New World of Publishing: Speed

Truth: The slow writers in this new world of publishing are going to have trouble. Far more trouble than they had with traditional publishing only. We are in a new golden age of fiction. The first golden age was the pulp age. Speed of writing was celebrated in that time and it will be this time around as well.

Okay, say it: I have no fear. Or better yet, I’m as dumb as they come for bringing up the subject of speed of writing. Speed of writing is the third rail in publishing, but in the discussion of the new world of publishing, it has to be talked about. So here I go.

Personal Information First

I am not a fast typist, which most people think as fast writing. As many of you have watched in my accounts of writing my challenge stories, I tend to average around one page, 250 words, in about 15 minutes. I tend to write for about an hour before my mind shuts down and I have to walk around and take a break and then come back. I am not yet a touch typist, but slowly my two finger method has worked over to using four fingers. Using all ten fingers to type will never happen in my lifetime.

When I say “fast writer” I don’t mean fast typist. I hope everyone is clear on that. I am a slow typist, yet a fast writer.

I’ll explain how that can be. Stay with me.

Now Some Evil Math

250 words is about one manuscript page if you have your margins correct, and font size large enough for an editor to read, and double-spaced your page. You know, professional manuscript format. (Most of you don’t know that, I have learned, but you assume you do.)

Most people’s e-mails to me, and some of the questions in the comments sections are longer than 250 words. I’ve seen some people do 250 words in tweets in under five minutes.

250 Words = 1 Manuscript Page.

A standard novel for the sake of this discussion is 90,000 words long. So divide 90,000 words by 250 words and you get 360 manuscript pages.

So if a person spent 15 minutes per day and wrote 250 words, that person would finish a novel in one year.

Now, if that person spent 1/2 hour per day on writing and created 500 words per day, they would finish 2 novels per year and be considered prolific by many people.

Write 1,000 words per day, or about an hour, and in 270 days you would have finished three novels. And that means you would only have to do that five days a week to write three novels per year.  In other words, it doesn’t take many hours to be considered prolific.

That is why I am considered prolific. I don’t type faster with my little four-finger typing, I just write more hours than most.

(Yeah, yeah, I know, simplistic, but mostly right.)

I am considered a fast writer because I spend more hours writing. Nothing more.

The Myths of Writing Faster.

I did an entire chapter and had other areas of discussion about this in Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. You can find the speed chapter here. (Be kind when you read it. That chapter was the very first in that series. I was just getting my feet under me.)

But the short version of the myth is that back around 1890s a series of articles started this silly myth by claiming that the slow “literary” writers could only be read by the rich and the fast pulp writers were for the great unwashed. (Remember at that time class systems in both Great Britain and the States was very distinct and clear.) The literary writers were published in expensive hardbacks, the fast pulp writers were published in ten cent magazines.

If a book was thick and hard to read, it was literature. Easy, fun, and a great story and it was pulp. A pure class division to make the rich feel better about themselves.

Then because professors didn’t want to grade more papers than necessary, and always considered themselves part of the elite, the university systems picked up on the slow is better, and then some genres of publishing picked it up because they became too small and it was a good way to slow down publishing of some authors.

So the myth became solid by the middle of the last century that writing slow equals writing well and writing quickly equals writing poorly. (Forget how any thought to how the human brain works in creative mode. We won’t go there.) The writers who could spend more than fifteen minutes per day were punished for their drive and work ethic. And writers who were fast (meaning worked more hours) began hiding the fact and not talking about it in public and writing under many pen names we still see on the stands today. You know pen names like Max Brand, Kenneth Robinson, Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels, and so many others. (No, not telling you my pen names, so don’t ask.)

Some History: The Pulp Writers.

The men and women who wrote for the pulps and slicks from before 1900 up until 1958 were hard-working writers who would spend long hours pounding out stories on manual typewriters and getting paid a penny a word. And many of these writers became fantastically rich doing so.

A writer by the name of Frederick Faust (aka Max Brand and many other names) was the richest  and one of the most popular writers of his time, and one year alone in the 1940s had over twenty movies made from his books and stories. He wasn’t a fast typist at all. But he was consistent year-in-and-year-out. Rumor and story has it that he wrote every morning, producing his set word count, sometimes upwards of 5,000 words per day. He ended up writing over 500 books and died as a war correspondent in WWII at the age of 52 from an injury received at the front lines. If he hadn’t been killed in the war, there was no telling how many more books he would have written.

Most of the mid-level pulp writers were no faster than I am at typing. However, they worked a lot of hours. And at a penny a word, they could make $10.00 per hour, a fantastic wage back in the Depression when bread was 10 cents, a car $300 and a house under $2,000.

Speed: In Traditional Publishing

Okay, let me first try to break this down into categories of fiction writers by speed and income.

One book every few years.

The only way these writers made a living at their fiction writing was write bestsellers. Most fiction writers at that speed teach full time or work other jobs. Writing is often a hobby. (Nothing wrong at all with that, but for this discussion, I’m talking about making a living with your fiction.)

If a new writer only wrote one book every two years, they had little if any chance of breaking in under the most recent traditional publishing. I’m sure it happened, but I sure wouldn’t want to bet on those odds. Far too many things go wrong in traditional publishing for me to ever put all my hopes and dreams on one book.

One book a year.

These writers, mostly in small genres such as science fiction or horror or literature couldn’t make a living either. The small genres just didn’t pay enough. So again, the only way writers doing only one book a year could make a living in traditional publishing was have some decent bestsellers. Again, not something I would want to depend on to make my house payment.

Two books per year writers.

Now we are getting into a level that English professors think is too fast, and for some smaller genres such as science fiction, it is. But the writer, considered prolific in some circles, has a much better chance of making a living. At two books per year, a writer could make a decent living on $30,000 plus advances, which were not uncommon up until the last few years. Add in the extra overseas sales and movie options and two books per year could make a writer a decent living, and still can, if nothing goes seriously south. In fact, many, many midlist writers work at this pace and do just fine.

Four books per year writers.

For the most part, writers in this category of three or four books per year write a number of series, usually in different genres. Advances can safely range more, from $15,000 to $25,000 per book and still make the author a nice living. (Remember, for those of you with twisting stomachs at that pace because the myth is in deep, that’s about one hour per day average of writing to make upwards of a hundred grand per year. Even if you are a major rewriter, you can write one hour and rewrite seven hours and still hit that pace. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m degrading art here. So yell at me later.)

Five books per year and up.

Those of us who manage to spend enough hours (1.25 hours per day average and up) actually typing original fiction have a freedom not found in most writer’s careers. We can take jobs for small amounts, turn down offers, and turn down contracts. We can take advances ranging from $10,000 and up depending on the project and still make six figures every year without too much problem. And that pace allows for books and entire series to go very, very ugly and not force the writer back to a day job.

So, in summary in traditional publishing, it was possible to make a nice living from two books per year and up. But those of us who wrote more than “normal” always hid our speed, usually hidden behind many pen names. And we never talked about it at all in public. That was traditional publishing from the mid-1950s until now.

And remember, in traditional publishing, two books a year is considered prolific and you will have that word added to your name as a new first name if you write two books per year regularly.


Now, in electronic publishing, is when things get ugly for the slow writer. Especially the slow writer trying to break into this business now, in 2011.

Same exact factors apply in traditional publishing and electronic publishing.  Exactly. Only things are much, much tighter and hard to get into traditional publishing now as traditional publishers go through all this flux and upheaval.

For a writer to make any kind of decent money at indie-publishing, the author either has to have a lot of products selling at low levels, but regularly, or the author needs to hit it big like Amanda Hocking. And even she has more than one book.

So an author writing only one book every few years would be much better served to never think of indie publishing. The chances of a bestseller are much higher in traditional publishing where there is professional help on everything from editing to packaging to covers to distribution.

But that said, it’s very, very difficult these days for a book to get through the traditional systems, especially if the writer believes in the agent system. So the chance of getting a single book through the system and sold and then made into a bestseller are between slim and a few factors less than slim.

Indie Publishing Facts

It would be rare, if not almost zero chance for a one-book-every-few years-author to make a living at indie publishing. Sure, you have to sell a lot fewer books in indie publishing to make nice money, but that’s still a lot of books for years every month with no support from other products. Not likely to happen would be a generous assessment.

An author with patience and the speed of two books per year can, over time, build up enough inventory to have enough of the reader feedback loops to make enough money indie-publishing. But that’s going to take five plus years at least to reach that ten book list. And even then the sales have to be pretty solid per book.

An author publishing four books per year can get ten books up within 2.5 years and more than likely at that pace, after twenty books or so in five years, be making a pretty fine living from just indie-publishing, even with lower per-book sales.

Those of us who write more than that, and who can also do short stories and collections, don’t even have to have many per-book sales to have it add up to large amounts of money.

More Math

Here is some simple math. I’m going to use round numbers. (Forgive me.)

— Goal: Make $80,000 per year indie-publishing.

— Sales Assumption: Book sells 3 copies per day total across all sites at $4.99 earning the author $3.33 per sale or about $10.00 per day or $3,650.00 per year per book. (If you use $2.99 price, double the numbers of sales. If you use 99 cents per novel sales price, just go read something else because it will never work long term for you.)

So, with my assumption, the magic number is 21 books needed to make close to $80,000 per year on that level of per-book sales.

One Book Per Year: 21 years of writing one book per year until author is making $80,000 per year. (Again, all kinds of assumptions of similar sales and who knows what’s going to be happening in publishing in 21 years. Not a plan I would start on in these turbulent times.)

(Author would need to sell 65 copies per day on the one book to make $80,000 in one year off of one book. Very possible, but not likely. That’s more of a produce-type sales level.)

Two Books Per Year: 10.5 years of writing two books per year until author is making close to $80,000 per year.

(Author would need to sell 33 copies per day on each book to make close to $80,000 in one year off of just two books. Very possible, but again not likely.)

Four Books Per Year: 5.25 years of writing four books per year until author is making close to $80,000 per year.

(Author would need to sell 17 copies per day on each book of four books (across all sites combined, remember) to make $80,000 in one year off of four books. Very possible, and coming a little closer to us normal folks.)


Now it should be clear that midlist authors with a decent backlist of novels and stories can make a fortune very quickly, even at sales lower than 3 sales per book per day. That’s why I laugh when indie authors are saying us old idiots doing traditional publishing just don’t understand indie publishing. Oh, trust me, we all get it and are running at full speed to indie publishing. This is a gold mine to us.

Some midlist authors will have over twenty novels up and selling by this time next year. And uncounted short stories and collections.

Yes, this is a gold mine for fast writers with a backlist. And Kris and I are not the only midlist writers running to this new world. Trust me.

New Writers

Kris, on her site at is doing a series talking about this new world and new writers. Go read it.

For a new writer, without backlist, the writer has to build the publishing list, build the magic bakery inventory. And unless you write one major catchy book and hit a bestseller level of sales, a new writer will take years to get to the goal of having enough inventory to actually make that goal of $80,000 per year. But it took years to make that level in traditional publishing as well.

That’s why the focus has to be on writing new work all the time. Stories will find their readers, but your readers can’t find more of your work unless you write it.

And sure, you can promote the hell out of your first book, but then when someone likes it, what else of yours are they going to buy? Write the next book.

(Also, if you write the next book and focus on becoming a better writer, you might gain readers as well. Again, outside of this topic.)


In the first golden age of fiction, fast writers made a fortune. When you could buy a car for $300 and a house for $2,000, the pulp writers at a penny per word were making $10.00 per hour. Of course they learned to be fast, and many, many of them we are still reading today.

In the traditional publishing world that grew from 1958 until 2008, critics didn’t like fast writers because of the myths, but fans loved them. So many of our top sellers are fast writers, meaning they work a lot of hours. And many have settled into a book a year because they became bestsellers and were forced to slow down. But Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Stephen King, and many others just kept writing at their own natural speeds.

And in those years, those of us who liked to write and thus just wrote more hours and thus wrote more words and books, hid what we were doing for the most part. (I still do, actually.) Many, many major pen names that you would recognize are the prolific writers working behind the scenes. My best year was eleven novels at traditional lengths of 90,000 words. I hope to break that at some point  in the near future.

Now we are in the new world. Those of us who love to just write, who love to tell stories, now can indie publish the stories or books and find them homes and readers, and we don’t have to slow down because of some slow schedule placed on us by a traditional publisher.

We can write and publish as fast as we want.

The rules of speed have vanished.

If you only write one book every few years, keep your focus solidly on traditional publishing.

But if you love to write, love to finish stories, and love to have readers get to your stories quickly after you finish them, indie publishing is for you.

There is no need for those of us who love to write and love to finish a lot of products to even think of slowing down ever again.

Sure, I’ll still sell books to traditional publishers. I won’t need to sell everything in indie publishing. Why? When you consider how many hours I spend at computers writing, a couple books to traditional publishing a year is just advertising that I am getting paid to write. Everyone get that? Those books sold to traditional publishers are just advertising for my indie books and stories.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times over the years I wished I was back in the days of pulp writing, when the writers could write what they wanted at the speed they wanted. I hated the restrictions of modern traditional publishing. And I hated hiding that I enjoyed writing and telling stories. I hated the rules and the bars and the restrictions put on my natural desire to just sit and write.

But no more. Writers are free once again. We are free to write at our own pace, write for as many hours as we want to write, and publish what we want. Only each writer now sets their own limits.

This is fantastic for writers.

And even more fantastic for readers.

This really is the dawn of a second golden age of fiction.


Copyright 2011 Dean Wesley Smith


Okay, I admit it, I had issues at first with putting in a tip jar in the Magic Bakery. It was one of the “I have it made, why do I need to support my writing with tips.” A minor myth, sure, but still one that took me a few days and some talk with Kris to get past. And also, why put a tip jar in when I’m just trying to help people. But I figured I needed to get past that as well, so here it is.

And when a bartender gets you a drink quickly, he gets tipped. Right? Well, I get you stories quickly. So I should have a tip jar. (I’m not sure if that makes sense, but anyway, the tip jar is here.)

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) 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

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109 Responses to New World of Publishing: Speed

  1. Amen, amen, amen. I am sick to death of being told “slow down” followed by an implication that quality is directly related to how many days it took to craft a book, when the exact same words would have come off my fingers wether it took 1 day or 1 month to compose.

    I once heard an agent say “It should take six months to do revisions”. Eh? Says who? Maybe if that person has a second 40+ hour a week job and is only hobby writing.

    I’m anxious to enter this new game. Very anxious.

  2. C.E. Petit says:

    One final clarification:

    My point was not to ignore change.

    My point was not to wing it.

    My point was that one should not become overly impressed by the ability to do calculations based on garbage/unreliable data… and then ruin one’s life by setting up a mechanical system based on that garbage data and refuse to change the system when real data comes in and demonstrates it’s garbage data. Our Gracious Host’s personal experience is not garbage data for him; it is, however, probably garbage data for you. To mangle Jiminy Cricket, “Always let reality be your guide” — not your hopes/projections/fears.

    • dwsmith says:

      C.E., sounds right. And as soon as we all have some real data, we’ll talk about it. But there is no data from the past in this area, and that’s what I was saying. This is all new.

      Make projections on the information at hand now, and I agree, change as information comes in. If nothing else in publishing is true, it is always changing. Just not like this or this fast before, and I am a fan of the history of publishing.

      So I am confused as to why you are so set on telling people to not plan even using only the data available now??? That’s what keeps coming across in your post on this topic. If a person can’t have real data, then they can’t plan. No. We might have data based on now. And in six months that data might be wrong. But most certainly the data on indie publishing from three years ago when it was a forbidden topic in publishing is wrong.

      So WHAT DO YOU WANT US ALL TO DO? Are we to just sit on our hands, do nothing, until we are sure about how things will work out? Or as I suggested, take the data a present, make some decent plans that can change with time, and move into the future. That’s what I am arguing about with your points.

    • Brian says:

      All projections about the future require us to make certain assumptions, and over time all of our assumptions are likely to prove inaccurate – at least to some degree. No one has a crystal ball.

      But I don’t think this necessarily means that the assumptions were “garbage”, or that the numbers based on them were useless. It’s very much like the master of a sailing ship. He lays out his course based on certain assumptions (prevailing winds, currents, etc.) and sets out for his destination along that course. As he sails, conditions will vary from his assumptions in one way or another – but he won’t be sailing east when he intended to go west.

  3. camille says:

    One thing that slows people down – aside from typing speed – is being indecisive.

    I am indecisive. I have a million things I want to do, and it takes time to sort through which to do NOW. And that’s the same inside a story. Should I go this way or that way, ooo, or that other way? Except that would take me in such a different direction I can’t do this? So this or that?

    Writing more, doing the “dare to be bad” thing, and just plain practice helps with those things. Heck, at the very least you can be indecisive FASTER than before. (Pause to hesitate, write something else — don’t stop writing and you’ll have lots of material to work with, at least.)

  4. John Brown says:

    I broke in with a three-book contract. Getting that was exciting. But the changes we’ve seen this last year in indie ebook publishing have made me even more excited. And removed all my stress when dealing with my publisher.

    I’m a slow writer. I’ve tracked myself for the last three years and average about 500 words per hour on my novel projects.

    With the day job, I have about 15 hours a week to write. No, I don’t watch more than 1-2 hours of TV. Don’t play video games. 15 is what I have right now.

    But here’s the math. 7,500 words per week. 375,000 per year. My problem is that I’ve been writing honking 240,000 word novels. No longer. The goal this year is three novels. Next year it’s four.

    I’ve never felt such a huge desire to produce.

  5. C.E.–I’m similarly confused. What mechanical system is being set up?

    My day job requires me to spend a lot of time going, “so what if we’re wrong?” So–same question here. What’s the impact if Dean’s numbers are completely wrong?

    I don’t see anything meaningful at risk here. At worst, the writer wasted some time learning how to self-publish and made no money at it. Or maybe at worst they have some opportunity costs because they could have sold it to a NY Publisher but didn’t. Or perhaps they got some dashed hopes because it didn’t turn out to be the winner lottery ticket in disguise like they wanted.

    Am I missing something? Because if there’s no serious downside, why not throw the dice and see what happens?

  6. @ Dean — Thanks for the comment on the cover. But I can’t take too much credit. The pic is someone else’s. I just slapped some words on it.

    @ John Brown — No kidding, I’m right there with you, in terms of the excitement and energy I have with writing and publishing. Someone said it somewhere: epublishing is addictive. In fact, I’m going to have to force myself to take some time off of short fiction so I can write a novel. Maybe I’ll write a story here and there, when I get stuck, but it’s gonna be a hard few months.

    On the other hand, I think I’m going to write more (“faster”) simply because I know it’s gonna be in front of readers.

    This new world has me totally stoked.

  7. James A. Ritchie says:

    From what I’ve heard, much of the recent Heinlein biography is itself myth, but I’ve known any number of writers who started hot and stayed that way. Heinlein was hardly unique in this area, whatever the truth about him is.

    The big difference between writing and the typical small business is that good writers do have talent, and some people are simply inherently more talented than others, just as some people are inherently more intelligent than others. Those with high I.Q.s learn to do the same things faster than those with lower I.Q.s, and very often learn things those with lower I.Q.s can never learn.

    I see writing the same way. Some people simply catch on a heck of a lot faster than others. Some learn in a month what others learn in a year, and what still others never learn at all.

    I’ve known quite a few writers who worked and studied hard for decades, but who still couldn’t write anything remotely publishable, and I can guarantee they put in several times the ten thousand hours, along with study, good workshops, etc.

    And I’ve know many a writer who simply sat down, wrote something, and what they wrote was good. It sold, and sometimes made them filthy rich. I grew up with a couple of these writers, and I know they put in almost zero time reading or writing before starting to sell.

    I know I sure didn’t put in ten thousand hours before starting to sell well. The first draft of my first short story sold first time out, and paid almost as much as my day job did in a month. A week before I wrote that story, I knew zip about writing, and zip about grammar. I didn’t know a comma from a coma, and a dangling participle sounded like something you should have a doctor look at.

    I read a grammar book that week, and then sat down and wrote that long first story in two days. I didn’t even know you were supposed to write more than one draft, so I submitted the first draft, and it sold. The same thing happened with the novel. I wrote it in twenty-one days, and the first draft sold to the first editor who saw it.

    And from looking into the writing history of every published writer I read, I don’t think I’m all that unique.

    I’m a firm believer in working your ass off, and I always have, but work alone means nothing. Work doesn’t turn someone with little or no talent into someone with talent, and lack of work, as many bestselling writers prove, doesn’t mean you won’t get very rich and very famous very fast. And just like any other small business, you can work can see to can’t see, seven days per week, and still fail miserably, even as the guy down the street succeeds wildly, even though you’ve never seen him break a sweat, and you know he knocks off early every other day.

    I suppose my biggest problem with the ten thousand hours is that I’ve found most of us live whatever we believe. Just as with drafts. If you believe a first draft will be bad, it will be bad. If you believe it will take six drafts to make a novel publishable, you’ll do those six drafts. And if you believe it’s going to take ten thousand hours to master your craft, it will take ten thousand hours. . .which will probably mean many years of delay in writing publishable work. The ten thousand hours becomes a belief, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • dwsmith says:

      James, interesting point. From the start I worked to being a clean first draft writer because I hated rewriting and that was how Harlan and Bradbury and all the pulp writers I admired did it. So my focus and belief was that I could get to that point as well. Besides, I hated rewriting. I would rather be writing something new. So everything I did aimed me at this point.

      But time for me to stress once again that every writer is different. No one way is right, no one speed (meaning how many hours you type original words) is right. We all vary. But I like your point about one way to start changing a way we are is start imagining being another way. Yup.

      But alas, I have a secret to tell. I also sold my first short story I ever wrote, to a semipro zine in 1975 called the Diversifier. They were well known in their time and my story was one thousand words long. And I sold them my second story as well, another one thousand word story.

      I didn’t sell another story for eight years and way over a million words under my fingers.

  8. Sam Lee says:

    {And [epub changes] removed all my stress when dealing with my [NY] publisher.} John Brown, great attitude! I agree, I can’t believe how excited about writing I am now, thanks to knowing that I can take a story to NY *OR* epub–and just let the chips fall…er…let the market decide. Fantastically freeing to just be able to write without worry again.

    {In fact, I’m going to have to force myself to take some time off of short fiction so I can write a novel.}

    I’m having the same problem, Jeff—remembering I have novel goals this year as well as short story ones and making sure to do both, heh.

  9. Kerry NZ says:

    Hmmm. All very interesting. What I’m now trying to get my head around is how these ideas could translate across into the field of translation.

    For old foreign language books that are out of copyright it might make sense for translators to go it alone in publishing their translations and undercut the big firms. Based on my experience I can translate about 1,500-2,000 words a day quite comfortably. Translating shorter works by classic writers I could build an inventory fairly quick – how they would sell would be interesting.
    For books still under copyright one runs into the publishing companies unless the authors have kept the foreign language rights. Where the author has kept the rights there seems to be the potential for a direct revenue-sharing model between author and translator – the main issue will be in how they find out about each other (the British Centre for Literary Translation and the Dalkey Archive produced an interesting free PDF on the current process – see – which explains pretty much how it happens in the big publisher model.)

  10. Dean, we recorded our next episode of Adventures in SciFi Publishing tonight and I mentioned this post. We talked a lot about Heinlein’s rules, speed, and rewriting and so I mentioned you a fair amount. I’ll post here again when the episode goes live.

  11. Linda Jordan says:

    Thanks so much for all this! I’ve been spending too much time in the past couple weeks dithering about whether to revise this novel, that novel or just start the next one. You’ve helped me clarify things once again. Time to learn how to put them up as ebooks. You’re a great cheerleader!

  12. I type too fast to do clean first drafts. 😉

    Not that there are a lot of typos, but because I type fast — I’ve worked as a teletype operator and a keypunch operator as well as typing almost every day; I could probably type in my sleep — I tend to write more than the story needs. Then I cut. Sometimes of necessity – cutting a 1300-word story down to 1000 words to fit Probability Zero, say), sometimes because cutting a few hundred words from the beginning or end improves the story. Although I find with practice I don’t need to do that as much as I used to.

    I think that’s what it’s about – practice and more practice to internalize the learning – which ultimately helps the speed, too.

  13. dwsmith says:


    Good questions, but let me correct you on one major aspect of your question. There are no “shoulds” in this business. Every writer is different. I personally believe every writer would be better served to experiment until they find the way that works and creates selling fiction for them. (Instead of just following myths blindly.) But no right way, just your way.

    As for speedy in typing skill, makes no difference at all. I am slow compared to many people I know, including my wife. All that seems to matter is the production of words. One writer like me might produce 700-1,000 words in a hour and not do much, if any rewriting because of how I have trained myself over years. Another writer might do 1,500 words per hour and then spend another hour rewriting, ending up with an average like me of about 700 or so per hour. Still other writers do a 1,000 words per hour and then spend five hours rewriting that one hour’s work. Those writers are a mystery to me. But clearly that type of writer needs more hours to complete a project than I do.

    But is my way correct and the other writer wrong? Or is the other writer correct and my way wrong? If we are both selling, then we are both correct for ourselves.

    My post was to simply to talk about speed in this coming new world and to show how simple speed can be if you walk around the myth and look at the other side.

    I am considered a “speedy” writer as you put it because of my output, not my typing speed. If more than one or two books appear from a single author in a single year, for numbers of years, that author is considered prolific.

    Your question about the differences between authors styles and work methods is a good one, but from the outside world it doesn’t matter. There is a very old saying that is critical for all writers to remember.

    “The quality of your final product has nothing to do with the actual author experience of writing of that product.”

    An author may struggle, do a dozen drafts, and the work sucks. Or the author my struggle, do a dozen drafts, and the work is brilliant. Or the author may do one draft and the work sucks. Or the author may do one draft and the work is brilliant. You have to find your own path, your own method. All of us do.

  14. If I’m remembering Outliers correctly, the thing to remember is that it’s 10,000 hours for MASTERY.

    Now, at the risk of irritating some people, mastery is not necessary to write an entertaining book and story. How long it takes you to get to that level is going to depend on the person.

    But, you know, most of the people I know that are successful at writing actually shouldn’t have any problem hitting 10,000 hours. I started writing stories when I was eight years old, and I’m about to turn 33. I have no idea when I hit 10,000 hours, but it was certainly a while back.

    Having said all that, the 10,000 hour thing seems to more relevant to things that have a substanial physical component, like sports or music.

    Gladwell extrapolates it to work life, but it makes the dubious assumption that working is equivalent to consistent practice.
    One of the problems, if you want to call them that, with Gladwell’s stuffis that he’s such a persuasive writer that it’s easy to take what he says as gospel, and it isn’t always.

    I’m kind of entertained to find that I write at almost exactly the same pace as Mr. Smith, although I don’t have the endurance – anything over 5,000 words or so in a day makes my head feel like tapioca budding.

    It’s actually funny – I am incredibly lazy (one of my primary flaws) and I thought that I didn’t get much done, so I tried tracking my words.

    This year, for instance, I’ve written 28,000 words, and I actually didn’t get any writing done for the first week of January. This is by no means a blistering pace but it’s enough to write three longish novels or five or six short ones.

    So, yeah, Mr. Smith is pretty much right on here. My goal is 10,000 words a week, and I’m getting there. Writing that much isn’t especially hard, but you do need to get some mental conditioning done.

  15. Percy Blok says:


    I enjoy your site as well as insight. I recall a Youtube video of Robin Williams talking with Harlan Ellison in regards to L. Ron Hubbard. Ellison said that Hubbard had a roll of butchers paper, or kraft paper, mounted (I suppose it was cut or configured somehow) on the wall that he would feed straight into this type writer. He was getting paid by the word back in those days and got irritated by reaching for new sheets of paper and running out. Now, THAT”S HARD CORE. I’ve also read about John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee, I’m sure you’re familiar) lost something like 20 pounds when he started writing because he didn’t leave the typewriter until he completed some ungodly amount of fiction. Issac Asimov was asked, something to the effect; “If an asteroid was screaming to earth what would you doe?”…his reply…”type faster”.

    Time is certainly money and the only commodity that every person needs and will never get more of. How much time and productivity is lost to World of Warcraft?

    Chinese proverb — The best time to plant an oak tree was 25 years ago, or today.

    Love the blog, keep it up…spending too much time here 😉

  16. But when the last thirty years of backlist suddenly come online and there are 1,000,000+ additional professional-level titles available for ebook readers, there’s no way those 1,000,000 books will all sell three copies a day while competing with new books and bestsellers.

    There’s an early stage of the gold rush flavor to ebooks at the moment, but it won’t be long until the mining camps are filled with every two-bit city slicker with a gold pan and a pair of Levis.

    The world is changing, no doubt, but the money spent on books is going to stay stagnant or decline as the sheer quantity of books flood into the virtual bookstores.

    • dwsmith says:

      Michael, well, thankfully you are wrong. So far, in the very few facts we have about this new world, when a regular reader buys an electronic device, the number of books and the amount of reading they do goes up. How that will work when someone who doesn’t read much gets one, but for regular readers now for one year (which is about all the data there is) reading per reader has gone up when they buy a device. Overall numbers of books have gone up as well every year, although at the moment, because it seems impossible to track total sales between paper and electronic books, sales are down in paper, but no one really knows how sales overall are doing. Most think up.

      I know that to you, selling three copies a day seems like a fantastic amount. But again, for most people, especially early writers, the scale of this industry and the scale of sheer numbers of readers is almost impossible to imagine. 3 copies a day is just under 1,100 copies per year. In ten years, that’s around 11,000 copies. Now trust me, any lowest level book in traditional publishing selling only 11,000 copies would be considered a disaster and tossed out of print. A normal midlist book, ignored by most companies and never seen by most readers, sells 25,000 to 50,000 copies. (Inside one month.) And there are thousands and thousands of those books every month. Most never even get to major chain stores.

      I know that averaging 3 copies per day seems like a lot, but on a publishing scale, it’s not a blip. And it’s becoming a smaller blip as the worldwide English book markets open up. Especially in non-English-speaking countries. That’s huge.

      And trust me, most backlist won’t see print, most new books by beginning writers will sink like a boat with no bottom because the writer hasn’t yet learned to tell a story or hold a reader.

      So, thankfully for all of us, you are just flat wrong, Michael. It’s all a matter of scale.

  17. Howdy Dean and friends, I talked about Dean and the recent post on “Speed” (Feb. 5th) as we discussed Heinlein’s rules and rewriting in the most recent episode of the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast. That talk starts around minute 6 of the podcast.

  18. I agree that the coming flood of backlist titles will not be a problem.

    The market penetration of ereaders is still quite small, on the order of 10-15%, but growing fast. People who buy ereaders purchase more books. Global demand is increasing. The world population is growing, and the number of English-language readers is growing even faster. In many developing nations, literacy is on the rise.

    With higher royalties for ebooks, authors can support themselves with fewer sales. By publishing directly, speed to market is much faster. The market for short stories and novellas is expanding in the digital age. Serialized ebooks could catch on.

    The new and upcoming social media features of Kindle and other devices will increase the effect of word-of-mouth, helping good writers to sell more. Even bad writers will sell more, because a few sales is better than none, which is what they would get from going the traditional route, and reader feedback could help bad writers improve.

    I can understand a bit of skepticism about this new world. But I’m baffled by the pessimism.

    This is the best time ever to be a writer.


  19. rich says:


    It looks like I am a bit late to this thread, but I do have one (major) issue with your fast writing math.

    Take for example, when you mention writing a 60k word novel in a week. How can anyone possibly write that much and write well?

    Even without looking for Shakespearesque writing, there needs to be significant re-writing to be good enough for release – no?

    How can anyone get a tight, cohesive feel to a novel where foreshadowing, symbolism, etc. is accurate and meaningful spanning numerous chapters?

    It seems to me that, unless one is savant-like in thier literary genius, it just isnt possible.

    Now, I am sure I am wrong – but would you be able to give me some details as to why?

    • dwsmith says:

      Rich, if you think about all that stuff, you can never do it. But artists and writers who are artists let their subconscious handle all that heavy lifting. So the faster we write, the more we get out of our own way. And then not rewrite to ruin what our subconscious has done.

      Think of a pro golfer hitting a golf ball. The ball is on the club for a fraction or a fraction of a second and the club is traveling at 120 plus mph. And yet if the club is just a tiny, tiny fraction of an inch off, the ball will miss the fairway three hundred yards away. How do pro golfers do that impossible feat that if they had to think about they could never do? The practice and then let their subconscious take over and get out of their own way.

      That’s how.

      Your questions come from English teachers training. All that stuff you were talking about is what readers find. We writers don’t know it’s in there until someone points it out. We just trust our subconscious to layer it all in the way it’s supposed to be.

      And understand, speed has nothing to do with typing fast. It has to do with just sitting more hours in the chair. I could write 60,000 words plus in six days actually because I type about 1,000 words per hour, so I actually worked ten hours per day (with breaks of course) for six days and produced 60,000 words. I didn’t type any faster. I just spent more hours in the chair. You know, had a work ethic.

      Hope that helps.

  20. rich says:

    I think the golf analogy is a good one – and you correctly wrote “pro” golfer. It takes years upon years of practice to get the point where the perfect swing just happens. Looking at your body of work, I can see you would be the equivalent of the pro golfer. I, on the other hand, equate to a rank ameteur. In fact, a newbie. Your opening scenes likely have preludes to all kinds of future charaters, themes, and events whereas I struggle to pull in as much as I can (in fact, I am an outliner so I try to create these elements thoughout a number of scenes in the “design phase”)

    Of course, I know the remedy for that (write, write, write).

    Ive always had an aptitude for writing well, working on large projects, and creative work. But just recently have felt the “itch”.

    Now, I do have one more question (if it isnt imposing). I have been reading alot about ebooks as an alterenative to the traditional route of getting published. Nearly all of the ebook guidance I find on the internet is geared toward:
    >>genre specific fiction

    I can cleary see the point of non-fiction; as an examplt selling self-help books. And I understand that genre specific fiction will help you cater to the correct audience. But, are all fiction genres created equal? For successful e-book sellers it seems that scifi and thriller rule the day. My interest is politics and my leanings are toward partisan political comedy. I wonder if that is a viable genre for making money with ebooks.

    In any case, I guess my job is to simply start writing. Like everything else in life I will get better and faster the more I do… right?

    Thanks for the response – I am glad I found this site.

  21. Two-four fingers! I would go insane 😛

    By your reasoning, my 90+wpm means I can finish a day’s writing (at one 250-word page) in 2 minutes and 47 seconds… I guess I really don’t have any excuses, eh? 😉

  22. I agree that it’s important for an Indie writer to build a backlist as quickly as possible, but I learned my own hard lesson about quality just yesterday. I got a review for my book on Amazon. The reveiwer had great things to say about the story, but he did slam me for typos. Luckily, he recommended the book anyway, saying it was for the most part an easy flowing, entertaining story that simply needed some editing. Still, it would have been a perfect review if I’d taken just a bit more time proofreading. Some will overlook typos if the story is good, but some won’t. If they are paying for your book, they have the right to expect professionalism.

    • dwsmith says:

      Agreed, September. You have to have someone read your story for typos and mistakes before putting it up. No question there.

  23. Dean – I’ll see your ‘write a novel in 7 days’ and raise you. How about 3 days? I’m sure you’ve heard about Michael Moorcock’s insane rate of productivity, but for those who think a novel in a week is mad, Moorcock used to regularly bash out 60,000 word books in 3 days. Or so it appears. He even had a formula for how to do it, including side-kicks and minor characters for times when stuck, a quest structure, a four-act structure of 15,000 words each, and mysteries leading to more mysteries to keep things interesting.
    He did have the novel planned out a bit in advance to be fair, which is cheating in a way. I find the whole having ideas thing is the most time-consuming part of writing and the bit that really slows me down.
    Anyone who wants to know more about Moorcock’s formula can find details here:

    • dwsmith says:

      Simon, I am no where near the fastest writer out there. Not even close. Many pro friends of mine have done novels in a weekend, under deadline. But my record is six days and I’m too old to try that again. (grin )

  24. If I didn’t have to work full time, I’d probably pump out four books a year. Right now working 40 hours a week, I’m pumping out two books a year. Unfortunately, being single and no one to pay the mortgage and health insurance, I have not reached the tipping point of being able to quit my day job. This month, however, was the first month I actually made more than my day job being a paralegal. For a vast majority, who still are bound by bills and mortgages, it’s going to take time to build a list of books that can generate a steady income – unless the fairy of success dongs me on the head with a runaway best seller. My hope is to tip the scales one day toward being a full-time writer.

  25. George from Toronto says:

    I love this post most of all on your site. I’ve only discovered your website recently and I’ve decided to not hold back anymore. I love the old stories of those Golden Age pulp writers sitting in front of their typewriters writing all day long. All day long!! If that is not heaven I don’t what is.
    But the elitist myth is soo ingrained in my head: ‘if you write fast it will be crap’ that it’s almost a form of brainwashing and I need to be deprogrammed. I keep reminding myself that Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 9 days. NINE DAYS. And that book is a shining gem of modern literature. It’s hard to admit that I’ve been believing a lie all these years. And then I have the doubts: “Ah but your not Ray Bradbury, you’re not Dean Wesley Smith, you’re not X blah blah BLAH…” But I’ve had it with that stupid little mind troll telling me that. Those writers are people not superheroes. Just normal people who have decided to do what they love. And writing fast… does not lead to bad writing.

    Since I have no huge expenses or bills and am unmarried/no children and have saved up enough money to live off for a few years I have finally decided I am holing up and just writing for the next three years full time. If the trad’s reject me again (they keep saying “great book but we can’t buy it” –I’ve sent out hundreds of queries) I’ll self pub digitally this time. Thanks to three blogs (yours, your wife’s and Konrath’s) I REFUSE to live the life of a non writer any longer or to live the life of the mere ‘hobby writer’ or the ‘slow oh woes is me the writing is soo hard writer’ or as Heinlein called them (in Grumbles from the Grave): “aspirant-writers-who-never-will-actually-write” writer. I feel like Charles Fritch when his friends, the famous California Group back in the 50’s (Richard Matheson, (the GREAT) Charles Beaumont, William Nolan and the gang) told him “if you want us to take you seriously in our little writing circle you have to start with the regular output”) . Time to open the floodgates, pound the keyboard and make the damn words dance.

    Thank you Dean!

  26. George from Toronto says:

    PS oops correction: For the above post I meant to refer to the other speed article (the one under sacred cows…) now this one above is excellent too because it shows you have hope to make if you write fast enough. I think all writers are born fast personally, its ‘education’ and ‘popular views of the culture at large’ that slowly gets writers to slow down. Anyway thanks to Dean in part, I am writing again and doing it at the speed I enjoy.

  27. JC says:

    Hmm… I like what you say about how it is other pressures that cause people to think that writing fast produces low quality work. However, I feel that it seems to be the opposite for me – I think I write too slowly. The last time I wrote an essay, it took me twenty hours to write four thousand words…. which would be two hundred words an hour, but you write a whopping two hundred and fifty words in fifteen minutes?? That is, in my opinion, pretty fast. On that note, how can you do that? For me, it seems as if I have a plethora of ideas in my head, however, the words are out of my grasp. It is that feeling where you know you want to use a word or phrase, but cannot seem to conjure it up, and it flits in and out of your grasp, as if mocking you. Whilst I think that there is no solution to it, I do hope to write quicker and more efficiently. Are there any suggestions that you can give?

    ‘Tis a magical thing, to be able to transform a bunch of words into a new world, which one is able to experience. I guess writers are magicians after all.. o_0

    • dwsmith says:

      JC, just stop worrying about the words so much and tell a story and have fun. If you climb past all the myths and just have fun and do the best you can while not fretting about all of it, you’ll pick up speed, write better, and have fun in the process. Artists work from our subconscious. That means to write the best stories, we must get out of our own way.

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