Chapter One: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Only One Way

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

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“This is how you do it.”

How often do writers in this business hear that silly phrase? Some writer or editor or agent telling the young writer to do something as if that something was set in stone. Nope. The truth is that nothing in this business is set in stone.

Nothing.

For example, a wonderful new professional writer in one of the workshops here e-mailed a well-written query with ten sample pages and a synopsis of the novel off to an editor in New York from the workshop. The next morning she came out of her room smiling. The editor had asked to see the entire book. So being am imp, I went to that publisher’s website and printed off the guidelines, which said in huge letters “No electronic submissions and absolutely no unagented submissions.”

Lucky for her she hadn’t bothered to look at the guidelines or listen to all the people who said she needed an agent and believe there was only one way to get her book read at that company.

Nothing in this business is set in stone. Nothing.

Of course, that little story about not looking at guidelines will cause massive anger to come at me I’m sure. So before you go tossing bricks at my house because you need a rule to follow, let me back up and try to explain what I am saying here. And what I will be saying throughout this book. Then you can toss the brick.

ALL WRITERS ARE DIFFERENT

Perfectly good advice for one writer will be flat wrong for the writer standing beside him.

Some writers need agents, other writers a current agent-rewriter would kill their work. Some writers know business, other writers need help figuring out how to balance a checkbook and wouldn’t understand cash flow in a flood of money.

So how do writers learn? And how can those of us who have walked this publishing road help out the newer professionals coming in? Carefully is my answer. But now let me try to expand on that.

How do writers learn?

1) Take every statement by any WRITER, including me, with your bull detector turned on. If it doesn’t sound right for some reason, ignore it. It may be right for the writer speaking and wrong for you. And for heaven’s sake, be extra, extra careful when you listen to any writer who is not a long distance down the publishing road ahead of you. Some of the stupidest advice I have ever heard has come from writers with three or four short story sales talking like they understand the publishing business and think that everything they say is a rule.

2) Take any statement by any EDITOR through a very fine filter. Ask yourself why they are saying what they are saying, what corporate purpose does it fill, and can you use it to help you.

Remember, editors are not writers.

And they only know what they need in their one publishing house. Editors have the best of intentions to help writers. Honest, they do. But they often do not understand how writers make money, and most think that most writers can’t make a living, since all they see are the small advances to writers they are paying. Just nod nicely when they start into that kind of stuff and move on.

And remember, they always have a corporate agenda. It’s the nature of their job.

3) Take any statement from an AGENT with a giant salt shaker full of salt, then bury it with more salt. Agents are not writers, agents can’t help you rewrite, and they only know about six or seven editors and thus not the big market. If any agent is flat telling you that you must do something, and it sounds completely wrong to you, my suggestion to you is RUN! Remember, agents have an agenda. It is not your agenda. It is their agenda.

And these days they mostly either work for publishers or are starting their own publishing companies even with the conflict of interest issues. Caution!!

Over the next numbers of chapters, mostly in the agent section of this book, I will talk a great deal about the good and the bad of agents in this modern world of publishing. And some alternatives to using agents. Stay tuned.

So how do writers learn?

—By going to lots and lots of conferences and listening to hundreds of writers and editors and taking only the information that seems right to you.

—Read lots and lots of books by writers and only take what seems right for you.

—Learn business, basic business, and apply that to writing as well. Writing is a business, a very big business.

—And keep writing and practicing and mailing to editors.

How Can Professional Writers Help Newer Writers?

1) Keep firmly in mind that your way, the way you broke in might be wrong for just about everyone else in the room listening to you. Especially today, when the world of publishing is shifting so fast it’s hard for anyone to keep up. A story about your first sale in 1992 as a way to do it just won’t be relevant in any real way to a new writer in 2011. Be clear that you understand that.

2) Keep abreast of what the newer writers are facing. I get angry at times because newer writers keep accusing me of having some advantage. I don’t, really. I have years more of practice, sure, and I have a better cover letter, and I know how to write a pitch and query and cover blurb that will sell. A new writer can learn all that as well with practice.

I still have to mail my work to editors just like everyone else. Or publish it indie publishing just as everyone else.

There is no secret road to selling just because you have done it before. I wish like hell there was, but alas, if it exists, I haven’t found the entrance ramp yet. So to help myself, I keep abreast of what newer writers are facing, I help teach them how to get through the blocks, so I also know how to do it with my work. Duh. I learn from them as I teach them.

3) Stay informed as to the changes in publishing and don’t be afraid of the new technology.

Bragging that you belong to the Church of Luddite or that you won’t touch any Apple product or that you hate smart phones sure won’t install a lot of confidence in the newer writers who live with this modern publishing world and use the new technology. And wishing things would go back to the way they were just doesn’t help either.

And for heaven’s sake, understand sampling.

Newer Writers Need Set Rules

Writers, especially newer writers are hungry for set rules.

This business is fluid and crazy most of the time, and the need for security screams out in most of us. So in the early years we writers search for “rules” to follow, shortcuts that will cut down the time involved, secret handshakes that will get us through doors. It is only after a lot of time that professional writers come to realize that the only rules are the ones we put on ourselves.

Writers are people who sit alone in a room and make stuff up. The problem we have is that when we get insecure without rules, we make stuff up as well.

When we don’t understand something, we make something up to explain it. Then when someone comes along with a “this is how you do it” stated like a rule, you jump to the rule like a drowning man reaching for a rope. And when someone else says “Let go of the rope to make it to safety,” you get angry and won’t let go of that first safety line.

In all these chapters that’s what I will be trying to tell tell you to do: Let go of the rope and trust your own talents and knowledge.

When I wrote these chapters online over almost two years, my suggestions caused some very “interesting” letters from writers mad at me for challenging their lifeline rules.

The desire for safety and rules is one of the reasons that so many myths have grown up in this business.

Rules/myths like you must rewrite everything, you must have an agent, you must do self-promotion, you don’t dare write fast or it will be bad.

Rule upon rule upon rule, all imposed from the outside. Most are just bad advice believed by the person giving the advice at the time.

The key is to let go of the rope, swim on your own, and find out what works for you.

If you believe you must rewrite, write a story or two and mail them without rewrites to see what happens. If you are having no luck having an agent read your work, send it to editors instead. If you think you can’t write more than 500 words a day, push a few days to double or triple that and see what happens. Push and experiment and find out what is right for you.

Will it scare you? Yes. But I sure don’t remember anyone telling me this profession was easy or not scary. Those two things are not myths just yet.

Okay, all that said, here are a few major areas where following rules blindly can be dangerous to writers. I will talk about these in coming chapters. But for the moment, I want to touch on them right here because they are major.

1) “You must rewrite.”

This is just silly, since writing comes out of the creative side of our brains and rewriting comes from the critical learned side.

Creative side is always better. But again, this is different for every writer no matter what level. Some writers never rewrite other than to fix a few typos, others do a dozen drafts, and both sell. Those professionals have figured out what is best for them. But if a younger writer listens to someone who says you MUST rewrite everything, it could kill that writer’s voice. This rule is just flat destructive. Keep your guard up on this one. Experiment on both sides and then do what works for you, what sells for you.

2) “You must have an agent.”

This is such bad advice for such a large share of writers these days, it’s scary. I will have an entire section on agents in this book.

These days there are many ways of not using or needing an agent.

—Using an intellectual copyright attorney is one way. Cheap and you don’t have to pay them 15% of everything.

— Doing it yourself is fine as well.

—Or hiring an agent just for one project at a time is fine as well.

Read all my chapters on this topic and then decide what you feel right about. And remember the old saying that the agent you can get as an unsold writer is not the agent you will want when you start selling. You don’t need an agent to sell a book. But again, every writer is different. Just don’t take the agent myth as a truth. Figure out what works for you.

3) “Editors don’t like (blank) so you shouldn’t write that way.”

I can’t begin to tell you how many thousand times I have answered questions like “Can I write in first person? Editor’s don’t like that.” No rules, just write your own story with passion and then send it to editors.

If they don’t like it, they will send you a rejection. No big deal. Stop worrying about what editors or agents want and write what you want.

Be an artist, not some sick puppy licking the boots of editors and agents looking for the secret.

Think for yourself, be yourself, write your own stuff. No rules.

4) “It’s a tight market so you need to do (blank).”

You want a secret? It’s always been a tight market. Things are always changing in publishing.

Right now there are more books being published every year than ever before, more markets, more ways for writers to make money. This silly “tight market” statement always sounds so full of authority coming from some young agent. And it will drive a new writer into doing a dozen rewrites on a novel for someone who really doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Caution when you hear those words. It should be a huge RED FLAG. I know, I heard them in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s and every year lately. Just silly. It is nothing more than a statement to discourage writers. Don’t listen to it.

Truth: Publishing is always looking for good books and new writers. And it has always been tight in one way or another.

A Brand New World

Right now publishing is going through some major changes, all rotating around distribution for the most part. Writers have been so shut out with the system in New York that they are turning more and more to taking control of various aspects of their own work with indie publishing. POD and electronic publishing is allowing authors to become both writer and publisher and electronic distribution is allowing readers to find more work from their favorite writers, often either new work, dangerous work, or work long out of print..

This new area of publishing is quickly becoming full of “rules” and future myths. For the longest time publishing your own work was looked down on by “the ruling class” (whoever they are). Now, except for a few holdouts in the basements of the Church of Luddite, writers are taking the new technologies and running with them.

Before you run that way because selling to major markets is too hard, be cautious. There are no rules, but there are some things that are common sense.

Common sense #1: It takes a lot of practice to become a professional-level storyteller. You may think your first story or novel is brilliant because you rewrote it ten times and your workshop loved it, but alas, it might not be. In this new market, just as in the old one, the readers will judge. Let them, either through traditional channels or indie publishing. And then write the next book and the next and keep working to become better. Keep writing and learning.

Common sense #2: New York publishers can get your book into the hands of thousands and thousands of readers and help your online sales of your other works. Or you can put your book up first, do a POD, and then try to market the book to traditional publishers while it is selling for you and making you a little money along the way. But just because you are an indie publisher, don’t rule out traditional publishers.

Again, in this area, there is no right way. Just do what feels right for your writing and ignore anyone trying to give you a rule.

NOW I’M TAKING THE ROPE AWAY

As I said above, writers tend to have this fantastic need for rules. We all want to make some sort of order out of this huge business. And actually, there is order if you know where to look and how to look. So instead of giving you rules, let me help you find order without myths and rules.

1) Publishing is a business. A large business run by large corporations in traditional publishing or your own home business when you are indie publishing. But it is always a business. If you remember that, learn basic business, understand corporation politics and thinking, most everything that happens will make some sort of sense. Don’t take anything personally. It’s just business and that is the truth.

2) All writers write differently. And that includes you. My way of producing words won’t be correct for anyone but me. So instead of listening to others looking for the secret, just go home, sit down at your writing computer, and experiment with every different form and method until you find the way that produces selling fiction that readers like and buy. Find your own way to produce words that sell.

3) Learning and continuing to learn is critical. This business keeps changing and the only way to stay abreast of the changes is to go out and keep learning and talk with other writers and find advice that makes sense to you and your way. Go to workshops, conferences, conventions and anything else you can find to get bits of learning. Read everything you can find about the business.

My goal on this is learn one thing new every week at least. I’ve been doing that since my early days and it has worked for me, and kept me focused on learning. Find what works for you.

I know those three things don’t seem to give you any secrets, don’t really show you the path to selling. But actually, they do. And if you just keep them in mind and don’t allow yourself to get caught in strange rules and myths, you will move faster toward your goal, whatever that goal in writing may be.

It’s your writing, it’s your art. Stop looking for the secrets and stand up for your work.

Trust your own voice, your own methods of working. Get your work to editors who will buy it. Or indie publish it. Or both. And if your methods are not producing selling work, try something new.

Keep learning. Keep practicing your art.

The only right way in this business is your way.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
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Because of the new world and technology, my magic bakery got a lot more valuable lately. This is now part of my inventory in my 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.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately really kept me going on this. Thanks!

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

Thanks, Dean


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34 Responses to Chapter One: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Only One Way

  1. David Barron says:

    It’s back! The series that almost certainly saved me at least a year of ‘start-up failure’ and gave some direction to my muddle-through-the-swamp learning process. Good times.

  2. I just want to say that while correlation is not causation, I started reading your series in late 2009. Since then I’ve sold two novellas and contracted a third (to Harlequin’s Carina Press), sold a short story, made the finals in a contest, and indie-pubbed the first episode of a serial.

    (All of the published work is in first person. Just sayin’.)

    Before reading the Cow series, I’d written/sold a lot of non-fiction freelancing, and talked big about the fiction I’d write someday when I could afford it. I really thought I needed enough cash banked in order to cover a year of waiting to hear back from agents, followed by another year to hear back from editors.

    PayPal says I made enough off my indie pub this month to buy a copy of the eventual Cow book, so I’m now on the list of future recipients :)

  3. Carradee says:

    So true! What I find helpful is to study all sorts of contradictory opinions on a topic, listen to their arguments, and pay attention to the reasoning. Compare the reasons behind each person’s decision to your reasons for what you want to do.

    Example rule: Friends aren’t good critics. That may be true in general, but anyone who’s said that hasn’t met my friends. And that doesn’t even start on my family‘s opinion of my writing.

    Before pricing my self-published novel (and releasing a short-short for free), I researched all sorts of opinions on pricing and considered the precedent I might be setting for my own work.

    Studying extremes also works for writing technique. I’m often heavy on the dialogue, so I’ll sometimes sit down and write an experimental piece that’s based on description or monologue, to make my brain work the other way.

  4. Robin Brande says:

    Thanks, Dean. Wonderful advice, and inspiring, as always!

  5. Jamie D. says:

    I love this. I have one section that I bought on Amazon (I can’t remember which, but it brought me to this blog), and I’m glad you’re re-posting as you revise, so I can read them all and pass links around.

    Best advice I’ve read from any writer is to experiment and find your own way. I know I tend to give more credence to writers with that attitude than others.

    Looking forward to good summer reading here. :-)

  6. Claire says:

    I totally agree that all writers are different. And there needs are different.

  7. John Walters says:

    Dean,

    Your timing couldn’t be better. I am going to greatly enjoy reading through this series again, and when you get around to publishing it on paper I will be one of the first customers. Last summer this series helped to save my writing life. It revitalized me; it gave me a real kick in the pants and a whole new perspective on writing. I gladly shot those sacred cows that had taken up pasture in my backyard, and rereading this will help me find any which have snuck back in. Thank you very much.

  8. Thanks, Dean, for putting this message out there. I couldn’t have put it any better myself that there actually is only one way to publish a book. That book. That one time. The next one will be different.

  9. EF Kelley says:

    You know, the whole ‘discover how you write’ bit took me a good two years to figure out. It was a topic at Taos Toolbox (Walter Jon Williams’ workshop). He and Nancy Kress instruct, and they write in vastly different ways. I really wish I’d heard that when I started out.

    I still don’t think first-timers posting their stuff is a good idea, though. I know that the market can vet your work, but odds on doing well with it at all are very very low. Better, in my opinion, to find pros and semi-pros to pass it by as you learn your craft. When you get something that folks are saying ‘saleable’ about, THEN post it.

    As I say, just my opinion. This is a fine article and series. Highly useful all around.

    • dwsmith says:

      EF, my question is “how do you know if it’s good enough or not unless you give your work a fair shot?” Even in the beginning, I mailed my stories to top markets as I was learning. And now I think, in my opinion only, writers should just trust their own work and give top editors and/or readers a chance. Why lower yourself and your work just because you think it isn’t good enough?? You just don’t know. Writers are the worst judges of their own work. Just saying…

  10. Steve Perry says:

    Yeah, every time I try to be helpful to newbies by offering how best to sharpen their quill pens, and what kind of parchment to use for manuscripts, they all look at me like I’ve just turned into a giant spider.

    These kids today. Makes me want to take my buggy whip to ‘em.

  11. EF Kelley says:

    Yeah, we really are unqualified to judge our own work. A thing I sold that I thought was slap-dash and middling ended up getting the best feedback from readers and the place I sold it to. Whereas stuff I’ve really liked has gotten a ‘so-so’ reaction from readers. That’s why I understand your logic. The vetting has to be done by someone else.

    I do believe first-timers should submit their work to editors, especially magazines and publishing houses with a quick turnaround. Absolutely. I think they should continue to do so until they sell something or start getting personalized rejections. At that point, they’re at or near professional grade, and it’s really time to hit the bigger workshops in their genre, get some contacts, preferably with other students who can give your work at least a semi-professional eye, then start dipping their feet into being their own publisher.

    Prior to reaching that grade, though, I think learning the publishing ropes is going to distract from learning the most important skill for any writer: learning to write well.

    Just my opinion, though. When asked about this topic, the first thing I point out is exactly what you said up top: there are a lot of options and no real rules; some important guidelines, maybe, but no firm rules.

    • dwsmith says:

      EF, I have a hunch, but I could be wrong, that learning to indie publish will be part of learning how to get into professional writing in the not too distant future. The slush pile, as many indie writers are discovering already, will move to being published and letting readers decide before a publisher decides. It is only logical and gets rid of one of the main problems publishers have, and that’s editors just guessing if something will sell or not.

      But I could be very wrong on this because my crystal ball is very cloudy these days of transition.

  12. EF Kelley says:

    That’s very true, an editor can only guess at what will sell or not. So why not put it all out there? One of my annoyances has always been the ‘the current trend is towards X trope or Y genre, so your book won’t sell’. Like about six years ago, you couldn’t give away a vampire story because ‘people just aren’t into vampires’. We, guess what, editors? SOME people are ALWAYS into vampires. Someone WILL buy this stuff. In that regard, I agree with getting your work out there sooner rather than later.

    That said, one of the bullet points of self-publication is that if your work is good, it will get noticed. Sales will build over time, cream rises, etc… Yet, I don’t see much discussion on improving the writing itself. That’s not a criticism, by the way. I know that’s not the purpose of this series of articles. I just think that the importance of good writing gets undersold a lot of the time, and new writers can lose sight of that very easily. It’s simpler to think ‘I just need a new cover’ or ‘I need to get on Konrath’s blog’ or ‘I should buy some advertising.’ It’s possibly more attractive to think those things as well, since NOTHING could possibly be wrong with My Brilliant Epic, right? I mean, all my friends liked it, right?

    My instinct tells me your crystal ball is giving you the right snippets of insight. Although, my instinct also told me my first girlfriend was perfect for me. Oh, those silly instincts. Will they never learn?

    • dwsmith says:

      EF, I constantly say that a writer must keep learning and getting better. Constantly. Almost every major post I do I say that, and I believe it. And I am constantly working to get better.

      And I have said that good storytelling is the best promotion for your work. (I think 99% of all promotion an indie writer does is just silly and the writer would be better served to just write the next story, but what do I know? Nothing more than anyone else on that topic, actually. (grin)

      And I teach a few craft workshops here as well, including one called Character Voice Workshop that is hard to fill. Most writers don’t want to spend a week on learning how to be better writers. But trust me, if I had a workshop called Indie Promotion, it would fill in a heartbeat. Sad, but true.

  13. EF Kelley says:

    I totally believe you about the workshops. It’s not as if they don’t have the money to spend on learning more craft since they can plonk it down for data on publishing/promotion.

    Over on AbsoluteWrite, there are a few threads in the self-publication forum featuring self-published authors posting their live data. The graphs uniformly show steadily increasing sales with jumps when they release a new title. Most have done some self-promotion in the form of ARCs and Kindle board community participation, etc. One even paid for advertising and Facebook ads. In not one single case did they notice a correlation between sales and their activities EXCEPT when putting out a new book. Usually these books were the next in a series.

    I take it back, one did a pretty decent blip when he put out the next book and lowered the intro book to .99c for a month, though he didn’t make the 7x sales figures he’d have needed to exceed the original 2.99 price.

    Anyway, the best correlation seems to be putting out more work. As I believe you’d said once or twice. ;-)

  14. J.A. Marlow says:

    Yay, the series is back and it’s going to be updated! I’m so looking forward to this. The information is just as valuable the fourth or fifth time one reads it (and yes, I’ve read most of the posts in this series more than that).

    You are completely correct about the new digital world of publishing and writing is now developing new myths. Especially centered around writing in ‘hot’ genres, and marketing and promoting. Oh, and the old schoolteachers trying to push their thumb down on writers of ebooks. That if it’s not perfect grammar (or spelling, or sentence structure, or POV, or or or), then you are a hack wasting a readers time and money and should be ashamed for inflicting the world with your drivel. And that was a polite way of phrasing what I’ve seen. Yeow.

    Good storytelling should reign supreme.

  15. Just Passing Through says:

    “It’s your writing, it’s your art. Stop looking for the secrets and stand up for your work.” and “Let go of the rope and trust your own talents and knowledge.” now hang above my desk.
    Thank you sir, I think I needed those (especially the first one. Especially. The. First. One.)

  16. Barb Rude says:

    Thank you very much, Dean, for the KtSCoP series. Your posts on rewriting and speed… Wow. I fought them so much when I first read them, but I realized it had to be true and that was more liberating than I could have dreamed. Very excited for another read-through.

    I also appreciate how up-front you are about still learning. As someone who’s only been at this for a couple of years, I pick up new things all the time, naturally, latently, without even trying. Half the time I learn something new that changes the way I understand what I thought I knew before!

    So my questions for you: since you’ve been at this for so long, how do you actively pursue your goal of learning one new thing every week? How do you decide what one “thing” is? With the Brave New World of Publishing, is a lot of your learning directed towards self-publishing and e-stuff? How do you perpetually set the bar higher for yourself for telling stories?

    • dwsmith says:

      Barb, actually the speed and rewriting chapters are coming up quickly in the update part of getting this book ready as a unit. So you’ll get to see them again. (grin)

      Barb, there is so much to learn on the business and publishing and indie publishing side, I don’t worry about learning because it’s happening so fast there. But on the writing I still do what I call focused practice. Every novel I write I have an area I am practicing on. One novel it’s richness of setting, another it’s character voice, another it’s cliffhangers and so on and so on. I did three novels in a row on my thriller series just doing nothing but working on different cliffhangers, then taught a class on it to work on it some more. There are so many different kinds of cliffhangers it’s stunning, and stunning how important they are to readers moving through a book. Not just thrillers, but all books.

      So I seldom write anything without a focus practice area. Once-in-a-while one of the challenge stories pops without me thinking of working on something, but it is seldom a week goes by with my writing that I ONLY learn one thing.

      And I am lucky here with these workshops with other professional writers coming in to take them. Having discussions with other professional writers on certain topics is a stunning learning tool and also great fun. So I have created a way to keep learning that way as well.

  17. Just Passing Through says:

    I had decided, after reading the above, that I was done holding onto the rope and was going to swim or sink on my own knowledge and instinct- then I stumbled across this and had a thought of, “Not going to watch. No more rope holding.” Of course being that it’s Serling I grabbed hold of the rope so tight that my palms burned as I let that rope take me where it wanted. In this part of the series it reminds me of what I have read you say, sir. In fact, the way he is casually holding the cigarette and exposing great ideas like a psychedelic Buddha makes me imagine that is how you would hold a class in the late 1960′s.

    This is where I watched it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3hVF5OIq14&NR=1

    (If you think it would be better not to paste the link that is totally cool, I wanted to make mention of it because when he gets into the whole IDEA is what is important and not the placement of a comma it totally reminded me of how you talk about writing versus storytelling.)

    • dwsmith says:

      Just Passing Through… Thank you. To even be thought of in that light is a real honor to me. He was one of my heros in writing. Thank you.

  18. Barb Rude says:

    Thank you, Dean. I had a feeling that focused practice was your answer, deep down, but I appreciate you talking a bit more about it. Focused practice works for anything, but for writing, it’s super-exciting because of the freedom. I’m planning out my next two projects and for me, my deciding “what to write” factors were: what would be the biggest departure from what I’ve written so far, and what story ideas/execution techniques scare me the most (ie, I feel most unready to do)? And from there, so many more ideas spring up…

    It’s kind of absurd, how good it is to be a writer. I’m still fairly early in it all (just finished my third book, the first I’m sharing with my first reader) and I just can’t get over the fact that my imagination is my only limit. It’s too good to be true!

    Before when I was buying into myths, thinking I’d only ever write in one genre doing maybe a book a year, it was like each story idea was so serious because I would be working on it for years and years. My goal for this year is to write four books. And I have learned so much more from just finishing everything I start, learning from my mistakes, from letting go of my early stuff and calling it practice, than I would have workshopping/rewriting one story to death. I firmly believe that. And none of the non-writers in my life understand why I’m not in a hurry to get published. I’m not. The only thing I’m hurrying to do is learn.

    Sorry if that was rambly. Have I mentioned lately I love Killing the Sacred Cows? :)

  19. I always say, “There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to publish; but there is a path that will align best with your goals and abilities. As short as even a year ago, the only way to make any substantial money in publishing was to sign with a traditional large publisher. Now that ebooks have presented a distribution media that allows both small presses and self-published authors the ability to find and build an audience, authors have options and options = opportunities.

    One last thing I’d like to mention, is what was ‘right’ for you in the past may not be right for you going forward. You learn more, markets change, successes or failures may adjust what your goals are. Publishing can be a long process, and sometimes people get on a certain path and don’t deviate from it even though it may make perfect sense to. It makes sense to re-evaluate your position on a regular basis and be prepared to adjust. In times of great change, such that we are experiencing now, it is those that are agile and nimble who will fair the best.

    • dwsmith says:

      Wow, Robin, I agree completely, and I should have said that as well. What works now for you might not work in the future. I can’t begin to describe how many times I have altered different things I do to adjust to something changing in the world around me. And yup, I am doing it again in this new world, going back to my love of short fiction and weird stories that didn’t sell five years ago.

      Great point, Robin. Thank you!!

  20. Great article. I think the opportunities are greater because there are so many more options. Our only limitations are those we impose on ourselves or those we allow others to impose on us.

    Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to figure our what works, and you have said it best–there is no right or wrong way. There are many ways.

  21. M.E. Anders says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this series with us, Dean. After listening to the Indiana Jim podcast where he raved about your blog…I had to find out for myself “what all the fuss” was about. I’m so glad I did!

  22. I’m a french wanna-be writer. When I discovered your site and your articles, I was partially stuck in rewriting, frustration and lack of creativity. I was also a bit confused as to the nature of beta-reading, which I thought of as pre-emptive editorial rewriting (I have been in circles where these two are nearly considered one and the same). I also found it far easier to give my best help to others with the courage to write, and take on a supportive role, than write myself.

    I had no notion of creative and critical sides, nor was ever told of these. And just for that I thank you profusely : these few words helped me tremendously. I also read the rest and found it very interesting, and though I didn’t always (only often) agree, I always found food for thought in your articles.

    Some articles were just of exotic interest to me, as France has no agents (none as such yet, at least). Well worth learning anyways, since we may be blessed with an agent system soon enough, as well as for the great picture’s sake. We do get a lot of english bestseller translations.

    I’d like, with your permission, to translate some of your articles. I’ll do it for free, I ask only for your permission to feature them on my blog (with links to your site) and I’ll leave any rights to these french translations to you. Though not a translator by trade, I think I can do an accurate and faithful job.

    Anyways, thank you again for putting these articles online. It gave me valuable insights and helped me get back to the pen with fresh ideas, new approaches… and more fun.

    • dwsmith says:

      Remi, actually, France has agents, and are some of the biggest cheats in all of publishing worldwide. New York agents work with French agents, so when we sell something into your fine country, we end up in the old system having two layers of agents to go through. And for some reason, royalties never make it past the French agents, and often parts of advances never seem to make it either. Just ugly, another reason I don’t use agents period. Just lawyers when I need them.

      As for permission to translate the articles to put on your web site, and not make any money on them, sure, that would be great. Just send me a file copy if you would. Just don’t sell them in any way.

      Thanks again for the great comments. Cheers, Dean

  23. I’m sorry to hear this about french agents, but they don’t have nearly so important a role in France as in anglo-saxon countries. I know for a fact that many, if not most publishers still deal with their own slush pile, and I never saw any guidelines requiring agented submissions.

    Then again, it’a a far smaller market and it couldn’t sustain agents the way the english-speaking market does. Also the slush pile doesn’t apply to a significant part of a publisher’s activities : translations, which would, I guess, go through agents. It’s a very different market. Sometimes I’m actually considering writing in english.

    Thanks for your permission, I translated this first chapter for a start and put it online :

    http://belier.interrelie.info/?p=329

    I tried to stick to your meaning while translating every word (not leaving any english), but sometimes the exact equivalent doesn’t exists (interestingly, “business” gave me the most trouble, I had to use several different terms to translate it according to local context) and sometimes I had to change idiomatic expressions (like the proverbial grain of salt). Also I changed punctuation, as its use varies between languages. Well, enough technicalities.

    No money involved, and I obviously linked my article to yours and mentioned the book you’ll be putting together from these chapters. Where should I sent the .doc text file ?

    Thanks again for allowing me to translate your articles and for writing them in the first place.

    • dwsmith says:

      Remi, looks great! Thanks! As for where to send the .doc file, no problem, never mind on that. But if you or anyone would ever like to reach me outside these comments, I have a “contact me” page but the address is dean at deanwesleysmith dot com.

      Thanks again, Remi. Looks great!

  24. Jason Derr says:

    Thanks for this. My own path has been near miss after near miss – i’ve gotten GREAT, GLOWING rejection letters from people. One publisher rejected me and then sent me three other letters to let me know how much they liked the work, it just wasn’t ‘quite’ a good fit for them. It is important to remember that you have to keep going, keep trying and keep learning and always break the rules.

  25. Betsy Jo says:

    Mr.Smith, thank you so much for all your posts and ideas. I was just about to indie publish my first book and thought, what the heck, when I sent off a submission to a publisher. The rejection I thought I was ready for really hit me hard. I’d read one of their books in my genre and I believe mine is as good. FYI-I’d had my book edited and proofread. It wasn’t an unkind rejection, but funny thing, the one aspect I worried about the most, the publisher gave me the best compliment on (go figure).
    So, I had a good cry, reread it, and after a hot bath I knew that I needed to read at least one Dean Westley Smith blog. That renewed my perspective on it all.
    I do have one question, that is, he said, (and I’ve heard versions of this before), that you must speak to a specific audience when you write. What do you think of that and how do you do it?
    Thanks, and thank you again for being the bold voice against b.s. that you are.

    • dwsmith says:

      Betsy Jo, rejections are never fun, but they are never personal. That’s the key to try to remember. The book just didn’t fit what they were looking for at that time.

      As far as speaking to a specific audience, that’s what genre is all about. Writing inside a genre such as mystery or science fiction or fantasy will automatically speak to an audience. But honestly, I think that even giving that any consideration at all WHEN YOU ARE WRITING is just really, really bad advice. I think each writer must write what they love, write what they are passionate about, then after AND ONLY AFTER finishing completely, decide what you wrote and try to find the audience.

      Trying to write to an audience will always put you years behind and dampen your original voice and drive you crazy.

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