Monthly archives for November, 2010

The New World of Publishing: Dare to Be Bad

Kevin J. Anderson just did a good blog on the topic of taking a chance with your work, about “Daring to be Bad” on a first draft and getting it down. Read his blog here, it’s short.

Kevin credits me with coming up with the phrase, but it was a catch phrase that Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I used in our early years of our short-story-per-week challenge. I think Nina might have said it first, but it was our chant. And I have repeated it over and over during the last few decades. Both to myself and to other writers.

Now in this new world of publishing, it still applies, maybe even more.

Kevin takes the phrase “Dare to Be Bad” and applies it to first drafts, using it as permission to write hard and fast on the first draft and then fix it on the next draft if it needs fixing. That works and works well, especially if you are a rewriter. And Kevin uses external deadlines a great deal to stop the rewriting and release the product, which is also great.

Nina and I were using the phrase in a slightly different way. Not 100% sure how it helped Nina, she would have to talk about that, but for me it got me out of the rewriting mode. And it helped me get the courage to send my stories out for editors and readers to read.

The base of the phrase for me is this: It takes a lot more courage to write and mail something than it does to not write, or write and not mail. And by putting out your work to editors, and/or readers, you are risking the chance that readers and editors might not like it, that it might be bad. So you are daring to be bad.

Where I have used this phrase over the years is to try to help writers who are stuck in rewriting whirlpools, never thinking anything was good enough to mail, so thus never making any real progress toward selling their work. At some point, if you write first draft or ten drafts, you have to take a chance and mail your work if you want readers to read it. At that point you must “Dare to be Bad.”

Of course, there are no real repercussions of mailing a story that fails. No editor reads anything that doesn’t work and no editor will remember your name if your story doesn’t work. Most of us (editors) have trouble remembering the names of the authors and the stories we have bought over the years, let alone the stories we glanced at and form rejected.

And there are no real risks in putting a story up on Amazon and Pubit and Smashwords yourself. If the story sucks, if your sample is bad, or your cover sucks, or your blurb wouldn’t draw flys, no one will read it or buy it or remember you. No real risk to you. Sure, no sales, but no real risk either.

But alas, new writers (and I was no exception) are all afraid of mailing our work to editors or putting it out for readers to read. New writers think that some editor with an empty desk like we see in the movies will pull up the manuscript, read every word, realize it sucks, and then put the new writer’s name on a blacklist and send thugs with guns to the new writer’s house to kill their cats. Or worse.

The reality is that no one notices, which I suppose for some people is worse. But there are no real risks.

So I used the “Dare to be Bad” saying as a way to jump my brain over the made-up fear that kept me from mailing and kept me rewriting things to death. I wrote one draft and then instead of tinkering with it, I had a first reader find the typos and the mistakes, fixed those, took a deep breath, and mailed the story while repeating over and over, “Dare to be Bad.” I was convinced that every one of those stories I mailed sucked beyond words, that they all needed to be rewritten just as I had been doing without any success for seven years.

But I still mailed them.

I would also turn every story into a workshop after I had mailed it to an editor. The workshop, of course, would back up my fear that the story sucked beyond words and I needed to fix a hundred different things about it. Then I would sell the story and be very, very glad I didn’t listen to the workshop or my own fear.

In those early years, with “Dare to be Bad” I never fixed a one of the stories I wrote unless an editor asked me to. And I still need that saying at times now to mail something. I just keep writing new stories and mailing them. And in hindsight, when the stories started selling, somehow I managed to hold the fear under control and not go back and touch any story. In fact, in those early years, I became so militant about not touching a story (because I had to in order to climb over the fear) that I got angry when some editor wanted me to rewrite or touch-up a story. I always did it, but because I was so intense about the “Dare to be Bad” I got angry every time in those early sales. (I never let the editor know I was upset, but my poor friends around me sure knew. (grin))

When I look back at it, I can’t believe I actually managed to swim so hard upstream against so many myths. Knowing that Heinlein and Ellison and Bradbury and others did it the same way helped me, but mostly it was the “Dare to be Bad” chant that pushed me week after week after week.

The New World of Publishing

It takes a huge amount of courage for a new writer to put their work out into the real world. It takes one hundred times more courage to put out first drafts that you are convinced can be “fixed” and “polished.” But for seven years my fixing and polishing had gotten few stories written and finished and no sales. Mailing first drafts got me a career. “Daring to be Bad” got me a career, such as it is. “Daring to be Bad” has paid the bills for over two decades.

And now we move into a new world where sometimes writers can take a chance and put up stories on sale directly to readers. Writers can become publishers. The bad stories will sink without a trace, the good stuff will find readers and get some word-of-mouth and good reviews and sales.

So many writers I hear these days talk about the “noise” of the internet, the fact that so many writers are putting up their own work that their little story won’t be able to find an audience. Of course, I want to tell them (but seldom do) that all New York publishers are also putting up the writers they buy, so the quality of fiction for sale on the internet is very high, as high as it is in any bookstore in the land. So it is much,much worse than even the noise they can imagine.

But all that “noise” again means there is nothing really to lose. And nothing really to fear. No one will notice if a story sucks.

So back to “Dare to be Bad.”

There are always fears of one sort of another, fears that turn into excuses, to not put your work in front of editors or readers. So let me list a few “excuses” here just for fun that “Dare to be Bad” chant might help you with in getting your stories either on editor’s desks or for sale electronically.

And note: Let me just take these excuses right down Heinlein’s Rules.

1… I don’t have anything to write about, and I have trouble thinking of any idea. Maybe the fear of writing is stopping you and you just need to sit down at the computer and dare to be bad. Writing something is better than not writing. (Heinlein Rule 1: You must write.)

2… I can’t seem to find the time to write. Yup, we all had that problem starting out with day jobs and family. But if there are no major emergencies going on in your life, maybe you really don’t want to be a writer if you can’t find the time to write, or maybe you are just afraid of what you might write. Bluntly put, you need to just sit down and dare to be bad. (Heinlein Rule 1: You must write.)

3… I write, but I can never finish anything. Yup, I know all about these excuses. You can’t figure out the ending, or you get bored and jump to another project, or the project just feels awful about halfway through. If this is happening to you (happens to me all the time), you really need to dare to be bad. It takes courage to finish a project even when you think it sucks. Far more courage than it does walking away from it and quitting. (Heinlein Rule 2: You must finish what you write.)

4… Story isn’t good enough, it needs another polish. Sure, some writers need to do more than one draft, but if doing another draft is an excuse to not mail it for fear of the story being rejected or not read by readers, and this fear has a bunch of your stories sitting in files not mailed, maybe you might want to think of not doing that final polish and daring to be bad and mailing the thing. (Heinlein Rule 3: You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.)

5… I write and finish stories, but I can’t seem to get them to editors or find the time to learn how to put them up electronically myself. Here is where the real rubber hits the road, the real fears I talked about above hit each of us. Dare to be bad. It takes a vast amount of courage to get your stuff to editors or readers, even though there are no real threats coming back at you. No one notices if something is honestly bad. And maybe that’s the biggest worry of all, that no one will notice. And if that’s the case, run from this business now. Your ego is way, way too big to survive as a writer, either through traditional publishing or publishing your own stuff. (Heinlein Rule 4: You must mail your work to someone who will buy it. (Modern addition, put it up so readers can buy it.))

6… I mailed the story, got five or so rejections on it, so it must stink. Wow, again, if you give up after only a few rejections, you might again think about another career. But now, even if you do give up after a few rejections from editors, your story can still find readers. All you have to do is learn to do a cover and format your manuscript correctly and get it up on Amazon and other places. There is no reason to ever retire a story these days. Again, no one will notice if it sucks and if it doesn’t suck, it will find readers. But to get to those readers, you must dare to be bad. (Heinlein’s Rule #5: You must keep your story in the mail until someone buys it. (Modern addition, get your story for sale directly to readers and give them a chance to buy it.))


The phrase “Dare to be Bad” is a phrase that allows you to gain courage. Sometimes you just have to let go and dare to suck.

Someone pointed out to me once that Babe Ruth not only held the home run title for decades, but also the most strike-out title. Luckily for him he had no fear of being bad. He just stood up there and swung at the ball. That’s what I did every time I mailed a new story. I just stood up there, swallowed the fear, and took a swing.

Every writer, without exception, has mental issues with courage. Long term professional writers have figured out ways over and around or through the fears. For me, putting my work out there is always a challenge because so many of my stories have personal themes, personal fears. I still use “Dare to be Bad” as a chant to get me to mail things, to put up stories electronically, to even write the new novel or the next short story.

It takes a lot more courage to try and fail than it does to not try at all.

Go ahead, dare to be bad and see what happens. Mail a story to an editor without rewriting it to death. Put a story up on Amazon on your own. Try new things, experiment, take chances. You really have nothing to lose.

Step up to the plate, take a deep breath, and swing.

And who knows, just as I was, you might be very surprised at the positive results.

New World of Publishing: Small Press Ego

Self-publishing writers think that big publishing will collapse because the self-published writers now find it easy to put up their own books.

That belief is so silly that I wasn’t sure if this should be a Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing chapter or a New World of Publishing post. The belief is certainly a new myth. But since it is not hurting too many people yet, I figure it’s not enough of a myth to make the “cows” book yet.

Here is the thinking: I can get my own book up now and not have to fight the traditional-publisher’s mess of outsourcing slush to agents and cost-cutting trends, therefore traditional publishers will fail because what can they now offer me?

I have found myself having issues even talking about this topic because it shows a complete lack of understanding of the size and scope of book publishing. But I’m going to try.

First off, let me send you to get more background. My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is in the middle of a series of articles on her site about publishing, and she just addressed this topic very clearly and sanely. Go read that post before going on with my little rant. You can find it here. She flat out says that the e-book increase will save traditional publishing, and I completely agree.

Yes, you read that right, save traditional publishing, not destroy it. Go read.

Second, just today the numbers came out for September book sales (put out by the AAP (Association of American Publishers)). Two numbers you will hear from this report is the fact that for the single month hardbacks were way down in sales, something like 40% down over the previous September. Of course, last September had some huge new books in it and this year not so much, but that doesn’t seem to be taken into the study at all, showing how cold, hard numbers can mean so many things that are not in evidence in reality.

The second number is the increase in ebook sales. 158% increase over the previous September to a total sales of $39.9 million. For the month.

That’s right, 158% increase to $39.9 million.

Oh, yeah, that was all self-published writers. All $39.9 million of it. Yeah, and pigs fly.

As I have been saying here over and over and over, most electronic books sold through most major ebook retail outlets are sold by traditional publishers in the price range of $7.99 to $15.99. And that amount grew by 158% in September over the previous September to $39.9 million.

Do small, self-published writers and their small companies make up any part of that $39.9 million in sales? Sure. A tiny fraction, but nothing for anyone in traditional publishing to worry about. And more than enough at the same time for those doing their own publishing to make a nice little chunk of money.

So where did this myth that traditional publishers will fail come from anyway?

Writers making stuff up, that’s where.

Here are some true aspects of this conversation.

1) Electronic publishing has opened the door wide to self-published authors to join in the fun, reach most of the same readers that traditional publishers can get to, and make a little money along the way.

2) Traditional publishers are working hard to figure out the new balance sheets, the new profit and loss statements that account for sales spread out over time versus short time sales limited by shelf space. Electronic books do not have shelf space limitations. Will some traditional publishers make the transition? Yes. Will some fail? Yes. But other medium publishers will grow into the empty slots so fast no one will really notice.

3) Is there a real turning point coming for many companies in 2012 when electronic sales reach a certain level, a certain percentage of total book sales? Yes. Do those in those traditional companies know this is coming? Yes. Are they working to avoid the problem or be ahead of it? Yes. You don’t run multi-billion dollar businesses and be stupid, no matter what the news media wants you to believe.

The Origin of a Myth

Here is why some writers out there are saying traditional publishing will fail.

1) For the longest time traditional publishers were the only game in town.  Going through traditional publishing and all its gatekeepers was the only way for a writer to reach readers and build a career for upwards of sixty years. Suddenly the writers can reach readers on their own once again. So some ask the question: Why are traditional publishers needed anymore? And they don’t get a quick response, especially with traditional publishers making it so difficult to get product to them. (You know, the outsourcing of slush, the cutting anything that doesn’t sell to expectation, only looking for the same old thing.)

2) So when there is no clear answer as to why traditional publishers are needed, the writers jump over about five steps of logic and questions to the conclusion that traditional publishers will fail.

All because the traditional publishers have lost a monopoly on production and distribution. And thus a myth is born. Completely made up in writer’s minds as are most myths.

Some things ignored by the writers making up these myths.

1) Most electronic books are put out by traditional publishers. (Oh, yeah, that tiny little fact keeps becoming a problem in this myth.)

2) Traditional publishers are run by very smart business people who see the problems coming and are moving to shift the balance of their distribution to electronic as the numbers increase. (If they get ahead, they cut their normal sales, if they lag behind, they will fail on the other side. It’s a fine balance for them and most are walking the line just fine at the moment.)

3) Opening up backlist and some new products published by writers for readers to find can only HELP traditional publishing and their sales on the same author’s books, since more readers can find the author. Traditional publishers know this. It is why you are not hearing a huge backlash against self-publishing writers, and in fact why many editors and publishers in New York actively say this new world is a good thing for everyone. You don’t think all the hype about J. A. Konrath helped his traditionally published books sell more? Think again, folks. Those traditionally published series books would be a dead and forgotten series if Konrath hadn’t done what he did with publishing his own books and getting on his crusade.

So What Can Traditional Publishers Do For Writers?

The answer to this question is going to change and change hard over the next few decades. I will agree that with these changes writers are slowly gaining back control to their own careers. Of course, most writers don’t want that control, most want an agent or some publisher to take care of them. Those writers in this new world will more than likely find a small place, but not be the majority they have been over the last twenty years.

In this new world, my gut sense (meaning a wild guess) is that writers will be taking control over more and more aspects of sales, rights, and publishing of their work as they learn how to do it themselves, even when working with traditional publishers. James Patterson and others already do this, and in the future more and more writers will have the knowledge and business skills to actually be a part of the process in traditional publishing.

So to answer the question, here are just a few of the things I believe traditional publishers can still do for writers.

1) Get books to wide audiences quickly. Small publishers and self-publishers must take the long-term-build approach, while traditional publishers still have the systems set up to handle a lay down of a half-million books over ten countries on the same day.

2) Furnish the cash flow needed to write many projects. You know, advances. Many projects will just not get written without advances in the mix. Small and self-publishers don’t pay advances, so the writer must work ahead of the payday. And often the payday is in the long run.

3) Promotion. (Not the type you are thinking when I say that word.) Sure, small publishers can do their own little blog tours and get books to reviewers and all that, but there is no better promotion than having a publisher pay to have your book on the front shelves at B&N so people walking through the door will see it. Having a decent print run of ten to a hundred thousand books spread out quickly over the country in market penetration is worth thousands of hours of self promotion.

(Actually, the authors who will really make money in this new world are those who can write fast or who have backlists they own and sell to both traditional publishers and have other projects up at the same time to take advantage of this promotion.)

Now, to wrap this back to the topic at hand:

Will Traditional Publishers Fail?

Anyone these days willing to learn a few things can become a publisher. Anyone with half-a-lick of sense can get a story or book up on Smashwords and Kindle and Pubit. Does that fact mean that traditional publishers will fail? Of course not.  Most writers don’t want to take the time, or will give the work over to traditional publishers to do.

Will some writers with the ability to learn and to set up their own publishing company avoid traditional publishers and make money? Of course. And that’s a good thing, but that does NOT mean that because a few dozen or a few hundred or a few thousand writers do this that traditional publishing won’t still dominate that $39.9 million sales of ebooks in September. Or any future month.

And as Kris pointed out in her blog, with traditional big publishers switching over to electronic books and more print-on-demand books, they get out from under shipping and printing and warehousing costs, and that ugly return system gets cut down. So that will make the balance sheets of large traditional publishers better and make them more profitable as well. This new electronic world just isn’t helping new publishers, it’s saving the life of the big publishers by allowing them to streamline and save costs.

A Real Upside

The ability to self-publish will breed a new type of writer, and that’s good. Just from the discussions on this blog and my wife’s blog and other blogs, writers are taking more control of their own careers and their own books. That’s fantastic. Writers are even learning how to do the production of their own books.

Maybe the future of publishing is full of writers who know how to be publishers. Let me say this, that would be a lot, lot better world than the world we find ourselves in now, full of writers wanting to be taken care of and giving all their money to strangers.

—Writers will understand the business.

—Writers will understand the production process.

—Writers will understand how difficult it is to get their work to readers.

—Writers will understand how to handle money and be responsible for their own money.

So I don’t see traditional publishers failing by any means. In fact, I see traditional publishers, the ones able to make changes and grow with the new world, becoming larger and more valuable to writers.

And I see writers making clearer decisions on when to use a traditional publisher. And when not to bother.

And I see this new world helping writers learn the publishing business.

And we will all be better off for that.

The New World of Publishing: It Ain’t So Easy

So far, in a number of these chapters in this topic, I’ve talked about the differences with this new world and the old traditional publishing. And then in the last post I talked about just one of the decisions that writers publishing their own books in their own publishing company must face. Pricing decisions, and that chapter caused all kinds of fun conversations.

And as many writers have learned already in this new world, being a publisher these days is easy COMPARED to what it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy in general. It’s just easier than it used to be.

So for a moment I thought I would back up and just make an attempt at outlining the ease and the difficulties with being a small publisher in this new world of publishing. Am I going to cover everything? Nope, not even close, but I hope this chapter will serve as a jumping-off point for more discussions and topics to cover later.

Okay, hang on, I’m going to start from the very beginning of a publishing business life and work through this, detailing where I see problems, where I see things being easy, and where in a few places this is different from traditional publishing.

The Birth and Growth of a Small Publisher

Step One: Writer decides to move over into the publishing world, either to put up new stories, to put up back list, or stories that didn’t sell. The reasons a writer would do this at this point are many, but I’m only going to mention one. Money. After all, this is a business. You want to make money with your writing. Sure, you want readers, sure you want your art to be seen, sure you are tired of beating your head against the problems of traditional publishers, but this is a business and businesses don’t exist for the most part unless they make money.

Step Two: Writer figures out what to call his new publisher. As you go through names, check to make sure the url is open and other considerations like that. Do you need to do any forms with the state or anything like that? Nope, it’s just you, so it goes with your writing income in a Schedule C on your taxes. Or a new Schedule C. Set up a Paypal account and a personal “internet” checking account where the money flows to. Keep this separate from your personal checking account and keep great records of every dime you spend and make. Is this step easy? Sure, but takes time to set up.

Step Three: Pick a story that will be your first published work through your new publisher. My suggestion, start with a short story. Easy to change and if you make mistakes, easy to fix.

Step Four: Format your story for electronic submission.  This needs to be a Word doc file. If you use something else you are just introducing problems. I won’t talk about other programs and don’t care about them. Here is how to make your Word.doc file into a file ready to be loaded up to an electronic site and read on some device.

1) Take your formatted manuscript, remove your address information at the top, then select all, change spacing to 1 1/2 spacing, change font to Times New Roman, change size to 12 point.

2) Remove all headers and footers and search and destroy all tabs. Then work through your manuscript making sure all underlines are changed to italics and so on.

3) Take your title and byline and change the font to 14 point. No bigger. Then in italics under that in 12 point put “Copyright 2010 by (Author name)”  You can put your publisher name under that if you want, but do not say the copyright is by the publisher.  Then go to the bottom of the story and a few lines after your ending put a few dashes, then after that put your author bio, where the story was originally published if it was, and references to other stories you have up that the reader might like if they liked the story they just finished.  Put all that in italics and single spaced to make sure the reader knows it is different from the story itself.

4) If you are doing a novel and have chapters, put hard page breaks between each chapter.  Caution!!  Never have more than four returns in a row on any file. That shows up as a blank page on a reading device.  Remember that what it looks like in your manuscript format is not what you are going for on a reading device.  On a hard page break, put two returns above the page break and two below the page break.

Save this file as your “main” file.  Then do a save-as and save a “Kindle” file, save an “Pubit” file, and save a “Smashwords” file.  For the Smashwords file, you must use their copyright information under your copyright notice. Go to their site, copy it and put it there.

That’s it. In a file folder on your computer you will have four copies of your story. Your story is ready to go.  Is this step simple? At first, no, and Smashwords will drive you nuts until you learn how to do it their way and get the tabs out of your files. But after a lot of these now, it’s very, very simple.

Step Five: Do your promotions file. This means write the story blurb. Smashwords requires that your blurb be under four hundred characters, and that means spaces. The other sites you are free to get longer and put in quotes and reviews and such if you want.  But have the file ready.  Also in this file have a list of tag words for your story ready so you are not trying to remember them as you go. Also have an author bio ready. Pubit asks for it.  Put it in Kindle under the story blurb as well if you want to.

Step Six: Do a Cover. Oh, yeah, that’s easy.  NOT.

Learn any number of programs for this, including (if you are really good) Photoshop. I have done covers in Photoshop, in InDesign, and in PowerPoint. PowerPoint is surprisingly easy and has a lot of things that you can do. Learning PhotoShop or InDesign is another matter. They are hard, flat hard to learn, and then even when you know the programs, you might not know how to design a good cover.   This cover step alone is why so many writers are hiring parts of this work out. Everything is pretty basic and easy right up to this step.

However, that said, I can do a cover for a short story now in PowerPoint in about thirty minutes from start to finish using a public domain photo that fits the story. Novel covers I use PhotoShop or InDesign and they take a lot, lot longer. And remember, I used to own a publishing company in the old days. If you are willing to spend the time to learn, you will make being a publisher a lot cheaper.

Learning how to do covers is the big fear factor. We spent about two hours on it at the New Tech workshop and the writers there all got covers done while sitting in the class, some were off-the-charts fantastic. I think we cured most of them of their fear of doing a cover. So it can be learned. For this discussion, let’s just pretend you have figure out the cover problem and move on.

Step Seven: You have a cover, a file that’s ready, and a promotions file with blurb and tags ready to go.  You are ready.

Go to and get an account. After you have an account and go through all the paperwork to set up yourself as a publisher, hit the “Add New Title” button and follow the instructions. Right now is where you have to set the price be ready. It takes me five minutes to load up a new story, but the first one took a lot longer.

After you are done there go to Pubit (B&N) and set up a new account there, then “Add Title” and follow the instructions, almost the same as Kindle.

Then go to Smashwords, set up an account, and do the same there.

This step the first time through (with all the set-ups and learning curves on learning how to get around on new sites) will be slow and painful. But after you have done a few stories, the process gets very easy.

ISBNs.  Use the Smashwords ISBN feature that’s free. Makes no difference and if you think it does, wow do you need to study up on what ISBNs are in the first place. I hear more silly worries about ISBNs than almost anything else. Use the free ones, folks.

Step Eight: Now comes the really hard part.  You have a story up for sale electronically. Congratulations. Now forget it and put up a new story, and then do it again, and again, and again.

Step Nine: You have moved to novels. Same process as above electronically, only with books you don’t want to ignore 91% of the market that likes and buys paper copies, so go to CreateSpace and set up an account.

But with POD publishing, there are a ton more steps and even more fun, meaning lots of learning.  You MUST learn InDesign. That way you can design your own covers and flow in your book in a way that will look professional. Remember, most traditional publishers and almost all magazines use InDesign. Use it, learn it. Use to take lessons. They walk you through InDesign book design there. And cover design as well.

This is difficult and a price you will pay, both in money and time, to be a publisher, a real publisher. Sure, you can hire this done as well, but the money you will spend over the years having it done will be huge compared to your upfront costs of the program and learning time so you can just do it yourself. In this step you have to set prices as well. And where you want it distributed and so on.

This is the hardest step of them all. There are so many things to learn in this step, if nothing else it will give you a real honest appreciation of what traditional publishers go through.

Step Ten: Promotions. Well, here comes more time you have to spend.  Your personal-writer web site needs to be maintained and also your publisher-name web site needs to be maintained and every time you have a new book out you announce it on both sites. You should be on Twitter and Facebook. If you do POD you can send out review copies to reviewers from your press name. If only electronic I know there are reviewers and blogs who take electronic books.  But the best promotion you can do (as I have argued in the past) is just get another product up and write more. And do better covers and better blurbs.

There are a thousand and one ideas for promotion and they are changing daily. Do the basics I listed above and get back to writing the next story. But again, I won’t argue if someone wants to spend money and huge amount of time doing a promotion on their first novel. I’ll be writing a couple more books in the same amount of time.

Step Eleven: Watching the sales.  Don’t, or at least not more than once per month. Early on they will just discourage you. Expect that.  Go into this publishing business for the long haul.

It’s Easy, Right?

Well, in all truth, this new world seems fantastically easy compared to what I had to do with my nineteen employees and two story office building.  I can now put out more product in one month on my own than that entire building full of people could produce in a month back in 1989. So in that case, this is so much easier I can’t begin to describe it.

But for someone with no design sense, not a lot of extra time, and not many things written, this self-publishing process is daunting at best.

There seems to be a thousand questions a new publisher must fact. Questions such as:

—How to balance writing time with publishing time?

—Are you better served to try to sell your book to New York or put it up yourself?

—Should you promote or write something new?

—And even simple decisions like what price to charge become difficult.

—Should you spend the money and the time to buy InDesign and learn it to do paper copies? Or try to get by with something cheaper and easier that will make your books look like they were self-published instead of professionally published.

—Should you stay with electronic publishing only and ignore 90% of your possible readership?

—Should you hire help? As I said earlier, there are numbers of business springing up with set prices, some cheaper than others, that offer writers some of these services.

—Should you spend the money hiring help and if you do how long will it take to get the money back?  (Note: Some agents are offering to do the work for you, to step into the publisher roll. Avoid them at all costs. Not an option.)

There are a thousand more questions you will suddenly face as a publisher.

So when you hear someone say self-publishing is easy, I hope you just don’t jump into it without thinking. It takes time, lots of time, but it is possible.

Very possible.

And because it is possible, it has opened so many doors for so many of us. And those doors are opening wider by the day. This is a wonderful new world we live in. It comes with costs in both money and time spent, but wow, is it fun.

Not easy, but great fun.

The New World of Publishing: E-Book Pricing

On a number of different email lists over the last four or five months there have been discussions on ebook pricing. Joe Konrath is a defender of the $2.99 novel price, while traditional publishers are keeping their prices in the $7.99 to $15.99 range depending on how new the book is.

And on these lists what we all read over and over is personal examples of how it worked for that person, or that person’s sister, or mother.

So I thought I would try to just lay out some facts and where we stand on this subject right now in the fall of 2010.


1) We have no real sales facts over any length of time with any price structure. EVERYONE is just guessing, including the fine folks who set the prices of traditionally published ebooks.

2) Even though Konrath and other self-published authors get all the press, the vast, vast majority of all ebooks published are done by major traditional publishers under contracts signed by the authors. No actual number, however.

3) This new world is changing so fast, nothing that I say here could be valid by this time in 2011.

That’s it for the actual facts. In other words, no one yet knows where this is going or where it will land.


In print publishing, the price of the book was (and still is) set by the real costs involved. Even for smaller publishers using the POD system, the costs are set by shipping, paper costs, percentages taken along the way, and so on.  And for traditional publishers, part of the costs of each book are overhead, meaning property costs, employees, and so on.

Referred to by different names in different accounting programs, these “overhead” costs are figured in this basic way.

1) Add up all your set business costs for a monthly book list, including editor and publisher and sales and art department salaries, utilities, land and building costs, and so on. This is very, very basic, but you end up with a number per month that it takes to keep the doors open, lights on, and the employees paid.

2) Take how many titles you publish through that list per month and divide that number into the overhead costs per month and each title must carry that cost. (Of course I am being frighteningly simplistic, since larger titles carry more of the overhead than smaller and so on, and every house includes some items other houses don’t include, And many houses just approach the number as a percentage of projected sales instead of an actually cost calculation, but you get the idea.) Every title carries overhead. Every copy of every book carries overhead.

So, I hate to burst a lot of writer’s balloons on the myth that producing an e-book is cheaper, but the truth is that every novel leaves the traditional publishing house these days the same way: Electronically.

That’s right, every novel done by a traditional publisher has the exact same cost until it leaves the publisher’s office. Same overhead, same author costs, everything.

The publisher either ships the book to an electronic distributor such as Kindle, or the publisher ships the book electronically to a web press publisher to print the book.  So the costs of every book a traditional publisher does (up to the point it leaves the offices of the publisher) are the same. (Maybe slightly more for electronic since it takes more office time of an employee to do all the uploading and servicing of various electronic sales sights.)

And no, you cannot put all the overhead costs on the paper editions and just figure the electronic editions are free. Business and accounting does not work that way, no matter how much someone who doesn’t know business wants it to. A book has a projected sales figure and the electronic sales are figured right into the projected numbers.

Then add in author percentages, interest on the money spent on the project, and other factors including how much each electronic distributor (such as Kindle) takes and traditional publishers have a bottom line in pricing e-books they have to stay above. It is just flat economics, folks, and no matter how much Joe Konrath and other self-publishers shout, the economics are just there for traditional publishers and e-book pricing has a floor for them they just cannot go below.

Self-Publishers and Small-Publishers Have Different Rules

Those of us who only have to worry about small overhead costs in getting a novel up electronically are very lucky. We have the freedom economically to price our books at any level we see fit. We only have used our own time, maybe a little money for cover art, maybe some minor money to have someone proof the book, but the costs are minor compared to the overhead of a traditional fiction publisher. We can set the prices anywhere from free to the same as traditional publisher’s prices.

And that’s where the real confusion comes in. Thousands of authors with backlists are starting to put up their fiction on their own or through a small company. And the authors have control over setting the pricing.

But what to set the price at? Is Joe Konrath right about the $2.99 price for a full novel? But I heard another author got great sales on a full novel at 99 cents. And yet another getting great sales at over $6.00 prices. Authors are confused because up until this time in history, setting a book price was never a question they had to face.

And the two questions authors logically ask are:

How much can I make at that price?

How many copies can I sell at that price?

Okay, both valid questions. And a third area that you hear lots of talk on lists and blogs about is “personal resistance price points.”  “My brother has a kindle and he won’t buy anything over $5.00.”  Or… “My sister thinks that anything priced at 99 cents must be bad.”

I’m not going to talk about that third point because to put it simply, it’s not valid. There are always going to be certain people who have issues with prices in one fashion or another and if an author or small-publisher worries too much about a few hearsay reports and switches prices all the time, they will be in trouble.

The problem with the first two very logical business questions is that there are no real answers at this point. No facts, no real data. I have a hunch how much money Kris and I will make every year if we get up all 500 of our sold short stories at 99 cents each. But it is just a hunch. And I have no idea how many copies will sell at any price because first off, no one does.

A quick moment on sampling. Readers when buying a book in a store sample the book before carrying it to the check-out counter. In electronic publishing, readers also sample. And that seems to be the one point that so many writers just forget when thinking about this pricing problem.

A book WILL NOT SELL at $2.99 or even 99 cents if it sucks. Readers have taste that won’t be overpowered by simple low prices.

And if a book is great and the reader likes and wants it and other readers are telling him about it, the book WILL SELL at $5.99 or $10.99 or up because it is great.

So let me give my opinion of a pricing structure for small publishers for electronic publishing. Then over the next few years as things settle and we get real data, it will be interesting to look back at this and see how well my pricing structure held up.

I think electronic fiction pricing for small publishers and authors should be like this:

Short stories. 99 cents. Author gets about 35 cents per sale.

Short novels and short collections (Anything from 15,000 words to 45,000 words)  $2.99. Author gets around 65% or about $1.95 per sale.

Novels or long collections (45,000 words and up)  $4.99-$5.99 range. Author gets around 65% or about $3.25-$4.50 per sale.

My Basic Reasons at this Moment in Time for this Pricing Structure:

1) Short stories at 99 cents are great for phone reading and when someone only has a short time to read. Also short stories will allow a reader to sample your writing cheaply.

2) Short collections and short novels at $2.99 are deals and still into the impulse buy range these days.

3) Novels at $4.99-$5.99 allow the writer to make more per copy than selling it to a traditional publisher and also keeps the price way under anything a traditional publisher with overhead can match. And around that $5.00 price is still impulse for most readers.

Three simple prices: 99 cents, $2.99, and $4.99-$5.99.

Now, I have floated my suggestions out on the world so we can have a discussion here in the comments section about this and I can look back at this in a few years and shake my head at my own silliness. As fast as things are changing in publishing, I might look back at this in six months and delete all this. Or who knows, I might end up hitting the right points now.  Time will answer that question.

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: New York Works as a Quality Filter

Very few of these chapters has dealt with the editor and publisher side of publishing. I know that in fiction publishing there are lots of problems with publishers, and right now picking on them just seems to be like kicking dirt onto a person who is struggling to even figure out how to stay alive. Besides, I have been an editor over the years and I know that stuff just flat goes wrong in publishing houses that is often no one’s fault.

But for the most part, even though writers hate to admit it, most of the problems in this business are firmly planted on the writers’ side of the equation. You know, things like giving a perfect stranger all your money and the paperwork with it and then wonder why you got screwed. Or things like signing a bad contract and then saying your publisher screwed you because they followed the terms of the contract. Or things like thinking that a hundred rewrites is the best way to create a piece of art that feels free and spontaneous and has voice.

So it may seem I am aiming this at traditional large publishing, but I am not. I am aiming this squarely at the writers once again, and the myths writers hold so dearly.

The myth I am hearing more and more lately because of electronic and POD publishing is:

Selling a novel to traditional publishing will guarantee the novel is quality.

Or conversely, not selling a novel to traditional publishing will mean the novel is not quality.

This is so flat wrong in so many ways, I’m not sure where to begin.

So let me outline how I will attack this myth before giving some history as I always do. Here are the three main areas of thinking this myth falls into.

1) Because a book is bought by a large traditional publisher the book is quality.

2) Because a book is not bought by a large traditional publisher, the book is not good enough to be published.

3) I am a new writer. How do I determine if my book is of “good enough” quality to be published?

Some History

Am I immune to this thinking of worrying about quality? Nope. I was raised to read and was in school just as most of us were. In school all books were things that had knowledge, were special, or (in the case of fiction I believed) were written by “gods” who took me to wonderful new places, strange planets, and fantastic spaceships. In fact, it never really dawned on me that real people wrote books until I owned a bookstore and started seeing so many thousands and thousands of books pour through. Some I liked, some I didn’t, and some I wondered why anyone would even publish it.

We all were raised to think that something in a book is “important.” And then as we got older we developed reading tastes. We discovered what kind of writing we liked, what our favorite genre was, and who our favorite writers were.

And we all bought books exactly the same as editors buy books. That’s right, exactly the same. We would walk into a bookstore, pick up a book that looks interesting, read the back cover, then maybe read the first few pages and then (horrors) actually flip to the back to see how the book ended before we plunked down our money. We still do that now with electronic books by glancing at the blurb and cover, then reading the sample before buying. Same as in a bookstore.

In large traditional publishing, an editor gets a novel manuscript that looks interesting, reads the first few pages, flips to the proposal to see what the book is about, then reads to the end to see how the book ends. And then if the editor likes the book, she fights for it through the system of sales and art departments and so on. But the key is she has to like the book, just as you have to like a book before you spend money on it.

We are all editors editing for our own personal reading lists.

You may personally think Clive Cussler or Daniel Steele or Noral Roberts are bad writers, but millions of other independent editors don’t agree with you. You buy for what you think is quality writing and storytelling and what you enjoy reading. And what you think will differ from what I think and what millions of others will think. And what most traditional publishing editors will think as well.

Thankfully, that’s the way it works.

The Limitations of Traditional Fiction Editors

Editors working for large traditional publishers are just people too. Heck, I’ve edited at times, remember. Editors have huge restrictions on them that have nothing to do with the quality of a story. For example, the best story I ever got in the ten years editing for Star Trek was by a wonderful new writer named Julie Hyzy. It was a story that I couldn’t buy. All these years later that story is as clear to me as the day it knocked me out of my chair when I read it. But because no traditional publisher could buy that story, does that mean it was low quality?

Of course not. I couldn’t buy it for reasons that had nothing to do with quality. Nothing at all. I couldn’t buy the story because it didn’t fit into the very narrow restrictions I had on what I could buy.

Every editor is exactly the same way, and these days, the restrictions are even narrower because of sales departments not wanting to take a chance on anything different or unusual. (You know, the next bestsellers and mega hits.)

So let me detail out the hurtles you have to jump through to get an editor to buy your book.

— You must mail it to an editor, or get it through an agent to an editor who might buy it. (This step stops most authors.)

— The editor must love the book, meaning it must fit into the editor’s taste area.

— The editor must think the book will fit in what the company publishes and what she can buy for her list.

— Editor must get someone in sales to think the book will sell.

— Editor must often get another editor to like the book

— Editor must get the publisher to sign off on the book in a corporate meeting.

Wow, are there a lot of slips between a writer finishing a book and an editor making an offer. And millions and millions of quality books, books that would find their share of readers if all things were equal are eliminated by this process.

So let me deal with the three major areas this myth hits that I outlined back at the beginning.

1) Because a novel is bought by a large traditional publisher the book is quality.

This part of this myth is very, very deep inside all of us. We all think that because a large traditional publisher spent money and time to publish a book it is automatically quality. I have heard this lately called “the stamp of approval” and “validation” by different writers.

The truth is that for the one house, the one editor, the book was quality. But I can’t begin to point out the millions of examples of novels published for one reason or another by a traditional publisher that just sucked, were poorly written, and worse yet, poorly proofed and typeset and laid out.

Thinking of all traditional fiction publishers as one large great judge of books is just flat wrong. A few people, sometimes less than two or three, are in charge of getting a traditionally published novel out to readers. Sure, there are others along the way, but only the editor, a sales person, and a publisher are the judges of quality of the book. And often one or two of them are missing in the equation.

When I learned this fact early on in my editing life, I actually was depressed. I had always believed that if a big traditional publisher put out a story, it was like the book was sent from some publishing god to the readers with some special secret stamp of approval. I hated the fact that I could pick a story as an editor and give that story some sort of special magical powers of sudden quality. All I was giving the book was very much like a reviewer gives a novel. I was saying I liked it. Nothing more.

Let me repeat that: NOTHING MORE.

Editors are humans who have likes and dislikes. Sure, we all try to pick the best stories, but they are always the stories we think are the best in our opinion. And trust me, we can all be wrong, very, very wrong. And often are.

2) Because a book is not bought by a large traditional publisher, the book is not good enough to be published.

If I was editing a line of books that allowed me to pick what I thought was quality and top story-telling and that I liked, I would be publishing at least eight of the twelve novels I saw in each of the last five novel workshops. I got to read at least forty novels I loved in those workshops. And others I would help the writer fine-tune enough to get to my tastes. And the publishing program would be a fantastic and very eclectic line of books across many genres.

How many of those fine, high-quality novels have sold so far? A couple.

With the state of traditional publishing at the moment, with the slush out-sourced, with editors tied by sales force demands, very few high-quality books with top stories are getting through. And it is often not the highest-quality story or novel that gets through, it’s the story that has the most marketability according to a sales person.

Thinking that a story isn’t quality if it doesn’t sell is just flat silly.

Let me give you a personal example: I have over one-hundred-and-fifty (150) rejections for different stories from five different editors of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. That’s right, from the very beginning of the magazine I was pounding on that door and not once did I sell a story to them. Not once. Should I think that all my stories are not quality because I can’t sell to that magazine and those five different editors over three decades? Nope. They just didn’t fit because my short stories tend to be slightly off of center, to put it mildly. I have later sold over a hundred of those one-hundred-and-fifty stories. But thankfully I never believed this part of this myth or I wouldn’t have kept the stories out there in the mail.

3) I am a new writer. How do I determine if my book is of “good enough” quality to be published?

This is the difficult subject to talk about because all new writers must go through a learning curve to get craft up to certain “levels” that will allow readers to follow your story and stay involved with your story. And trust me, for an experienced editor, it is easy to see at a glance a new writer who hasn’t written enough words and studied enough to get craft up to a level anyone but family is going to want to read. What tips us off? Oh, easy things like no setting, no voice, characters you can’t tell apart, walking from one part of the story to the other. All stuff that would make a reader put the book down and not buy it.

Notice I did not say sentence-by-sentence writing. At this point in history most everyone can write a decent sentence. Quality writing does not mean quality typing. It means quality storytelling.

The old method was to just write and submit and when your craft started climbing some of your stories started breaking through the editorial roadblocks and got to readers. That system was pretty clear for most, but wow did it fail writers with very unusual voices or stories that did not fit into certain genres. Those writers never did get through the system for the most part. Like I haven’t got through the system yet at Asimov’s.

But now we have a new world that writers can publish their own stuff, and in a recent chapter of The New World of Publishing I talked about writers just publishing their own book and then mailing it to traditional publishers as part of the submission package. I can’t begin to tell you how many letters I got asking the question “How do I know if my book is good enough to be published?”

Back to #1 category above, writers think that just because a book is published, it has to be quality. So if the new writer publishes their own book, it has to be quality before they dare do that. But how do they know if it is quality? And the circular logic goes around and around.


Short answer: They don’t.

Long answer: They don’t and never will, even if the story is published by a traditional publisher.

Being published by a traditional publisher means a book is liked by a few people. Put the book up on your own on Amazon and see how many people buy it. Why not?

Why not do a POD version and use it as part of submission package?

The answer of all this again comes down to writers and their belief systems. At this moment in history most writers and all newer writers have no backbone. Writers as a class do not believe that their work is their art. And they are not willing to defend it and keep learning from their mistakes and keep working to make their art better.

But, of course, my advice about “grow a backbone” has been ignored for a year now in many of these chapters, so let me see if I can give a few more concrete guidelines. But realize, these are just my opinion and I am only one person.

How Do I Know if My Book is “Good Enough” to be Published?

(Dean’s Opinion of What to Do)

1… How many words have you written in fiction since you started trying to write? If the answer is under a half million words, I’d hold off on putting anything into print. If you answer is over half a million, why not test it? Mystery Grand Master John D. McDonald used to say that all writers starting out had a million words of crap in them. I started selling stories just short of the million word mark and have sold some of my stories that I wrote between half-million and that first million. However, because of a house fire, I can’t look back on any of the words before that.

2… Realize that you may have paid your storytelling dues in other areas besides fiction. Say if you have written a couple dozen plays and had a couple produced, your storytelling skills are probably pretty good. Things like that. Lots of other areas transfer over into fiction writing. In that case you might be writing quality fiction right from the first hundred thousand words.

3… How much are you studying writing to get better? If you only have three how-to-write books on your shelf and have never even listened to a professional writer speak at a conference, you may be way ahead of yourself in thinking of publishing. Publishing and telling stories that readers want to read does take skill and craft and it takes some study to even learn the basics. For example, a couple of the writers who attended this last novel workshop brought first-written novels, and wow were they good. But the key is they had spent a lot of time writing other things and were avid learners, which is why they were here in the first place.

4… If you aren’t mailing your work to traditional publishers I wouldn’t bother to self-publish either. If you have been getting a steady stream of rejections on early novels or short stories, you might be ready for the problems associated with publishing your own work.

In other words, in short, what I am talking about is a learning period, and the learning must go hand-in-hand with the typing.  It’s called “practice” in any other art. In writing you need to practice as well.

So What Is The Downside of Self-Publishing Too Early?

Nothing. No one buys your book, it sinks like a stone because it is poorly written, and eventually as you keep learning, you pull it down and put it out of print.

Here is the problem that beginning writers have on this issue: Beginning writers are staring at their own navels.

What I mean by that is new beginning writers are so worried about sentences and pretty words and nifty grammar and pleasing their workshop that they forget they are story-tellers. And they forget about readers and how readers are the real judges.

There are no repercussions for publishing a book in electronic or POD format. No one will come to your house and shoot you, no one will blackball you from all of publishing, no one will even notice, which is even worse than the first two. At least on the first two someone noticed your book.

But you put up your own new book and it sucks, no one will buy it and no one will notice and it will sink without a trace. And you can promote it to your heart’s content and still no one will buy it because they will look at the sample and think, “Nope this book isn’t for me.” And not buy it and not remember your name.


1) Never stop writing and learning. Never think you know it all after a few sales. Never believe you are good enough.

2) Get rid of the early words,the first hundred thousand words. Then after that keep your work for sale somewhere, either on editor’s desks in New York or self-published or both. You are like an artist with your work hanging in an art gallery or a musician working a small bar. You are practicing and earning from your skill as it grows. It might not be much at first, but if you keep learning and practicing, the sales and the money will come with time.

3) Grow a backbone. Believe in your own art without cutting off the learning. So what if you self-published the book and some editor doesn’t like you sent her the full book. Who cares? Who cares if you put up a book or story that doesn’t quite work? No writing is perfect and maybe a few people out there will think it works just fine and enjoy it.

4) Never do anything that gets in the way of the writing. Stay away from stupid self-promotion beyond your own web site, and just write the next story and the next book.  In other words, be a writer, a person who writes.

5) And most of all, have fun. If you are not having fun while at the same time being scared to death, get off this roller coaster. The ride only gets more extreme and more fun the farther you go along the track.

Trust me, folks, you don’t want to put all your hopes and fears and beliefs that a work is quality by the judgement of an editor somewhere. Remember, I used to be an editor and my favorite writers are James Patterson and Clive Cussler. And I’ve tried over a hundred and fifty times to sell to Asimov’s. And my all-time favorite story that came into Star Trek: Strange New Worlds I couldn’t buy.

And worse yet, I’m writing a book called Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Yeah, go ahead, trust my judgement. I dare you.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

Okay, I admit it, I am not editing anything, so tossing money into the magic bakery tip jar can’t be a bribe to buy your story. But I hope this article helped some.

And this chapter 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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