The New World of Publishing: There Are Suckers Born Every Minute and They Are Writers

Yup, I said that.


And I am coming to believe it more and more as this transition in publishing goes onward.

As those of you who have followed these blog posts know, my goal has been to educate writers.

I’ve tried to educate by killing as many myths as I can in the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, and helped a few in the Think Like a Publisher series showing how really simple it is to be an indie publisher. And I hope this series opens an eye or two at times.

But thanks to events this last week, and a comment by a major publisher as to why he will still be in business in five years, I am coming to understand that even my jaded view of writers is way, way too high.

So ignoring the comment by the major publisher basing his entire publishing company future on the stupidity of writers, let me talk about the major events that also happened. And then try to make some sense, if that’s possible, out of it all. (More happened than what I am going to talk about, but let me just stick with these three.)

This Week’s Event #1

Simon & Schuster, in their quarterly report, finally flat out admitted they are making far, far more profits on electronic books then planned.

So much more that they are basically making money even with dramatically reduced paper book sales. And, of course, they are making this because of the writers caving in on the 50% of cover price of electronic rights and allowing publishers to only offer 25% of net instead. A huge windfall for publishers in this new world. And writers sign these agreements thousands of times per month around the publishing field, often for little or no money up front.

Makes me want to go back into publishing as a publisher and owner of a publishing company publishing other writer’s work, since the profit margins are so huge for publishers thanks to the weakness and stupidity of writers. (I couldn’t sleep at night if I did that, so no worry.)

(For a full understanding of how the money is working for publishers, read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s new Business Rusch blog post. She does the math.)

But thankfully, writers these days have an option if they would like to refuse a bad 25% of net contract. If we don’t sign and a publisher won’t cave to our demands for a higher rate, we simply indie publish and get 70% of Gross Income instead. And we control all details of our own books.

So we have options. But sadly, most writers, as I wrote before, won’t take that option for one of a number of reasons I already talked about.

This Week’s Event #2

Penguin Publishing, one of the big guys, announced their new self-publishing imprint, Book Country.

This site (when shifted from what it was before) will allow authors who want to indie-publish a way to pay Penguin an upfront fee and 30% of all money forever for the right to do exactly what the author could do themselves.

That’s right. No added value for the upfront money and taking a percentage. You, the author, still have to do all the work unless you want to pay more and more money. And even then you get nothing really.

In all my years on this planet, in all my years in this business, I have never seen such a play at the stupidity of any group of humans. Usually we get these kind of things by e-mail with someone wanting us to send money to get the money we inherited.

But this is a major publicly-traded corporation offering this “service.”  (And I do think the term “service” is correct in this instance, just not in the way Penguin is thinking. Sort of like a bull “services” a herd is how I am thinking.)

I was so stunned when I saw it while traveling that I just couldn’t think of what to say. And when people kept asking me what I thought of it, all I could say was that I would talk about it later because, to be honest, I knew that because the Penguin name is associated with the “service,” stupid writer after stupid writer, with the desire to be published and no business thought at all, will line up and bend over to be serviced, checkbook ready and willing to pay for the privilege.

So, let me be clear to you fine writers who asked what I thought, knowing I was going to hate the idea. You were right. AVOID BOOK COUNTRY AT ALL COSTS.

This Week’s Event #3

If Book Country wasn’t bad enough, Robert Gotlieb, the head master at Trident Literary Agency, couldn’t stay away from his keyboard and replied to the announcement. In short he said his (agency) company could indie publish writers better than Penguin.

Now, with that comment, I expected a flood of Trident clients to jump ship very publicly. Holy cow, the head of the agency just put his company in direct competition (as a publisher) with a major publisher and called them out. And he has clients who I am sure are going to get “great” deals next time around with Penguin. (Snort, and Trident has a bridge and land in Florida for them as well.)  And that’s assuming anyone at Penguin even returns Trident’s phone calls.

But not one writer that I heard about jumped from Trident. When an agent a number of years back got drunk and pushed the publisher of Bantam Books into a closet, over three quarters of her clients fired her the next day. This is worse, much worse. Yet the response from Trident clients is stunning in its silence.

Over the years here I have bashed the stupidity of writers letting agents get away with things. I have tried to help writers understand that they are the boss, that agents work for them. I don’t hate agents. I hate how writers let agents control them.

And when this entire agent-as-publisher started to come in with Richard Curtis back ten or more years ago, I warned anyone who would listen away from the idea, and when it started to pick up as agents got more and more desperate this last year and more agents said they would become publishers, I got more public with my warnings to writers. Fire your agent if they are becoming a publisher. Period.

And I wasn’t the only one shouting about this new problem. So did a lot of others around the country, from other agents to major writers to lawyers. And right now I am hoping a lawsuit will shut this practice down as the major conflict of interest that it really is.

But now here comes Trident claiming they can publish books better than Penguin Publishing. And still writers don’t wake up. Some Trident client who is also selling to Penguin, file a lawsuit, please, against Trident and end this agent-as-publisher insanity.  Please, I beg of you.

Passive Guy, as a lawyer, you’ve done some posts on this conflict of interest on your great blog ThePassiveVoice. Can you point some people to them again?  Thanks?

And writers, if you are with Trident, my only advice is RUN!!!!!!!!  Pretend your name is Logan and you are about to have a birthday. There really is green grass outside those walls. (That reference may be too old for many here…sorry.)

My Suggestions Plain and Simple

Since I am being so blunt, let me try to summarize how I see things at this moment in late November 2011. And how I approach my writing career at this point in time.

1) Avoid agents at all costs.

If you have one, fire them now unless your agent is also an attorney. No reason needed. A writer in this new world needs a good IP attorney on board. And not an agent who has other clients with the same publishing house that you sell to. That agent will NEVER fight for you. Ever. An attorney will fight for you and cost you a ton less money.  (I do not have an agent and can see no reason now to ever bring one back into the picture.)

2) Learn how to Indie Publish

And I do mean learn. Don’t say you can’t and walk away. Be one of the new generation of writers, spend the time and learn how to format a book in word for Kindle, Pubit, and Smashwords. Spend the time to learn how to do a POD book for Createspace. Learn how to do covers in PowerPoint or some other program. It’s scary, yes, but can be learned. And it’s fun and very freeing for your writing.

Why spend the time to learn indie publishing?  So you have options, of course. Until you have the option and see how fantastically easy it is to indie publish, you will never be able to stand up against a traditional publisher for better contract terms.

3) Go both indie publishing and traditional publishing paths.

Keep submitting to traditional publishers while also indie publishing backlist or books that just won’t sell.  You do not need an agent to get a traditional editor to look at your book. Simply send an editor a submission package which consists of a few sample chapters, a short synopsis, and a cover letter with a #10 SASE for a response. Or try e-mailing them the same thing. For novels, keep it out to about five or six editors at once. (For short fiction send the full story to only one editor/magazine at a time per story.)

Until you are doing both, you will limit your options in so many ways. The new normal is both ways, folks. It’s only smart business.

And ignore all the idiots who try to tell you that indie publishing will hurt your chances in traditional publishing. Head-shakingly stupid.  (I do both, folks. I know how to indie publish and I traditional publish as well.)

4) Keep learning and watching everything.

This world is changing so fast, and in so many ways for the better for the SMART writer. But for the dumb writer, the writer who is in a hurry, who wants to give their work away, who just wants to be “published,” this new world is full of major scams. It is frightening that a major publisher like Penguin is running one of the scams under the guise of helping writers. But those e-mails I get all the time promise me a lot of money in my rightful inheritance if I’d just send a few bucks.

Book Country is being done by a major corporation who only has one thing in mind: Make More Money. And right now all major publishing corporations are going to ride through this transition on the backs of idiot writers who allowed themselves to be taken. And on the other side of this transition, when electronic books are 50% or more of all books sold every year, the traditional publishers will be raking in profits that will make oil company profits look pale.

Don’t believe me on that either? Just watch as publisher after publisher (starting next year) adds in new lines and try to get more and more new books and more and more author’s backlists. For them, just as for us, it’s all in the number of books being published. The more books up, the more they make.

And really, that’s what Book Country is all about. Fantastically smart from the corporate outlook. They get the authors to do all the work, they take a fee to punch the upload button to Kindle and the others, and for the life of the book take 30%. Holy crap, their normal profit margins are 4%.

A Couple Last Pieces of Advice.

Advice #1:

If you want to help your 401K and have some money to put into the long haul, start buying publishing corporation stocks. They are doing nothing but going up starting in the middle of 2012.

And all that profit will be on the backs of writers. There are suckers born every minute and they are writers.

And publishing companies like Penguin know that.

Advice #2:

Adopt this phrase: BE SMART. DO BOTH.

The key is to be one of the writers that won’t allow a traditional publishing company to take huge profits from your work. Give them a normal profit, 50% of gross on electronic is a fine deal for a traditional publisher.

But 25% of net just puts you in the sucker camp from this point forward. And Book Country is too silly to even think about.

Learn to indie publish so you have a choice and a fall-back position in your negotiation. Be Smart, do both traditional publishing and indie publishing. And know the rules of both, know what you will or will not settle for and have your attorney in the negotiation hold your line.

And if the publisher won’t budge, find a publisher who will or indie publish the book.

Be smart, have both options at your fingertips.

Advice #3:

Never forget that the stories always come first. Keep focusing on writing better and better stories. If you aren’t spending more time learning how to tell a better story than marketing or mailing, then none of this will matter.

Storytelling is everything and you will be stunned to know what a traditional publisher will give in negotiations for a great story.

For the smart writer, for the great storyteller, this is a wonderful new world.

Be smart.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime


This entry was posted in On Writing, publishing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

107 Responses to The New World of Publishing: There Are Suckers Born Every Minute and They Are Writers

  1. “dwsmithon 20 Nov 2011 at 7:58 pm
    nlow, subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace and there are listings of what editors have bought and their addresses and e-mail addresses. Everyone should be subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace.”

    Dean, I am a regular subscriber to PM, however, if you’re going to refer beginners I think you should explain a little bit what it is.

    Nothing will more quickly convince someone starting out that they need an agent then reading all the listings about the huge deals agents are getting their clients – particularly debut authors. Some of those deals, yes, the writer did on her own and brought in the agent. But writers boards are replete with stories which, when taken with PM listings, will give any newbie the impression that they way to heaven is through the agent’s portal.

    I read somewhere, but don’t know if its true, that PM was started by a former Curtis Brown agent. If so, it explains why PM is sort of an agent showcase. You can search for “top” agents, who sell the most number of books. I’ve been represented by a few of those, and it takes beginners a long time to figure out why an agent posting lots of sales on PM is not really always going to help them much.

    People read the listings, and overlook comments like Gotleib’s, buried in the articles.

    (P.S. mine was the first comment, and as a snarky person pointed out, my analogy was politically charged. I should have picked a more politically neutral example!)

    • dwsmith says:

      Teri, I agree, and only a small fraction of all deals are reported each week, but it’s a good place to find information about editors. Thanks for being clear.

  2. May I also suggest the Writers Resources Page on my website:

    There are links there to information about writers and money, writers selling books, which editors are buying what books at which houses, foreign market listings, literary lawyers, etc.

  3. Marie, I think Amazon is making far too much money (from its 30% share of gross) from self-publishing writers to turn off that tap.

    Moreover, the logistics of turing off that tap would be darned complicated. Thousands of books would have to be removed from the site. Amazon would have to develop a system of requiring you to prove, upon upload, that you’re a publishing company rather than a self-publishing individual–and they’d have to pay people to monitor this. (Ask anyone who’s ever worked on writing the language of membership qualifications for a professional writers organization. This is a quagmire, and Amazon would be entering it… for the specific sake of ELIMINATING income? Jeff Bezos just doesn’t strike me as that stupid.)

    Additionally, Smahwords and other aggregators work with self-published writters, so Amazon would also have to monitor THEIR uploads and set complicated standards for that.

    But Amazon it DID turn off that tap… then a replacement would spring up pretty quickly, since it would ve obvious that Amazon was suddenly eliminating a GREAT source of LOTS of profit from its business model, and leaving the door WIDE OPEN for someone to pick up the slack.

    I think additional aggregators would spring up quickly, too. People saying, “All I have to do is call myself a publisher and upload to Amazon all these self-publishing writers who’ve just been shut out. Why not? ANd if I do it for -5%-, my prices will be so much lower than anyone else’s, my business will grow quickly.”

    I don’t think Amazon has the -slighest- interest in eliminating self-publishing writers who upload directly. I think this has been a VERY successful business model for them, and well-run companies don’t eliminate successful aspects of their business.

    But I also don’t think that completely independent self-managed self-publishing is a bell that can be UNrung now. It’s out there, it’s busy and well-populated, it’s becoming easier, and it has generated profits. There’s no going back to a more narrow/funneled approach of ebooks ONLY being distirbuted via publishers.

    Publishers will continue to exist, but it will be alongside a variety of other business models (including self-publishing). This is the nature of the long tail. Markets, distribution outlets, production sources, and choices all expand. Unsuccessful ones fall away, die off, and may get replaced; but successful ones thrive and grow and evolve. They don’t disappear because someone decides to abandon profit and return to an old model of business after gaving succeeded with a new one.

  4. Marie: “It seems to me that querying editors directly may work if you have a history in traditional publishing, but what about newbies? Most publishers indicate they will not look at unagented queries or manuscripts.”

    Marie, as I said in response to Joseph’s comment earlier, I just finished spending a week teaching a (privte) online seminar to a writers group about how much you do NOT need an agent. A whole day was devoted to the subject of your question. Short version: Research your market, prepare a very professional submission package, and ignore the “no UNagented submissions policy” that some companies have–sometimes they’re real, but often they exist to manage the slushpile size by discouraging writers who are that easily discouraged. EVERY house I know of that has such a policy has nonetheless bought MSs from UNagented writers whom I know personally. EVERY house.

    Further to the notion that it’s somehow DIFFERENT if you’re unpublished, please check out my Writers Resources Page, which posts links to Jim Hines’ 2010 “first book sale” survey and Megan Crewe’s similar survey (done in 2009 or 2010). In both of those surveys, nearly half of all first-book sales are still being made without a literary agent.

  5. P.S. Oh, I recommend you also review Dean’s “Killing Cows” series of posts on literary agents, where the subject of how to submit without one, even if you’re brand new, was discussed often. Precisely because people are so (erroneously) convinced that it’s different for THEM than it is for all the new writers who sell a book without an agent.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks again, Laura, for the great information.

      The agent myth is very strong, folks. Fantastically strong, actually. Most of the complaints on this post around the web have been my black and white (and purposefully so) attitude toward agents. On a hundred posts here I have said over and over that every writer is different, every writer must find their own path. And I believe that completely. But agents have become, as a unit, a bad thing for all writers in general. Again, I had no bad agent, and five years ago I never could imagine myself saying this. I like all three of my agents and they did a great job for me. FIVE YEARS PLUS AGO.

      But things have changed and writers who refuse to even look at other aspects besides chasing an agent are setting themselves up for problems. I can guarantee that in this new business we find ourselves in.

      Agents will not be able to fight for what you want in a contract. THEY CAN’T because they have other clients with the same publishing house. They do not dare fight for one client while not asking the same for their other clients and then that becomes impossible and thus they will never do it. They can’t risk it to keep their business alive. It is only common sense. So when you have an agent, you are lowering your power in negotiations on contracts. This is DIFFERENT now than it was five years ago. Very different. Then agents gave you power, while at the same time caving into the demands of publishers for the 25% of net. Even then they couldn’t hold a line in a negotiation.

      So my attitude toward agents has gone black and white. Sorry, normally I say that all writers are different, but I can see ZERO place these days that an agent can help a writer. ZERO. And I can see a hundred ways it can be done better, especially in contract negotiations with a lawyer and overseas and Hollywood sales. I will do a front page post on this change in my attitude about agents at some point.

  6. Nancy Beck says:

    (And I do think the term “service” is correct in this instance, just not in the way Penguin is thinking. Sort of like a bull “services” a herd is how I am thinking.)

    LOL, but in a sad, disgusting sort of way. When I saw the post on Konrath’s blog, I couldn’t believe it. Writers’ groups should be all over this, calling it a sham (which it is), telling writers to stay away, etc. Maybe I’m not in the loop as much anymore, but except for you, Dean (and Kris, by extension), Konrath, and a slew of indie writers, where is the outrage? You pay $99 or $299 or whatever it is upfront for formatting (big deal), tips on covers (another big whoop), and I forget the other lame-o stuff. And then you get reamed for 30% of the books sales forever?

    And what is Penguin doing to help with this? Besides getting a ton of money out of my wallet? Nothing. Oh, offering formatting, which I can do myself (or someone else can do a lot cheaper). Ideas for covers – no covers are offered though (they’d probably suck anyway); can do it myself.

    Sorry for going on like that, but it really gets me steamed when this kind of crap is hoisted on vulnerable people.

    Pretend your name is Logan and you are about to have a birthday. There really is green grass outside those walls. (That reference may be too old for many here…sorry.)

    Not for me, but then again I’m pushing 50. :-) Logan’s Run, of course. (People my age would have already been dead for quite a while in that society.)

  7. Nancy Beck says:

    I get discouraged on boards full of 100/day lottery-winners, then come back here for your common sense reminder that it all adds up.

    @Gretchen Galway – I feel the same way. I’m not selling a heck of a lot as yet, and it gets very discouraging when I see KB threads where the poster laments selling “only 20 copies” a day, or “only 1,000 copies” a month or whatever.

    Wow, what I’d do for those numbers! :-) But I now steer myself away from those sorts of posts and try to stick to the book recommendation threads.

    And I come here and to Kris’ site for some common sense encouragement, as you do. :-)

  8. “Pretend your name is Logan and you are about to have a birthday.”

    Now if that isn’t a noteworthy quote, I don’t know what is! :D

    It’s amazing how predatory the industry has become in such a short time. Curtis was, for once, well ahead of his time. All we need now is for someone to channel Scott Meredith’s spirit and get a weather report from Hell.

  9. Todd says:

    Wow, I get to this blog early Monday morning…

    …and there are already 78 responses to the most recent post!

    Guess it hit a nerve.

    Since the comment discussion has already been so thorough, I’ll try to inject a little levity and reply with the same tongue-in-cheek response I made to Joe Konrath’s post on “Book Country” (which echoes Dean’s strong warning). Here it is:

    I feel compelled to add another service to the list of Bewares:

    “Cook Country”

    “We all know how tough the restaurant business is. Well, not anymore. With Cook Country, WE take care of all the boring details of feeding people while YOU get to do what you do best – cook food.

    Just send us all your recipes and a check for $500, and we’ll send you a professionally designed menu. Then, whenever you sell a particular entree, we take only 30% – and no tip necessary!

    Selling food is hard. You cook. We’ll do the rest.”

    I mean, it SOUNDS good…


  10. Colleen says:

    Hmm, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware (and published author in her own right) states in Absolute Write’s Water Cooler Bewares and Background Check that she is “mystified” why people call Book Country a scam because they are upfront about their fees and all self pub services charge fees. She has a point in that narrow sense.

    I personally think spending all that money and getting little in return is silly. Even people with money to burn should know there are other options besides Book Country and others of that ilk so they can make fully informed decisions. So it’s great that blogs like this one get the word out since it’s not likely that the mainstream press will.

  11. When I was young, I’d put a bucket on my head and run into walls. Now that I’m older, I do it without the bucket. I should’ve listened to my sainted mother and become a plumber when I was cut loose from the corporate world … or gone into some other … any other, more reputable line of work … but no, I decided to become an author.

    I agree with your basic premise, but the big … perhaps the biggest … hurdle to the fledgling author is the marketing … it doesn’t matter how you publish: no marketing, no bucks, period.

  12. In a bout of what I can only assume was incipient dimentia, in retrospect, I was lately thinking that I could probably stop talking about all the many reasons a writer really DOESN’T need an agent (might CHOOSE to have one, but certainly does -not- “have” to have one, as has been the longrunning and wholly erroneous conventional wisdom)… because I vaguely thought, well, things have changed so much in the past year, most people are claiming they don’t even need PUBLISHERS anymore, so presumably, when I wasn’t looking, everyone woke up and smelled the coffee, and no one any longer believes that absolutely non-sensical guff about how to “have to have an agent” to submit to publishers, negotiate good deals, sell to Hollywood, sell overseas, etc., etc.

    And in the space of a week…. I’ve seen several posts here from people saying, “Oh, but surely we have to agents, don’t we? How could that not be the case?” And Russ has mentioned that convention panel he was at recently where a writer who is selling books without an agent STILL thinks she needs one! And in the private online workshop I just taught about all the reasons you really DON’T need an agent, a couple of people said, whoa, they’ve been submitting their own work and negotiating with editors for years as freelance journalists, but had for some reason believed they “couldn’t” employ those exact same skills when it came to marketing and selling their novels, and the seminar had made them recognize the inconsistency of that assumption…

    And I realize, nope. We’re TRULY living in the upside world now. =Even= in a world where everyone’s proclaiming that you no longer need publishers, they’re STILL saying, “But you DO need an agent, however.”


    • dwsmith says:

      The agent myth is fantastically strong. I keep saying that over and over. Even Mark Coker, a smart businessman, but also a beginning writer, is warping his business around to allow agents. Might be smart from his point of view in getting in more clients. That I assume is why he is doing that, just business. If writers are going to use agents, why shouldn’t Smashwords get a part of the silly money when an agent becomes a publisher. But it sure taints an otherwise really good business model.

      What exactly will an agent do for their 15%? I just get confused I guess. Will they take a word file from the author and spend a few minutes making it into a word file that fits Mark’s guidelines???? I guess to some writers that is worth 15%. It might take an agent an hour or so. And then the money goes to the agent, who then must pass it on to the writer, but I guess some writers want an extra slowness in their money. And I suppose finding a $5.00 piece of art and learning how to do a cover is important, but I don’t know of one agent who has a graphic’s art degree. I suppose there is one or two. And I suppose that an agent might be able to do a blurb better than a writer because, after all, they read the book once, maybe, while the author knows the book and is a professional writer. So of course the agent can do a better blurb than the professional writer who wrote the book.

      Sorry, getting far, far too snarky here. Mark’s push to the agents, even before the conflict of interest suits have been settled, is just sad. I respect Mark and his business and have been a major supporter. But his pushing writers to have agents just feels so myth-like and really shows his beginning writer roots.

  13. Delle Jacobs says:

    I feel a lot of your frustration with other writers, Dean. Most of those I know are in romance, but it’s no different. They see my success and want me to tell them all the “secrets” of indie publishing, and I’m happy to help. But when they don’t have immediate success, they’re upset, even though they’ve second-guessed everything I’ve told them. They believe self-publishing is easy, and if I can do it, it should be a snap for them.

    They want the new profits self-publishing can bring, but they want to keep on doing everything the way they always have. Somehow they think the Penguins and Tridents of the publishing world will take care of all those less glamorous tasks like cover art, editing, writing the blurb, formatting, publishing, and promoting their books, and they can go back to their comfort zone.

    I feel bad for them in a way, but even more, I feel frustrated because this is just not business as usual. I’m sorry. But the old rules don’t apply. And if they think they know better than I do simply because they’re counting on things being the way they’ve always been, all I can say is, “Have at it. And if it works, then I’ll do it your way instead of mine.”

  14. The Book Country deal is actually superior to signing a publishing contract with the “real” Penguin.

    Book Country lets you keep non-exclusive rights.
    Book Country “only” takes 30 percent.
    Book Country doesn’t require an agent taking an additional 15 percent.
    Book Country gives you about the same amount of distribution and promotion as Penguin would for most authors.
    Book Country publishes you virtually instantly, giving you a good opportunity to make your vanity payment back in the 12 to 18 months you’d otherwise be waiting for your book to be released.

    Brilliant. Where do I sign?

  15. Laura, I’d take your concept about the “wider funnel” one step further. Not only is Amazon NOT turning off the tap, they are about to blow it wide open.

    First, they let anyone publish (a nice grassroots campaign that had no small part in Kindle dominance.) Then they saw how relatively easy it was to compete successfully against publishers by signing their own authors. And now they are opening up the Prime lending library to indie authors (at the same time traditional publishers are hemming and hawing and pulling their books out of any library distribution).

    No, the publisher funnel is gone. Traditional publishers are marginalizing themselves in oh so many ways. Good-bye, James Patterson.

  16. Ty Johnston says:

    Here’s what strikes me odd about the agent myth …

    Twenty-plus years ago I was just getting into the writing game. During the late ’80s and all of the ’90s, I was focusing upon short stories with a dream of some day writing novels. I sold some stories here and there, but not enough for me to become a regular seller to big-name editors (I still miss George Scithers though he never published anything of mine).

    Now, I freely admit this is just my perception, but back then, I don’t remember literary agents being a necessity or even necessarily common. Some writers had them, but it was usually your big-name authors who were busy busting out a novel a year (or less) while spending a lot of time doing other things. Interviews and book tours, I guess.

    I get the reasons for why all of this changed and that agents became more and more common during the ’90s, but … really? Is everyone’s memory that short? It’s not been that long, folks.

    Or maybe I’m remembering incorrectly.

    Or maybe I’m just getting old.

  17. joemontana says:

    Great discussion folks!

    re: the writer beware response. As much as I hate to say it, I have been pretty disappointed at times with them. They do some good stuff, but they were also quick to side with the little hate fest agents put on on twitter a year or 2 ago. A lot of ‘this is a tough business, suck it up’ came out of Strauss in particular.

    Mean anything to me personally? No. I’m a ‘say it to my face and I’ll respond’ kind of guy. I don;t think much of people whining on the internet. Intelligent discourse? Cool. Pouting and griping? I can get that from the neighbors…

    Anyway, I think the best advice is what Dean has been preaching – be smart, take care of YOU and your writing. No one is your friend. It’s business.

    The free help you get from Dean, Laura, Kris, Stackpole, Konrath etc. is probably the last thing you;ll ever get int he publishing BUSINESS that comes free.

    Someone commented on Konrath’s blog the other day that alot of people love it when Joe says ‘go indie’ and ‘you can make $$$ skipping publishers’. They cheer. They rave.

    They also miss the times when he mentions how hard he works or how long it took him to get to where he is. People want to believe it is easy. Business isn’t easy. Sometimes it is simple – learn indie publishing, write well and write fast – but simple is the opposite of complex. Easy if the opposite of difficult. We writers – supposedly good with words and all – like to confuse the two.

    It’s simple folks. It just isn’t easy all the time.

  18. JR Tomlin says:

    I take you saw the Smashwords press release, Dean. It absolutely infuriated me. Nowhere else “showcases” agented work.

    Indies have supported Smashwords and this is little more than a slap in the face. They wouldn’t exist without indie work. I’ve always supported Smashwords and purchased work there in preference to other retailers.

    No more. From now on anyplace else gets my business first. Thank you, Mark Coker.

  19. Mike says:

    Glad I’m not the only one who sees no use in having an agent. If you’re going to pay someone, they should work for you. No business out there likes to pay people for not working. The only entities who do that are government agencies and those who have agents.

  20. Dean -

    This article has been linked at Jim C. Hines’s site, in response:

    • dwsmith says:

      Jim gives a good response, thanks, Jeremy. Some of the people who added in comments on his blog don’t know me. Anyone who knows me knows I work mostly with traditional publishers and so does my wife, and we have been for years. At this count, I have sold well past 100 NOVELS with traditional publishers, plus been an editor and publisher in traditional publishing. And I have had three wonderful agents. Not a bad thing happened to me with an agent. My friends around me are another matter, but the people commenting on Jim’s post think I’m only an indie writer and have had horrid experiences with agents because I try to help writers not just knee-jerk into having an agent.

      One said I make all my money teaching. Wow, that has to make some of my friends laugh, considering we have been losing money up until this last year on the workshops and my late friend, Bill Trojan helped fund many of the workshops. Just like I make all my money indie publishing with my fifty or so short stories I have up. (grin)

      Jim is a great writer and a part-time writer who has an agent who is working for him at the moment. I sure hope it stays that way for him as well and I am completely wrong about agents. Thanks, Jim, for the response. But you might want to help set some of the falsehoods about me in your comment section straight.

  21. Yes, I knew that there were a number of flawed assumptions over there about you and your thoughts, so I thought it only fair that you be made aware of them so you could respond if you so chose.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Jeremy, very much appreciated. I tried to clear a few of them up. Not sure if Jim let my comment through, but I would assume he did. I haven’t gone back and checked. Thanks again.

  22. Also, it seems Jim has pared the comments to that post so they are all constructive, including the one I made where I pointed out the long history of agent discussions here, as well as all or most of the ones I read yesterday that were ridiculing your comments.

    I think he’s done a good job of keeping the discussion positive.

  23. Catherine says:

    Thanks Dean for eveything you do to help writers being writers.
    I write in french, and I thought going through traditional publishing was the way to go.

    Once I read lots of your article, I didn’t hesitate and went straight into the self-publishing. I have only one novel out there, both on createspace and smashwords, and in the last three months I made an awesome 15$ in the digital format alone. On one book. I’m not a bestselling writer, I’ve never published anything before and I still don’t know how to use all my marketing tools yet. I’m happy!

    A lot of people told me that self-publishing didn’t count as being a real writer. Probably because I don’t have the “seal of approval” from a well-known publisher. They sometime even say I’m doing vanity publishing. But I’ve seen what some of those “well-known” publisher do to a first time writer. They don’t do anything with the book. New writers have to do their own editing because the publisher want something ready to go. New writers have to write their own blurb, which gives you first impression on the book, and it’s full of grammar mistakes and typos. I’m not kidding! New writers think publisher will do at least a spellcheck, but they don’t. They don’t have time.

    When I saw those books, I decided I would not let someone who has NOTHING to do with my book, to put their name beside mine, and take money out of my work.

    I’m learning everything about self-publishing and it is so much fun. I took the picture for my cover, I’ve formatted it myself (you do it once, it’s so easier the second time!), so a bit more work than just writing, but well worth it.

    My only problem is that my main markets are Canada and France (writing in French has its drawback) and I have to pay an extra fee to bring the POD to this market. I’m still working on it!

    Thanks again for all your great advices, it’s a good reminder every time someone tells me I’m not a writer because I don’t have a real publisher, or an agent!

    • dwsmith says:

      Catherine, glad these have been able to help. And don’t let anyone tell you aren’t a real writer. Anyone who regularly puts words down is a writer. And if you are making money at your writing, which you are, then you are a professional writer.

      Sounds like you are doing great. Just keep going and keep getting more work up for readers to find. That’s the best “marketing” you can do. Just more writing. And keep having fun.

  24. pete morin says:

    Dean, I understand your No Agent Mantra, but seriously, there is at least one exception to every rule. After my agent couldn’t get a single response in NINE MONTHS from the 7 editors she submitted to, she convinced to self-publish the ms she had under contract. Not only did she convince me to, she discussed with me a strategy for bringing it out that entailed publishing a free short first, then a collection of shorts, followed by the novel. There are a number of authors in her camp that have both TP and SP work out there.

    She also knows IP law as well as most lawyers (from reading over her husband-lawyer’s shoulder) – at least as well as this one.

    Rock on.

    • dwsmith says:


      I agree, always exceptions. For those still functioning very well in the old world of publishing, agents are needed. But as each month goes by, more and more of that old system (in place everywhere for the most part up until just over two years ago) breaks down. In the new world there just isn’t a lot of reason for an agent and as you watch agents jump to being publishers, even they know it. But the agent system still works fine for many writers. But still working for some and being the best system for general advice, which is what I give out, are two different things. Thanks.

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