Monthly archives for September, 2011

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Agent Section

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.  

However, since I started this series, agents and what they are doing in publishing has changed dramatically. In fact, things have changed so dramatically since I started this book concerning agents, I am not, repeat, not going to include the agent posts as reprints here.

Why? Can’t stomach it is why. I will explain below.

If you want to read the old posts, including tons and tons of great comments, not updated at all, simply follow the links under the tab at the top of the page. Lots of history about agents as well as myths. 

My Reasons for Not Putting All the Chapters Up Again

Over a dozen or so chapters in this book eventually will be about the myths of agents if agents survive long enough. As I wrote the chapters on agents, and the discussion continued, I grew to hate this topic.

And hate is the right word.

I hate this topic because, for lack of a better way of saying it, writers are just stupid when it comes to talking or thinking about agents.

That’s how powerful the myths around agents have become in the last ten to twenty years. Luckily for all of us, the changes in the publishing field are killing the entire need for agents. Agents vanishing or shrinking down to a tiny part of the business will kill many of the myths at the same time, which is one reason I have decided to not, at this moment, try to update the agent chapters.

Second reason: I hate this topic.

Let me list some of the major myths around agents that have grown in the last twenty years and you can agree or disagree as you want. But before you come screaming at me, go read the original posts on these topics. And the comments on those posts. Again, just click on the tab at the top of the page for the full list of chapters in Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.

Myth #1: You must have an agent to sell a book.

Too stupid a myth for words, yet new writers will defend this to the death even though they don’t know. They just want to believe. And of course, that’s what the guidelines say and writers are sheep when it comes to guidelines. You say the word “guideline” and a new writer’s brain just shuts off.

Myth #2: Agents know markets.

Nope. They have about six editors they know and who know them and if your book happens to fit into what those editors want, you are golden. If not, they either reject your book or worse, have you rewrite it to try to get it to fit.

Myth #3: Agents care about writers first.

Of course not, they care about their own business and could not give a crap about you. If you get in the way of their relationship with an editor or publisher, you are gone. Flat truth. (Yup, just the person you want negotiating for you, right?)

Myth #4: Agents can give career advice.

Nope. Every writer is different. If you are not listening to yourself, writing only what you want to write, and standing up for your own art, you are lost. Never listen to an agent about career advice. Ever. See Myth #3.

Myth #5: Agents sell your books overseas.

Nope, not anymore. Overseas (and Hollywood) contacts come to the writer. All your agent or overseas agent can do is screw up the deal or keep your money or both.

Myth #6: Agents know contracts.

Nope, not unless they are an IP attorney as well. In fact there are a couple pending suits that writers are challenging the agent who did negotiate a contract without a legal license and screwed up the contract. Writers are trying to recover damages from the agents on this premise. If one actually gets filed instead of settled out of court, this could rock everything. Go get an attorney, folks. An IP lawyer. Save yourself a ton of money.

Myth #7: You must give all your money to your agent first.

This is the worst myth and the most deadly. You are giving all your income to a total stranger who has no license to do anything, and then also giving them all the paperwork with that money. You would never do this on the street or in any other business, yet writers do this with agents as if it’s a good thing. Split payments or fire your agent. Period.

I covered a few other myths in long posts, like trust, agents taking care of writers, asking your agent for permission, and so on.

And I did not cover the myth that your agent can become your publisher. I am hoping some agency court cases that are pending will stop that stupidity shortly so I don’t have to write about it.

My Suggestion of What to Do

The publishing business is changing so fast and so quickly, I doubt agents will be of value to most writers in two years.

So just do it yourself for two years.

That’s my suggestion. Publishers are moving back to buying directly from writers. Slush piles will vanish in exchange for editors finding content in the  indie published world. IP lawyers are taking over negotiating contracts, and overseas publishers work directly with the writers through e-mail. Nothing for an agent to do now.

Before you go signing some ugly agency agreement (that was a chapter as well) where you give someone 15% and a controlling interest in your copyright, or worse yet, go have an agent actually try to publish your work, stop.

Just STOP!!

Plug back in your business brain and think for a minute. Your knee is jerking, your face is red, you are breathing hard because of the agent myths.

Just STOP!! Think.

You can do everything for yourself an agent can do.

Let me say that again: You can do everything an agent can do. You care about your own work. An agent does not. Do it yourself and just take a wait-and-see attitude toward agents.

Many, many long-term writers, me included, are asking publishers what they can do for us now that we can’t do for ourselves. And we are not getting good responses.

Well, ask the agent you are thinking of taking on the same question. Or if you have an agent, ask yourself honestly what they are really doing for you now for the 15%. What can they do for you that is worth 15% forever???

Can they sell the book for you? Nope. (If you have an agent, how many books have they turned back to you because they did not fit the agents idea of being “marketable,” meaning it didn’t fit their six editor friend’s lists.)

Can they negotiate the contract? Nope, a simple IP attorney on a small retainer will do it better. (Agents are not lawyers, don’t let them near legal documents of any kind. Besides, they care about the publishers, not you. They will not fight for you any more.)

Can they sell your books overseas or to Hollywood? Nope. You can do that better just answering e-mails and having your work up electronically so overseas publishers and Hollywood producers can find it.

And so on and so on. Agents can’t do anything for you that you can’t do yourself. And if you think an agent will save you time, you really have a lot to learn about agents. You will spend more time and energy and metal energy working around and for and through your agent than if you didn’t have one. Honest. I can’t begin to tell you how many books I didn’t write because I figured my agent wouldn’t like it.

I had three great agents over a lot of years. I liked all three and all three did a great job for me when I asked. But as I have said many times, in over 100 book sales to traditional publishing, I sold every book myself. No agent every sold a book for me.

I have NOT had an agent for seven years and have done better for myself. Sure, you can toss that off to me being me. Go ahead, I love that excuse. But until you start taking control over your own career, you won’t have the same knowledge I do either.

The agent myths are very, very powerful. Avoid them for at least two years, do it yourself, then see what an agent can do for you in two or three years. Of course, that may be a moot point if most agents are gone in two or three years.

Publishing is changing. Agents are going the way of the buggy whip. A few people will still need them, but not many. And that change will be nothing but good for writers as a class.

And maybe I won’t even have to put the dozen chapters into the final book. A dozen or so myths just gone with the changes in the industry. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The New World of Publishing: The Money is All in the Numbers

I have wanted to write about this topic for some time, but just didn’t have enough data to trust my instincts that indie publishing would function as traditional publishing does, but now I do.

Summary Statement: To make a living at indie publishing, you must have a decent number of books and stories for sale.

Of course, in some cases this isn’t true. In some cases a writer can hit what I call a “home run” and sell a ton of one book or one series quickly and make some nice short-term money. But for the vast majority of indie publishers, that’s not how it will work. Our sales will be solid if our storytelling is solid. But no big numbers like the news we read about with Hocking or Konrath or (insert name of recent big indie seller).

And honestly, as a life-long midlist writer, I find that normal. I have, at my last count, just over nine million copies of my books in print, yet I have never had any big splash. Just a book here, a book there, and a lot of books selling over decades. And none of that counts any ghost-written novel or indie-published title. (The number would be a ton higher if I counted those.) Just traditional novels through traditional publishers under one of my own names.

Do the math: 9 million divided by about 100 books = 90,000 average sales per book. Did every book do that? Of course not. I had a couple that haven’t sold a thousand copies yet and never will. (Thankfully for the most part.) So that means I had books that sold way over that 90,000 copy average. Yup. I have one book that is still selling and just went past 1,100,000 copies. The point is that in both indie publishing and traditional publishing, it all averages out. More on this later.

Now I made a lot of money over the decades on those books, enough to live very nicely most years. I even hit a few bestseller lists along the way. But in all reality, I’m a midlist writer. And I’m fine with that. It has trained me well for being an indie writer.

Quantity in Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is built on the concept of quantity. Not so much on sales-per-book as so many think, but on numbers of different titles that are for sale. (In modern publishing the quantity has come from many different authors, but in the history of publishing it always wasn’t that way.)

Let me repeat that so it doesn’t get skipped. Traditional publishers depend on numbers of different titles for sale. 

Sure, they hope each month to have a top seller (or a home run) on a list, but those books are not what pays the bills month after month. It’s the quantity of books (titles) on the lists and all the varied lists under a publisher that pays the bills.

Why? Because a publisher can’t control what a single title will sell.

They can, however, control how many titles they have for sale.

Just as an indie writer can.

A list for an imprint is anywhere from three to seven books (titles) per month. Month after month, year after year. A list with four titles per month will publish 48 books per year. And that imprint will be one of dozens of imprints under a publisher brand, and that publisher will be one of dozens under a larger publisher or corporation, and so on.

After expenses, meaning overhead and employee wages and production and author costs, a publisher hopes to make a 4% profit margin (varies from company to company).

Let me be clear here again. That’s after paying the cost of the space used in their big building, the utilities, the wages of editors and managing editors and art directors and sales force and author costs and everything.  The 4% is the amount the publisher hopes to show in profit over the top of all those expenses. On every book.

(Yes, yes, I know I am making this absurdly simple…but this isn’t an accounting class or a lesson in publishing profit-and-loss statements.)

Of course, since figuring what readers want is not an exact science, that profit-per-book is only a hope.

Some books lose money, some make more than expected. But the hope and goal is that the average over a line of books over a period of time will be around the 4% figure, give or take. If the book line loses money regularly, the editor is eventually fired or the imprint or publishing company is killed. Just business.

If these big publishers were only publishing one book (or even only one hundred books) per month, they sure couldn’t afford the big buildings.

Quantity in numbers of titles is everything.

Indie Writer Mindset

When the electronic revolution started to hit books and a few authors discovered how really simple it was to indie publish, lots of talk started about how writers could get rich by just indie publishing their first or second book, and a few writers actually did. And so much talk turned to the silliness of promotion and cheap pricing that many solid business aspects of publishing were forgotten by the writers.

Or more than likely never learned.

Writers as a class, after all, are not known for great business sense. That’s a proven fact since so many writers just let almost total strangers handle all their money and the paperwork for that money and call giving that person that power a success. (You know…agents…)

So without hitting a home run, how do writers get rich in indie publishing?

Just good basic business practices is how.

Plus a wonderful fact:

We get most of the money!!!

Some of us who have been around publishing a long time realized early on that we could not only get the writer percentage of sales, but the publisher percentage of sales and the publisher’s overhead percentage of sales as well. And even that publisher profit margin.

In other words, we could get everything but the distribution/bookstore costs.

Indie-published writers got all the money that publishers used to get for building those huge buildings in New York.  Instead of getting 14.8% on electronic sales (25% of 70% – 15%), that publishers were offering, we got 65-70%. Period. And we could put books on our own web sites for sale and maybe even make 100%.

And even more importantly to us midlist writers: All our backlist suddenly had value again. (This is huge!!!)

And we writers could write what we wanted and let the readers decide if it was worth buying or not.

We had freedom in writing and we made a ton more money per unit sale.

What was not to like? Duh.

But many indie writers, since this is all so new, have been lost in some of the old ways of thinking. Many things are different.  But many things are the same, and that’s where things get confusing.

A few examples I have talked about in other installments of this series:

—Books are no longer produce.  This is vastly different from the old ways of thinking in publishing and how publishers still think about sales to bookstores. How a book sells in the first week or the first month means nothing in this new world of unlimited electronic shelf space.

Slow sales and slow growth are what matters now.

This is very hard concept for many indie writers to grasp, thus all the constant talk about promotion and price-changing because a book doesn’t sell instantly on one site to some magic idea by the writer of what it should sell or what some friend’s book sold.

Let me repeat: Books are not produce. They don’t spoil.

— Most books are never home runs. This is true in traditional publishing and even more so in indie publishing. Most books are just good, solid, steady-selling books. Changing prices, changing covers, and so on every month just won’t help what a book is.

Most newer writers both in indie publishing and traditional publishing have to learn this fact the hard way. It takes fantastic skill to write a book that millions want to read. That skill doesn’t often happen on the first few books of an author.

— Quantity in numbers of titles still adds up to a large income. Traditional publishers have known this for a couple hundred years. Most indie publishers for the most part have yet to learn this fact. But the great part of getting 70% of sales is that to make great money we don’t have to sell as many titles at very low sales-per-title numbers to make huge profits. Writers don’t have, for the most part, huge buildings and hundreds of employees to spread out the overhead.

And most of us can do the work ourselves and keep overhead down to almost nothing.

But all that said, indie publishers still must have some quantity in numbers of books (titles) for sale.

What Is Quantity in Indie Publishing?

As many books selling as possible with no right answer. But the key is to think long term.

If you write two novels per year and each novel you put up increases your indie sales, where will you be in ten years?

Easy. Twenty books up, all still selling at one level or another because (repeat after me) books don’t spoil and new readers are always out there.

So do the math. Say your twenty novels averaged across all sites (not just Kindle and B&N, but all sites around the world) one sale each per day. (It won’t start that way with book #1, but with twenty books up, you will be doing that fairly easily.) Some would sell more, some far less, but the average is good and very, very conservative.

$4.99 price x 20 sales x 65% = $65 per day.  About $23,700 per year. Nothing to sneeze at. And each year using those numbers and writing two books you would be adding into the income another $2,100 per year.

And, of course, if one book or one series takes off in a “home run” fashion, it will drag all the rest with it. You might not write your home run book until year twelve.

If you are spending an hour per day and writing 1,000 words per day, that means you are producing four books per year. That total income number (above) at that pace is reached in five years instead of ten.

However, if you are only looking at that first book and it sold on the average I used above, you would make about $4.99 x 365 days x 65% = $1,183.00 per year.

Trust me, that will look awful on Kindle and the other sites (your checks will be under twenty-thirty bucks per site), even though it will add up to that larger number in a year. You will think you have failed. That your book sucks. And if you follow the boards, you will start playing with your prices and covers and hurt your book even more. When in reality your book is doing just fine.

Backlist is King

For as long as I have been in this business, backlist sometimes resold, but most of it just went dead. The files were lost, the yellowing-paper stories were buried in old file cabinets you never bothered to open. And as a  midlist writer, I often signed contracts for only the money, wrote the book hard and fast under one name or another, and then forgot it because I knew it had no second life.

Well, I was wrong.

When this indie publishing started to become a glimmer of reality, Kris and I figured out that we would have over 700 short stories and novels in backlist (or books that had never sold) to put up with WMG Publishing. So three-plus years ago we went to work to get all our rights back on all our books before New York knew what they were letting go of. And we got almost all of them.

Just over a year ago we helped start WMG Publishing and made the agreement that our backlist would have the attention to start and then eventually we would turn to original stuff as our traditional publishing contracts allowed.

Then I started writing original short stories for this challenge and haven’t put up a backlist short story of mine for six months. And this December WMG Publishing will put out the new book in Kris’s Retrieval Artist series. So we are still working on backlist, but also starting into new books and stories as well.

In the first year, WMG Publishing got up over two hundred different titles.

Now granted, most of those are short stories, and twenty-five are collections and another fourteen are short novels. But we started last January putting up backlist novels as well and have about fifteen or sixteen.

Are we making a living at 200 backlist titles? Yup, by almost any standard.

It’s regular checks, which as a freelance writer for decades, just seems odd to me. (I can’t give you actual numbers because not all of them are mine and no one has figured out a way for me yet to easily pull out my own numbers.)

And for the last two months due to events in the real world, WMG Publishing has put up almost no new books. Yet the income has stayed solid.

Let me say that again: We have put almost nothing new to spur on sales in the last two months and over that time the sales have stayed the same and actually gone up a little.

That fact solidified what I knew was happening.

Quantity in numbers of titles was a direct relationship to the amount of money we make every month on average.

Just like traditional publishing.

To be clear, the 200 books WMG Publishing has up have these details:

— It is almost all backlist.

— It is almost all short fiction.

—We have had no home runs, no big sellers, and many, many stories and novels of ours sell no copies on some site each month.

— We have the stories up under a dozen pen names and scattered across every genre.

— We have done no marketing and don’t care to at the moment.

All our focus has been on learning how to get our work back into print. We have twelve books in POD with more headed that way every day. And we will be focusing on selling into bookstores in 2012.

In other words, WMG Publishing is functioning like a traditional publisher. And growing, because Kris and I still have another 500 novels and short stories from thirty years in our backlist to get published, not counting frontlist work.

I love this new world.

How Can You Do The Same?

— Most Important Thing You Can Do is LEARN HOW TO DO THE BOOKS YOURSELF!!!!!

This will cut down on all overhead and make putting up a lot of work reasonable. This is not rocket science and can be learned.

It is a painful learning curve, yes, and frustrating, yes. I know, I went through it instead of just letting WMG folks do it.  If I can learn it, anyone can do it. Read the Smashwords guide, read the directions on Kindle, and then just do it. It doesn’t have to be right, but the book or story has to be up for sale. You can always fix it later. (And don’t worry about POD up front. That’s another animal.)

— If you have been writing for a time, dig through the old files.

Make an inventory list of your work and plan on getting one of those old stories published every week. You do that, with new stuff and by the end of the year you will have over 50 or more stories up. And the money will be growing. If the story sucks in your opinion, put it under a hidden pen name and let the readers decide. You might be right, but you might be surprised. (Both Kris and I already have a number of these and they sell just fine.)

— Do no promotion. Just focus on only getting more books and stories up.

Yeah, I know, I know. How will anyone find your work if you don’t promote it? Announce it on your web site, announce it on Twitter and Facebook, and then move on to the next story. You can promote after you have fifty or a hundred things up. Then the promotion and sales and loss leaders will have value.

— Focus on writing shorter lengths if possible.

Even if you are a novelist. Remember the one-hundred-thousand word novel was an artificial creation of the publishing industry over the last forty years to justify price increases. Let your stories go natural lengths. You will discover that most novels are fine around fifty-to-seventy-thousand words. Sometimes shorter. Just write the story you want to write.

— Combine to create more product. 

This is only limited by your creativity in some cases. Short story collections are logical, both five story and longer collections. But also short novels can be combined or series books can be combined and so on. More products equal more sales and more money.

— Stop sweating the small stuff.

My early covers sucked, and we had some formatting issues. Some of those early ones have been changed, some haven’t. Who cares? I’ll get to them eventually. Or someone at WMG will get them fixed. But if I had worried about every detail, about the covers being perfect, about every word spelled exactly right, and so on, WMG Publishing might only have twenty-five books up and be years from making a living. Get the title published. Fix problems that arise later.

— Most importantly, focus on being a writer.

Writers are people who write. Focus on finding more time to write. That one extra page, that one extra story. Every story, every book will give you more inventory, more titles, and thus if you get it up, more money year-after-year.


Not much to summarize in this post.

Unless you get lucky, you won’t make a lot of money in indie publishing unless you act like a traditional publisher and get many titles up for sale. But if you get a lot of different titles published, you will be surprised as the money just slowly grows and grows as you put more and more titles up for sale.

In writing you can control how much you write. You can’t control if any editor or reader will buy it or not.

In indie publishing you can control how many titles you have up for sale. You can’t control how many copies each title will sell, but if you have a lot of titles for sale, what difference will that make?

You’ll be making too much money to care.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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 15: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Can Only Write What Is Hot

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: “To sell either to editors or on Kindle, you must write what is hot.”

This myth kills careers, this myth stops thousands and thousands of book sales, this myth destroys careers.

And it’s just stupid, even though the myth seems to have a logical base in publishing.

Out of the mouth of top professionals this myth spouts all the time in one form or another, and usually with the best of intentions. And it has for as long as I have been in this business.

But lately, with the advent of the slush-reading lower-level agents, this myth has taken on deadly consequences for many writers. Why? Because they believe it.

So as I do in these chapters, let me take a look at the origin of this myth first.

It Came From the Editors

Actually, the origin is simple. It came about because editors and agents and publishers want to make an easy sale.

Yes, editors sell books as well. They sell a book they love to their publisher, they sell the book to a sales force, and they ultimately are responsible for selling a book to readers. Books that are different, that don’t fit in what has been done before, are very, very difficult sales for editors and publishers and always have been.

And it has been proven that if a reader likes a certain type of book, they will look for that type of book.

Now remember, publishers need so many books per month in this churn of book lists, so they have to find books to buy, and when they can find an easy-sell book, it makes their job easier.

And it’s human nature to want to have your job be easier.

Of course, easy-sell books are usually pretty flat. (Not always, but usually.) They are often following a trend. The books tend to do little if anything new, which is why they are easy sells. Another book bought by a more gutsy editor has already paved the way. Easy-sell books are also easy to promote. “If you liked ‘X Book’ you’re going to love ‘X Book Same.’”

Easy sell. Editors love them.

Now understand, I wrote a ton of easy-sell books. Media books such as Star Trek have a pretty set audience a publisher can depend on. So when Pocket Books came to me to write some Star Trek novels, they knew exactly what the book would sell and so did I. Easy, no thought on the publisher’s part. What was a hard-sell book(s) was Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It took John Ordover years of fighting to get that series going and the fact that Pocket Books kept it going for ten years was not because of sales, but reasons of relationships with readers and Paramount.

Interestingly enough, over the history of publishing, the really monster books, the ones that people talk about and remember for decades, were not easy-sell books. Often they would have fifty or more rejections before finding an editor willing to work for the book and a publisher took a chance. Then when the book became a hit it was called new and fresh and readers loved it.

And then that fresh idea, fresh book would spawn (like a bad horror movie) thousands of “easy sell” books.

But no one has made much of a long career writing only easy-sell books, because the target just keeps moving. One day one topic is hot, the next day the next topic is hot. As a writer, if you try to chase that “hot topic easy sell” thinking, you might sell a few books but are lost in short order.

But then comes editors and agents sitting on panels at writer’s conferences telling new writers what they are looking for, what’s selling, what isn’t selling. In all honest truth, as an editor, I didn’t know what I wanted to buy until I read it.

And as an editor for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds for ten years, I constantly told writers I hated the character “Q” from Next Generation. But I always ended up buying a “Q” story because some writer wrote one so well, with such a fun twist, that I couldn’t not buy it.

Attempting to write what is hot isn’t a new trend. It has been around since the beginning of this business. And the myth that you need to write what is hot, what is selling is as deadly today as it was fifty years ago. Honest, even in the new world of indie publishing, this myth will just kill you eventually.

So why is this myth so deadly?

The answer to that question is back in the writer’s office. Each writer is different. Every chapter in this book I have been pounding that simple fact home.

Every writer is different.

Let me say that one more time:

Every Writer is Different!!!!

And what makes your books interesting to readers is YOU. I have also warned about taking the YOU out of your work over and over in these chapters as well. You can’t see or hear your voice because to you it sounds dull because you hear it all the time. So when you say rewrite something to death, you are taking the “you” out of your work.

And your ideas might seem dull because guess why? They are yours!!! They are as unique as you are, as how you write the ideas down.

But then you go trying to imitate some other writer, try to write what is “hot” because some editor or agent told you that is what is selling. So what do you do? You take the YOU out of your work and it becomes mundane and just like everything else and won’t sell.

A SIMPLE RULE: In fiction, sameness and dullness do not sell.

Yet when a new writer hears an editor or agent tell them what they are “looking for” in books, the young writer goes home and attempts to imitate the book the editor said they are looking for. They create nothing unique, nothing new, nothing of themselves. They write the same boring old crap that has already been done to death.

And this gets even worse in the circle-jerk thinking of places like the Kindle boards. You see there and on other places just like it talk about writing what is selling the most at the moment. That is the quickest way to writer death I have ever seen.

So How Do You Solve This Problem?

Simple: Kick all the editor and agent voices out of your writing office and write what makes you passionate or angry or excited. Or as Stephen King has said, “Write what scares hell out of you.”

Some basic guidelines on how to do this:

1) Never talk about your story with anyone ahead of time.

Their ideas, unless you are very experienced, will twist the story into partially their story.

2) For heaven’s sake, never, ever let anyone read a work-in-progress.

Totally stupid on so many levels I can’t even begin to address. If you want to collaborate, make sure you have a collaboration agreement, otherwise, keep your work to yourself until finished. And wow does this apply to workshops. Never show a work-in-progress. Ever. Trust yourself for heaven’s sake and learn how to be an artist.

3) Never think of markets or selling when writing.

Enjoy the process of writing and creating story. When the story is finished, then have someone read it and tell you what you wrote and then market it.

4) Follow Heinlein’s Rules, especially #3 about never rewriting.

In other words, fix mistakes and then mail it and trust your own voice, your own work. Never rewrite to anyone’s suggestions, especially a workshop. (And never use the word “polish” in front of me. When you take a unique piece of work and polish it, you make it look like all the others. And that’s dull.)

5) When an editor says they are looking for a certain type of book, ignore it.

They are just trying to be helpful to all the new writers looking for shortcuts to getting published. There are no shortcuts. When agents say what they think will sell to editors, just laugh. They have less of a clue what will sell than anyone in the business bar none.

6) Get passionate and protective of what you write.

It’s your voice, your work, for heaven’s sake, grow a backbone and stand up for it. Sure, in the first million words you are going to need all sorts of help with craft and storytelling issues. Go learn that and take it in and study and practice and get feedback. But don’t rewrite it beyond fixing typos and mistakes. When you write a story or novel, trust yourself and mail it.

Protect it from all who want you to write what they think you should have written.


So, in short, I am telling you flatly and bluntly to ignore any advice from any person about what is selling, what is hot, what you should write.

Write your own stories.

And if you do write your own stories and believe in them and mail them to editors, you may be the next big thing and then thousands and thousands of writers will be trying to imitate you.

And they will fail, because there is only one of you.


Copyright 2011 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 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

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Current Bundle

Bundles: A great way to discover new writers and read some of my novels or nonfiction writing books at the same time.

So if you want to read two of my books about the business of writing, you can get it in a bundle with eight other great books from other writers from Storybundle. Click on image to go to the bundle.

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$6.99 electronic and $12.99 trade paper editions are available at your local bookseller. All paper subscription copies are signed. For more information, just click on the cover.


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 #51… June 6th … The Business of Writing
Class #52… June 6th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… June 6th … Author Voice
Class #54… June 6th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… June 7th … Teams in Fiction
Class #56… June 7th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… June 7th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… June 8th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #59… June 8th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… June 8th … Advanced Depth

Class #1… July 11th … Author Voice
Class #2… July 11th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #3… July 11th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #4… July 11th … Plotting With Depth
Class #5… July 12th … Character Development
Class #6… July 12th … Depth in Writing
Class #7… July 12th … Advanced Character and Dialog
Class #8… July 13th … Cliffhangers
Class #9… July 13th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #10... July 13th … Teams in Fiction

Class #11… Aug 8th … The Business of Writing
Class #12… Aug 8th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #13… Aug 8th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #14… Aug 8th … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Aug 9th … Teams in Fiction
Class #16… Aug 9th … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Aug 9th … Plotting With Depth
Class #18… Aug 10th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #19… Aug 10th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #20… Aug 10th … Advanced Depth

Sign-up and more information under Online Workshops tab at the top of the page.

Classic Workshops

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
Productivity... Classic
Discoverability... Classic
Writing in Series... Classic
Genre Structure... Classic
Career... Classic

Lecture Series

More information on these lectures under the Lecture Series Tab above.

#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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