. And five of my books that should have had statements in the pile didn’t. No telling where those statements went.

And last week my wife got a very large check from a former agent made out to the wrong name. It was her check, correct amount of money, just the wrong name on the check. That was just in the last week. Things like this are so common anymore as to not even cause a ripple. Wow, is that sad. I know agents should check these things, but alas those days are long gone.

In many Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing chapters I have shouted about all the problems the agent system has these days, including handling money. That money chapter is here.

The bottom line of that chapter is to never let anyone, let alone an agent, get your money before you do, along with all the paperwork that comes along with that money. When you take that practice and place it in the real world, you see how fantastically stupid it is.

Let me ask you…In the real world of business, would you hire a stranger who has a business card with his name on it saying they are a stranger and do no more checking? Then would you give all your money and all the paperwork with the money to the stranger first, without seeing it? Of course you wouldn’t in the real world, but that’s exactly what fiction writers do and then wonder why there are problems.

Let me simply say, “Duh.”

But that said, I got a number of private letters after that first chapter on this topic asking me why I didn’t like the idea of agents handling a writer’s money. Seriously. So after that and the last discussion, I figured it was about time I grab the never-discussed third rail of fiction publishing. Here goes.

Do Fiction Agents Steal From Writers?

Of course. Some do, most do not. And people in agent’s offices like accountants and secretaries do also. Of course, so do some fiction publishers in other ways such as publishing without paying, but not anywhere near as often as agents. The biggest problem is the fiction agents and those working for them, and the system the fiction writers have set up with them, giving the agent and their people opportunity with all the money and paperwork first. (That can be changed easily at the contract stage, but the writer must stand up for themselves and most writers don’t because they are too afraid for some unknown reason. More in a moment on that.)

What fiction writers have done is give agents opportunity. Embezzlement is a crime of opportunity. Writers, by allowing agents to see their money and the paperwork first have given agents opportunity. Easy opportunity. And again, most agents do not take advantage of the flawed system and are very honest, but some do. Also some people who work for honest agents do, and the problem is you don’t know which ones.

My wife, in her very young adult days before me, had a bank employee steal money from her account because Kris and her first husband were disorganized and the employee of the bank knew that. This employee stole from a lot of accounts that didn’t bother to balance statements every month. It took the bank almost two years to catch the employee and pay the money back quietly. Opportunity is the key.

So let me outline clearly, for sake of helping fiction writers at least come aware of the problem areas, how a few agents take writer’s money. Sadly, I will only cover the main scams. And again, there are many honest agents, but how do you know if your agent is one or not? Best way to make sure is get your money and all the paperwork before they do. If they won’t give it to you, you better believe they have a monetary interest in not doing so, because by not doing so, they cause themselves extra work. And that just makes no business sense at all.

Scam #1: Domestic Royalty Statements.

Fiction writers sign contracts and usually know when they are due the different payments under that contract. But the contract also has royalty periods where a short time after the end of a certain period of time the author should get an accounting from the publisher of the numbers of books sold against the advance in that period of time. That paperwork, and any royalty check due, goes to the agent first. Writer has no clue other than knowing that a royalty statement is due. (If they remember from their contract, which the unorganized fiction writers usually won’t.)

So, the agent sometimes sends on the first royalty statement to the writer because there is usually no earned income in the first one. Usually the periods are short periods or have large reserves held against returns or both. Maybe the second statement is also sent along six months later if nothing is earned yet. By this point the book has been in print for about 18 months. The third statement has money with it. Great! But now we are talking two years out and the agent knows the author is disorganized and doesn’t care about all the paperwork, so the statement gets shredded and the money put into the agent’s account and no check is ever sent to the author.

Those of you with contracts with major publishers, first have you seen royalty statements at all through your agent and did those statements sort of just stop after #2? If so, I’d be asking for them real quick. (Oh, yeah, I can hear it now…“I trust my agent, they are my friend, they would never do that to me.” Well, how about someone you don’t know in the agency accounting department then? You know and trust that New York stranger who is having bill problems and a kid in an expensive school? If not, get your statements.)

Scam #2: Overseas Royalty Statements

Oh, this is a major one. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have had agents tell me how hard it is to get overseas royalty statements. Yet those companies give you contracts with royalty periods in them, and tell you exactly in the contract when the statement is due. But alas, here comes the agent problem on this one. Since you, the fiction writer, are not dealing with the publisher directly as you can do these days, your royalty statement and any money with it FIRST goes to an agent in the country of the publisher. Who knows how many people touch it, but I can guarantee at least three or four complete strangers see your money and have some control over it before it is sent on, if it is sent on, to your New York agent.

And then the second level comes in. Your New York agent knows you are disorganized, know you don’t care about all that “business paperwork” so if money does make it to your agent, again the paperwork can just vanish, the money stays in the account, and guess what, the agent is making more of a profit. And the fiction writer will never, ever know. And, if by some chance, the fiction writer asks about those overseas statements, the agent says, “Oh, I’ll see what happened to that, but you know how hard it is to get royalty statements from overseas.” And that’s where the fiction writer drops it, moving on, never knowing there was money owed. And more money in six months. And so on.

Scam #3: You don’t Need to Sign That, I’ll Take Care of It.

Darn I wish I was kidding on this one, but I listened to some top fiction writers (whom I admire) go on about how they have given their agent power of attorney to sign those pesky overseas contracts. I got so upset at that stupidity, I had to lay down.

So, not only is the fiction writer giving a stranger all their money and the paperwork with that money, but they are giving the stranger the power to sign contracts. It was just about that point I knew I had to start talking about all this. Those writers thought that normal, and when I questioned them, their reasons were clear as long as trust was a major factor. Basically the reason for them was “It’s just easier and quicker.”  The quicker part made me lay down for a second time.

But where this scam really hits home is with newer writers. Under international copyright rules, the contracts are always in the language of the author. But agents will tell young writers there is no need for them to see the contract because it is in German or French or whatever and they wouldn’t understand. The agent “will take care of it.” One agent who at the time was serving as the president of the agent’s association was pulling this scam on writers. More than likely still is.

So let me be clear. Under this scam, the author never sees the ORIGINAL contract. So if they do see a contract at all, it could be changed before it gets to them. Or more than likely they will never see a contract, or a royalty statement or anything. Of course, some money will be sent on to the author because the book is in print overseas. But a nice 10,000 Euro contract might get the author $4,000 and where does the rest of the money go? Nice little bonus for the agent with the stupid fiction writer client.

Okay, that’s enough. I had a few more, a couple concerning Hollywood money, option money, and other odd rights sales, but I won’t go on. You get the idea.

Do Publishers Steal From You?

Sure, but not very often. And more often in smaller publishers who are tight on cash flow.

For example, I had a small press company called Pulphouse and near the end we got tight on cash flow. Was I slow paying some writers? Sure. But I never took any writer’s money because I structured all but one of our series to never have royalties and thus they were not needed in the contracts. (Remember I was a writer first, publisher second.) And the only series we did with royalties I made sure the first printing was under the amount that would start triggering royalty money to authors. (I wasn’t stupid, I knew we were short on money and I didn’t want the temptation.) We paid one royalty check ever in all the years of Pulphouse. And I paid all writers kill fees who asked for them when we went down and I couldn’t get their work into print as promised.

And often a small publisher will steal copyright from a writer by publishing their work without payment. That happens a lot with cash-strapped smaller publishers.

However, in the big companies things sometimes do happen and it is often the employees buried in accounting that are the problems, or a general corporate policy that turns out to be theft and takes years to clear up with many lawyers and professional accountants involved. Writers in contracts are given the chance to audit their paperwork. If you decide you have to do that, hire a professional versed in your area of publishing to do it. Often there are no problems found, but every-so-often there are.

If you are smart you get your share of the money sent directly to you and copies of the paperwork with that money. However, if you send all your paperwork to an agent even if someone in a publishing house is ripping you off you might never know.

And by the way, in case you were wondering, fiction editors in major houses never get near the money at any time and will have no idea any of this even goes on.

So instead of worrying about some fan taking one of your stories online, here is what you should be doing to get all your money and protect your work.


One… In all fiction contracts, including overseas, without exception, split payments with your agent. Your agent can get his share and a copy of the paperwork. You get your share and a copy of the paperwork. Do this at the contract stage with the publisher. And if your agent says it is just too hard to transfer money from overseas or gives you some other lame excuse, just remind your agent this is 2010 and it isn’t difficult or expensive anymore. Put the details in the contract.

Two... Check the paperwork to make sure the numbers add up each time and the amount you have been paid is correct. If there is a problem, talk to the accounting department in the publishing firm. Not your editor. Again, editors are not connected to the money in any way.

That’s it! Two simple steps to make sure you never get stolen from. Simple steps.


Here are some warning signs you are with an agent who wants to get more of your money than they are entitled to.

Warning #1: They will not split payments in your new contract and will give you all sorts of varied reasons. Understand, splitting payments allows them to do LESS work. If they will not split payments, I’d be going back and checking older contracts and statements with them, and I sure would fire them in a heartbeat.

Warning #2: They want you to sign a power of attorney so you don’t have to sign those pesky overseas contracts. RUN!!!!!!

Warning #3: They will not allow you to split payments with your overseas publisher. Ask them to explain clearly why not and have enough understanding of how the money can get sent directly to you so you can direct what needs to be in the contract to get your share of the money sent directly to you. If they still won’t do it, you may be in trouble.

Warning #4: You haven’t seen an overseas royalty statement on any book, or a domestic royalty statement on a book has suddenly stopped after #2 or #3.  Start hounding for those statements. More than likely there is some money tucked somewhere that has been “misplaced” as agents say.

Warning #5: If you have a Hollywood option and you hear nothing about a renewal, don’t just figure the Hollywood connection didn’t renew. Check with the Hollywood connection, not your agent. Major money goes to agents from Hollywood on option renewals that fiction writers never seem to find out about.

Do agents steal your money? Yes. Most do not, but some do. Again, embezzlement is a crime of opportunity. Writers need to take the opportunity to embezzle out of agents’ hands. Agents are strangers to you, they have lives and bills in these tough times just as you do. If you are disorganized, don’t want to bothered, want them to take care of you, then you are doomed. You have given even honest agents an opportunity. Your agent won’t take care of you, but some of them will take care of your money of that there is no doubt. Don’t even give the many honest agents the opportunity.

Let me repeat one more time that there are two simple steps to solve this problem. Step one, split all payments in your future contracts with ANY PUBLISHER and step two, check your paperwork and make sure you get it all.

Okay, now I am letting go of the third rail and going on happy that at least I tried to wake up a few writers.

Get the money, get the paperwork before anyone else. And then check it. It’s only good business.

Don’t give anyone the chance to take your money. It really is that simple.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

Okay, I admit it, I don’t have an agent so any money you donate will go directly to me. And this is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

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#23... Paying the Price: A Working Writer's Mindset ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

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