Monthly archives for January, 2012

The New World of Publishing: Pen Names

I get the “pen name” question more than any other question. Period. And that’s because I am very open about writing under different names and I have varied reasons for doing so. And weirdly enough, I have written under pen names since I started writing.

So after a few more varied questions this last week about pen names in indie publishing, I figured it’s about time I give a full and complete opinion on the topic. But let me be clear here once again.  Ready?


Or as a sign in our workshops say, “You are responsible for your own career.”

Take my opinion on this topic as opinion. Nothing more. Then do what you damn well please because… well, because you can. And should.


Pen names have been with fiction writing since the beginning. And the reasons for writers to take pen names is as varied as the writers doing the writing. I’m sure some of you English majors out there could even tell me a bunch of pen names of major literary writers through the centuries. But honestly, please don’t. (grin)

The pulp era of popular fiction brought in thousands and thousands of pen names. There are entire books that have been done trying to track the pen names of the pulp writers, from Max Brand to Kenneth Robison to all the hundreds of pen names of Edward Stratemeyer and his “Syndicate” of writers. (You remember Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and so on.)

Many of today’s major writers wrote under pen names, sometimes many, many pen names over their careers. And almost always for different reasons. I don’t think Robert Silverberg can even count all his pen names. Lawrence Block wrote under many, many names as well, sometimes in the erotic markets of their day. I was at Harlan Ellison’s house one day and asked him off-handedly that if next trip I brought down a copy of Adam Magazine that he had a story in, would he sign it. He laughed and said sure, and he would sign two of the articles in the same issue as well, since he had written those under pen names. I was impressed he remembered.

In fact, in the high peak of science fiction magazines, there were often only one or two writers per issue, even though the magazine showed six or seven authors.

So pen names are nothing new. And the reasons for using a pen name or not using one are varied depending on the author, the time, the publication location, and so much more.

Major Reasons to Use Pen Names

Again, there are thousands of reasons to use pen names, each depending on the author’s situation at the moment.  But let me give you a few of the main ones that have lasted over history.

Top Reason: Writer is too “fast” for traditional publishing.

In other words, the writer has a work ethic and has trained himself to sit at a typewriter or computer for more hours per day. And by doing that, the writer will just produce more work than someone who spends two years writing a novel. Just nature of the beast.

In the pulp era, it was fine to write fast and hard and long under one name. The writers had other reasons to switch names back then that I will get to in a moment.

But with the advent of the influence of the university system and editors coming out of that university myth-filled system, the belief started to sink into the traditional publishing offices that writing more than one or two books per year was a bad thing (except in a few genres like romance). And besides, the big machines of modern traditional publishing just couldn’t keep up with a fast writer. In fact, fast writers just scare hell out of them.

So those of us who have a work ethic and can sit at a computer for a regular work day, we flat had to have more outlets. So instead of putting novels into drawers, we came up with pen names and started many writing careers, often with numbers of them going at once.

At one point, Kris and I were joking around at a conference and actually counted the career income streams coming into our home at that moment in time. We had nine writers’ incomes coming into the house. That was more than we had cats at that point.

Today we have about that many, maybe a few more, but some are not making much, at least not enough to live on. Luckily the pen-name writers don’t eat much.

The key is the same with all aspects of the publishing industry: Diversity and a lot of product. If you have three or four writer’s incomes hitting your house, it’s a ton better and safer than only one. And nine or ten incomes just makes things much easier.

The idea of multiple income streams from different names is not something most writers think of until they happen into it by overwhelming their own publisher and deciding to not slow down (meaning spend less time at the computer or playing Angry Birds) as their agent wants them to do.

However, now with indie publishing, fast writers have far, far more outlets and the idea of being a “fast” writer, meaning spending more hours writing, is once again becoming a good thing. At least outside of traditional publishing. Inside of traditional publishing being fast still scares hell out of people and they will do everything in their power to get you to spend less time being a writer and more time being an author.

Second Major Reason: Help Your Readers While Writing What You Want To Write

This also has been basic from the early days of fiction writing. Readers identify certain types of books by the name of the author. You pick up a Max Brand these days and you expect to get an old-style western. (Max Brand was a pen name of a failed poet.) A Max Brand reader would be very angry if they started to read a Max Brand novel and discovered an old vampire lusting after young girls.

In the pulp era, authors often changed their names when moving to another genre magazine. Only a few major writers that jumped around (such as L. Ron. Hubbard) did not change names much. Writers of that level sold magazines in almost all genres, so editors didn’t want the writer to change the name.

However, the basic reason is that authors get bored easily and want to try new things, new genres, new plots. It’s the rare writer who can write the same story over and over as traditional publishers want them to do. Most of us would rather have teeth pulled than do that. So we write around like a wayward husband and change names on publishers to stay out of their contract traps.

But really, it’s the readers that matter on this one.

My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes under some major names. Her name is known as a science fiction and fantasy writer. And her fantasy series, The Fey, is a dark, high fantasy with lots of blood and death. So when she came up with a light, warm, humorous fantasy series set here and now using fairy tales, she didn’t want to confuse her readers and make the readers that liked one kind of fantasy and not the other angry. So Kristine Grayson, the bestselling paranormal romance writer, was born for the funny fantasy books.

Then Kris came up with a dark mystery series set in the late 1960s that dealt with race and politics of the time. Again, not something her normal science fiction readers would enjoy, so multiple-Edgar-nominated Kris Nelscott was born. And now in romance this next year she has a wonderful science fiction romance series starting out of Sourcebooks under the name Kris DeLake. Pure space opera with a romance touch. But again the readers that love Recovering Apollo 8 or the gritty Diving into the Wreck series would not be very happy. Thus the new author is born.

You want a more major example than my wife? How about Evan Hunter, which was a pen name. Evan Hunter wrote a book called The Blackboard Jungle that won some major awards such as the Pulitzer Prize. But he was a writer, and wanted to write other stuff.  He got an offer to write a new series for a paperback house that needed short novels fast. So he created a new name and wrote police procedural novels for decades under the name Ed McBain.  Also, Evan Hunter, to help pay for a girlfriend or some such thing now lost in publishing lore, wrote soft-core erotica quickly, often finishing a book in a day or so, to help pay dating costs. Of course, those books were also under other names.

So writers, help your readers find a book they will enjoy because they read an earlier one like it. I know it’s alien for writers to think about helping out readers, but the more you do, the more fans you get and the more readers over time. It really is that simple.

Also, I suppose I should say something right here about “branding” your books and name or pen name. In other words, indie publishers, if you have a pen name, make all the stories and pen names under that name seem similar in covers and look, yet be different enough from book to book. That also helps readers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, go study branding because it will help you in publishing.

I’ll talk in a minute about keeping pen names secret or not. 99% of the time there is no reason to, so if the reader of your fun fantasy wants to read a blood-and-guts fantasy and you are clear you write that under that other name, let them be able to find it on your main web site.

Third Major Reason: You Have A Difficult Day Job

This reason is just obvious. You are an MD and you are writing medical thrillers. Really good plan to do that under a pen name to save legal problems with some patient believing you took their personal information and put it in your book, even though you didn’t.

And yes I know about Michael Crichton writing his way through medical school. Under pen names. He wrote under the names John Lange and Jeffrey Hudson and one of the books under one of those names won the Edgar Award for best novel.  He wrote numbers of novels per year all the way through med school, all under pen names, and got his MD the year he wrote three novels. (Yeah, you don’t have enough time to write.) By the way, his real first name was John.

Another example: James Tiptree Jr. was a long-term spy in the Second World War and in the Cold War, a CIA agent, and an experimental psychologist, so she came up with a very hidden pen name to write under. Her real name was Alice Sheldon, but everyone swore Tiptree was a man for a very long time.

Some Other Smaller Reasons to Change Your Writing Name

— Sales Record Goes Bad.

In traditional publishing, your sales record is tracked by your name. You write a book and something goes wrong along the way, often through no fault of your own, and your sales numbers go down and you can’t sell another book under that name.

Smart writers change their name and keep writing. Authors, on the other hand, sit in bars at conventions and complain they can’t sell a book.

So bad sales record in traditional publishing is one reason. That makes no difference at all in indie publishing. In indie publishing, writers publish the book and let the numbers of readers grow slowly over time.  In traditional publishing, they have to gamble that your book will sell a certain number in a certain amount of time. Remember the produce model? In traditional publishing, your books spoil, so if they paid you too much in comparison to your sales numbers, you can’t sell another book UNDER THAT NAME.

Change your name and move on. Or move to indie publishing.

— Family Issues.

Sometimes some writers just don’t want their mother stumbling across that erotic book they wrote. Do that under a pen name if you have that issue. Or if you hate your parents and don’t want to give them credit for anything.

— Future Divorce

Women, caution on using your husband’s name as your writing name. Writing careers often outlast marriages. Just saying…

— Your Real Name is Stephen King

Let me think… Oh, yeah, write under a pen name. That name is taken.

— You Think Your Story Sucks

Writers are the worst judges of their own work, but alas, we all still have strong opinions of our work when finished. So when you write a story that sucks in your belief as a writer and you wouldn’t want anyone to see it under your main name, sell it under a pen name. This is becoming very easy in indie publishing. And has been a standard practice since the beginning of publishing. You might be surprised how well your bad story sells. Let the readers decide.

— You are writing a Work-For-Hire Series.

Fine to do some under your main writing name, but caution on writing too many and getting know for doing them only. I am still known as a Star Trek writer even though I haven’t written one Star Trek book in almost a decade. Do you know I wrote Star Trek under seven different names? I’ll give you Dean Wesley Smith and Sandy Schofield. The other five you Trek buffs can figure out if you want to waste time for a trivia contest.

Better to just do work-for-hire or media under a pen name from the start. Trust me on this one.

As I said, there are thousands and thousands of reasons for writers to write under pen names. Most make great sense to the writer. But now let me talk about the elephant in the room with this topic. Ready?


So many writers deep down are out to be famous. And they want their own name to be the famous name. So the idea of changing their name is just alien for any reason, no matter how much it makes business sense to do so. I’ve seen many, many, many writers just give up writing completely because they would not change their name and something stopped their books from selling.

This issue seems to be much, much worse for men than women. Women are raised to think they might change their name at some point in the future in a wedding. But men have this ego-thing about their name. Men, get over it.

For some reason I’ve never had that problem. No idea why not.  For me, when I walk into a store and see a book I wrote, either under this name or one I wrote for a major bestseller as a ghost novel, I know it’s my book. And that’s all that matters to me.

I walked into Safeway grocery store one night and saw three of my books there on the rack. One a media book with this name on it, one a ghost novel, and one a western under a series author name.  Fantastic fun. I didn’t need to show anyone or run up-and-down-the-aisles shouting what I had just done.  I just stood there for a moment staring at the three books, smiling.

Then I went home and went back to writing.

So before you start writing under other names, check the ego at the door. Evan Hunter is a pen name. At an Edgar Awards ceremony a number of years back he was the keynote speaker. In front of his plate was a name-tag that read “Evan Hunter.”  When the person doing the announcements called his name to come and speak, he introduced him as Ed McBain. Salvator Albert Lombino still stood up.

If you have ego issues, just stay with one name. And never ghost-write a book.

Indie Publishing Issues

Indie writers who are in a great hurry are usually the ones that ask me about pen names.  One of the truths of indie publishing is that if you have more products under one name, readers can find you easier and if they like a story they buy, they will buy more. And thus having more books and stories published leads to more sales. That is one fact most of us agree on about indie publishing.

But….  All those stories and books need to be in the same general area. If you write a vampire novel followed by a romance with rabbit-sex followed by a private detective novel, all under the same name, you are going to lose readers, not find more. So if you are moving across genres like that in your writing, you are going to need to realize that it’s going to take more time to build an audience. Because you are going to be building more than one career. Of course that takes more time. Duh.

That means as a beginning writer you are going to have to do what seems almost impossible to do. You are going to have to take the long view, meaning not just six months, but six years or more. (Please don’t scream at me. I’m being nice suggesting only six years. More than likely it’s ten years or more, just as it was in the old traditional-publishing-only days.)

I have no issue with a writer telling their readers they also write other kinds of novels under other names. I just told you about four of my wife’s names she writes in different genres. And sometimes readers will follow across genre lines. Give them the chance on a main web site under a main name.

Some Answers to Basic Questions

How do you create a pen name?

Simple. Put it under the title and put it in the author slots on the different sites. Have all the money go to your real banking name. In traditional publishing, on your manuscript, you put your real name where the check is sent in the upper left-hand corner of the manuscript with your address. You put your pen name under the title. It really is that simple. No need to set up any kind of legal anything.

How about copyright under a pen name?

If you ask this question you need to buy a copy of The Copyright Handbook at once. It’s from NoLo Press. Go buy it now.

But the short answer is copyright protection vests in the words as you commit them to a form, meaning as you write them down or type them onto a screen. The form of everything you write automatically has copyright protection and does not matter what name you publish it under. If you are worried, spend the extra money to get your copyright registered. But for heaven’s sake, go learn copyright.

Do I have to keep my pen name secret?

Up to you. I wouldn’t unless you have issues with your family or are a medical professional. Or unless you signed a legal document agreeing to not disclose the name. (I have signed many, many of those documents.) But if you are just starting a new name to help readers stay clear on which genre they are reading, I can see no reason to keep a pen name secret.

Should I have a web site for each pen name?

Of course. Author name is the most important selling tool you have over time. So before you invent a new name, make sure no one else is writing under that name and then go get the domain. When you go in search of the domain, don’t hesitate, just spend the ten bucks and buy it. Otherwise someone will grab it because it has interest in the search engines.

But at the same time don’t be silly and think you have to blog on the site and work it all the time. Just use it as a static web site where readers can get to your books or back to your main web site. That’s all you use it for. It’s an advertising site.

You want to see an example of a static web site for my Dee W. Schofield pen name?  Go to There’s even a free story there. And notice the bio and picture. That’s a picture of me about two years old standing on a hood of a car.

Should I make up a fake bio for my pen name?

No need unless it’s going to be very secret, but then be careful. Better to say less or nothing about the author.

Do you need to do some branding of each pen name?

I would certainly try. Use the same font on the covers, use the same basic design, same type of art, that sort of thing. Anything to give the reader a feeling that you are sort of paying attention to stories being similar. I would do this more for novels than short stories. If you can’t or don’t understand branding, don’t worry about it. Minor at first.

There are many other minor questions about pen names, many I’m sure will get answered in the comments section.


Again, there are thousands of reasons to use a pen name. None are wrong.

For me, I’ve used pen names for business because I was writing someone else’s novel for them. I’ve used pen names on work-for-hire novels, I’ve used pen names in different genres. I’ve used pen names to write erotica. I’ve used pen names when my wife and I wrote together. And sometimes I used a pen name just for fun.  Why? Because I could, that’s why.

As a beginning writer, I had the silly idea that “Smith” was a bad name to write under, so I wrote stories under Wesley Dean. One very long day at Damon Knight’s house, he spent the entire day going out of his way to call me all the variations of “Wes” and “Wesley” and “Wesser” and so on. By the end of the day, even though the name was fine, I had decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life answering to that name. It just didn’t fit in my mind as a name for me. I went back to my real name after that day, but I had already sold four or five stories under that name. I got a couple of them changed before they were published.

And now when I pick a pen name, I imagine being called that name for the rest of my life.

So basically what I am saying about pen names is this:

There are no rules. Do what you want.

But if your ego stops you from starting a new name when you should for business reasons, then there are repercussions. As I said before, the simple desire to stick with a certain name has killed many, many writing careers. But those people, in my opinion, were not writers. They were authors.

Writers are people who write and don’t much care which name their writing appears under. They only care that they can keep writing and that readers in one fashion or another get a chance to read what they write.

And trust me, it was great fun to walk into that Safeway grocery store and see three of my books on the same paperback rack. Great fun. But if I had been so wrapped up in my own ego that I couldn’t write under another name, that moment would have never have happened.

So when deciding about which name to publish a book or story under, think first of your readers.

Then think about your readers some more.

And then decide which name would be best for them. And which name you can live with the rest of your life.

And then have fun.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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The New World of Publishing: Investing in Your Own Future

The other evening, after a hard day of moving massive numbers of boxes and magazines, I invited writers Chris and Steve York and Lee Allred up to the new offices to sit around and talk. And an interesting conversation happened about the future of indie publishing that helped me get the nerve to finally write this topic.

I’m going to talk about how to handle the future. This is not a column of me pulling out the old cracked and dusty crystal ball and trying to look ahead. Nope.

This is a column about attitude.

Attitude about the future. And attitude about your writing now.

And sort of a continuation of the previous column about “Writers” and “Authors,” so make sure you have read that column before this one. It can be found right below this column.

The Previous Article

In the last article in this series, I went on about the difference between an “Author” and a “Writer.”

And in indie publishing, the difference can really, really be seen, with the “Authors” doing nothing but promoting “their book” while the “Writers” just get out to readers what they have written and then move on to writing new stories.

And let me repeat something I said:  It is the “Authors” who are going on and on about what indie “Writers” MUST DO.

That’s right, it is the indie “Authors” who are promoting like crazy and at the same time trying to tell all the rest of us what we have to do and don’t have to do in order to sell copies of our work.

Most “Writers” just shrug and think they will get around to all that stuff someday, when they have time, but of course, they never have the time because they are “Writers” and writing comes first. And then we “Writers” feel uneasy and a little guilty for not doing all that promotion stuff the “Authors” are shouting that we MUST DO!

So time for a little attitude adjustment for us “Writers.”

It’s time we “Writers” really, really ignore the “Authors” and just think long term. And here is one way to keep the focus on long term writing and publishing.

The Old Days of Publishing

When I say “The Old Days of Publishing,” I mean more than two years ago, when publishers had complete control over all distribution systems between writers and readers. Thus all writers had to fight through all the myths of traditional publishing, get editors to buy our work, wait around for years for the books to get slowly published, and then build a career over a decade or more, slowly, one book at a time, moving publishers, taking rejection, low advances, books kicked out of print for no reason, and bad edits, plus anything else traditional publishing could toss at us.

Most writers didn’t make it ten novels, let alone ten years. And when a writer spent a bunch of time on a book and it “wasn’t right” for traditional markets, the only choice the writer had was to put it in a file folder and try to forget the thing.

And in the old days heaven forbid you suggested a short story collection to your publisher. Just the idea might have caused extreme laughter and nasty responses from your editor about “waiting a few years until the market was ready.”

Two-plus years ago traditional publishers lost their control over the distribution system, allowing writers to go directly to readers with every book, every collection, and all our backlist and unpublished novels. And ever since great fun has ensued among the writers with the courage and the attitude to venture out into indie publishing.

The control by traditional publishers of the distribution system is forever gone. The horse is out of the barn, the genie is out of the bottle, and writers are forever free to write what the hell we want to write when we want to write it.

We are free to let readers decide if they want to read what we write or not instead of letting some guy in a bad suit in a New York sales department pass judgement on our work.

Let me simply say: I lived for thirty years in those old days, made my living in those publishing games, and not for a second do I miss those years. I love this new world. (I think I have said that before a time or two.)

But now it is time for indie “Writers” to start thinking long term, because the world we are in right now is here to stay in one form or another.


Most people work day jobs and so many of the day-job workers invest for their future, their retirement, whatever, in some way or another.

One of the most popular ways of investing for a future retirement is a 401(k).

For those outside the States, 401(k) takes its name from a part of our tax code and is a government-allowed way to put money into an investment account with tax relief. Inside the 401(k) the money is often invested in stocks and bonds by professional investment people. Lots of ways of investing inside 401(k)s, actually.

Many people I know with regular jobs put money every paycheck into their 401(k), trying to get the yearly amount up to the limit allowed by the government.

And a huge number of people every month don’t even open their 401(k) statements when they come in the mail. They just don’t want to know the ups and downs in their total caused by the stock market. They just want to know that the amount is growing slowly over time and in the future there will be enough there.

Starting to see where I am going with this? If not, hold on, I’ll get there.

The Deadly Wage Thinking

The hardest thing for newer writers to understand is that writing time is never wasted. But it often sure feels that way. Not only is the time spent practicing on the path to becoming a better storyteller, but that time also creates items, widgets (known as stories) that can then be sold.

Math Alert!!

You sit alone in a room pounding out a novel. It’s done finally.  Say you actually wrote 1,000 words per hour and the novel is 90,000 words long.

You just worked for 90 hours.

Let’s say you are pretty fast with all the other stuff like cleaning up the manuscript and getting it ready to go out and your total time spent on the novel is 120 hours. (This is an example…so take a breath.)

But consider this: If you had worked those same 120 hours at your day job for $20.00 per hour, you would have been paid $2,400 before taxes.

You would have paid some bills that month with that money, whatever, and the money would be gone. Poof into the air, unless you put a hundred or so into your 401(k).

Let me say that again. You will never be paid again for those 120 hours. They are headed into the past along with the memory of how you spent the money. And except for the $100 you put in the 401(k), you will never see any more money from those hours.

But that is not the case with the 120 hours you spent writing and preparing the novel. Those hours haven’t started to earn for you yet.

Just exactly like the $100 you put into your 401(k) last week hasn’t started earning anything yet.

It will take time for that $100 to earn any return.

It will take time for your novel to earn any return.

An Indie Publisher Investing Plan

Step One: Set a Goal to Publish Something New Every Two Weeks.

— It could be a short story or your latest book. It could be a collection, whatever. Just put into print one new item every two weeks. (I know of very few writers who haven’t been working for a time that don’t have backlist as well to help with this. If you hate the story and think it sucks, put it under a pen name.)

— Give yourself one week to miss, so you will have 25 books, stories, collections up in one year. (Even if you miss for three full months you will have 20 books, stories, and collections up. Not bad.)

— This investment plan will also keep you writing new work.

Step Two: Consider Each Publication a Deposit into Your “Future Investment Account.”

— So instead of turning into an “Author” with every new published item, consider each new published book or story an investment in your future. Just like putting $100.00 into a 401(k) every two weeks. Think of it in the exact same way.

— Just as you ignore your 401(k) statement most months, ignore how your sales are going. Focus on the writing of the next thing.

— And if you really want to use your writing as an investment, just let the money sit in an interest-bearing account as it comes in each month from your sales. You might be stunned at how fast that will grow as you keep writing and publishing. (I know some writers are already doing this with their indie publishing accounts.)

— Take the long-term approach. Think out five and ten years, not two weeks. (I know, impossible for beginning writers to do, but again, you are investing in your future. It’s all an attitude.)

The Results?

So what’s going to happen in five years?

Like I said, my crystal ball is cracked and cloudy. And I have no idea if that 27th story you might publish in year two hits a home run and starts selling like crazy and makes more money than even I can imagine. It might happen.

Or you might just go along selling a few copies per item, averaging anywhere from three to ten sales over all the sites every month. Some books never selling, others selling much better than average. Who knows. It’s publishing. As I have said many times, if anyone, including traditional publishers could figure out what will or won’t sell to readers at any given moment, this industry would be very, very easy. But alas, no one knows what will sell and what won’t.

All we “Writers” can do is create new stories we hope readers will enjoy and then publish them so the readers can find them.

And, of course, you have to price your stuff out of the discount bin and give nothing away for free so that your readers respect your work and each sale actually adds something to your “Future Investment Account.”

But all that said, let me pretend to look between the cracks of the crystal ball out into a future.

And to do that, my crystal ball needs to make a few assumptions.

Assumption #1: Electronic publishing grows to 50-70% or so of all fiction books sold and hovers there for a long time into the future. (Pretty safe assumption.)

Assumption #2: The outlets for electronic books continues to grow and grow (as it is doing now) and becomes even more international in nature, so we are selling books to the world, not just a region of the planet. (Pretty safe assumption.)

Assumption #3: You, as a “Writer” can continue to write regularly for a decade or more into the future and keep publishing your work as you finish it. (Not so safe assumption, since very few “Writers” continue past a few years. They often become “Authors” or “Whatever-Happened-To…?”)

Math Alert!

You get up 25 stories, novels, collections in the first year. Short stories priced at 99 cents to $2.99 depending on length, collections from $2.99 to $4.99, novels at $4.99 to $6.99.

To make this math easier, if you sold one of each item you have up, your average income would be $2.50 per sale. (Make up your own average number depending on your pricing and if you write more short stories than novels and have no collections, which is just silly.)

Ignore all money you make the first year as your list grows. Just let it sit there. I’m not counting it.

End of Year #2: 25 items up for the entire year, plus the new 25 that came up over the year as the months went along. Each sells 5 per month average x $2.50 = $12.50 per month per item x 25 items = $312.50 per month plus the sales on the new stuff.

So by the end of Year #2 you will have made more than $4,000.00 approximately, counting sales of the new stuff as well. Not a living and no “home run” sales like Konrath and others talk about, but still not bad.

Remember, that’s having 50 items priced right in your indie publishing program by the end of Year #2.

So what next???

You are a “Writer.”  You just keep writing, just as anyone working a day job keeps working. And you keep pouring more and more into your indie publishing program, letting it just grow and grow. (You know, like a 401(k).)

The income will go up year after year after year.

Why am I so sure of that?

Two reasons.

First, as a writer you are practicing. You are becoming a better storyteller by writing, and people like great stories.

Second, it is a proven fact in these early days of indie publishing that the more items you have for sale, the more sales you make and the more money you make. Think of it like having an entire section of books in a store instead of one or two books tucked down on a bottom shelf. People find entire sections of books.

It’s All About Attitude

The key for “Writers” is to think out ahead, to keep focusing on the writing and keep getting the writing, when finished, available to readers.

The goal is to drip regularly more and more product into your indie publishing program just as a day job person drips money every paycheck into a 401(k) investment account.

The point isn’t to make a killing tomorrow like “Authors” seem to want to do.

And remember, in the old days of publishing, it took a decade to make any money at all. And that was if you could survive and could keep writing.

Give your indie publishing program the chance to grow. Just as you would any investment account.

For “Writers” it is the writing that is important.

Have the attitude that the money and sales on your finished writing will follow eventually, if you just keep writing and publishing.

And you keep working to become a better storyteller.

And you give it time.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic 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.

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

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The New World of Publishing: Writer vs. Author

Just recently I had a local here in our small town who knows I am a writer walk up to me and ask me how “my book” was coming along. I get that question a great deal and have no idea how to answer it.

None. Zero. Zip. The reason I can’t answer the question is based on the problem in the question and the problem in what I know the questioner knows.

The problem with the question is obvious. It assumes I only have one book and am taking a vast amount of time writing it, making it perfect by working it over and over and over. That’s the unspoken assumption in that question. Otherwise, the person would have asked something like, “Which book are you working on now?”

If that person knew I could finish a new novel every two or three weeks if I wanted, they would be shocked and more than likely not talk to me anymore.

I also know the local friend just doesn’t understand the difference between me being a Writer and me being an Author. And honestly, most people don’t understand the difference. They think that once a book is written, the Author is done for a long time. My friend thinks it takes a very long time to write any novel. My friend thinks that books are special things, to be put up on some high pedestal and worshipped.

These assumptions my friend makes about my writing are not worth my time to try to correct in a quick social interaction. So often I just play along with the assumption by saying, “Coming along great.” That answer makes my friend happy and all is well and the topic is changed.

And since new writers come out of that same basic training as my local friend, new writers don’t understand the difference either. And they think the same things about novels when they start writing them. It takes time and training and discovery and education to get past the myths our culture puts on writing novels. Most writers, sadly, never get past the myths and thus remain authors instead of writers.

What are the Differences?

— A Writer is a person who writes.

— An Author is a person who has written.

Sounds like the same almost, doesn’t it? Nope. Those two are very, very far apart in reality and only cross in one main way: Writers are Authors as well, but Authors are seldom Writers.

For example: I am the Author of two original Men in Black novels. They took me about three weeks each to write. And I moved on and have written seventy or eighty novels since. And I am still writing all the time. But I am the AUTHOR of those two books.

If I had stopped writing new work after I finished those two novels, I would still be the Author of those two novels. But I would no longer be a Writer.

Let me put it this way:

— A Writer is always focused on the story they are writing at the moment, always focused on the story coming next to write.

— A Writer is always focused on the future.

— An Author is always focused on what they have written.

— An Author is always focused into the past.

Indie Publishing and the Author

— How an indie AUTHOR thinks:

When a person who is an Author at heart finishes their “master work” known as “their novel,” their attention turns at once to making sure all their work on “their novel” isn’t wasted.

Most of the time, even though “their novel” has been rewritten into a bland paste, they still fear it is not “good enough” and give the book to an “editor” who then makes it into even more white paste. And don’t forget all the copyediting because “their novel” must be perfect. (At this point the Author has so lost track of telling a story it’s sadly funny. “Their novel” is nothing more than pretty writing, made perfect in grammar and spelling. Story and voice and character means nothing. Only pretty writing done in what the Author thinks is a perfect manner.)

So now the Author has two choices. Send it to an agent, as is the myth, or indie publish it. Most Authors go the traditional route because of a thousand reasons, all silly, such as “My book will get more attention.”  Or, “I want the publicity team on my book because it’s special.”  Often these Authors will run into a new agent who will play into their need for perfection and have them rewrite “their novel” a number of times more, turning it from white paste to pure nothingness.

Or the Author can indie publish, but this brings on other issues such as silly needs for “editors” and “cover designers” to make sure “their book” doesn’t get hurt.

And then the big day when the book is published on Kindle. (Forget all the other places, right??? Only Kindle matters, or so the Author has heard…) Now the Author watches “their book’s” sales numbers every hour, getting discouraged when there are no sales in two hours.

And then the Author starts the promotion on Twitter and Facebook and so on and so on and so on. Promotion is now all the Author thinks about day and night, because after all this is their “master work” and “their novel” so it deserves their respect and time and promotion.

— How an indie WRITER thinks:

Story is done. Cool! Get a few friends to proof it while the Writer gets started writing the next story.

Proofing is done, Writer spends a little time learning how to do a cover and blurbs, gets the story up on all the sites, all the while working on the new project, annoyed that the last project is taking his time away from the next project.

Book is indie published quickly and Writer goes back to work on next project, finishing it and getting it proofed while he starts the next project.

And so on and so on.

Writers, besides announcing a book or publication on a web site, don’t do promotion like Authors do. They can’t, because their focus is on writing the next book and the next story. They don’t have time. Writing time is more valuable than promotion of an old book.

Writers tend to believe that their own writing is the best promotion.

A Better Distinction

So maybe a better way to define Author and Writer these indie publishing days is this:

— A Writer is a person who writes the next story.

— An Author is a person who spends their time promoting their last story.

Yet maybe yet another way of looking at these two diverse camps is this:

— A Writer gets feedback from the simple act of writing and finishing stories.

— An Author must get feedback from external sources such as reviews, sales, promotions, editors, workshops, and so on.

The Reason for All This

We are headed into 2012 right now, a year of transition for the publishing industry. Writers are going to be hit from all sides with new information and new myths and people saying, “You have to do it this way or that way.”

Actually, a Writer doesn’t have to do anything unless they want to move over to the Author side.

It’s the Authors who are making up all these rules.

All Writers need to do is write the next story and when it’s done, get it to readers and continue on writing the next story and the next and the next.

And that’s the point I am trying to get to. Each person must decide why they write.

Is it to be published and get acclaim? Then you are more than likely an Author.

If you write because you love to tell stories, love the fear and the joy and the excitement of entertaining yourself while telling stories, then you are more than likely a Writer.

This world of indie publishing has opened up vast opportunities for Writers. But it is also going to really, really divide the Authors away from the real Writers. I’m watching it happen.

But… Aren’t You Teaching a “Promotion” Workshop?

Well, sort of. When we scheduled the workshop last year, we couldn’t come up with a better name. Scott William Carter and I are teaching it and we both are Writers. In fact, we both pretty actively hate and laugh at all the people who spend all their time promoting their past books instead of writing new ones.

Both Scott and I believe completely that the next book is the best promotion for the last book.

So we are officially calling the “Promotion” workshop “The Toolkit for the Indie Writer” workshop.  This will cover a ton of things indie Writers just need to do in the process, such as web sites, cover design, tools to be more effective, writing better cover blurbs, linking, getting your books easily into bookstores, and so on.

Not a bit of it will be about how to use a social site to drive your friends crazy with your constant promotion.

And trust me, if we do it again, the word “promotion” will not be in the title.


A Writer is a person who writes.

An Author is a person who has written.

Check in with yourself and see where your focus really lies. It’s one thing to be afraid to not start the next story or novel and use “publishing” as an excuse for a short time. But if that short time turns into weeks and months and your focus is only on your sales of your published work, you are an Author.

And if you want to be an Author, that’s fine.

But just realize one thing. Authors are missing the best promotion tool there is for their old books.

Their next book.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic 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.

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. 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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#20... How to Write a Page Turning Novel or Story: Basics and Tricks ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

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#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

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