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Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing Fast

Years ago I did this series called Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. I stopped doing this because I hoped for a time that indie publishing would murder a few of the myths on its own, but sadly, it hasn’t. In fact, indie publishing created some new ones to go along with the old ones.

Since I am going to blog about a ghost novel I’m writing here, I figured why not bring this forward to make sure everyone is on the same page as I go into this writing week. And maybe after I get the book done I’ll start back updating and bringing forward all these and get them into a book.

But for now, how am I going to write this ghost novel in seven to ten days? Spend more time in the chair.

If you don’t understand that, read this article.

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Speed of writing…

Or said in myth fashion: WRITING SLOW EQUALS WRITING WELL.

Or the flip side: WRITING FAST EQUALS WRITING POORLY.

This comes out of everyone’s mouth at one point or another in a form of apology for our work. “Oh, I just cranked that off.”

Or the flip side… “This is some of my best work. I’ve been writing it for over a year.”

Now this silly idea that the writing process has anything at all to do with quality of the work has been around in publishing for just over 100 years now, pushed mostly by the literature side and the college professors.

It has no basis in any real fact when it comes to writers. None. If you don’t believe me, start researching how fast some of the classics of literature were written.

But don’t ask major professional writers out in public. Remember we know this myth and lie about how really hard we do work. (Yup, that’s right, someone who makes stuff up for a living will lie to you. Go figure.) So you have to get a long-term professional writer in a private setting. Then maybe with a few drinks under his belt the pro will tell you the truth about any project.

My position:

NO WRITER IS THE SAME. NO PROJECT IS THE SAME.

And put simply:

THE QUALITY OF THE FINAL PRODUCT HAS NO RELATIONSHIP TO THE SPEED, METHOD, OR FEELING OF THE WRITER WHILE WRITING.

That’s right, one day I could write some pages feeling sick, almost too tired to care, where every word is a pain, and the next day I write a few more pages feeling good and the words flowing freely and a week later I won’t be able to tell which day was which from the writing.

How I feel when I write makes no difference to the quality of what I produce. None. Damn it, it should, but it just doesn’t.

And I just laugh when a myth like this one attempts to lump all writers into the same boat and make us all write exactly the same way book after book after book.

No writer works the same, even from book to book or short story to short story.

Talk to any writer, and I mean privately, getting them to tell you the truth, not the public line, and you will discover that one of the writer’s books was written quickly, maybe even in a few weeks, while another book took the writer a half year to finish and he was deathly ill during half the writing time. And you, as a reader, reading the two books, would never be able to tell the difference.

But yet, traditional publishing, college professors, and just about anyone who even thinks about the writer behind the words has a belief system that words must be struggled over to be good.

Well, yes, sometimes.

And sometimes not.

Sometimes a writer gets into a white-hot heat and a book flows faster than the writer can type, getting done in just a number of days or weeks. And sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes a writer has a deadline to hit and pushes to hit it, spending more hours in the chair, thus calling it writing fast. Some writers think and research a book for a few months, then write it in a few weeks. Some writers spend a month or two on a detailed outline, then take a month to actually write the book. Some writers start with a title, some write chapters out of order and then put it all together like a puzzle.

And on and on and on.

Every writer is different. Every writer’s method is different

There is no correct, mandated way to write a book. Juts your way.

The myth of writing slow to write better actually hurts writers.

There are two sides of our brains. The creative side and the critical side.

The creative side has been taking in stories since the writer started reading, knowing how to put words together at a deep level. The critical side lags far, far behind the creative side, learning rules that some English teacher or parent forced into the critical mind.

The creative side is always a much better writer than the critical side. Always. It never switches, no matter how long you write.

Long term (20 years and up) professional writers have learned to trust that creative side and we tend to not mess much with what it creates for us. Of course, this lesson for most of us was learned the hard way, but that’s another long chapter for another book.

A new writer who believes the myth that all good fiction must be written slowly and labor-intensive (called work) suddenly one day finds that they have written a thousand words in 35 minutes. The new writer automatically thinks, “Oh, my, that has to be crap. I had better rewrite it.”

What has just happened is that the top writing the creative side of the mind has just produced is then killed by the critical side, dumbed down, voice taken out, anything good and interesting removed.

All caused by this myth.

And professional editors in New York are no better, sadly. I once got a rewrite request on a major book from my editor. I agreed with about 9/10′s of the suggestions, so I spent the next day rewriting the book, fixing the problems, and was about to send the manuscript back when Kris stopped me.

The conversation went something like this:

“Don’t send it, sit on it a few weeks,” Kris said, looking firm and intense, as only Kris can look.

“Why not?” I asked, not remembering at that moment that the myth was a major part of traditional publishing.

“The editor will think you didn’t work on it and that it is crap,” Kris said.

“But I agreed and fixed everything,” I said, starting to catch a clue, but not yet willing to admit defeat.

Kris just gave me that “stare” and I wilted, knowing she was completely correct.

I held the rewrite for three weeks, sent it back with a letter praising the rewrite comments and a slight side comment about how hard I had worked on them, even though I wrote most of another book in the period of time I was holding the rewrite. Story ended happily, editor was happy and commented on how fast I managed to get the rewrites done, all because Kris remembered the myth and how it functions.

Now, let me do something that just annoys people, especially in the master classes we teach. I’m going to do the math. (Stop laughing, former students.)

The Math of Writing Fast

This chapter when finished is going to be around 2,000 words. That is about 8 manuscript pages with each page averaging 250 words per page.

So say I wrote only 250 words, one manuscript page per day on a new novel.

It takes me about 15 minutes, give-or-take (depending on the book and the day and how I’m feeling) to write 250 words of fiction. (Each writer is different. Time yourself.)

So if I spent that 15 minutes per day writing on a novel, every day for one year, I would finish a 90,000 word plus novel, about a normal paperback book, in 365 days.

I would be a one-book-per-year writer, pretty standard in science fiction and a few other genres.

15 minutes per day equals one novel per year.

Oh, my, if I worked really, really hard and managed to get 30 minutes of writing in per day, I could finish two novels in a year.

And at that speed I would be considered fast. Not that I typed or wrote fast, just that I spent more time writing.

God forbid I actually write four pages a day, spend an entire hour per day sitting in a chair!!!!  I would finish four novels a year. At that point I would be praised in the romance genre and called a hack in other genres.

See why I laugh to myself when some writer tells me they have been working really, really hard on a book and it took them a year to write? What did they do for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day????

The problem is they are lost in the myth. Deep into the myth that writing must be work, that it must be hard, that you must “suffer for your art” and write slowly.

Bull-puckey. Writing is fun, easy, and enjoyable. If you want hard work, go dig a ditch for a water pipe on a golf course in a steady rain on a cold day. That’s work. Sitting at a computer and making stuff up just isn’t work. It’s a dream job.

Spend More Time in the Chair

Oh, oh, I just gave you the secret to being a “fast” writer or a “prolific” writer. Just spend more time writing.

I am the world’s worst typist. I use four fingers, up from two, and if I can manage 250 words in fifteen minutes I’m pretty happy. I tend to average around 750-1,000 words per hour of work. Then I take a break. I am not a “fast” typist, but I am considered a “fast” writer because I spend more time writing than the myth allows.

That’s the second thing that makes this myth so damaging to writers. It doesn’t allow writers to just spend more time practicing their art. In fact, the myth tells writers that if they do spend more time working to get better, they are worse because they produce more fiction.

Writing is the only art where spending less time practicing is considered a good thing.

In music we admire musicians who practice ten or more hours a day. Painters and other forms of art are the same. Only in writing does the myth of not practicing to get better come roaring in. We teach new writers to slow down, to not work to get better, to spend fewer and fewer hours at writing, to not practice, and then wonder why so many writers don’t make it to a professional level.

We No Longer Have to Wait for Traditional Publishers

For the last few decades, unless a writer wrote under many pen names, we were forced by the market to write fewer books per year. But now, with indie publishing, we can once again write as much as we want.

And we can write anything we want.

We can sell some books to traditional publishers, we can indie publish other books and stories.

The new world has lifted the market restrictions on speed of writing. Now those of us who actually want to sit and write for more than 15 minutes per day can publish what we write in one way or another.

And being fast, meaning spending more time writing, is a huge plus with indie publishing. We are in a new golden age of fiction, especially short fiction, and just as in the first golden age, writing fast (meaning spending more time at your art) will be a good thing also for your pocket book.

Writing Slow Equals Writing Better is a complete myth, a nasty sacred cow of publishing that hurts and stops writers who believe it.

— The truth is that no two writers work the same and no book is the same as the previous book or the next book.

— The truth is that writing fast is nothing more than spending more time every day writing.

— The truth is that there should be no rule about speed relating to quality.

— The truth is there should be no rule that lumps all writers into one big class. There should only be your way of writing.

Be Careful!!

Sadly, this myth is firm in the business, so writers who spend more time in the chair and who write more hours have to learn to work around the myth. We must learn to play the game that teachers, editors, book reviewers, and fans want us to play.

And if you decide you can spend more hours every day writing and working on your art, be prepared to face those who want you to write the way they do. Be prepared to face those who want to control your work. Be prepared to face criticism from failed writers (reviewers) who can’t even manage a page a day, let alone more.

This speed myth is the worst myth of an entire book full of myths. Caution.

The best thing you can do is just keep your speed and your writing methods to yourself. You’re an artist. Respect your way of doing things and just don’t mention them to anyone.

So please don’t do the math about my age. I sold my first novel when I was 38 and have published over 100 novels. At one book per year, I must be at least 138 years old.

After my hard, single-page-of-writing every day, I sometimes feel that way.

Yeah, right.

But I stand by that story.

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Copyright © 2013 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

The New World of Publishing: Blurb Writing

As I said in the first post of this short series, I will take a few areas of publishing and compare them across, from indie to traditional. The differences, the beliefs, the myths, and how things are actually done.

The first post I did on editing and proofing, and I’ll do another on cover design, plus other areas that are common between the two forms of publishing. One area per short post.

But for this second post, it’s time to talk about blurb and promotional writing.

As I start this, a bunch of writers are coming into town to attend a “Pitches and Blurb” writing workshop here. It’s a four-day push to learn the skills involved in writing basic ad copy for books. They will also work on cover letter blurbs, back cover writing, and tag lines.

Understand, these are writers I have invited here, who are at a pretty decent level of craft and writing skills. And even after four days, they will only understand how to write them. None of us, even those of us who have been writing blurbs and cover letters and ad copy for years, get it right every time.

I find it funny how indie writers (usually newer indie writers with only their first book out) always look to discounting their prices when a book or story isn’t selling. It never once occurs to them that maybe they wrote a passive, dull description for their book. Or that their cover sucks. Or that maybe the opening of their novel, which readers will sample before buying, is dull, has no setting, and is nothing more than someone waking up in the morning.

Openings of stories and novels tend to get better after a million words of writing practice (with focus). But only after the writer starts understanding how to relay character and setting. Covers tend to get better after a few dozen covers as long as the indie publisher is paying a lot of attention to learning cover design and font layout and blurb use. But I have watched really, really talented storytellers produce dull and off-putting blurbs that actually turn buyers away from their wonderful novels.

It’s why I think the Pitches and Blurbs Workshop that is starting here today is the most important workshop we do for indie writers and for traditional writers.

On this short article, I will start with the traditional side of things as I did last article.

Traditional

Who writes the blurbs in large, traditional publishing houses? Well, the answer to that is “it depends.” It depends on the size of the advance on the book, the imprint, the publisher, and so many other factors.

That said, I’m only going to talk here about lower-level midlist books, books with advances under $25,000.00.  Genre books for the most part. And when I mean traditional publisher, I am talking about the large publishers in this instance. Mid-range and small and specialty presses often do this differently.

When a midlist novel is bought by a traditional publisher, the editor reads it. That’s it. The copyeditor (normally freelance out of the office) will go through it much later on, but the only person who actually reads your novel is the editor.

The editor then does a summary of the book for the publisher and the sales force for the meetings.

This changes slightly as advances go higher, remember. Sometimes. The bigger the check, the more people read the book.

From the editor summaries, the publisher and editor and sales force decide where to slot the book in their monthly sales lists and about how many copies it will sell. All fine.

(I know… to beginning writers this is shocking that only one person in a publishing house reads your book. But alas, in most cases, it’s true. There is just not enough budget and time to have more people read it I’m afraid.)

So now, one fine morning, three or four months after the last time the editor read your book, there is a scheduled meeting with sales and cover design and your book is up on the docket as one to talk about.

But only the editor has read the book, so it’s the editor’s job to write the sales blurb and back cover copy and some of the catalog copy. And normally they do it in a rush to make the meeting, from memory of the book they read months before.

Not kidding.

They might glance back at the manuscript, glance at any promotional material the author sent in, glance at their notes. And then write it to the best of their ability that morning under the deadline.

Editors write cover copy and blurb copy. Why? The fine members of the sales force are not writers and haven’t read the book. They have only read the editor’s summary of the book and maybe a first chapter. And there is not enough money in a line of books these days to have a dedicated ad-copy writer. And not enough need. So in most houses, in most lines, the task falls to the editors.

And more times than not they do the writing mostly from memory of a book they read months before, usually going directly to the plot and often turning-point scenes that give away too much, because that’s what they remember.

That’s one of the many reasons Kris and I have always taught writers to learn how to write good cover copy and blurbs that will sell. And use tag lines when you have a good one. And make sure the editors have what you wrote in case they wanted to use it. Most editors have zero issue accepting help on this from their authors, if their authors know how to write blurbs.

Sadly, most authors do not. Most authors selling to traditional publishing wouldn’t know a good blurb that would help sell their book if their life depended on it. And that’s the expectations of editors for their authors as well. Editors are always stunned and happily surprised when a writer helps them with quality ad copy.

So the editors write the blurbs and back cover copy, usually at the last minute, often from memory of a book read long before.

Indie Publishing

Everything falls to the author. And in most instances, just as with traditionally published authors, that’s a bad thing.

Most indie authors have no sense of business. So the idea that an indie author can write a blurb that is a sales tool to help sell their own book is just pretty funny. Sad, but funny.

When you don’t flat understand business and have no desire to learn, you sure can’t begin to understand sales of anything.

Selling books is a business I’m afraid.

Indie authors tend to write blurbs that go into the plot details. A bad thing. And they write blurbs that are filled with passive verbs, and often focus the subject on something that makes their own books unattractive to buyers.

Why? Because we wrote the thing. Therefore, that cool scene on page fifty should be mentioned in the blurb, even though it’s about splattering blood over a woman’s expensive white blouse and cutting off her lover’s little finger with a nifty new blade in her blender. Yeah, that will sell. Maybe to five people. But the indie author loves that scene and puts that scene in the blurb.

And then lowers the price to 99 cents when the book doesn’t sell. Trust me, a book with a bad blurb on it won’t sell at 99 cents anymore than it will sell at $6.99.

I’m spending four days with a group of professional writers here on the coast, teaching them how to write blurbs for their covers letters to editors and to give editors help when a book sells. And if they go indie with a story, they are learning how to write blurbs and back cover copy that will sell the books both electronically and in paper. The writers here will barely break the surface of the skill in four days, but when they leave they will be aware that it is a skill. And I hope they will have some tools to use to get better.

Summary

The systems in traditional publishing for writing ad copy and blurbs sucks for most first novelists and genre novels. It gets better, as most things do in traditional publishing, as the advance gets higher. But for most writers, only luck can get you a good blurb.

However, blurb writing sucks worse on the indie side. In traditional at least there is a professional editor who has written a lot of blurbs writing the ad copy. And a sales force to say no if the copy truly sucks.

In indie publishing, most writers spend little or no attention to writing a blurb. And don’t really know how to do it well if they did pay attention.

Even though it is the third step in the selling process that a buyer goes through to buy a book, indie publishers ignore the ramifications of writing a bad blurb. They give the process only a moment’s thought, usually tossing off a blurb in a rush on the fly because writing it seems like a chore and they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

And then they wonder why their books don’t sell.

Some writers can’t even see a passive verb. About one third of the pros in every class I have taught on this topic are like that and struggle for the entire workshop to spot and take out passive language in what they write. But by the end, they at least can see it and know how to make a sentence active.

And if you have no idea what I am talking about when I say active language and sales copy, go watch a short and fun video called “Five Guys in a Limo” on YouTube. Not a passive verb in the entire thing.

The skill can be learned with some focus and practice and help.

And if you learn it, you can help your editor in your traditional publishing company and you can help your indie books sell more copies.

Have fun.

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Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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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 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

 

Some Star Trek Fun and History

Last week in the mail I got this huge packet of royalty statements from Pocket Books. Now understand, when I say huge, I mean huge. Maybe 200 pages. I’ve written shorter novels to be honest.

These statements are only for the books I did with Pocket Books that are still in print in one form or another. And a bunch of them are Star Trek books of one sort or another.

Looking through those statements, it reminded me that I got a letter recently from someone questioning my credits. This poor person could not believe that anyone could have written over a hundred novels and since I was lying about that, I couldn’t know anything about book pricing. (Not kidding.)

Letters like that I just toss away and I did with that one. (I personally know writers who have produced three and four times the numbers of novels I have done. And for me, all it takes is a mild Google search under this name to find fifty or sixty of the novels I wrote, not counting all the pen name work.)

But the combination of that person’s silly letter and the Pocket Books royalty statement made me realize that it’s been a long, long time since I had a traditionally published book out under a name I can claim. So I figured that with a few posts over the next six months, I would take a group of the books I did and just talk about them for a few minutes.

One group will be all the superhero books I wrote. Another group all the movie novelizations. Another group all the game novels. But first, tonight, since I was mostly known under this name as a Star Trek writer and editor (and the former publisher of Pulphouse Publishing Inc.), I figured I had to start with Star Trek books.

How Many Star Trek Books Did I Write or Edit?

I honestly don’t know or remember and am too lazy to go try to figure out. I’m pretty sure the total is over thirty, but even a Google search won’t help on all of them since I did a few ghost novels in Star Trek.

For example, the Eric Kotani novel “Death of a Neutron Star” was supposed to be a complete ghost novel. But then about five years back a fan came up to me at a convention and asked me to sign it. I asked him why I would do that, since I hadn’t written it. (I actually had from a wonderful Eric Kotani idea and partial manuscript, but was under a non-disclosure agreement.) He said, “Your name is on the inside.” Sure enough, no one had bothered to tell me I was outed on that book.

Notice, all three images on the top of this post have pen names on them.

However, I can remember the first Star Trek novel Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I wrote very clearly. It was the deep winter of 1992 and Star Trek DS9 was about to start in early January of 1993. I had bought a story or two from John Ordover for Pulphouse Magazine and for some reason John and Kris were talking one night on the phone about another project. (Kris was editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.) John had just gone into the Pocket Books Star Trek department as an editor and his job was to revamp the program from mostly fan-written books to professional-written books. (Three editor/writers talking. Always fun.)

At the time we had a big backyard dish that picked up signals of programs before they aired, so we had seen the first episode of Star Trek: DS9 just the night before and way before it officially aired. Kris and John got talking about it. And one thing lead to another and John asked Kris if we would be interested in writing a book for the new series.

Yeah, duh. (The high school kid inside of me that used to go home instead of going out so I could watch Star Trek in the 1960s just about died at that moment.)

We were all afraid that six names would not fit on the cover, so Kris and I came up with the pen name Sandy Schofield and the novel “The Big Game” came out in 1993. (I can tell you from my royalty statements that so far it’s sold about 150,000 copies. Nice.)

From there Kris and I started doing more and more Star Trek novels together. I also did a bunch of Star Trek novels and projects on my own. A few I did on my own had Kris’s name on them, a few didn’t. And I ain’t saying which books those are.

Our bestselling Star Trek book was “Star Trek: Next Generation: Invasion: The Soldiers of Fear.” Part of the cross-over Invasion series between the four Star Trek series. That’s still selling like crazy and I don’t even want to mention how many copies that’s sold. It’s a ton. It also got Kris and I to #12 on the New York Times Bestseller official list when the list was only ten long. (The official list is now 15 spots long.)

Along the way John Ordover and I came up with the idea for “The Captain’s Table.” That was basically a bar unstuck in time that any Starfleet captain could go to at any point on any planet. I designed the bar since I had been a bartender and came up with the cast of regulars. (Yes, we knew about Spider Robinson’s bar which rifted off of Arthur C. Clarke’s bar and so on back into time. And old sf idea brought to Star Trek.)

Kris and I did the Star Trek: DS9 book in this series. The jackets on each book had the captain on the front in the cover art and a bunch of people in the back.  All the writers of the series were in the back, but not on our own books. Kris and I are standing behind Janeway’s right cheek bone. You have to get the Star Trek: Voyager book in the series to see us clearly.

Kris and I did a lot of books from 1993 to 2002 in Star Trek. We did the first original novel (writing the book only from a few scripts and still photos) for the Star Trek: Voyager series and then we did the first original novel again, way ahead of the airing, for Star Trek: Enterprise. That is a very, very scary thing to do considering how exacting to characters and details all Star Trek fans are. I’m pretty amazed to this day we got as close to the actual series as we did on both of those books, considering we were writing them before the first episodes were even filming.

I also wrote the very first Star Fleet Core of Engineers novel for that series. It’s one of the longer books in the series.

As time went on, Kris and I also got to do some really fun stuff. We wrote a Star Trek comic book series for DC Comics under their Wildstorm imprint. Kris did the outline and I did the script since at the time she hadn’t read many comics. Thank heavens there was a good artist on my script because my script just wasn’t that good.

I got to write a few scripts for Paramount Pictures as well. One full-length feature film script turned out to be directed by Jonathan Frakes and was a live action game called “Klingon.” I ended up getting story credit since by that point I had no desire to join the Screen Writer’s Guild, let alone spend another moment in Hollywood. Then I turned around and novelized my own script for a paperback for Pocket Books. (A ton of money was made on that project.)

Of all the projects I did with Star Trek, three really stand out as being above and beyond fun. And two were from holodeck creations.

The first started the day John Ordover called me and asked me if I would like to do a “Captain Proton” book. (Picture of cover at the top of this post.) He called me because he knew of my love for the old pulps. On Star Trek :Voyager, one of the characters had created a great holodeck program featuring a Buck Rogers character called Captain Proton.

John’s idea was to put together a trade paper book in the form of the old pulp magazines, so under the name D.W. “Prof” Smith I wrote a short novel staring Captain Proton. (If you don’t get the pen name reference, let me just say I also wrote the entire short novel in that classic writer’s style.)

And then I also wrote three other pulp-style short stories for the book. One by Ray Hamil, one by Lester Lee, and one by Don Simster. (Of course all three stories were in the styles of the great old pulp writers that you should be able to figure out from my pen names.)

See why when someone asks me how many names I have published work under I have no idea. There are four pen names there. And no where on that book does it give Dean Wesley Smith as a name.

I also was allowed to write Captain Proton stories for Amazing Magazine and even had the cover of the magazine once.

The next fun project was the book Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Hard Rain. That novel stared Dixon Hill from the hard-boiled detective program on the holodeck. That was the hardest book I have written to date because it was a mystery in many sub-genres, set on a holodeck, while Picard could never be Picard, only Dixon Hill, and yet save the Enterprise.

Somewhere in the middle of all this John Ordover and I were trying to figure out how to get newer writers into Star Trek from the fan boards. The copyright issues were a nightmare. But finally John got the lawyers and his bosses and the fine folks at Paramount to agree to a contest and he called it “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

And he hired me. The third really amazing project I got to do with him.

I had been the publisher and one of the editors at Pulphouse Publishing Inc. and had edited Pulphouse Magazine for years. I had also been the fiction editor for VB Tech Journal for two plus years. I knew short fiction and I had written novels in every series, so John knew I loved all of Star Trek.

My job was to find 23 professional-level short stories from writers who had not professionally published more than three short stories or a novel. That’s right. My job was to find professional stories from beginning writers. Scared didn’t begin to describe how I felt about that task.

The first year the number of manuscripts was over 3,000 and I found 17 stories. The first book came out in 1998 and some writers in that book have gone to major writing careers, including Phaedra M. Wheldon, Dayton Ward, and Christina F. York.

No one thought that the idea would go beyond the first year, but it just kept going even though Pocket Books lost a ton of money every year on the project. They did it for the fans. (Never happen in this world today.)

For ten years, from 1997 to 2006 I put together a major collection of Star Trek short fiction. Every year I worried I would never find enough good stories, every year after the first year I had too many great stories to fit into the book.

That last volume of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” that came out in 2007 was the last thing I did with Star Trek. I had stopped writing novels for them in 2002 when John Ordover left editing, turning to my own novels and short fiction instead.

Summary

I wrote Star Trek novels in every series and outside of the series as well. And I edited for ten years with Star Trek. I had great fun working with the wonderful John Ordover. I miss both Star Trek and editing. I don’t miss Star Trek enough to go back to writing it, however, unless it is for a very special project.

But I am coming back to editing shortly. We will have an announcement on that, so stay tuned.

My Star Trek years were great fun. I was frighteningly lucky to have found my way into that program and become one of their go-to writers. The high school kid inside of me who used to hunger for every week’s new Original Star Trek episode in the 1960s still feels amazement he was allowed into the inner circle.

However, during those Star Trek years, I was doing a lot of other writing as well. So in a month or so I’ll do another post like this about my novels in the superhero worlds of Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron-Man, and Superman. At least the ones I can claim. After that I’ll tackle all the movie novelizations I did. And then the gaming novels.

Wow, have I had a great time writing or what?

The New World of Publishing: Book Pricing from Another Perspective

Teri Babcock posted the following comment on the last article I wrote in this series and I asked her for permission to move it to the front page. Thanks, Teri, for permission to use it here.

Teri’s comment is spot on the money in many ways, at least from my opinion. So even through I hate talking about pricing of e-books, it is an important topic for indie writers and Teri’s great comment really hits home. 

And, of course, I will make some comments after his post as well.

——

Teri…

Went over to the Kindle boards, remembered why I don’t go there. A lot of people arguing with the pricing of short stories above 99 cents. And I thought again about the professionals I’ve heard speak about pricing goods and services. I thought about one of them in particular who consults with people to maximize their incomes, and what he would say about selling books.

He doesn’t work in the publishing industry, and he doesn’t have a pre-existing mindset about where book prices should be. He would base their price on a number of factors, one of the important ones being ‘perceived value to the consumer’.  He would look at how much people will pay for other things of similar value, and price similarly.

He would also look at ways to increase the perceived value, so he could charge more.

He would look at all the short stories and say ‘It takes 15 minutes to read? And it was fun? Okay. charge 5 bucks.” And when writers squacked in horror, he would say “Starbucks sells fancy coffees for $5 that take 15 minutes to drink. They sell millions every day. Did you enjoy the story as much as the coffee? Yes? Well, no problem.”

And the writers would come back with “but there was actual substance in the coffee… cream and coffee beans and sugar…” and the he would respond with “yeah, and if I really like the story, I can read it again. I can’t drink the coffee again. I can lend the story to my friends. I can’t say to my friends, ‘gee you should taste this coffee, it was really good, you can try it when I’m done with it.’

He would tell you that it is not good practice to set anything, no matter how ‘small’, at regular price at the very bottom of the price structure.

The bottom price should be reserved for sales exclusively, and used only in an integrated, strategic way to give you more sales traction and build your brand.

If people said “oh, well I’m new, and I don’t have name recognition so I have to sell cheap to make sales” he’d say, no. Set the price you want to regularly sell at. From that price have sales, or other promotions that give an incentive to the consumer to try your new stuff. You’re telling the consumer that you know they are taking a bit of a risk on a new, unknown quantity, so a price break makes it more appealing. Once they’ve tried your stuff, then they know if the regular price is worth it to them.

You are always educating the consumer as to what your product is worth. The regular price will come to be perceived as its true value. You don’t want to set that too low. You steal from the consumer the thrill of getting a deal, you steal from yourself the flexibility to build and expand your brand appropriately.

And some writers would say “well, I’m pricing my stuff low because, in addition to my being a new writer, I think it is not quite as good as some of the more established authors.”

He would say “Don’t sell it unless it’s good. Do you think I’m going to be grateful that you took and wasted 15 minutes of my time and only charged me a dollar? My time is valuable. I’d pay $5 to have my 15 minutes back.

Do you think when I started as an accountant I told people ‘this isn’t my best work, so I’m going to give you a discount’? No. I did my best work, I gave them a price break from my regular rates – and told them I was doing this – as an incentive to try someone new, while I built my business. As my reputation grew, I didn’t need to do that anymore. And everyone knew what my regular rates were. With my reputation, I was able to support further price increases.”

The big difference between people paying $5 for a fancy coffee every day, and balking at paying $5 for a short story is this: consumer expectation. Starbucks has been training consumers to pay a high mark-up for their coffee for a long time. Consumers might grumble occasionally, but they still show up every day and pay $5. The writing e-market has been doing the reverse, because it is now a market of the commons, and the majority of the commons have no experience with marketing and sales.

The first and last tool of the unsophisticated sales-person is always to reduce the price. Like a chain-saw, price reduction is a powerful tool, but if it is not used carefully you can cut your own leg off.

I’m sure this finance guy would set his bottom price for stories at 2.99. He would not give up the 70% profit margin by dropping below that. If he perceived a need to set a sale price below that, he’d probably just make it completely free, rather than setting it at 99 cents, since there is so little profit at that price point anyway. And for a limited
time. There’s good reason Amazon sets the KDP Select free limit to 5 days.

Anyway, unlike the squackers, this guy makes his money making other people money. And I’m sure he would agree with Dean’s pricing… and say he hasn’t gone far enough yet.

——

Dean here… Thanks, Teri. Wonderful and clear and spot-on-the-money from a business perspective.

And I think you are right, I haven’t gone far enough yet. Right from the start I argued with all the talk from all the places about discounting books too low and for no reason. And now, because of that start, it’s going to take indie publishing years to recover the public mindset of that 99 cent price.

And it is a mindset we caused by the early adaptors being so eager to make sales and give their books away for no sound business reason.

As I have said over and over and over, every writer and indie publisher is different. My hope is that an indie publisher will make a clear decision as to where to price their books. Clear and thought through from the perspective of history and business.

Just a little publishing business perspective.

In publishing there are (and have always been in one fashion or another) three areas of book selling. High end, mass, and discount. 95% of all books (in history) were sold in the middle end, the mass area where consumers got used to paying a certain price for a mass market paperback, a different price for a trade paperback, and yet a higher, but normal price for a hardback.

The high end books (in history) were the signed collector’s editions with added content and art.

The discount publishers (in history) published directly to the front discount shelves of big bookstores or discount mall stores. If a regular mass book got to those shelves or into a ten cent bin in the front of a store, it was because it didn’t sell and the store wanted to get ride of it.

Readers expect all three levels. Even with the new electronic distribution. They expect the middle prices to be the good books. They expect the very expensive books to have added content. They expect the discount books to be either poorly done or not wanted.

It’s called “perceived value” as Teri mentioned and it has been a major factor in publishing for centuries.

When you, as an indie publisher, decide to price your novel to 99 cents, you are shouting to readers over and over that your book is not wanted and has no value and is just being moved out.

If you price your electronic novel from the $4.99 to $7.99 range, you are telling your customers and readers the book has value and is a normal traditional book.

If you price your book electronically over $12.99, you better have added content or a demand like a bestseller with a million fans who want to read it now.

Nothing has changed in publishing, folks. Electronic is just a new delivery system that allowed writers to take control and get directly to readers. If you decide to indie publish, understand the business of publishing enough to at least tell the readers (with your price) that your book has value.

Now, go ahead and shout at me, but realize I will not put nasty comments through. Discussion is fine, anger you can take to another blog or to the Kindle Boards.

And thanks once again, Teri, for the great comment.

New World of Publishing: Failure is an Option. Quitting is Not.

The First of the “Goals and Dreams 2012 Series”

I’ll bet a few of you got very uneasy by me starting off a goals and dreams series of blogs with the words: “Failure is an Option.”

That’s right, you must fail, over and over to become an artist in this business and to just survive. And that’s normal and perfectly fine.

Let me say this clearly. The reason I am starting right here, talking about failure, is that until you understand failure in publishing, you don’t have a lot of chances at success and setting goals for success. Failure is very much an option in publishing in all levels. However, quitting is not. You quit, you are done. You go into the “whatever happened to…?” authors and after that the “blank look” authors when your name is even mentioned.

So first let me talk about failure. It’s going to take a minute, so hang on. I need to try to see if I can get everyone on the same page here.

When setting goals, everything about your goal must be in your control. Completely.

Let me give you a list of examples of “control.”

1a) Selling a book to a traditional publisher…NO CONTROL

1b) Mailing a submission package to a traditional editor. YOUR CONTROL.

2a) Wanting your book to sell 200 copies a month on Kindle…NO CONTROL

2b) Getting your book on Kindle with a great cover, good, active blurbs, and written well… YOUR CONTROL.

You get the idea I hope.  So when some writer talks to me about a goal of selling a book to a traditional publisher by the end of the year, I just snort and they walk away insulted. I wasn’t laughing at their ability to write. Not at all. I was laughing at the goal they set and put a deadline on that was out of their control completely. Such goals are guaranteed to create disappointment.

In fact, to be clear, when I talk about an objective in the future that is out of your control, I will call it a “dream.”

An objective in the future that is totally in your control I will call a “goal.”

I will talk about setting dreams and using goals to work toward them at different places in this series of articles.

Plan Point #1…

Check through all your goals for 2012 and make sure they ONLY concern your work level that is in your control.

Nothing more.

No action from another party can be involved, otherwise it is not realistic.

So if you are an indie writer and thinking you want to sell a thousand copies of all your books per month next year, that’s a dream. Retreat back to how many new projects you can write and indie publish. Set up how many you want to finish and publish. That’s a goal. Let the sales take care of themselves.

So do that now. Step one for next year. (I will have these basic step Plan Points through these columns. Start your list now.)

Now, back to failure.

To become a professional fiction writer, you must become a major risk-taker without fear of failure or a care in the world what anyone else thinks of you or your writing.

Now, saying that, all new writers have just turned away, convinced I am muttering stupidity. But alas, I am not.

Examples from writers of fear of failure:

Example One …

A manuscript must be perfect. The writer doesn’t dare let a “flawed” manuscript out for anyone to see. 

The writers who have this major fear are constant rewriters, are major workshop people, are writers who write for their critique group instead of what they want.

Writers with this fear will take five people’s feedback and try to get it all into their manuscript turning their story into boring garbage written by a committee.

Writers with this fear spend huge sums of money on book doctors and other scams.

Writers with this fear are writers who let agents tell them to rewrite over and over. And so on.

Writers with this fear are replacing reality in publishing with their own fear. There are no perfect books in publishing. Never has been, never will.

Writers with this fear are often afraid of success, and certainly don’t trust their own art, because they willingly let many other people mess with it.

A personal note about this: Back when I was first getting serious, I was writing a story per week. I could not type much on my typewriter and certainly couldn’t spell anything. So I would write a new story, have my trusted first reader (Nina Kiriki Hoffman) read it and find the billion mistakes. I would fix the mistakes in spelling and typing. Then I made a copy to mail and copies to turn into the workshop. I would mail the story to an editor on the way to the weekly workshop. (I turned in the story to the local workshop to get audience reaction and see if I could learn something for writing the next story, not to “fix” the story I already had in the mail.)  Stories the workshop beat up and said were worthless, I often sold. I never told them I hadn’t “fixed” the story. (If I had “fixed the story,” it never would have sold.)

Were those stories flawed and scarred?  Yup, they were. Zero doubt about that. But they were my stories, my voice, my mistakes, done at the best skill level I could manage at the time, and that’s what helped them sell. I trusted my own art, even flawed.

If I had been afraid of mailing out anything but a “perfect” manuscript then or now, I would be done as a writer.

Another personal example. In 1973, in Palm Springs, CA, I finished up a pretty good professional golf tournament for me a few under. Not at all happy with the round, but it made me a buck or two. One of my friends at the time, another young professional out chasing, had just shot one of his best rounds ever. And won the tournament. When asked about his round, he was proud of it, but mentioned to the reporter a few places he had left shots on the course. And a wedge he had missed on #14.

That night instead of drinking, we were both hitting golf balls and practicing under the lights at the driving range. And he was working on hitting wedges. Luckily, he didn’t need a perfect golf game to put himself on the line. He just needed to keep working and trust the skill and art he had at that moment in time. And even though the next spring I quit golf and went back to college, he went on to do just fine in the world of golf. And trust me, you would recognize his last name.

Plan for 2012… If you have this fear that everything needs to be perfect, take drastic action to fix it, otherwise 2013 just won’t matter much. 

Example Two…

Afraid to mail a story because of the rejection or afraid to put a story up indie published for fear of not having many sales.

I have never understood this fear, but I know it is real. For me, this fear is beyond silly. It’s like walking up to a golf course and then deciding not to play because your score might not be perfect.

This fear is one of the “quitters’ fears” as I call them. It is safer to not try than try and fail.

Nothing I can say or do to help you past this fear because, honestly, I just find it too silly. And sad. What do you think an editor will do to you? Come to your house and shoot you for not sending in a perfect story? Never once heard of that happening in the history of publishing.  And if you put up a book on Kindle and no one buys it, WHO IS GOING TO NOTICE??  No one. Because no one bought it. Duh.

But interestingly, by not trying, you guarantee failure. Quitters never really understand that logic.

Example Three…

Afraid to write or finish a story you have been talking about for a while.

People respect others, especially artists of all stripes, who work hard in their art. There is no respect for those who claim they want to do something then never “get around to it” or as the laughing-stock phrase of all writers who are quitters, “I just can’t find the time.” Maybe for a month or six months or a year you won’t find the time as life beats on you with something special. But if you don’t really have this fear, you will come back to writing when life gets off your back and you will finish your work.

This fear is just an excuse to quit by never starting, never putting your skill and art on the line for anyone to read.

Remember, quitting is not an option. Failing is fine and you will do that a lot, but the moment you find a reason to quit and stay away, you and your art are finished. And if you can’t find the time, just keep telling yourself that, but please don’t write me with your excuses because I won’t care because you have quit by never starting. I want to help people who are not afraid of fighting for their art.

If you suffer from this fear and can’t just use logic to snap out of it, get professional help if you really want to be a writer at some point. Not kidding.

I think that’s enough examples of fear for now. We can talk about more if you want in the comments section. I’ve seen them all, actually.

… “It’s too hard” fear.

… “It’s going to take too long” fear. (Kids under thirty worry about this one the most.)

… “The system is rigged against me” fear.

… “I don’t have enough talent” fear.

… “Fear of success” fear. (This fear is deep and subtle and needs professional help to get past.)

… “I am so good, I don’t have to practice” fear. (Yes, this is a fear of admitting a need to keep learning. It is ego-based fear.)

… “Fear of public failure” fear.

And so on…

Summary of Fear and Quitting

You must be fearless in writing and at the publishing business. If a fear slows you down or causes you to quit, then you have lost your art and your fight. Stay aware of the fears as you set goals for next year. Trust me, over these articles, I will repeat a few points about fears and failure.

One way to find hidden fears is look back through Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. You can find them all under the tab up at the top of the page.

But the very, very best way of getting rid of fears is just not worry about failure.

Failure is normal in publishing and writing and all art.

Kill the fear of failure and all those fears I listed will just vanish. (Except for fear of success, which more than likely will take professional help to deal with.)

 Going Personal Again

Okay, as we start getting into goal-setting and dream-setting in this series, let me just get out onto the table the goals I sat last year right here in public.

I seem to remember two challenges to myself besides my normal writing.  I wanted to write 100 short stories in one year and post them all here when finished. I also wanted to lose a bunch more weight and run in a marathon in the fall.

I did not run a marathon, lost only some weight, and wrote thirty-some short stories. So when looked at in the cold light of last December’s writing, all three goals were all a complete failure.

But nothing is ever a complete failure.

Challenge #1:  I was on track to hit my mark fine for one hundred stories in one year. Then what Kris and I called “A life roll” hit with my friend’s death and I am just getting back. Not an excuse, a fact.

So failure?  Nope, not in the slightest.  I had a blast writing the 32 short stories for the challenge and the other three for traditional markets, stories I might not have written without the challenge. I wrote over 140,000 word of short fiction last year, my best short fiction year in more than a decade.

I had so much fun, I am extending the challenge to now just be 100 stories. Stay tuned, more stories coming.

Challenge #2: Weight and Running. Again I was on track to run the marathon, or better put, run/walk the marathon in September and “Life Roll” moved me down. So here in December, looking back, complete failure? Nope, not in the slightest.

I dropped 14 pounds total in 2011. I still have thirty more to go, but I am not unhappy with dropping and keeping off 14 pounds. (By the way, when I run the marathon, I will get pictures and I have a great “before” picture you will believe that was taken when I started this drop in weight four years ago. I was what my friend Jim calls, “A big boy.”)

As far as the running went, I got up to some pretty good milage which shouldn’t take me too long to get back to. Not great, but not bad. That’s all positive as well.

Attitude is Everything

It says that on my iced tea mug. And it is true.

I am not afraid of failure, and my attitude is to look at what did get done from a goal or challenge and see the success.

So this year, part of helping some of you set goals in your writing and publishing for the new year is to help you look at your “failure” positives.

Going Personal Again.

A number of blogs back, while talking about the rudeness of a young, traditional editor, I laid out a challenge a friend and I did two years ago at this time. Read it here. I made up, wrote the first three chapters, a synopsis, a cover letter and sent off 13 novels in 13 weeks. I had a blast. Was that a horrid failure? Nine of the books I sent to five editors each. No one in the comments much mentioned how frighteningly successful that challenge was for me. I SOLD TWO BOOKS and almost sold a third series.

In essence I laid out the secret to selling books quickly to traditional publishing and not one person mentioned that.

So, when looked at that challenge from one side, I got at least 50 no-response or rejections from editors. Horrid failure. Right?

Other side, I got two acceptances of what I wrote and I ended up writing both books. And I got a phone call from another editor who wanted to buy a third book called “Subway Martians: A Romance” but it was too weird for her sales force. (I really got to get around to writing that book some day.)  Failure? Not in the slightest.

50 rejections against 2 acceptances. Wow, that has to be a complete failure. Right?

Of course not.

Summary: Failure must be an option.

When you are setting new goals for 2012, you must expect failure at all levels in your plans.

And you must not allow the worry about failure, or a bad attitude about failure, to bury the success you are having.

Plan Point #2…

Check in with yourself and figure out where your writing fears are.

If you have none, you are more than likely just deluding yourself. I’ve never met a writer (or any artist) who doesn’t have strings of fears, some small, some crippling.  I was no exception.

List the fears. Write them down! Keep them to yourself.

Then  figure out which ones you can climb over without any problem every time and which ones twist your stomach even harder when you think about them. Can you mail a manuscript after only fixing typos your first reader found? If not, you have perfection fear. You get the idea. Figure out the ones that are your problems and give them so thought.

Then stay tuned for the second article in this series.

Going Personal Again: By the way, with my “failed” short story challenge, a rough guess on the amount of money I will make from the stories in the challenge is $3,500.00 in 2011.

And I will make more than that in 2012 from those same stories at their rates of sale, not counting the new stories I add to the challenge.

And in theory, in three years I will be past $10,000 in income from those 32 stories that I had a blast writing. And that income will just keep on coming in.

Yup, that’s failure.

I love this new world.

————————————————

Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
————————————————–

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

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

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

The New World of Publishing: 95% of All Authors Will Never Indie Publish

Mike Stackpole, on his blog this last week talked about how traditional publishing traps and holds writers. The Passive Guy also talked about this post by Mike. It is a post that I suggest everyone should read, even those of you offended by some of the words.  Go read it now! http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?p=2887

Mike ended his article by relaying a conversation he had at a recent conference with a publisher.

At World Fantasy I had a long talk with a publisher about digital publishing and midway through, he looked at me and asked, “Do you know how I’m still in business in ten years?”

“Nope,” I said.

He smiled, “I’m still in business because 97% of authors are not as aggressive about digital as you are.”

That is what I have been saying now for a year, and it scares hell out of me to have a major publisher agree. And base his very survival and the survival of his company on being right.

I had honestly hoped I was going to be wrong. I still do, because in my opinion, the best writer is a writer who has choices, who can move into a future and write what he or she wants, and sell it either directly to readers or to a publisher. That is how it is working for me and Kris and Mike and Barry and Joe and a number of others who follow here. We haven’t gone knee-jerk indie or defend-the-fort traditional.

The best is using both indie and traditional at will. The writer’s will.

So Why Do I Say 95%?

Honestly, I have zero facts to back that up. Just lots and lots of observations. And, of course, writers who are wrapped into indie-publishing groups like the Kindle Boards will think I am way off because the feedback is one-sided. But I am talking about all writers. So let me give you some observable facts and see if you agree or not when I am done.

Starting up as an indie publisher.

Simply thinking of publishing a book is flat scary to everyone when they look at it for the first time. To those of us who have done this a few times, it is stunningly simple, but to the first-time indie publisher, the process feels and looks terrifying. (Remember, first-timers are also fighting against a huge myth that producing a book is hard.)

That simple fear and the associated myth cuts out just about all writers who think it might be a good idea to try.  And how they justify the fear stopping them is the following worries:

— How can I make my book look as good as a New York book? Or as well-proofed. (snort)

— How will I ever get my book noticed? (You know the silly phrase like “noise.”)

— How will I do a cover? Or afford the art?  (If you can’t afford a few bucks, you have no postage money either.)

–What happens if it doesn’t sell? I will have wasted my great book because if I publish it no one else will want to.

— Kindle might lower the rate, so why bother. (This one is my personal favorite for excuses.)

The excuses just go on and on because publishing a book seems and looks hard from a distance. Thus most writers will never try. Or as I hear all the time, “I could never do that.”

I want to ask, “Have you tried?” but alas, I know the answer.

 The Pause After Two

Almost every author I have met who managed to get a few books up indie published stopped cold after two or three. I did as well. Months will go by and most of the time the author never gets back to doing more. Or only does one or two small things a year and wonders why the money is so bad. Why does this happen and why does it stop so many forever?

Simple: The novelty wears off. It can be done, you have proved it with two or three. But it was work, especially the learning curve part. And for almost all of us, the sales start slow. So the author, either thinking or not thinking, decides to wait and see what the numbers are.

And there is the problem. With only two or three, unless the author is fantastically lucky or already a well-published traditional author, the numbers will be bad in comparison to traditional publishers.  Money will be coffee money at best.

And the author will think the following thoughts as reasons to quit.

— Only big name authors can make this work. (I personally find this insulting.)

— I would be better served having a traditional publisher do all the work. (Lazy. Chances are this group will never make it anyway in either direction.)

— I don’t want to admit no one wants to buy my work. Better to not give anyone a chance than fail in public. (No one actually thinks this, but I have a hunch this is the biggest excuse of all.)

And there are more. Just a ton of excuses. And zero thought about the future.

When I put a couple of things up, I just flat got busy with book deadlines and forgot them. Then one day Kris came into my office laughing about the $12.00 she had made on the two stories of hers I had put up six months before. And she wasn’t laughing at how small that was, as most writers would. She was laughing about how much it was and what that meant. And I did the math and off we went. $12.00 was HUGE! But most writers will look at that kind of sales and just stop because they will not have the understanding of what that $12.00 really means.

The Force is Strong

I think I should have said, “The Myth is Strong” in all writers. And these myths number in the hundreds. Some of the top ones that stop writers are:

— Traditional publishing does better books.

— I won’t be a real writer unless I sell to a traditional publisher.

— I can’t make any money unless I sell to a traditional publisher.

— I will never get into bookstores unless I sell to a traditional publisher.

And so on and so on. We’ve talked about many more than that here over the last year. Huge number of myths around indie publishing and going to a traditional publisher, so many that most writers won’t think of indie publishing, will just knee-jerk right into the old agent/editor/publisher system without one thought of going another way. Why? Because that’s the way it is done.

The Future

95% percent of all writers will stay with traditional publishing. Or better put, stay in the traditional publishing lock-step road map. Most won’t make it, but they have agents and editors to blame that way.

And that might be a figure that is far too low at the moment. Or the number might be 90% or 85%. But no matter, the number is a vast majority of writers at this time in late 2011.

But the future might just change all that.

For example, traditional publishers have yet to figure out how to easily let authors come back direct to them. Now almost all editors look at submission packages without agents even though their house guidelines say otherwise. (We’ve talked about it fifty times over the last two years.) And you can meet and talk with editors at conferences. (If you are going to a conference to talk to an agent when an editor has appointments as well right beside the agent, you really need to start drinking in hopes of growing brain cells.)

There are many ways into editors’ offices and slush piles these days, but the publishers haven’t really come up with a good electronic direct submission system yet that works for the brand new writer with a finished book. They will, trust me, because the agent system is just flat broken and writers supply publishers’ product.

But the longer that direct submission system forces the really unwashed new writers to agents who are failing, the more editors and publishers will look into the indie published books for possible purchases. This is already happening a great deal and will only increase over the next few years.

That means that part of the traditional publisher’s slush pile will move online to published books. So newer writers coming in, the smart ones anyway, will indie publish first and then submit their book to traditional publishers.

But this trend will take five years to a decade to set into place. If this happens, the writers who indie publish first and get bought will pass along the word to others and indie publishing will become one of the ways in the door.

Again, this is a crystal ball look into the future. But if it happens, it will bring that 95% down to 70-80% in ten years.

Maybe.

But I honestly believe that 95% of all writers will never indie publish in any real fashion beyond one or two stories or books.

I have no proof on that number. Just watching young writers for the last 30 years. For most writers, this business is too much work.

For most writers, they are happy to try a few times and give up.

For most writers in the old system of slush and traditional publishers, the chance of survival and making it as a published writer were far, far under 1%.

So I’m being generous when I say 5% of writers will indie publish and see their own works in print in one form or another. Because compared to the old days, that’s a vast improvement.

But alas, 95% of the writers won’t do it. And won’t make it in traditional publishing either.

But still, that’s a vast improvement over the old system.

 

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Self Promotion

The myth simply is: “All self promotion for a writer is good.” Nope. Completely false. The truth is sometimes self promotion of your own book can hurt you, sometimes it can help you. The key is not falling for the myth that all self promotion is good.

Right now, in late 2009, the publishing industry is changing so fast that it is often hard to keep up for a writer with his head buried in writing the next book. Things are changing month to month, and the major publishers in New York and around the world are struggling to even stay a year or two behind. Where exactly is all this change happening? In the distribution system, which in turn is causing changes throughout the rest of the system.

For a very easy way to understand publishing, write at the top of a piece of paper the word WRITER. Then draw a line down the center of the page a few inches and write the word PUBLISHER, then continue the line a few more inches and write DISTRIBUTION, and then continue the line to the bottom of the page and write the word READER.

WRITER

PUBLISHER

DISTRIBUTION

READER

Everything flows from the top to the bottom. For hundreds of years, that was, and still is, the basic structure of the publishing business. The writer supplies product to a publisher who then, creates the book product, promotes, and gets the books into distribution (which includes bookstores), finally ending up in readers’ hands.

On your slip of paper, draw a line across the page between the writer and the publisher. That’s the contract between a writer and a publisher, the paper that defines the terms between the supplier of product and the producer of the product. For a long time, the common knowledge was that a writer never crossed that contract line unless a publisher asked for their help on a tour. And, of course, the publisher always paid all the writer’s expenses for such help. It still works that way with major book tours for writers.

Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a few romance writers decided they could help their sales by talking to the truckers, handing out treats early in the morning to truck drivers, create bookmarks, and so on, including paying for their own book tour. It worked for a few early on, then every writer seemed to jump on the band wagon and in short order the bookstores didn’t want to see a writer come though their doors with more crap. Mail boxes were full of junk produced by writers and mailed to everyone they could think of. That sort of self promotion of a book basically became worthless. And very expensive for a writer to do.

And thus, the myth of self promotion was born. Writers coming in since the early 1990’s have heard over and over that you have to self promote your own book or fail.

Hogwash. Let me simply say that what sells a book, both to an editor and to a reader is a well-told story written well and presented well. The better the book, the better it will sell. If your books are not selling, learn how to write better books and learn how to write better proposals and then mail it all to editors. It really is that simple.

Now, that said, here we are in late 2009 and the world has shifted once again. Kindles, Nooks, eBooks, POD, and a dozen other ways of getting a book from a publisher to a reader has arrived. Finally.

Why do I say finally? This change has been thought about and talked about for almost two decades. It was just slow arriving, but when it did finally arrive, it hit the system with an impact.

No one, including me, is sure how or where all these changes are leading. All we can do is follow the news and keep learning. But does it change the fact that a good story, well written and well presented will sell? Nope.

Do the changes in the industry change the self promotion thinking? Yes, some.

So, at this point, in late 2009, what can an author do to help a book get better sales for their publisher?

Before I get to a few ideas on that question, lets talk about how return for self promotion is measured for a writer. It’s a simple formula, actually.

Time Spent + Money Spent = Total cost.

Compare Money Returned in Sales to Total Cost.

Remember that every moment you are spending self promoting an old book is a moment you are not writing a new book. So just as with any business, figure time lost and put an actual dollar figure on that time. (Say it took you three months to write the last book and your advance was $6,000. If you spend one month self promoting the old book, it cost you $2,000 in time lost.)

An example of silly thinking: An author manages to set up his own book tour, spending two weeks traveling, hitting bookstores, doing some signings and such, promoting his new paperback release from Bantam Books. The author will spend upwards of three weeks total time on planning and traveling, three weeks not spent on writing the next book. The actual out-of-pocket expenses will total $5,000 at least not counting the time lost costs.

What will the author get in return? With luck and being very personable, the author manages to sell an extra 500 copies of the book (that’s a lot). The author gets an 8% royalty rate on the $6.00 book, so 48 cents per book. The author will return about $250 bucks. Okay, that’s just silly. Spend $5,000 and three weeks to make $250. A great way to quickly go out of business for any business.

Here’s the worst part. Remember publishing is bottom line focused. Let’s assume that’s the author’s first book for Bantam and he doesn’t do the exact same thing for book number two. What would happen? The second book sales will decline from book number one. The sales trend will be DOWN on the accounting sheets. Not a good thing in publishing and he won’t sell book number three. His promotion tour cost him not only money and writing time, but his book series with Bantam. (I have watched this happen with a good dozen writer friends in the last twenty years. Some changed names and kept going, others are still wondering what went wrong.)

So, why do publishers with major bestsellers push their authors on intense tours? Simply to increase the velocity of sales. Bestseller lists are measured by the sales per week. If a publisher can push up the numbers in certain areas over a short period of time and shove the author onto a bestseller list, then sales pick up overall. In other words, publishers know what they are doing, authors don’t. That simple.

An author’s job is to write a good book. A publisher’s job is to create the book and promote it and sell it. And all that is detailed out in the contracts between the two parties.

So, back to the point of what is good self promotion these days? Following are a few suggestions.

1) A web site. An active one, where you post a few times a week and have photo and buying information for your books. Key to the web site is make it a name that people can find. Notice, my name is this web site. Easy to find. My pen names have web sites as well. It’s simple and takes very little time and allows readers to find your work and your different work.

Also, this helps for sales to editors. An editor with a manuscript in front of them they like will pull up your web site and look at it. If you are badmouthing New York editors or are a real pain on your web site, they will see that and decide life is too short. But if you have a professional web site that promotes your work, then they will look at that as a good thing. It still takes a good book, well written and presented well that fits their line to sell to them, but it never hurts to look professional on your web site. And they are easy to do these days, even for an old fart like me.

2) Facebook and Twitter accounts. I seldom post at the moment on either, but will change that starting this month, now that I have everything moved and the master class is finished. Again, be professional and not too personal. No one really cares what you had for lunch unless you had that lunch with Dean Koontz.

3) Do a signing for your local independent bookstore. That won’t make you enough sales to hurt your numbers, but it is good support of a bookstore that I assume you go into regularly. It will make the stores a few bucks and let your family and friends celebrate your book with you. In other words, it’s fun. But just do one per book. One is enough.

Anything more? Maybe. If you sold your book to a smaller or regional or University press, they might ask you to help some with promotion, because a few extra sales can make a huge difference to a small press. In that case, work smart. Understand what you are good at, what you are poor at, and where you can help sell a few more copies without hurting your writing time. Keep it in balance.

If you are the publisher of your own book, that’s another matter. You are responsible in that case for all promotion, and even the smallest amount can help. Again, the key is to keep it in balance and write the next book.

General Rule of Thumb on Self Promotion: If you are spending more money than a tiny fraction of your advance on self promotion and more time than it took to write the book on self promotion, you are doing it very, very wrong.

Second General Rule of Thumb on Self Promotion Make your next book a better book. That’s the best thing you can do to promote your career and your writing.

Remember that self promotion is in the distribution area of publishing. That is part of the publisher’s job to handle. If you self-publish your own book, then it’s your job, but if you are selling books to New York publishers, keep your focus on the next book.

——————

Notice below that I have added onto this series of chapters a donate button where you can donate if you feel these chapters of this upcoming book helped you in some way and you want to keep me writing them and putting them up here. And if you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this article along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean


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Class #1… July 6th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #2… July 6th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #3… July 6th … How to Write Science Fiction
Class #4… July 6th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #5… July 7th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #6… July 7th … Depth in Writing
Class #7… July 7th … (To be Announced)
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Class #9… July 8th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #10… July 8th … Advanced Depth

Class #11… Aug 3rd … Advanced Depth
Class #12… Aug 3rd … Character Voice
Class #13… Aug 3rd … Pacing Your Novel
Class #14… Aug 3rd … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Aug 4th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #16… Aug 4th … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Aug 4th …(To Be Announced)
Class #18… Aug 5th … Designing Covers
Class #19… Aug 5th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #20… Aug 5th … How to Write Science Fiction

Class #21… Sept 7th … Pitches and Blurbs
Class #22… Sept 7th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #23… Sept 7th … How to Write Science Fiction
Class #24… Sept 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #25… Sept 8th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #26… Sept 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #27… Sept 8th … (To Be Announced)
Class #28… Sept 9th … Cliffhangers
Class #29… Sept 9th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #30… Sept 9th … Advanced Depth
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#1... Heinlein's Rules... Dean Wesley Smith 15 videos... $75.00

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#19... Why Some Books Sell More Than Other Books... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#20... How to Write a Page Turning Novel or Story: Basics and Tricks ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#21... The Basics of Designing Science Fiction Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#22... The Basics of Designing Mystery, Cozy, or Thriller Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#23... Paying the Price: A Working Writer's Mindset ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#24... Writing into the Dark: The Tricks and Methods of Writing Without an Outline... Dean Wesley Smith... 12 videos... $50.00

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