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

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

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

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

“Nope,” I said.

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

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

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

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

So Why Do I Say 95%?

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

Starting up as an indie publisher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Pause After Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Force is Strong

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

— Traditional publishing does better books.

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

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

But the future might just change all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  1. Camille says:

    Annie: to be fair, I think when Remus said a “dozen stories” he meant a dozen NOVELS.

  2. Hi Dean,

    You have made a very persuasive argument. And, I suppose, all of the writers discussing the various paths so passionately are probably only a tiny subset of all the writers out there, most of whom will stick with the traditional route. So yeah, I could see you being right on the 95%.

    However, I would like to make one point. Self-publishing in its current iteration is messy. I was going to say “hard”, but its not hard. Not if you have some entrepeneurial spirit, courage, open-mindedness, and a modicum of computer literacy – but that might already disqualify some writers (on the first and last counts). But it is “messy”. And I think it’s going to get much “easier” in the future.

    By that I mean simpler – less complex. I think there will be a bunch of companies, apps, software packagaes, which will do the whole thing from soup to nuts where an author emails their MS, and, for a flat fee companies will edit it, proof it, stick a cover on it, upload it, and promote it.

    I can see huge amounts of writers using services like these, as well as services provided by their agents for “assisted self-publishing” or whatever they are calling it. I also imagine that these services will run the gamut from competent to downright awful or pure scams (as they do today), but I think that is moot.

    These writers may never see the inside of KDP or put one document through the Meatgrinder, but they will be self-publishing. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see the amount of such writers eventually outnumbering those of us who do it all themselves (i.e. organise editors, covers, formatting, upload ourselves etc.).

    Including all those writers, which I think is fair to, will see the percentage of writers self-publishing greatly increase beyond what it is today.


  3. Yes, I’ve read all that, Sam. I know that traditional publishing is a minefield of bad actors and sharks who want to steal an author’s income. I’m willing to navigate my way through that. I know all about pseudonyms — ‘Remus Shepherd’ isn’t my real name.

    I may be unusual in that I do not care about money. Promise me a million readers and I’ll ghostwrite for free. What I want is to contribute to the cultural conversation about literature, to have my work discussed at conventions and among friends (and in more mainstream venues, if I allow myself to dream big.) I go to a lot of sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Indie published books are never discussed. If you bring up an author like Hocking the topic is dismissed with the general agreement that successful indie authors are outliers. The content of their work is never mentioned. I still have no idea what Hocking writes besides ‘vampires’, no clue what Kornbluth writes, and I would never have heard of ‘Poker Boy’ if I didn’t read this blog.

    Indie writing is great, don’t get me wrong. But indie works are as ephemeral as mayflies. In our culture they are leaving neither marks nor memories. I hope that changes someday, but until it does I am not interested.

    I’m glad you’re all making money. I want to make myths that people share with each other. I just don’t see that happening through independent publishing. Not yet.

    • dwsmith says:

      Remus, when I get back home tomorrow I’ll have a real comment about your most recent (insulting) post. But I will say now that I make my living now (and for the past number of decades) writing and writers like you who do not have enough self-respect to value your work are one of the main reasons that traditional publishers have taken advantage of writers in this new world. (Read Kris’s new blog going up late tonight.) This is a business.

  4. I didn’t mean to be insulting, Dean, and I apologize.

    The simple fact is that it’s a business for you, but it’s a dream for me. This gives us different goals and different strategies. I hope you can understand and respect mine.

  5. Ryk E. Spoor says:

    I find it interesting that the problems you list as the reasons authors won’t go indie/electronic DON’T include what I see as the absolute top reason: lack of unbiased editorial assistance. I personally *CANNOT SEE* the flaws in my work, the things I need to do to make it better. I write, I’m done. I need someone — and preferably someone I’m not paying, thus who has no ulterior motive to let me “feel good” about the book — look at it and, if needed, make suggestions. And that someone needs to have the knowledge and skills to make those suggestions WITH MY OWN STYLE AND GOALS in mind.

    That’s one of the huge offerings of traditional publishing.

    Insofar as E-submissions… there’s some perfectly good reasons they DON’T want to go to E-sub. The biggest is probably that it weeds out the lazy impulse submitters. It’s easy to finish your book and click a button to email it; much, much harder to format it in proper double-space courier (or whatever font the publisher prefers), print the whole thing out, package it, put on a real cover letter, and trot down to the mailbox.

    From a professional viewpoint that shows some dedication to your work, and if you jump through the hoops it shows some willingness to work WITH others. If you can’t manage to follow submission guidelines, how likely are you to take well to editorial advice?

    That said, I know Baen allows E-submissions. Don’t know about the others.

  6. “indie works are ephemeral”? Tell that to Charles Dickens, who indie-published “A Christmas Carol” many a long year ago. Apparently it has left “neither mark nor memories” on the world…

  7. Gah… sorry, my dander’s up. What determines whether a work will make “mark or memories?” Seriously? There are thousands of traditionally published books that disappear from sight, just as there are thousands of indie books that will disappear from sight.

    So what sets the standard that you want to achieve, Remus? What makes one story a “myth that people share with each other” and another story just pulp for the recycling bin?

    Give me an answer to that question first, please. Because I’d certainly like to write a story that sets the world on fire too.

  8. camille says:

    Oh, Remus, Remus, Remus….

    I agree with Dean, your post was insulting not only to professional writers, but also to the kind of literary writers you purport to want to be.

    What you’re talking about is doing hackwork. Selling out your vision — only not for money. Instead you’re selling out for the approval of a small group of people.

    You want approval of the people who go to science fiction conventions? You do realize that not only are they a small minority, the books they talk about are utterly dismissed by the much much larger group of mainstream literati and academia. Science fiction (outside of the science fiction world) is seen as in the exact same category as Hocking.

    Worse yet, the authors of those very books who are revered by those same people who so much want to impress? They understand and believe in writing like Dean. They hate the way traditional publishing limits how many books a year they can put out.

    And a lot of them have been self-publishing some of their work since LONG before it was cool. Long before ebooks.

    And those self-published books are also revered — but they aren’t considered self-published because the audience didn’t realize they were.

    Please don’t let yourself be limited by the ignorance of a small group. It’s not necessary to jump into self-publishing. You like traditional, go with it. But your reasons will seriously screw you up, even in that.

  9. Bartholomew Thockmorton says:

    Dean! Say it ain’t so! One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about your blog is the way you kept your cool when faced with adversity! If Uncle Remus really feels this way…let it lay! We’re all your devoted fans here, don’t let him get your goat, or pig, or whatever.
    Take joy that you convert a new indie everyday! On October 14th, I stumbled onto your website and learned about Smashwords. Come the next payday, I bought the rights for a pic, made my own cover and uploaded a novella I wrote back in 1992!
    My wife is so happy and thrilled that I’ve put an ebook out there! I just sat around writing short stories and working on novels (four, currently) and never did anything with them! She’s praised your name and blessed you a thousand times! I’ve already dusted off another, more recent 10K shortie and will be uploading it in the next day or so.
    And I don’t care if I never make a penny; my artistic expression has found an avenue! Thanks to YOU!
    Besides, Mister Shepherd may just be “bear-baiting” ya…
    My best to Kris…and tell her not to pop a gasket! Life’s too short!

    • dwsmith says:

      Bartholomew, no cool lost here. At some point I have to stand up for us professional writers is all against those who want to give their work away and thus hurt the professional writers. No cool lost, just time to say “enough-is-enough” and I do that here regularly as well. (grin)

      Congrats on getting the book out. Well done!!

      • dwsmith says:

        In case you all didn’t notice suddenly, I’m home!! Two more truck-loads packed and moved back to safety here. In a howling storm and rain, but all made it fine. I’m in for the winter now unless something strange happens. Yay! Now I just need sleep. I was packing boxes at 7:30 this morning getting ready for the trucks to arrive. For a person who normally doesn’t stir until after noon, this has been just ugly. (grin)

  10. joemontana says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that thee ‘literary’ camp of writers who thumb their noses at the unwashed masses – writer and reader alike – have so little grasp of the history of literature. The ‘classics’ of today – Fitzgerald, Melville and many others were ‘crap’ by their standards in their day. They were rarely successful nor celebrated. WE the ‘cultural and academic elite’ of our i’m-better-tha-you-because-I-own-a-Lexus society have dubbed Author A ‘literature’ and Author B ‘a hack’.

    Superiority complexes and disdain for others doesn’t make you cultured or learned or intellectual. It makes you a jackass. When you look at some guy who works at WalMart making minimum wage and think about how much better you are than that guy, you’re proving yourself to be lower than that person ever has been or ever will be.

    When you look at a guy (or gal) reading an Alex Cross yarn and that (s)he is an imbecile, you’re just showing your own ignorance.

    Literature – as defined by the snobbish – is the work reserved by the supposed elite as sacred and special so that they can maintain the air of superiority they created for themselves when the unwashed masses they looked down upon gained access to better education and became literate. To be ‘better’ than those people there had to be a line drawn between ‘art’ and low-brow garbage. So you distinguishing line between James Joyce and Stephen King, despite what some English professor spent tons of money and mind numbing years of college to learn so he could puke it back at you is nothing more than a bunch of egomaniacs saying ‘I like Joyce better”

    That’s it. Period. You can moan and wring your hands about linguistics and style and allegory and the nuances of the writing or whatever Dr Dopey PHD. English Lit teacher told you, but it boils down to a group of people who have appointed themselves the arbiters of good taste in books telling people what to like or not.

    It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes folks. Call enough people idiots for not agreeing with you and you’ll cow a sizable number into repeating your lines of crap.

    Try this instead. If you like Amanda Hocking’s work, read it, enjoy it and ignore anyone who looks down at you for it. So much more courage is required to say you like her than Hemingway, don’t you think? Why settle for being a follower when you could be yourself?

    Writing isn’t any different. I’d rather someone outside of my mother read my books, thanks. If that makes me a hack, that’s someone else’s word.

    And frankly. I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think.

    Have a nice day.

  11. Randy says:

    I had a co-worked who used to say, “Excuses are little lies we tell ourselves.”

  12. Wayne Borean says:

    Just read a good article by Lawrence Block about self publishing, I recommend it.


  13. Anne Kinsey says:

    I am posting this here, even though it’s a little off topic, because you or Kris haven’t started a thread yet on topic of Penguin’s latest announcement, and I’m just bursting to share something I just read (sort of to make the point that I’m starting to think you and Kris possess crystal balls and can see into the future of publishing.)

    There is a place for comments on Publisher’s Marketplace. After the announcement of Penguin doing assisted self publishing, Robert Gottlieb posted this: (I’m going to post it, then leave another reply to comment):

    Robert Gottlieb November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am #
    This looks very similair to what Constellation is offering.

    Here are the issues.

    Does an author want to pay over a large percentage of royalties to business modles such as Book Country and pay for the services as well?

    We at Trident have a very different model and approach for our authors. Trident is providing in our program much of what Book Country and Constellation are offering but the major difference is we act as agents around the world and take a normal commission of 15% in North America and 20% in the rest of the world.We don’t see a need to make additional profits on an authors by providing tectnical support and distribution arrangements. There are no other tolls involved for the Trident client.

    Robert Gottlieb
    Trident Media Group, LLC


  14. Anne Kinsey says:

    Am I seeing things . . . am I reading this correctly . . . is Trident competing with Penguin?


    I know you weren’t going to talk any more about agents for a while, and here I am bringing it up. But I remember you said the agents model is broken, and publishers should stop dealing with agents who are now in competition with them.

    I found this interesting, but wondered if publisher’s really felt that agents were competing. I still sense, at least from publisher’s websites, that they give agents preferred status because they get more professional presentations from agents.

    Then this. Trident telling the world that they can do better for their authors than Penguin’s new assisted self publishing arm.

    I’m just staggered to see a major publisher and major agency competing for the business of self published writers.

    • dwsmith says:

      Anne, I think you have that right. Stunning. Trident is competing against Penguin. Wow, if I was a Trident author, I’d be running like crazy right about now. I’ll talk more about this later when I recover. Thanks for pointing that out.

  15. William Greeley says:

    In the decade after Gutenberg’s invention, did people understand that the printing press would lead to the Reformation and change the world? It’s early yet; this revolution is just getting started. We can only speculate on how it will all play out.

    10 years from now it might be standard for writers to self-publish first because that’s where publishers go to find new authors. The conventional wisdom might be that any writer too incompetent and lazy to epublish is not worth signing.

    • dwsmith says:

      William, you might be right, but read Kris’s new blog post this morning. It will explain why traditional publishers, in this transition period at least, won’t be looking for smart writers, but writers who want to give their work away at next to nothing just to be published. After the transition (three or four years) I see a much better chance of you being right. We shall all see.

  16. Camille says:

    Hmm, I’m a literary writer. (No, I don’t write in the literary genre, but as I’ve been trying to get across to Remus, I’m one of those artsy writers who care more about the work than the money or glory.)

    Remus I think what’s setting people off is that you don’t seem to understand what you want — you think you do, but you are describing some contradictions in terms here:

    You say you don’t care about money, then you say you want a massive audience, then you say you want the approval of an elite group which loves literature.

    Massive audience only comes from lowest-common-denominator. It’s not about people loving a book, it’s about a whole lot of people liking it okay. Your friends at sf cons who talk trash about Hocking are partly down on her because she has a massive audience of people who they see as not discriminating.

    Those going for a more “discriminating audience” have always been prone to self-publishing and small-press mutual publishing. (I.e. poets and academic writers set up presses to publish each others work). New York has never been very good about publishing anything but the most mainstream “literature.”

    The only time literary writers should not self-publish is if they want to maintain a career as a college professor. Then you are required to publish with a “real” press. That’s where the mutual publishing comes in — each college having its own small literary press for the express purpose of credentialing professors. And you don’t want to go there if you don’t want to be a professor, because it isn’t about literature, it’s about credentials.

    You say you’ve been reading this blog, but you seem to have missed Dean’s posts about how traditional publishers DON’T respect the quality of your words. If you’re going to SF cons, you should be sure to catch any panels or talks by Doyle and MacDonald about their struggles to keep their Liaden universe true to itself.

    Dean’s going to yell at you for selling yourself short in terms of money. I’m yelling at you for selling your dream short for approval.

    • dwsmith says:

      Remus, I missed the part where you write science fiction and go to science fiction conventions. Explains a lot. Sorry I missed that. There are lots of science fiction writers who have attitudes similar to yours. One actually, used to be a close friend. The attitude killed his writing except for an excellent short story or two now and then for the same market. Very sad.

      The science fiction world is like a whirlpool keeping most of its writers down into a “hobby” level. And those who break out and actually start making a living and appealing to a larger audience are shunned. Not kidding. Not kidding, they booed J.K. Rowling when she won her Hugo. Why? Because she was too popular and made too much money. If you are only getting your knowledge from the tiny, tiny, tiny area of science fiction, you need to break out into the larger world of real publishing. Then come back and we can talk.

      And in the mean time, I would highly suggest that you start putting value on your own work. If you are just starting, more than likely it won’t have a lot of actual value to publishing or readers. Nature of the beast, but as you practice and keep writing and working, the value will increase, sales will start happening as readers and editors find you, depending where you go with a story. But that will only happen if you first, right from the start, put value on your own work. Otherwise, no one will ever value your work either and you will have no readers. The value must come from the writer first. As a belief system. Otherwise it’s just typing. And a monkey can do that.

      And another word of advice about science fiction conventions. They are great fun. I just attended in August the World Science Fiction convention in Reno, NV to see old friends and have a fun trip and play some poker. Fantastic fun. I sat on three panels in four days and felt bad for the poor writers in the audience of the panels who were there to learn about writing. That is not the place. No science fiction convention these days is a place to learn about the real world of writing. Sadly. It used to be. But they are great fun and fun place to meet new friends and other writers working to break in. But to learn about publishing, not worth the time.

      If you really want to go to a convention to learn about writing and publishing, RWA Nationals is the one to attend.

  17. John Walters says:

    Just read the latest comments on this post. Great stuff. Thanks to everybody for making it a lively forum and thanks to Dean for hosting. Not only are the comments entertaining, but they provide a modicum of fellowship for me; I get damned lonely sometimes mulling over all this by myself way off in a village east of Thessaloniki, Greece. It’s wonderful to read the opinions of like-minded people, or even people who are not so like-minded but feel these topics are important enough to rant about. As far as I’m concerned I’ll do what I please with my writing: traditional, indie, whatever, and they can call me what they will as long as I find readers. I disagree with – I forget who – above who said they don’t care whether or not they are read as long as they express themselves. On a hypothetical level I understand it, but I disagree. I write to be read, and I seek readers wherever I can find them.

  18. Wayne–Thanks for mentioning the Lawrence Block post on self-publishing. He’s joined the ranks. It’s on Anne R. Allen’s Blog at

  19. So what sets the standard that you want to achieve, Remus? What makes one story a “myth that people share with each other” and another story just pulp for the recycling bin?

    I just want to make characters and worlds that live beyond my lifetime. I’ll know that I’ve succeeded a little when I hear strangers talk about them with love and excitement. That’s all.

    The reason I’m looking for the gatekeepers of agents and publishers to get me there is because I don’t see any other route. I know of no indie published work that has become a household name, or even been discussed outside of forums dedicated to writing. The agents and publishers are looking for the lowest common denominator, that’s true. But some stories meet that denominator yet still fire the public’s imagination. In fact, that’s the gatekeeper’s goal — they aren’t discriminating on literary value, they’re trying to select out the stories most financially valuable to them. I’m counting on their validation as a milestone on my way to greater exposure.

    I really don’t care about making money on my work. I am a scientist, and I make more money at my day job than I ever expect to earn from writing. I will make money from them, because people do not value things that they receive for free, but I’ll count any income as gravy.

    And yes, I’m firmly in the sci-fi ghetto. Couldn’t leave it if I tried.

    So all of that makes me an oddball. I spoke up because I wanted people to understand that there are oddballs out there that do not want to indie publish, for whatever reason. You all give great advice to people who value the same goals as you have. Not everyone has the same goals.

    Dean, I’m sorry I missed you at Reno. I wanted to attend your panels, but every one was scheduled opposite a reading given by friends of mine. Hopefully I’ll get with you at some other convention in the future. You can slug me and I’ll buy you a drink and we can chat. :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Remus, you got a deal if we cross at a convention again. Everything but the slugging part. No violence. (grin)

      And by the way, if you want to look for names in science fiction that have had a lasting imprint and were self-published or indie published, try Edgar Rice Burroughs. We would never remember him if not for his son indie publishing his work under the “Burroughs” publishing name. Oh, yeah, don’t forget Jack Vance. And R. A. Lafferty… and… and… The list goes on and on in science fiction, because science fiction has always had a huge number of fan-based presses that worked directly with authors. And authors often funded those presses to keep their work in print and being read. Learn the history of the field you are writing in. (grin) Over the decades, science fiction has been the genre with the MOST indie published or self-published writers functioning. Even Stephen King has self-published, electronically published, and indie published a bunch of stuff over the years.

  20. Camille says:


    Gatekeepers don’t make you great. Learn your craft. Write and write and write, and yes, get it out there, make mistakes (which is the only way to learn) and when your work is great — and true to your vision — the gatekeepers will find you.

    There are no short cuts. You won’t get to be a great storyteller by saving it for the gatekeepers.

    And the on thing that will really help you develop into something strong is to get your work in front of an audience. Not a critique group or even a teacher, but a REAL audience.

    I sorta knew this before, but I really learned it when I saw my work performed on stage before a live audience. I discovered that what was dear to my heart WORKED. I brought down the house with a stupid joke that I thought only I liked. The stuff I wrote because I was trained to please the gatekeepers…. the audience was indifferent to.

    If you really want your word validated, that’s the way to go man. And if you want to know what you’re really doing wrong, same thing. You’ll also learn the variety that is the audience. (Every element will have a full range of opinions).

    If you aim for the gatekeepers, all you’ll learn is to edit, and never learn to touch people’s hearts.

    Look, what we’re really trying to tell you here is that the path you take doesn’t matter — it’s the validation thing that will screw you up. If you want to touch people’s heart, write for STORY not for anything else.

  21. Rowan Fae says:

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

    Out of all of the myths listed in this article, this is the only one I have ever felt, and I am feeling it stop me, but mostly because I’m writing short stories more than novels.
    They don’t feel the same. The two novels I have right now (and any I write in future), I will indie-publish first. But my short stories? They can go to magazines, which don’t usually have contracts, and all that crap. They pay you for the first-publish rights for one year (I’m simplifying), and you’re good.

    So, the question I’m constantly asking myself is: should I keep sending my stories to magazines, hoping to get it published, or do I skip that process, and indie-publish all my stories at once, and put them up for sale, and then just keep writing, and not bothering about the submission game?
    (Actually, looking at it from the monetary side, it’s totally clear: $.05/word for one year of not making any more money on that story … yes it’s up front, but if I can make even one penny more indie-publishing that story in the same year, isn’t it worth it to go indie?)
    But I’m still uncertain

    Anyway, thanks for the excellent (as always) post, Dean.

  22. Camille says:


    What happens if it doesn’t sell?

    You write another book. And another. And another.

    It’s called discoverability. It’s hard to discover a needle in a haystack. However, if there are lots of needles, it’s much easier to discover any one of them. And if they are connected by a thread…. they are all discoverable.

    (It’s the same, btw, as what you do when the book doesn’t sell to traditional publishing.)

  23. “So, the question I’m constantly asking myself is: should I keep sending my stories to magazines”

    I’d say yes: one $200 sale is worth 600 $0.99 sales, and you probably get more publicity out of it.

    If you’re continually writing stories and submitting them, then every time you submit a new one to the top magazine in the field you should have another either accepted by a magazine or rejected by enough that you can give in and self-publish it.

    That’s my plan, anyway.

    • dwsmith says:

      Edward, I think that’s a really good plan in my opinion. It’s what Kris and I do (except when I am playing with a challenge like I did this year and will talk about shortly.)

  24. Thanks in part to your encouragement, I’m now in the 5%. My first story went up on Kindle yesterday. Thanks!

    And good grief, was it easy! I had heard the horror stories, and I just saw no sign of them.

    It’ll be up on Nook soon. Their wheels turn a little more slowly.

    I’m not even going “the easy way” (i.e., Smashwords). I’m doing the work separately for each platform. Partly that’s just to learn the platforms, and partly it’s because I want to include links to anthologies that include my stories. I think it’s only polite to have the Nook version have Nook links, not Kindle links.

    And Rowan, my answer to your question (which is the answer Dean gave me a couple months back when I asked the same question) is to send to the pro markets first. If I run out of those, then it’s straight to Kindle et al. My first indie story was a Writers of the Future Finalist, and it’s a story I really believe in; but it’s too long for most pro markets, and I already exhausted the big three.

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