Monthly archives for August, 2011

Bill Trojan: Book Dealer

As most of you have heard, one of my best friends, book dealer Bill Trojan passed away on the last day of the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno. Kris and I had already left Reno, so we didn’t get the news until early on Monday morning.

Shocked, yes. Surprised, no. For the last six years I had expected the day to come.

Actually, so had Bill.

For decades Bill was a book dealer at both mystery and science fiction conventions on weekends while working full-time as a computer programmer for Lane County in Eugene, Oregon. He retired in 2001 and was 63 years old when he died. (Thanks to John Locke for the great picture of Bill. I can’t begin to tell you how many times Bill looked at me with that look.)

Some are working on a party in honor of Bill this fall at a convention. I will announce it here when it is set up. There will be no service. Bill hated those and except for attending Damon Knight’s memorial, never went to them. He was very clear on that.

I first met Bill in 1984 when my first professionally-published story came out in a book called The Clarion Awards edited by Damon Knight. Bill had the books on his table at Norwescon and I walked up to his table and asked if he would like me to sign my story in the book. He looked at me and said, “Why would I want some neo-pro defacing my books?”

I think I said something like “F**k you.” And walked off.

That’s how I met one of my best friends and the man I talked to every day for the last six years straight.

When Kris and I moved to Eugene in 1986, we ended up becoming friends with Bill. We quickly learned that Bill had a gruff exterior at times that could irritate a monk, but inside he had a heart of gold.

When we started Pulphouse Publishing in 1987, Bill was the silent but important backer behind the company. I spent a lot of time at his house talking about the business of publishing, about books, and about money. Bill was a major financial backer of Pulphouse Publishing as well and when Pulphouse became a corporation he had a seat on the board of directors.

After Pulphouse, Bill pushed me to get back to writing and pushed Kris and I to start using what we had learned in Pulphouse to teach other writers. Behind the scenes he was a major supporter of writers and small publishers, but hated to have that knowledge get out.

And he called me a neo-pro until I published my tenth novel, then he acknowledged I was no longer a beginner and would stay around. He had that same standard for all writers because as a book dealer he had seen so many writers come and go over the decades, he didn’t call them real professionals until their tenth novel. But at the same time he went out of his way behind the scenes to help young writers.

When we started the workshops here and, of course, lost money, Bill stepped in a numbers of times to help out, paying for some workshop fees, and refusing to take any credit or even want to be acknowledged. Well, Bill, you’ve left us, so you can’t get mad at me now for telling the truth. So there.

The real truth of the matter: All the writers who have been through these workshops here on the coast and learned from Kris and my experience owe a huge thanks to Bill Trojan. There would have been no Pulphouse Publishing without Bill and no workshops either.

Around Eugene, Bill also had a soft heart for those in trouble. Just a few months ago he helped a young person who was homeless into an apartment, paid the deposit, and guaranteed the rent. And a large chunk of his money in his bank accounts is going to a homeless shelter in Eugene once I get his will all settled through the courts.

Bill had a will. For decades we couldn’t talk him into doing one, then two events happened a number of years back. Lance Casebeer died and his estate was auctioned off and Bill hated that. And number two, Bill had a stroke.

From the time I met Bill until the late 1990s, Bill gained a good hundred pounds plus and then about eight years ago became a diabetic. He refused to control it, even though he tested it twice a day. The stroke six years ago caused a number of things to happen.

First, he got a will and named me as executor.

His will determined how his books and money in his bank accounts would be dealt with. Bill was not a rich man, but he did have some money, a paid-off house, and a lot of books, much left over from his bookstore. Since I was his executor, he left me a few notes to do certain things with certain stuff of his. I will do my best to follow his wishes over the next few months.

The second thing that happened was that Bill and I talked every day.

We both hated the idea that since he lived alone he might end up on his floor not able to move for days. So we set up our check-in system where we talked every day. If I couldn’t reach him, I was to make the two hour drive to Eugene at once. On some days he would call me and say, “I’m not dead yet.” And then hang up. On other days we would talk for an hour or more about one thing or another.

I am going to really miss those phone calls.

Bill had no family at all. No children, no brothers or sisters, no nephews, no one. He had been married once and still hated his ex to the day he died because of what she did to him. I have very clear and funny instructions on how I am to tell her about his death.

Bill was a brilliant man with a masters degree in psychology. And he knew everyone it seemed in the older world of publishing. Some hated him, some loved him.

Bill had four really close friends in Eugene.

—Larry Woodside often traveled with him to ComicCon and the two of them often fought over art or pulp magazines.

—Dennis Hooker who owns a sports card and comic book shop about a block from where Bill lived took Bill’s many package deliveries and ran favors for Bill when one of the people Bill was helping needed something.

—Writer Dave Bishoff shared many things with Bill and Dave’s kid often spent time with Bill and Dave watching movies together. Bill loved those visits and really loved Dave’s kid.

—Rob Preston, collector extraordinaire often opened his home to the group and talked pulps and comics and books with Bill.

The other night all five of us sat at Rob’s house talking about Bill and drinking home brew to his memory. Bill was the glue that held the group together. Now it’s the strong memory of Bill that will keep us in contact.

The five of us get different parts of Bill’s vast collection as Bill wanted and expressed in his will and in private instructions he told to me over the many phone calls.

So Bill succeeded in not having any auction of his stuff as happened to Lance Casebeer. Many of his varied collections are staying together completely. And that would make him happy.

Bill died on the last day of the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, NV, from a massive heart attack, which was basically caused by the uncontrolled health issues. He was happy and had a great convention. It is the way he would have wanted to leave us.

But damn it, Trojan, none of your good friends wanted you to leave just yet.

You helped so many thousands of people behind the scenes, pissed off many others, and leave a huge hole in the world.

Damn I’m going to miss the phone calls.

 

Chapter 14: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Have It Made When…


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!

This myth fits perfectly with the last three chapters: The Myth that Writers Don’t Need to Practice, the Myth of Talent, and the Myth that Writers Don’t Need to Keep Learning.

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. Just think of the game “Wack-A-Mole” and you got this myth.

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 as I talked about last chapter. 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 early poetry and short story sales way back in the 1970s. 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. (That’s right, I got a form rejection from Pocket Books. I am not kidding.) 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 senior editor I had worked with before. It wasn’t right for her line either, but I got a nice letter.

I get form rejections and regular rejections all the time. 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’s ego 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. (Luckily, indie publishing is taking a hammer to this aspect of this myth. Yeah!)

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 they 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, especially in this tight and shrinking market.

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 they must be making it through this coming 2012 business upheaval.

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 indie publish the book and move to a new series, a new name, a new publisher and just keep going. Not really a big deal anymore to a real 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. Jump ahead in this book and read the agent section now.

The problem with this myth is that the belief itself 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, but instead only to the agent. 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.

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. But for heaven’s sake, read the agent sections of this book.)

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 will be covered in the coming agent chapters in this book.

This myth flat kills a writer’s career. 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. And some of them are becoming publishers, something I have not jumped into yet in hopes that courts will just shut that stupidity down before it becomes too ugly.

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 the money is 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, at least as long as agents exist in this business. Each writer must learn to take care of their own business and learn quickly.

(The only really slight ray of sunshine I see is that the indie publishing world is teaching a new group of writers to be business people and take care of themselves. Eventually agents will drift into history and the new world of writing will be filled with writers who understand business. But we are generations away from that dream of mine.)

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 and dozens and 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 put USA Today Bestselling Writer Dean Wesley Smith.

Past that being a bestseller 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. And with Borders gone and B&N cutting back and discount clauses in contracts giving writers less money for their book sales to Costco and Wall-mart, the money will just get worse even at bestseller levels.

So the money hits quick and then is done. And then you have to repeat the process with your next book. And so on. 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. I have not even tried to count the numbers of writers I have seen vanish this way into the mists of “What ever happened to…?”

I Sold a Lot of Books On Kindle Last Month, I have it made

My book sold a thousand copies for 99 cents and I hit a Kindle bestseller list. I have arrived.

This one is just too funny for words, but it is also very, very deadly for the writers who buy into this aspect of indie publishing.

Indie publishing isn’t produce publishing like New York does. Indie publishing has unlimited shelf space and no returns. Our books can sit for decades and just sort of sell along. Traditional publishers had to push books hard and then pull them because of the limited shelf space. Indie publishers can just let a book sell and sell and sell.

But so many writers are lost in the produce mold and think their books will spoil if they don’t push them hard. So they push and promote and discount and suddenly their book hits a bestseller list on Kindle, one of a thousand or so such lists covering every tiny area of every tiny genre. And the writer thinks they have it made.

It will help them if they already have a dozen other books up. That will be great promotion. But more often than not, the writer has one or two or three books up and this list does nothing. And after a time the book drops off the list and the author is left wondering what happened. Already, in this new world of indie publishing, I’ve heard of writer’s giving up right there.

Or giving up because their first novel couldn’t hit a list like their friend’s book did. It’s a sad but true new myth.

 

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.

Yet these writers with five years of experience sit on panels at writer’s conferences and tell new writers what to do, information that is five years out of date. Scary.

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. In fact, I am pulling back from traditional publishing for a short time except for my existing contracts and just letting things settle for a year while I indie publish. Just another path.

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, for that time, 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. We are not teaching it anymore. But if we did, the marketing workshop we would teach now would be almost totally 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. We live in exciting times, but you have to keep up.

Some Extra Myths 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.

Summary

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 like your agent 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 and still be writing and selling after all these decades, so can you. Trust me, to have a long-term writing career, you have to.

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Copyright 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
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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 back when I started this series.

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 your 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

Chapter 13: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. The Myth of Knowing it All


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!

This myth fits perfectly with the last two chapters: The Myth that Writers Don’t Need to Practice and the Myth of Talent.

Here is this myth clear and simple from the writer’s perspective. “I have sold this and that and I don’t need to learn anymore. What I am doing works.”

This myth is so nasty and so subtle that many, many writers just fall into it without even realizing they are in it. When I wrote originally wrote this chapter in early 2010, I had intended to write on another topic, then I went to a wonderful convention and ran into a bunch of writers who were down this myth’s rat hole. Deep down it, actually.

 How This Myth Shows Its Ugly Head

When I hear a writer say they don’t need to learn (in one way or another), I just mentally wave goodbye. Their career is doomed to one of two paths.

First path: They stop selling and have no idea why. They will blame their agent or publisher or an event or no luck or bad covers on their indie books or stupid readers, but never themselves and the fact they stopped learning and growing.

Second path: They write and sell the same book over and over and can’t change and don’t know how to change and don’t feel they need to keep growing and learning because they are still selling. But they will wonder why sales don’t go up and they aren’t read by many people beyond their core readership and they claim they just haven’t been lucky yet.

These poor writers can last from a few short stories to a dozen novels, but eventually their publisher drops them and they don’t know why.  This myth always kills them in one way or another.

Truth: Top long-term writers never, ever stop learning.

Long term professionals are constantly learning, both in craft and business, since everything always changes so fast.

Let me be clear. I don’t just mean keeping up with business. I mean craft issues as well. Just because a writer sold a number of things or a dozen novels doesn’t mean they still don’t have a ton to learn about craft.

The reason I teach workshops for professional and near professional writers is that it keeps me learning and thinking. The reason I write these chapters is because it keeps me thinking and learning and listening. And what is both frightening and fun is that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I just don’t know.

Loren L. Coleman and Kristine Kathryn Rusch pushed me hard for two years to do another master class. They are the other two main instructors at the two week master course. Their reason for pushing was simple. We all learn so much when we teach them.

They were right. We did two more master classes, one in 2008, another in 2009, learned a lot, and stopped again because those classes are really hard on us to do them. (Learning is always hard.) We might do one again down the road after the industry settles a little, maybe, but only because of the learning. We lost money on both of them. A lot of money, but it was worth the price because I came out of teaching both master classes with a ton more knowledge and understanding about both the business of writing and the craft of writing.

There is a rule writers should always follow. Money always flows to the writer except for continuing education. Sometimes that education can be a writer’s conference, sometimes a workshop, sometimes just a trip to New York to talk to your editors.

(Remember, Indie Publishers, I was not talking about money always flowing to publishers. As a publisher, you have expenses. As a writer, your only expense in continuing education.)

A number of years back I was teaching at a major writer’s conference and Tony Hillerman was speaking and I wanted to learn from him. I was one of the invited instructors at the conference, but luckily, I had an hour off when he was giving a panel, so I sneaked into the back of the room to listen and learn. At one point I realized who was standing against the back wall beside me. Mystery Grandmaster Lawrence Block. He was another instructor at the conference, but we were both there to learn what we could from Hillerman.

(And once again I couldn’t say a word to Lawrence Block because of my shyness and gosh-wow nature with some other writers. Didn’t know our paths had crossed so much, huh, Lawrence? (grin))

How does this “I Know Enough” myth get started?

Actually, it comes from how we all start into this business. We all start by pounding the keys and trying to learn from everything and every book we can find so that we can sell. But in the back of all of our minds is the thought, “Once I start selling, I’ll have it made.”

Logical and normal.

— Of course, we also believe that rejections will stop coming once “We have it made.”

— And we believe we will get famous because publishing a book is something only famous people do.

— And we believe that having a book in print will solve all our writing problems.

Those thoughts are part of our dreams and our goals. We attach to the learning and the years of practice the idea that once “We have it made” all that hard work and pain and rejection and uncertainty will stop.

Nope. Afraid not.

Second reason is that learning makes us all uncomfortable. There are entire books about this topic and I suggest you read a few of them. Learning tosses each of us into a state of chaos and our first reaction and desire is to return to status quo.

But to apply the learning and to keep learning, sometimes we have to stay in the chaos and confusion for a while until we reach a newer and higher level of status quo. A new level of craft or understanding.

But a writer still lost in the myth (that once you start selling you have it made and don’t need to learn) will really, really fight this feeling of turmoil associated with learning. The status quo is just fine and dandy. “After all, I’m selling, right?”

This book, these chapters, are aimed at helping writers learn to become long-term selling professional fiction writers. To put this bluntly. You have no hope if you don’t love to learn, go after learning like it’s a missing food group and you need it to stay alive.

Every long-term professional writer I know loves learning. We all struggle with it, sure, but in our cores, we love it, crave it, and go in search of any tiny scrap of learning, any nifty-new-way to write something that will help us through another day, make another story better, help a novel flow better.

So running into those professional writers at that conference who have no real desire to keep learning made me sad for them. Kris and I see it all the time. And the real problem is that if I accused them of this, they would become angry at me.

And that is where this myth gets really, really nasty and deadly. As with all myths, “I don’t Need To Learn” is a belief system.

With all fiction business myths, the core of the belief system is “I know how it’s done, so I don’t have to think about it.”

For example, with agents, most writers want to believe an agent will do the work and save them from having to think about it or do the work and sell their books. The belief system won’t allow the writer to keep learning about how agents really work, which is why the upcoming agent chapters caused so much anger among some people when I first posted them on my site. The agent posts forced their belief systems into learning chaos.

And the most anger came from writers who had agents, had sold novels, were happy with their agents, and didn’t want to question the system. “I trust my agent entirely,” a whole lot of people said when I asked them why they were giving a perfect stranger all their money and the paperwork that goes with all that money.

Of course, without the writer constantly questioning, the agent is free to take the money, slow down a career, and eventually kill it without the writer even being aware anything is going wrong. I will get to those agent posts in the next section of this book, so stay tuned.

Another example is the “You can’t make money at fiction” myth. Writers who do not make decent money grab onto the myth that you can’t make money in the business because it gives them an excuse to not learn how to become better writers and better at marketing to make a living.

Just lately this belief caused one writer to write me and moan about how he can’t sell, how unfair New York publishing is, and that he’s going to stoop to self-publishing his own work instead.

I wanted to point out to him that I was an indie publisher, but he was so lost in the I don’t want to learn, I didn’t want to bother trying to tell him that self-publishing his own work took learning as well. And if he didn’t learn how to write better, he would make no more sales than he did with New York. (You just don’t say that to some writers.)

In one fashion or another, every myth in this book is tied into this overall thinking that once a writer starts selling, they won’t have to keep learning.

Notice how I haven’t said a word about the 500 pound monkey in the room? The big, big issue in this particular myth.

Ego

Every writer needs an ego to keep pushing through this business. Actually we need huge egos, and mine is no small animal. But combined with my ego is the intense fear I won’t know something, that I won’t have a skill I’ll need to finish the next book, that I will be behind some business trend. Scares me every damn day.

That fear of not knowing just does a tap dance on my ego, keeping it mostly under control and learning. Never once have I ever let the ego win and thought I had enough learning. In fact, the fear always wins.

Always.

Fear of not knowing something is what keeps me learning and searching for learning.

But alas, a number of the writers I met at that confention had let their egos win. They were too-published, too-successful to need to keep learning. They had “graduated” as one said to me.  That writer had three or four novels published and was telling me (with over a hundred novels published) that they knew more than I did because I still felt I needed to learn and they didn’t. Wow, now that’s an ego.

A deadly ego.

In one panel at that same convention, Kris and I were up front doing one of our “Kris and Dean Show” things, and Larry Niven walked in and sat down. He didn’t stay long because at that moment we were dealing with beginning writer issues in the panel, but he came in to see what he could pick up.

I sat in two of his panels over the weekend for a short time for the same reason.

Writers need huge egos mixed with a desire to keep learning.

I feed my ego by letting the fear of not knowing something turn into a stroke for my ego when I learn something. I still buy how-to-write books and am constantly reading how other writers work and think. And I buy all sorts of history-of-publishing books to find out what happened in the past as well.

And I am teaching a bunch of workshops this year and through 2012 to work out topics I felt I needed to focus even more on, such as Character Voice, Think Like a Publisher, and Indie Publishing Promotions. I hope to know a lot more by the end of 2012  than I do now, and then find new things to learn the following year. And the year after, all the while practicing what I am learning by pounding the keys and turning out new story and new novel after new story and new novel.

I have published somewhere around one hundred novels now and a ton of short fiction, and written even more, and I am a long, long ways from graduating in this business.

The day I think I have learned it all, just toss a shovelful of dirt on my face because I will be dead.

———————————————–

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 12: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Myth of Talent


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 word “talent” has been used for a very long time to destroy writers.

I have always believed that the word is the worst myth of them all in publishing, so here goes a chapter I’m sure will be annoying to some people, and should cause some interesting discussions if nothing else.

Okay, first to my trusty and well-worn Oxford American Dictionary for a standard definition.

Talent: Special or very great ability, people who have this.

That’s about it. Pretty straightforward. Notice the word “ability” and notice it says nothing about being “born with.” Just notice.

Okay, when it comes to writing, let me put my definition right out front here.

Talent in Writing: A measure of a person’s craft at storytelling at any given moment that depends on who is judging and the age of the person being judged.

As I have said before in a number of places, when I started writing, I was so untalented, it scared anyone who even tried to read something I wrote.

In school I hated writing because I was so bad at it. If I had listened to all the people who told me I had no talent for writing, I would have quit four decades ago. No, make that five decades ago, because all my early report cards said I had no talent for writing.

Now, after millions and millions of words practiced, many books and stories published, I get comments all the time like, “You are a talented writer, of course you can do it.”

Or one I got the other day. “You have the talent to write fast.”

Well, when I started to get serious about fiction writing, it took me hours and hours to do one 250 word page. Then that page would be so poorly written and riddled with mistakes that it got tossed away more often than not. (Remember, I was working on a typewriter.) Yup, I was a “naturally talented” fast writer. NOT!

Thank heavens for me I came to the realization early on in my life that talent was only a measure of craft at a certain point in time and nothing more.

Yet, frighteningly, parents, teachers, and so many family and friends think that talent is FIXED. If you are talented when you are young in something, you should be for your entire life. Well, sadly, as many have discovered, it doesn’t work that way.

Yet parents and teachers early on are determined to saddle kids with the “talented” label or worse yet, push them away from things they don’t do very well at first because they have no “talent” for that. Just makes me angry every time I hear of it.

READ MORE »

Chapter 11: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writers Don’t Need to Practice

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!

This myth, that writers don’t need to practice, is so damn silly when looked at with clear vision, it seems I wouldn’t need to talk about it at all in this book. But frighteningly enough, it is one of the worst myths running, one of the deepest myths functioning in every writer’s head, and often the real difference between a good non-sold writer and a long-term professional writer. And it can also be the difference between a selling professional and a bestseller.

Practice. The ugly word for writers.

I have touched on this in a number of ways and in a number of other chapters, but let me try to hit this as squarely on the head as possible.

Here’s the question that illustrates this myth:

Would you pick up a violin, take one lesson, and think you should step on the stage in front of 30,000 people to play a concert?

No sane person says sure to that question. It’s a laughable question, yet almost every beginning writer I know writes a first short story, or a first novel, fires it off to a publisher, and then gets mad when it gets rejected. Or they put it up electronically and wonder why only their friends and family bought it.

Reactions always vary in this anger.

— “Oh, stupid editors don’t understand true genius when they read it.”

Or when indie published you hear:

— “I need to promote this more. Clearly no one is seeing it.”

And so on and so on.

The real reason your story got rejected early on? Or no one is buying the the story online?

You haven’t practiced your craft enough, so your story sucked. Or your opening sucked. Or your blurbs sucked. All writing.

My suggestion? Leave the story alone, rewriting won’t help it. Write another one.

Get more practice.

And keep mailing or keep indie publishing as is your choice. But focus on practice, practice, practice.

I don’t practice: I write!

So how come writers think every word they write doesn’t stink and get so angry at a simple rejection to an early story? How come the word “practice” is a dirty word to writers? The shout or thought is: “I don’t practice. I write!”

To beginning writers every word is golden.

READ MORE »

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Online Workshop Schedule

These are the starting dates of upcoming online workshops. Limited to twelve writers. All have openings unless I say closed below. For sign-up and more information about each workshop, click the Online Workshop tab at the top of the page.

Class #21… Sept 7th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #22… Sept 7th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #23… Sept 7th … How to Write Science Fiction
Class #24… Sept 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #25… Sept 8th … Character Development
Class #26… Sept 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #27… Sept 8th … Making a Career
Class #28… Sept 9th … Cliffhangers
Class #29… Sept 9th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #30… Sept 9th … Advanced Depth

Class #31… Oct 5th … Advanced Depth
Class #32… Oct 5th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #33… Oct 5th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #34… Oct 5th … Ideas into Stories
Class #35… Oct 6th … Character Development
Class #36… Oct 6th … Depth in Writing
Class #37… Oct 6th … Making a Career
Class #38… Oct 7th … Designing Covers
Class #39… Oct 7th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #40… Oct 7th … How to Write Science Fiction

Class #41… Nov 2nd … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #42… Nov 2nd … How to Write Thrillers
Class #43… Nov 2nd … How to Write Science Fiction
Class #44… Nov 2nd … Character Voice/Setting
Class #45… Nov 3rd … Character Development
Class #46… Nov 3rd … Depth in Writing
Class #47… Nov 3rd … Making a Career
Class #48… Nov 4th … Cliffhangers
Class #49… Nov 4th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #50… Nov 4th … Advanced Depth

Class #51… Dec 7th … Advanced Depth
Class #52… Dec 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… Dec 7th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #54… Dec 7th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… Dec 8th … Character Development
Class #56… Dec 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… Dec 8th … Making a Career
Class #58… Dec 9th … Designing Covers
Class #59… Dec 9th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… Dec 9th … How to Write Science Fiction
Sign-up and more information under Online Workshops tab at the top of the page.

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You can sign up for these and start at any point. They are the regular workshops, only you don't send in the homework and you can take them as fast or as slow as you would like.

They are half the price of a regular six week workshop.

Classic Workshops offered.

Making a Living... Classic
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Writing in Series... Classic
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Lecture Series

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#1... Heinlein's Rules... Dean Wesley Smith 15 videos... $75.00

#2... Read Like a Writer... Kristine Kathryn Rusch... 8 videos... $50.00

#3... How to Write a Short Story: The Basics... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 7 videos... $50.00

#4... Writer's Block and Procrastination... Dean Wesley Smith... 8 videos... $50.00

#5... Carving Time Out for Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#6... How to Research for Fiction Writers... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 14 videos... $75.00

#7... Pen Names: Help With the Decision... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#8... Motivation: Starting Easier and Writing More... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#9... Practice: The Attitude and Methods of Practice in Fiction... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#10... Master Plot Formula: How and Why It Works Today... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#11... Prolific Lecture: How to Become a Prolific Fiction Writer... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#12... The Stages of a Fiction Writer: How to Know Where You Are In Learning and How To Move Upward... Dean Wesley Smith.... 11 videos... $50.00

#13... Starting Writing. Or Restarting Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#14... Endings: How to Write Them and Understand What Makes a Good Ending... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#15... Audio Narration Lecture... Jane Kennedy.... 9 audio lectures... $50.00

#16... Your Writing as an Investment Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#17... How to Get Your Books into Bookstores Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#18... How to Think Like a Science Fiction Writer Lecture... Kristine Kathryn Rusch....11 videos... $50.00

#19... Why Some Books Sell More Than Other Books... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#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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