The New World of Publishing: Fear

For some time I have been considering going after the topic of fear in publishing. I know I talk about it all the time at workshops and in comments. And I have touched on the topic in a few blog posts some time in the past. But now, it seems the time is right to jump on this topic again.

Why now? Because this last week Scott William Carter and I worked with almost twenty professional writers during a four day workshop called “Think Like a Publisher.” During the four days I watched writer after writer sort of look up and say at one point or another, “This is easy.” In other words, they were afraid of doing something and after learning how, they didn’t know why they had been fearful of the process or thought it difficult in the first place.

As the weekend moved on, writer after writer slowly came to realize that the myth that publishing is hard (and only major traditional publishers can do it) is flat wrong. So now I figure it is the time to talk about this topic and (with luck) help a few more writers jump past the fear and get to more readers with their work.

Fear in publishing.

When a person steps back from writing and publishing and looks at this business with a cold, hard stare, there really is nothing to be afraid of. No one will take a gun and come to your house and shoot you if you type a bad sentence. No one will blacklist you and remove your computer from under your fingers if you mail them a manuscript that doesn’t work. And no one really, honestly cares if you indie publish or not.

In fact, one of the funniest sentences I hear coming from new writers is “I could kill my career if I do (that).”

Why is that funny to me? Because first off, new writers don’t have a career and wouldn’t really understand a writing career if it slapped them. And secondly, there is NOTHING that can kill a writing career. You might kill an author’s name if you are really, really stupid like some writers in the past have been. But unless they quit, those writers are still writing and selling under other names.


And fear will cause you to stop. It might be the biggest reason a writer stops, actually. And always that fear is unfounded or caused by a of lack of knowledge.

Granted, jobs and livelihoods are often on the line, which is an area full of fear. Real fear of not making enough to pay the bills, not having security in your old age, of having to get another job in a time when jobs are hard to come by. I understand all that.

Some bad decisions can certainly slow down cash flow or cause a writer to have to start over, sometimes with a new name. No argument on that. But nothing can kill a writing career except quitting writing.

So now, in this new world of publishing, writers have many choices to make. But when you make a decision out of fear alone, it is usually the wrong choice, at least for the long-term.

A decision made out of pride alone is usually a bad decision as well, but that’s the subject for a future post.

As I have done in a couple of posts lately, let me divide the major decisions a writer makes on both the traditional side of publishing and on the indie side of publishing and talk about the fear involved in those decisions.

 Traditional Publishing

What are some of the main decisions in traditional publishing that are often influenced by unfounded fear?

— Finishing a manuscript. (This is both indie and traditional, actually. But it is a belief that the manuscript isn’t good enough so more drafts are needed and thus you never have to finish.  Silly decision based on pure fear.)

—  Mailing a story or book to an editor. (The silly thinking goes like this: I could ruin my career if I mail this book to an editor. Or to a wrong editor. Safer to just not mail it because they may hate me if the story is bad. That belief shows a complete lack of knowledge of editing.)

— Going without an agent. (Everyone says you need an agent, so you are afraid to mail directly to editors for fear of them coming to your home and ripping your computer from your desk.  So you follow the silly myth that you must have an agent to sell a book and waste years, all because you don’t understand that agents don’t write checks and can’t buy books. Editors buy books. This is a fear caused by an ignorance of the publishing industry and how things have changed.)

— Negotiation in contracts. (If I ask for changes in the contract they might hate me and take away my sale. Or I might upset my editor and they will never buy another book from me. This fear comes from ignorance of contracts and how they are never set in stone. Get an IP attorney to help you past this fear or at least tell you what you are signing before you sign it.)

— Deciding to sign a bad contract that will take your rights forever and control your writing. (You are afraid if you don’t sign, they will come to your home and never let you write again and never sell to another publisher with more reasonable contract terms, so you sign away your work for life. Letting this fear win can cause years of problems. This fear-based mistake is often helped by agents who just don’t know any better and are only looking out for themselves and not you. My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is doing blogs on deal breakers in contracts the last two weeks. Check them out.)

There are a ton more fears in traditional publishing, but those are the main areas that most fears branch from for traditional publishing.

And, of course, fear is very real in traditional publishing among writers. But none of it is really serious and most of it is made up in a writer’s head.

I have told people for years that working in traditional publishing is like crossing a two-lane road. If you are frozen in fear, you will never step off the curb. But if you know enough to look in both directions at what is happening on the road, have an understanding of speeds of cars and trucks, have the ability to put one foot in front of the other, and can move quickly when you need to, you’ll get to the other side of the road just fine.

And honestly, there is a ton more to fear when crossing a road than working in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing can’t kill you like a speeding car can, no matter what a writer believes.

Indie Publishing

What are some of the main decisions in indie publishing that are often influenced by unfounded fear?

— I can’t self-publish my own book. My friends will look down on me. (You are afraid of the old myth that lasted in publishing from 1945 until 2008 that vanity press publishing was a bad thing. And in many instances, that was correct during those years. But everything has changed, so this fear now is from lack of keeping up with the changes in the industry you want to work in. In other words, an ignorance fear.)

— I’m afraid I can’t format my story and put it up electronically. So I shouldn’t really try. (Seriously? So many writers have this fear it stuns me. Yet in the end publishing a book is simple. Scary simple, as I call it. I’ve talked about it in many posts and you can get help anywhere. In the free posts listed above under “Think Like a Publisher” you can get started. And learning how to do covers in PowerPoint or PhotoShop Essentials or some other program is easy. And often fun. You might not create a professional cover at first try, but who cares. Better than no story published. And even more interesting, every publishing site gives you help. This fear is exactly the same as the fear of stepping off a curb and a real fear of learning something new. Get over it if you want to add in the option of indie publishing to your writing career. Do some learning and then step off the curb. You might be surprised at how easy it really is.)

— My books don’t sell so I should lower the price. (Actually, there are a number of things I would do instead. I would raise the price up into the normal range of $4.99 to $7.99 for a novel in electronic form. I would look at my cover to see if it fits my genre. I would look to see if I put the book on the wrong shelf. I would look and see how passive my blurb is and if it tells about the novel instead of the plot of the novel. I would look at the opening of the book and see if it is confusing or just dull. Lowering price is a fear-based decision based in lack of faith in your own work. A better decision would be to check the easy stuff as I described and then write the next book. That shows courage and a faith in your own art and ability.)

— My books don’t sell so I should spend more time on Twitter and Facebook annoying my 300 friends. (Seriously???  How about taking a writing class from a professional writer instead to become a better storyteller? How about working on your openings to make them more interesting? How about just writing the next book? Turning to more promotion when something doesn’t sell is a fear-based decision based on ignorance of what sells books.)

— My books will never sell in paper so I’m not going to learn how to do that. (That’s correct, they won’t sell in paper, especially if you don’t put them in paper. But in this new world, getting your paper books into bookstores is getting easier by the day. This fear is not wanting to tackle the new learning curve of designing and putting your books into a paper edition. Too bad, because by being afraid of learning this new area, you also miss out on the real thrill of holding your own book in your hands. This is a fear based on lack of knowledge and still believing the old myth that it is hard to get a book (not done by a traditional publisher) into a bookstore.)

Just as in traditional publishing, there are a ton of fears around indie publishing, almost all of them based on lack of knowledge or the unwillingness to try something new. And just as in traditional publishing, most of the fears in indie writers are only real inside each writer’s head. There is no real threat actually doing the work.


My job description, any writer’s job description, is to sit alone in a room and make stuff up.

The fact that I make a ton of money doing that task is because I am really, really good at turning what I make up into stories that entertain in one fashion or another a lot of readers.

But also, the fact that I can shut off that skill (of making stuff up) when it comes to business is also why I make a lot of money.

I make up stuff when I need to create, then become cold and hard and clear-visioned when it comes to business. And that’s what most writers don’t do. They practice making stuff up in their stories, then continue to make up stuff when faced with business decisions. And that just creates fear that leads to bad business decisions.

And even worse, fear can paralyze you into inaction more times than not.

Learn business. Learn publishing.

Fear is a part of being human. But when you let it control you in publishing you are doomed to make silly mistake after silly mistake right up to the silly mistake of stopping writing.

When you are sitting at your writing or publishing computer and are afraid to do something for no reason, look up at the nearest door and ask yourself if a large goon sent by some editor will come though that door and smash your computer if you do what you are afraid of doing. If the answer is no, the stop being afraid and make the decision based on business and reality.

And remember to keep having fun. Enjoying the writing will also get you past a lot of the silly fears.

Trust me on that one.


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 somehow in how I make a living.

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

(Honestly, for the longest time, I was afraid to put this tip jar on any post. But as I started to spend more time on these articles, I felt I needed some money in return for my time. And I have been very happy with the response and actually, tips in the jar of the Magic Bakery help me keep going on these posts. Not sure what I was afraid of.)

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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61 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Fear

  1. RD Meyer says:

    Excellent post. I find it funny that those with nothing to lose are usually the ones who have the most fear. Many seem afraid of damaging a non-existent career.

  2. When I started indie publishing I was really surprised how easy it was. Nobody has ever accused me of being a tech-savvy person, but I learned all I needed to know in a few hours, as in about three or four.
    The one thing I don’t do is cover design. I’m lucky enough to have a very skilled and artistic brother-in-law to do that for me. Could I get up to his skill level with Photoshop? Sure. I’ll never have his artistic eye, though. One thing indie publishers should remember is that they’re not alone. You have tons of friends and family willing to help you out. Use your resources!

  3. Dee says:

    Ah, fear – my beloved nemesis. This post has excellent timing. =)

    Fear has eaten away years of my life, and as with most fears its because I’ve given it far more power than it actually has. Fear of failure, fear of success. They never come in one by one, but with an entire paralyzing legion. At least with me.

    I’ve wanted to change a few things in my life that seem simple on the surface – just a bit of work consistently done over time. Weight loss/ living actively and becoming a writer. I’ve researched, studies, crunched numbers, made plans and then – nothing.
    No amount of logic has seemed to help. I get really aggravated over my inability to move forward.

    This past Saturday I started a blog – trying another tool. All I want from myself initially is to move and do a short writing prompt every day. Good, bad, terrible – it doesn’t matter – they just have to be done. Although its only been a small handful of days, I haven’t missed yet. That may not seem like much, but when you realize that ‘quit’ has become my middle name and my average writing seemed to be only twice a year – this is a really important milestone. More so, its given me four short stories (short short at 430, 750, 1150, and 3400 words) and one exercise in sensory description. In fact, the evening of the 3400 – where I wrote and cooked dinner, etc etc – I learned I am able to do far more than I ever thought. Even imagining a perfect world, I thought a weeknight would only produce 2000 words. Well well. It makes me wonder what else I can do.

    It seems for me that since logic fails to cut through my fears, I’ll just have to press through one teeny tiny step at a time. It feels a bit silly, starting so small when I dream so big – but one step and one and one add up. It will take longer, but I’ll get what I want. More than that, even when i come to the big parts of the dreams, it will all still be tiny unstoppable steps.

    So long as I don’t give up. Its too soon to tell for me on this, but I am so very tired of letting life slip by unlived – only dreamed of.

    Thanks for the encouragement! I look forward to your and Kris’ blogs every week.

    • Kira Wilson says:

      Dee, are we brain-twins separated at birth or something? 😉

      Keep on trucking, hon, and I’ll do the same.

    • Marc says:

      Your post looks like one I could have written, Dee. My mindset is very similar, and in the same silly way. I put in a lot of time writing poetry, and often feel good about what I produce, but have wanted to step into writing fiction for quite a while. Instead, I find any and every reason not to, and I know it really comes down to fear gripping my heart. There are a lot of reasons for that, but of course, none of them are good. And all of them are self-reinforcing! The more I put it off, the better idea — or should I say impulse? — it not writing seems at the time. Failure breeds failure, fear reinforces fear. The end result is that nothing gets done, or that I divert myself into something I really do enjoy — writing poetry — but is not where I’ve been trying to point my efforts for a long time now. So I get something done as a substitute for what I really wanted to do. Is that a positive thing? That it’s not entirely a negative thing serves to justify even more delay and excuse-making.

      It’s very hard to use logic to pry oneself free of emotional behavior. The two run on different tracks and need never meet. And all the analysis and understanding in the world doesn’t serve to change that.

  4. Great post, and thank you! When I yanked my book away from the small publisher to self-publish I was terrified. It seems such a complex process when you haven’t done it. Once you’ve done it–well, it is a complex process, but it ain’t rocket science.

    – TOSK

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for posting this; you are spot-on (oh, the pain) with identifying basic anxieties. The Summary would make a great poster, perhaps to be read aloud before starting to work every day.

  6. Frank Coles says:

    Hi Dean,

    I’ve been meaning to ask you this for some time, as there are several indie publishing business models out there, yours, it seems, is a medium-sales-volume-per-item, wide-sales-reach, varied-price model. Others use a low-price, mid- to high-volume-per-item model. Can you share how much you turnover from publishing, not training or any of the other business things you do?

    I figured with these quotes it was a good time to pose it to you:
    “The fact that I make a ton of money…” and “…I can shut off that skill (of making stuff up) when it comes to business is also why I make a lot of money.”

    If you can, it’d be very helpful. Thanks, F.

    • dwsmith says:

      Frank, hit me with that question again. Not sure what you mean. Are you asking how much of my total income is from things like donations to this blog, or teaching workshops? And now much comes from traditional, from indie, from other sales? Or are you meaning something else??

      On our indie publishing, we have no great Konrath-level bestsellers. But we do have over 260 titles up. We always use a low number sales average and keep expenses down per title. I like using 5 sales for short story title per month total at $2.99 and 25 sales average per novel at $6.99. Makes some really nice money let me tell you at those low numbers.

      I don’t think a low price, high volume is a sustainable business model past a short period of luck and time.

      So if I am missing your question, try me again.

    • The Smoker says:

      I think Dean’s pie metaphor would be worth considering in answer to your question. Personally, based on indie sales ranks between me and WMG publishing, we are both about the same. However, Dean makes tons more than me because he is pretty much ‘the ultimate baker’. What I mean is Dean has been doing traditional publishing for longer than I’ve been alive (small dollars), he also is the primary trainer for his house (reasonable dollars), he has 260 works up (ok dollars), he does paper (small dollars), takes donations (a few meals out a year), has Kris in his stable of writers (moderate-large dollars [cost sharing]), does conferences/talks (medium bucks), and so much more. The magic bakery he runs provides income well beyond his indie efforts. It would be little surprise to me if writing was a low priority income source for him (certainly as WMG expands he will have less time for it.) He also runs very, very efficient, so his income-expenses ratio is probably quite attractive.

      To round that up, your answer is ok turnover (income) from indie works, but not heavy hitting. Still, you shouldn’t discount Dean over that. He knows his stuff and if he ever needs numbers, well, let’s just say Kris isn’t that far off being upper class in indie terms.


      Now, I think your real question could be one of these:
      * How do I compare to Dean? In that case, Sales Rank Express should clear that up quickly, but you’ll have to remember that what you see is ~10-20% of his own income (not forgetting he has books that are not WMG published.)
      * How much can I make indie publishing? Dean has already told you. 5 for stories at 2.99 per month. 25 for novels. My experience tells me you need a year to get that constantly. My first year was 1-2 per short story average and no novels. That said, I’ve written much more short fiction than Dean has, so that’s probably as above. (Also remember, indie-wise Dean, like me up until lately, has been short story focused. That’s a low risk-low return game. Novels carry more time risk, but can provide better income due to price. If you are set on being a novelist or short writer only then you’ll find very different results. A mix is better, but you do what you are good at.)

      Probably what you need to realize is that your first year is going to suck. If you’ve been writing awhile then it won’t, but the 2nd year is when things heat up. That’s when – if you write consistently – you get sales that you can rely on. At the moment with your two novels and sales ranks, you really have the potential to get there (slick covers, nice blurbs, etc.) Just give it another 10 books and you’ll see the results your looking for. You’ve only just got yourself in the bull pen. Be patient and take your time. Everyone here is rooting for ya!

      Disclaimer: I’m not Dean’s accountant, so this is speculation. I’ve also been vague about $$$ because it’s not appropriate to reveal anything that could provide a comparison that Dean may not wish to discuss in public.

      • The Smoker says:

        Note: We would all do well to emulate Dean’s strategy. I know I’ve taken my share of his ideas and tried them out and seen good results.

      • dwsmith says:

        The Smoker, missed on a couple of areas, but the overall point you are making is correct. I believe in trying to get as many cash streams going as possible. My primary income comes from my writing and from the sales of works I have written, either directly to readers or to publishers and overseas sales. Remember, I write under a bunch of names, a couple very secret. So not only do I have my money coming in, but I also have those other “writer’s” money coming in. Having successful pen names in a home is like letting someone live with you who works, pays costs, never bothers you, and never talks or eats. In other words, wonderful. (grin) (I am talking about my pen names to be clear.)

        Do I make a lot of money from indie publishing my own Dean Wesley Smith work? Nope, but it’s growing. Why don’t I make a lot? Simple, because I have only short stories and a few collections up, and a bunch of them have bad early covers and are selling for 99 cents because of the time it’s going to take to go back and fix them. Also, I have all the Trek, Men in Black, movie novelizations, and gaming novels up electronically as well (through my traditional publishers) so until I can get books priced right, get some novels and more collections up, my indie work is buried under all my traditional work. But even that said, I sell more than 5 copies average of ever short story and collection. So my numbers are good in that regard and I’m happy.

        So at the moment, if you looked at my income for my bakery, traditional publishing would be high, with a ladder down the list from all the aspects of indie publishing. We now have the workshops structured so I make a little on them as well. And I make money selling books.

        But where you are wrong is that my writing is a low priority. It was stopped for 9 plus months with the estate, but it’s now back. The challenge is setting off slow as I expected, but the subscribers to the challenge will still get over six books this first month and you will all see stories starting to appear here. (I have more steps in the process now, like proofing before I launch them.) And in August, since everything else is done, if life allows, I might do a good fifteen or more stories, which will make the subscribers very happy. (grin) Remember, I’ve written eleven full-length novels in one year. Once I get going on short fiction, this might look crazy. But it will be fun. And writing is always my priority. Always. No point in making more money if I’m not writing.

        Also, sales ranks are just flat stupid on Amazon. And comparing yourself to any other writer is a bad thing. Especially someone like me who has been at this for 30 or 40 years. Maybe learning what I do would help, but never compare. So that also I disagree with.

        And will your first year at Indie publishing suck? More than likely. What I HATE about this new world is the idea that some new writer can start typing a story and believe they can write as well as I can or another other professional can. That’s insulting to the writers like me who took a decade of practice and writing millions of words to just break in. It will take YEARS!!!!!! Not just one year.

        So, The Smoker, while I agree with your overall thrust of having as many cash streams as possible, I needed to correct a number of details. This is an international entertainment business. It takes years to become good at it and years and mistakes to learn the business. And that’s how it should be. (grin)

        • dwsmith says:

          Oh, The Smoker, one more thing I need to be clear on. I don’t run WMG Publishing Inc. Allyson Longuiera is the publisher and the person in charge. And we have a bunch of others working as well. I am just a worker, usually only doing my own books or helping on some cover design, and mostly trying to stay out of the way. (grin)

          • The Smoker says:

            :) Thanks, Dean. Good to know there’ll be more of your stuff to read in the future.

          • dwsmith says:

            Yup, trying to drag this first story in Challenge Two to a conclusion. Of course, not only did I start late on the challenge, as is normal for me, but I tackle a really hard story right off, first of four in a series. Once I get this one done, the other three should flow easily, with luck. We shall see over the next few days. I’m hoping to have three of the four stories to my proofreader on Monday morning. About twenty thousand words, but I can do that, even with a truck coming tomorrow to move another load of comics and books up to the office.

          • The Smoker says:

            “… I’m hoping to have three of the four stories to my [proofreader] on Monday morning.”

            Hey, hey… Don’t make me too jealous! I won’t say your lucky because anyone can find a friend or two to help (at the most basic level), but, as a speech recognition user, I don’t have the option (90% accuracy produces a fair amount of garbage text). I’m still fast, but I envy those who can just pop it off the typewriter and send it off to their human spellcheck.

            ”… first story…”

            I can’t wait. It should be good!

        • The Smoker says:

          “And will your first year at Indie publishing suck? More than likely. What I HATE about this new world is the idea that some new writer can start typing a story and believe they can write as well as I can or another other professional can. That’s insulting to the writers like me who took a decade of practice and writing millions of words to just break in. It will take YEARS!!!!!! Not just one year.”

          I like that you say this. I’m doing really wellfor my years writing, but it’s always good to be reminded of the long term aspect of what we do. I still find myself worrying over sales a bit. I’m $400 weekly off my current target (the point where I’m safe to go full time, even though I won’t). Hence, your reminder is a timely one.

          [On an aside, the $400 is only 6 months more sales growth unless I hit the jackpot again – I have 4 times so far. I’m just a worrier. Reading people’s blogs that’s a natural state for us all – an offshoot of fear perhaps?]

  7. Vera Soroka says:

    I think I am slowly starting to get over most of my fears and I plan on self publishing in the new year. I think the biggest learning curve for me is learning about things that non americans have to do to set up publishing with american companies. And because of that I will never price my books cheap because I have to deal with exchange rates that effect what I get for my books.
    I read Kris’s post and I wrote down that limited time period contract so I would remember. Of course I would never sign anything without a lawyer looking it over.
    Great post by both of you!

  8. Vero says:

    Love this!

    You’re absolutely right that it’s fear, doubts and indecisiveness killing writers’ careers before anything else, because they prevent them from starting, finishing or improving, and from taking charge of their own future.

    Nothing will get to you if you’re flexible and confident in your ability — not to write best-selling stories, but to learn and adapt, and to persevere. No obstacle in your path can withstand the constant trickle of purposeful work.

    Thank you so much for this great post, Dean! Imma spread the word. :)

  9. Your post is just what I needed! I’ve been writing professionally for more than a decade, but just today indie published my first novel. During the lead up to the launch, I’ve been fretting over doing something wrong in the process. I remembered feeling this way when I sold my first article many years ago. So I’ve been telling myself that I’m only fearful because this is all new. Your reinforcing that the “Book Police” are not going to come knocking on my door and tell me to stop writing if I fail to take advantage of Twitter, or don’t have my email list up-to-date, and have a million Facebook likes is just what I needed to hear!


  10. Byron Gordon says:

    Thanks for the the reminder Dean. I’m in the middle/end of a novel right now and fighting one or two of the specific fears you mentioned. Especially the “is it good enough” one. So thank you again for the timely reminder. As the great Admiral Jason T. Nesbitt says “Never give up, never surrender!”

    Now back to BIC.

  11. “They practice making stuff up in their stories, then continue to make up stuff when faced with business decisions. And that just creates fear that leads to bad business decisions.”

    Wow, that is very insightful. Our strength as a writer (making stuff up) turns against us if we use the same mindset in business. I have never thought of it that way, but it’s true. Wow.

    Thanks, Dean!

  12. “My books will never sell in paper so I’m not going to learn how to do that.”

    I hadn’t even thought of producing print versions of my books until I read your posts about why we should; it seemed like a lot of work for a route where books probably wouldn’t sell. When I finally sat down and did it I was surprised by how easy it turned out to be. OK, the first time took a weekend as I struggled with Createspace templates that didn’t work, arcane word processor configuration, and Word files that Createspace couldn’t understand, but now I’ve done it once I could put up another book in a few hours.

    And all at zero direct cost to me other than buying a proof copy to put on the shelf.

  13. It is scary, but once you get past the nerves it’s actually a lot of fun. I spent this past weekend formatting one of my novels for print (with some help from my friends). I was really, really surprised how easy it was. It was extremely frustrating at times and I had to fight with my word processor more than I liked, but it was easier than I thought.

    I’ve also raised the prices on my short stories to 2.99 minimum and dared to charge higher rates for my novels. Instead of annoying my friends 5 times a day with “buy this,” I’m just writing more and putting more out there. I’ve got 8 titles up now. And you know what? I’m making more money. It’s not a lot, but it will put some gas in my car this weekend.

    • Writing more seems to be working for me too. I’m not making much money either, but each month the short story sales seem to be a different selection of stories, so with less stories for sale I’d have missed a lot of those sales.

      I’m trying to stick to a deadline of putting out one short story every two weeks at the moment; I have a lot that I came close to finishing but never did, so that’s giving me some motivation to get to ‘THE END’ and upload them.

      • I was trying to do a new title every month, but a series of life rolls (death of a friend, death of grandmother, oral surgery) severely hampered my writing. So it looks like once every other month for now. Which isn’t too bad. Paper sales will help and a friend is pushing me to do audiobooks which will be more income.

  14. Larry says:

    Dean, you are an inspiration.

    Funny, my Very Big Agent, who couldn’t sell my YA manuscript, recently told me exactly this: “you will ruin your career” if you e-publish.” Excuse me, but what career will I be ruining? I’ve published nothing so far, except for hundreds of news stories. Her advice seemed to be, “burn this brilliant manuscript because the big six didn’t think they could sell a million copies of it and therefore it’s dead now. Oh and I’m not going to send out your second MS, because it’s too quirky and dark. Go write me a best-seller that they can’t refuse.” Sure. Okay. I’ll just sit down and start typing a book in the “will sell a million copies” genre. What could go wrong with that?

    I’ll be e-publishing the YA book in September. And another manuscript (lit fiction) soon after that, and another YA book around Christmas. Oh, and I’ve just written two erotica/romance short stories that don’t stink; I’ll e-publish them under a pen name, with more to come.

    BTW, the time I spent getting the Very Big Agent… about four years. Oh yeah, I want those years back.

  15. So when and where is your next “Think Like a Publisher” workshop, and is there some equivalent for those who aren’t able to travel right now?

    • dwsmith says:

      Karina, that workshop isn’t scheduled again at the moment. But I will be announcing some online workshops next week that we are doing here. So watch this blog. (grin)

  16. TLDR: Dean is right.

    I haven’t updated my website in months. I updated my Facebook page yesterday for the first time in at least four months. I can’t remember the last time I tweeted.

    Also, I did not post a new story for seven months. (My kid had open heart surgery, the company I was working at failed, and I found and started a new job.) I put up a short in January, and another short this week.

    My Harlequin novella sales are way, way down… but my self-published stuff is still trending up. I have my stories for sale through Amazon, B&N, Kobo, AllRomance, and Apple/Sony/Diesel via Smashwords. Between all of those places, I managed to sell THREE TIMES as many copies of two shorts and a novella as Harlequin moved of my three novellas. (I actually thought sales were flat until I realized that for some unknown reason… I’m big on the Nook 😉 No Kindle Select for me!)

    Again – no promotion, no new stories. Just got them up and out the door and frankly forgot about them while my life went to hell. Imagine what might happen now that I’m back to writing regularly. I can’t wait to see what happens when I finish enough shorts for a bundle!

    P.S. FWIW, I formatted the 3300 word short in HTML (and then ripped all the formats I needed) using Guido Henkel’s guide in under an hour, did the Smashwords format in 15 minutes, harassed my better half while he spent fifteen minutes making me a great cover, and uploaded to all of the aforementioned distributors in another 15-20 minutes. There was about fifteen minutes of stupidity from me being rusty. Call it two hours. I had the first sale that night… less than a week after writing the story. I just don’t see the point in submitting erotica/erotic romance to a trade publisher ever again.

  17. My whole attitude from the start has been that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  18. Thomas E says:

    My worst one is the fear of success. That is a hard one to get over.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thomas E., spot on the money. Fear of success can stop most people and they won’t even know why they stopped. Especially people who were raised like me in a blue collar, low income background where learning how to deal with success and money in any real sense is a long learning process. Just easier to make sure the success doesn’t happen. And this is a topic that is impossible to talk about on a blog like this because people will just say “I’m not afraid of success.” And shrug off any idea that they might cut down their own success simply because of a fear. So just knowing it is a real fear is a start.

      • Rob Cornell says:

        I’m going to dare ask the question: How do you know if you are afraid of success?

        I come from a long line of people who failed despite their hard work. I have a feeling I might have inherited this fear of success thing. But it sounds ludicrous. Of course I want to succeed. What’s to fear? Oh, no. I might be able to pay all my bills on time.

    • L. M. May says:

      Hey Thomas,

      Fear of success is my problem as well. I highly recommend Lawrence Block’s WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE, based on a workshop he taught back in the ’80s, which delves into the different ways writers sabotage themselves. He writes about his own self-sabotage due to his fear of success at some length in that book. It’s also got some helpful suggestions on how to deal with the problem.

    • L. M. May says:

      I forgot. Along with Block’s book, Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY also was helpful. Those two books were most useful in recognizing self-sabotaging behaviors related to the fear of success, and coming up with ways to break those habits. Thanks for bringing this up, Thomas, because I ought to work through those 2 books again–I’m sure there’s much more I could learn in a second reading (and probably a third and fourth pass and onward since the learning never ends).

  19. I am so guilty of dropping my price after not selling more than four books in my first month of publishing. But I wasn’t as bad as others. I went from $6.99 to $4.99. I think I’ll bump it up to $5.99 and let it sit there because to tell you the truth, I sold four at the higher price and none at the lower price, so…what’s the difference. It’s my first out, so I’m going to follow your advice and just keep writing and publishing. After all, I do believe I’m building a career not a book. Thanks a bunch.

  20. Stephanie Laurens gave the keynote speech at this year’s RWA convention. She posted the text online here –

    The title of the speech is “Weathering the Transition – Keeping the Faith”. It’s pretty damn impressive, I’m sorry I couldn’t afford to go so I could hear her in person. She says a lot of the things you’ve been saying over and over…

  21. “Everyone says you need an agent, so you are afraid to mail directly to editors for fear of them coming to your home and ripping your computer from your desk. ”

    You’re absolutely SURE editors don’t do this? Where’s your proof???

    Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-HA!! (Okay. On very tight schedule around here. Feeling a tad unbalanced…)

  22. “— Deciding to sign a bad contract that will take your rights forever and control your writing. ”

    There’s a corollary to this one which I’ve noticed circulating with passionate frequency on the internet in recent months, which is fear of being OFFERED a contract. I’ve seen a very bizarrre and (it certainly seems to be) increasingly widespread assumpotion that it’s a BAD THING to be offered a publishing contract because you will instantly turn into a brainless potato utterly incapable of speaking for yourself or hiring counsel, and will therefore necessarily sign a bad contract.

    I know it’s CRAZY to suggest this, but I encourage people to try to imagine this with me, just for kicks: You’re offered a contract, and you negotiate the money up, and you have your attorney negotiate the contractual clauses until you’ve got terms that you’re satisfied with.

    I know, I know. I’m MAD to suggest it. But one might mull that over… rather than being so frightened we assume that, when faced with an offer, we will turn into gibbering idiots with all the business acumen of a wooden plank.

    • dwsmith says:

      LOL, Laura. I might not have evidence of editors NOT coming to a writer’s home and taking their computers, but I have seen writers turn into gibbering idiots when faced with a contract, especially if their agent tells them to sign it.

      Kris and I constantly tell writers contracts can be negotiated. And should be. And like you, we constantly tell writers to get IP attorneys on board. Kris has even done some great posts lately, in fact, one this week, on deal breakers in contracts in her opinion.

      So I suppose I should have mentioned the fear of being offered a book contract. Thanks! (grin)

      • Speaking of which, I’ve made offers on two houses this year (first one rejected; more recent one accepted!–so here’s hoping I will be a homeowner by WorldCon!). First time I’ve ever done this. And I noticed something interesting about the contract process in homebuying.

        When I’m presented by my representative (the realtor) with a “standard” contract, it’s full of blank spaces for me and also the seller TO WRITE IN my alterations, additions, requests, preferences, suggestions, etc. into the standard clauses. It is ASSUMED, in other words, that we WILL WANT TO MAKE CHANGES to the “standard” contract. It’s -so- assumed that it is provided for, right there ON the standard contract.

        It is also ASSUMED that we will negotiate back-and-forth… because there are multiple extra mostly-blank sheets attached to my realtor’s standard purchase contract, these pages having about 20-30 blanks lines for me and the seller to write on. Each page is titled somthing like Counter 1, Counter 2, etc.

        So the standard contract is structured on the basis of assuming a written back-and-forth as we negotiate, narrow down, and finally nail terms which are acceptable to both buyer and seller.

        What a CONCEPT!

        I wonder if publishing contracts were written like this if writers would be more aware that negotiation is not just acceptable, but A VERY GOOD IDEA (really, a REQUIREMENT, unless you’re a potato) of signing a deal that will involve tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and many years.

        Obviously, it doesn’t benefit publishers to actively ENCOURAGE the author to propose changes in the contract. Then again, I’m the buyer of the house, and it doesn’t benefit me to encourage the seller to make changes to my proposals. But this contract does this. Because it’s based on the assumption that buyer AND seller will only come to an agreement once they’re BOTH satisfied; not on the assumptino that everything that happens is up to the buyer.

  23. Nancy Beck says:

    I’m afraid I can’t format my story and put it up electronically. So I shouldn’t really try.

    When I formatted the first story I decided to self publish (a novella), it came back from Smashwords with errors in the ePub portion of the Meatgrinder. I was a nervous wreck. But I did the nuclear option that Mark Coker suggests – and I’ve pretty much done that for the other stories – and that cleared out all the crap that Word introduced. That story then went thru the Meatgrinder with no problems.

    Subsequent uploads have been a breeze – absolutely no problems.

    And I love the idea of doing my own covers. I find it fun, altho I did spring to have that novella series’ book covers done by a pro since I couldn’t come up with an idea for the 3rd in the series (what she had fit perfectly, so I did the installment plan with her to get the other 2 books done). Now I’m editing the first in a new series, and I’m frothing at the mouth to get at the covers again…this time adding in paper books. (They’re all going to be full-blown novels, after all. :-))

    I look at it as more of a challenge to stimulate my brain than anything else. It’s an adventure, it’s fun, and you use your brain. What could be better than that? And if you decide at a later date that your covers suck, you can hire someone to do it for you.

    So dive in and see if the water is warm enough for you. At least you’ll know you tried and what you can and can’t do on future books. :-)

  24. Nancy Beck says:

    Forgot to add: I use Libre Office, which is identical to Open Office (except it’s supported). I found an ebook on Smashwords that helped me set up a template which I now use extensively for all my books.

    Setting it up is a bit of a pain, but once you get thru that, it’s a breeze. Hey, I’m 50 years old. If I can do stuff like this, ANYONE can. :-) People just need to get past their fear.

  25. Des says:

    Great article! Wish I had read it about 2 years ago when I went through a classic existential crisis regarding writing as Art or art 😉
    I hope I don’t wander dangerously off topic. But I wonder if a newer fear will emerge as the world of publishing changes. Namely, where should you begin? Indie or traditional?
    It’s tough starting out, and in this changing environment, everything seems so uncertain. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the best way to gain an audience (aside from the obvious: write well. But even writing well doesn’t get you a contract offer if you do want to be published traditionally).
    I think the thing that turns me into a gibbering idiot is the question of how to publish :)
    Even as I prepare to send off a submission package, I have serious doubts that I am doing the best thing for my work, that I am being wise with what I hope to turn into a writing career. I don’t think it’s fear of a contract. I think it’s more of a fear of mismanagement of time and resources (which are limited for everyone, but especially those who have young kids). All week, I’ve been second guessing my decision, thinking, I could just published the damn novel by next Tuesday and get to work on my next project.

  26. Alex Hajicek says:

    Hey Dean,

    Cal Newport just posted a article that I believe resonates with what you and Kris have been trying to drill into our heads.

    [ Brackets / My emphasis]

    “This is why I call perfectionism [Rewriting/Editing] a loser’s strategy: you’re generating a disproportionate amount of stress for a small amount of value.

    The only reason this strategy makes sense is if you’re convinced that you’re never going to get any better at what you do, leaving this minor polishing at the margins all that’s left in your control.

    Here’s the alternative: focus on getting better. The benefits of improving your underlying skills will dwarf the benefits of perfectionism [Rewriting/Editing].

    If you fall just short of some recognition [Story that sells/Getting published] this year then the next year it will be an easy win and the year after that it will seem trivial. ” -Cal Newport

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Alex. Spot on the money in my opinion. But I didn’t come to the conclusion that way. I came to the conclusion by really getting behind the scenes on how long-term professional fiction writers work, and also by studying on the creative process in the human brain works. But if Newport’s reasoning makes sense, fine by me. Same result. (grin)

      • Alex Hajicek says:


        Your “Sacred Cows” series has been my bible and I recently jettisoned myself out of public accounting because it threatened to swallow my entire life and murder my dreams.

        Dreams that you made out to be not so crazy at this point.

        I have no doubt I can “make it” as in making a living. The only question is whether or not I can “personally” execute.

        Yet its hard to fight the garbage that is consistently thrown at you from other published writers.

        I just read an article by a published author that swears that you NEED to spend your entire advance on the first three books ALL on MARKETING if you even can HOPE to have a career as a writer.

        So when I see other smart people coming to the same conclusions you’ve been harping for years it helps.

        Another gem that I found that agrees with your idea that you should always be working on the next story to improve your craft (instead of reworking a dud) comes from a story Derek Sivers told

        They split groups of pottery artists into two different groups. Those that were graded simply on quantity (creating more work) and those on whom one piece of work was solely graded (polishing the proverbial “turd”)

        The results?

        “Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!

        It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”


        You and Kris are the real deal in a mean way.

        You speak the truth and in the process you’ve taken away ALL of our excuses.

        This future looks uncertain for me but I’ve never been happier.

  27. Larry says:

    I was wondering about the romance/erotica market. I keep hearing there’s a big demand and a lot of short fiction authors are earning money there. But the erotica and romance titles I’ve read (from Amazon’s list of top 100) so far have been awful. Does this mean there’s a big and untapped demand for really good erotica (with a story that makes sense and believable characters and all those good things we’re supposed to be doing)?

    • dwsmith says:

      Taste, Larry, just taste. Clearly for a lot of people, what you thought awful they loved. That’s a key thing to always remember. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. And what I might think is awful, you might think brilliant. That’s why writers just have to plot their own course with no thought to market when writing. Just write what you love, in the best way you know how, and let the market take care of itself after you finish it. Writing to market is death for most writers.

      Hope that helps.

  28. Teri Babcock says:

    Larry said:
    “But the erotica and romance titles I’ve read (from Amazon’s list of top 100) so far have been awful.”

    It’s a rare dude who would think otherwise :)

    “Does this mean there’s a big and untapped demand for really good erotica (with a story that makes sense and believable characters and all those good things we’re supposed to be doing)?”

    Remember that romance readers do not want to stray too closely to reality. They get plenty of that at home. They want an escape, and are absolutely willing to suspend disbelief at the behaviour or personality of a character if it gets them where they want to go in a hurry. They want to read a fantasy, just as much as someone who picks up a novel with elves and dragons does. If they feel like reading something closer to real life, they’ll pick up a regular fiction novel instead.

    There’s no doubt a niche for ‘reality romance’ but it probably isn’t ever going to be the lion’s share of the market, because the majority of romance readers are driven by the wish to escape.

    • Larry says:

      I guess I should say that there are two things going on with the erotica works I’ve read. First is the fantastical situation. That’s a matter of taste, and fantasy is not my taste. But I say they were awful mainly because they looked like first drafts, without editing, without much thought or care, using the same word five times in the same paragraph, not being clear on where the characters are, etc. That’s not a matter of taste. So, romance readers like fantasy AND poor sentence structure? Please someone tell me that’s not true.

      • dwsmith says:

        Larry, clearly readers are not noticing, which is normal in most cases. Writers, especially early on in our careers, really, really get sensitive to structure and word choices and so on. As millions of words flow through our fingers, we stop caring so much about sentences and worry more about stories. We still do our best to make a manuscript clean and clear as possible, but story comes first.

        Not saying that’s what is going on here. My point is for you to not write to market. If that’s a natural place for you to write to, which it doesn’t sound like it is as a reader, then go for it. But trying to write to a market can drive your own work down in quality and also take all the fun out of it. And if writing isn’t fun, what’s the point? (grin) That’s all I was saying.

        By the way, I have areas of fiction I think are poorly written and I can’t read as well, but my wife has informed me in so many words that the areas I talk about are not to my taste and that the writing is perfect for the subgenre. I used to say I could write anything until I found those areas. (grin)

        So the key is as a writer do the best you can, which I know you do, and just don’t think about markets when writing. Have fun. Write what you want. Then worry about where to sell it after it’s done.

        • Larry says:

          Actually, even though I hate the idea of writing to market, I have written some erotica/romance short stories that I would like to publish. But they are realistic (but still fun) and, I think, could be literary crossovers. Might publish them under a pen name.

          As to writing to the market, yeah I get it, write what you love. And I do. I have for a long time. But it’s hard not to consider what I’m missing out on after hearing for the umpteenth time, “erotica and other genres sell like hotcakes, so why are you writing lit fiction, loser?” (I’m paraphrasing).

          Actually, I write YA as well, which does sell.

  29. Wonderful. Tipjar eminently justified here. Simply wonderful piece.

  30. Great post. I’m pretty sure I have experienced just about every fear described here at one time or another. And taking the leap into indie publishing was one of the biggest fears, despite all the successes of many of my friends who had already made that leap.

    I was convinced I’d sell only a few books and may well have shot myself in the foot deciding to self-publish. Of course, that fear was completely unfounded. And when my first self-pubbed book was such a success I realized how stupid I had been. Even if it hadn’t been successful, the pure elation of being able to write the book I wanted to write—without having to “sell” anyone but actual readers—would have been enough to keep me going.

    There’s something about freedom that really strips away the fear.

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