The New World of Publishing: Counting Numbers

I’ve been wanting to do this article for some time now, but figured at the beginning of the year would be a great time to actually do it, as indie publishers are setting up new patterns. This is actually part five of the series I did through December. Bet you didn’t know there was going to be a part five. (grin)  Please read the first four first because this one will build on those four.

Part One: Some Perspective on 2012.

Part Two: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

Part Three: Goals and Dreams.

Part Four: How to Keep Production Going All Year.

Now to Part Five: Counting Numbers

I bet a few of you wondered what happened to me the last week or so. Well, I’ve been enjoying myself reading all the year-end articles. And it has been fun, to be honest.

One moment I’m reading an article about how traditional publishing is crashing, the next moment I’m reading an article about the profits traditional publishing is making.

Or I read an article about how B&N is failing, the next I read a report on how solid they are.

Or I read a report about how some indie writers are booming, and then I read articles about how everything is flat.

Or I read a report about how books sales in bookstores are down, then read another where bookstore sales are up some huge percentage.

(And I flat refused to read any of the silliness that comes with any mention of Amazon. I don’t even bother with that stupidity. Hate them or love them, I could not care, but take your comments about Amazon somewhere else, please.)

So what really is happening in publishing, both traditional and indie and in the bookstores?

— More indie bookstores are in existence at the start of this year than last year and the number has grown for the last four years. (From the ABA.)

— More writers are indie publishing and more writers are using indie publishing to get to traditional publishing. The battle between indie and traditional published writers was short-lived (only a couple of years) and only writers with heads stuck deep in the sand now miss that you can do both indie and traditional and should do both, depending on each project. And major writer’s backlists are flooding into the market finally.

— A large share of traditional publishers had years with growth. There are a few large publishers in trouble, but that’s normal and there are mergers, but that is also normal. In other words, traditional publishing is in a state of normal. They must make some changes as time goes by, but most are already on the move.

— International Electronic sales are exploding. Kobo and iBookstore swept out over the planet and now have stores in at least 50 countries each. Both have very deep pockets. Amazon is slowly expanding out around the world, but in the States their ebook sales have decreased in percentage of total ebook sale to just over 50%. B&N lags behind sadly internationally, moving only slightly into England.

— Dedicated ebook reader sales are declining as tablet sales increase. The hoped-for boom in electronic sales of ebooks did not happen this holiday season, instead only advancing at moderate levels, meaning normal levels.

We are in the new normal for publishing and it’s looking like ebook sales will level around 30% of all trade sales. Stunning growth considering it happened in five-seven years. About twenty years faster than it took the mass market paperback to hit the same percentage. (The percentages will, of course, change with genre and type of book, some higher, some lower.)

— Kobo is moving into indie bookstores with a very unique program that might be a game-changer for both indie bookstores and Kobo in the States. They have already rolled out the first stage in some of the biggest indie stores. Smaller stores coming online early this year. This will benefit everyone, traditional publishers and indie publishers, if it works.

— Some indie distributors are springing up to help indie publishers get books into bookstores. I have heard of three, but in a month or so I’ll talk about a special one to me. Stay tuned.

— A huge caution to indie publishers. Exclusive, no matter in what form or for what reason, is your enemy in this new world and this new year. The world has become a place to sell in hundreds of different markets and forms. Distributors (both paper and electronic) will try to rope you into exclusive agreements. Don’t go for any of them. And don’t let a traditional publisher rope you into a contract that will force you to write only what they want when they want it. The phrase for 2013 should be “Spread Out.”

So I have a few start-of-the-year suggestions

for Indie Publishers.

1… Stop thinking of this as a gold rush. We are now in the new normal.

2… Price your electronic books so that they look like traditional publishers, only slightly cheaper. Meaning get your price of your electronic books to the $5.99 to $7.99 range.

3… Do trade paper books for your novels, short novels, and collections. (A $17.99 trade paper makes your $7.99 electronic book look downright cheap.)

4… Make sure you learn how to do professional book design for all your covers and professional interiors on paper books. (It is not that hard, honest.)

5… Think ten years or more. For every project. Why? Do the math. You want to make $10,000 on your book. (If you sold it to New York with an agent for $10,000, you would make $8,500 and the publisher would own your book for at least ten years if not a lot longer.)  So if you want to keep your book in your control and make $10,000 in ten years on that book, it needs to sell an average of $1,000 per year.  That means you need to make about $84.00 per month on your book from all sites around the world, including your paper copies. If you make about $4.00 per sale, you need to sell 21 books in all places, including paper, per month to make $10,000 in ten years.

6… Write the next book. Always focus toward the writing and stop the silliness of promotion. Your next book will sell your previous books better than any Twitter blitz. Again, think long term, at least ten years, and keep learning.

7… Learn how to count your sales like a publisher… see below.

Counting the Numbers

Over the last number of weeks, I’ve talked with a lot of writers who think their sales are bad. Meaning really bad and they are depressed. So for the first couple of these writers talking to me wondering what was wrong, I asked the question, “How many copies of all your books did you sell over the entire year.”

I knew full well that because of Smashwords ancient accounting practices, those numbers will not be complete until the middle of February for 2012. But after every writer I asked didn’t even know the start of that answer and looked at me with a puzzled look, I stopped asking that question.

— Writers think in terms of one book and one month.

— Publishers think in terms of all of their inventory sales over either a quarter or a half-year or a year.

So, for one more part of this series of articles I have been putting together this December and January, let me give my suggestions as to how to count your sales numbers in 2013.

Factors to take into account.

1) Short stories and collections do not sell as well as novels of varied length. They sell, but at lower numbers and much slower. Adjust your expectations.

2) Some genres sell better than others. If you are comparing your science fiction novel sales to a friend’s erotica novel sales, all you will do is be upset at your low sales. Again, adjust your expectations.

3) Quality professional-looking covers help. Good blurbs help. Good formatting and proofing help.

4) Quality storytelling is everything. If you are not constantly working and learning and trying to become a better storyteller and entertainer, give it up now.

5) Numbers of products are everything as well. Again, think ten years out. Traditional publishing did not build those huge buildings in New York on a few books. Work to get as many titles in print in as many forms and selling in as many places as possible. That can’t be done in a month.

How to Count?

— Total up every sale on every book from January 1st to December 31st.  That will get you a total sales count for your entire indie publishing business. It might surprise you.

— Total up how much money you made for the same period of time. (Divide that number by 12 to see your average monthly income.)

— Divide the total number of sales into the total amount of money to get an average of income per sale.

Then for 2013 stop looking at your numbers, keep track of your money every month, and look at it again at the beginning of 2014 to see how you have improved.

Yeah, right, every indie publisher reading this shouted “But…!” So at least hold it to a month check-in and total all your sales for ALL YOUR BOOKS for the entire month. Record it and forget it.

And don’t break apart your genre books from your nonfiction books from your erotica book. Just count them all.

Some factors to keep the disappointment in perspective if your numbers are very low.

— If you are a new writer, let me simply say, duh. Of course they are going to be low. You only have ten or twenty things out and you haven’t learned how to tell a story yet that a ton of people want to read. Keep writing and keep focusing on learning, you’ll get there if you keep working at it for a number of years. Realize that most of us in the old days made NO MONEY at all for years and years and years. Consider yourself lucky you have this new world and you are making even coffee money.

— If you have been writing for a a number of years and your numbers are still low and you have between 50 and 100 things published, check these questions:

— How many pen names did you spread your work out under?

— How many of your total inventory is short fiction?

— How do your covers and blurbs really look?

All of those will be factors. (Another historical perspective… I sold my first novel in 1987 and about fifteen short stories and made just over $7,000 that year. So low is relative to a growth pattern.)

Check to see if you are only selling on a few sites. If you don’t have paper editions, if you are only on Amazon and Pubit and haven’t yet gone direct to Kobo or iBookstore, you are cutting your sales. Maybe, just maybe your low sales are a self-inflicted wound.

Check your electronic book pricing. If you are still buying into the garbage of the discount 99 cent book or story, you are causing your own bad sales. Wake up. That was so 2010.

And finally, check your expectations with ten year accounting calculations. A decent genre advance these days is between $3,000 and $8,000 in traditional publishing. And they will hold the book at least ten years. Do the math if you are writing genre books.

If you think selling 20 books average per month of all your titles across all sites is bad and your average price is $5.99, you really need to have an attitude adjustment. Get a friend to tap you gently on the top of the head until wake you up and realize your sales are just fine and you need to keep writing and get more books out.


2013 is the first year of the new normal.

Indie books are on shelves right beside all other books from quality small presses to medium publishers to the big publishers. You must be able to tell a great story, have enough product, and have the book look good and be priced right.  Otherwise, your book gets skipped over.

And if you are thinking right now, “I should do more promotion to get my books noticed.” Or “How will I get my books noticed among all the other books?” My answer to you is simply this:

Write better stories.

Keep learning how to write better stories.

And write more of them.

And write stories readers want to read.

The readers will find you. That’s the way it has always worked if you act like a professional publisher with your own work.

Now total up your numbers for 2012, file them away, and work on the next story or book.

Keep learning. And don’t forget to have fun.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  

I’m now getting back to writing fiction, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this column somehow in how I make a living.

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

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99 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Counting Numbers

  1. Jim Johnson says:

    Excellent stuff, as always, Dean. To your list at the very end, I’d add what you said earlier in the article (and what you and many others have been saying repeatedly over the years): KEEP LEARNING. Don’t ever stop reading and studying and practicing and learning. Take a workshop. Talk to other writers. Talk to readers. Read how-to writing books. Stay informed. Keep learning.

    May we all have a happy and productive and prosperous 2013.

  2. Vera Soroka says:

    I love these posts. 2013 is my beginning year into publishing so it will be interesting. At times I get frustrated with things like formatting and covers but I’m trying to take one step at at time.
    Wish everybody great writing in the new normal!

  3. Sarah Wynde says:

    In fiction publishing, are there typical sales patterns that books go through? I’m not talking about best-sellers, but your basic midlist book on which you hope to make $10K in ten years. It’s unlikely to sell exactly the same number of copies every month for a decade, but are there known factors that you would expect to influence sales?

    (In my old job, we expected books to do well in August and December, knew January would tank, anticipated that by two years after publication sales would fall off a cliff and that releasing another book was the best possible way to get a lift in an earlier title’s sales. I’m wondering if any of the same expectations hold true for fiction and/or if there are others.)

    • dwsmith says:

      Sarah, pretty much what you said. Fiction books do well in August and November-January. Then dip and come back to a moderate level until May, then tank completely until August.

      And yes, if you release a new book UNDER THE SAME NAME, it always jumps sales of previous books. That is the same in fiction which is why for a book to sell regularly over ten years, the author must be releasing new books, which is why Kris and I and others always say the best promotion is writing the next book. The next book will increase sales on previous books far more than any silly promotion on Facebook could do.

      For example, Kris’s Retrieval Artist series. She had out four novellas (I think) and eight novels. WMG repackaged them all and got them all into print and then brought out the new Retrieval Artist novel called Blowback in early December. Sales of Blowback are great, but wow has it kicked up the sales of the other eight books and four novellas. Blowback was the top selling book for WMG in December, but The Disappeared, the first book in the Retrieval Artist series was the second best selling, and Kris wrote that OVER TEN YEARS AGO.

      It’s a new world, a new normal. Writers and indie publishers need to think long term. Only way to stay sane.

      • Sarah Wynde says:

        Thanks! I thought as I was writing that it was probably an impossible question to answer while the industry is in such flux: the longevity of ebooks is bound to change sales patterns to some extent. Good to know, though, that fiction follows the same basic patterns as non-fiction.

        • Paul says:

          Going along with this, is it better to release new books just before the better months or would it be better to release as soon as they are ready?

          • dwsmith says:

            Soon as they are ready. The good months will come around and your book will be in the pipelines when they do. Remember, distribution systems often take months to fill.

      • The Smoker says:

        I can agree. Recently one of my pen names has taken off. I find that anything new I bring out gets additional sales. Writing new books works both forward and backwards. Your old books will sell a few more (paradoxically, you’ll also get more returns on those – this is a skill and tone related thing because how we wrote 6 months ago is often a completely different thing from how we write now.) Also, our new books will have a bit more of a fan base to work from. I can usually expect some sales just from that now-a-days.

        • The Smoker says:

          “Soon as they are ready. The good months will come around and your book will be in the pipelines when they do. Remember, distribution systems often take months to fill.”

          Think on that. Via Smashwords it takes between a week and a month for a book to go live. Heck, even Amazon has a lag time of a few days before the book is ‘actually’ live in the sense that you’ll get sales on it. I usually have to wait about 2-3 days before I get a sale on something new. I doubt that’s because my fans check every 3 days or so.

  4. Joe Vasicek says:

    Well, I guess one of the advantages of the author promotion myth is that the writers who are unwilling to work on their craft (or at least, less willing to work on their craft than they are to “promote” their books) will self-select themselves out of the market in the long run.

    As both a reader and a writer, my gut instinct is that professional-level pricing is falling a lot faster than your analysis. For science fiction, at least, I think a better price for novels is about $4.99. The Smashwords pricing data that Mark Coker always shares is quite interesting, about $2.99 maximizing both total income and exposure. I do think there’s something to say about value perception, but I do think there are advantages to being under five bucks, such as appealing to the voracious reader types, many of whom are influential taste makers and can’t afford to buy all their books at the higher price points. I might come to change my tune in a few years, but it seems to be working for me for now, so I think I’ll stick with it.

    An excellent blog post, as always. Now if only I can develop the self-discipline not to check my sales every day!

    • dwsmith says:

      Joe, pricing depends on a ton of factors and I’ve done a bunch of articles about it. But one factor is the existence of a paper book. Too low a price sends the wrong signal to a buyer no matter the genre. A $15.99 trade paper is a normal and reasonable price for a trade paper novel. Putting a $4.99 electronic book beside it sends a bad signal to buyers that something is wrong. Electronic price should be just under half of the trade paper price. That gives the right signal to the customer. So for a $15.99 trade book, a $6.99 electronic price would be better no matter the genre.

      And yup, you are right. The new world normal is selecting out those who don’t have the ability to keep writing and moving forward. They are getting discouraged that all the time they spent promoting didn’t work and are going away in droves.

      Breaking into publishing has always been a tough, long road that only those of us with the inability to quit make the journey.

    • I can second the $4.99 target moves stories while the $5.99 choice does not, based on actual testing with naked ebooks. If dressed against a higher priced physical POD book I think the ebook could go higher.

      • Larry says:

        I priced my first, out last week, at $4.99 (ebook) and $9.99 paperback. I plan to have a .99 short story out as a loss leader for the novel, and move that up to 2.99 when I have another short out. New at this, so seeing what works.

    • I price my novels at $5.99. They sale as well or better at that price than at $4.99. In case you’re wondering, I kept detailed logs. This will vary from genre to genre and author to author. I have professional looking covers. I do occasional sales and I’m dropping the price of Book 1 in a series down since readers, being smart people they are, understand the concept of promotional pricing on a Book 1, at least as long as they see that the other books are more expensive and it doesn’t look cheap.

      I started pricing at $5.99 because of this article. Normal link doesn’t work. Research done by the RWA. It’s from 2011. Great article since they set a ceiling and floor price. $5.99 was considered the most fair price for an ebook.

      Mark Coker’s data … Is that data just through Smashwords? I wouldn’t consider that universally applicable by any stretch. No offense to him or Smashwords, but they don’t come close to selling enough to judge, I shouldn’t think.

  5. …only those of us with the inability to quit make the journey.

    Love that phrase! Thank you!

    Dean, I’m going to pile on with a question about price. My first POD is finally available for sale. The learning curve made it take far longer than I’d imagined, but it’s done at last and I’m pleased with it.

    It’s 438 pages long (167,000 words). I’ve priced it $19.99.

    My question is about the ebook edition. That’s been priced at $7.99 for the last 9 months. Does that price look wrong next to the print price of $19.99?

    • dwsmith says:

      Nope, looks fine. Much lower and it would look off. But $7.99 is a solid, middle-ground electronic book price. And looks fine with the $19.99.

    • Mark says:

      J.M., if you don’t mind my asking, is this a fiction book? Or non-fiction?

      If fiction, was it significantly harder than writing a 50k word book? I find it daunting that many books are above the 100k word mark. How do you do it? Just write three 50k word books and stick them together, or is there more to it than that?

      I would love to write a LOTR style epic someday (or The Stand), but the word count needed to tell the epic is frightening. :)

      • LOL! Fiction.

        The main reason it got so long was that I needed 5 POV characters to tell the story properly, and that meant I needed 5 character arcs (stories of character development) intertwined with the overall story. One of my fans said she couldn’t put the book down, because she wanted to keep reading until a particular tense problem was solved, but by that time another one or two tense dilemmas had arisen and she desperately wanted to know how they came out.

        I didn’t find generating this door-stopper to be all that different from my process in generating a shorter story (20,000 – 55,000 words). Mostly it just took longer to write, because there were more words, more scenes.

        But I write from an intuitive sense of pattern that grips me at the beginning of each story, when I leave off brainstorming and start writing in earnest. I do have a skeletal outline that acts as ballast for me, but I don’t hesitate to steer differently whenever intuition calls.

      • “…was it significantly harder than writing a 50k word book?”

        With all due respect, Mark, what does that have to do with anything? One does not price merchandise by how much effort it took. One prices merchandise by what the market will bear. If the market currently supports a $19.99 trade paperback (IMO it doesn’t, but that’s just my opinion), then by all means sell it for that. You have to think like a business person in this game, and business professionals don’t decide what to charge for a product based on how hard it was to accomplish. Factoring cost of good sold (your time, mainly) is fine, but otherwise, why bother? The next book will probably be just as tough to write. That’s part of the burden and privilege of writing.

        • Sarah, I think Mark wants to write a massive LOTR epic for the fun of it. That was my impression. He saw my question to Dean, saw that I’d written a door-stopper, and figured he’d ask me what the experience was like. (Mark, I don’t mean to speak for you. Just looked there might be a misunderstanding here.)

  6. Dean, you are a credit to the publishing, writing and reading communities. A voice of reason in an age of noise. Thank you for your clear-cut and at times justifiably below-the-belt, hard-hitting discussion about the realities of the craft and the business that turns words into dollars.

    Kind regards, John.

  7. “How many pen names did you spread your work out under?”

    This. Can you do a post on this topic in the “current climate” sometime? You’ve used a lot of pens for a lot of reasons in the past. I know the traditional publisher system encouraged pen names such as restricting releases and probably giving as much marketing to the new unknown pen name as the real “big author” brand. But with the diffusion of work this creates, and the thin marketing funds available to independent authors, having more than one brand seems that the old “one name for one genre” rule needs to be updated. I’ve seen a few authors with as many pen names as books out. My approach has been to differentiate my author brand with a separate font for each genre I’m writing in. Readers are smart and can tell from the cover, category, and jacket copy that one book won’t be the same type of story as another by the same author.

    • allynh says:

      “J Gordon Smith, Can you do a post on this topic in the “current climate” sometime?”

      This post on Pen Names is from September 2012.

      The New World of Publishing: Pen Names

    • The Smoker says:

      I used to maintain 5, but now I’m down to 3. Two are adult entertainment orientated on both sides of the fence and the last is my real name. I think as I have grown in this business I have started to think of it like this: I have two money makers and one that I put most of my ‘not for adults’ work under. I’ve also started to look at that last pen name and ask how can I make money on it? I’m very much a short story writer and I would like to continue to be as I find novels to get a bit boring around the 3/4 point. That effects my income some (as Dean has added), but is acceptable.

      The solution is to make my last pen name genre specific. I have hundreds of short stories under that name and they span everything from Romance to Thrillers. However, I’ve decided on Science Fiction because I find that gives me the best high to write and Sci-Fi readers are a bit more accepting of my style of writing I’ve found. I will grow that name into a Sci-Fi name only with a little bit of War and also Horror thrown in. I may even cut some of the older stuff into another name, but I have paper books and… well, that’s a ton of work.

  8. Byron Gordon says:

    One caveat to the how-to writing books. Make sure they are good quality books. Read the reviews. I forgot to do that and the how-to book I started reading left me so depressed my writing fell apart for about a week and a half. A quick check of the reviews online would have saved me that pain.

    Dean, I know you said to focus on writing instead of Twitter campaigns, etc, (which I’ve never been able to figure out anyway), but what is your opinion on participating in distributor offered promotions, such as the 100% off sale Smashwords does in July?


    • dwsmith says:

      Bryan, my opinion only, if you have thirty or forty books under the same name, then putting one or two up in a promotion like that for a short time might be worth the effort. But if it is your only book, or you only have a few, what’s the point? You are giving away the very product you are trying to advertise. I always thought that was just flat silly. But again, I have never seen promotions work, and those that “seemed to work” were for books that were great stories and well-written and the book would have sold well anyway.

      What I find interesting is that writers never trust their own work. They think they must do something artificial to help their work instead of just trusting it eventually to find its place.

      • Byron Gordon says:

        I think the difficulty with trust comes from a lack of patience. At least, that is the case for me :) We could probably go for weeks on why patience is lacking but I doubt either of us has the time. 😉

        My sales (not giveaways, but actual sales) did go up a little that month, then returned to normal. The only connection that I can find is the similar time period. So maybe, just maybe, I have written great stories, and written them well!

        Thank you for the response, Dean. Even if it is only your opinion 😉

  9. The $10k in ten years piece is a great perspective changer. My first book has earned a good bit over $10k already. My second book has earned about $1,000 over six months. This seemed kinda poor to me in comparison, but using your logic that book will earn out in about five years (should sales remain steady). Seems like it’s doing pretty well given this logic.

    Thanks for the insight.

  10. Ryan Casey says:


    The latter half of 2012 is where my publishing journey began, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised looking over my numbers and tallying them all up. I’ve sold much more than I thought I had, let’s put it that way. Not enough to make me rich, but expecting anywhere near that would be daft at this young stage of my career.

    I’ll continue to price my novels around the $4.99 mark going into 2013. Perhaps I’ll experiment with $5.99. Worth a shot, right?

    • dwsmith says:

      Ryan, don’t experiment because data has nothing to do with pricing. Set prices for your publisher in some fashion or another and stick with them for a year. Experimenting with price is a fools game in publishing. That’s like thinking every book is a box of Frosted Flakes. They are not. Every book is different. Set the price and look back in a year to see how it went and in the mean time write the next book.

  11. My sales… my sales were pretty good. A solid four figures, and I know I could have hit five if I had a more efficient production cycle. I’ve got print editions out now, but they’re not selling.

  12. Mark says:

    Two questions that I think might be pertinent to the ten year plan. What about *input*? We stress so much about the output part–writing–but what of reading? Shouldn’t our reading of different genres be just as important as writing? After all, our writing voice surely will be that much more refined when our vocabulary is expanded, correct? How many books (fiction) do you think we should strive to finish per month/year?

    And…I find that on my 17th book, I frequently use many of the same words I do in previous works–voluptuous, illuminate, phosphorescence, ethereal, brittlestar, etc–words I absolutely love to use, and there many of them. Some of them are “chemistry” words, others are “ocean” words and so on, and I frequently find myself leading my characters into places where it would make sense to use these words. Am I shooting myself in the foot? Is there a downside to using them again and again throughout my different works?

    It would be interesting to get your take on it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, the worry about using the same words is a worry from a teacher or workshop to be honest, implanted and brought forth by your conscious brain to try to get in the way of your writing. It’s totally bogus. Every writer has their own voice. That’s a good thing. Part of that voice is how your structure sentences, how you use words, how you repeat words, and so on. So kill that worry quickly. It’s just trying to stop you from writing your own stuff in your own way.

      As far as input, I think you are right that I just sort of take it for granted that writers read and should consider it part of their job. It’s not writing time, but reading for enjoyment (never critically unless studying or in a class) is part of the job. Input of other writer’s styles, techniques, and so on is always a good idea.

      But on the vocabulary side, nope. Again you are confusing English teacher stuff. Fiction writing is entertainment, and 99.9% of the time telling a story simply is the best way to tell it. Using words because you learned them is just ego on your part. Just tell the story and if a word is correct, then use it, if not, don’t worry about it.

      And don’t get me started on telling a story in English but using words from other languages. Ego of the author has run amuck in that case most of the time.

      • I agree so strongly with Dean’s advice that I just want to say a resounding, “Yes!”

        Outside of using the same word too frequently on the same page, such that it catches a reader’s notice and rips them out of story mind, I just wouldn’t worry about it at all.

        My favorite word is ancient. I never hesitate to use it. Good thing I write fantasy.

        I read a book where the author had clearly done a rush job. The author’s favorite word that week was oblique. Every character did something obliquely, or did things at oblique angles, etc. I started counting halfway through and counted 23 times in the second half of a short novel!

        But I’ve never noticed a word being overused in any other book I’ve ever read. As for overusing it on a page, I usually catch this, and if I don’t, my first reader does.

        • The Smoker says:

          When I’m writing sci-fi, I make things up all the time. My last character used a kirin. Basically, throughout I just gave that word meaning. He stabs with it. It cuts through things. It’s short compared to other’s weapons. That falls into what we understand as a knife. I think sometimes it’s sort of nice to slowly unfold the meaning of a word to a reader (within reason). Things like a Dargo Fusion Well might be a common item in the world we are writing in. If the character mentions it and then leaves it off, but it comes up with more explanation later on (“We’re sinking into it… The well is sucking us in!”) that can be fun. [Who guessed I’m talking about a worm hole?]

      • JR Tomlin says:

        Thanks for that, Dean. It is so darn easy to edit our own voices out of our work. I’m to some degree past that after a long time of editing my work to death, but if you don’t keep it in mind it’s a trap to fall back into.

      • “…don’t get me started on telling a story in English but using words from other languages.”

        LOL! I got started writing fiction after falling in love with the works of JRR Tolkien, who invented no fewer than four languages for his fiction! I can still speak Quenya. And do I need to point out that 40% or more of “English” is actually French, German and Latin?

        But to the point of your article: I totaled up my 2012 sales/royalties (tax time!) and was stunned to discover that I sold nearly five times more books in 2012 than I did in 2011. It’s still only coffee money (while a friend who started at the same time is now seriously considering quitting her day job, her sales are so high). Keeping your ten-year timeline in mind, however, I feel good about the future!

        And, of course, I put up two more books (electronic and paper) and three stories in 2012, so that helped.

        Writing, like football, seems to be a game of inches, but by golly you do eventually move up the field. (Sorry, Niners fan here, today all my metaphors are football-oriented…)

        • dwsmith says:

          What I found interesting is moving forward with the writing is all the people who don’t. Yes, it is a game of inches, but as you move forward an inch, hundred of thousands of people drop away. Interesting how that works.

      • Josh says:

        I think the only thing I’ve been doing as far as word-choice or word-overuse, is looking at my verbs and nouns to see if there is a better word for what I want to say. To an extent this is in response to the perennial workshop advice of avoiding the dreaded “adverb-weak-verb” combination in preference for a strong verb. I still think it is a good thing to do, though, and is part of improving one’s craft. I do a similarly exercise with nouns. I’m not advocating the use of obscure words, but oftentimes there is a perfectly suitable word that you may find yourself trying to reconstruct with “adjective-weak-noun” or “adverb-weak-verb” combinations.

        • dwsmith says:

          Oh, wow, Josh, have you been listening to far too many English teachers and workshops. Wow, what a way to kill good creative writing and your author voice. Sorry, but you just made me shudder.

          • Veronika says:

            The reason the no-adverbs rule makes me mad is because a fancy verb very often does not mean the same as an adverb-verb combination. If I recall correctly, one article on “good writing” suggested substituting “walked quickly” with “jogged”!

            The problem is particularly bad with words like “said”: saying “she shouted” instead of “she said loudly” not only changes what she actually did (speaking vs shouting), it draws attention from what she actually said. That is, if she “shouted”, the attention is drawn to the shouting, whereas if she “said loudly”, the attention is on what she said.

          • dwsmith says:

            Again, every word of every story is through the mind of the viewpoint character in that scene. If you go in and start rewriting to what some English teacher taught you, you change every character to sound exactly the same in every story. No character talks in perfect English with all active and strong verbs. And do that to a story and you kill it.

            Just use the word “said” for the most part and let the content of the sentence or the scene relay the activity. If the reader doesn’t get that, no amount of “he screamed” or “he pontificated” is going to help.

          • Josh says:

            You frequently state that we need to continue to learn and improve the craft. Why shouldn’t I improve my vocabulary? Why shouldn’t I read how-to books on mechanics and whatnot? I read a lot, too, but like everyone who comes here and yourself, we have shelves full of books on writing. Its just part of the game.

          • dwsmith says:

            Josh, you said, “I think the only thing I’ve been doing as far as word-choice or word-overuse, is looking at my verbs and nouns to see if there is a better word for what I want to say. To an extent this is in response to the perennial workshop advice of avoiding the dreaded “adverb-weak-verb” combination in preference for a strong verb. I still think it is a good thing to do, though, and is part of improving one’s craft. I do a similarly exercise with nouns. I’m not advocating the use of obscure words, but oftentimes there is a perfectly suitable word that you may find yourself trying to reconstruct with “adjective-weak-noun” or “adverb-weak-verb” combinations.”

            That sounds like you do that while rewriting a story, changing out the word your subconscious picked for some word you found that your conscious brain thought would be better. Quickest way I know to kill a story dead.

            Yes, I agree that reading how-to books is a great thing. And finding details that work for you in those books and tossing out all the rest of the advice that doesn’t work for you. No issue there. And no issue improving vocabulary. Zero issue. But you do that and then forget it and write the story. When you try to apply that kind of information, as you implied in your post, by looking for “weak-verb” stuff, holy crap will that kill a story fast. You learn the stuff, then write and let your subconscious do right verb right place depending on the story and the viewpoint of the character. What you are doing is making every character in every story sound the same.

          • Josh says:

            No, I don’t rewrite–except where something clearly isn’t working. The subconscious is great, but it can only inform you to the extent of what you’ve consciously learned. The subconscious can mislead you too (a bad habit is subconscious). At my current skill level, I just try to be more conscious and deliberate, hopefully building my array of subconscious tools.

          • dwsmith says:

            Josh, whatever works for you, but what I am saying is that at your skill level, (if you are just starting off) being conscious and deliberate in your writing is the worst way to go. You are not writing from the subconscious but from the conscious brain. But if it is working and you are selling stories, keep at it. Every writer is different.

        • allynh says:


          As an example, look at the Charlie Rose interviews of John Banville who also writes as Benjamin Black.

          John Banville

          As John Banville he writes sentences, taking years to finish a novel. As Benjamin Black he writes story and blasts them out in a few months.

          The person telling the story, narrating the story, is not you. It doesn’t matter what level of word skill you have, the prose reflects the character’s word skills, not you the writer.

          John Banville a.k.a. Benjamin Black Interview

  13. Patrick R says:

    Hi Dean

    Word Volume & The Publisher:
    The focus that you, and Kris, have put on generating ‘new words’, and your further advocacy of the metric to measure being how many are produced over a year, falls even more into place with this blog. Its not simply about what a writer needs to do but what a publisher (the writer’s other hat!) must have to play a long, averaged out sales game. Less focus on the book of the moment, then, falls into place.

    Story Lengths:
    I was struck, too, by your point on short stories/novellas selling significantly less than novels. How drastically different? Where is the border (in word count) between short/novellas and novels these days? Might help with planning book projects.

    One per genre, or more like one per sub-genre?



    • dwsmith says:

      Patrick, one name per genre, if the genres clash, like horror and sweet romance. If they are close, stay with the same name.

      Novels are about 5 to 1 better sales on average. Every story is different, but I like to use 5 short stories or collections sales average (over more than 50 titles in the average) for short stories and 25 for novels when there are ten or more novels at least under the same name.

      • Patrick R says:

        Thanks, Dean. Very interesting, and I appreciate learning that perspective. There have been some interesting further comments on the shorts-to-novel balance (DA Hayden – thanks), and thoughts on pricing (various).

        From descriptions, then, it looks like that per-word shorts deliver more from each sale. But in sales revenue terms, the greater number of novels sold leaves the contribution from shorts in the starting blocks, relatively speaking. Please shoot this down, if wrong, in general.

        Many authors (though a minority) like, and write, shorts for a host of reasons. That’s wearing the writer’s hat. What about wearing the publisher’s hat? What are the business benefits of stocking up on shorts, for they will perhaps call for a relatively substantial effort (assuming not 3-5k lengths).

        As noted, they are an art in themselves. They are also further exercises in storytelling.

        But, perhaps, the core benefit from shorts for a publisher is not about revenue but the size of publisher’s portfolio?

        If so, do would you say writer-publishers should have some shorts in 2013 plans, and beyond? I am thinking here, in particular, about writer-publishers just getting going, looking at plans, hoping for revenue to help things along, but most of all keen to develop and amass their offering.

        Would you recommend they focus on generating only novels for a while (first few years; till a threshold number – 10?), and shorts only occasionally? Thanks, and looking forward to learn your views do’s, don’ts, forgets, don’t worries, don’t-be-daft’s..etc (grin).

        A wee separate Q, for planning: what’s the minimum length that many folks, at present, would call an acceptable novel? I’ve so often taken it to be 100k-120k, probably from exposure for too long to tomes and doorstep blocks of paper (@ 320 words/page – UK). I realise, too, that going back some decades many novels were far, far slimmer, probably 45k-70k. In your pricing you mention 50k. Are people usually coming in with 65k-85k lengths these days, nudging up the to 300 page zone (250 words/page basis)? Again, thanks.

        best, Pat

        • dwsmith says:

          Patrick said, “From descriptions, then, it looks like that per-word shorts deliver more from each sale. But in sales revenue terms, the greater number of novels sold leaves the contribution from shorts in the starting blocks, relatively speaking. Please shoot this down, if wrong, in general.” Yes, that is basically correct. Novels sell at a range between $4.99 to $8.99 electronic. And they sell better than short stories all things even. No issue on that. So yes, revenue is far larger per unit than short stories. But per word, revenue is larger for short fiction. Weird how that works, but it does.

          As for a publisher, neutral I think. More product quicker if you are the only author supplying product to your publishing side, but less sales channels. I am doing short stories as stand-alone books, but I don’t bother with the extended distribution and won’t be able to have a distributor of indie books sell them other than as signed collectables.

          However, collections balance the equation since they are larger, sell higher, and can be sold through distributors and into bookstores.

          The key with short stories is never forget the collections side of things.

          As far as what I think authors should do, I have been VERY CLEAR on this in post after post after post. Writers should NEVER THINK OF MARKETING OR SELLING anywhere in the writing process. Write the story that makes you angry, that you are passionate about, that you love to write, at the length the story wants to be.

          The moment you bring sales or publishing considerations into your writing, you are heading down a very nasty and ugly road. Write what you love, what you want. When you are done writing, then try to figure out how to sell it. Never before.

          • Patrick R says:

            Hi Dean. Thanks, once again.

            So…two different hats (writer, publisher) and keep them apart, and make sure the writer hat is worn first. Only when the writing is done, at the writer’s choice, with a focus on new words and always learning, will the story become something to hand-over…to the publisher hat! Then, the commercial challenges are those for the publisher..

            Production planning, then, is a common term to each but differs in intent – for the writer’s hat it is preparing for generating new words; for the time with the publisher’s hat on it is getting ready to handle what is coming but more especially what has arrived for covers, blurbs, pricing, e-formats, print ed preps, etc.

            For early career folks in the new writer-publisher era, especially when learning how to prepare for a long time in the business, generating stories year-upon-year, it is the writing that must come first. New words. Stories. All the concerns folk have about sales fluctuations, revenues big or not, trends in market, etc, those are all publisher and secondary concerns…?

            Thanks, again, for these posts and responses. They help so much, as do the comments, in guiding and steering, offering insights to help choose what might be right, or at least good, to put a firm hand on the wheel and decide where to sail (not for the sunset, but new morning!)

            best, Pat

          • dwsmith says:

            You got it, Pat, and said it more clearly than I did.

          • Roscoe says:

            I always picture Ray Bradbury advising me while I write, and Jack London while I work on publishing. They sound and feel different in my head, which makes keeping them separate easier.

          • After writing a door-stopper novel, I’ve been focusing on shorter stuff. I currently have a list of roughly 50 stories that I want to write. I’m not the sort who does well working on multiple stories at the same time, so I write them one at a time. And since I have a sense as to which stories are likely to fall in the short story/novella length and which in the short novel/novel range, I can take this into consideration when selecting the next story idea for my attention.

            I’ve been choosing the ones between 4,000 words and 50,000 words (and letting the 100,000 to 150,000 ones wait), since I can generate more titles more quickly that way. And I’ve been having a ton of fun. I had believed (falsely) that “I was not a writer of short fiction.” Great fun to discover I was wrong and to play with ideas that demand more concise expression.

            BUT…now I’m wondering if I should de-emphasize considerations of length in my selection process and focus more purely on what delights me. Something to think about. Although I sure am enjoying myself with the short stuff right now.

    • I sell about 100 novels for each short story sale and the gap is growing, despite one short being part of one of my novel series. But I don’t have many shorts and would never claim to excel at them like Dean. I had hoped the shorts would bring in readers to the novels, but based on feedback, it seems to work the other way around.

  14. Nancy Beck says:

    You only have ten or twenty things out and you haven’t learned how to tell a story yet that a ton of people want to read. Keep writing and keep focusing on learning, you’ll get there if you keep working at it for a number of years. Realize that most of us in the old days made NO MONEY at all for years and years and years. Consider yourself lucky you have this new world and you are making even coffee money.

    See, this is what gives me hope and is making me persevere. I’ve put up my production schedule (which is thru April so far) around the house, so now I can SEE exactly what I should be working on.

    Right now, I just don’t have enough product out there. Not yet, anyway, altho I’m working on that. :-) It’s so much better not to have to make a ton of money within a week or a month or whatever the short timeframe was hoisted on writers by trad publishers. Selling 20 books a month sounds SO doable; as you’ve said, it adds up when you have a lot of books all over, not just in one place. :-)

    Is this fun? You bet it is! :-)

  15. Couple comments and a couple of things I could use some advice on.

    Comments first:
    I think you’re dead on about publishing moving to a new normal. And dead on about most of your observations. Writers are increasingly going indie first, and being picked up for additional distribution. We’re also increasingly seeing offers that indies *turn down*, because they are not being offered enough. And we’re finally seeing a bunch of books published indie style for ebook and trad style for print. Even well known writers like Brandon Sanderson are getting into that act.

    Publishers are really not in a lot of trouble. Fiction, where most indie sales are (about 40-50% for ebooks), is a small fraction of the total publishing market. It’s the part we care most about, of course. 😉 But the major publishers could lose the *entire* fiction market and not go bust (and that is unlikely). We’ll see more mergers, and some lines close, and some new publishing companies start up to fill the gaps. As you said, business as usual.

    Importance of Amazon imprints is growing. They have an edge for sales on the Amazon site, so the value of having at least SOME of your works published by an Amazon imprint is increasing. Amazon is also working to keep advances high by making offers as much as twice what other major publishers are trying to offer, which forces the publishers to raise their offers. Good for writers, not as good for publishers, but it’s a competitive world out there. They’ll figure it out.

    I think we’re going to see significant change over the next 24 months in book sales. B&N closed a bunch of prime stores – in November and December, which should have been their best selling months. When B&N has an empty Manhattan store in December, there is something significantly wrong. B&N has moved the Nook, online store, and profitable college bookstores into a new company which has investments now from Microsoft and Pearson. The other elements of their business (those remaining in the main corp) have lost money every year for at least five years now. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of contraction of their big box stores over the next 12 months, and possibly bankruptcy of that part of their business (leaving the profitable parts they moved into the new corp) within 24 months.

    THAT will create a boom of new indie stores, if it happens. It’ll be interesting to see what those carry, but mostly I think it will be major bestsellers, local writers, and local interest books for most of those stores. Which will spur more core readers to move to online book buying (print and ebook), which will probably result in more ebook growth over the next 1-2 years. Time will tell. I think we’re into what will be a VERY long period of slow (normal) growth for ebooks, especially as more colleges, high schools, and elementary schools move to e-textbooks and those readers grow up with ebooks as their new normal.

    But if those indie bookstores can partner well with Kobo, it might result in a big boost in Kobo’s sales in the USA, and maybe make Kobo the #2 player in the US, instead of the #3 (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple a distant fourth). That could happen pretty rapidly, if B&N shuts down stores at the same pace they have been and Kobo keeps moving into all those new indie stores.

    From the writer perspective, no quibbles at all. The biggest change, I think, is the one Kris mentioned on her blog recently: the day of amateur hour success is ending. Writers who do well will be those who produce good stories packaged professionally. The 99 cent thing is ending, as Amazon is making it harder for 99 cent and free titles to matter. Average indie prices on successful ebooks (those in a major genre top hundred) has been rising steadily all year, and the 99 cent successes have dwindled.

    As Neil Gaiman said in his (awesome!) speech to some college grads last year: Make Good Art. Or tell good stories, in our case. 😉

    • dwsmith says:

      We agree a little of what you said, but not on B&N. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and is solid. Not sure why you are insisting on spreading that hype. Same as saying traditional publishing is crashing. Of course it is not. And neither is B&N. Are they changing? Yes, as they should to stay healthy. If they were not changing, I might agree with you a little more, but I follow their stock and their basics on the inside and they are solid. Sorry.

      And we disagree slightly on Kobo. I can see them being the top player in the States in two years. And we flat don’t agree in the slightest on the Amazon imprints. Going exclusive with Amazon is a bad business decision at this point in this new world. Spreading out is the only way to go. And by spreading out I mean into the entire world.

      And electronic books will never be everything in any genre. Sigh… Just not happening. And even in some fiction genres it will be lucky to hover even close to 40% when it all levels. There are some fiction genres that electronic hasn’t even dented at all or only in a minor way.

      You and I just have a different take on the future in many ways.

      • Well, I think we agree on more than you think… I don’t think B&N is going away. It is changing, as you said. It’s closing dozens of its big stores every month, these last few months, and I suspect will close a lot more in 2013. B&N is changing: it’s getting the heck out of brick and mortar book retail. Most book sales are moving online, so that’s where they’re putting their focus.

        I’d be thrilled if Kobo was the top player in the US two years from now. At present, their store simply isn’t good enough to get them there. They have serious URL issues (book URLs changing, sometimes from one week to the next), and they simply don’t have the tools Amazon has for book discovery and browsing. Yet. If they add those tools? And B&N continues chopping away at their stores, while indie stores (which have Kobo’s back) grow up in their place? Maybe. Like I said, I’d love to see serious competition for Amazon.

        Never said ebooks would be everything… It WILL grow. You and I can table that discussion, I think, for another year or two. Time will tell. 😉

        • dwsmith says:

          Yup, time will tell. (grin) But I disagree about the brick and mortar B&N closing. In fact, I think you’ll see that after a restructuring, which is what you are seeing now, they will turn around and start increasing in a year or so. You know they did open new stores last year as well as closing ones with bad leases or that were underperforming or that didn’t have a physical plant that allowed it to make the changes they wanted to make? (Manhattan store is an example of two of those problems.) I know the focus of the news are the closings. Not exciting when they open a new one.

          • dwsmith says:

            And I do agree about the Kobo store not being good enough. Those changes are coming as well as they announced two months ago.

  16. OK, that was long. My big question is around pricing.

    Right now, I have shorts at 99 cents and my one novel (45k words) at $2.99. I know, I know. 😉

    I have a series with one short (3k) and one novel (45k) at those prices (and a few other shorts, in the 3k word range). I have finished a 7.5k novelette in the same series. It feels like it ought to be priced higher, and I am planning this as my debut short with a print version, thanks to your inspiration. 😉 I am not adverse to boosting prices on the other stuff, but unsure where to go… $4.99 on the short novel, $2.99 for novelettes, and leave the 3k one at 99 cents? Add another 3k story, re-release it and the old one as a package, and boost it to $2.99 as well? Unsure.

    Also, my PLAN (almost wrote goal – again, thanks for those articles) for this year is to publish 12 new titles. Seven of those are a serial novel (six chunks plus a compilation after they’re all out). Each will average about 10k words. The first is coming out very soon, the rest weekly after. I’m timing these to coincide with John Scalzi’s serial novel, because, well, I had the work ready, and there will surely be some attention on serial SF right now. I’m not adverse to a major writer “priming the pump”, so to speak.

    But he (or TOR, rather) is pricing those ones at 99 cents. I had been thinking of doing $2.99. Now I’m concerned that readers will see a bestselling writer doing the same thing at 99 cents that I am charging $2.99 for, and…well…I’m not John Scalzi. 😉

    To me, it feels like $2.99 is not a terrible price for 10k words of fiction. If I did Createspace versions of each, then I could offer those for $4.99 or $5.99 and make it look even better. I think the benefit of releasing now is valid, but I’m concerned about my pricing. What do you think? Trust the work to sell at $2.99? Or price along the same lines as the other writer’s work?

    Thanks, Dean.

    • dwsmith says:

      I would never get near the 99 cent price point at this time in history. That well has been poisoned. The rest I have talked about in my pricing posts and I’m not going there again until next summer at least. I touch the agent rail once every six months and the pricing for indie electronic books once every six months. More than enough for me and all the hate mail I get with both. Sorry.

      • No apology needed. I read all your pricing articles… With great interest, and get a lot of good information from them. I *am* raising prices on the fantasy series stuff. I’m mostly feeling waffly about the SF serial, because it’s breaking some relatively new ground, and charging more than 99 cents for the episodes flies in the face of what most of the existing trailblazers have done.

        And that’s a confidence in my work thing, so I guess I already know what you’d have to say about that. 😉


  17. Jim Self says:

    Dean, could you say a little more about why you think B&N is doing fine? They’ve been losing money and they spun their “more promising” parts off into a new company. Their adjustments have only seemed to lose them more money (like replacing books with toys.) From my perspective, their 2013 doesn’t look that good. You must know more about what they’re doing than I do.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jim, just watching the financial side from Wall Street and how they are structured. And the reasons for some of the losses. I learned a long time ago that the news filtered through “publishing” when it comes to financial stuff is worthless. For example, anyone watching the bottom line of Boarders and their management from the Wall Street side knew they were doomed four years before they shut down. Yet everyone in publishing blamed their shutdown on electronic books, which just made me chuckle. Had zero to do with it. Nothing.

      B&N is going through a standard business shift and restructuring that often takes up to five years. They are closing stores that had not performed. Cost cutting. They are buying some buildings, moving others with bad leasing. Capital expenditures have been pretty high and their write-offs are paced over time. In other words, they are doing EVERYTHING that I can see that they need to do in this new world to survive and come out a leader. Including making solid partnerships in certain areas.

      The “spin off” as so many are calling it had nothing to do with their wanting to shut down their physical plants, but because of investors and the partnerships they could draw on the electronic side and not for the money, but for the connections. And notice no one at all talked about the implications of a major publisher buying a percentage of a major chain bookstore. I find that an interesting thing to ignore this last few months by the publishing news. Watch for more of that as the major publishers who are just now starting the move out of the old distribution model look around to get a physical presence where possible and at least partnerships that work to help both sides.

      Notice the trend on all this.

      Amazon is building warehouses as fast as they can, trying to get physical places in or near every major city. (They just tossed in the towel on the sales tax fight for some unknown reason. (grin)) Amazon retail stores can’t be far behind. And they have started their own publishing imprints as well. So as a publisher, they control the distribution, the store, and have a physical footprint that is expanding as fast as they can build.

      Kobo made a deal with the ABA and is moving at light speed into indie bookstores as a partnership to get the physical locations they need. If Amazon makes their publishing imprints work, it would not surprise me if Kobo is far behind. Their “indie portal” was only a start on that.

      B&N already has the physical imprint that they are working to solidify into a solid profit-based group of stores and will slowly expand starting in late 2014. (You will see some of their inventory start slowly shifting back to books and more book-related items over the next year or two.) They have a electronic presence as the second largest retailer. And they have been a publisher with imprints now for almost twenty years. (A forgotten and not-talked about aspect of B&N, but I have written books and stories for them over the years.) They lag internationally is their weak area, but they don’t seem to care at this point.

      The trend across the board is vertical integration. Publishing, electronic, physical distribution direct to customers. Top to bottom, from book publishing direct to customer buying without ever leaving the company.

      This is the trend of the future.

      And by the way, this is nothing new at all in history. Not that long ago most of the major publishers were based out of physical bookstores. What goes around comes around.

      And interestingly enough, we are doing the same thing here at WMG Publishing Inc. Stay tuned next month for our announcement. (grin)

      • Jim Self says:

        I’ll summarize to make sure I’m getting your meaning. They’re going through a multi-year change with a lot of sunk capital costs, and this is why their bottom line looks bad. They split off the digital side of the biz so they could form new partnerships.

        Well, maybe you can shed some more light on that for me. I do see the point of vertical integration, but not the partnership with Microsoft. MS was building a competing product to the Nook. If you look at the Nook being a loss leader like the Kindle, where they don’t care about device sales per se… the Kindle app came preinstalled on Windows 8 devices, and the Nook app didn’t. People with experience with MS on a corporate level say the company has a poisonous touch.

        As for the tax situation, there was a major legal battle going on here in TN about the facilities Amazon was building in Memphis. I followed that story a bit, and it seems several other states were suing as well, and there was talk in Congress about passing a bill. If I were Bezos, I’d come to term with the states, too, before Congress got its fat fingers in the pie.

        • dwsmith says:

          Jim, Microsoft bailed on their device for the most part and saw a chance to at least have a finger in another. They have no control but I do think they are putting someone on the board. No comment on Microsoft past that, since I live in the Pacific Northwest and have a ton of friends working for them.

          And yes, Amazon has tossed in the towel on the legal battles with the states (at least on Sales Tax) just recently and will be settling. Other tax issues are state-by-state and normal.

  18. Teri Babcock says:

    “I’m mostly feeling waffly about the SF serial, because it’s breaking some relatively new ground, and charging more than 99 cents for the episodes flies in the face of what most of the existing trailblazers have done.”

    Kevin, one of the important things to remember about being in the front wave of something is that your choices have a proportionally bigger impact than the choices of the people following. The people in the front wave of this renaissance in serialization are setting the foundation… and the direction.

    You can follow what the few people before you have done (who, incidentally, are very unlikely to know any more than you about price setting and quite possibly much less) or you can break out from the pack and help set a higher norm. As an outlier, you have influence. Even if you feel naked in the icy wind of disdain that you dare to price your work above John Scalzi, other writers will look at your pricing and wonder and think a little more about their own pricing and whether they could get away with increasing it.

    Eventually, you’ll have more company at the higher price point. After a while, your 2.99 price won’t look unusual at all.

    I expect at some point there will be a regular serial that is a big hit that goes for 2.99 an installment instead of 99 cents. The writer will be a master storyteller with a gift for cliffhangers, and the fans of the series won’t begrude the extra 2 bucks.

    • My top selling SF short story is a whole 4,000 words. Originally it was $0.99 when I released it late in 2011, but after reading Dean’s posts I raised the price to $1.99 and released a PoD version through Creatspace. This Christmas it sold more copies than last year and I made twice as much money on each. I’ve no idea how readers find it, but the higher price doesn’t seem to discourage them.

      I would say $0.99 really does seem to be a place to avoid these days, even for shorts.

      • The Smoker says:

        I think both is fine. I have .99c stories and a metric ton of 2.99 ones. I usually do the lower priced ones as advertising and write to my 3,500 word count. The higher priced ones hit the 5,000 word count and above. If I wrote a novella, I usually charge higher, but we are talking about MY pricing system here. Dean’s, Kris’s, Traditional Publishings’ and so on are different.

        Hence, ‘price at what you prefer’ is my message. There’s no real golden standard. I, personally, think I will eventually be writing at 3.99 or 4.99 at 8-10k when I get more experienced as a writer and don’t feel the need to write as prolifically (probably when I start making a livable wage on it). I think that will work well because most, if not all, of my fans tend to wait it out on my books. They know I write to a schedule and that I’m very reliable in it. The fans will just hover over my updates until they see I have the collection for whatever I’m writing coming out that day and then descend in a heated feeding frenzy (this is a statistically proven thing for me because of how I tend to write and the fact I push those collections pretty hard); hence, as the first book is free, I get high downloads, followed by nibbles as they wait and then the convergence of the pack on the collection. It’s weird being a short story writer some days.

  19. Reed Buote says:

    Hi Dean.

    You mentioned that a writer should continue to learn how to tell a story. I would guess that first is to always be writing. I wonder if you would also include in that any books on writing that would help someone learn to tell a story better? And if you do, is there one that you would say go to the library and get immediately?

    The site is awesome!

    • dwsmith says:


      I tend to grab any writing book I see and get snippets out of it. Thus between me and Kris, we have over a thousand “writing” books at least. I would hate to count all the shelf units we have full of the things between home, our nonfiction library, and WMG offices. But at least a thousand. Many duplicated because Kris bought it and I bought it. (grin)

      How I look at is simple. If I was going to law school to learn how to be a local attorney in some town, I would spend thousands and thousands every semester, both for the classes, but for the living and the books. So I am trying to learn how to be an internationally selling fiction writer. Even if I get only two bits of information from an entire book about writing, it’s worth the $20.00. Cheap price to pay for information that will last me over my entire career.

      As to which books to start with. Any book by someone who is successful as a long term writer. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Block, and so on. If the writer doesn’t have at least twenty novels published, why listen to them?

      But the key to all this is one thing. Ignore all the stuff that doesn’t apply to you as a writer. No writer know it all, and thus a ton of information won’t fit you. Ignore it, find the bits you can use, lap that up, and move on.

      Hope that helped.

      • Mark says:

        The other Mark here (not the same as below talking about the bookstores).

        On the topic of great writing/writers, I checked out some of Koontz’s short story stuff from the eighties, a collection called “Strange Highways”. For a long time I was a CliveBarker/StephenKing fan and thought no one could top them. Boy was I wrong. Koontz stuff absolutely BLEW ME AWAY. He doesn’t rely on the gore like Barker does (check out Down in the Darkness or Snatcher). I can only hope that my own writing ability improves to the point where I can write just as suspenseful stories like Koontz can. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

        • dwsmith says:

          Mark, I agree completely. I think Koontz is one of the best craft writers working today and can move seamlessly to anything he wants to write. I try to study him at times, but honestly, he’s like King. So smooth and working so in depth in so many ways at a time that he’s hard to study.

  20. Mark says:

    I am skeptical of the long-term health of bookstores. I don’t expect them to disappear, but I see them becoming more and more marginalized. They are being assaulted on all fronts — ebooks, Amazon selling paper books, and the big tent stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Sam’s, and others selling deeply discounted hardbacks.

    There’s a point where a bookstore starts to trade a shelf of books for a shelf of toys, doo-dads, and games and it is no longer a bookstore as much as it’s a gift store.

    The only new bookstore I’m aware of in St. Louis opened about three years ago. It closed at the end of 2012. We’ve lost all our Borders and several Barnes and Nobles have been closed. We have a few indie bookstores but they don’t seem to be growing, and last year the paper ran an article about how they were all struggling.

    I can’t help but wonder if the rise of bookstores as noted by the ABA is a lot of used bookstores and other retail establishments that might shelve some books but really aren’t bookstores? For example, in my area under “bookstores” there are a couple listed that clearly aren’t. One is an art gallery that sells a few art books and another is a new age store that sells crystals and has a few racks of new age titles.

    • dwsmith says:

      LOL, Mark. You? Skeptical? LOL. And clearly you have a clear image of what a “bookstore” should be. The problem with publishing as it sits now is that they flat don’t understand in many ways how people buy books. You telling me that people don’t buy books out of a “gift shop?” Really?

      I was to write a ghost novel with a major star and singer at one point. We were working together, having a great time. Then it went into New York and they just couldn’t get the fact that even though this major star had a major house he was playing every night with a gift shop selling his stuff and it had five thousand people a day hitting that gift shop, traditional publishers could not see the value.

      That’s what needs to change. Bookstores are changing as well. Might not be to what each of us see as a “bookstore” in our imaginations, but it is a new world and we have to learn how to sell to that new world. Readers still buy books. They just might not buy them where YOU want them to.

  21. Mark says:

    Of course I see value in a gift shop selling books. I am happy to have any store sell books. I never said otherwise.

    However, what I see when the gift shop is a bookstore that is devoting less space to books and more space to non-books is shrinking exposure for books and fewer titles and fewer authors being shelved. I don’t see this as a positive for writers or the book industry as a whole.

    I agree that readers still buy books. My contention is that their buying habits are shifting from brick and mortar retail to ebooks and ordering paper books from online stores. And I haven’t seen any evidence of an increase in bookstores where I live. I’d say it’s clearly the opposite. We lost all our Borders, several B&Ns, and a few indies.

    Again, I’m not saying bookstores are going to disappear. I expect more to close, however.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, I also expect more to close. Those that can’t adapt to the shift will close, usually older stores while new stores spring up. It’s going to take some years for this transition to happen and what I am saying is that you can’t extrapolate out using Boarders (horrid management), B&N (reorganizing and restructuring for the new world), and local older indie stores (who don’t know how to run in this new world). You have to watch the trends nationwide, which is more stores, and yes, varied stores. People used to say the same thing about how all the “specialty stores” weren’t real stores because they only carried science fiction or only mystery. And don’t get me started what they said about comic stores as they came in and then shrunk back. Specialty stories are coming back, niche stores are coming in full, and the key is get your books to the niche they fit.

      The big image of “publishing” in general has never existed and never will. And numbers of experts inside the field have said that right here in comments.

  22. Christian Price says:

    Hi Dean,

    I would like to respond to your non-book store comment if I may. Last summer, I rented a tent for a community pride event day. A local business owner saw my book and asked what it was about. I explained to her the story and she happily picked up a copy, went home and read it that night. The next day, she returned and asked me if I would consider allowing her to sell my books in her store. She owns a home furnishings store. She said, “It’s not a book store, but you will be the only book in the store and I’ll put your books out next to the cash register.” I thought, “Gee – I don’t know, it’s not a book store.” But, I gave her five books. A month later she called and asked for a new supply of books, she sold them all.

    My books are in beauty saloons, flea markets, florist/ gift shops, butcher shops, and indi book stores locally. I earn the bulk of my income (not much) through these stores. I am the only book in these stores and people buy the book. They sell on consignment. I try to add a store a week. I did some rooting around and found other indi writers followed this path and sold a good number of books through: hospital gift shops, local airports, diners, etc…you just need to get out and hustle going door to door and sell the book to the owner of the store.

    • dwsmith says:

      I agree, Christian, and there are distributors who go to those kind of places, and others starting up for indie presses. But locally, it’s great fun to have your books in shops like that. We live in a small town on the coast and Barton Howe is writing wonderful novels that are funny and are set here, sort of. He sells a ton of books through a local cookie shop and also has them in a dozen other stores around town. He also has them out in all the national places, but he has more fun with the local shops. So thanks, great point.

  23. Jacintha says:

    — If you are a new writer, let me simply say, duh. Of course they are going to be low. You only have ten or twenty things out and you haven’t learned how to tell a story yet that a ton of people want to read. Keep writing and keep focusing on learning, you’ll get there if you keep working at it for a number of years. Realize that most of us in the old days made NO MONEY at all for years and years and years. Consider yourself lucky you have this new world and you are making even coffee money.

    So what I’m wondering re: this (and I promise it is relevant to my situation, although in a kind of roundabout way) is — When one has been out there for a while and has learned a bit more about writing a story that people want to read, is it smart to go back and remove the older, crap stuff that no one wanted to read from back in the day, in case it taints your new, sleek, popular reputation?

    • dwsmith says:

      LOL, Jacintha. Nope, but that’s an interesting problem faced by writers in this new world. But not enough years have gone by yet to make it a real question at all. We’ve all only been doing this for a few years. However in ten years, it might be a time for a writer to have a good friend or two look over some of the old stories and say “Yup, pull that.” or “Nope, it’s fine.” The writer should never judge because all of our stuff looks like crap to us.

      But wait six or eight or ten years more before even thinking of that. But good question, just ahead of its time.

      • Julie says:

        That was a really interesting question, and a really interesting answer.

        There are several writers of traditionally-published thriller series whose first books in the series weren’t, in my opinion, very good. If it hadn’t been for reading excellent reviews of their later books and trusting them, I’d have missed some great series. Even in traditional publishing, authors can take time to get to a good level. I find that encouraging!

  24. Christian Price says:

    LOL, I am a “best seller” in my hometown.

  25. Larry says:

    Dean, could you address this question, or point me to where you’ve addressed it in the past if I missed it: What do you think about putting one’s PoD books into select indie bookstores? There are at least three decent sized indies in L.A., where I live, and I have my first book out (ebook), and the PoD is coming this week. Have you or anyone else done this? I assume I’d have to buy them myself, directly from Amazon, then give them to the store, then receive a percent of the profits, if they sell. If I do this a dozen at a time, at first, I can’t anticipate much of a downside to this. But maybe there’s something I’m not considering. Cheers.

    • dwsmith says:

      Larry, been shouting about it for some time now, actually, that getting print books into Indie stores is a wonderful thing. In fact, I think I started talking about it in the first Think Like a Publisher. There are things happening in the industry in 2013 that will help indie publishers get into indie bookstores. But if you have some close, give it a shot on your own. And don’t forget specialty stores locally and niche stores and coffee shops and so on. But caution, it can be a time sink.

      • Larry says:

        Thanks. Yeah, it is the “time sink” issue I was wondering about too. I’ve done a few readings around town; that could be a time sink, too, but so far I’ve found it pretty empowering.

  26. Viv says:

    It’s only by taking a long look at figures you can really see trends and patterns. The first year I published, the trends were not trends but totally new. The months when sales seemed to crash felt like the end of the world. The second year, it made a lot more sense, and I felt a lot less dismay over those quiet months.
    But it’s a changing world, and trends shift. That’s the time to take a long look and worry not. The first book I put out took ages to garner sales and it took more than 2 years to get the 22 reviews. But the most recent one sold more in the first weekend that the first did in the whole first month, and in 4 months has gathered 8 reviews. Momentum gathers, and so too do sales.

  27. AndrewV says:


    Every time I read one of these articles I want to start writing immediately. Thanks for writing them!

  28. Jackie F says:

    Hey Dean

    How many hours would you say it takes you these days to go from idea to publish-able novel (written, edited, formatted, ect.)?

    Is it safe to assume you’ve gotten faster over the years as you’ve gotten more experienced and skilled?

    This first novel is kicking my butt!

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