Monthly archives for February, 2012

The New World of Publishing: Pricing Indie Books…Some 2012 Thoughts

Normally I hate talking about pricing of ebooks by indie publishers because there are no right answers and I always end up making people mad. But that said, things are changing so fast that my last post about pricing (besides pointing to other people’s posts) was way back. You can read it here.

So leaving the thousands of details I could talk about behind, let me cut right to the chase and keep this short.

With one reminder: I am not talking about writers here. I am talking about the average reader buying books.

That said, my observations and studies of readers’ buying habits have lead me to believe that ebook pricing is going up and books are being accepted and bought regularly at higher prices.

And on the flip side, the 99 cent area is becoming an area that many regular readers are avoiding or buying when books they know are “on sale” from a much higher price. (Discount readers will always buy at that price.)

Of course, this is not 100% of the time, and everyone here will have an experience of finding a book they loved at 99 cents that they would not have bought. Please spare us all that story.

Remember, one data point does not a study or trend make. I’ve been following hundreds and hundreds of data points and studies from here and in Britain, mostly, I must admit, studies done by traditional publishing. Their conclusion now is that electronic book prices are trending upward. (No matter what indie writers seem to believe.)

And I think that’s a great thing.

It gives us all a ton more room to move around and do sales and such. But before you can do a sale, you have to price your book out of the sales bin to start with. And that’s what I am going to talk about here:

Setting prices that give indie publishers flexibility in doing sales, just as traditional publishers have.

And also setting prices that allow a book to have a value to a reader and make the writer some money at the same time.

Traditional Publishers: Some Facts

Traditional publishers are settled in around in the range of $5.99 to $7.99 for ebooks that are also released in mass market paperbacks.

Traditional publishers are setting the prices much higher for ebooks also released in hardback, often matching the price of the hardback, but usually keeping the price of the electronic book around the $17.99 range for a time after the hardback release.

This varies from company to company, but no traditional publisher releases a hardback and also a $7.99-$9.99 electronic at the same time. However, this happens all the time with trade paper releases. A publisher will release a $16.99 trade paper and put out a $9.99-$12.99 ebook, then lower the price after six months on the electronic book down to the $7.99-$9.99 range.

Traditional publishers are using the “sale” aspects of lower ebook prices for very-short-time events, sometimes only a day, often a week. They drop the price anywhere from free to $2.99. This almost never happens with only a first book, and never with hardback releases.

Usually the author has to have three or more books with the publisher before the publisher puts an early title on sale. And then only when the book is in mass market or trade paper editions.

Hardback pricing has “reduction” sales, meaning prices are lowered from $27.99 to $22.99 or lower. (And, of course, hardbacks are high-discounted into box stores like Costco, which means authors make no money on those copies for the most part under most contracts. Indie publishers seldom get to those box stores at this point.)

As readers, we’ve been at this new phase of electronic reading now for going on two years, with regular readers now in the play instead of only early adaptors. This new trend of traditional publishing pricing is setting the price bar pretty firmly above $5.00 general level.

The lower prices are either because of length of the work and if a novel, an extreme lower price will often make readers more weary and cause the novel to jump through more hoops before bought. (Again, talking about regular book buyers, not writers or discount buyers.)

— There was (for a time) downward pressure on prices in electronic books in 2010-2011, but this trend has pretty well faded and now reversed (except at the high levels of pricing, meaning books above $15.99 still find a ton of resistance). A very vocal group of indie booksellers are keeping the pricing lower for some indie publishers. They confuse “sales” and “discounting” with original Suggested Retail Pricing.

But traditional publishers are holding the prices high and most readers (not all) are accepting that, when the price for the ebook is in a reasonable range. (Note: I said “reasonable range.” Very few ebook readers will pay above $15.99 for an ebook without the early-purchase premium on the book, meaning it’s just released from a favorite author. Studies have show that there is a very strong resistance above $12.95 price point.)

— All this is for what I call “normal readers.” A reader who would ONLY buy a book from a discount bin or cheaply at a used bookstore will disagree, of course, and love the 99 cent novel trend. But normal readers, the masses that are now starting to enter the electronic reading world are fine with paying a fair price. And if the price is reasonable, won’t even notice the price for the most part.

My Suggestions for Pricing in 2012

These ebook prices are slightly different than my earlier suggestions. And for ease of stating, I am using word count as markers. This is not always the case. Word count in some genres, such as young adult and early readers or fat fantasy, can vary. So these are only guidelines.

And only my opinion.


Short Fiction (Under 3,000 words) $1.49

Short Fiction (3,000-6000 words) $1.99

Fiction (6,000-9,000 words) $2.99

Fiction (9,000 to 15,000 words) $3.49

Fiction (15,000 to 20,000 words) $3.99

Fiction (20,000 to 30,000 words) $4.99

Fiction (30,000 to 50,000 words) $5.99

Fiction (above 50,000 words if backlist) $6.99

Fiction (above 50,000 words if brand new) $7.99-$8.99 (maybe higher for a short time if attached to a paper book release.)

Those are my pricing suggestions here in early 2012 for ebooks. I think they would have been slightly off a year ago, slightly too high for the market back then. But now, as electronic reading goes into this new phase, out of the early adaptor phase, I think the above pricing is fair and following trends in publishing in general.

Every writer is different.

Every publisher is different.

You must decide what kind of publisher you want to be.

Remember, my opinions are based on my desire to be a long-term publisher, selling in all markets all over the world. Short term gains are nice, but not something I would spend much time chasing.

We shall see how these prices work over the next few years. I might be doing another pricing update a year from now. But I don’t think so.


Copyright © 2012 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!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal


The New World of Publishing: Reasons for a Trade Paper Edition

The writer, Steve Perry, asked me a couple of good questions in the comments on the last article. I wanted to try to answer them up front here because I thought the questions, or the basic question, important.

The basic question (not exactly as Steve asked it) was this:

Is doing a paper book worth the effort?

My flat opinion is yes. So let me explain why I believe that.

How Much Money Can You Make?

In the series you can get to above called “Think Like a Publisher” I talked about how to sell trade paper books and get them into bookstores. (Some of that series is a little dated since I wrote it over a year ago, but I will be going back to fix it shortly.)

To be honest, I talked about trade paper being a long-term plan for most writers. But it really shouldn’t be. Early on indie publishers need to start working some of their books into print. Build a list and a backlist in paper as any publisher would do. So I will change that as well now.

Building a booklist will take time, sometimes years to build a decent publisher list of titles. And the sales will be very slow at first. But down the road, after those years, you will be very, very glad you got started early.

Steve asked about how trade paper books were doing for me and Kris at WMG Publishing. So let me give you a few facts in general and then some of WMG Publishing plans.

Fact: WMG Publishing only has eleven books in trade paper at the moment, and all of them were (in one form or another) experiments. We have three novels, two nonfiction books, four short collections, and two short novels. All but the long novels and one big nonfiction book are $7.99 cover. All are part of the extended distribution through CreateSpace.

Fact: WMG Publishing has 240 or so titles in print electronically. Short stories, collections, short novels, and novels.

Fact: WMG Publishing makes about 15% of its income from the eleven trade paperbacks. Without one ounce of promotion or push to bookstores yet.

A Prediction: Since the focus this year for WMG Publishing is getting more and more books into trade paper, WMG Publishing will be making far more money from trade paperbacks by the end of 2012 than from the books published electronically. And that I am sure will happen.

WMG Publishing should have upwards of 350 electronic titles in electronic print and between sixty and seventy trade paperback titles by the end of 2012. (Yes, those sixty books will make WMG Publishing more than all 350 electronic titles combined.)

We will be selling the trade paperbacks directly to indie bookstores through our own distribution and catalogs and to all stores through the extended distribution systems of Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. And that will take very, very little promotion time and energy.

And because we have a lot of titles, most of you will just say, “Oh, they can do that, but I can’t.”

And if you think that, you will be hurting yourself and your future income because eventually you also will have a lot of titles. And you will have been very, very shortsighted.

The Numbers Yet Again

We all know that at this point in time, electronic publishing is hovering around 20% of all books sold. Higher in some genres, lower in others, higher in some months, lower in others.

That means in general that 80% of all books sold are paper, through either online bookstores like Amazon or indie bookstores or box stores. (CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, so they push CreateSpace books on Amazon. Duh.)

Most indie publishers just ignore those 20/80 numbers and ignore that 80% of the reading and book-buying public. (Which is why I get crazy when people tell me over and over that they have decided to go exclusively with Kindle, which has only a (mostly American) fraction of 20% of the total market. Just not good business to cut out that much of the world and your possible market and readers in my opinion.)

I tend to believe in trying to get WMG Publishing books to all readers around the world in all formats.

Will the percentages of electronic sales vs paper sales industry-wide change this year and next and next? Of course. More than likely in five years it will be around 50/50. Or maybe 40/60, with 40% being electronic. That’s what most experts are saying and I see no reason to disagree at this point. Electronic editions (as a delivery device of books to readers) are here to stay. But so are paper editions. For at least my lifetime and beyond.

Problems with Trade Paper Production

Compared to the craziness that traditional publishers do to produce a trade paperback, indie publishers have it very simple.

However, that said, producing a trade paper is slightly more difficult than producing an electronic version of the same book. There is a different set of learning curves new indie publishers must go through.

Some of the basic skills a new indie publisher must either learn or hire to produce a trade paper edition are these:

— Covers are wrap around, thus dealing with spine and back cover copy and design is critical.

— Interior book design has elements that electronic books do not have, such as running headers, drop caps, gutters, and the like. A simple subscription to the tutorials for a month on can help with a lot of that. And studying and imitating the style of a book design you like.

— It costs $25.00 and the price of a few test proofs to get your book launched compared to no costs for electronic books.

All that is scary, yes. Until you do it a few times and then you wonder what you were scared about. Those of you who have done a number of electronic books know that feeling. You do a few and you wonder why you thought it was so hard.

Of course, the prep of the manuscript up to the point of book design is exactly the same as for an electronic book.

And depending on the layout program you are using, it can be free or cost money to buy the program to get started. Lots of comment sections in previous posts have talked about all the different programs that people use for the different tasks.

Decisions of a Trade Paper Publisher

First off, you have to compare the different print-on-demand (POD) services out there. CreateSpace is the best and cheapest by far. And they are owned by Amazon so it’s a nice connection there, and their extended distribution system works just fine. They only do trade paper, however, so if you want a hardback, you have to make other choices at that point.

LightningSouce is second best, owned by Ingram Distribution, but caution on the upfront costs.

Lulu is an old company and lagging way behind the other two, with difficult distribution problems for your books. Most writers ignore or move from Lulu.

Extreme caution on trying to use any other service at this point. Buyer beware.

Pricing of the book is also a tough decision. The indie publisher must have a plan on how they will distribute their books as the years go by. If the goal is to just do the book and let it sit on CreateSpace, then just use the pricing calculator on CreateSpace to get a buck on the extended distribution system. And set your price at that. You can always change it later, remember.

But if your goal is to sometime down the road have enough books to distribute to bookstores in a catalog like any other publisher, then go ahead and figure your discounts. A great discount to an indie bookstore is 45% plus free shipping for ten or more books bought. That beats out Ingrams and B&N discounting.

An example: Novel priced at $17.99 retail. Your publisher copies cost about $6.00. You are giving a bookstore 45% discount. About $1.00 shipping cost per book (with an order of ten, otherwise store pays shipping).  You get $9.90 per book from the bookstore. Your total costs are $7.00. You make $2.90 per book profit, or about 16% profit. You never touch the books. You simply order them and change the delivery address at CreateSpace and they ship them directly to the bookstore. (Again, I talk about this in Think Like a Publisher.)

But in setting that price, there are factors. Book length and trim size are two major factors. Again, you will need to study books you like in design and take a tape measure and figure out their trim sizes and then run them through that calculator on CreateSpace. Price the book correctly for the size and page count and your future discounts. Do not undercut yourself. And sometimes that size can be changed fairly dramatically in book design, but you must balance readability in the equation at that point.

Again, many factors. All very learnable with a little trial and error and practice.

My Suggestion of How to Start Building a Book List

Step One: When you finish a book and have it read by others, format it and put it up on electronic publishing first. (Down the road you will work toward getting the book into all forms at the same time, but to start, just do it this way.)

Step Two: Start working on the next book.

Step Three: While writing, on breaks or for an hour or two that is extra, format your book for trade paper. Start the learning curve and take notes as you go so you can remember. Do the cover, the back cover copy, and so on. Eventually, get the book launched on CreateSpace.

Step Four: Forget the book is there, just let it sell what it will sell. At some point tell Amazon to link the paper and the electronic edition, but that’s it. Order a few copies, tell people on your web site it’s available, and give a copy to your mother. Otherwise just forget it.

Step Five: Repeat when book two is finished, including starting to write book three.

Eventually, if you have a few collections or novellas, put them into trade paper form as well. Just let the list of titles you have available in paper grow and the sales be what they will be. Then, at some point, you will have enough books to have your publishing company do a catalog and give to some booksellers.

Read my “Think Like a Publisher” blogs under the tag above if you have twenty or more books in trade paper to learn how to do some of what comes at that point.

The Bottom Line For Me

I flat hate any kind of publishing that cuts out readers. It really is that simple, so when Kris and I helped start WMG Publishing and they took over all our backlist, the focus was to get our books out to all readers. Of course, the readers may or may not buy them, their choice. But we will have them available in as many forms as possible.

Secondly, I get very, very puzzled (considering the new and very easy technology of POD publishing) that any publisher would only go electronic, especially with the well-researched data of number of paper books sold vs electronic books sold. (You remember…20/80?) No matter how anyone fudges the numbers right now, paper is still way out ahead of electronic books and will be for years.

If you are going to have a publishing business with your own work, think like a publisher. Go after every reader you can find in any country. But the only way to do that is have paper copies of your books available.

Will the paper books sell at first, or even sell many copies in the first year? Not likely unless you get lucky.

You ought to have seen Kris and I celebrate when an extended distribution sale came in for ten copies of a novel. We made about $12.00 on those ten copies, but it was as if we had hit the lottery. Why? Because we knew what it meant. We really had hit the lottery. Bookstores were finding the books and ordering in bulk. Or a warehouse was stocking the book for future orders. And we hadn’t even mentioned anywhere the book was available.

It really meant that the new system worked, that the traditional publishing stranglehold on print books really was vanishing. It meant that any of us could get in the door simply by paying $25.00 to CreateSpace and getting our book into print.

For those of us who fought the old system, who fought traditional publishing for decades to get our books to readers, that simple ten-copy sale meant everything. We really had hit the lottery. And now, as we put up more and more of our backlist and also some frontlist books as well, the payoff for hitting that lottery is starting to come in. Sometimes one copy at a time, sometimes ten or seventy-five or more copies at a time.

Steve, is doing POD books worth it? Oh, heavens YES!!

But that is just my my opinion. And as each month more and more money flows in from sales of paper books to WMG Publishing, my opinion gets firmer and firmer.

And besides, it’s great fun to hold the paper book.


Copyright © 2012 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!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal


The New World of Publishing: What Indie Production Actually Costs

Every few days I get someone making a comment on a topic and mentioning they can’t do such-and-such because it just costs too much. And I get at least one letter a week asking me how I can do so many books with the cost of editing.

To be honest, these questions always puzzle me. So let me dig into this a little.

My History

I used to have a publishing house, remember, folks? I was the publisher, actually, of Pulphouse Publishing Inc., ranked the 5th largest publisher of fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the nation for four or five years from 1989-1994. We had a two-story office building and at the peak I employed nineteen people in one capacity or another, from the shipping area to the printing to editorial. It was a beehive of a building, that was for sure.

And my monthly expenses just to keep the doors open, let alone the costs of production per book, would stagger you. I know it did me regularly.

So this new world of publishing is (in my opinion) book-publishing heaven. Not only is this new world faster by factors of a hundred or more, but the production costs don’t even come close to what was needed in 1990 to put out a book.

For example, from 1989 to 1992 we did a series of books at Pulphouse called “Author’s Choice Monthly.” The series let each author pick five or six stories, around 30,000 words, for a collection. We did one per month, sold them both in limited hardback form and unlimited trade paper form. We used the old warehouse method, meaning we had to guess ahead how many to have printed and bound. We did our own printing, then we had to haul the printed books an hour north to either a perfect bindery or the hardback bindery. Then we had to pick them up when done and bring them back to the office to be unloaded, packed, and shipped to stores and customers.

Let me put it this way as to costs. The price of the gas (for the 60 mile one way drive north to the binderies and back in 1990) for the van we used IS MORE than what WMG Publishing pays right now to put a collection of mine or Kris’s into electronic and trade paper edition.

That’s right, just the gas (in 1990 money) for 240 miles is more than I spend now for everything needed to get a collection into print.

Yes, this is publishing heaven. Trust me, I lived in the other place from 1987 through 1994.

And traditional publishers in New York still do. And that’s where so many of these beliefs come from. People who work the traditional side just can’t believe that a book can be done cheaply and yet professionally.

Trust me, coming from Pulphouse Publishing, at first I didn’t believe it either. But I was wrong.

Steps of Production and Each Step’s Costs

Every author is different. Every author has a different set of skills and a different configuration of friends and family around them to tap for help.

That said, let me try to detail out some basic costs if you do most everything yourself. Figure your own costs at each step.

I am talking at this point about doing your production and launching your book yourself. I will talk about other options later.

Writing Stage

I believe every writer should value their time and put a price on that time for writing. I have done a number of articles about that. But this article is talking about money out-of-pocket. And since I assume you would have your lights on and heat working in your home, there would be very little out-of-pocket money for writing.

However, on your accounting books, the value of your time is your biggest expense. Set yourself an hourly or daily wage and put that against the cost of the book.

So it would look like this:

— Cost of writing time, share of electricity, heat, and so on. (Example: 120 hours for a novel = 120 x $50.00 per hour (plus expenses) = $6,000.00)

— Out of Pocket Expenses for writing: None.

Proofing Stage

This is the area that seems to get new writers the most tied in knots. And that makes sense, actually.

Newer writers are focused on words only, on creating beautiful sentences, because that’s what their English teachers had them do. And granted, in the early days of writing, this focus isn’t a bad thing. All writers need to learn the basic writing rules before moving on into telling great stories and often breaking those learned rules to tell a better story.

That said, when a new writer looks at a book from a traditional publisher, they think it’s perfect BECAUSE IT IS IN PRINT. Now, of course, if you have been through numbers of books in the traditional system, you are just laughing now. If you have dealt with a proofreader paid for by your publisher who thought they could rewrite every sentence, you are laughing your ass off right now.

In real terms, sometimes traditional publisher helps a book with their editing and proofing and sometimes they hurt a book. And my gut sense is that it’s about 50/50 and you never know which 50 you are going to end up with on any book. Again, I’ve published over 100 books with traditional publishers. I can’t begin to tell you how many they made worse. And I can’t begin to tell you how many a great editor helped me fix details.

But even on the great jobs out of traditional publishers, there are no such things as “Perfect Books.”

Just doesn’t ever happen. And forget tastes in that equation. Every book has mistakes. Lots of them.

But new writers believe in the myth of the “Perfect Book” and thus, when wanting to publish their own book, think they need to pay tons of money to have so-called “professional” editors read their work.

Nope. Not needed. But you do need eyes on the manuscript. Especially early on when you haven’t figured out your own basic mistakes you make book after book.

So back to costs. My suggestion is use the barter system.

— Get another writer to read your book in exchange for reading that person’s book.

— Or have a friend who likes the genre you are working in read it and make a list of the typos in exchange for dinner.

— Or find a retired English teacher who loves to read and won’t rewrite you and pay them a few hundred to read and mark up your manuscript with their dusty red pen.

Here is what Kris and I do:

For short stories or collections or nonfiction work and many novels, we just trust each other as first readers. I read her work, she reads mine. We correct obvious mistakes. That’s it. A cost in time, but no money out. Do we miss stuff because both of us are not great at copyediting? Yup. Do we care that things get missed. Hell Yes!!  But this is a business and we just can’t do much beyond what we do. We write and release. Otherwise, we would both still be working day jobs and trying to fix the mistakes in our first books.

For some major novels, we do the same, and then we also have a wonderful friend read the book who we pay $150.00. She reads the book and often on backlist work, she also compares the file to the printed novel from New York. (And finds all kinds of mistakes in the printed novels as she goes along. Sometimes problems (that we had right in the file) were introduced somewhere in the process of publishing in New York.)

So our total costs for proofing:

— Short fiction and collections and many novels: Only time. (Count at your hourly rate for your accounting.) No out-of-pocket costs.

— Some Novels. Time and $150.00 cash out of pocket.

Cover Stage

If you are working on Microsoft Word and bought the Microsoft Office, it has a program included called PowerPoint which turns out is for slides and professional business presentations, but does wonderful covers. Quick, simple, easy to learn, and surprisingly powerful. (It gets a very bad rap from those who have spent years learning PhotoShop.)

No point in hiring someone to do a cover and then try to describe to that person what you want. Just learn how to do it yourself. Scary at first. But wonderfully easy once you pick it up. And you will spend less time doing the cover yourself than dealing with a person you hired.

So your first covers are going to take some extra time to learn things, and you will need to study covers to see what makes your cover look professional, but once you get going and have done a few and learned how to write blurbs and tag lines and such, covers get easy.

And always remember, it can be done again and fixed later very easily.

Besides your time, the art or photo for the cover is where the out-of-pocket cost comes in for each cover.

On any one of a dozen sites, find “royalty free” artwork which is basically the artist selling you use of the art for restricted reasons, which tends to always include book covers. On all the web sites that offer royalty free artwork and photos, read their licensing agreement carefully to make sure you can use what you are buying.

There are some fantastically professional artists on these sites. It’s a new way for artists to make a living by selling uses. Wonderful for them, wonderful for us.

For electronic publishing, you do not need a very high-resolution file, especially for PowerPoint. And the artist’s prices are determined on the size of the file you download. So go for a small file and cheap.

Most of the art I buy for short fiction covers or collection covers costs less than $10.00 to use.

However, on some novels, Kris and I have worked with some artists to get exactly what we want. We have paid anywhere from $100 to $500 per cover illustration. But that is only for very special projects. I do the layout.

But except for the special projects, all novels cover art has been in the $10.00 range as well.

So total costs are:

— Short stories, collections, and most novels: $10.00 plus time on your accounting sheet.

— A few special novels: $100 to $500 plus time on your accounting sheet.

Launching Your Book Stage

There are no costs at all for putting a book or story or collection up on Kindle, Pubit (for B&N), and Smashwords. There are other sites, but start with those three for now.

You have to spend some time writing a blurb and doing an author bio, but once you have those, it’s cut-and-paste.

So total costs are:

— No costs except a little time for blurb and author bio on your accounting sheet.


Ignoring the cost of your time for this calculation, your total out-of-pocket costs are as follows using Kris and my method:

— Writing Stage… $ 0.00

— Proofing Stage… $ 0.00 (to $150.00 for some special novels.)

— Cover Stage… $10.00 (to $500 for some special novels.)

— Launching Stage… $ 0.00

So your total costs run around $10.00 out of pocket for most short stories and collections and most novels.

That’s what we do.

Paper Books

If you want to add a trade paper edition, you will need to pay CreateSpace $25.00. And it will take more time and more learning to format your book correctly for paper and do a full wrap cover. But again it can be learned and only costs $25.00 extra, plus costs of the proof and books you buy at your publisher discount. (And by the way, I do spend $25.00 per month for for quick answers to questions on the different programs and tutorials on how to do some of the program steps.)


Why bother? Just move on and write the next book or story. And then the next and the next. Maybe announce it on Facebook once so your family can find it and put a listing on your web site, but that’s it. Any time you spend on this step is wasted writing time. Go write.

And if you spend a penny on this step before you have over fifty or more titles, you need to step back and really look at your marketing and business plan. There are very sound reasons to spend some money on promotion. But not early on.

Hiring Some Steps Done

This is very possible these days with many businesses running flat fee services for doing work for you. And if you have to have enough money to make it work.

From what I have heard, proofing runs from $150.00 to $500.00 for a full novel. Having a cover completely done will cost you from $200 to $500. But for heaven’s sake, figure out how to launch the book yourself to Kindle, Publit, and Smashwords. It’s simple and keeps the money in your control completely.

Huge Warning!!  Major scams are springing up all over, from agents to new businesses, offering to do this work for you for a percentage. Let me say this as simply as I can as a warning.


That’s an old habit writers got into for a number of decades in publishing with agents. It’s a horrid business practice and just damn stupid when it comes to the life of a copyright. And, of course, these scam artists will want to get all your income from your work before you see it. You let them do that and you deserve what you get. Sorry to be so blunt.


Looking at indie publishing from the outside is just flat scary. I had a publishing company and this stuff scared me. I knew how hard it was in the old traditional way of doing things. And how expensive it was in the warehouse model of distribution of paper books instead of the new POD version. My company went down in 2004 leaving me and Kris with almost a half million in debts we paid off by writing. Of course I was scared to even think about going to the publishing side again.

But electronic publishing is scary simple.

Does it take a learning curve? Yes. But so does Angry Birds. Actually, I think Angry Birds is harder to learn than electronic publishing.

We teach how to format, do a cover, and launch a story in ONE DAY at our Think Like a Publisher workshops here. The other days are for all the other stuff around it, including web sites and such. But the actual putting books up takes us a day to teach, with breaks. People in the class are launching their first books within a few hours.

So if you are making excuses to not learn this, it’s the fear talking.

I hear the following excuses all the time:

It costs too much.

I don’t have an art bone in my body. I can’t design covers. (You don’t design them, you find a cover you like and try to make your book look similar.)

And my favorite excuse:

I would rather write than spend the time learning how to publish. (Those writers either get taken by scam artists or give their work to agents and end up spending far more time rewriting for some agent than if they had just learned how to publish their own work and believed in themselves. Remember, agents don’t buy books, editors do. If you don’t want to indie publish, for heaven’s sake, send you work to editors, not agents.)

If you find yourself making excuses and not publishing, step back and figure out what you are really afraid of. (Like me. I was afraid of the huge debt until I learned how really inexpensive this process now is.)

Chances are your fear is not coming from the simple process of putting a manuscript into a certain Word.doc format or doing a cover on PowerPoint. Chances are the fear stopping you is in your own writing or in your own life.

Just saying…


This post was about the first major excuse of “it costs too much.” If you are letting the cost of publishing hold you back, you are just making up an excuse. Plain and simple. You can put out a novel for $10.00 in art off a royalty free site.

That’s right, with a little exchange and some learning, you can publish a novel or story or collection for $10.00 or less. And if you price your novel at $5.99 or $6.99, then you get your money back in two or three sales.

Of course, as I have said over and over, your time is valuable as well. And on your accounting sheet, do include your time and put a real dollar figure on it.

Value your time and your writing.

But don’t let out-of-pocket expenses be an excuse to not let readers find your work.

And by the way, don’t forget to have fun.


Copyright © 2012 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: Following

There is one really bothersome problem I have noticed a great deal in this new world of publishing we all live in. Writers and some publishers blindly follow someone without ever thinking. They hear a piece of advice, whether it is from this blog, from Konrath’s blog, from a Kindle board, from Publisher’s Marketplace, and they don’t question it. They just follow it blindly, without investigating the truth behind the claim or advice.

I make every effort to not set down rules here, and when I give my opinion, I do my best to back it up with business logic. Sometimes I don’t do a good enough job, I will admit, and sometimes my opinions are so strong they come across as a form of rules. But usually by that point, to be honest, I’m fighting an upstream battle and feel like I have to shout to be heard.

One example of my shouting opinions at the top of my voice is the topic of “agents as publishers.” I believe that in a business sense and legal sense and moral sense an agent turning into a publisher is so damn wrong, I just shout to writers, “Run away!”

That might be a little too over-the-top, but you get the idea. It sounds like a rule, but in reality it’s just my opinion. Every writer is different and if you have figured out a way to make it work with your agent, if you know how your agent will manage to do all the work, if you know how you are going to get paid, then don’t listen to my opinion on the topic. It’s your career. It’s your money.

Some basic beliefs of mine.

— In maybe a hundred different blogs over the years I have stated that there are no rules in this business. And when a person tries to put a rule on you, question it.

— In maybe a hundred different blogs over the years I have stated that every writer is different. But being different doesn’t mean you should just ignore simple, logical business practice.

— In maybe a hundred different blogs over the years I have begged writers to think for themselves, to not follow some trend or another, to step out of the myths and learn business.

For example, I held my opinion for a long time about the Kindle Select because I wanted to investigate the business aspects of it. I have, in my opinion, come to think it’s a horrid deal for writers in 99.9% of the cases. If it wasn’t exclusive, we would be talking another matter.

Another example: Over the past two years I have laughed and snorted and just shaken my head at information coming off the Kindle Boards. There seems to be no way for anyone active on those boards to see the real world beyond the little pool. Yet so many writers see something there and take it as truth and then defend it like their lives depended on it. They make a post by a beginning writer into a rule and then try to live by it.

I’ve been publishing since 1975 and been a publisher, editor and writer all that time. Trust me, never take anything I say as a rule and live by it. All writers are different. Learn to think for yourself, question everything, find your own path. And learn basic business. This is called the “publishing business” for a reason.

But that all said, anyone who has followed this blog for more than a few installments know I can really tilt at a windmill between trying to give practical advice like the Pen Name post or the Think Like a Publisher posts.

Some of my favorite windmills

— Pricing your book into the discount bin. (We’ve had a ton of discussion on that topic and I have another blog coming on pricing that will just start that all over again. Stay tuned.)

— Agent as publisher. (Just too stupid for words in my opinion.)

— Giving your agent all your money and the paperwork for that money before you see any of it. (Just ask yourself if you would do that in the real world with a perfect stranger and you get the idea of how wrong that practice is. And how much it needs to be changed as something common for writers to do with agents.)

— Writers signing contracts that allow a publisher to keep their book for the life of the copyright. (Author can get it back in 35 years, but see my next windmill on that topic.)

— Writers who claim to want to sell their fiction not knowing copyright, thus not even understanding what they are selling. (Actually, you don’t sell copyright, you license it, but most writers don’t even understand that basic a fact. And won’t even bother to spend a few hundred for a IP attorney to look at the contract for them.)

One Last Windmill

I have one last windmill I’m going to add into the mix before the next blog post where I go back to tilting at some more standard windmills and myths by talking about pricing.

Simply put, that windmill is “following blindly.

Question everything, folks. If it doesn’t feel right, even though your English teacher told you to do it, question it. If someone told you that you have to do thirty drafts and it’s boring you to tears, question that process. Some of us only do one draft and do just fine. Other professionals have figured out ways to write with three or four drafts. Ask what a draft is. Ask how long second and third drafts take a writer. And so on. Question.

If you are still sending manuscripts to agents because of guidelines that say, “No unagented submissions,” you really need to question how the system works. And learn it. Editors at publishes buy books and publish them. That’s their job. Give them a chance to see a submission package on your book.

If you think you have to spend a ton of money to indie publish a book, start asking questions. Most of us can electronically publish a book for under $10.00 and if we take it into paper editions, the cost goes up another $25.00. If you think it costs large amounts of money to be an indie publisher, start questioning because you have heard the wrong information.

And so on and so on and so on. Question everything. Stop following and look around and get lots of opinions and learn business and copyright and think for yourself.

A Perfect Illustration

Watch this very, very short, 30 second video a few times and then, when you stop laughing or being insulted, make a resolution to be the person standing on the sidelines laughing instead of in the line.



(Thanks, Lee, for the pointer.)



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Class #51… June 6th … The Business of Writing
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Class #6… July 12th … Depth in Writing
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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
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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

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

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#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

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

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#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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