Monthly archives for July, 2011

The New World of Publishing: Traditional or Indie? What To Do Now?

Over and over I get the question, “Should I mail books to traditional publishers or not these days?”

And honestly, over the last year my answer has varied and shifted. But now I have finally settled on an answer I feel comfortable with for the next year or so.

Remember, please, this is just my opinion. And how I am moving for my career. But every writer, every career in fiction writing is different. Please keep that in mind when reading this.

The Problem

Right now the problem is that a former stable industry is changing at light speed. Faster, actually, which makes everything looks so warped and confused. (Sorry, science fiction joke.) No one knows how this change in publishing will settle out in two or three years.

—No one knows which publishers, which imprints will still be around, and which new imprints and publishers will grow into the challenges.

— No one knows what the agent aspect of this business will look like in three or four years. Or if agents will even be a part of publishing.

— No one knows which writers will make it through. (I actually think the bestsellers are in the worst danger.)

It is that crazy.

My answer to this craziness:

Take everything you can take into your own control and hold on.

What does that mean exactly?

Write like crazy.

Then with what you have finished, spend the next two years indie publishing your own stuff, learning all the tricks of being an indie publisher, and getting your own trade paper books into bookstores.

Then when things settle down in traditional publishing, you will be ready and practiced and have some work to present to traditional publishers.

Some Reasons for the Answer

Writers, as a group, love to give control away.

I know perfectly sane people, some of them lawyers or top business people who know better yet think nothing of trusting a complete stranger with all their money and all the paperwork for that money because the stranger calls himself a “literary agent.”  Writers, when it comes to their own writing, just get stupid as a group. Writers as a group forget all aspects of business. It is strange, but the reason I do the series Killing the Sacred Myths of Publishing.

So doing your own indie publishing will teach you how to control and be responsible for your own art. (A lesson most writers really, really need to learn.)

So how do writers take control in general?

Here are my recommendations.


Don’t have one. Period. You don’t need one in indie publishing and if you do have one, just drop back and ask them to do nothing. See how your agent gets through these coming years. In other words, leave them alone.

And watch your money on existing contracts like a hawk. Don’t let that money go down with an agency as has already happened.

Agents are in a huge hurt at the moment. Their entire reason for existing is vanishing right in front of their eyes due to technology, the increase in electronic publishing and the small income writers make from electronic sales. 15% of very little is even smaller. Not enough to pay a New York mortgage on, that’s for sure.

Why writers no longer need an agent.

—Writers can work directly through e-mail with all publishers in all countries. And directly with Hollywood producers and directly with gaming editors and so on and so on.

— IP attorneys are much, much better at negotiating contracts and a ton cheaper. And they don’t take a percentage forever.

— Publishers these days are coming to writers more and more and opening their doors back up to submissions because it is often the only way they can find new product. Agents have blocked so much great stuff it’s scary and hurting publishers.

— Also, advances from traditional publishers are becoming smaller across the board, so cash flow for agents is getting to be a nasty feature of their business, one that will force some to just not report some writer’s money since the writer doesn’t pay attention. (You give them the chance by not knowing your own money and business and letting them have it all first. I know, you trust your agent. And all I have to say to a writer who thinks that is “Good luck.” Kris and I have had two major agencies now rip us off by simply not telling us about money. We caught the last one and got the twenty grand from them.)

— Career planning or helping a writer make a career is a thing of the past since no one knows what is happening. If your agent claims they know what is happening in publishing in the next few years, fire them. Instantly. They are lying to you, plain and simple. No one knows, including me. But we all know that it will be rough, very rough. That’s all we know.

So in short, technology, e-mail, IP lawyers, and so on, has caused agents to become basically worthless in this new world.

And agents who are moving to publish their clients work are moving into an area so against this country’s agency law that eventually that will be stopped by lawsuit. Don’t be one of the writers in the middle of that mess. And besides that, it’s just stupid. Just think it through… In a few hours you can learn more about indie publishing than your agent knows, and you can deal with your own work only. Your agent will be dealing with a bunch of books from 50 clients. Yeah, that’s going to work. Not!

So my advice on agents? Run, don’t walk, away from them. In this modern world they can only hurt you.

Traditional Book Publishers

My Advice: Put on hold unless approached. Or unless you already have a contract.

Stop mailing to them, stop giving your agent anything to sell. Just hold. Don’t pull books or do anything stupid like that. Just hold and finish your contracts.

And do not burn bridges with editors. They may be one of the editors who still have jobs and that you want to work with in two or three years. Just hold.

In publishing, two years is a blink in time. Even if you sold a traditional publisher a book this fall, it would take a year or more to even get out to whatever bookshelves will be left at that time.

The big downside? Having one of your books be an asset in a publisher bankruptcy can be a nightmare at best. You want to avoid that at all costs.

In two or three years, this publishing world will be finding a new place to settle. We will all know which imprints and publishers have survived.

You think publishers can’t go down, too big to fail, you really, really need to open your eyes, study the history of this business, and then just walk into what’s left of your neighborhood Borders store. Publishers fail all the time and you don’t want a book or books caught in that mess. Just ask your attorney what being an asset of a corporation in bankruptcy can mean. And no, the bankruptcy clause in your contract is not valid and will not protect you. Sorry.

So unless a publisher comes to you with a ton of money up front, or you already have a contract, my suggestion is to avoid traditional publishing for a few years until all this settles. And it will settle.

Where and who survives is anyone’s guess, but it will settle and traditional publishing will go forward.

Indie Publishing

Go here and go here as quickly as you can.

This means a number of things. It means you, as a writer, must take responsibility for your own business. It means you must learn new things that seem scary. And it means you have to trust readers.

All these things will be good when you again start selling to traditional publishing down the road, after things have settled.

As an indie publisher and a writer with books in traditional publishing, I love indie publishing. It gives me freedom, it makes me regular checks, and it gives me control. All these things have been talked about in a million ways on a million blogs. And if you don’t know how to be your own publisher, just read my “Think Like a Publisher” series. (Tab at the top of the page. It’s free and will be out shortly in book form as well.) I walk you through it step-by-step.

Indie publishing is scary, sure, but also scary easy.

Take responsibility and then take the time you were using to send to traditional publishers to learn how to indie publish your new book.

So that’s it.

Avoid agents, hold on traditional publishing until things settle, and move to indie publishing.


Anyone who knows this business believes that traditional publishing is in for a few years of massive turmoil because of the increasing decline in standard book sales and the inability of most publishers to get out of huge labor contracts, trucking contracts, and warehouse contracts. After this third quarter, this will really start to show in corporate balance sheets next spring.

The only way out of many of these messes for a publishing company is through bankruptcy to break the leases and contracts, just as Borders tried and failed to come through. And writers’ books will be assets of the bankruptcy. Not a fun thing.

Some companies will be able to move fast enough to keep a balance with electronic publishing, others with massive overheads and long leases on book warehouses and union contracts will not be able to move. Some companies and imprints will just vanish as owners decide to just shut them down because they are no longer profitable. Other publishers and imprints will just float right through.

All this will start to clear in a few years.

So go learn indie publishing, get away from your sinking agent, and get ready for the new world that is coming. It is already clear that publishers are going to mine indie publishing for tested books to buy. That might be the way of the future. It might not be. No one knows.

The new world of publishing is going to be a ton of fun.

Step back, learn indie publishing to keep your fans and readers happy and your mortgage paid, and watch the news.

You’ll know when the time is right to head back to traditional publishing.

And that is my opinion.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Because of the new world and technology, my magic bakery got a lot more valuable lately. This is now part of my inventory in my bakery. 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.

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

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

Thanks, Dean



Chapter 10: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Book as Event

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

The myth of Book as Event, put as clearly as I can. Myth: All books need to be events, need to be something special.

Hogwash, of course. All books must be written as well as the author can write the book, but just because the author spent blood and sweat on the book, or the author wrote it in twenty days, doesn’t make the book either special or not special. And it certainly doesn’t make it an event.

Hard and fast rule about writing:


If you put that on your wall, you will always have a defense against many of the things I’m going to talk about in this chapter.

When is a book an actual event? Let me answer that question before I move on to other areas of this topic, the deadly areas and the areas that are hurting many indie publishers.

#1… A book is an acutal event when an author finishes his or her first novel.

Now, that’s something special and should be celebrated with friends and family with a good dinner, maybe cards, flowers, something special like a cake. Finishing a first novel puts the writer in a very small minority of writers. Most writers talk about writing, but never find the time to write, let alone to do what it takes to write an entire novel, working for weeks or months to do it. Finishing a first novel is a small event. Celebrate, then put the novel in the mail and get started on the next one.

Kevin J. Anderson sent me a great card after I finished my first novel. On the face of the card is four pictures of a very small mouse pushing a huge elephant up a steep hill. When you READ MORE »

Chapter 9: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Can’t Make Money Writing Fiction

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

(Note: This post introduces the Magic Bakery idea and it caused a lot of stir when it was first posted. I have updated it for electronic publishing.)

This myth “You can’t make a living writing fiction” is so clearly hogwash, I shouldn’t have to include it as a chapter in this book. All anyone has to do is look at a certain fantasy writer in England being richer than the Queen. And the number of fiction writers on the Forbes List every year. And that’s not counting all the writers publishing their sales numbers each month just from Kindle alone.

But, alas, new writers hear this myth all the time, constantly, from every direction, and sometimes from longer-term professional writers.

So, it’s worth a long post I guess. It shouldn’t be a myth at all, but it is.

Myth Origin

We have all seen the silly studies that an “average” fiction writer makes something like $2,345 per year. And, of course, people look at that and think “Oh, my, no one can make any money writing fiction.” Of course, those who say that don’t know how studies are taken, or what a number like that really means.

Most of the big studies ask every person who has a dream of someday writing a novel. The writers asked maybe have finished a few short stories, maybe even mailed a couple. They go to a writer’s group regularly, and call themselves writers, because they are in the early days of learning their craft. They make no money. There are hundreds of thousands of this type of writer, all in the early days of learning.

Then, of course there are the writers who will never sell, a person with the best intentions, but no real drive to actually sell anything. Or if they do sell, it’s to a small press that pays in copies or worse yet these days, they give their story away free to an online press and don’t even get a copy.

Or they write poetry and are doing fantastic when they make a few hundred per year.

The studies ask all those writers how much they make, and the answer is almost always zero or not far above zero. Millions of “nothing” answers.

Then these studies include writers in organizations like SFWA, who lets a writer with three sales in the door. And Romance Writers, which has a huge chunk of membership that has never made a sale. All those thousands and thousands of unpublished or slightly published writers are included.

It’s stunning to me that the average is so high, actually. But the truth is to get the final answer up to a few thousand, a lot of people have to be making a lot of money with their fiction writing to pull up all the beginning writers.

Writing, to my knowledge, is the only profession that takes studies this way.

It would be exactly like trying to figure out what an average lawyer makes by also including every undergraduate who is thinking of going to law school and every law student in the study about what they made working the law. Lawyers, in that type of study, would make less than two thousand average I’m betting.

Where else does this myth come from?

Duh? The answer is simple. It comes from all the people who are, for one reason or another, simply too afraid to try mailing out their fiction regularly to places who buy it. Or too afraid to put the stories up electronically. Or only have one novel up and are wondering why they are not selling like Konrath. Or writers trapped in the agent myth, rewriting book after book for an employee.

For all those writers, it would be impossible to make a living at writing fiction. And thus, when you talk to them about making money, they are telling you the truth.

From their viewpoint.


The New World of Publishing: The Death of an Indie Writer’s Career

K.W. Jeter and I, on a recent post, had a discussion that started with me misunderstanding something he was saying. And when we finished, I figured that the topic might be something that most new indie publishers just don’t have the perspective to understand.

So let me try to give a little perspective and maybe save your writing and publishing life.


In traditional publishing, in the past, writers that hang around for a few decades tended to get jaded about new writers coming in. We would try to help the ones that had the drive and a light in their eyes, but mostly we just watched the new writers come and go.

The old grind of submissions, rejections, a few sales, no real money, more rejections, and stupid agent and publishing business myths caused many, many writers to fail either early or after three to five novels. The writer would just vanish and then one day someone would ask “What ever happened to…” But mostly, sadly, we just didn’t notice that the writer had gone back to the real world.

Just this last week a writer of a few books made news for some vague reason by announcing she was going back to teaching instead of writing. Both Kris and I went, “Why is that news?”

It happens all the time and it has happened for as long as this business has existed. I couldn’t begin to list the hundreds and hundreds of well-published writers who have vanished just since I came into publishing. And those are the well-published ones. That doesn’t even take into account the ones that sold one or two stories and walked away.

Walking Away Can Be A Good Thing

I am not saying walking away is a bad thing. Not in the slightest.

I walked away from professional golf, architecture, and law, to name just three of my former possible careers. I have a degree in architecture and worked as an architect for all of ten months before walking away. I went to three years of law school and walked away before my last test my last semester. I was a golf professional for many years and now haven’t played much golf in years except for fun and dinner on the line.

Sometimes, when you realize something isn’t right for you, walking away is the best decision. Especially from bad jobs or bad relationships. Life is too short.

I’ve walked away from writing three times, but just kept coming back. Sometimes you have to walk away from something to reset, get perspective, and just recharge.

So nothing wrong with walking away for the right reasons. READ MORE »

Chapter 8: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: New York Works as a Quality Filter

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

Note: This chapter eight will be the start of Section #2: Bad Thinking Causes Bad Decisions. The first seven chapters will be available shortly in electronic form in one book. Each section will be a book, then the entire book will be put out in both electronic and trade paper editions.


Very few of these chapters will deal 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.

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. And how this myth just causes really, really bad decisions at times.

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. And yet I see it even with successful indie-published writers. I have watched in horror as indie writers making great money have fallen for this myth by suddenly turning and selling to traditional publishers, even though they would make more money and get to more readers just by continuing on what they were doing.

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? READ MORE »

Think Like a Publisher #12: The Time It Takes

I had a hunch this series was going to take time as I learned new stuff. So now for some new stuff and some more numbers.

Any new business just doesn’t have a clue how long each task will take before they start.

Sometimes a new business can do some basic research to figure out some aspects, but for the most part a new business just strides off into the dark and figures things out as the business goes along.

Well, Indie Publishing is no different. And that flying into the dark is scary at times. This post is an attempt to take away some of that fear, show you what is possible.

As indie publishers, most of us walk a balancing act.  It takes time, hard-fought time to write, and that has to come first. But on the publishing side, that also takes time. The writing must be the most important, but now, in this new world, the publishing must also be given time. But how much time will it take?

Not knowing the answer to that question drives writers to make really bad decisions about their business. They give the publishing over to someone to do for a percentage or worse to an agent. Or they decide they can’t do it and thus leave a lot of money on the table. Horrid decisions all because they don’t know the answer to a few basic questions.

So let’s talk about the basic question: How Long Does It Take?


As writers, we tend to know how long, in general it takes us to write a short story or a novel or so many words.

Of course, each writer is different and each book or story is different, but after a time we tend to know our general speed. We’ve talked about that a great deal on this web site. I tend to be about 750-1,000 words per hour. Depending…


Chapter Seven: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing is Hard

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

Note: This chapter seven will be the end of Section #1: The Basic Myths, and so all seven chapters will be available shortly in electronic form in one book.


This myth comes in many forms and has many faces, but let me put it as plainly as I can to start.

Myth: To be Good, Writing Must Be Hard. (And it can’t be fun.)

Total hogwash, of course, yet it is stunning how many new writers believe this, and how readers, when they bother to think about it, believe the myth as well. And, of course, almost everyone who teaches creative writing in a university program believes this as well, and teaches the myth.

Where does this myth come from?

Answer: A thousand places, actually. But I think the best place to look first is at writers themselves.

Fiction writers are people who sit alone in a room and make up stuff. By its very nature, one of the easiest tasks ever given to a human being. But, alas, fiction writers are people who make stuff up, and thus, making stuff up doesn’t stop when our fingers leave the keys. We use words like “struggle” and “fought” in sentences describing the creation of a story. “I had to really struggle with that story.” Or “I fought that story into existence.”

Good, active writing. Who cares if the reality was you sat fairly still, in a comfortable chair, in a warm room, at a computer, and just made stuff up.

Don’t forget that we writers, by our nature, are drama queens, to say the least. Because our task is so easy and so much fun, we have to make it seem harder to those around us, and to ourselves, otherwise we get no credit for all the “hard work” we do every day.

Writers play up this myth of “hard work” so much, we actually start believing it ourselves at times. If nothing else, fiction writers are the masters of self-delusion.

A second place to look for why this myth exists is the culture of publishing.

One manuscript page is about 250 words. This post is now a distance past that number of words right here. So if I write one page, 250 words, I would be done writing in about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes quicker, sometimes longer. If I did that 10-15 minutes every day for one year, I would complete a 91,000 word novel, about a normal length paperback book.

Oh, yeah, that’s hard work, sitting silently for 15 minutes per day and moving my fingers. And the current culture would consider me a prolific writer if I did that every year for ten years. Heaven forbid I actually write 30 minutes per day and produce two books a year.

We writers have to really hide this math, and we have to really do a lot of drama to keep the world believing that working fifteen minutes a day typing is hard work. Stunning how good of a job we have done in this scam, isn’t it? As I said, we are masters of delusion, self-delusion, and just flat making stuff up.

Of course, there is always the “art” argument that comes flying in. Writers who want to hold onto the myth that writing is hard work talk a great deal about the “art” and the “craft” of what they do, especially out in public. And of course, see my rewriting chapters about that part of the myth. But the truth is, when we are really creating art, we are doing it from the back of our brains, typing fast, buried in the story.

How Did This Start?

In the beginning (I love starting a sentence like that), all writers struggled over simple sentences, meaning back in the early days of learning how to talk and write as kids, writing was hard for all of us. I went all the way through college avoiding any kind of class that forced me to do a paper or essay. I hated writing. It was just too hard. Much easier for me to do a multiple-choice test.

Most people never get past those early, almost basic memories. So we grow up thinking that someone who can write a story, an article, or heavens, an entire novel, have a special super power and are working really, really hard to write. Some selling writers I know actually still believe this. READ MORE »

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Class #51… Dec 7th … Advanced Depth
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Class #6… Jan 5th … Depth in Writing
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Class #11… Feb 1st … Advanced Depth
Class #12… Feb 1st … Character Voice/Setting
Class #13… Feb 1st … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #14… Feb 1st … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Feb 2nd … Character Development
Class #16… Feb 2nd … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Feb 2nd … Plotting With Depth
Class #18… Feb 3rd … Designing Covers
Class #19… Feb 3rd … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #20… Feb 3rd … How to Write Science Fiction

Class #21… Mar 7th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #22… Mar 7th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #23… Mar 7th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #24… Mar 7th … Plotting With Depth
Class #25… Mar 8th … Character Development
Class #26… Mar 8th … Depth in Writing
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Class #30... Mar 9th … Advanced Depth
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#20... How to Write a Page Turning Novel or Story: Basics and Tricks ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#21... The Basics of Designing Science Fiction Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#22... The Basics of Designing Mystery, Cozy, or Thriller Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

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

#24... Writing into the Dark: The Tricks and Methods of Writing Without an Outline... Dean Wesley Smith... 12 videos... $50.00

#25... Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#26... Organization... Allyson Longueira... 8 videos... $50.00

#27... Confidence... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#28... Stories to Novels... Dean Wesley Smith... 9 videos... $50.00

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