Monthly archives for December, 2010

The New World of Publishing: The Scams

As we ramp into 2011, I figured that besides all the goal-setting talk, it might be a good time to give a few warnings as well. And maybe set a clear work goal as well.

Electronic publishing is the hot topic and traditional publishing is struggling to change to the new world. Indie publishing is becoming the term, and indie writers are vocal and all over the web. Us old-timers who are paying attention to the changes are rushing to get up our lost backlist and reverted novels at the same time as traditional publishers are moving quickly to get all their inventory into electronic form.

And everywhere I look there are electronic-book readers for sale. 2011 will be looked back on as the big switch in publishing, as electronic publishing left twenty years of promise and hype and became a reality and a major percentage in publishing. And by 2012 the traditional publishers who haven’t made the shift will be in cash flow issues.

Brick and mortar bookstores are also moving quickly to the new world, trying to find ways to be included in the electronic revolution. Those that can’t make the switch will have to change their business models or perish. We’ll see a lot of both in 2011 and 2012.

As for writers, we’re in a new, wonderful golden age. Content is king and everyone is needing more and more content fed by more and more readers going electronic and wanting more and more books and stories.

Sure, at the moment some traditional publishers of print books are tightening and putting themselves into death spirals of cutting inventory and editors and other workers instead of pushing into new ways of increasing sales and titles, just as Borders Bookstore is in a death spiral of cutting inventory and stores and expecting income to go up. Nope, never works that way. But so many new publishers and imprints are starting up it’s difficult at times to even try to note them, let alone keep track. And agents are becoming desperate as their business model starts to break down under their self-created problems and the electronic publishing change.

On another side, suddenly short fiction has made a fantastic comeback as the new market for stand-alone short fiction is just off the charts due to the desire for shorter work to read on phones and electronic devices.  And in longer work, the relaxing of genre guidelines and the relaxing of length requirements that electronic publishing has allowed makes it possible for writers to find an audience for their work even if some New York publisher doesn’t think it’s close enough to a vampire/romance/fantasy set in an English boarding school with Da Vinci Code feel.

But, with all this new freedom and new ideas and new delivery systems to readers comes problems for many writers. The changes (as in the past) will cause thousands of writers to just vanish from the business. So I’m going to try to detail out some trouble areas and the reasons behind these problems in hopes that I am blunt enough to help one or two writers stay out of the quicksand of lost dreams.

Underlying Large Problem

Fiction writers, as a class, are fantastically lazy. Not all of us, but 99% of all fiction writers who want to be professionals have bought into so many myths about writing, the bottom-line result is that the writers become lazy writers. And lazy writers, when faced with something new, turn to shortcuts. And therein lies many problems.

First off, why do I say fiction writers are lazy? Oh, let me think…

—What other international profession leads you to believe that if you work one hour per day you can be successful?

—What other art in any form leads you to believe that your first practice session or sessions should make you rich?

—What other international occupation celebrates slowness and writing so dense and convoluted that can’t be read by the average reader?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I see online and on Twitter and Facebook how tired a writer was after working hard for two hours and managing to get three whole pages done. Sorry, just makes me snort in laughter every darned time. (Sure, I know, all writers are different, but being lazy sure is different from me, that I must admit.)

Back in the pulp era and through into the 1960’s, working writers were known for their ability to write long and hard and produce vast amounts of product. Guess what, that’s coming back with all these changes. The prolific writer will, for the most part, again be the rich and acclaimed writers of our time. (You know, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and so on.) Product is needed even more now and growing by the month and the more that 99% of the writers buy into the working-hard-one-hour-a-day myth, the more product will be needed from the writers with a real work ethic.

But sadly, very few writers will be able to jump past the built-up myth structure, so as more and more product is needed, and systems change, there will be, of course, people to help out the lazy writers. People who want to take a cut of the sales for doing little or nothing.

Second Major Problem Area

Writers are famously backward, with many writers even taking pride in using manual typewriters or writing longhand while at the same time bragging about these traits on Twitter. These writers will be quickly left behind for a number of reasons. First, these types are ripe for the scams, for people to step in and “help them” with all this “technology” that seems so scary or doesn’t “fit” their writing style. Of course, the writer will think it beneath them to bother to even understand what the “help” is doing, so will get taken. We see this thousands and thousands of times with agents right now. This problem will only get worse in this new world of electronic publishing. And I’m not even going to get into the scams of contracts and selling electronic rights, at least not in this post.

And in this same area are the writers who feel it would be “too hard” to learn how to put up their own story or novel on Kindle. Oh, my, they would have to learn a program like PowerPoint to do a cover, and read some instructions on how to format their Word file from their normal manuscript look. It will be “too hard” and take up “too much time.” So these writers will also turn to the first person who offered to help them, without any sense of good or bad or even what they are paying for. This is a combination of the “too lazy” problem and the “fear of technology” problem.


First off, I’ll try to outline a few scams I am seeing start to develop in just the short year or so that this transition has been in progress. Then I’ll talk about some ways to look for quality help with your electronic publishing.

Scam #1: I’ll put it up for a percentage of the sales.

This one flat scares me to death for writers because of the problems involved. NEVER, EVER DO THIS. Just the math shows how stupid this idea is.

Let’s take a novel as an example. It takes about two hours to prepare a clean manuscript (already proofed) from Word to correctly formatted Word. Then it takes another two hours of time to do a decent cover, especially if the person is good at a more advanced program such as PhotoShop. And then about an hour to load the book up to the major sites for electronic publication. 5 Hours total.

I have heard rates from 5% of sales to 15% of sales (because that’s what an agent gets). Say the book isn’t a big hit, but sells regularly. Say across all the sites it sells ten copies per month total, and you have listened to the writers without self-respect who put up their books too cheaply, so you have your book up at $2.99. You are making $2.00 per sale or $20.00 per month across all sites. Doesn’t seem like much, but after a year you have made $240 and after ten years at that low number of sales you have $2,400. Say you agreed to 10% of sales to the person who spent the 5 hours. So over ten years you have paid someone $240 for getting the book up. Great, not bad, about $25.00 per hour at that point, except stop and think for a second HOW you paid that person.

Did you pay them a check for $2.00 per month? For ten years? Or did you let them handle all the money and just pay you? Either way is just stupid.

So what happens if your book does better??? Isn’t a bestseller by any means, but sells about 100 copies per month. Suddenly for those five hours work, you have paid the person $2,400 in ten years.

And worse yet, for both examples, you will continue to pay them, since electronic books don’t go out of print. And your heirs will continue to pay the person’s heirs for 70 years past your death. All for 5 hours of work.

And heaven forbid you make upwards of a thousand a month on that book or more. Suddenly that five hours becomes worth hundreds of thousands in very short order.

Either way, this scam breaks down quickly and can only cost you a lot of pain and more than likely lawsuits if your book takes off.

Scam #2: The Agent Scam

This is a side-track of the currant myth that agents take care of you. This one the agent offers to take care of everything for you and just send you a percentage. I can’t begin to even go into the ethical issues for the agent on this, since the agent is becoming a publisher. But since agents have no rules, I suppose they can scam who they want to scam.  Let me say clearly that you just take all the problems with Scam #1 and then add in that the agent gets all the money and paperwork first, and takes a cut over-and-above the normal percentages. Writers trapped in this scam are already complaining that they never see much out of their electronic rights, so they don’t see what the big deal is. Of course they don’t. By the time any money, even from an honest agent, makes it to them, so many hands have been in the pie, there are only crumbs left.

This scam has been in existence for about ten years now already. And more agents are piling onto the bandwagon each week it seems. Writer after writer lately have been saying to me proudly that they are getting their work up online because their agent did it for them. I just shudder. Hopefully not too obviously.

Scam #3: The Cloud or Group Sites.

Again, these are aimed at just making it easier for the lazy writer. Sometimes these sites have the front of helping their writers cross-promote, but that is just a front in most instances for someone to make money. For example, I just got a letter today about how I should look at this new model where some group site will allow writers to put up stories and be voted on, then the good ones are put up as stand-alone books by the “professional staff” and the writer gets a percentage of the sales. Of course, the writer must jump through a thousand hoops and also the “professional staff” get to see all the paperwork and money before sending on the writer’s “fair share.” And this place claimed their royalty rates were higher than what traditional publishers give writers. Oh, my…

Note: A couple writer-run cross-promotion sites that are in existence are fine and don’t fit in this scam because the writers do all their own work first before launching anything onto the promotion site. And they keep all their own money. So those sites are fine. BookView Cafe is an example of how writers can band together correctly.

Scam #4: Pretend Publisher Scam.

This one has been around a while now in electronic publishing. They have a writer submit work to them, then “accept it” and do all the formatting and put it up on all the sites and give the writer a small percentage of a small percentage of a small percentage. Again, the writers trapped in this, or with work in one of the early models of this, are constantly complaining they get very little money for their sales. Again, nothing left of the pie by the time it hits the writer’s hands.

Note: Smashwords does not fit in this model. They take a very tiny percentage and have often negotiated with the end electronic stores such deals as the writer can get a better deal going through Smashwords than directly to the online store. And besides, Smashwords is a store and the writer has to do all the work. Smashwords is a model that works in this new world. But at the moment it’s just about the only major one. Caution on the others.


Become a Publisher.

It really is that simple, and yet that hard. Writers, for the first time in fifty years, need to take control of their work again. Sure, send work to traditional publishers, but all of us have books that haven’t sold, or books that have been reverted, or short stories that have sold and reverted after a few months. Or new stuff we want to publish ourselves before sending it to a traditional publisher. All fine. If you don’t fall into any of the scams above.

You have to do the work yourself. You have to be the publisher.

What does that mean? It means being in control. Learn how to do a cover, learn how to format your work, then put the work up on Amazon, Pubit (B&N) and Smashwords. Then go to one of the three POD publishers and learn what they need and do the work.

Is there a learning curve? Yes. Is there frustration and problems at times? Yes. But you take control and it is great fun.




But what happens if you are color blind and have no sense of cover design. (First off, start learning it and open your eyes in bookstores.) But you want to get your stuff up. What can you do without getting into a scam?

The Answer: Be a Publisher.

When a traditional New York publisher needs a cover, what do they do? Duh, they hire one done. And not for a percentage of the profits. They hire it for a flat-use fee. Do the same.

What happens if you can’t follow instructions well enough to fill in a few blank spaces and put something up on Kindle. (First off, let me ask what you are doing in 2011 anyway?) But you want to get your work up, what do you do? Hire it done. And not by the same person who did your cover. Traditional publishers hire people who put things up online, you become a publisher and do the same. Pay them for the five hours. You know, like a hundred bucks or something. You pay out a few of those and trust me, you’ll spend the half hour to learn how to put something up on Amazon yourself.

When I say become a publisher, I mean THINK LIKE A PUBLISHER. Take your lazy-writer hat off, the one that won’t allow you to work more than an hour day and put on the publisher hat, the one that will allow you to work long hours if you need to. Then hire what you can’t do and learn what you can.

There are many businesses springing up that are “Menu-Based” help. For example, you can go to a place and hire someone at a set rate, stated on the menu, to proof a book. Or to design a cover for another set rate. Or launch it for another set price.

Traditional publishers have freelance artists doing covers. They have freelance proofreaders. They don’t give them a percentage or your book. They just hire them for the project for a set amount.

Be a Publisher.

I’m afraid that at the moment, with this new Indie-Publishing world we are stepping into, there are no shortcuts. And part of the learning for writers in this new world is learning how to think like a publisher. (In the long-run for the industry, this can do nothing but good.)

And if you think someone will suddenly appear and take all the work off your hands, it’s a scam. Period. There are no shortcuts in this writing business or in being a publisher. Hiring quality help is fine on a project-by-project basis. But anything else that seems too-good-to-be-true more than likely really is.

Time to take control, writers, of your own work and your own fate. Make 2011 the year of learning to take control. Set that as a goal for the new year. It’s in your control. It’s not a dream, it’s a goal.

Learn how to be a publisher. Learn how to take control of your agent. Learn how to take control of your own work.

It’s a new golden age for writers. But only for those writers who take control of their work and their career. For the lazy writers, this will be a year of torture and puzzlement as they wonder why they were left behind and can’t make a living with their fiction.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

Okay, I admit it, I had issues at first with putting in a tip jar in the Magic Bakery. It was one of the “I have it made, why do I need to support my writing with tips.” A minor myth, sure, but still one that took me a few days and some talk with Kris to get past. And also, this helps me keep control over my work.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, 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

The New World of Publishing: The eRace

A long time ago, in a magazine I did for fun for writers called The Report, I came up with an idea to try to add numbers and quantify the mysterious process of submissions to traditional markets. For some reason it got the name of “The Race” because it was a race against ourselves as writers.

And it worked in so many ways, I was stunned. First off, it was a clear number that many of us could hang onto to show progress in a business that often doesn’t give a sense of progress. And secondly, it gave a yardstick measurement of the writers who were pushing hard and those who couldn’t seem to get started.

Also, this allowed writers to take some sort of control of what they can control. Writers can’t control if an editor will buy a story or not. But a writer can control the mailing of the manuscript to the editor. The more manuscripts on editor’s desks, the more chance of sales. Pretty clear concept.

So following some discussion on the last topic, I figured it was time to bring “The Race” forward into the new world. Besides, The Race is a great way to help writers set smaller goals that are in their control to get to larger dreams.

The traditional Race is a simple point system. You get one point for each short story in the mail, three points for chapters and outline in the mail (only once per project, even though multiple submissions are allowed in novels), and eight points for a full manuscript to an editor. Manuscripts to agents DO NOT COUNT, since an agent can’t write a check for anything.

Short Story… 1 Point

Chapters/Outline… 3 Points

Full Novel MS….. 8 Points.

I hit seventy-some points with short fiction only when I was starting out. That was my high. Interestingly enough, I was selling stories all the time at that number. Many of my friends such as Kevin J. Anderson and my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, were above that number. And what was interesting is that those of us with high numbers, above fifty, were selling regularly, while those writers with five or ten points wondered why they didn’t sell much.  Hmmmmm, putting a hard number on it seemed to give a pretty clear reason why they weren’t selling.

Remember that evil word “practice” so many writers hate? Well, if you have over fifty short stories in the mail to traditional publishers, you are practicing as well as giving your work a shot at selling. Higher numbers help a writer in more ways than one.

So that’s the traditional race that has been used in one form or another by writers for twenty-plus years now.


The question has come up a number of times since publishing started shifting this last year or so about having an electronic race for indie-publishing. At first I resisted. Then two fine writers (Amanda McCarter and Annie Bellet) came up with a way of keeping track of electronic publishing and they called it the eRace.

Here is what they suggested (that I like a great deal and will use myself).  1 point for each short story published electronically.  3 points for each short story collection published (five stories or more…and yes, you get a point for having a story up as a stand-alone and then can include it in a collection.) 5 points for a novel, meaning anything you call a short novel that is about 15,000 words long and up.

—eRace Point System—

Short Story… 1 Point

Collection… 3 Points

Novel….. 5 Points.

Now, this system will also show clearly one aspect of electronic publishing, and that is that the more stuff a writer has published, the more they will sell and the more money they will make. Again a pretty simple concept assuming decent quality and storytelling. (One addition I would make to the structure above: If the story is put up for free, it doesn’t count as an eRace point. Must be for sale.)

There are a couple of clear differences between the Traditional Race and the eRace.

Difference #1:

The traditional race has a ceiling on it. When the story sells, you move the points off the race. So at a certain point the sales will level with your points and maybe even be faster than your writing. And you will get multi-book contracts and so on. So the goal with the traditional race is in the early years to ram it up high and then try to keep it high against all the sales knocking the points down. Trust me, that’s a great fight and one you want to fight.

With the eRace however, the goal is to keep the total climbing because once a point is added to the eRace, it doesn’t ever fall off. There is no ceiling on the points in an eRace structure. I like that as well. It is one of the best things about electronic publishing. The stories are not produce. So this eRace helps writers with long-term thinking as well and might get some away from all the silly and wasted self-promotion.

Difference #2:

The novel structure is different. In traditional publishing, a short novel is considered a short story and even though 26,000 words, like a story Kris just sold to a major magazine, it only counts as one point.  Only novels to novel publishers count. And since traditional publishers have length restrictions, those restrictions are placed on the writer by the publisher.

In the eRace, there are no restrictions of length, so short novels are starting to make a comeback.  Amanda and Annie lowered the points for novels so that the short novels could be fairly included and not make the race too complicated. Besides, readers don’t care too much about length for the most part if the story is great and ends well. Long novels are a construction of the last 30 years in traditional publishing anyway.  So anything from around 15,000 word and up is considered a novel or short novel and all get the same 5 points for simplicity sake.

Why Not Do Both?

No reason. In fact, if you have read my challenge post a few back, you know I will be doing both this next year. My goal is to write 100 short stories, but if my wife, a Hugo Award winning editor tells me a main genre magazine might buy it, the story won’t count in my challenge or the eRace, but will count in the Traditional Race. (At least until it sells and is published or until it doesn’t sell. Then it will go only eRace.) And if you follow the idea I suggested a while back of putting a novel up electronically and POD and then sending it to a traditional publisher to buy, the points would count on both Races.

I can see far more reasons to do both races in this new world than just focusing on one side or the other.


For Traditional Race points, it has been fairly established over the last 25 years of watching the Race that the writers with above 60 points tend to sell regularly and if they keep going make a career. And once selling regularly, a writer has trouble holding the Race points up.

The eRace is just brand new. I have no idea how it will actually go, and there are a ton of factors involved that haven’t been figured out yet, including pricing structures. But my gut sense is that if you get up around 1,000 points at distant point, you’ll be making pretty close to a six-figure income every year.

Right now my eRace total is 25. I only have 25 short stories up and I am making around $100 per month, which is above the minimum math I use to figure possible sales. Actually about double, which surprises me, considering I only get 35 cents per sale. And it’s growing slightly each month. It will grow dramatically as I get more stories and novels and collections published. I hope to have a total of well over 1,000 eRace points within two years.

Kris has an eRace total of about 105 already, with 7 collections selling at $2.99 and 7 short novels selling at $2.99 and one full novel at $4.99 and one large nonfiction book at $9.99. Plus a bunch of short stories. Her total income has a comma in it per month. And the total is climbing like crazy.  I know, without a doubt, she’ll be past 1,000 eRace points in a year or so. Just on backlist work, not counting all the new stuff.

Thanks Amanda and Annie for getting this started. It’s a great system and a great addition to The Race.  Very glad you figured it out to give us indie-publishers a way to track our progress. With more work available to readers comes more sales.

This is a great new world we are living in. Great fun.

The New World of Publishing: My Goal for the New Year

A couple years back in December I did a series of posts here about writers setting goals for the new year. And last year I brought some of the old posts forward. But frighteningly enough, the publishing industry has changed so much and so fast, those posts from just two years ago felt dated. The basics are the same, sure. Things like knowing the difference between a goal and a dream. But even with the basics still being solid in the posts, I don’t feel good enough about those old posts to even link you back to them.

So I’m going to talk about writing goals a little again as they fit into this new world of publishing. And my own writing goal as an example. Then in the comments maybe we can discuss some other basics of goal-setting for writers and how others do it.

Let me start off with a goal and a challenge I had last year at this time that I told very few people about. Simply put, I challenged myself to get one new book per week into the mail.

Okay, take a deep breath and relax. Let me explain what I was doing.

I was writing the opening of a novel (usually about thirty pages), then doing a proposal for the rest of the book (usually about ten pages) and mailing the package to five editors at a time. I did that for thirteen straight weeks, ending up with seventeen novels in the mail counting the submissions I already had out when I started the challenge. (Can you imagine an agent handling that? (snort))

That’s right, I had seventeen different novels in six different genres under five different pen names in the mail at the same time to over eighty editors. And to be honest, it was a blast. November 1st, 2009 to Feb 1st, 2010. Only reason I stopped is that I had a ghost novel to write. And then I got busy doing other stuff and other projects.

Now, I am known for being nuts when it comes to writing challenges. And I’m sure even the professionals reading this are thinking I am nuts. But it was a goal, a challenge that kept me going, kept me submitting, and got me a ton of great mail and some new projects to write. And most of all, it was a ton of fun.

And you know what, getting off to that good of a start really helped the year feel better. In fact, this has been a great year for both writing and publishing and money for me. I wonder why? (grin)

So what am I going to do this coming year? I’ll tell you in a moment.

Goals vs Dreams

What is the difference between goals and dreams? Getting them confused can really, really stop you cold, so you should know the difference.

A Dream is something you want to attain that is out of your control for the most part. For the longest time I had a dream of having five different novels on the shelf at my local Safeway at the same time. I wanted to stand there in the aisle and just smile and stare at my books. I came close one week with four, but never hit that dream. It is a dream because it is out of my control. There are so many other people involved with the process that even if I had ten books in the pipeline in New York publishing (which I did one fine year) not all of them will make the Safeway book rack, let alone at the same time.

A Goal is something you control completely, such as writing and finishing and mailing one short story per week. Or mailing one new novel every week. Now that I can control. I can’t control if an editor buys the story or not, I can’t control the mail losing it or not, but I can control the writing and finishing and mailing.

Goals are in your control.

Dreams are some event that your goals are working and building toward.

Note: The WORST thing you can do is set up as a goal like “I want to sell a novel by the end of the year.” Selling a novel is out of your control and shows almost no understanding of how publishing works. Since I started writing I have heard writers say such things and always fail. However, if you want to work in a constructive manner toward that dream, set the goal to write three or four novels and get them all in the mail to editors by the end of the year. You still won’t hit that dream because publishing and buying books is so slow, but you might the following year.

So those of you who have a dream of making a living at writing fiction, let’s break down what that will take these days.

New York Traditional Publishing Only.

Remember, writing is in your control. Selling and advances are not.

1) If you write only one book per year, then you must get lucky and have your book sell for at least a hundred-grand advance year after year after year, book after book.

2) If you write two or three books per year, then you can make a nice living with lower advances, but there still has to be some luck and high advances in the mix. And a bunch of secondary sales overseas and audio and such.

3) If you write more than four books a year, your advances can range all over the place and some books not sell and you’ll still make a nice living writing fiction every year.

It’s just numbers. In this modern world, the less you have to depend on high advances, the better off you will be.

So, if your dream is to make a living writing fiction and you only produce one book per year, the odds are bad and luck has to figure into your dream. But if you write four or five books a year, you have limited the luck factor, given yourself more chances to place books, and the freedom and opportunity to take lower advances.

So if your GOAL is to write one book a year, you are not making much headway toward your DREAM. (And thus fall into the place where so many selling writers say it is impossible to make a living at fiction writing.) However, if your GOAL is to write four books a year, then you are making great headway toward your DREAM of making a living with your writing.

Electronic Publishing Only

This world is still so new that numbers are not really solid yet, but it works pretty close to the above numbers. If you write one book per year and that’s all you have up electronically, it won’t make a difference at all how much blogging and promotion you do, your one book won’t sell enough by itself to make you a living without a lot of luck. So here, just as in traditional publishing, the GOAL would be to get up as many products as possible for sale electronically to get closer to your DREAM of making a living with your fiction. Again, this is a game of numbers.

Electronic Publishing Combined with New York Publishing

Combining electronic and tradition publishing is where many of us are making some really nice money. We put up our backlist and some new products electronically. Then when something of ours comes out of a traditional publishing source, the push that the regular publishers put on a traditionally published book helps drive readers to our indie-published work and we make even more money.

So here the GOAL is to get up electronically as many things as possible while mailing as many submissions and manuscripts to traditional publishers at the same time to get to the DREAM of making a living with your fiction. Again, just numbers.

Just be clear on what is a goal you can control and a dream that you can’t. Interestingly enough, if you are clear on this, rejections mean less because you never think of the dream when mailing. The end product is finishing the story or novel and just mailing it. The mailing is the success point for you. Selling is something that happens if your craft is good and the story hits a market that the story fits. But that is out of your control. All you can control is finishing and mailing or putting up electronically.


I told you about the thirteen new novels mailed in thirteen weeks last year. It was a great challenge and I had a blast. And even if some of those books don’t sell eventually, I might go ahead and finish a few of them anyway to publish electronically. But honestly, five or six of them I will never write unless a publisher offers me money.

As I mentioned above, short fiction, if you love it, might be a way to go these days to make some nice money electronically. And I love short fiction, so my new goal for this next year concerns short fiction and electronic publishing.

Note.  I am not talking novels from here on out, just short stories, because that’s my challenge.

First off, some background for those of you not up to speed yet on publishing your own work electronically.


There are hundreds of electronic bookstores around the world and more coming on line every day. Yes, I said hundreds.


To get to the majority of these bookstores, you only have to put your story up on three places. Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. You won’t get to all of them, but you will get to a majority.

The stories on Amazon only sell on Amazon and Amazon UK at the moment, but more countries are rumored to be coming up shortly. And at the moment Amazon is the biggest. That is changing slowly.

Barnes & Noble online store inventory powers many, many bookstores around the world not counting their own Nook stores, and the money comes back to you, the author, through B&N.

Smashwords gets your story up on Smashwords (a store itself), but it also functions as a gateway site to get your work into bookstores powered by Kobo, Sony, iPad, and others. For example, through Smashwords I just sold stories through online stores in Australia, Europe, Great Britian, and Canada through Apple. And some of those, because of the exchange rate, I am making a bunch more than 35 cents per sale.


It is not simple, but not hard to learn how to put your books and stories up on these sites. Just take your manuscript in Word, format it to the Smashwords guidelines, do a cover in PowerPoint with one of your own photos, save it as a jpg file and you are ready. Takes a little learning and some frustration, but very possible and easy to do.

Here is the simple math for short stories:

Each story sells for 99 cents. That number is pretty standard these days for short stories. The author gets on average 35 cents per sale.

Let me say that each story just sells on average 5 copies per month. That’s total across all the stores. (You won’t have even this bottom number happen until you are up near thirty stories or so. Why I say at least thirty stories is because no one can find only one story. After thirty or so you start becoming a web presence and when a reader finds something they like of your work, they can easily find other stories of yours as well to read.)

So each story makes $1.75 per month. (35 cents times 5 sales around the world total.)

Note: This is bottom level. And many stories depending on your cover and blurb will sell higher than five per month, but for this example let me just use bottom numbers. My backlist short stories up already are doing much better than this, and Kris’s are selling factors higher than this. But for this math I’m using these bottom numbers.

Total Income Per Story for the Year: $21.00. Not much. Ten year income if nothing changes $210.00 per story.

Let’s say you could write and put up electronically one short story per week. End of one year (taking two weeks off and for math ease) you would have 50 short stories up and at fifty stories you would make $87.50 per month or $1,050.00 per year (or $10,500 over ten years).

Collections: With 50 short stories up, you can put together at least ten five-story collections and five ten-story collections. That’s minimum because there is no rule that the same story can’t be in a number of different collections.

Sell a 5-story collection for $2.99. You get about 65% of that on average or $1.95 per sale. Five sales per month per collection gets you $9.75 per month per collection. With ten collections (made out of the 50 short stories) you get $97.50 per month or $1,170.00 per year (or $11,700.00 in ten years).

For a 10-story collection you sell it for $4.99. Again you get 65% so you get about $3.25 per sale. Five sales per month gets you $16.25 per month per collection. Or with five collections made out of the 50 stories you get $81.25 per month or $975.00 per year (or $9,750.00 in ten years).

So at the end of one year of writing one short story a week and getting them up electronically and taking two weeks off, you would be making $1,050.00 plus $1,170.00 plus $975.00 which equals $3,195.00 per year after that for the work you did the previous year.

That’s only one year.

And that’s at the bottom rate of only five sales per month over hundreds of bookstores. And of course, that’s not counting POD publishing. For this discussion let me stay just electronic.


Let’s say your stories average around 3,000 words. And take about five hours to write per week on average. 50 stories is about 250 hours spread out over the entire year.

$3,195.00 divided by 250 hours equals $12.70 per hour. Not great, not bad.

And, of course, once up selling electronically, there are no changes needed and no more work needed to be done.  Your stories will just keep selling. So say the sales continued along the bottom like this for another year, your hourly rate would go to $25.40 per hour by the end of the second year. Of course, if the stories kept selling at this bottom rate for ten years, your hourly rate would be $127.00 per hour spent writing short stories during that one year. Now that’s getting decent.


So many people in this country work a job, get a paycheck, and that’s the end once the bills are paid. There is no thought of the person who worked those five hours on a Tuesday in 1999 being paid yet again for those same five hours. Never happens.

But writers create a product that when put into a magic bakery can earn a ton of money for years and years and years. So a short story written now can still be earning money for the writer in ten or twenty or fifty years. This is a very difficult thing to grasp for most writers when setting year-end goals. An hour spent in this new year finishing a product will be an hour that will continue to pay you money for decades.

Some writers tend to look at books as produce. Once done and sold, it somehow is spoiled. If the advance or the sale isn’t enough, or the story doesn’t sell, the story isn’t worth anything. But with this new world, that has really, really changed. Now it is economically viable to build an inventory, even though the upfront money isn’t that high. And that inventory will earn money for a very long time for the writer.

Writers must learn to take the long-term view in this new publishing world.

What if…

For fun, just do the quick math. What happens if the fifty stories you write in one year average 10 sales each average per month around the hundreds of sites around the world. One story sells three, another twenty. So that would double the $3,195.00. 15 stories average per month per story would triple the $3,195.00 to just under $10,000.00 for the year.

What if…

…you managed to do this for another year? By the end of the second year you would have produced 100 short stories. At the bottom rates, you would be making $6,290.00 per year. Every year, with no extra work needed. Selling ten average would be making you $12,580 per year every year.

What if…

…you set up a plan and a routine and did the same thing regularly for five years? At the bottom rate, which you would not be at by that point, you would be bringing in $15,975.00 per year. If your sales had increased to averaging ten sales average per story, you would be bringing in $31,950.00 per year.

Again, this is just short fiction, not novels, and working about five or so hours a week. (Note: It takes me less than a half hour to reformat my short story manuscript, do a quick cover and get it up on all three electronic sites, so I’m not counting that time. Early in the process it takes longer, but becomes very easy as you go on.)

You have a dream to make a living with your fiction. I just outlined one that has short, weekly goals, that will get you darned close in five years.

So What Is My Challenge for 2011?

Starting the week of January 1st, 2011, my goal is to write at least two new short stories per week. I have a book about old books with weird titles. I will just use those old weird titles and write stories around them. And I might find a photo I can use for a cover and write a story around the photo. Or I might write around something else I heard.

But every story I will get up electronically when finished and post here for everyone to read. And I will say where the story came from and how long it took to write and any problems in the writing and that sort of thing.

The goal is to do at least 100 new short stories in 2011. I will miss some weeks, miss with some stories. Nature of the beast.

But the goal is to write at least two per week and get them up electronically for sale, plus put them up here for free for you all to read for a short time.

For those of you watching, it should be an interesting window into the life of a working writer. And crazy, yes. I also have novel projects to write and workshops to teach and conventions to attend and so on.

But it’s going to be fun. Last year I did the novel challenge, this year I’m back to my true love of short fiction thanks to this wonderful new world of publishing allowing me to make real money with a challenge like this.

I haven’t been this excited about a writing challenge since Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I challenged each other to write and mail a short story per week back in 1982.

Stay tuned. If nothing else, it will be interesting.

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Have It Made When…

This myth has a lot of ugly heads, but I’m going to do my best to wrap them all into one chapter here. And I’m sure I’m going to miss one or two heads at least. But I hope to get the main ones.

So what is this myth exactly? Simply put, writers believe that when one event or another happens, they will have it made. They usually have no idea what “having it made” means exactly, but that’s beside the point for most everyone. And some part of this myth hits all of us at one point or another, and many published writers still carry it in some ways. So I’m going to start with this myth in the early days of writing and work to longer-term writers.

The First Sale Myth

If I Could Just Make That First Sale, I Would Have it Made.

Honestly, you start to realize this is wrong the moment you get the first check for the story or novel. But this myth has so much more to it than just money. You think that suddenly you have it made after a couple of sales, that you don’t need to do as much learning, that your writing is now completely professional level. I have seen this happen with a number of writers who attended workshops here. Once they had a sale or two, they didn’t need to come back for other areas of learning, even though most of the writers who attend here are professional writers who have made numbers of sales and gotten past this myth at this level. I always want to say something to the writer when I hear this, but Kris always just puts a gentle hand on my arm and tells me to let each writer find their own path.

The true danger of this first head of this myth is that the writer suddenly just shuts down learning. Why? My guess is fear that more learning will cause the writer to break something that seems to be working at the moment. Of course it doesn’t work that way. But that’s the best I can figure. I hate to think it’s just the writer ego taking control, but more than likely it is.

The Rejection Myth

Once I make those first few sales the rejections will stop.

Luckily I never fell into this since I had gotten so many rejections so quickly after my poetry sales. But so many writers I have known believed this one for a time. The truth is that rejection is a part of this business. No writer can write something that will fit every book line or every magazine. Just doesn’t work that way. Maybe Stephen King doesn’t get rejected much anymore, but I know that Kris at Pulphouse rejected many stories from different New York Times bestselling writers because they just didn’t fit what we were doing.

Understand that I am a bestselling writer with about one hundred novels in print. And I got a form rejection from Pocket Books, a company I used to edit for and a company I had sold over thirty novels to. I understood that the beginning editor right out of Vassar had no idea who I was. I was publishing books there when she was in grade school. I didn’t take it personally. But I did send the manuscript back to a more senior editor I had worked with before. It wasn’t right for her line either, but I got a nice letter.

I got a form rejection on another novel just last month. It never ends, folks.

This myth is dangerous at times because of the emotional toll it takes on the writer. The expectation is that the writer won’t get rejected, then here comes a rejection, more than likely of a project the writer spent a lot of time and heart on. Emotions will range all over the place, from anger to depression, but often this will cause the writer to slowly stop writing and is one of the reasons some writers quit writing after a number of sales. The realization that rejection never ends is just too much for some poor writer egos to handle.

I’ve Made Sales So I Don’t Have to Work as Hard Myth

Make Sales and Now You Only Have to Do a Few Pages Per Day.

The thinking on this one comes from everywhere. Agents and editors tell writers to slow down all the time, the university system tells writers writing slow creates top fiction (ignoring the reality of the writers they study), and fear takes over writers’ minds so they slow down to make sure the next story is better. It’s an ugly dead-end cycle that kills more writer careers in the early years than can be counted.

So the sales are made and the writer slows down. For some reason, writers think they don’t have to practice, to start off with. Second, for some reason, a normal work ethic has been made into a bad thing in writing. Nora Roberts, Stephen King, James Patterson and so many other major writers all have normal work ethics. They work between six and ten hours per day. Yet this reality does not seem to get down to the early professionals who think that writing one hour a day is hard work. And then wonder why they don’t make a living or more sales.

I think this myth feeds on writers’ fears more than any other. The thinking is that if a writer really works hard on their writing, they actually might write more, and that might not be as good as the first stuff that sold. Some writers (I fought this one) have a deep fear of success and this myth is guaranteed to keep success from happening. Whatever the root cause of this, if you have bought into the one hour a day is enough to work as a professional writer, imagine your doctor only working one hour a day at learning how to treat you. Or your lawyer spending only one hour a day to learn how to defend you in court. If you want to be a professional at an international profession, start realizing you have to work harder than everyone else. If that scares you, go dig ditches or wait tables because you are not cut out to be an internationally-selling writer.

The Continued Sales Myth

I Have Sold Three Novels. My Fourth Novel Will Sell.

Uhhhh, not necessarily. In fact the chances are against you. Ugly truth. The factors involved with selling a 4th novel are these: 1) Your sales numbers must be great, on an upward slant. 2) Your editor must have remained in place and not moved to a new house with a better job. 3) Your publishing company must have remained focused on that type of book and area of publishing for the years it took to publish your first three books. And a dozen other factors.

As I have pounded over and over, writers are people who write, so if you are a real writer who can’t sell the 4th book, you move to a new series, a new name, a new publisher and just keep going. Not really a big deal to a writer. Annoying, sure, and stressful, but to writers not career ending. But to authors, who find being published the most important aspect of their life, who spend all their time focusing on how to promote their last book, this problem will kill their career.

Here comes that writer ego again. The writer will say that the publisher or the agent screwed them and blame anyone but themselves or how publishing works. They will think there is no point in writing another novel, and thus won’t. They would never think of changing their name and starting with a new series because their baby was the first book or series. And so on and so on.

Sadly, most writing careers end in this way. And sadly, this part of the myth combines with the first part of not being willing to keep learning. If the writer, from the beginning, had kept learning their craft and business, it wouldn’t have stopped the publisher dropping them for one reason or another, but it would allow the writer to understand what had happened and keep writing more.

The “I Got An Agent” Myth

If I Could Just Get An Agent My Book Would Sell and I Would Have It Made.

For newer writers, this myth bothers me more than any other. Agents in the mythology of publishing have been built up over the last twenty years to being these magical gods able to take care of writers and their careers and make their books sell at once to top publishers. If you still believe this myth, holy smokes are you in deep trouble. Go back and read all the Sacred Cows posts with Agent in the title. And all the comments. The Sacred Cow tab at the top of this page will get you to all of them.

The problem with this myth is that it stops most writing careers cold, especially writers with unique voices. If the writer believes this myth, they will never offer their book to an editor. I know of many, many writers who have been writing for years and never once, not once, offered their books to anyone who could actually buy and publish them. They have been sending only to agents, and even when they get an agent, the young agent will often have them spend years rewriting the same idea over and over trying to turn it into the next Da Vinci/Harry Potter/Vampire clone. And that can get discouraging to say the least. And kill original stories and original voices.

And at the few conventions I go to now, when a young writer comes up to me all excited about “getting an agent” I ask them who they sold their book to? If they say it hasn’t sold, then I ask them bluntly why they need an agent. Luckily not many beginning writers say that to me anymore. (grin)

If you find yourself in this trap, start mailing your books to editors. (Yeah, I know, I know, the guidelines. If you worry about rules as a writer, you are doomed anyway, might as well just stay in the agent trap.)

My Agent Will Take Care of Me Myth

I Have An Agent. I Don’t Need to Learn Business. I Have It Made.

This myth again has been covered many times in all the agent chapters in this book. Again, go to the top of the page and reread all the chapters with agent in the title, plus all the comments.

This myth flat kills a writer’s careers, and heaven-only-knows how much money is stolen from writers by agents. Now most agents are very solid and reputable, but there is no organization that watches over agents and anyone with a business card can become an agent in ten minutes.

But yet over and over I have heard writers say, “I got into writing because I hate business.” Being a writer is a business. If you hate business, you hate writing. You can’t pull the two apart no matter how much your English professor told you that you could.

A couple basic factors to realize about agents if you want one to take care of you: 1) Agents are employees of writers. You are the boss. 2) Agents don’t care about any one writer, only what publishers think of them. 3) Agents have cash flow issues as well and can borrow your money at will if they need it because you don’t even know it’s there.

But even with all that, writers are excited to let agents take care of them, run their careers, handle all their money, tell them what to sign, and so on and so on…

If you are a writer who wants to last more than three to ten books in this business, you must learn the business and take control of it yourself. If you are still letting your agent handle all your money and all the paperwork that goes with that money before you see it, you are playing a very deadly game. Most of the money will come through just fine, but you won’t know about the money that doesn’t.

Some writers even take this myth so far as to give an agent, a total stranger, power of attorney to sign their contracts. Head-shakingly stupid.

This is a dangerous myth at all levels. And I see no overall solution on the horizon. Each writer must learn to take care of their own business and learn quickly.

I Got a Bestseller So I Have it Made Myth

My Book Hit a Bestseller List So I Have it Made

Nope. I’ve been on dozens of bestseller lists around the world over the years. Sure, the money is nice, but it doesn’t last, and past that, as a writer, all that being a bestseller does is allow you to have a new first name. For example, I am Bestselling Writer Dean Wesley Smith. Some writers even put the name of the place that they were a bestseller. For example, I could put USA Today Bestselling Writer Dean Wesley Smith. Now that’s just silly and granted it might makes a little difference in sales, sure, but past that it doesn’t help much.

When you hit one of the top lists with your own book, the money can get pretty nice. (This one also fits with the “I Got a Huge Advance, I Have it Made.”) But remember, in the current world of publishing, the produce model still functions. That means the sales hit quick and then the book is done, tossed out of the system like so much bad lettuce. So the money hits quick and then is also done. And then you have to repeat the process with your next book. And so on. Writers who believe that they have it made because they hit a bestseller list are called one thing: Broke. And combine that sudden influx of money with a writer who thinks they need to have someone take care of them, such as an agent, and the bankruptcy comes even faster.

Publishing Will Remain the Same Myth

I Started Selling Five Years Ago So What I Was Doing Then Should Work Fine Now.

This is a more advanced writer myth. And I hear it a great deal from the writers who haven’t had more than one or two major crashes in their careers. All of us who have been around for more than twenty years know this is silly. Publishing changes constantly, and often the changes clear out an entire group of writers, just leaving them behind or pushing them aside. The changes going on right now are even faster than normal and major. And those of us who understand at a deep level that publishing constantly changes are moving in lots of directions to stay with or ahead of the changes.

But so many writers I know are not moving at all right now, just focusing on what worked five years ago. That way is career death I’m afraid. I had one writer say to me last month, “You said…” I asked when I had taught the writer that fact. The writer said in a workshop seven years ago. I said I was right then, but for today’s world that no longer applies. The writer just couldn’t grasp that a major business like publishing could change so fast.

But alas, it does change fast, very fast. Kris and I started teaching a marketing workshop just over 18 months ago. The marketing workshop we will teach this spring is so, so different from the one we taught 18 months ago. Sure, some elements, some basics, some craft, some history is the same, but what to do with those basics, how to use the history and the craft is so very, very different, it might seem like two different professions. That’s how fast publishing is changing right now.

Some Extras That Are Not As Common But Just as Deadly

— I Got a Great Review So I Have it Made

This one kills writers with huge egos. And the moment a bad review comes in, which they will, the writer is dead. If you believe the good ones, you have to believe the bad ones as well. And that way lies madness. Just don’t read them. Have a friend read them for pull quotes for your future books.

—I Optioned My Book to Hollywood So I Have it Made

I watched one writer get an option, quit his day job and start living on credit cards because he was convinced his book was going to be a movie at any moment. He never wrote again. The only time you count money from Hollywood is AFTER THE CHECK HAS CLEARED. Until then it is a joke. Ignore it.

—My Editor Takes Great Care of Me So I Have it Made.

Yup, right up to the moment the editor gets downsized or moves to a new publisher for a new job. Your contract is with the publisher and your new editor might hate your currant book. It’s called being orphaned and if you ever put too much trust in one editor, you are doomed if they leave.

—I Won a Major Award, I Have it Made

Wow, I wish this one was the truth. I’ve won my share and been nominated for a ton more. And Kris has major awards all over her office gathering dust. If this was true, we would have a lot more money than we have. Darn it anyhow.


Publishing is full of major and minor myths. The myths that surround the thinking of “I Have It Made” are very deadly to long-term careers. All of us find ourselves dealing with one or more of these myths at times. The key is to notice you are in one and clear it out quickly.

The most deadly signs you are in a “I Have It Made” myth are:

— You don’t think you have much to learn anymore. You have stopped going to listen to those farther down the road than you are at conventions and conferences.

— You feel you should be taken care of by your agent or editor. And the thought of not having them take care of you makes you angry. You don’t want to deal with your own money.

— You think you are too good to be rejected.

—You only write one hour a day even though you don’t work a day job.

— You have broken into writing and are selling, you don’t have to keep up with the publishing industry changes. And right now you are not exploring putting your backlist up electronically because someone else should do that for you.

And the biggest sign of all that you are deep in this myth is when you hear yourself say the sentence: “I don’t need to because…”

I fought through a few of these myths myself over the years. And I’m sure I have traces of others I don’t want to face still hanging around this office. But if I can get through them, so can you. Trust me, to have a long-term writing career, you have to.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

Okay, I admit it, I had issues at first with putting in a tip jar in the Magic Bakery. It was one of the “I have it made, why do I need to support my writing with tips.” A minor myth, sure, but still one that took me a few days and some talk with Kris to get past.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, 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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