Monthly archives for December, 2012

The New World of Publishing: How To Keep Production Going All Year

This is the fourth part of a series on how to set yourself set up and plan for 2013 writing and publishing. There have been three parts so far. Please read them first because this one will build on those four.

Part One: Some Perspective on 2012.

Part Two: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

Part Three: Goals and Dreams.

So now we move to Part Four: How to Keep Production Going All Year.

Remember, any business and production plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work. The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream. Read the third part again, but keep in mind a goal can be attained and is in your grasp. A dream is what you work toward with a series of goals.

So, this year-end series is continuing, but again, before reading this, please read those first three parts.

Setting Up For Failure

I’m starting this post with a warning: Understand what is failure in a goal and what isn’t failure.

Every time I do this post, or talk with writers at the end of the year, I hear goals being set that are seemingly impossible when you do the math. I’ve set a few of them myself, to be honest, over the decades.

I honestly have no problem at all with impossible goals. None, as long as the person setting the goal understands that the likely failure can also be deemed a success. But most writers I know don’t understand that simple detail.

For example: Two years ago here I set a goal to write from titles and publish here and online 100 short stories. And even though slightly behind, I felt I was pretty much on schedule to hit that goal when one of my best friends died and I took over his estate. I turned away from writing almost completely to do the estate and only did what deadline work I had.

So did I fail? Nope. I wrote and got out over thirty original short stories in the challenge, plus a number of stories for original anthologies that didn’t count in the challenge. Not the year I hoped, or even my best year, but not a bad year considering all the factors. It would have been far, far worse without the challenge.

But most writers I know, when faced with actually missing their goal, just stop all together. The problem is that the goal sets them up for a failure, and then they use the failure or life issue as an excuse to stop writing.

So caution when setting goals so extreme, you can’t make them in any fashion. And if you do set an extreme goal, have fall-back success levels.

A reminder of the first steps needed…

— I assume you have done the math to know how many original words you can produce of fiction per hour.

— I assume you have figured out how many hours you have each week to write original fiction.

— I assume you have started to set up a writing space, and have started telling your family and friends how important your writing is and have plans to start protecting your work, your time, your art in the new year.

All of this is from the previous posts. If you haven’t done the above, I wouldn’t worry about moving forward with setting goals, because without the knowledge, the goals will fail. Goals must be set from a position of knowledge, not from a position of wishful thinking.

A Sign of the Classic Want-To-Be-Writer: Another Warning

Every long-term professional fiction writer can spot a hopeless want-to-be fiction writer easily.

— They are the fiction writers who talk about writing, but never finish anything.

— They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

— They are the fiction writers who come up with one idea and spend years on it, talking about it, researching it, workshopping parts of it, but never finishing it and moving on.

— They are the fiction writers who believe they will never succeed because they don’t have a major fan base like a major writer, so why bother. Or worse, they finish one thing and spend all year “promoting it.”

— They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

— They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.  They “just can’t find the time.” And then the following year they try the same thing that didn’t work every year before.

If you don’t want to be one of those “writers,” reread the first three posts I did in this series and set your time, set your defenses, and then set your goals for the year.

Be a writer who makes your production of new words important.

 How to Set Fiction Writing Goals in 2013

Now that I am done with the warnings and have the basics from the first three posts out of the way, it’s time to get to some ideas that might work for you.

Remember, I’m just tossing out suggestions here. There is no one way for every writer, or only one way for the same writer from year-to-year. Use what strikes you in these ideas, alter them to suit your needs, and set the goals for you.

And also I think it would be fine to combine some of these suggestions.

Idea #1

Set your plan to strictly follow Heinlein’s Rules.

The rules are:

1) Write

2) Finish what you write

3) Do not rewrite unless to editorial demand. (Meaning New York book editors who can buy your work, not someone who you hire. It is fine to fix mistakes first readers find and spelling mistakes.)

4) Put it on the market for someone to buy it. (Either a New York editor or readers indie published.)

5) Keep it on the market. (For indie publishers, this means leave it alone.)

If you are one of the very few who have the courage to even try this, let alone succeed with the attempt for an entire year, you will be stunned at how far you will move toward your writing dreams and how much fun you will have.

Warning on this one. Deceptively simple looking rules, fantastically difficult to actually follow because of all the myths that swirl around fiction writing. You will find yourself spending a ton of time coming up with excuses to not follow them. (Please, don’t comment on your excuses here. These rules are a Yoda situation. Either do. Or Don’t.)

As Robert Heinlein said about his own rules. “But they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants…”

Idea #2

Set a new word count you would like to hit for the year.

“New words” means finished words that can be either indie published or sent to traditional editors. Rewriting, researching, and all the other excuses you have do not count. New words only.

(If you hear yourself say right there, “But…” you may have an issue to deal with.)

Here is how to do this:

Say you would like to finish a quarter of a million new words this year.  A very solid, but scary goal. A very large elephant.

1…. So divide the total word count desired into 50 weekly parts. (Two weeks off for vacation.) Example: 250,000 words divided by 50 weeks = 5,000 new words per week.

2… You have determined you can do about 1,000 words per hour.  So divide the 5,000 words by 1,000 = 5 hours of writing per week.

3… Look at the fiction writing time you have figured you have each week and find about eight hours total to get those five hours of writing done safely in your schedule. (The extra three will give you a cushion.)

4… Then protect those eight hours and write during that time every week to make sure you get the 5,000 minimum words per week done.

At the end of the year you will look back and have finished one quarter of a million words. And trust me, you will be a much better fiction writer at the end of the year with that much practice, and if you finished and mailed or published everything, you will be on your way.

A quarter of a million words a year sounds like a great big elephant. But 5 hours of writing per week does not. Yet one equals the other. Weird how that happens, isn’t it?

And note: I will be talking a great deal about a week as a unit. We can all handle keeping a week in our minds because the world has trained us that way. So use that training when setting these goals and stay focused only at a week level. And better yet, a daily level.

Idea #3

Set up a production goal.

A lot of people, me included, like production goals more than word-count goals.

When I started seriously writing, I set up a production goal to write and mail one short story per week. That sort of breaks down to the same word count as Idea #2 of 5,000 words per week. But the focus for me was on the finishing and mailing. (I was following Heinlein’s Rules religiously also during the challenge and still do, which is why I am still a professional writer.)

My ongoing challenge is also production based. (I will talk about it in a post right before the first of the year.)

The reason production-based goals sometimes work better is because of the end date. If your goal is to finish one short story every week, that keeps your mind off of the larger goal. You only focus down on one project at a time.

If you are writing novels, I would highly suggest you break it down into smaller goals, such as finishing a scene per day or a chapter per week. And then only focus on that small bite.

Again the key with eating an elephant is to not think of the task, just chew up one bite at a time, only thinking of the bite.

Idea #4

Get one new book up indie published every two weeks. (Take two weeks off, so you are aiming for 25 by the end of the year.)

This is a great challenge a friend of mine is running and a lot of people are taking part on a private list. Set up your own group.

The idea is that the book can be a short story or a collection or a novel. And the key is to have the total at the end of the year.

So if writing a novel, a month or so will go by with nothing new up, then do some short fiction and then a collection before going back to the next novel.

Also, if you have some stories you have written and haven’t sold, or backlist of stories that were published and you now have the rights back, get those up as well. They would count.

There are lots of ways of doing this, and it really works. And having 25 new books in print by the end of the year is something you are going to be very happy about. Trust me.

Reporting In To Someone

Here is the key to success for every major method of goal-setting. You must have someone, or some method, or some way to keep you on track.

If you don’t make your weekly goal or word count, you must tell someone you didn’t make it. If you did make it, you must tell someone you did.

When I started writing fiction seriously with my short-story-per-week challenge, I actually had a bet going with Nina Kiriki Hoffman. If I missed my story for the week, I had to buy her a steak dinner. I couldn’t afford a steak dinner.

Sometimes you can put your progress on your web site as a weekly update. Even if not that many people show up to your web site, you know some will and your failure or success will be out there in the open. You can even use one of those word counters that you can get as a plugin for your site if you are doing a word-based goal.

When I was writing media novels, I had very hard and fast deadlines. Sometimes I was trying to beat the movie out when I wrote novelizations. There could be no excuses. (I have done about twelve movie novelizations, including Rundown, The Core, 10th Kingdom, Final Fantasy, and so on.)

And with ghost novels, it has been the same way. The one I was going to blog about the writing in December was pushed back to January because they haven’t paid me yet. (I never write anything I don’t own unless I am paid first. Duh.) And when they do finally pay me, they will be in even more of a hurry. Not my issue, but I will have someone waiting for the novel that I will be responsible to. So I will get it done. (And yes, I will blog about the writing of it daily here.)

Sometimes this person you report to is just another writer, sometimes it is a family member, sometimes a post on your blog. But with every small goal achieved or missed, report to someone or post it somewhere where people will see it. Set it up ahead so that person knows what you are doing. (No I will not be that person for anyone and you can’t use these post messages for the task either. Sorry.)

And if you don’t report to the person you have set up, make sure they know to ask you how it is going.

If you hate this idea of reporting in some fashion or another, check in with yourself to see where the fear is coming from. And then use that fear to drive you even more.

An important reminder right here. NEVER SHOW A WORK IN PROGRESS TO ANYONE. Protect your art. You can say you finished chapter 52, but don’t show it until you are ready to release the entire book to the world. (I talked about this in one of the first three posts in this series.)

 What Happens When You Fail?

Everyone with a family and a day job and a life will fail on short-term goals set at the beginning of the year. There are almost no exceptions to that rule. And if you think you will be the exception in 2013, you are delusional, I’m afraid.

So what do you do when life derails you?

Climb back on the next week. Or as soon as you can.

Say you are doing a short story per week with the intent of getting to fifty by the end of the year. Suddenly life gets in your way and you miss three weeks in April.

DON’T TRY TO CATCH UP. Just get back on the focus of the weekly goal and keep going. Trust me, at the end of the year you will be very happy with 47 stories finished.

But if you let it stop you cold, you won’t be happy by the time the end of the year rolls around. And these year-end check-in-points just keep happening every year.

So here are my suggestions when life derails you and you miss your short-term goal.

1… Don’t even once think about catching up. Can’t happen and will make things worse.

2… Climb back onto your production challenge or weekly page goal as soon as you are able.

3… If life alters so much as to make the original weekly pace impossible, stop and reset a new goal for the year and for each week and then stick to that.

4… Somehow, with help or with some mechanism, remember these suggestions.

Chances are you will not remember.  Sadly. You will be buried in a life crisis and then when that clears you will be mad at yourself for not doing the impossible and protecting your writing time and meeting your weekly goals. And you will be swirling in the failure instead of just focusing on being successful the following week.

Wow, was that easy for me to type and so hard for any of us to do.

The real key to having a successful year writing fiction is that when you get stopped, and you will, to start back up as soon as you can.

In Summary

Follow the instructions in the first three posts of this series.

— Get your available writing hours figured.

— Get your writing speed per hour figured.

— Tell your family and friends around you how important what you are going to do is. Be prepared to remind them all the time.

— Get ready to protect your time. Set up an office without distractions and a computer without e-mail or games only used for fiction writing.

— Figure out a yearly goal for words or production, then back it down into weekly goals that will get to your yearly goal. Make sure your weekly goals have extra time in them for small life events.

— Plan in time to keep learning, to go to a conference or two, to take a class or two, to read some writing books.

— Set up someone or some place to report your progress and failures to.

— Then decide to have fun.

That’s right, I said have fun.

If the act of fiction writing isn’t fun for you, get out of this chase now.

If you aren’t excited and scared about the coming year and the learning and writing, get out of this chase now.

Fiction writing isn’t brain surgery. It is entertainment.

You are trying to be an entertainer in 2013.

For heaven’s sake, have fun doing it.

2013 is a brand new year. The world didn’t end. Traditional publishing didn’t fail. More fiction writers than ever are making money with their fiction.

It’s a new golden age for fiction writers.

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 now getting back to writing fiction, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this column somehow in how I make a living.

So, 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. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but 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: Goals and Dreams

I’ve been promising to start a series on how to set yourself set up and plan for 2013 here in December 2012. A couple people actually have asked me when I was going to start that series. Well, I already have.

Part One: Some Perspective on 2012.

Part Two: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

So now we move to Goals and Dreams in this post. Any business plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work. The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

So, the series is continuing, but before reading this, please read those first two parts. It’s all going to build from part to part and I’m going to reference parts of those posts as well at times.

Defining a Dream

So what is a dream?

Be rich, sell millions of books, hit #1 on the New York Times List? Yup, all dreams. How about winning the lottery? Yup, a dream.

How about being published by a traditional publisher? Yup, a dream.

You can send a novel to a traditional editor or put it up indie published for publishers and readers to see. That is working toward the dream of being published by a traditional publisher. But you have no control over the fact that you will be published by any traditional company. None.

That’s why they are called “dreams.”

For the purpose of this series of posts, let me define a dream.

A dream is something that you want that is out of your direct control.

We work toward dreams, but we have no control over gaining them. That’s what defines something as a dream. No direct control.

Defining a Goal

Again for the sake of this discussion, A goal is something you can do that is in your direct control.

Goals are set with the hope of achieving a dream.

Dream: Win the lottery. Goal: Buy a lottery ticket every week.

You can buy a lottery ticket. That is working toward the dream of winning the lottery. Buying a ticket is in your control.

“Making a Living With Your Fiction” Dream

Dream: At some point in the future you hope to pay all your bills every year with only your fiction writing.

So what kind of goals are you going to need to get to this dream? Remember, you set goals to achieve dreams.

Before we set some goals, let me give some basics.

To be a professional writer, you are going to need the following just to start:

1) Determination bordering on psychotic.

2)  The ability to keep standing back up and going on when something knocks you down.

3) The ability to ignore the negative from all those around you, especially family and friends.

4) The hunger to keep learning writing craft and the knowledge you will never be good enough.

5) Fearlessness.

6) The desire to learn business.

7) The ability to control your own time and what comes at you.

If you think you have all seven of those points, or can learn or fake a part of them, then we can move on to the next step.

Please understand that three years ago there was only one path to this dream of making a living with your fiction. Now there are numbers of valid paths and a lot more writers achieving the dream. See my post How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013. I tend to lean toward the #4, #5, or #6 paths, but the #2 path will also work given enough time.

So what steps are next?  There are a couple of ways of approaching this as a business person.

#1… Set desired income and work backward to a production goal to attain the income… or #2…. set a production goal and work forward until the income arrives.

I tend to like just setting a production goal and working toward the income as it happens. More in my control. But both methods need production goals set, just as any manufacturing business would.

So that’s where I’ll start.

How to set production goals

FIRST STEP… even if you are writing pretty well already, take an inventory of all the time you spend every day for three or four sample days. Doing everything.

Every minute in fifteen minute chunks. Do a log. And be honest. And also record your mental state during the time frame. For example, up at 6:30 but too tired to think until 8:30 and two cups of coffee.

After you have the log, figure out how much writing time you have.

Add in reading time, research time, and so on.

CAUTION!!!  Writing time is only writing time, creating new words only. Rewriting, researching, reading, taking a workshop is not writing time. Be clear on that because if you start to blur those lines, you will discover your new word production has decreased.

(Honestly, I expect very few of you to do this, even though it might be the most important step you take in production. Most writers fall down on point #7 above and it is often terminal to a writing career.)

SECOND STEP… Keep time over a number of writing sessions how many NEW words you get done in an hour. Round that to a general number per hour. For example, I write slower at the starts of stories and faster at the ends. So the general number I use for myself is around 1,000 words per hour. I tend to be comfortable with that and many professional writers I know are in that range.

Find your own range and be clear on it and don’t tell us. This is for you to figure out for yourself.

THIRD STEP… Look at all your writing time from step one and your word count per hour from step two and figure out how much you could write in A PERFECT WEEK.

Divide that in half and that is your writing goal of new words per week.

Example: So say with your day job and kids, you can carve out ten hours per week of actual writing time. Divide that in half and if you write about 1,000 words per hour of new words, you will be producing 5,000 new words per week. (5 hours x 1,000 words = 5,000 words per week.)

Take two weeks off and you get 50 weeks x 5,000 words or 250,000 new words per year.

That’s just five hours per week.  That’s how you write a lot of words.

If you can manage to actually write ten hours per week of original fiction, just over one hour per day, you would produce a half million words of fiction in one year. (And you would be called one of the fastest writers in publishing if you worked that one-plus-hour per day for a few years. Not kidding.)

What is the next goal?

You can’t do anything without producing and finishing new novels and stories. So the production goal has to be the top importance. Period. Those hours have to be protected like gold. And you have to work during those hours, not play video games on your computer or answer e-mail. You have to protect those hours from yourself mosts of all.

But after setting the production goal, (and defending your writing time and actually writing in that time) it will now depend on your own beliefs in both myths and how you want to go at  the publishing industry. Again, back to my last post in this series, “How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.” You have choices.

Are you writing short fiction or novels or both?  (Again, please only answer for yourself in your own planning.)

Do you also have a dream of traditional publishing novels? Or can you be happy for now indie publishing and making a living that way? (Ignoring that indie publishing is now a route to traditional publishing for the sake of this discussion.)

Again, look at the six roads I laid out in the last post and figure out which one works for you and your dreams.

Let Me Help a Little in the Decision…

Going back to doing a business plan, let’s come at the entire thing from another direction.

First, set how much money you need to live for a year. Say the number is $50,000.00 for the sake of this article.

Traditional Publishing Route: (Path #2 from last week.)

If you are writing for traditional publishers and making $5,000 advances, you will need to write and sell ten novels per year plus to get close to that amount. Or get higher advances. If you want to make $50,000 per year and only write one book, you need to sell it for $50,000 plus. And do that every year.

Yup, that’s a dream like winning the lottery. It’s possible if you buy enough tickets… I mean write enough books.

I have written entire novels for under $5,000 and I have made over $50,000 per book. Both are more than possible. The low end is more likely in this new world. (And plan on never seeing another dime from the book after the first year. You will never get it back with modern contracts unless your advance is way above six figures and you have a great attorney.)

And remember that selling a novel to traditional publishers is a dream, so to achieve that dream you will need to pound editor’s desks (again option #2 from last week) with dozens of novels for years. It will take a long, long time, as it has always done.

But it is possible. That’s how I did it. And for years Kris and I taught that road, the only road before three years ago open to writers.

Remember, I am writing this assuming the dream is to make a living with your fiction. To do so on the traditional route, you would have to set your goals to write a lot of books, far more than one hour per day, actually, or plan on taking a lot of years. The first novel breaking in will speed up the process, but with traditional publishing route, make sure you are clear on all the stuff I have been talking about here. And what Kris has been talking about on her blog. Contracts, agents, and so on. There are thousands of pitfalls on that road, but again, writers do walk it.

I walked it for decades and never really got very lucky. I just worked harder than almost everyone and have now published over a hundred novels with traditional publishers. It can be done.

Do I suggest it as a road to walk in 2013?

No. But it is your career. Your choice.

Indie Publishing Route:

First five to ten novels you put up you will be lucky to sell 25 copies per month average over a year. Average. Some will sell none, some more. (And I’m talking across the planet, not just Kindle.)

But do the math. If you are selling the novels at $5.99 each electronic (ignoring paper and audio for the moment) you make about $4.00 per sale or about $100 per novel average per month. Or around $1,200 per year per novel.

You will not do this with your first or second or even fifth novel.  This path, just as traditional publishing does, takes a lot of product. That is a drawback. If the first year you write three novels (about six hours per week), you would be lucky after the first year to make great dinner money on all three books total every month.

Also, you have to go back to Step One above and figure in the time where you can learn how to do covers and layout interiors of books.  And that can’t be your writing time. You must dig out the indie production time from other time. Not writing time.

And you will need to set up a business as a small press or indie publisher. My “Think Like a Publisher” posts under the tab above are free. (I will be doing a lecture series with that title to help people as well starting in 2013.) So that can be learned, but not on writing time.

Indie publishing route is much easier to do business “projections” on. Say you have finished ten novels in four years (again ignoring paper and audio editions for now). You are averaging 25 copies per month sold over those ten titles. That is a pretty steady income of $12,000 per year. Not $50,000, but a nice start.

As with traditional publishing, this method of approach assumes a few dreams happen given enough work.

With traditional publishing, this method assumes that with given enough years and work, you start selling regularly to traditional publishers.  That’s the dream part.  It might not happen. In indie publishing, the dream part is that you average 25 copies per book per month in sales. That might not ever happen either.

You can’t control if you sell to New York and you can’t control if your books sell to customers.

So that approach does not really work as a business plan because it assumes sales that are out of your control.

So I’m going to back up to what is a goal, what can be controlled.


You control in Traditional Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale, meaning how many do you mail to traditional editors and how you keep them in the mail to as many editors as you can over time.

That’s it.

You control in Indie Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale.

3) You also control the quality of the cover, the blurbs, and where your book is sold (paper, electronic, audio and all markets for everything around the world.)

That’s it.

Control of both major paths ends right there. 

So how do you work to get the money flowing and growing and eventually make a living if you don’t control either sales to editors or customers?


1) You control where you attempt to sell your work.

2) You control how much you are learning to make your work better every time.

On where to sell your work, my suggestion is this: Attempt to sell your work everywhere you can think of, in as many forms as you can figure out..

Let me repeat that, since it is such a simple sentence and so fantastically hard for people to follow.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

That you can control! You control the attempt to sell. You don’t control the buying or not buying, but you control the attempt to sell.

So a goal can be to get your work out to every market you can get it out to in all fashions. EXCLUDE NOTHING.

A couple of very simple examples:

Example #1: You write a short story.

— First, try to sell it to traditional magazines that pay above 5 cents per word and give you rights back to your story within a year.

— After it hits the top markets, then indie publish it, or if it sells, after you get the rights back, indie publish it as a stand-alone for $2.99 electronic. (Get it in every electronic market you can get it into around the world.)

— Put it with three or four other stories and publish it as a collection.  Do print and audio versions of the collection as well. Get them into every outlet you can around the world as well.

And so on…

Example #2: You write a novel.

Publish it indie first electronically, in paper, and in audio and get it out around the world to every market you can get it out to.

Then mail a copy of the trade paperback with a cover letter and quick synopsis and a SASE to five traditional editors who might buy it for their line. And if they don’t respond or reject it, mail it to five more editors in six months. (Path #5 from the last article.)

There is no either/or in 2013.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.


In the next article in this series, I will break down how to get the production going. The decision on traditional or indie or both does not matter if you can’t get production of new words going.

And keep it going.

That’s a key. I’ll give you in the next post a number of tricks and methods to keep your writing going through 2013. And a few nifty games to play as well.

Also, I will talk about how to keep learning through the new year. That’s also something you can control and will help in money made in the future.

You control production, learning, and where your try to sell your work.

But until the next article, figure out how many hours of writing you can carve out of your life and how fast you write original words.  (And again, keep them to yourself… not our business, just yours.)

And then I’ll help you get to those words and keep them flowing.

And remember the point of this article.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

As I said in last week’s article, it really, honestly, is that simple.

And that hard.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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

I’m now getting back to writing fiction, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this column somehow in how I make a living.

So, 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. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

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The New World of Publishing: How To Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013

In the old days, meaning more than three years ago, the path to becoming a professional fiction writer was pretty simple to understand. You wrote stories and novels and mailed them to traditional publishers directly. When the story was rejected, you kept the story (or novel) in the mail until someone bought it. 

Well, not so much anymore. Fiction writers now have that dreaded word: Choice. And so, the path to being a successful fiction writer isn’t so clear anymore. In fact, I would call it downright muddy.

So as part of my series here at the end of 2012, looking back and looking forward, I thought I would do an article on the good stuff and the bad stuff you face in getting to a solid career as a fiction writer.

Warning: Some of you beginning fiction writers may not like my suggestions or observations. Just remember that there is no right way and there is no one way for all writers to take.

I’m just going to try to put some road markers up to keep a few of you out of the ditch. Follow or not follow. It’s your career. Your choice.

The Major Choices

Let me detail out what I see as the six major paths that a fiction writer can take in 2013 when starting out.

1… Follow the myths, write one novel, rewrite it to death, then spend all your time tracking down an agent. (This path seldom leads to a decent sale or decent writing, but most beginning writers still follow this path like blind sheep.)

2… Write a novel and mail a submission package for your book directly to editors. Then while that book is in the mail, write more novels and mail them as well while working on becoming a better storyteller. This is the way it’s been done forever in publishing and is still valid. (Only difference now from ten years ago is that now you need an IP attorney to work on your contract instead of an agent. Contracts are much more difficult these days.)

3… Follow the myths that have developed over the last few years. Write a novel, rewrite it to death, pay a gad-zillion bucks to have someone put it up electronically for you and then take a percentage of your work, then you promote it to your 200 friends on Facebook until they start fleeing out of disgust. This path seldom works, but it is part of the promotion myths.

4… Write a novel, learn how to do your own covers and formatting, put the novel up yourself electronically and in POD and then write the next novel and work on learning and becoming a better storyteller. Repeat. Do not promote other than telling your friends once each book is out. This is more of a standard, traditional path that will work, but takes time as you learn how to tell better stories that people want to read.

5… Follow #4 and #2 at the same exact time, telling the editors in the submission package that the book is self-published electronically and sending them a cover in the package. Very few beginning writers are trying this method  yet because they are afraid traditional editors will come to their houses and break their fingers (or some other fear just as stupid.)

6… Forget novels completely and only write short stories, selling to traditional magazines as well as publishing indie. This method has a lot quicker feedback loops and is a good way to learn how to tell great stories, but it takes a mind set most beginning writers do not have. And you must learn how to do all the indie publishing work yourself. This method was never a path to making a living writing fiction, but now it is possible if you really, really, really love short fiction. Otherwise, just write a few stories here and there to help your novels.

That’s the six major paths I see toward making a living selling fiction in 2013. (You won’t make a living starting in 2013, but they are all paths toward making a living in time.)

Or you can come up with your own slight variation on those paths. #1 and #3 don’t work unless you get fantastically lucky. #2 and #4 lead to long careers, but take time to build. #5 might get you to making money a little faster, but it will still take years, as it should. #6 only if you love short fiction.

In my opinion, all writers these days should be writing, selling, and publishing some short fiction along with writing novels. The short fiction market is booming and short fiction should just be a part of any business plan for a fiction writer. (Yeah, yeah, I know, you can’t write short fiction. So learn and stop whining.)

The Problems New Writers Face in 2013

Let me list a few of the big ones.

1) Myths.

These are everywhere, and are mostly flat stupid. But all beginning fiction writers (me included in my day) buy into myths because beginning writers look for the secret handshake, the shortcut, the way to sell books without learning how to write good stories.

The truth is that the best way to sell books is write a lot, work on learning how to be a better storyteller constantly, get your work in front of editors or readers or both, and plan for the long haul. But new writers ignore that advice.

Examples (not all by a long ways) of some major myths in 2013 are:

a) You need an agent to sell a book.

b) You need an agent to sell a book overseas.

c) You need an agent to sell to Hollywood.

d) Traditional publishing gives you better quality in production and editing.

e) If you lower your price to 99 cents on your novel, you will make more money.

f) As an indie publisher you can’t get your books into bookstores.

g) You can pay someone to help you sell a lot of books.

h) You need to promote your book.

Again, there are many more, but those are what I consider the top eight killer myths.

2) Reactions to information.

In this high-speed world of the information age, any person can offer an opinion. This blog is no exception. The problem beginning fiction writers face is what to believe, what to listen to, and what to ignore. Now granted, this was the problem when I came in as well back in the 1970s, but now the information is out for everyone to see no matter the source. In my day, we only had to sort out what the established professionals were saying. Now anyone who has a few short stories up can blog about how they did it and what everyone should do.

And then add on “information sharing” places like the Kindle Boards and Goodreads and you have information overload.

How to solve this problem? I have no easy solution.

One suggestion is set up a writing computer that is only for creation of new words. Have no games, no email, no internet connection on that computer. Make it only a writing computer. That way the creative side of things has a line between it and the information overload and opinions flooding at you from everywhere. It honestly will help and be worth the few hundred bucks for a new computer.

Second suggestion is to only listen to people who have more than ten or twenty novels in print and who have been in the business for more than twenty years. Also, make sure this person is also versed in both sides of the business of publishing, both traditional and indie. Some of the old professionals still have their heads in the sand and can hurt your worse than listening to a person with a few titles out indie only. Find the balance between the two extremes.

Third suggestion is listen to your little voice. If it sounds wrong to you, it might be. But if the advice coming at you makes business sense for you, then explore it.

In other words, it’s your career and there are no right answers. Learn to think for yourself.

3) Getting in a hurry.

This is the area that is also normal for beginning fiction writers. And I honestly don’t know the reason why, but I was no exception to this problem when I started out. Now, with the indie publishing, this problem is no longer hidden in each writer’s office, but is out on full display for the world to see.

When watched from the outside, and from a point of distance like I now have, this all seems laughingly funny to me. I watch new writers, who have managed to complete their first novel, promoting the life out of their “book” because they believe they should, and then complaining when there are very few sales.

From a place of perspective, this is like watching a brand new violin player stride onto the stage at Carnage Hall with their very first recital piece and wondering why no one showed up to listen even though they advertised their concert to everyone they knew. Let me simply say, “Duh.”

A first recital piece is not a professional piece of work. But new writers sure think it is.

All fiction writers, at some point, given enough time, start to understand that to become a good storyteller it takes time. John D. McDonald said every fiction writer has a million words of crap in them before they reach their first published word. I agree and could go on about why this is so, but don’t have the time in this article.

Some writers work out those early words in other ways. Orson Scott Card wrote ten years of plays before trying and selling his first short story. I did my early words all by writing fiction, right from the start. And for writers who do it my way, my pace was pretty normal in hindsight.

1975 to 1982 I wrote 14 short stories, about 50,000 words. (I was trapped in the rewriting myths.)

From 1982 to 1987 I stopped “polishing” everything to death and wrote about 200 short stories and two unpublished novels, about 1,200,000 words of fiction total. I sold my first novel in 1987, the third novel I wrote. (I had sold some short fiction along the way, but all mostly from from just having the right elements come together with a unique idea, not because I knew what I was doing.)

So I believe I started really writing in 1982 and it took me five years of intense work, sometimes a short story per week. I also focused heavily on learning in those five years while I got to my million words and started to sell decent numbers of copies.

So one of the worst problems new fiction writers have now is that inability to see that the fiction writing profession is an international profession and it takes years to learn, both on the craft side and the business side.

Another way of looking at it is a person who wants to be a lawyer hangs out a shingle and tries to get cases while he is a freshman undergrad in college. Laughable, right? And you are promoting your first written novel?

The solution to this is take a deep breath, focus on the writing and learning to write better stories and put the books out either indie or to editors or both and leave them alone. If you get a few buyers, great. If not, no big deal. Trust the audience and the editors to decide when you have graduated to professional-level storytelling.

 The Path in 2013

I’m going to give flat out advice right now. Please understand this is only my opinion and please take or leave what you want.

My advice to young writers for 2013:

1) Spend 80% of your focus and time on producing new fiction. Not rewriting, not researching, but producing new words on the page. Period. (Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.)

2) Spend 15% of your time on learning craft and business. Both a little at a time. In any way you can.

3) Spend the remaining 5% of your time mailing finished work to editors or getting your work up indie published or both. (The #5 path above I believe in 2013 is the best if you have the courage.)

4) Think five and ten years out and set production goals. (Not selling goals, you are not in charge of those, but you are in charge of your own production and how much you learn.)

That’s it.


The writers who follow my suggestions are following a path well-worn by generations of professional writers. All of us did it just slightly different in the details and time depending on our background, but we all walked that same basic road.

Even with the indie publishing side of things, which can help cash flow a little, this new world has not varied from the time it takes to learn how to tell a decent story.

Telling a good story is an art form. As with any art, the art takes time to learn.

Make writing new words your main focus.  Make learning business and craft your secondary focus. And get your work out for people to read.

Don’t get in a hurry.

It really, honestly, is that simple.

And that hard.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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

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