Posts tagged indie-publishing

The New World of Publishing: A Return to the Past

A Look Back at January 11, 2011

That’s right, I wrote the following post on January 11, 2011, talking some about the coming war between writers and the problems with the future of agents. I was looking back at some old posts to clean them out and stumbled on this and was stunned. I remember warning people of the coming war between writers and getting laughed at.

Not sure anyone is laughing anymore, sadly.

Take a look back at 2011.  Anything I put in (Bold Italics is a comment I have added tonight.)


Okay, time to talk about agents and their future in this changing world.

Mary Kole, who I do not know, and who seems fairly smart, works (or worked… didn’t bother to check because I honestly don’t care) at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. On the Digital Book World site (link is gone…sorry), she talked about her opinions of what the agent’s role will be going into the future.

I read it and shuddered, to be honest. Then I went back and actually tried to figure out why I had such an adverse reaction to some very logical thoughts by this agent. (In January 2011 I was still doing some traditional books as well as Indie books and I had only been away from agents for two years.)

Agent Mary Kole argues that agents will become packagers, doing “editorial work, marketing consultation, design, etc.” She thinks that agents will have a “more active hand in … reaching market-ready status.”

Okay, let me simply say for me, NO!!  But that is only for me and as I have pounded home over and over, every writer is different. But that said, I have no respect for the writers who want to be taken care of by agents, who let total strangers take over all their money and their careers and let total strangers stop them from writing what they want to write. I have made that clear.

Yet 95% of the writers coming in today want someone to take care of them. (Remember, I wrote this in January, 2011. I’m betting that number is down some now. Might be closer to only 75%.) And what this agent is talking about is a direct extension of that. Direct. So from her point of view, agents taking care of writers even more makes sense. (I shuddered, but many will not because they will look at that and say, “Oh, good, I don’t have to learn anything or work.”)

Then this agent goes on to get opinions from other agents on this topic. One other agent, Nathan Bransford
(gave up agenting but still blogs), sees agents becoming two types, one with bestsellers and one with no bestsellers. (I see a third, the scam agents, but we won’t go into that here.) He says the lower-level agents will act as “managers, consultants, and publicists to help their clients navigate small presses and self-publishing.”

What he didn’t say, of course, is that the agents will also take 15% or more of that. Often much more, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

And that has already started. For example, Richard Curtis has a company already publishing and packaging his clients backlist and taking a ton more than 15% (He sold the business in 2013).  So, of course the writers who want someone to take care of them will flock to those types and give away vast sums of money for almost no work. (Sort of like what’s happening in today’s world with agents. I often gave my agent thousands of dollars for making one phone call and then having her accounting department forward checks.)(I never said I was smart.)

Bransford goes on to say that it’s going to be hard for agents to make money unless one of their clients take off, meaning becomes a bestseller. (Yup, the agency model is failing for anyone but the top agents with the top bestselling writers. We can all see that. Duh.) Brandsford thinks the small agents will have to invent new ways to “earn their keep.” (Again, duh.)

Then Mary Kole really made me shudder when she said agents should treat every new client as a tech start-up. She thinks that writers are going to have “start-up” costs, and she thinks agents will need to learn how to do all the technology and understand it, and explore what makes a good app. And that agents should “develop new properties,” and that “the review-sharing model for the agent/client relationship might also change…” And then she gave me a real kick in the stomach when she said, …”especially for properties developed mutually.”

She thinks that writers and agents will be collaborators. (Or, as she said earlier, agent as packager.)

Okay, now I admit that over the last two years I have really gotten jaded about agents and their position in publishing. (From 2009 to 2011) And I’ve gotten flat angry at stupid writers letting the agents take over. But what this very smart woman is talking about is logical and clear and well-thought out from the point of view of an agent.

She is talking about how agents are going to dig themselves into this new world of writers, even though honestly from my opinion, they are not needed at all. She is writing an article about how agents are going to take our work, writer’s work, and make it their work and collaborate and “help” writers get it up on the right place.

There was absolutely nothing at all wrong with what this agent said. All logical. All fine from an agent’s point of view.

But from a professional writer’s point of view, I wanted to run screaming into the night when I read that. (And still do.)

Here are My Reason’s Why I Had That Reaction

I have fought for years to keep people out of my office and my head. I want to create what I want to create. I don’t need help. I do need to keep learning and get better at my craft, but I don’t need help in the creation process, and with computers.

And I don’t need help getting my work to any place I want to get it to.

I can publish my own work electronically.

I can publish my own work directly to books and get them in just about all stores.

I can mail my own manuscripts to traditional publishers.

I can negotiate my own contract with a traditional publisher or hire (for very little money) an IP attorney to do it.

I even know how to have an app created if I wanted to spend the money for an app for say Poker Boy. Not that expensive, actually.

So why do I need an agent?

Why do I need to give anything away?

I can learn all this new technology just as fast as any agent, maybe faster. I can ask questions just as well of other writers and friends. And why do I need an agent’s voice in my office telling me what I can write or can’t write?

Okay, granted, I have been working at learning computers, and programs, and helping to set up an electronic publishing business for just under two years now. (Yes, I said only two years. I used to think that computers might blow up if I copied and pasted something. Not kidding.) So maybe I am out ahead of others who are just coming to this stuff. Maybe a few months, a few learning curves is all. Not far. And since I have been working on this for almost two years, I am light years ahead of most agents who didn’t even see a problem until this last summer or fall.

(The business I mentioned there that I was doing indie now has over 450 titles and seven employees three-and-a-half years later.)

Okay, granted, I like to have control of my own money and my own business. I know many people can’t be bothered with taking control of their own money. Just call me old-fashioned in that way.

So I am different. And I do understand where this agent in her well-reasoned piece is coming from. She’s trying to reassure the writers who want to be taken care of that her job isn’t going away and she can help them, even though I doubt she has ever put one novel up electronically anywhere for any writer. (I don’t know that for a fact, but I would bet…)

Again, all this is logical from her position. Anyone in her spot would start figuring out ways to defend their job. (Why do I keep hearing Mel Brook’s voice in Blazing Saddles when I say that?)

So I read the article and just shuddered because the well-written article by this agent made it clear to me that the agent problem in writing isn’t going away with the increase of electronic publishing.

It’s going to get worse! Much, much worse!

(Remember 2014 readers, I wrote this in January 2011.)

Now we are going to have unlicensed, unregulated strangers not only taking all writers’ money and paperwork, but getting it deposited electronically into their accounts.

Now agents are going to start to claim ownership in a work, claim ownership in covers in packages sold to publishers, claim ownership in layout of manuscripts sent to publishers.

Folks, in case you have never worked with a packager (I have, numbers of them, actually), they tend to get 50% of the gross after expenses (such as covers, design, and so on), which mean you will be getting 50% of net from your agent instead of 85% of gross of the payments from a traditional publisher as has been the rate in the past, or 70% of gross if you publish the book electronically yourself. (Of course, publisher payment is after they take their 85%, but we all know the math of all that now.)

That’s what agent Mary Kole and other agents are after and why I was shuddering. Most writers are so stupid, with time they will go for that while the agents swear they are helping them.

That’s right, mark my words, writers will give agents 50% of net instead of 85% of the money they get from a publisher very shortly.

Yup, the agents will be helping them right out of over half of their money.

See why this article made me shudder? The agent issues are not going away.

They are getting worse.

And writers are going to let it happen.

What I See Coming…

Okay, let me get out my short-term crystal ball and take a look at the near future. Here are a few predictions, not fun, but what I see happening in relationship to writers and agents, from the writer’s point of view.

— Writers Splitting into Two Factions

There will become two groups of writers, both defending their way of doing things in very angry arguments. We have already seen small flashes of this with some indie writers and traditional-published writers. Each group looks suspect at the other. That divide will change and sharpen dramatically over the next few years. (Holy smokes, hit that one on the head.)

Those of us who want control and don’t want agents as collaborators will lean more and more toward the indie publishing side. Those who want to be taken care of will flock to the new way of agents. So the fight won’t be indie writer vs traditional writer, it will be indie writer vs agented writer. And it will get ugly at times. Mark my words. (Uhh, yah.)

— Scams will Explode

The horror stories of bad treatment by agents is well documented in the comments of Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, but I don’t think we can even imagine the explosion in numbers of scams and writers getting taken by agents. Agents, many agents, are going to be desperate to stay alive and in business as things turn in the next few years.

You think it was hard to trace money from a traditional publisher before, this new world of electronic publishing makes that old way look simple. Remember, anyone with a business card can become an agent. No rules, no regulations. And a lot of money at stake.

— Electronic and POD  Self (or Small) Publishing Will Be the New Entry Path to Traditional Publishing

Right now agents, because they have been given the slush piles by publishers, think they control most of the content going to traditional publishers. But in short order, electronic publishing sales of indie-writers will bring traditional publishers and movie producers and games designers and so much more flocking to them. (That happened for a short time, but indie writers got smart and started saying no.)

The top indie-selling books in another year will be like flames drawing in the companies who want to jump on board. This is only starting to happen and it will go around agents. Some agents will also be attracted to the bright lights of the top sellers, but with luck, those writers will turn those agents away. (Nope, sadly many indie writers signed on with agents because of belief in myths like you need an agent to sell translation rights.)

In this process over the next five to ten years, the slush pile will almost vanish as we know it now and editors will go mostly to solicited novels, either from agents who have published their clients work or from indie publishers.

It will be easier for an editor to be aware of a book and go read it than for it ever to be sent in to an editor. Possibly “future slush piles” could be simple letters giving a pitch on the book and a coupon for the editor to read it for free and take a look at the overall package. And editors will be able to look at a platform of sales. (But what I didn’t see was indie writers not bothering at all with traditional publishing after realizing they like the freedom and the extra money. I missed that one.)

Note: This is the exact same packaging approach agent Mary Kole in her article was talking about. Editors and publishers will be looking for more completely finished books. Complete packages.

So agents will package and sell and take most of the money, or indie writers will package and sell their own work and keep most of the money. Either way, the slush pile as we know it now will be vanishing for the most part as publishers look for more complete packages instead of just manuscripts. That part I agree with Mary about.

— Writers as a Class Will Start to Regain Power in their Own Minds.

Writers have always been in control, but for some reason as a class we sort of have forgotten. Writers let agents get away with what they do, we let publishers take what they take. As a group, we run everything in publishing, but our problem is that we first don’t believe it. And second, we never agree to band together to stop anything.

For example, even with all the scams and money vanishing without a trace to agents, writers could have forced agents into some sort of regulation and oversight. But, of course, we did not. Writers individually always believe that it is the other agents who are ripping people off, never their own agent.

But this coming clash between the writers with agent packagers and writers who do it all themselves will cause a general shift in writers starting to take control again. Indie writers are already all over the boards screaming about this “control” issue (even though they are falsely aiming it at traditional publishers at the moment). This control issue is not with publishers. It is with other writers giving it up and letting others do all the work. Writers, through contracts, control what they give away or don’t give away to a traditional publisher.

Another sign of the control returning will be more and more writers willing to walk away from traditional deals offered. When a writer understands how much money they can make by publishing it themselves, it’s going to be harder and harder for a traditional publisher to compete. This newly realized ability to walk away from offers will also start increasing the general sense of writer power. (Holy smokes, got this one right way back in January 2011.)

As more and more writers start to realize the power of indie publishing and the money that can be made, the more the split between the two groups of writers will happen. (Yup.)

And then as more writers get scammed or realize that they are giving away over half of their money to an agent packager, the larger the “take control” movement will be.

Writers over the next five to ten years will again start to believe that they have control. (Happening faster than I thought it would, thankfully.)

So What is the Upshot of All This?

The article from the agent Mary Kole that started this is very clear and logical and solid from the agent’s point of view.

But she has a very disturbing underlying assumption.  She believes that writers want to be taken care of and won’t mind sharing and collaborating and giving more money away.

She’s right for some writers. Many writers won’t mind. Many writers will think they need the help, will buy into the myths that using an agent or agent-as-packager is the only way. Thus this growing movement of indie writers doing it all themselves, including selling to traditional publishers will split professional fiction writers into two major camps. Indie writers and agent/packaged (take care of me) writers.

The battle is just starting. It won’t settle out until long after this electronic revolution in publishing is done and mostly leveled out. And that’s going to be years.

And those of us who hoped that the electronic publishing revolution would kill most of the writer/agent model of publishing have been wrong. It’s just going to change it to agent-as-packager model.

And for writers, that’s a ton worse in so many ways.

(Again, I wrote the above in January of 2011… Thought it would be fun to bring it to the present to see how things are going.)

Think Like a Publisher: 2015… Chapter Four: Production and Scheduling


Chapter 4

Production and Scheduling

The first three posts in this series were designed to be a unit and help you get set up as an indie publisher. You should have a business name picked out with a web site domain reserved, understand your upfront costs and have made decisions on how to deal with those costs. Then you should have done a rough guess on income and when each project might break even.

If I had to summarize those first three chapters, I would say this: “Be prepared, set up correctly, keep your costs down, and understand the possible cash flow.”

So the next logical step is the question: “How Do I Get My Books Out To Readers?” In other words, how do I produce and distribute my book? You can’t have distribution without production, so I am starting with production right now.

The first major steps in production are inventory and scheduling.

So to really think like a publisher, you need to understand publishing lists, deadlines, and how distribution must be planned far, far ahead of the actual launching of books.

Basic Production Schedule Organization

Traditional publishers have what are called “Lists.”

Lists are basically a publishing schedule of the books being done each month and how much attention each book will get.

In traditional publishing, the list works like this: If your book is number one on the monthly list, you get better covers, better promotion, and all the attention. And more than likely your advance was higher. If your book is in the number two or three slot, you are called a “mid-list” writer.  If your book is down in the number five or six slot, good luck.

As an indie publisher, you also need to set up a publishing schedule and then, as best as possible, stick to it. And always remember one major thing:

Publishing is an industry driven by deadlines.

Trust me, if you don’t have deadlines, things will just slip by and books won’t get done or published. How you set up your own deadlines is personal to you and your writing. There are thousands of articles and blogs about this topic to help on the writing side.


A publishing business is a business of selling product. I know, as a writer, your story is your baby, your work-of-art. But once you move it into the publishing business it is a widget (sort of), something to be sold to readers to enjoy.

You are in the sales part of the entertainment industry.

So as you start your business, you first need to know what inventory is available to you, what will be available, and what can be created.

So do an inventory. Count all your finished short stories and novels. Then count all the short stories and novels that have been published but might revert to you soon, or count stories mostly finished that would be easy to finish.

Then look at your writing schedule and figure out over the next year how many stories or novels you can write.

You will come up with just a simple list. And list them by title under each category.

1) Finished Novels and Stories.

2) Stories or novels available soon. (List each with possible date.)

3) Stories or novels to be produced. (List dates for finishing…deadlines. If you have more than five or so short stories, don’t forget collections as future products.)

This total number of your inventory may surprise you, disappoint you, or scare you to death (as it did with me and Kris). But at least you have a list of inventory now.

Time In Production

In New York traditional terms, a “list” is also the number of books that can be produced every month.  They take into account numbers of employees and all that it will take to produce the number of books on the list. Traditional publishing is very good at figuring the time it will take for each step of production.

So now you need to take a hard look at how you are going to run your business, which is back to the decisions from the first three chapters.

Even if you hire everything done, it takes time. If you do it yourself, and haven’t tried it yourself yet, and maybe need to take some classes to learn, plan a lot of extra time for the first books because of the learning curve involved.

After you have done a few books, got a few things up electronically, you will have a pretty good idea on how long each step will take with your own work and writing schedule.

And then don’t forget to add in getting the books and collections into paper as well. Another calculation that will take some time to figure and learn.

Here are the general categories you need to take into account when figuring production time.

Manuscript Preparation:

— Proofing time?

— Electronic formatting time?

— POD formatting time?

Cover Preparation:

— Finding art time?

— Cover formatting time?

— POD cover formatting time?

Launching Time:

—  Electronic Launching?

— POD Launching, including proofing time?

A couple of hints. Try a couple of short stories electronically first to get the hang of this and figure out your times. And POD times will always be factors longer, so maybe wait on POD until you get comfortable with doing much of this.

But don’t put them off too long. Paper versions are critical to reaching as many readers as possible.

Putting a Publishing Schedule Together

So now you have an inventory and a rough idea how long each project will take to complete and get published.

So take into account the amount of time you want or can afford to spend on this kind of publishing business, then just do a publishing schedule. Some writers I know just set aside one day per week as a “publishing” day.

Set the date for publishing each title.

If you have a lot of inventory and not a lot of time, this schedule might be a couple years long. If you have little inventory and more time, you may only have a few months of schedule. And then planned books to fill spots on out.

Add in a little extra time for each project.

And then act like that is a concrete deadline.

Writers in general hit deadlines, but there are always a few writers who think it is all right to miss a deadline by a year and still expect their book to be published. And then they get upset when the publisher kills their contracts and asks for their money back. This is a business, a deadline-driven business, so act like a publisher and treat your deadlines like that as well.


Just as traditional publishers, don’t be afraid to adjust at the end of every month. If things are taking longer, which they will at times, adjust the deadline and shift all deadlines at the same time. But be warned:  Too much shifting will really get discouraging.

Say you did a publishing schedule for the next twelve months and wanted to get up two stories or novels or collections a month. You think that in one year having twenty-four projects up electronically and some into paper would be great for your business and your projected cash flow.  (And honestly it would be.)

But then you start slipping deadlines and not giving the deadlines the attention a regular publisher would give them. And you discover at the end of the year you only have ten items up. You will get less than half the income and now you still have a half-year of inventory to put up that should have already been up. Not fun.

So when you set the deadlines, be realistic, don’t be afraid to adjust, don’t get in a hurry, but at the same time do everything in your power to not miss a publishing deadline.

In other words, act like a business.

Time in the Channel

Okay, realize that if you have an internal business publication deadline, don’t announce the exact date because it takes days for a book to come live on Kindle and PubIt and Kobo and iBooks, a month of time at least for any POD with proofing, and such. And to get through Smashwords or another aggregator (and out around the world) at least a month or more sometimes. They claim they are faster, but

So your publication date for your internal business use is when you launch it on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, iBookstore, and PubIt!.

However, for the public announcement, you would be better served to announce a month later. That’s how most traditional publishers do it as well. Books are often in stores weeks ahead of the official publication date.

Distribution takes time. When setting deadlines, keep that in mind.

Why Deadlines Are Important

A deadline on a book being published allows you to announce the book out ahead. And do promotion on the book ahead of time. And get readers interested and expecting a book to arrive at a certain time. As readers, you all understand how this works. “Coming In May” is a powerful promotional tool, especially for a sequel to a book.

And preorders on books means your book can be selling far before your official publication date.

Using Production Deadlines in Your Writing

This is a wonderful new aspect of this indie publishing. You can set publication deadlines for a book far, far before you are finished with the book.

Of course, this is normal in traditional publishing. Publishers often buy two or three books at a time from an author. And when they do, they have book #2 and book #3 already penciled into a publication schedule down the road.

As an indie publisher, you can use your own publication deadlines to help drive yourself to finishing and releasing books.

Many beginning writers can’t seem to finish a project, or when they finish it they spend years rewriting the poor thing to death and having workshops turn it into a monster with an arm sewn onto the forehead.

Having a publication deadline will do wonders for getting you to write, finish what you write, not rewrite, and get it out to readers. (Wait, those sound like Heinlein’s Rules, don’t they?)

Also knowing a book has a hope of getting read by readers and making you some money does wonders for pushing a writer to write and finish.

So, when setting up your publication schedule, look not only at your existing inventory, but slot in an unfinished novel or two. That gives you a firm deadline and not only will your publishing company help you make money and find readers, but it will also drive your writing.


Count your inventory, figure your future inventory, figure your time, figure how much time it takes for each step of each project, and then think like a publisher and set a publication schedule.

And maybe use that schedule to help you finish new books as well.

Deadlines drive everything in publishing. And all deadlines are set by publication schedules.

Think like a publisher and set the schedule.

You will be stunned at how much of a difference it will make for your publishing company.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith


Think Like a Publisher: 2015… Projected Income

Chapter Three

Projected Income

To actually get a profit-and-loss calculation for a book project, you must now make some pricing decisions and projections of income.

Yeah, I know. I know. This is all so new, how can anyone predict how much money they will make on any project? Well, you can’t. Not really. But you can try. And you want to know a dirty little secret. New York traditional publishing can’t predict how much they will make on any book either.

But they try.

And that’s the key. To really act like a publisher, you need to understand what you are trying to gain. You need to know how many sales will get your expenses back. And you need to know at how many sales will you start making a profit.

So this chapter is about why you need to try to determine set income ranges, and how to do that at this moment.

This is the last of the basic three set-up chapters. After this one, we start getting into more detail on specific areas.


Here we go again, back into pricing. Remember, this discussion is about acting like a real publisher, not a hobby writer. Real publishers are in the business to make a profit. That’s the focus now, so please keep that in mind. If profit is not your intent, fine. Different strokes for different folks.


To determine any kind of income and sales potential, you must first make some pricing decisions. And you must decide as a publisher what your long-range goals are.

(Holy smokes have we had discussions about this topic here on the blog over the years. Feel free to bring up the old questions again if you feel they have not been answered yet.)

Those of us involved with the starting of WMG Publishing Incorporated sat down and talked about long-range goals. We all wanted WMG Publishing to become, down the road, a decent mid-sized publisher of fiction of all types from many, many authors. You might decide that your publisher is just to publish your work. That’s normal for indie publishing and nothing wrong with that at all. Or maybe your business mission statement isn’t to make any money, but to have a lot of people read your work. Fine as well, if you are clear for yourself on that.

The choice of mission statement will also determine your standard pricing. And your pricing will determine also how you sell books, both electronically and in paper editions.

(Ignore for the moment promotion discounts. I will cover that in a later chapter.)

The values we set for WMG Publishing changed over time, which is also natural, especially in a growing and changing market like this one.  But the values I will be using for this discussion on setting income are as follows:

Electronic Publication (2015)

Short story: $2.99.

Gross Income Expected: $1.80 to $2.00 per sale. Use $2.00 for rough calculations.

(Note: If you don’t feel right about pricing a short story at this level, especially the shorter ones, that is your decision. No one is forcing you to value your work at any level.)

Short Novels, Short Collections: $4.99.

Gross Income Expected: $3.25 to $3.50 per sale domestic. Use $3.25 for calculations.

Regular Novels (over 50,000 words), Long collections: $5.99 to $7.99

Gross Income Expected: $4.20 to $5.60 per sale domestic. (Use 70% of the retail price for calculations.)

(In the above calculations, Gross Income is after the fees and costs taken out by the bookstores and providers of electronic sales.)

POD Publication (2014).

Short Collections, Short Novels: $9.99- $12.99 trade paperback.

Novels, Long Collections: $15.99 to $17.99 trade paperback. (Might vary upward with extra long books.)

Gross Profits on both are in the range of $2.00 to $4.00 per sale, depending on where sold. Use $3.00 for calculations.


Also, I am not counting Audio editions at all. But that is a vast source of income coming into 2015. Do them yourself or use ACX, either way, audio is worth the effort, but calculate the costs just as with others forms.

Why Pick These Prices?

These electronic prices are under traditional publishing ranges, yet not too far under to seem to be a discounted price. Trade paperback prices are normal traditional publication prices for trade paperbacks in the size range indicated.

For the trade paperbacks, the price range also allows WMG Publishing to do catalogs and give 40-50% discounts to bookstores and sell to distributors as well.  (More on that in later chapters in Think like a Publisher.)

As I mentioned in the first post, there are three types of publishers. Discount publishers, high-end publishers, and middle ground publishers. We wanted WMG Publishing to be in the middle ground with the mass of most traditional publishers. To do that, the prices had to be in that range as well.

Also the price range we picked allows for promotional pricing at times when needed. A huge factor.

Again, all pricing decisions are based on the early mission statement and the hope for the future for WMG Publishing. With your own press, think about what kind of publisher you want to be, then figure your prices to fit in the range of that decision.

Also, keep some basic math in mind. If your motives are profit, you must sell ten books at 99 cents to make the same amount that you would make when you sell one book at $4.99. And since almost no traditional publishers do 99 cent novel pricing except rarely as a short-term promotion, a 99 cent price for a novel will label you as a discount or hobby publisher.

Also, during the last two years, the 99 cent price range developed a reputation for low quality among regular readers overall. So caution there unless you are using that price as a discount short-term price. Readers love short-term discounts.

Calculating A Project’s Projected Income

Now comes the fun part. Hang onto your math brains. And let me stress again that not even traditional publishers know this number for a fact. If they did, publishing would be a very simple business without risk.

In traditional publishing, publishers have some tools to use in this area. For example, they can look at a book and then (like shopping in real estate) they compare to other books of the same length in the same genre with the same basic author recognition. So if a similar book sold 20,000 copies, then it is pretty safe to use that sales number in the current books calculation.

This, as the world shifts, had become a deadly tool. It has missed so far lately that even though traditional publishers have used it over the last few years, they have become cautious of it and are offering advances far under what their “best-guess” for sales might be.

They also use an author’s track record. If the author’s last book sold 50,000 copies, then it USED TO BE pretty safe to do a profit-and-loss calculation with that as the sales range. (And that projection then sets the author’s advance.) But again, with sales changing so quickly, traditional publishers are having a huge problem with this.

But as an indie publisher, with no real track record yet, (and a world that is expanding into electronic publishing faster than most people can keep up with) how is it possible to make any real projections of sales?

Bottom line: It’s not.

Traditional publishers have functioned under the idea that a book is only active and available new to readers for a short time. Just like fruit in a grocery story. But unlike the produce model of traditional publishing of paper books, where books spoil and get pulled from limited shelving, electronic publishing doesn’t have that issue.

And neither does the new world of Print on Demand trade paper.

Our books don’t spoil. And we have unlimited shelf space to display our books until readers find them or we push the book to customers with promotions. And in this area, that makes all the difference. And we don’t print paper books ahead of time, but only to order, so we are not trapped into warehousing and shipping costs.

Traditional publishers had to hit their projections within a certain selling time frame before the book was pulled and another book took its place on the shelf.

Indie publishers have no real time restriction at all. So instead of trying to guess at a total sales in a set time to determine the amount of money that can be spent on a project so that the project makes a 4% profit, indie publishers can calculate a different number entirely.

The Break Even Number

(Or… At what number of sales does a book starts earning a profit?)

Actually, traditional publishers have that “break even” number sort of in their calculations as well, but pay little attention to it.

Indie Profit-And-Loss-Calculation

For traditional publishers in the produce model, this profit-and-loss calculation is done on computers and has many varied factors. And actually, you also can set up this sort of program on a computer to plug in all your factors on every book as well if you have that bent. Art costs, layout costs, overhead in your office, time it took to write the book, and so on.

I don’t care to do that much work, to be honest. But I do want to know at how many copies sold will the book or story start earning a profit for WMG Publishing.

And I want to know that number BEFORE I start into producing a project.

If the projected expenses are such that a book would need to sell 100,000 copies to start earning a penny, I’m going to back away from that project quickly. Too many things could go wrong and I sure don’t want to be like traditional publishing where a book that sold 50,000 copies could be considered a failure. (It happens more than you can ever imagine.)

So an “Indie Profit-And-Loss Calculation” would run simply like this:

All Actual Costs + Time Costs + Overhead Costs divided by Gross Income Per Book = NUMBER OF SOLD BOOKS NEEDED TO BREAK EVEN.

A Sample: A 5,000 word short story.

Your only actual cost is $10.00 for some art. Your time to write and launch the story is ten hours at a rate of $20.00 per hour. Your overhead costs for that ten hours are less than $20.00 so use $20.00.  You get $2.00 per sale. (You have no paper edition.)

$10.00 (art) + $200.00 (time) + $20.00 (overhead) = $230.00 divided by $2.00 = 115 books sold to break even.

If you average about 5 sales over all the sites over all the world per story per month, it will take you 23 months, or just about two years to break even on the short story and be into pure profit.

If you book only sells one copy per month somewhere, it will take 115 months to break even. But it will still break even and keep going. That’s the key to remember.

Of course, I am NOT COUNTING any income from a collection the story might be in. That would bring the break-even point in even closer.

A side note for short story writers. You can often get 6 cents per word and up for a short story to a good market. A sale to a good market also helps you advertise your other work and most short fiction markets return rights within a year. Worth considering for any short story. Do the math and add in ad value minus the lost income for the time spent marketing. Selling a story to a major magazine is worth the time, folks.

Example: 5,000 words x 6 cents = $300.00.  $800 value of 1/2 page ad in Asimov’s = $1,100 value.

Cost of doing the story is $220 (no art) plus two years lost sales time. (5 sales per month = $10.00 x 24 months = $240.00.   Cost out is $460.00.  Value in is $1,100.00.  See why I say it has value to sell short stories to top magazines? That advertising value makes all the difference.

What happens next with the novel or story?

In traditional publishing, after 3 years you would have been paid your novel advance, the novel would have been published and vanished except maybe trickling along at 25% of net income for you from a few electronic sites.  And years and years would go by before you could even think of getting your rights back. Even if you signed a great contract. And that is very, very, very, very, very, very, very rare these days.

In other words, you sign a contract for a standard genre book these days, you will never see those rights back again. (35 year rule will be your out, for those of you who understand copyright.)

But for me, with my indie-published book, my novel or story is still just out there in thousands of stores worldwide, in a growing market, still selling. It has been there as inventory while I write and publish more and more and more books and stories to join it on my unlimited shelves.

The book just keeps on earning me money. I will have a passive income every month. For doing nothing. And if I figure out a way to promote it every year or so, or bring out other novels similar to it, that income can go up. For basically doing nothing.

Let me say that again. For doing nothing.

At some point I will have been paid for my time, my expenses, and then the book or story just keeps on earning.

And in this new world, there is no telling how long that passive income could flow. No way of knowing. None.

But the key up front is to try to give yourself some basic income projections when deciding on a project. And if the costs are too high for the project to ever earn back, move on. That’s what any publisher would do and you are now a publisher, remember.

Learn to think like one.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith


Think Like a Publisher 2015: Chapter Two… Expected Costs

Chapter Two:

Expected Costs 

The first chapter was “The Early Decisions” which included picking a business name, setting up checking accounts, and so on. There were no real costs at all in those early steps unless your state had a small fee for registering a business name. Checking accounts are free, so are PayPal accounts, and so on.

So, the question on this second basic business-planning chapter is: “What are your expected costs?”

For those of you with a basic understanding of business, you can now see the structure of how I am setting up these chapters. Before starting into a business, there are certain things that need to be figured. Set-up costs, projected production and business costs, and projected income.  You have no real data on the costs or the income, at least not accurate data, but anyone with a lick of sense who is starting a business will sit down and try to figure these factors out to some degree.

It would seem that expected costs should be tough to figure. But actually, in this business, they are not. At least for most levels. It just will take a little homework is all.

So, let me first divide this discussion into three major areas.

Cost in Money.

Cost in Time.

Set Costs.

All three areas are critical to figuring overall expected costs of producing a product.

In the first two categories I’ll divide the discussion down into three major ways of running your company: 1) Do All Work Yourself. 2) Do Some Work Yourself, and 3) Hire all work done.

And, of course, the categories cross over. If you find your time more valuable than your money, then hiring things done will be more of an option. And so on.

Cost in Money 

1) Do It All Yourself: For Electronic Publishing

No costs. None, zero, zip. No actual costs that I can see at all if you want to do everything yourself, and I do mean everything. You lay out the book in some free program, lay out the cover in some free program, find free art at public domain sites or free photos or take your own electronic photos with a camera given to you as a gift at Christmas on a computer given to you for your birthday.

There is no cost at all to upload a file to Kindle, B&N, Kobo, iBookstore, and Smashwords (which then gets your story out to Sony and others). Use the free ISBN feature on Smashwords and Kobo and use the free tracking numbers (which are like ISBNs) for Kindle and B&N.

So, do all the work yourself and there are no real expense costs per project.

However, most of us buy our own computers, some of us have bought software we use to format books, and so on. There are all kinds of accounting tricks depending on how you set up your business (see Chapter One) to get some of that early expense money back when you start making money. (Talk to an accountant for help with business taxes if you do not understand taxes.) But for this discussion, let’s just assume you had the computer and the software before you formed this business and can use that equipment at no real cost to the business.

So, bottom line, there are basically no direct costs if you do all the work yourself and put everything up electronic and pod for print through CreateSpace. (I am not counting overhead at the moment, so accountants, stop shouting. I’m trying to be real basic here.)

2) Do Some Work Yourself: For Electronic Publishing

A few large warnings in this area that we have talked about in the New World of Publishing series. If you are going to hire help, do it the way you would hire day labor. Simply put, if you want to have a hedge on your property trimmed, but you don’t feel you have the time or the knowledge or the equipment, so you hire a gardener and pay him or her for the job. A one-time fee. That’s day labor.

Never give anyone a percentage of your property for a single task. Your copyright is a property (basically), so giving someone a percentage to do a simple job such as doing a cover would be like giving that gardener part ownership in your home for trimming a hedge one afternoon. When put that way, it sounds too stupid for any writer to do, right? Well, the stupidity of writers never ceases to amaze me when it comes to business, which is why I am saying this bluntly right here.

If you pay for a task to be done, pay a set price. Period. There are lots of new start-up businesses that offer a menu of tasks for set prices.

But let me also say this clearly right now. If you are worried about money, spend the time to learn how to do this yourself and have no real costs. This is not rocket science.

Now that I have been clear, there are some tasks you might not have the equipment to do. For example, I have a bunch of old books and short stories that at some point I will want to republish electronically and/or in POD form. But I do not have a good scanner and software to scan the book. I can clean it up afterward to a degree, but I will pay someone to do the scanning for me on a one-time fee per story or novel. (And don’t offer. Thanks, but I already know whom I will hire.)

So sit down, do the research (the homework I mentioned before), find the people, the businesses who can do what you need for a single fee, then compare prices, shop around, and mark the price down.

3) Hire All Work Done: For Electronic Publishing

In this area you have a lot of work to do to find someone or some other business to do all the work for you. (Giving a percentage of your property is again just silly. It may sound good, but it is too stupid for words.)

But if you do plan on hiring everything, do your homework, find the costs out, and then get the costs totaled and written down for all size projects you might do. You will need that number for the profit-and-loss statement you will be doing later on.

Print On Demand (Trade Paper)

1) Do Everything Yourself: Print on Demand (POD) Publishing

When we get into POD publishing, we start running into some costs and projected project costs. First off, just the POD publishers have some basic per project costs. CreateSpace is by far the cheapest to start and learn. CreateSpace is free to do plus cost of proof and they even give you free online proofs. WMG Publishing usually gets a book done and approved for under $25.00 per book, counting the $10 ISBN and proof costs.

As far as software and computers, you can do it yourself on any number of programs as readers have made clear in the comments sections of The New World of Publishing. WMG Publishing has gone ahead and invested in a top-line Mac computers, InDesign, and Photoshop for everyone. In fact, we have six of them on desks now around the building. Not cheap, but considering we are a full publishing company, a needed expense.

Again, talk to an accountant (which will cost as well) for how to figure in the capital expenditures of buying computers and such. But for per-project figuring of a POD book, the costs can range between basically free at CreateSpace to a lot more.  Estimate and research before you start to know which way you would like to go.

2) Hiring Some Help and 3) Hiring it Done Completely: POD Publishing. Do your homework. Get estimates. Then make sure you have those figures handy for figuring out a profit and loss calculation later on.

Cost in Time

1) Do It All Yourself: Cost of Time For Electronic Publishing

Wow, is this going to be tough for you to figure. Unless you already have book design skills and some cover skills, the learning curve will be painful and frustrating at times.

Again, this is not rocket science, but there is a learning curve, and learning not only takes time, but feels uncomfortable. Just ask anyone who has taken our cover or interior or electronic book design courses.

The early books and stories will take the longest amount of time. And you will make a lot of mistakes. But the book can always be changed later. That’s one of the values of electronic publishing.

As you learn, the time spent on each project will be less and less. Honest, it will. But how do you figure your time? That’s a calculation you will need to figure out.

As I have said before, I like Mike Resnick’s saying. “If you aren’t earning $500 per day, you are not having a good day.”  Since I work over ten hours per day, I just divide the $500 by 10 and get $50.00 per hour. That’s the number I use in my calculations and on any profit and loss calculation. It works for me. And I can tell you that some of those early stories I put up for WMG PublishingInc. will never earn out my wage because I was in major learning curve mode. Expect that.

However, I have another way of looking at this:

Your early projects are just school.

You don’t expect to get a direct return on an hourly basis from going to class or college to learn a skill. Think of the early books as learning classes and don’t charge your time against them. WMG Publishing had a meeting and decided that we all needed to develop skills, so we only did short stories for the first six months, just practicing, as if we were in school. Now the novels and other real projects are up and thanks to Allyson, they look a ton better. And we are making some money on those practice projects as well, but wow do some of them need to be switched out. We’ve been working on doing just that, but we don’t see the light at the end of that tunnel until late spring of 2015. From there on out, everything we do will be new.

There are workshops you can take at local universities on how to do this, or online. This is something that can be learned.

2) Hiring Partial Help and 3) Hiring it all Done: Cost of Time for POD Publishing.

This is where you as a publisher need to balance your available money with your available time. My suggestion to you is hold off on POD if you don’t have the money to hire help until you have the electronic sales earning money for you. And also, by then, you’ll be more comfortable with book production and can do it yourself.

But if you have enough money, again do your homework. Expect help on POD layout and covers to cost more because it takes longer. Get quotes per job and shop around. And then try to figure out how much time it will take you for each project, even with someone else doing some or all of the work. Each project will be different.

Set Costs

Set costs are expenses set by your work situation. Your computer connection fee, your electric bill, your office rent, and so on.

Best way to figure these costs if you are set up at home is set up a room or area in your home only for publishing. Then figure what percentage square foot of your house your office is. (Example: 1,200 square foot home. 200 square feet of dedicated office space. So 1/6th of all your home expenses are office expenses.)

Do not ignore these set costs. They mount up and should be calculated.

At first, these costs will be tough to figure in a per-project basis. But you need to try. For example how many projects can you get up per month? If your set costs are say $300 per month and you can manage 3 projects per month, than you need to put $100.00 in set costs against each project.

Given time you’ll catch the hang of all this. It doesn’t have to be to the penny, but do count set costs to act like a real publisher. And if you do, you’ll save money in taxes and such.

My Suggestions About Expenses

Back in 1987, Kris and I started Pulphouse Publishing Inc. because it seemed like a good idea at the time. And I was in a hurry, so instead of making sure I had the money first, I went out and borrowed enough money to get the business off the ground. And from that moment forward Pulphouse seemed to always have higher expenses than it had income.

Let me simply say: NEVER AGAIN!

So my suggestions from the school of hard knocks are:

1… Do it yourself.

If you can’t do it yourself, wait and keep learning until you can do it yourself. (I think this is the most important suggestion I will ever give you.)

2… Don’t spend one extra buck you don’t need to spend.

All successful business people are cheap. They spend only for needed expenses or learning.

3… Don’t put money pressures or expectations on the business and the sales of any project.

Sleeping is a lot more fun and you won’t sleep if you are constantly worrying about what you are doing wrong or trying to sell as many copies as some other writer.

4… Do Not borrow money to start this up.

Too much pressure. Let the money build slowly in the business account and only spend what you have available and then only after careful thought. WMG Publishing Inc. now has lots of help in the office. But we waited, even though we needed a ton of help, to hire anyone until we had a full year’s expenses in the bank. I did everything and we did it all from home.

5… Remember, if you do this yourself completely, this is a production business that has no real project costs beyond set costs.

Sure, as a writer, you have time and writing costs and office costs and such, and all that needs to be figured in. But you have no real production costs per book sold through your online stores. And you can make up to 70% of retail. Let the money build. There is no other business I know like this one.

6… Do Not get in a hurry.

Sure, I know this sometimes still feels like a gold rush, but those days are long past. This is the new normal and nothing much is going to change over the next few years besides minor details and problems on the traditional publishing side of things. Books do not spoil and readers do not vanish. You have the time to learn.

7… Think of the early projects as a form of school or class.

They are practice. Figure a profit and loss for them as well as practice, but don’t sweat that they might not make a profit until 2015 or 2020. Call them practice. Remember that copyright is for your life plus 70 years, and books don’t spoil.

8… Keep learning everything you can about publishing and business.

I’m afraid this does not mean listening to the other beginners on the Kindle Boards. It means talking to real business people who are running successful real-world business. Talk to them, ask them questions, ask them about bookkeeping and how they keep track of set costs and so on. Find people, not just publishing people, who run a successful business in your area and pick their brains. You will be stunned at how much you will learn.

One Final Reminder:

Keep having fun. If this isn’t fun, if writing isn’t fun, what is the point? Every time I get a new book in the mail, it’s a thrill. This is fun.

So have fun.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith




Think Like a Publisher 2015: Chapter One… The Early Decisions

Here we go again. It’s been over four years since I wrote the first version of Think Like a Publisher. And over a year since I updated it into a 2013 edition. Stunning how time goes by.

Since those first words all those years ago, the indie publishing world has gotten by the early years of the “gold rush” thinking and has now settled into a new normal that should last for years, if not decades. 2013 was the first year of that new normal.

Yes, things are still changing, but massive changes are now going to take place on the traditional side as major publishers scramble for their lives.

Also, the publishing company I helped start, WMG Publishing Inc. now has four full-time employees and three part-time employees and has published over 400 different book titles, with another hundred scheduled. 

As traditional publishers grab for more rights and become even more difficult to work with as they fight to stay alive, more and more writers are moving to indie publishing. As the writers make the jump, they ask basic questions on how to do it, how to be treated with respect as a publisher, and even how to do simple things like setting up a publishing business.

And questions such as how they get their books into bookstores. You can do that. Honest. I’ll talk all about it in coming chapters and I have talked about it in the chapters of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing.

But the key on almost everything these days is that you, the author, are starting a publishing company.

An indie publisher is still a publisher, the same as any traditional publisher.

Kill the term self-publishing from your vocabulary and start thinking of yourself as a business person with a business to run. A publishing business.

Think Like a Publisher 2015 is an updated version, including some of what has changed and what I have learned over the last year or more. I’m sure in another two years I’ll do another edition.

Every few days I will post a chapter for free here with a link under the tab above. The 2013 edition is still available in trade paper and electronic form. After I get done with these posts and reformatting the book, this edition will appear replacing the old one. But that will take a month or so.

And it will have a new cover. Trust me, it needs it. (grin)

Comments on each chapter are welcome and help us all learn, but keep the comments focused on the topic of the chapter, please. I’m going to cover a great deal in this book. 

I hope these chapters help you get a jump on learning how to be a publisher. And on finding an audience for your writing.

Chapter One:

The Early Decisions 

Some of the earliest decisions a publisher has to make can be changed down the road easily. Some are difficult to change. So, I’m going to break down some of these early decisions into basic groups. And keep in mind, there are no correct answers on any of these decisions. Just what you want to do.

You are the publisher. It is your business. Always remember those two basic elements and you’ll be fine.

Early Business Decisions

1… Pick a Name.

Yup, as a publisher, your business needs a name. This could be one of the hardest decisions to change down the road, so caution.

My suggestion: Pick a name that is easy for everyone to remember, that is fairly short, and that sounds like a publishing house imprint.

CRITICAL!!!  Make sure the name is not being used and go get the domain address. Do not wait. If there is any chance of using a name and it is open, grab the domain address. Just by simply checking on it being available might cause someone else to buy it. Grab it quickly.

If there is no available domain address with a .com in your business name, pick a new name for your business. Your publishing company must have a web site. (If you doubt this, take the Promotions online workshop we offer. You will understand a lot more about what I am talking about in this book from that workshop.)

Also, make sure that your author name is not in your publishing name. Stay away from any “self-publishing” thinking and act like a business.

2… Pick a Business Structure.

You basically have two choices. One, keep the business as a sole proprietorship. That means you own it all and on your taxes in the United States you file a Schedule C business form with your yearly taxes. Unless you are planning on growing your business very large or making a lot of money, this is the easiest way to go.

The second way is go to an attorney and an accountant and have them set up your publishing company as a corporation of one type or another, depending on your long-term plans. If you need to ask why you would want a corporation instead of a sole proprietorship, you don’t need a corporation. All a corporation will do is cause you more costs and get you in trouble if you don’t know what you are doing.

(Note: WMG Publishing Incorporated has a corporation structure. But we have employees and over four hundred titles and we know what we are doing.)

3…Open up a dedicated checking account under your business name.

This is easy to do in both types of business. For a regular sole proprietorship in most states, you simply get a form from your bank called a “Doing Business As” form. (There are different names in different states, but most call it a DBA.)

File that with the state and give the response to your bank and you can open up the business checking account.  Then, as you have money flowing in from all the sales in all the different sources, have the money go directly to your business checking account. And take all publishing expenses out of that account as well.

For heaven’s sake, keep all your receipts, just as you do with your writing.

If you started a corporation, you will know what to do. If not, ask your accountant and think twice about starting a corporation.

Early Business Structure Decisions

Okay, you’ve got a business name, a checking account, and have decided what type of formal business you are running. Now you need to decide what kind of structure your business is going to take inside the publishing house.

To determine that, ask yourself these simple questions and write down the answers.

Question 1:

Over the next five years, who is going to do all the production work?

A) You do it all.

B) You do some and hire out contract work for other parts.

C) Other people do it all.

D) Combination of the above depending on the project.

If you are going to do it all, ask yourself:

—Do you have all the tools to do covers and the computers and the software to do them? Or can you take classes to learn them. At WMG we actually teach six week classes in how to do book covers, paper book interiors, and electronic books that produce clean epubs and hold formatting.

— Do you have the ability to design covers? Or can you take a class and learn it? It is not rocket science. But it does have a learning curve. Just understanding branding and genre for covers takes some learning.

— Can you layout books for PDF files for POD publishing, both interior and cover? Or can you take a class and learn it?

And if not on any of those questions, what is it going to cost and how long will it take to learn how to do all these things? Most tasks are not difficult, but there is a learning curve that takes a little time.

(An aside: I did some pretty ugly covers starting off with an old computer and no good software in helping out WMG Publishing get started. It takes time to learn. Take the time if you plan on doing more than a few books and collections per year.)

If you are going to hire some jobs out, do you have the upfront money to do so? And do you even know a good cover when you see one? Be honest.

Upfront money. Yes, I said that. Welcome to being a publisher. Traditional publishers can spend a lot of money on your book before they ever earn a penny. You are now a publisher, not a writer. Expect up-front costs, but extreme caution on scams. Check with other writers and warning sites before signing up with any “publisher help” site.

Question 2:

How much inventory do you have or will you have in the next five years?

How many books are finished, but unsold? How many short stories? How many novels or stores sold are now reverted to you?

How much new product can you produce in the next five years? (Be realistic.)

If you only write one book every few years and have no inventory, frankly you don’t need to do much of this.

If you have a number of novels, numbers of short stories in inventory, and can write two or three novels a year and some side stories, then mark that down. Publishers work on a “publishing schedule.” Start setting that up as well and be realistic with yourself.

Inventory is critical in any business.

I will talk about inventory-in-business aspects of publishing in a later chapter. But for now, imagine opening a bakery and having only one kind of doughnut in the entire shop. You won’t get many customers.

Question 3:

Editing and Proofing.

Every publisher has proofreaders. How do you plan on handling that?

— Do you have a good first reader?

— Do you know whom you can hire for copyediting? You can often find someone at a local newspaper or an English department that will be reasonable. These are not book editors, only copyeditors.

— Can you trade with other indie publishers (writers) for proofing, with you working on reading their books while they read yours?

— If you hire a copyeditor, can you afford the up front fees?

There are other basic questions, but for now that should be enough to get you thinking on the right track as a publisher. In this new world, your books must be as clean as possible. There is no such thing as a perfect novel or a totally clean novel or story. But make them as clean as you can without going into stupidity.

In other words, spend the money or time to try to get them as mistake-proof as possible. Then release.

Early Business Chores

As you are setting up your publishing business, there are numbers of just basic chores that need to be taken care of.

I am assuming you plan on being both an electronic and POD publisher. If not, why not? Why make a decision so early on to limit your possible markets? Electronic only consists of about 20% of all trade book sales. (Higher in some genres.)

Plan to do it all, so that means you have chores to do. And trust me, these are chores.

Chore #1:

After you have your business checking account, so you don’t have to change these later, set up publishing accounts on Amazon, PubIt! (B&N), Kobo, Smashwords, and CreateSpace.

Note: there are many other book sales sites such as iBooks and OmniLit, but you can get to them later. (iBooks you can get to through Smashwords and other places until you get it all figured out.)

Chore #2:

Set up a PayPal account, hooked to your business account if possible.  You will need this in more ways than you can imagine, including down the road putting shopping carts on your web site among other things.

Chore #3:

Set up a placeholder web site, even if it is under construction as WMG Publishing website was most of 2014. You’ll get it fixed later. For WMG Publishing Inc., later has finally arrived the second time. And we are still on only stage two of the process as I write this in the summer of 2014.

There are other chores, like starting to explore how to get books in libraries and how to get ISBN numbers if you even want them, but for now, just stay with the first three. I’ll talk about ISBN numbers and library sales in future chapters in this series.

Early Decision:

What Kind of Publisher Do You Want To Be?

Okay, to keep this basic, there are three major types of publishers in publishing, and I don’t see this model changing at all. In fact, I see it becoming stronger. You can be solidly in one category or actually can function in all three if your readers are clear. But my suggestion is pick one to start.

1) Traditional-Style Fiction/Nonfiction Publisher

2) Discount Publisher

3) High-End Publisher

I will say right off that my first publishing company, Pulphouse Publishing Inc. (1987-1994), was a high-end publisher for the most part. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I sold some books for over $50.00 each and most of our books were signed and numbered and retailed between $20.00 and $35.00 each. Very high-end, and although we were trying to change it in the last few years with short story paperbacks and magazines, we never really made the shift before the end.

I will talk about each of these types of publishers and the different business models they demand in future chapters. But for now, here is a very quick summary of the three choices you have to make early on as a publisher.

High End:

I believe that High-End publishers will make great money in this new world with all sorts of enhanced products. This new world is gold for high-end collectors books. But it will take a publisher who can publish top names, do enhanced production and books, and knows how to put out top-quality leather and signed work. This area is difficult at best for a beginning publisher.

And this takes a large amount of cash to make work. Many, many start-up publishers have tried and mostly failed to get this kind of cash from places like Kickstarter.  Also, note that the number of collectors are way, way down these days.

Traditional-style Publishing:

Basically, this is the New York publishing model.

Books sell for all the traditional prices, go to the traditional outlets, and are bought by regular readers.  All bestsellers for the most part are traditionally published.  We have positioned WMG Publishing Inc. in this model. Traditionally published novels will continue to be the vast majority of all books published and where the highest profit margins are per product sold.

I would highly suggest this is your model as well. (Yes, you are setting up a small press in the traditional publishing model.)

Discount Publisher:

This area is very large in the publishing world in general and has many large companies working it. But to most writers and readers, it’s been kept a secret.

The outlets for discount publishers consist of discount shelves in normal bookstores, discount mall stores, and other types of discount stores. Many books beyond the bestsellers that you see at Costco are discount books.

In electronic publishing, the price being set by discount publishers is 99 cents. Now here in 2014, readers look to the 99 cent area with distrust UNLESS the book is on a sale.

That price was flooded with a ton of garbage and still is flooded. Caution going there with your electronic work now. Use that price range only down the road when you have a large inventory and want to do special promotions and sales.

In this area of publishing, the margins of profit are thin and the publishers depend on volume of sales to make even a decent profit margin. Very few traditional publishers have discount arms, but they do high discount at times to some stores like Wal-Mart. That is different than discount publishing as a business model.

Most discount publishers only focus on being discount publishers and go for the volume of sales.

Again, more on all three of these major types of publishers in future chapters.

As a new indie publisher, you want to decide what area of publishing in general you want to fit into. Make the decision as a business decision, not because you think you are a bad writer and your work has no value.

As I said, with Pulphouse Publishing Inc., I started as a high-end publisher and that was our plan from the start. It was only years later that we decided to try to move to the traditional model. And the move, once we were established as a certain type of publisher, was difficult at best.

WMG Publishing Inc. now is a traditional publisher. We are still in the medium press level. Most everyone reading this will be a small press in the traditional publishing model. That’s a great place to be.


That’s most of the basic early decisions you have to make once you decide to publish your own work. Get the business set up, do the chores, look at your start-up inventory, and then look hard and fast at what kind of publisher you want to be.

Being a publisher is fantastic fun. And it can be frustrating and sometimes downright scary. Don’t expect to get rich instantly on your first or even your fifth book.

The gold rush is over and now you must produce quality product with professional covers, active blurbs, and clean pages that readers want to read.  Your book must be able to sit on a shelf beside any other book being done by traditional or indie publishing.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith



The New World of Publishing: Who Really Cares?

Who Really Cares?

I did most of this as an answer to a good question on a recent post about traditional publishing and what is happening to it.

Actually, the question was about my opinion if traditional publishing was going to collapse or not.

Here is my expanded response:

Big five traditional publishing, as Passive Guy says, is in the middle of disruptive technology, and the big five are not responding in any sane manner. That’s really the problem. We are seeing a shift in the very nature of the business itself.

And so what you are hearing are the people invested in the old ways of doing things. So yes, the smart ones who see the problems are getting shrill. Not much else they can do.

Publishers, for about seventy years, have not sold directly to readers as they used to do. They have sold only to channels. And Amazon is now their biggest channel and it is pulling rank on them and that also has them shrill.

B&N (when it was the largest channel) did the same exact thing a few years ago, but no one seems to remember that.

Will any of the big five go back directly to readers in any real fashion? Nope. They wouldn’t even begin to understand how.

Will they go down the tubes? Yes and no, some will and some won’t.

Amazon is an American technology company, all but one of the big five publishers are overseas media conglomerations. Germany, France, and GB have a different set of standards in book publishing and that’s where the rules are being made for most of major book publishing in this country. So that is causing issues as well. (I do find it funny that an American company in battle with a French company is getting all the bad press for being unAmerican. (grin))

We will see, in my opinion, a ton of major imprints folding over the next few years, a bunch of publishing companies being shut down by their bosses overseas, and so on.

And we will see a rise in medium-sized, independently owned presses to fill in the gaps.

Book publishing is no longer a business centered only in the streets of New York. It has spread out and readers have far, far more books to pick from than ever before. And the number is growing every year.

And that’s a great thing for readers and not a good thing for the big overheads of those big publishers.

For example, Hachette does about 800 titles per year with huge overhead and a massive top-heavy staff. WMG Publishing here in Oregon does about 100 titles per year with tiny overhead and eight employees. We are a mid-sized publisher working fast and quick in the new system.

It will be publishers like WMG Publishing that will fill in the void being left by the traditional publishers. That is already happening and is historically normal.

But many major traditional publishers will remain, all owned by what will become the big four in short order, maybe down to the big three.

And uninformed writers, sadly, will continue to flock to bad traditional contracts and low advances and scam agents and in the process they will lose all their rights to their books. I don’t see that changing.

But I do see indie and small press publishing continuing to grow. And that is a very, very good thing for this business of publishing and readers in general.

So to me, honestly, what happens to the Big Five publishers is a shrug. It flat no longer matters to the future of books and publishing, and readers sure don’t care, so I honestly could’t care one way or another either, and I wonder why so many indie writers do care, to be honest.


—So readers don’t care who publishes the books they enjoy.

— Writers can make more money and have more control doing it themselves and selling directly to readers and they keep their rights to their own work.

— Bookstores can get as many (if not more books) from indie and small press, and sometimes with better discounts. (WMG Publishing gives 50% discounts plus free shipping.)

— Editors and proofreaders can work directly with writers and make more money than living in a tiny closet in New York and answering to corporate bottom line.

— Online distributors don’t care where they get their books to sell to readers.

— The future of books and publishing is safe in the readers and writer’s hands. Far safer than in the hands of accountants in New York.

So who of importance really cares about five large publishers, four of which are owned by major overseas conglomerates?

They could go out of business, they could remain in business. Makes no difference to me. Shrug.

And I doubt, very highly, that it will make the slightest bit of difference either way to reading and publishing and literature going into the future.



Money Always Flows to the Writer

On John Scalzi’s blog there was a great discussion on Yog’s Law (coined by Jim McDonald a very long time ago), which is basically “Money Always Flows to the Writer.” And how indie publishing has not changed that law.

Writers still have a writing business. (Here I am always trying to get writers to think like a business person.)

When deciding to indie publish, writers set up a publisher, which is a second business. That publisher must spend money, but the money still flows to the writer.

As Scalzi said, in indie publishing, the control of the money remains with the writer. The moment you give away the control of how the money is spent, you are in trouble.

Money always flows to the writer.

In indie publishing, money is always controlled by the writer.

Great blog and some great comments. Worth the read.

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing: #9… You Must Sell Books Cheaply

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the ninth myth to hit indie writers is this:


This myth is so nasty, it causes huge fights among indie writers. And the reason is that every indie writer believes they are right in their way of doing things in pricing. And yet wrong pricing, either too cheap or too expensive, can really hurt sales.

So what is the right answer? What is the right price?

As with so much in publishing, that depends.

Some History

 Back when electronic books came in, and when KDP opened up the gates to allow indie small press publishers in the door, electronic books were still a very new thing. Electronic books composed somewhere around a half of 1% of all books sold, if that.

But when those gates opened, authors, for the very first time had the complete freedom to value their own work to readers. And with that freedom came some very interesting decisions.

Authors had to balance value with discounts to get readers to buy in a new delivery form for fiction.

First off, a bunch of traditional published writers, me included, had a sense that electronic books had less value (we were used to paper so we could be forgiven that thinking early on). So when we started into selling electronic books, we priced our books at the lowest point allowed, which was 99 cents.

Joe Konrath, a traditionally published writer was the leader of this 99-cent movement.

But as time wore on in that first early stage, and it looked like ebooks were here to stay and were growing in percentage of all books sold, many of us started realizing that we could price our books higher, but still lower than traditional publishers and make a ton of money and still give readers good deals. We didn’t need to toss our books into the discount bin of 99 cents just to make a few sales.

In other words, readers were starting to value electronic books.

Traditional publishers helped indie publishers a lot in this very early period by deciding that they didn’t like electronic books and priced them up near hardcover levels, as if an ebook was a specialty item. (Wow, was that a stupid idea.)

And for a time, they postponed ebook releases for a year after the hardback as they used to do with mass market paperbacks. (Another scary stupid idea.)

After a year or so, I looked at both sides with head-shaking puzzlement. No way in hell was I going to get 35 cents for a sale of a novel (My share if I published a novel for 99 cents). I got a lot more per book in royalties than that from New York on a paperback sale.

But on the flip side, there was no way in hell was I going to price a novel in electronic form at $15.99.

Publishing needed a middle ground.

At this point, the traditional publishers got together to break the law and hold prices high and stop allowing retailers to discount. And indie publishers were still fighting among themselves about the right low price, racing to the bottom as I liked to call it.

After another year or so, (note, we were about three years in at this point) what started to become clear as electronic books exploded in sales was that readers were buying electronic books in place of mass market paperbacks, the pocket-sized books that sold around $7.99. In fact, over the last few years, the mass market form of book continues to shrink in sales almost in direct relation to the growth in ebooks sales. (Trade and hardback segments have grown along with audio.)

So it seemed to a lot of us that a logical place to price a novel was in the area just under the price of a mass market paperback. (The $4.99 to $7.99 price range.) That allowed authors to get the most value for their work and allowed readers to get a deal.

Eventually, the strident discount sellers in the indie world, including Joe Konrath, slowly brought their prices up. And the people running traditional publishing slowly brought some of their prices down into the $7.99 to $9.99 range for an electronic book.

So now, as I write this here in the middle of 2014, pricing on electronic books, in most cases, has stabilized in a range for novels.

That price range tends to be $2.99 to $9.99 for genre fiction novels, with the indie writers being on the $2.99 side (some at 99 cents still) and the traditional publishers being on the $9.99 side of the scale (some at $15.99 still).

The Danger of the Myth

To this day, you hear the indie writers shouting about pricing in the low ranges, saying everyone needs to do that. And that low range from 99 cents to $2.99 for a full novel has become known as a discount range.

But so many indie writers don’t have a clue what the word “discount” even means.

And to make matters worse, new writers think their new novel has no value. What they don’t realize is if they had sold their novel to a traditional publisher, it would have sold fine at the high price range set by traditional publishers.

So the beginning writers price their novel at the bottom of the scale out of sheer fear and being in a hurry to make as much as possible.

For them, that first bloom of sales often quickly vanishes, or in this new world of readers becoming aware, the sales don’t happen much at all. And the new writer feels hopeless, stops writing, follows the myths of promotion, and lowers their price even more.

And eventually the new writer can see no reason to write the next book because they made so little money.

A deadly myth.

Because of pricing and getting in a hurry, dreams are shattered.

 What is Discounting?

I’m going to make this scary simple. Those of you who really understand publishing, don’t laugh. I’m trying to make this plain and clear.

Discounting in the book industry comes in two forms.

The first form is the chains of stores called “discount stores” that take remainders from publishers, or buy cheap books published directly into the discount sales channels. (Book Warehouse is only one of a number of such bookstore chains. You usually find them in discount malls.)

The sale books you see up front in a B&N store are discount books, published for those shelves only, or high-discount books sold by the publisher for that table. (Authors make little or no money on high discount books sold like that.)

In this same area, there are the discount bins and tables that most indie bookstores have. Those are filled with books that didn’t sell that the bookstore owner just wants out of the way. One indie owner here in our town has a cart that wheels out onto the front area of the store and it’s full of ten-cent books.

The second form of discount is what are simply called “sales.” Amazon or GooglePlay always discounts books by some percent. That’s one form of sale.

Or if you have your book priced at $5.99 and put it through Bookbub for $2.99 for a short time, that’s a discount.

And so on. Sales that lower a higher set price are called discounts.

The problem with starting your price of your book out so low in the first form, you have no room for the second part of discounting, and your main buyers are not necessarily loyal readers, but just discount buyers. Nothing at all new about that in publishing. A fact of publishing for the last fifty-plus years.

Pricing Your Book Because You Feel Insecure.

Doing that is not a business strategy. That’s a wake-up call that you need a confidence boost.

If you find yourself saying, “But I don’t have a name so I should give my books away to get a name.” You don’t understand anything about this business.

And if you use the term, “I’m doing it to ‘get readers,’ you might want to really step back and look at your own reading habits.

Do you remember an author with one book that you stumbled upon and downloaded for free a year ago? And that author had nothing else at the time published. Do you honestly remember that author’s name?

And if you downloaded it for free, did you even read it?

Building a fan base is one thing that is very real, AND IMPORTANT! But building a real fan base comes over a lot of years and a lot of books. Put a newsletter sign-up on your website to see how many true fans you really have at the moment.

“Getting a reader” just doesn’t work in any reality, especially when they didn’t pay anything for the book.

Math For a Moment

Time to do a little math just for fun.

I am talking genre novels here. And I am only using Kindle pricing structure.

—Your Price… 99 cents. You get 35 cents per sale.

—Your Price… $1.99.   You get 70 cents per sale.

—Your Price… $2.99. You get $2.09 per sale.

—Your Price… $3.99. You get $2.79 per sale.

—Your Price… $4.99. You get $3.49 per sale.

—Your Price… $5.99. You get $4.19 per sale.

—Your Price… $6.99. You get $4.89 per sale.

—Your Price… $7.99. You get $5.59 per sale.

Now I am a business person. I know a lot of writers are not, but I am, so my concern is finding a right mix of sales vs. price to get the largest income.

And this is where the fun comes in for every indie publisher.

Most of us know that the 99 cent and $1.99 price for novels is just too low for anything but a short term sale of a novel.

But look at that $2.99 price. You need to ask yourself this: If you set your price at $2.99, would you sell twice as many copies as you would sell at $5.99 to make basically the same amount of money?

And would that sales rate sustain?

That’s a decent business question and I honestly have no answer because, as I said above. It depends.

FOR ME PERSONALLY, I like the $5.99 rate because it allows me to do sales along the way. I also like the $7.99 price because every sale makes a lot of nice income. And it looks better when discounted as well.

And I can bundle them, lowering the price per book down and still make great money.

And my books look close enough to traditional published prices as to not shout that they are not. I like having my books lumped in that area, just under the prices of traditional publishers. My books, in comparison, look like a deal compared to a $9.99 electronic book from Putnam.

But not a devalued deal.

But that’s just me personally. As a business person, I like the upper three prices for the reasons I stated and a number more. But again, there are no right answers.

But if you don’t look at that math when making the decision, chances are you are making a wrong decision for the wrong reasons.

This is a business. You have a product to sell. Each product is unique, so make the pricing decision on that, not on some myth belief that indie books must be priced low.

What About Short Fiction Pricing?

I personally price my short stories at $2.99 and then do a paper edition for the stand-alone story and price it at $4.99.

Do I expect many people to buy a short story in paper for $4.99? No, but I like them and am using them for other things, such as signed paper bundles and so on.

But the $4.99 price for a paper edition of the short story makes the $2.99 look better to the consumer and I do sell short stories at that price. Not a great deal, but some.

Would I sell more at 99 cents? Sure. No doubt.

Would I make more money with my short stories priced at 99 cents? Probably not.

For every story I sell, I get $2.09 cents at $2.99. I would get 35 cents at 99 cents. I would need six sales at 99 cents to make about the same amount as selling one at $2.99. I can’t see that happening with short stories.

Plus, to me, my stories are worth $2.99.

And to hold off a bunch of questions, that price is for anything under 10,000 words. Anything. I trust my readers to know if they want to have an experience for $2.99 or not. That’s up to them.

Again, no right answer.

The freedom of indie publishing means you can set your own price for your own reasons.

But I suggest you look at real business reasons for each pricing choice. Don’t follow me or Konrath or anyone on this. Make your own business decision. You are free to do that now.

Collections and Bundles?

I tend to price collections electronically around the same price as a novel, maybe a little less. (Right now I am in the process of redoing my few collections and doing a bunch more.) On bundles, it flat depends. No set answer at all.

Now interestingly enough, I do Smith’s Monthly, an 80,000 word “collection” magazine every month with a full short novel in it, four or five short stories, some nonfiction, and two serial novels.

I sell that electronically for less than what I sell the novel for when the novel comes out as a stand-alone a few months later. My fans are slowly picking up on that and subscribing to the Monthly, which gets them an even better deal.

That’s my way.

Smith’s Monthly is good value for content and price. My short stories are set where I am comfortable and they sell a few, my novels I set in the price range just under traditional, but not much.

Those are my business choices.

And what is great fun, I get to make the choices.

And so do you.

Genre Does Matter

No discussion of pricing in this moment in time would be even close to complete without mentioning genre.

Electronic books are major factors now in many genres, even though across all of publishing electronic books are around the 23% level of all book sales. But in some genres, that number has soared past 50% and is still climbing. And in erotica, it might be approaching 100% for all I know.

So with your pricing business decisions, you must be aware of your genre. For example, many, many readers in romance are discount readers. They are rabid readers who can devour three or four books per day without an issue. So price is critical to them. (Nothing new in romance, they have always been that way.)

And romance writers have always been fast writers, but now even they have had to pick up speed to keep their readers satisfied. So if you are writing into the romance or erotica genres, you would be better served to price down in the $2.99 to $3.99 area. And do a ton of discounting off of that.

On the other side of the coin, mystery and thriller readers are paper readers, and high value readers. Electronic sales are not large yet in the mystery genre.

Mystery readers will spend $8.99 for a mass market paperback or $27.99 for a hardback. There are very, very few discount mystery readers, so you would be better served to shout to the mystery readers that your books have value electronically and get the price in the $6.99 to $7.99 range. And make sure you have a paper edition as well.

Genre plays into your business decisions on pricing. Never forget that.


For the most part, pricing for indie publishers has settled into a range from $2.99 to $7.99 for electronic novels. Depending on a host of factors.

Every publisher, every author, needs to decide for themselves how they want to present themselves to readers.

Every publisher needs to understand the reality of their own genre.

So my suggestions to you to help you find your right price for a book:

1… Look at your genre and the pricing of the other books in that genre. Both traditional and indie.

2… Start your book slightly higher than you feel is right. You can do sales to give readers deals.

3… Take a long approach. Put your book up at a price and go back to writing. Check the income and sales per month, but don’t touch the price (except for a special sale like a Bookbub) for one year. (See Chapter Six on Giving Your Garden Time to Grow.)

4… When you have four or five books in a series, but not before, think about discounting the first one down some (but not too low) to draw in readers. And do sales and special promotions on that first book to get readers into the series. That’s the time you can start using price as a really effective weapon in sales.

5… Watch what the traditional publishers are doing for electronic books in your genre at least once per year and stay just below them. That will make your book look professional, yet give readers a deal. Again, a long-term effective way to use the power of price.

6… Get a long-term business plan and stick with it. And by long term, I mean at least five years or more. At least. And most of that plan should be focused on writing, not pricing.

Every indie publisher now has the choice of what to price their own books. Every indie publisher is different.

Base your pricing decisions on a business plan, set the price on a book, and forget it for a year before looking at the price decision again. (Except for sales.)

This choice is a wonderful thing we now all have.

But don’t let the choice drive you away from your writing.

Set it, forget it.

Go have fun writing the next book.


Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing… #6: Put The Book Up and Leave It.

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the sixth myth to hit indie writers is this: I CAN PUT A BOOK UP FOR SALE AND LEAVE IT FOREVER


This double-headed myth is a real killer to income and books.

A paraphrased conversation I had with a friend sort of sums up this myth.

A friend of mine said, “Joe Konrath say that as indie writers, we must tend our gardens.”

I agreed, but added, “And we need to learn when to leave the garden alone to grow as well.”

I have heard both sides of this myth a lot, and I’m sure early on in this new indie world, I advocated one side or the other a few times myself, more than likely far more than a few times.

Now I advocate walking a line on balance.

Some History

For a century and more, books had no staying power, for the most part. There were always books that survived in the used and rare world. Sure. But rarely did a book outside that world survive in any fashion, with a few exceptions.

The exceptions were the very, very unusual books that found new readers generation after generation and that publishers kept them in print.

In modern publishing, those books tended to be classics, or young adult books. In fact, for a few decades, the backlist (older books) in young adult sold better than the front list (new books put out that year).

Sadly, very, very few genre books were kept in print for very long. Even classics and major award winners are lost and out of print, unless brought back into print by a small press.

But the publishers of those books that had a long life were doing what indie writers need to learn to do. Every four or five years, they would put on an updated new cover, or reissue the book with some sort of fanfare, or some other new promotion. (Note: I said every few years, not every other month.)

But for the majority of all books published in the last century, the print runs were either limited, or the book was considered disposable.

The disposable aspect of books came from two major places. First came World War Two, where paperbacks were included as supplies to the soldiers to be read and passed around and then tossed away. Second, publishers started to just ask for covers back of many books in the returns system to save on shipping, so the bookstores would strip the covers and get credit for the unsold books.

After decades, books to traditional publishers became like bananas on a fruit stand. If they didn’t sell quickly, they spoiled and thus were destroyed, put out of print, and forgotten.

Books became produce. (And sadly, to traditional publishers, they still are. Plus they have become assets of a corporate balance sheet even if they are out of print or only for sale in a bad and expensive electronic edition.)

Up until the last five years or so, and the rise of the electronic book, this was the feelings for books and how authors felt about them as well.

I can’t believe how many times I heard from authors in traditional publishing that you were only as good as your last book. (I’m sure I said that myself a few times along the way, and I believed it because I worked in traditional publishing.)

So this idea that indie writers now have books they can publish and keep in print for a long time is great. But they publish it and then what do they do? And here comes this duel-sided myth.

Indie writers tend to fall into two crazy camps.

Camp One: They put the book up and change the price weekly and the cover monthly.

Camp Two: They put the book up and forget it.

There is a balance point in the center of the two camps, which is where the analogy of tending a garden comes in perfectly.

Indie writers, in this case, must learn from the way that traditional publishers treated classics and bestselling young adult books. The traditional publishers kept those books alive and selling for decades.

Indie writers can do the same thing if they know what they are doing.

The Silliness of Both Sides

To start off, you must learn to look at books with a long view into the future. Very few writers do this.

Very, very few.

Almost no writer I know looks at books as an investment that could pay off over decades.

So let me use the “tend the garden” analogy to show the two extremes.

The Care-Too-Much problem.

You plant some corn seeds in your garden. (That’s publishing your book to be clear.)

Come back the next day, nothing is happening to the seeds in your garden, so you give them more water, sit in the window watching, nothing happens, water it more, watch more.

On day three, since there is nothing happening yet, you decide you must have planted the seeds in the wrong place, so you dig up the seeds and move them, give them more water, plant them again.

Sit and watch for something to happen. Maybe you put the seeds too deep, so you dig them up again and bring them right to the surface.

Watch. Two days later nothing.

You panic.

So you dig the seeds up again and bury them deeper because you read on a blog somewhere that’s what you should do.

And on and on and on.

You get the picture I hope. Books are like corn. They are not magic, they take time to find an audience. Books take time to grow an audience.

So what about the other side of this? The Put The Book Up and Forget Problem.

You decide to plant corn in your garden. You plant the seeds. (Again this is publishing a book.)

You walk away from your garden and go back to work and don’t even bother to water anything or weed anything. In six months or a year or two you look at it again and the corn is dead, buried under weeds.

Note that neither extreme works well.

Most indie writers I have met are the first example, not giving anything time to grow or live, messing with it all the time.

I tend to fall in the second camp far too much because of my training that books are written and then gone. So I plant seeds and forget them and do nothing to help anything along.

Both sides of this myth do not produce good LONG TERM product year after year.

A Way Out of the Two-Sided Myth

Perspective is the way to the center from both sides of this myth.

And continuing to learn about how book buyers find books helps as well.

So using Kris and myself as an example here, and what I did when electronic books got started, let me show you some aspects of both sides, and the problems of both sides.

Way back when Kindle first opened the KDP program, a friend taught a number of other writers and me how to get books onto Kindle and Smashwords. (I have detailed in other places how I slowly came to realize how my backlist, with this new system, was a gold mine waiting to be tapped.)

So as with most things I do, I jumped in and went to work. My attitude back then was I needed to get as many titles up as I could as fast as I could.

It was just me doing all the work, and I was putting up my own stories and Kris’s short stories and then eventually we started putting up some backlist novels.

And one and a half years later, I had over 200 titles up on Kindle, Smashwords, and B&N.

I had not gone back and looked at a one of them. Just put the book or story up and moved to the next one.

After a year and a half, the books were making enough money that we could hire some fulltime help. Since we had started a major publishing company once before (Pulphouse Publishing in 1987), we knew where this was heading, so we created a corporation and found the best person to run the business.

All paid for because I had pushed over 200 plus titles up and left them alone.

Allyson Longueira came on board and after looking at everything for a month and getting herself up to speed, she came to me and Kris and said simply, “We need to change everything, every cover, everything we have up so far. And we need to reproof everything and redo all the blurbs.”

In other words, I had paid no attention to the garden and it was covered in weeds and the income was about to be choked off if we didn’t do some weeding and new planting and repairing.

You see, my covers sucked. I had done them in Powerpoint quickly. And the blurbs I hadn’t paid the slightest bit of attention to, and proofing was lax on those early books. We often used the traditional publisher printed versions of our stories and those, as are most traditional published books, were riddled with mistakes.

Allyson was right. At the two-year mark after I started putting stuff up as fast as I could, we needed to tend that garden.

She started fixing things, and we put up some new books as well, and we started working on the old blurbs and took off the worst offending covers fairly quickly. By the time she had been with us for six months, our title count was up to 250 titles, and she wasn’t a quarter of the way through fixing the old stuff.

But the garden was starting to look better at least.

And the income was increasing, especially since the new work we put up was much better in look, blurbs, and proofing.

And readers of indie books were starting to expect better at this point in indie publishing and we were shifting to give it to them.

The extra money coming in allowed us to hire more help in WMG Publishing. About a year after hiring Allyson, we had enough to start the audio department as well.

After one year, we had managed to fix all but a few of those early titles I had done quickly, and our title count was over 300 titles.

That’s a very large garden, let me tell you.

Now, another year plus has past, we are over 400 titles and climbing, and almost all but a very few have been touched and fixed from those early days. And many of the first changes Allyson did when she started have also been changed out again.

We have branded the covers and books on the major series and are in the process of branding to series and to genre the minor series as well.

We have a proofreader on staff, a full-time promotions person coming on board in a month, and a second and third sales team members coming on board this fall.

Now understand, when I say the word “we” in that above story, it’s not me anymore doing much besides writing checks. Sure, I do Smith’s Monthly covers and layout and I help edit Fiction River and that’s it.

In fact, right now I spend most of my daylight time working on online workshops, which I love and which keep me learning.

Kris and I do not run WMG Publishing and haven’t now for more than a year. Allyson is the publisher and CEO, we call her the boss, and she runs the business and the seven or eight employees and works with the authors in Fiction River and so on.

Kris and I created an indie/traditional publisher hybrid.

Honestly, many bestselling authors who are leaving traditional publishing are doing the same sorts of things in various forms, hiring help for many aspects that are needed in this new indie world.

Kris and I let the money coming from the indie publishing build the business. We plowed every cent back into the growth. And we still are.

In other words, we are investing our income in our future.

So now our garden is well-tended, unlike what it was back three years ago. It is expanding every month as Kris and I continue to add in new backlist and keep writing new front list books and stories as well. I would imagine our title count will be past five hundred by the end of 2014.

And Fiction River has brought in many other authors and editors and WMG has plans to expand into many new projects as time and money allow.

How did we do this? Honestly, we found a balance between leaving the garden alone and spending too much time on every title.

At four hundred plus titles, we can’t pay attention to every title, and yes, some get forgotten for a time, so we still lean a little too much to the put-up-and-forget side of things. But that will be changing a lot as 2014 goes on.

 Suggestions to Find a Balance.

The WIBBOW test was coined by professional writer Scott William Carter. WIBBOW stands for:

Would I Be Better Off Writing?

For indie writers, the answer is almost always yes. As I discovered as I pounded up over 200 different backlist titles from Kris and my decades of writing, new product sells old product.

The best promotion is always the next book.

But covers must be tended to and as your knowledge grows about covers, you must fix covers every three or four years. Sometimes genre trends just move in looks. You need to stay abreast of the changes. (That takes research time as well.)

As you get better at writing active sales copy instead of dull, passive plot summaries, your blurbs need to be fixed.

To get the book in the right place, you also need to keep learning genre. That’s critical to sales.

And then there is that ugly topic of pricing, which I will talk about in the 9th Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing coming up shortly.

So here are my suggestions to find a balance, since I have been in this since the beginning of this crazy movement, and also spent decades in traditional publishing.

1)           Publish the book with the best modern-looking cover to genre you can do, with the best blurb, and with luck in the right spot in the bookstores.

2)           Get the book into as many places as you can, from Kindle to Kobo to B&N to iBooks to Smashwords to audio to paper editions. Everywhere. You must try to find as many readers as you can.

3)           Tell your social media, your friends, your family, get it to a few bloggers, and other minor promotions you may do, and that’s it. WIBBOW test.

4)           Go back to writing. Write the next book. DO NOT TOUCH THE PREVIOUS BOOK.

5)           Check your sales every month at the end of the month. Not sales numbers, but income from that book. Let me say that again. Track INCOME. You need to track what each book (title) is making you per month total from all the sites. (TrackerBox program can do this for you.)

6)           After one year, look at the sales figures for each of your titles. If one title is not selling hardly at all, time to take a look at it. Check first the location on the shelf, the genre. Have a friend read it and see if your idea of the genre matches your friend’s. If it does, then look at the blurb. If it is full of plot and passive verbs, learn how to rewrite that into sales language. Then have someone look at your cover and tell you the truth about it. Somehow who knows commercial book covers.

7)           Fix what needs to be fixed on all under performing titles, and go back to writing. In other words, tend the garden and let things continue to grow.

8)           With every title, novel, short story, or collection, check the sales after one year to see if they are on track.

In the next Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing, I talk about the myth of small sales numbers. So that will help you understand how to judge when a book is selling well and when it is under performing and needs tending.


 This myth can really kill sales and entire writer’s careers.

On one side, the example of waiting for growth every few days in a garden, the myth can cause extreme disappointment. And frustration. And it can kill writing of new projects and titles.

The other side of putting up and ignoring doesn’t allow your books to change with the times, doesn’t allow you to follow and fix under-performing titles, and flat isn’t good business when you have a valuable property.

Each title is a property. Remember that. Putting the title up and ignoring it for too long would be like building a house and then just letting it sit, not doing anything to it to keep it up. It might be fine for a time, but eventually it will need work and repair.

So find a balance between too much change on a title and too little change.

But my biggest suggestion to everyone is think of publishing as a long-term business.

Think in units of years, not units of days.

Give readers time to find your work, to read your work, to enjoy your work.

Tend your garden. But don’t overwater it on one side, or let the weeds and lack of care choke it out on the other.

Find a balance.

And have fun.




Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing… #4: You Need An Agent to Sell Overseas

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the fourth myth to hit indie writers is this:

You must have an agent to sell a book in translation overseas.

This myth is based out of newer writers just not knowing facts and agents trying to stay relevant in a changing world.

Some History

More than fifteen to twenty years ago, it was difficult, at best, to sell many translation rights overseas for your books that were published here in the States. It took connections and even knowing who the overseas publishers were. 

Then came along this funny little invention called e-mail. And the internet.

You all know what that is, I’m sure.

And overseas publishers could get directly in contact with writers. And with the increase in writer web sites, that’s how overseas publishers got hold of writers, who then in the early days, not knowing any better, (and I was no exception) just sent the overseas publisher on to my agent.

And that’s just the way it was done back in those dark days where we all had to walk both ways, uphill, in the snow, just to get a book published.  It was horrid, I tell you. Horrid.

But Things Have Changed

I know a lot of people, a vast number of people in agent-land and traditional publishing, don’t want newer professional writers to know things have changed. They want the old system to continue. But sadly for them, and great for the rest of us, things have changed a great deal.

Some general facts:

— In general, publishing contract with any publisher outside of North America is simpler by factors and factors. And easy to read.

— In general, publishing contracts from publishers outside of North America are clear to what the translation publisher is buying.

— In general, publishing contracts from publishers outside of North America have clear termination and reversion dates in them. And often limitations on print runs without a renewal.

— In general, after the first contract or two, you can do your own and negotiating is not often done. A small fee to an intellectual property attorney will often be enough on the first one or two.

— In general, most overseas contracts, (now all translation sales) are small unless your book is really taking off. Nature of smaller markets. Modern agents often don’t feel it is worth their time to do a short-term $500 contract and get $50. (Their overseas agent will take the other $50 in fee.) So they often don’t bother for their clients. Far too much work for them to deal with, they feel. (I personally like a $500 sales to a translation company.)

— In general, agents HATE contracts that have limited press runs, one fee, and no royalties because that means once they have the contract done, they get no more money and have no more hold on the book. So agents will try to make an overseas contract far, far more complex and add royalties.

— In general, the biggest area for agent embezzlement is from overseas book royalties. Author’s don’t know they are owed money because seldom do overseas agents forward the paperwork or the money from the overseas publisher, and if they do, the money often gets stopped or “forgotten” in the states agency. Hard for an author to actually get regular overseas royalty payments.

But How Do I Sell a Book Overseas Without An Agent?

This is the area that just stunned me when I learned it about agents. About one third of all agencies in the United States farm out their overseas sales to another agency here in the States that does nothing but sell books overseas. The second agency does massive lists with hundreds and hundreds of authors names and books on it. (Nothing more.)  And they regularly ship these gigantic lists to overseas agents to try to pitch to translation companies through overseas agents.

So, the flat honest truth is that unless you are a major bestseller, your book is ignored. When you have all the writers from twenty or thirty agencies on a huge list the size of a small town phone book, trust me, only the top even get looked at. And there are no covers or blurbs. Just title and author name, and sometimes genre.

That’s another ugly truth about how most agents “respect” your work and try to sell it overseas. They will flat tell you they are trying to sell you book overseas, then give the name and author name to another agency, who will add it on a list to go along with thousands of others.

So you are an indie writer. Right? How do you get your books noticed overseas?

Let me think…

Oh, yeah, you publish the thing in all markets. Duh.

Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and so on down through the smaller electronic distributors and international stores. And when you do, you click all the overseas channels.

And boom, your book is available in English worldwide.

Last month alone, Kris and I sold English language books in 26 different countries. That’s so normal, we seldom notice that now, where ten years ago, that would have been a major deal.

If you have your book available worldwide in English, people all around the world will have a chance to see your book, (with cover and blurb). If editor or someone at an overseas translation house reads your book and likes it (called a submission in the old world, but today they buy it instead), and the editor thinks your book will fit their translation line, the editor will contact you directly through your own publisher web site.

Or your author web site. (You do have “contact me” tabs, don’t you?)

So it goes like this so this is clear:

Step one… You publish your book through all electronic and paper outlets available. (Not just Kindle.)

Step two… Your book is available with your great cover and blurb, world-wide, for anyone to buy in English.

Step three… An editor of a translation line at a publisher in an overseas company is looking for books for his line that will fit his topic. He finds and buys your book and reads it and likes it and thinks it will fit his line of books.

Step four… The editor contacts you by e-mail.

Step five… The editor will often ask for who your representative is. You write them back and say simply. “My attorney and I handle all translation sales.”

Step six… The editor will make an offer directly to you. You say you are interested depending on the terms.

Step seven… The editor e-mails you a contract, you check it for rights grabs, sign it and e-mail it back.

Step eight…  The translation publisher will send you the money by Paypal, wire, or direct transfer into your bank account.


The translation publisher will  send you a copy of your book in French or German or whatever when the book hits print.

It really is that simple.

Scary simple.

Since I got rid of my agent, and Kris got rid of her agent, we get factors more offers from overseas publishers. The agents we had were blocking the small offers, while we take them, for the most part.

And the overseas translation publishers are finding our books because we are publishing them in English all over the world.  In every format through every store. And keeping them in print all over the world.

As I said, things have changed.

So Why Is This Myth Still So Strong?

Actually, in this new world, it’s logical why this myth that needing an agent to sell overseas is still strong.

1… Generally, newer professionals just feel this is scary. (It’s not, if you don’t panic and give it to an agent.)

2… Generally, newer professionals do not know copyright, which means they do not understand that all contracts must be done in the language of the author. (Berne Convention) They think they are going to get something in Chinese or something. Learn copyright, people.

3… Generally, agents are losing income and power by the day, so they promote this to get young, unwary professionals on board to sign their agency agreements. And many agency agreements are rights grabs of authors’ works. Yet authors sign them all the time and discover the hard way they are trapped and have signed away percentages of their book for life of the copyright.

4… Generally, this area is a large money-maker for agencies because authors allow agents to have all the money and all the paperwork with that money, so overseas sales are easy to just leave in the agency accounts and misplace the paperwork. (All unintentional, of course… cough) So agents really, really push this to unwary newer professional writers and older professionals too busy to think it through.

5… Generally, authors feel that selling overseas in translation means they must send out stories into slush piles or something like that to get an overseas publisher to look at their work. So they think agents have the contacts, and agents pretend they do have the contacts. (Their contact is another agency here in the States.)

Authors don’t realize that if they indie publish (not traditional), their books go out across the world to be seen.

And that’s all there is to it.


There is no reason at all in this modern world to have an agent on an overseas translation sale. None.

— Contracts are simple and you can spend a few bucks to have a IP rights attorney look at the first two or so until you feel comfortable with what you are reading.

— Contracts are in your language and the money comes directly to you.

— Translation publishers see your book if you are publishing it in English around the world. There is no such thing as “selling” done by an agent. Your book sells itself and they find it because it’s out there. (And if agent tries to convince you they can “sell your book overseas” ask them for a list of their overseas partner agencies, or ask if they go through a “specialty agency” here in the states. Either way, the agent who is telling you he will sell the book is lying, flat out. They will not. Period. They will simply hand off your book to someone else and do NO work.)

— The agent ship is going down quickly. Don’t have your books trapped in their agency agreements because you are afraid of something that might take you all of thirty minutes to do.

Holding  a copy of your book in translation in your hand is great fun. You might not be able to read it, but it sure feels neat.

Avoid this huge pitfall that agents are trying to sell you in desperation.

And have fun.

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Class #51… June 6th … The Business of Writing
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Class #55… June 7th … Teams in Fiction
Class #56… June 7th … Depth in Writing
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Class #5… July 12th … Character Development
Class #6… July 12th … Depth in Writing
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Class #10... July 13th … Teams in Fiction

Class #11… Aug 8th … The Business of Writing
Class #12… Aug 8th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #13… Aug 8th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #14… Aug 8th … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Aug 9th … Teams in Fiction
Class #16… Aug 9th … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Aug 9th … Plotting With Depth
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