Monthly archives for September, 2012

The New World of Publishing: The Seasons of Publishing

I’ve been resisting doing this article because of a host of factors. But with the last pricing article, it became clear that I needed to at least say something about this topic.

Why would I hesitate at such a simple and obvious topic? For that very reason. It just seems too simple and obvious to me to spend time talking about.

Then someone (my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch) reminded me I had been living inside of publishing since 1975 and what was obvious to me wasn’t to most people. And most indie publishers are not seasoned veterans of publishing, but new writers coming in.

As she said so clearly to me, “How would they know?”

So here we go. I will make this short, I promise.

Some Important History First

For a very, very long time in the publishing industry, everything concerning selling was divided into three seasons: Fall, winter and spring.

There were numbers of reasons for only having three seasons in publishing. The most important was that it took time for sales reps to go out to all the stores and sell the books to the stores and drugstores and newsstands. Often the early sales reps covered vast distances and serviced many, many accounts.

With each season came sales conferences, when editors used to present to the sales forces their lists of books. These conferences were done by each company and often covered an entire week. And it often took editors weeks to prepare for the conference.

Company by company, that is all done differently now.

But the three seasons remain.

Notice the season that is missing? Summer.

A number of factors played into this fact of the missing summer season besides the ability of the sales force to hit all their accounts in three months instead of four. One factor was air-conditioning. When I first came into publishing, it was common knowledge and “New York” (meaning traditional publishing) shut down in August. Sure, in the 1970s there was air-conditioning. But the tradition of shutting down still remained from the 1950s and back.

That tradition has now changed as well.

But the second major reason for no summer catalog and sales season for the publishers was that it was known that the lowest time for buying books by customers was May through the middle of September.

That has not changed.

Why Don’t Book Buyers Buy

from Mid-May to Mid-September?

If you look at your own life, the answer to that question should be clear. Graduation, nice weather, sports, kids are out of school, kids are going back to school, and so on and so on…

Do major publishers still release books every month? Yup. And often the bestseller game works wonders when a book is released into a known dead week or month, allowing the book to hit a bestseller list with far, far fewer copies than it would take in say October or November or early December.

But the books released into the summer downturn of sales are expected to sell less. That’s just the business.

Indie Publishers

For almost two years now I have been shouting (make that SHOUTING) that indie publishers should not watch numbers, but instead focus on writing their next book and learning how to become better storytellers.

At WMG Publishing Inc. we are just finally getting a person to help us develop a way to even track all our numbers and Joe Konrath finally hired someone to do the same for him. I tend to look at the numbers about once per month. (And I never read reviews and don’t care, which is another topic. (grin))

So I noticed the downturns in the seasonal sales from month-to-month, and how this summer I expected WMG Publishing numbers to go down, but instead they went up. The reason ours went up was increasing pricing, redoing some really ugly covers, and just basically relaunching some books, as well as adding in new material along the way.


Why did I expect that and looked for reasons why it didn’t happen. Because I know the sales cycles of publishing.

So here are my suggestions to indie writers and publishers.

1) Focus only on learning and writing the next book.

2) Check your numbers when the money gets deposited every month and no more.

3) Expect your overall sales to go down from May 15 to September 15 unless you push in new titles or do something else to change your list.

The summer is a great time to push in new titles because they will be solidly in the system, throughout the world, as we go into the fall book-buying season. So if you do anything in the summer, get new titles up.

If you do change a price, for heaven’s sake, give the new price at least six months to nine months to return numbers to you. Changing a price from week to week or month to month is just flat silly in this business.

Think long term. Checking your sales numbers twelve times per year is enough. And for heaven’s sake, stop reacting to low sales in a traditional low-sales period in the business.

Nothing wrong with your books. Low sales in the summer are just normal.

Now try to remember that next summer. (grin)


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

The New World of Publishing: What Should Indie Publishers Be Called?

We have indie publishers, self publishers, specialty-press publishers, small-press publishers, and so on and so on. Are there any differences and does anyone care?

Well, it seems some people care. Those people with far too much time on their hands, in my opinion. But alas, I have been asked questions about the differences now for some time and I figured it was about time to lay out my opinion on the subject.

So here is how I break it down….

(I will not defend this because, honestly, I have too much actual work to do. And I honestly don’t care. But for the sake of future articles, let me be clear how I see each term. Then you all can agree or disagree.)


Writers who are publishing their own work and have not started a press, don’t have a press name, and when they publish a book, it says only their author name as the publisher.

I have zero issue with authors publishing this way as long as they never hope to grow a larger business. This way is for occasional writers wanting to get something into print. Nothing wrong with it at all.

In fact, this article is self-published. So for this blog and other articles on this web site, I am a self-published author.

Indie Publishers

Indie publishers are writers or fans or whatever who have started a press name that publishes either their own work or someone else’s work. Indie publishers run their press like a business. They often don’t even have their own checking account under the business name, although most do.

Again, nothing wrong with that.

Indie presses usually have more than one author name under their press, have a press web site, and act like a business with their writing. In my columns called “Think Like a Publisher” I try to help writers set up their own presses and act like a business.

Specialty Press Publishers

These are publishers who have a focus on one special area or one author. Underwood-Miller Publishing was a specialty press mostly publishing only high-quality signed Jack Vance books.

My original publishing company, Pulphouse Publishing Inc., was a specialty press publisher focusing only on short fiction books and magazines.

Specialty press publishers tend to do very high quality, often limited books focused in their special area. They act completely like a business.

The longest running specialty press in history was Arkham House out of Wisconsin. Started in 1939 and now finally, have seemed to have shut down.

Small Press

Small Press is a term used in the larger world of publishing to define a publisher, either an indie or a specialty publisher, who has gross sales under a certain figure. That figure tends to be around 50 million dollars. Or less than ten titles per year.

Note, many “medium-sized presses” are considered part of traditional publishing. Daw Books, Baen Books, and so on in science fiction are medium-sized presses. After you get above 50 million dollars in sales per year, there is not a lot of difference between you and a traditional publisher.

My first publishing company, Pulphouse Publishing Inc., was considered the 5th largest publisher of science fiction and fantasy and horror for five straight years, yet we never got above small press. We published 252 titles in nine years, however.

Vanity Publishers

Scams. Plain and simple. Vanity presses under new disguises these days tell a writer that they will produce a writer’s book for a set amount of money and then ship the writer thousands of really ugly books for the writer to try to sell or store in their garage.

This kind of press should be avoided by writers at all costs. They have existed in publishing forever and will continue on due to the stupidity of writers with more money than brains.

Traditional or Legacy Publishers

I use the term “traditional publishers.” Some writers like calling all the big publishers “legacy” publishers as a nasty term. Not all major corporations are the same, not all are bad, not all work in the same mold. And there are a ton more than six of them.

So I like “traditional”  as a term for major publishers since this new world has given writers choices between being an indie publisher or selling to a traditional publisher. I suggest always trying to do both. Just be smart about it.


I like (and will continue to use) the term “indie publisher” or “indie writer” to talk about writers striking out on their own into the publishing world and starting their own presses. I consider it a term of respect for writers I admire.

WMG Publishing Inc. (which I am putting most of my stories through and my backlist) is a small press publisher I helped start. It now has four employees (not counting me) and a number of others helping out. It very well might grow into a medium-sized publisher over years.

I also will keep trying to sell to larger traditional publishers if the contract terms allow.

And I am helping start an indie distribution company for indie and small press publishers to distribute work to bookstores. That will be coming on line this winter.

As well as all that, I am editing for Fiction River, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of WMG Publishing Inc.

So if anyone cares if I am an indie writer, the answer is nope. I sell all my work to corporations. And I work part-time to help out a new corporation get started.

But I can tell you what I am (besides a self-published writer for this blog).

I am a writer.

I am a writer who likes getting paid for his work and getting it to readers who will enjoy it.

Past that, I couldn’t much care what anyone calls me.


Because I’m having fun, that’s why.



Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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The New World of Publishing: Pen Names

NOTE: This is a complete reprint of the pen name post I did back in January because I am getting so many questions about pen names lately. About one per day, honestly. So time to put this out again.)

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.


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Class #21… Mar 7th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #22… Mar 7th … How to Write Thrillers
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#1... Heinlein's Rules... Dean Wesley Smith 15 videos... $75.00

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#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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