The New World of Publishing: Goals and Dreams

I’ve been promising to start a series on how to set yourself set up and plan for 2013 here in December 2012. A couple people actually have asked me when I was going to start that series. Well, I already have.

Part One: Some Perspective on 2012.

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

So now we move to Goals and Dreams in this post. Any business plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work. The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

So, the series is continuing, but before reading this, please read those first two parts. It’s all going to build from part to part and I’m going to reference parts of those posts as well at times.

Defining a Dream

So what is a dream?

Be rich, sell millions of books, hit #1 on the New York Times List? Yup, all dreams. How about winning the lottery? Yup, a dream.

How about being published by a traditional publisher? Yup, a dream.

You can send a novel to a traditional editor or put it up indie published for publishers and readers to see. That is working toward the dream of being published by a traditional publisher. But you have no control over the fact that you will be published by any traditional company. None.

That’s why they are called “dreams.”

For the purpose of this series of posts, let me define a dream.

A dream is something that you want that is out of your direct control.

We work toward dreams, but we have no control over gaining them. That’s what defines something as a dream. No direct control.

Defining a Goal

Again for the sake of this discussion, A goal is something you can do that is in your direct control.

Goals are set with the hope of achieving a dream.

Dream: Win the lottery. Goal: Buy a lottery ticket every week.

You can buy a lottery ticket. That is working toward the dream of winning the lottery. Buying a ticket is in your control.

“Making a Living With Your Fiction” Dream

Dream: At some point in the future you hope to pay all your bills every year with only your fiction writing.

So what kind of goals are you going to need to get to this dream? Remember, you set goals to achieve dreams.

Before we set some goals, let me give some basics.

To be a professional writer, you are going to need the following just to start:

1) Determination bordering on psychotic.

2)  The ability to keep standing back up and going on when something knocks you down.

3) The ability to ignore the negative from all those around you, especially family and friends.

4) The hunger to keep learning writing craft and the knowledge you will never be good enough.

5) Fearlessness.

6) The desire to learn business.

7) The ability to control your own time and what comes at you.

If you think you have all seven of those points, or can learn or fake a part of them, then we can move on to the next step.

Please understand that three years ago there was only one path to this dream of making a living with your fiction. Now there are numbers of valid paths and a lot more writers achieving the dream. See my post How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013. I tend to lean toward the #4, #5, or #6 paths, but the #2 path will also work given enough time.

So what steps are next?  There are a couple of ways of approaching this as a business person.

#1… Set desired income and work backward to a production goal to attain the income… or #2…. set a production goal and work forward until the income arrives.

I tend to like just setting a production goal and working toward the income as it happens. More in my control. But both methods need production goals set, just as any manufacturing business would.

So that’s where I’ll start.

How to set production goals

FIRST STEP… even if you are writing pretty well already, take an inventory of all the time you spend every day for three or four sample days. Doing everything.

Every minute in fifteen minute chunks. Do a log. And be honest. And also record your mental state during the time frame. For example, up at 6:30 but too tired to think until 8:30 and two cups of coffee.

After you have the log, figure out how much writing time you have.

Add in reading time, research time, and so on.

CAUTION!!!  Writing time is only writing time, creating new words only. Rewriting, researching, reading, taking a workshop is not writing time. Be clear on that because if you start to blur those lines, you will discover your new word production has decreased.

(Honestly, I expect very few of you to do this, even though it might be the most important step you take in production. Most writers fall down on point #7 above and it is often terminal to a writing career.)

SECOND STEP… Keep time over a number of writing sessions how many NEW words you get done in an hour. Round that to a general number per hour. For example, I write slower at the starts of stories and faster at the ends. So the general number I use for myself is around 1,000 words per hour. I tend to be comfortable with that and many professional writers I know are in that range.

Find your own range and be clear on it and don’t tell us. This is for you to figure out for yourself.

THIRD STEP… Look at all your writing time from step one and your word count per hour from step two and figure out how much you could write in A PERFECT WEEK.

Divide that in half and that is your writing goal of new words per week.

Example: So say with your day job and kids, you can carve out ten hours per week of actual writing time. Divide that in half and if you write about 1,000 words per hour of new words, you will be producing 5,000 new words per week. (5 hours x 1,000 words = 5,000 words per week.)

Take two weeks off and you get 50 weeks x 5,000 words or 250,000 new words per year.

That’s just five hours per week.  That’s how you write a lot of words.

If you can manage to actually write ten hours per week of original fiction, just over one hour per day, you would produce a half million words of fiction in one year. (And you would be called one of the fastest writers in publishing if you worked that one-plus-hour per day for a few years. Not kidding.)

What is the next goal?

You can’t do anything without producing and finishing new novels and stories. So the production goal has to be the top importance. Period. Those hours have to be protected like gold. And you have to work during those hours, not play video games on your computer or answer e-mail. You have to protect those hours from yourself mosts of all.

But after setting the production goal, (and defending your writing time and actually writing in that time) it will now depend on your own beliefs in both myths and how you want to go at  the publishing industry. Again, back to my last post in this series, “How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.” You have choices.

Are you writing short fiction or novels or both?  (Again, please only answer for yourself in your own planning.)

Do you also have a dream of traditional publishing novels? Or can you be happy for now indie publishing and making a living that way? (Ignoring that indie publishing is now a route to traditional publishing for the sake of this discussion.)

Again, look at the six roads I laid out in the last post and figure out which one works for you and your dreams.

Let Me Help a Little in the Decision…

Going back to doing a business plan, let’s come at the entire thing from another direction.

First, set how much money you need to live for a year. Say the number is $50,000.00 for the sake of this article.

Traditional Publishing Route: (Path #2 from last week.)

If you are writing for traditional publishers and making $5,000 advances, you will need to write and sell ten novels per year plus to get close to that amount. Or get higher advances. If you want to make $50,000 per year and only write one book, you need to sell it for $50,000 plus. And do that every year.

Yup, that’s a dream like winning the lottery. It’s possible if you buy enough tickets… I mean write enough books.

I have written entire novels for under $5,000 and I have made over $50,000 per book. Both are more than possible. The low end is more likely in this new world. (And plan on never seeing another dime from the book after the first year. You will never get it back with modern contracts unless your advance is way above six figures and you have a great attorney.)

And remember that selling a novel to traditional publishers is a dream, so to achieve that dream you will need to pound editor’s desks (again option #2 from last week) with dozens of novels for years. It will take a long, long time, as it has always done.

But it is possible. That’s how I did it. And for years Kris and I taught that road, the only road before three years ago open to writers.

Remember, I am writing this assuming the dream is to make a living with your fiction. To do so on the traditional route, you would have to set your goals to write a lot of books, far more than one hour per day, actually, or plan on taking a lot of years. The first novel breaking in will speed up the process, but with traditional publishing route, make sure you are clear on all the stuff I have been talking about here. And what Kris has been talking about on her blog. Contracts, agents, and so on. There are thousands of pitfalls on that road, but again, writers do walk it.

I walked it for decades and never really got very lucky. I just worked harder than almost everyone and have now published over a hundred novels with traditional publishers. It can be done.

Do I suggest it as a road to walk in 2013?

No. But it is your career. Your choice.

Indie Publishing Route:

First five to ten novels you put up you will be lucky to sell 25 copies per month average over a year. Average. Some will sell none, some more. (And I’m talking across the planet, not just Kindle.)

But do the math. If you are selling the novels at $5.99 each electronic (ignoring paper and audio for the moment) you make about $4.00 per sale or about $100 per novel average per month. Or around $1,200 per year per novel.

You will not do this with your first or second or even fifth novel.  This path, just as traditional publishing does, takes a lot of product. That is a drawback. If the first year you write three novels (about six hours per week), you would be lucky after the first year to make great dinner money on all three books total every month.

Also, you have to go back to Step One above and figure in the time where you can learn how to do covers and layout interiors of books.  And that can’t be your writing time. You must dig out the indie production time from other time. Not writing time.

And you will need to set up a business as a small press or indie publisher. My “Think Like a Publisher” posts under the tab above are free. (I will be doing a lecture series with that title to help people as well starting in 2013.) So that can be learned, but not on writing time.

Indie publishing route is much easier to do business “projections” on. Say you have finished ten novels in four years (again ignoring paper and audio editions for now). You are averaging 25 copies per month sold over those ten titles. That is a pretty steady income of $12,000 per year. Not $50,000, but a nice start.

As with traditional publishing, this method of approach assumes a few dreams happen given enough work.

With traditional publishing, this method assumes that with given enough years and work, you start selling regularly to traditional publishers.  That’s the dream part.  It might not happen. In indie publishing, the dream part is that you average 25 copies per book per month in sales. That might not ever happen either.

You can’t control if you sell to New York and you can’t control if your books sell to customers.

So that approach does not really work as a business plan because it assumes sales that are out of your control.

So I’m going to back up to what is a goal, what can be controlled.


You control in Traditional Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale, meaning how many do you mail to traditional editors and how you keep them in the mail to as many editors as you can over time.

That’s it.

You control in Indie Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale.

3) You also control the quality of the cover, the blurbs, and where your book is sold (paper, electronic, audio and all markets for everything around the world.)

That’s it.

Control of both major paths ends right there. 

So how do you work to get the money flowing and growing and eventually make a living if you don’t control either sales to editors or customers?


1) You control where you attempt to sell your work.

2) You control how much you are learning to make your work better every time.

On where to sell your work, my suggestion is this: Attempt to sell your work everywhere you can think of, in as many forms as you can figure out..

Let me repeat that, since it is such a simple sentence and so fantastically hard for people to follow.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

That you can control! You control the attempt to sell. You don’t control the buying or not buying, but you control the attempt to sell.

So a goal can be to get your work out to every market you can get it out to in all fashions. EXCLUDE NOTHING.

A couple of very simple examples:

Example #1: You write a short story.

— First, try to sell it to traditional magazines that pay above 5 cents per word and give you rights back to your story within a year.

— After it hits the top markets, then indie publish it, or if it sells, after you get the rights back, indie publish it as a stand-alone for $2.99 electronic. (Get it in every electronic market you can get it into around the world.)

— Put it with three or four other stories and publish it as a collection.  Do print and audio versions of the collection as well. Get them into every outlet you can around the world as well.

And so on…

Example #2: You write a novel.

Publish it indie first electronically, in paper, and in audio and get it out around the world to every market you can get it out to.

Then mail a copy of the trade paperback with a cover letter and quick synopsis and a SASE to five traditional editors who might buy it for their line. And if they don’t respond or reject it, mail it to five more editors in six months. (Path #5 from the last article.)

There is no either/or in 2013.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.


In the next article in this series, I will break down how to get the production going. The decision on traditional or indie or both does not matter if you can’t get production of new words going.

And keep it going.

That’s a key. I’ll give you in the next post a number of tricks and methods to keep your writing going through 2013. And a few nifty games to play as well.

Also, I will talk about how to keep learning through the new year. That’s also something you can control and will help in money made in the future.

You control production, learning, and where your try to sell your work.

But until the next article, figure out how many hours of writing you can carve out of your life and how fast you write original words.  (And again, keep them to yourself… not our business, just yours.)

And then I’ll help you get to those words and keep them flowing.

And remember the point of this article.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

As I said in last week’s article, it really, honestly, is that simple.

And that hard.


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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80 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Goals and Dreams

  1. Carradee says:

    This is why, earlier this year, I came up with a writing log to see how long it took me, start to finish, to produce stories, keeping track of each task (how many words are written in a writing stint), and my average produced (fiction) words per hour. Because I have an estimate, but I’ve no idea how accurate it is.

    I’m working on a novel now that’ll be my first book that I’ve kept track of, start to finish. I daresay that’ll be quite illuminating to find out how long it takes me, hour-wise, particularly when I’ve already noticed the beginning might need redoing. Had a bit of “Author figuring out narrator thought processes” in there. :-)

    • I did the same thing. Even set up a nice spreadsheet to track my progress on every project I’m writing, track costs of production (labor, art, editing fees, Createspace fees, etc), and calculate average word count by hour and by project. I was quite surprised, and pleased, at what that tracker showed me. Namely, that I write quite a bit faster than I thought.

      Of course, on the flip side, knowing how fast I can write puts the lie to every excuse I have about why I can’t get at least some words out there on a routine basis. Really? I can’t carve out 30-45 minutes here or there? Really??

      I hate it when I lose the ability to make excuses. I really do. 😛

  2. J.J.Foxe says:


    Goal setting like this – concrete, realistic goal setting- is a topic that is worth studying for writers – or for anyone trying to achieve anything.

    I recommend two things: Zig Ziglar’s Audio set on goal setting. Seth Godin’s take on this: Pick Four – a ‘diary’ where you record what you’ve done on a daily basis.

    Those are all the resources a writer needs on top of this post to get going IMHO.

  3. Eliza Tilton says:

    Great article. When you break it down, writing two novels a year (my current goal) is feasible. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. The Smoker says:

    Nice post. I can confirm that all of this is pretty much on the money. I did most of the above and, yeah, things do work that way.

    Giving an example, I do xxxx words a day in 2-3 hours and do 30 minutes a day publishing. I work full time and I am better in the late, late evening after work when I’m emotionally amped OR worn (I tend to write directly from my emotions, it would seem). That works for me and I get 1 short story a day with a collection every 4 days and so on. Pretty much like whacking baseballs day in day out as a batter and I have had my home runs and gotten my bonuses for them (Actually, really similar to what Dean has projected.)

    So, I highly recommend going through the above and filing it in your head for later. I have lived all of that, from working out my time/production to learning the covers/interiors to, finally, just making it a habit/process (a part of my life: who I am as a person). It makes more sense after a few years than it does right away, but you’ll look back and, like me, say “Yeah, I can tick off all those qualities and I have experienced all that a few dozen times.” Then you’ll realize that, yes, you really are a professional writer – not just some amateur player – and, boy-oh-boy, does it feel good!

  5. Zelah Meyer says:

    I had a lot of plans regarding what I hoped to accomplish this year. Then life happened! My toddler got diagnosed with autism, and also started getting night terrors & nightmares. Hello an average of 5 1/2 hours sleep most nights – farewell energy, motivation and productivity!

    I’ve realised that if life isn’t going to get any easier for a while, I just have to do my best regardless. I’m slowly gearing up my productivity ready for a fresh bash at things in January. For 2013, I’m setting myself an easily achievable goal of five titles minimum published next year, lots of study on craft & technique, and 500 words a day on average of new writing.

    500 words is a ridiculously do-able daily target. Even if I’m so sleep-deprived that it turns out to be incomprehensible garbage that gets junked – it will keep me in practice. I also know from a previous attempt at setting a daily word count goal, that if I write regularly, then I will regularly exceed my goal. It’s also a target that will be easy to catch up on if I get a day or two behind, which will encourage me to stick at it. I’ll probably up my daily target during Camp NaNo & NaNoWriMo – so I should wind up with a reasonable total for the year if I can keep at it, which I hope to. :)

    I’ve also set myself up a private list on of 101 things to do in 1001 days. In contrast to my easily achievable goals for next year – my list on there really sets the bar high for me. If I can hit 60% I’ll be happy, 80% I’ll be doing really well, and 100%? Well, I can dream! I’m allowing myself to swap something out if I find a project I’d rather work on, but it has to be at least equivalent to whatever I take off the list in terms of time & effort required.

    I’m very motivated by statistics, so I find a daily word count tracker spreadsheet & an online list like the Day Zero one to be really helpful. For others they might just be a distraction. I’m looking at what keeps me going, and what makes me stop, and am trying to use that knowledge to help me achieve as much as possible!

    If I don’t meet my goals, it won’t matter, as long as I tried, and keep trying. Originally, I wasn’t even going to start on the self-publishing journey until my son started school, but I couldn’t wait. So, anything I accomplish over these next few years is a bonus really. :)

    Good luck to everyone with your 2013 goals!

  6. Vera Soroka says:

    Well written post! The time factor is what I have to figure out. I know how many words I can produce in a given amount of time, I just have to find the right time in the day to do it.
    I’ve gone through the entire set up of indie publishing, even getting that stupid tax number that us non Americans have to have. That was a pain but I did it. I just have to learn a bit more about formatting. I hope to start in Feb. publishing.
    I also have to figure out the editing since I have no money for that, I’m going to have tio find someone who will proof read it for nothing in exchange for something that they want. I don’t want to put it out there without a second set of eyes looking at it.
    I write both straight and gay erotic romances and I’m starting with a gay romance which I know is a niche market so I’m not looking to make a great deal of money from that but I know the market there is growing and being accepted so let’s hope I can make something.
    I also write fantasy and would like to send stories to magazines but I don’t know any. The Fairie Magazine I subscribed to went under and the same with Realms of Fantasy. Are there other ones out there? Also,does any one know if romance magazines still exist? Thanks again for the great post!

    • Hey Vera – If you’re looking for somewhere to send stories, try they have a searchable database of publishers and you can limit by genre and length. They’re going to a subscription-only model in the new year, but you can search free for the next couple of weeks. Try Ralan too – I haven’t really used them, but it would be worth a look.

    • Vera, no romance magazines – you should just publish those stories directly to the various platforms. :)

  7. It appears at this point my biggest problem is speed, from start to finish. I’ll be struggling with that for a while I think. I’m taking steps.

    • Brandon says:

      Same here! My eyes bulged when I read that Dean averages 1,000 words per hour. I’m lucky to average 200–300, and all of those words are hard won.

      What steps are you taking, Christopher? And I’d be very curious to hear if and how others have managed to boost their word count without sacrificing quality.

      • dwsmith says:

        Hey, Brandon, what is “quality?” If you mean without sacrificing writing from the English teacher part of your brain, then you never will get faster than a few hundred words per hour. But if it means just letting fly and writing from the creative side of your brain, that all comes down to just typing speed for many of us.

        • Brandon says:

          Hi Dean, thanks so much for taking the time to respond personally! I certainly struggle with censoring the inner editor—learning how to just let fly would definitely improve the output. Maybe it’s a matter of experience, but I find myself getting bogged down in the minutia of this fantasy world I’m writing in but haven’t fleshed out yet. (The idea was to let the rough draft direct the shape of the setting, but then there’s Is there an official town guard? What about plumbing? Clothing? Currency?)

          What I’d love to know is how much planning/outlining there is before you feel free to rely solely on the creative side. When writing 1,000 words an hour, how extensive is the revision process?

          Thanks again!

  8. D.J. Gelner says:

    Love it, Dean–great work as always. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the “prestige” of publishing a novel through a big, New York publisher. You’re totally right that at the end of the day, all that matters is that we figure out a way to do what we love for a living. The fun (and exhausting, and exhilarating, and frustrating, and a hundred other things) part now is figuring out all of the many different ways to do so in the new world of publishing. I know that whenever I stop by your blog, you’ll always have something thought-provoking that will if not quite open a new door, then at least illuminate a new potential path.

    • dwsmith says:

      D.J., not even sure the “prestige” is around any more with big traditional publishers. Three of them (most recent Simon and Schuster) have started vanity presses. You pay enough money, you get their name on your book. Makes me almost embarrassed to have published those thirty-plus novels with Simon and Schuster. And I wager both of them are spinning in their graves right about now.

  9. RD Meyer says:

    Too many indie authors overlook number six on your list about knowing business. I’ve run into a lot of folks who are “artists” and can’t be bothered by that nasty business stuff. In my opinion, that’s why they sell less than ten copies per year, all the while griping about not being given their big break

  10. Hayden says:

    I’m kind of caught in a web. I want to quit my day job so I can earn money from my writing (my goal is to publish four short novels a year, which is doable) and my editing job at a small press. Unfortunately I don’t earn enough from both because I have my day job (which eats up valuable time), and I can’t quit my day job because I don’t earn enough from both (not enough time to write and edit).

    The rabbit hole’s a bit nuts.

    • Hayden says:

      Oh, forgot to add – I’m traditionally published by a small press, and my market is a small niche, hence my very modest earnings in book sales. But it does help not having to pay a mortgage anymore (or I’ll never hear the end of it from my husband). :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Hayden, that hole can be escaped with moving companies, getting more money for the same amount of work, or indie publishing so that the book earns every year, not just once. The key is spread out, sell (license) your work everywhere and make more money for each hour of your writing time.

    • Thomas E says:

      Hayden, I know Dean has given you some answers, but from my newbies perspective and without knowing your circumstances I’d say it is possible to finish a lot of fiction even as a part time writer.

      For the last two years I’ve produced 440,000k a year, working very much part time.

      The key is writing when you can. If you sit down and write something almost every day, you can produce a lot.

      I’m a freelancer, so there are times when I can write full time – when I have no other work and it is counterintuitive but I often find it hard to produce more on days where I have all day to write compared to whenI am busy.

      Next year I want to take it up a step and write a 1000000 words. I’ve found time in my schedule, and I have no children, so I am going for it.

  11. Kerry says:

    In March this year I set myself the goal of publishing some translations. As part of that I made a commitment to translate a minimum of two pages a day and to only take days off between books. The result to-date: 214,000 words translated, 262 days of translating with a record of 137 consecutive days. I found that keeping a spreadsheet with word counts for each day helped keep me on track. It takes me about an hour to translate two pages, so this was less than 500 hours work. Some days I translated more than two pages, my record was 14 pages. I graphed the accumulated totals and put a trend line on it, then when I dropped below the trend it gave me an incentive to knuckle down – all psychology, I imagine this technique could also be used by any writers who are data freaks.

    I like your distinction between dreams and goals – very useful.

  12. C.E. Petit says:

    Just a couple of supplementary notes:

    (1) The “traditional* publishing” route for 2013 is now out of reach unless you’re already under contract. Given the delays built into the system, a work of fiction submitted to a traditional publisher for print publication on 02 Jan 2013 will not be in print before some time in 2014… and probably won’t even be under contract until then, except in the extraordinarily unlikely circumstances in which the first publisher immediately reviews it, likes it, and negotiates in good faith starting from fair terms so that there’s little to negotiate anyway. Since none of those are even close to the “average”, the “traditional” publishing route is only illusorily open for 2013 by now anyway. (And that’s not just for “big five/six” NY-based publishers, either; H___ and S___, both non-NY big-players-but-not-big-sixish-except-in-certain-niches, are scheduling works acquired this week for March and May 2014 respectively.)

    (2) I must object to one thing that Our Gracious Host said; it sounds like a quibble, but it’s not.

    Go ahead and sell copies of your works “everywhere[, a]nd in as many forms as you can figure out.”

    Never sell the works themselves. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, it is vanishingly rare for a true freelancer’s book-length work to be properly sold; it is, instead, licensed. There are profound legal, linguistic, and commercial reasons that BigPublishing continues to misuse (and encourage others to misuse) the word “sold” regarding the author/publisher transaction. Regardless, understanding that they’re different is what’s necessary for Our Gracious Host’s point 6 (toward the top), of being willing to learn the business. As an author, you probably don’t need to know the fine distinctions, and when misnaming matters, and so on; if you do, go hire an IP lawyer (like most agents — and, for that matter, NY-based publishers of all sizes — seldom do).

    As writers and authors, our stock in trade is language; it’s the common point between fiction and nonfiction. We should make an effort to use it correctly, and this is one of my peeves. (It isn’t a pet peeve yet — more of a stray that keeps coming back hoping I’ll feed it — but it’s getting there.**)

    * It’s not “traditional.” It should be called “commercial,” not traditional… because the real “traditional” publisher was a member of the Company of Stationers, and that’s vanity press. What people now call “traditional” publishing has only been the dominant publishing model since around 1912 or so. But I’ve lost this battle…

    ** As anyone who has seen my extended presentations on publishing contracts knows, my pet peeves are Warranty and Indemnity. They’re drooling outside the office door right now… still chained to the wall like in the cartoon.

    • dwsmith says:

      Sorry, C.E., you are correct. I used the term “sell” in this article when, of course, I meant “licensed.” I know that, but I’m afraid I’m fighting enough myths in these articles to fight the distinction between “sell” and “license” at this point. But you are correct, we only license our work. If you don’t understand that, folks, go start learning copyright. Best place to start is The Copyright Handbook put out by Nolo Press. A basic start.

      So yes, I should have said, “license your work everywhere.” That is correct and an important point.

      And I was not actually talking about getting a book into print in 2013. You are spot on again, C.E., not possible unless already under contract. What I was talking about was taking that path, submitting submission packages to traditional publishers in 2013. But again, point taken.

    • Sorry, yes, it is excessively nit-picky. Even Amazon reports “sales” to us on our “Sales reports” and every author I know talks about sales even though we all know, yes it is licenses.

  13. Annie Bellet says:

    It is scary how once you track your progress and figure out what you are capable of, how the excuses no longer sound like good reasons. 😛

    Of course, the way my brain works, I can’t halve the “perfect” week. If I aim only for half, I’ll only do maybe 1/4. If I aim for the whole, I usually get half or better done.

    My “perfect”, I discovered, is about 40 pulp length novels in a year. It sounds insane to me, but I broke it down by daily goals and project goals and it no longer sounds insane (elephant one bite at a time, right?). And hey, if I only get half, that’s still 20 novels I didn’t have this year. It’s freeing to let go of the things I can’t control and focus on the writing.

  14. Another helpful article. I’ve been writing since last December, and have been following your production and pricing advice. I’ve become an independent publisher, and have works out in print and audiobook.

    My weak link is capital; I vastly prefer paying artists for cover-work, but my writing is the only source of income I have. It covers rent, but doesn’t leave me anything to pay for editing and commissions. I’m blessed with capable (and free) beta-readers, but I know they don’t catch everything.

    I’ve managed to teach myself cover layout and ebook/print formatting, but I’m hesitant to put anything into print that hasn’t seen a good professional edit. It seems to be the only real hitch in my process; I can do everything else myself.

    • dwsmith says:

      Michael, there are dozens of great places where you can find professional art for your books to license from professional artists for less than $20 per use, usually under 500,000 copies sold and unlimited electronic use. It might take some searching to find the right piece of art, but that’s better than paying the money.

      As for having a “professional edit” if you mean copyedit, a friend with a love of grammar and spelling can help with that, often in exchange for something, or the price of a good dinner. You can find that sort of help locally.

      • Yeah, I’ve been having my grammar-minded betareader help me out. She catches a lot that I’d miss. I just worry about releasing an inferior product.

        • dwsmith says:

          Michael, you seem to have elements of the “perfect book” syndrome, which is deadly, actually to both publishers and writers. There is no such thing as a perfect book. And no one writes one or puts one out of New York. We all just do the best we can, then release and move forward.

          For those of you who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, let me try to explain since I hear it all the time in these comments on various areas.

          The “perfect book” syndrome when associated with writers tends to be an excuse to not put themselves on the line. That pathological fear of releasing something not perfect gives a writer the perfect excuse to not publish anything or mail anything to an editor. It’s a fear of failing, so better to make sure the book is perfect (which it will never be) and not send it out (just yet is the thinking, but sending never happens.)

          This often manifests, folks, in the burning desire to keep rewriting and rewriting. But in indie publishing, it is manifesting in the fear that even though five people have read it, non of them were professional editors, so I had better not publish it. And so on.

          Folks, when you hear yourself talking in “perfect book” speak about a project, realize you are talking out of fear. No reader will come to your home and break your fingers just because there is a few typos. Honest. And you have no career to ruin when you are a beginning writer.

          • Oh, I realize. It’s something I’m working on, but I only had 10 releases over the last year — I’ll have to be a lot more prolific in 2013 if I want to pull this off.

            Thankfully I have your blog to help me out.

          • Marc Cabot says:

            Another cool thing about indie publishing with POD/ebooks is that if you catch a typo – I seem to catch one every third book or so which is significant enough to bug me – it can be fixed and new versions sent to the e-tailers in a matter of minutes and the corrected versions will be up in a matter of hours. I am very much one of those “Oh my God I used ‘to’ where I should have used ‘too’ EVERYONE WILL THINK I AM AN ILLITERATE MORON” types. But at least I don’t have to sit and think about the fact that 10,000 copies of my gross stupidity are sitting in bookstores and nothing can be done about it. Or that somebody ELSE will introduce one and I’ll look like a moron when it wasn’t even my fault.

          • Josh says:

            Almost anything can be fixed easily, Michael. And I’m sure everyone who has published something here, both traditionally and self, has an terrible-errors-that-made-it-into-publication horror story to tell.

            I published a story with the text of chapter repeated twice. Ahhh! I didn’t notice the error until I was reviewing a print proof months after publishing the ebook version. And people had purchased it in that state. Ahhh!

            I fixed the error and the story still sells. If I lost a reader because of the error, I don’t know it. No one has blacklisted me and there aren’t horrible reviews posted everywhere.

  15. Absolutely amazing article, Dean. There’s a lot for me to go back and reread, study. You really speak to the ambitiousness of the inner writer, and this is just so inspiring. It’s essentially training yourself into a constant state of being a writer, living and breathing and accounting for every minute. It is so easy to think you’ve given it your best shot and failed, when really your best effort was 1000 times that. Thanks a lot.

  16. Thanks so much for doing this series, Dean. I’ve been writing for years, but it’s good to see all of this stuff laid out in black and white (well, black and cream, I suppose). This is something that so many writers need help with–many don’t even realize they need to have some sort of business plan, etc. when starting out. We’ve been kind of trained by society to think, “OK, I’m the artist, I take care of the creative work, and then ‘Daddy Agent’ will just take care of the big bad business stuff.” I really can’t wait until more artists take control of their own destinies, rather than handing their lives over to someone else.

  17. Jennings says:

    Great article. I am a project person, so I write a ton in a short time (a 90k novel in a month) and then do production, etc., afterwards. Some things overlap, of course, but I got 5 novels and screenplay written, 3 books published, and 2 in the pipeline, in a year. And that was before I decided to even publish anything, which was in June, 2012. But I got that much done because I recognize a truth about myself: I do really well in project mode, and do really badly if I drag it out. So I work with that knowledge rather than trying to change my personality (I do just about everything I do well when in project mode, and am really bad at daily tasks!).

    I’ve really been laid low with migraines this year for the first time ever (about 26 days a month… yeah), and now the holidays, so the last few weeks haven’t been very productive. But I’m thinking like the commenter who discovered her child was autistic – I’m doing what I can and just accepting that for now. I’ve just had my migraine meds changed, so I’m already planning a big 2013 (I think 7 books, 4 novels and 3 nonfiction), and am staying positive that I’ll be able to do it.

    I really appreciate this blog (and Kris’) which I’ve only just discovered! Thanks for sharing!

    • You’ve done amazing! Much more than most writers do in a decade. Just give your mind downtime so you’re fully rested for 2013.Let the meds work their magic.I heard that exercise reduces migraines, so get started if you haven’t already. The article was on DailySpark a few days ago.

      I’ve had a medical problem recently-my hands hurt when used too much. It started and has gotten worse since Oct 2011. I switched to typing with pens and eventually that hurt too. It’s frustrating to not be able to reach even close to my peak daily word count of yesteryear. Your migraines must be much worse, so I should be grateful.

      Now I use a writing tablet with 2hr breaks in between. You’ve reminded me to accept the cards I’ve been dealt, stop feeling sorry for myself, and get down to business. I could’ve achieved 10,000 words a day easily. Now I manage 3,000. That’s my new goal and I must accept that. I can read and gather more writing tips in those 2hr breaks instead of wasting time on the internet.

      My goals:
      3000 words a day
      Quit entertainment websites and learn about writing OR read instead
      Keep going until I die

      • Mercy Loomis says:

        There’s always Dragon or another speech to text software package. They do take some training but it might well be worth your time, especially if your hands keep getting worse. Kevin J Anderson writes via voice recording, but I believe he sends his to someone to have them typed up.

  18. Julie says:

    Last year I decided to track how many words per hour I was writing (when writing a scene that I had already planned). I set a digital timer for an hour, and started writing. After ten minutes, the postman arrived with a delivery so I had to stop the timer. I started again. After twenty minutes, the fire alarm in the building went off so I had to start again. Eventually, I got my solid hour in.

    To my surprise, whether I was writing for 10, 20 or 60 mins, I was doing the same 1,000 words per hour. Lately, I set my timer for 20 minutes, and take a break when the timer goes off. Sometimes that break needs to be several hours, depending on my constraints but knowing that even 20 minutes is worth grabbing has changed my writing life. I only need three of those sessions in a day to have knocked off 1,000 words without even noticing.

    Small amounts of time, often repeated, do add up to a heck of a lot, as Dean says.

  19. Teri Babcock says:

    “it is counterintuitive but I often find it hard to produce more on days where I have all day to write compared to when I am busy.”

    My most productive writing days have been those days that were busy at work. On those days where the whole day stretches out before me, empty and waiting to be filled with writing, I procrastinate more. I’m best when I know I have 30 minutes or 90 minutes only, and that after that I have to do something else.

    I love my day job. But I’m also aware that having work commitments makes me a better writer. I’ve also had a lot of practise working with being heavily scheduled, have done the time audit Dean suggested, and think in increments of 5 minutes. That means that when I have 5 minutes free between clients, in stead of blowing it off because “I don’t have enough time to do anything” I know exactly what I can get done in that time.

    And that helps my writing, because those 5 minute blocks, over the week, add up to save me at least one block of writing time.

  20. It sounds perfectly reasonable until you start trying to separate research from writing. That doesn’t work for me, at least not with historical fiction. I suppose setting a timer and stopping it when as generally happens several times a chapter, I stop to double check some detail. My production last year wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be so I’ll give your advice some serious consideration. Maybe my objection is just proof that with any advice we have to tailor it to our own situation and writing.

  21. Chrissy Wissler says:

    Dean, I’ve been mulling over your post for the past couple days and trying to figure out my production goals but I’m running into a wall, mainly that I have no control over my time. Here’s what I mean: I did (and am doing) as you suggested with the log and quickly realized I could make better use of the down time in my home life. If baby’s asleep, then that’s writing time and I need to use it. Or after she wakes up for the day, I stay up and write (instead of snoozing). Unfortunately, I’ve realized if she’s awake writing isn’t an option (as well as if dad’s got her and she’s crying – this is a mommy-quirk that simply won’t let me write), but I can work towards publishing during that time.

    If there’s one constant in a baby’s life it’s that they’re always changing. Her schedule is always changing. Right now she’s napping – ya! Writing time. But that nap time will tinker off and she’ll be awake and mobile and…. So my question is how can I (or someone in a similar situation) plan production goals? I know I’ll get time to write. I just don’t know when or how much. I’ve been doing that since she was 2 months old (even if only a short story at a time). My daughter comes first, absolutely, and I’m enjoying her and the time we have, but the writing is essential for mommy’s well-being. I *want* to dedicate time to the business and do as you recommend, but I have no idea how to actually plan for it other than doing my best and holding myself responsible for what time I have. Any suggestions??

    • dwsmith says:

      Chrissy, you got it. With one as young as yours, it’s just grab what you can grab in time. You are in a time that is tough at best to plan like I suggested because kids of your daughter’s age keep changing. (At least that’s what I have observed with friends…I have no kids, never did.)

      So sounds like you are doing fine. Yup, frustrating, but the little bits will really add up when you are looking ahead next December at 2014 and looking back and being astounded at how much you did get done in 2013. And that’s the key.

    • Desiree says:

      I can totally relate. I have two kids, 3 and under. Cherish those naptime/bedtime writing minutes and hours, and know that as your child grows, her schedule will work itself out, giving you more substantial chunks of writing time. The first year is rough, but Dean is right, grab what minutes you can. I finished a novel in the first year of my eldest son’s life, and had time to submit it to agents, stress about whether agents were worthwhile, etc. The early years are really rough. Right now, I get the afternoon nap hours (1-3 if I’m lucky) and the evenings to write, and though I fool around online a lot more than I should, I am often surprised by how much I get done. Hang in there!

      • Chrissy Wissler says:

        Thanks, Dean and Desiree. Your encouragement means a lot, especially knowing just doing my best is what counts. And forgiveness. I’ve found forgiving myself is key to writing right now. I can’t get in as much as I want or tell all the dozens of stories I want, and that’s ok. I just do what I can and one day will get to the rest. Writing is definitely for the long haul and that doesn’t get any clearer than when I went from full-time writer to full-time mom!

        • Jeff Ambrose says:

          Hi Chrissy,

          I’m an at-home dad of four, and have been since my oldest was an infant. The oldest is 12, the youngest 5. So while I’m not in the same position you’re in (I write while the kids are in school, and next year, all four will be in school from 8 am to 3:30 pm!), when my kids were your baby’s age, I actually found it easier to nap when they napped and get real work done at nights, when they went down. Naps will change, but bedtime is the only real constant you’ll have for a few years. At least it was for my wife and me.

        • Linda Jordan says:

          Hi Chrissy,
          A couple things that worked for me once my daughter was a little older – one was a grocery store with childcare (for 1 1/2 hours) and a coffee shop. You can get a lot done in that time. The other was preschool as soon as she was old enough. It started as two hours every other day. I drove to the closest place I could find and sat down and wrote as much as I could. At that time I was writing novels. Now I’ve switched to more short stories to deal with school breaks and plan my novel writing time strategically during months when there aren’t a lot of school days off. Writing with kids is huge challenge, especially if get sidelined by interruptions and your kid doesn’t nap! Mine stopped at two. Good luck and hang in there. Oh, and stop cleaning the house. Really. Write instead. The kids won’t care.

    • Mercy Loomis says:

      Just keep reminding yourself how much training you’re getting in making the most of your writing time. A few years’ practice of grabbing time when you can, just think how productive you’ll be when the kids start leaving you alone (school or activities) for longer periods of time. If you figure out how to run things now, and just keep in mind that all those extra minutes when the kids are occupied is writing time, by the time they are older you will not have the “I can’t find time” problems so many writers have. Every year will just bring more and more writing time.

      • Chrissy,
        I just wanted to add that when my son was born six years ago, I read an article that said it didn’t matter so much re. children’s outcomes if mothers worked inside or outside the home, full time or part time. What mattered was that the mother did not feel guilty about it. I thought that applied really well to motherhood in general. Do what your mind and heart feel is right and everything will be fine. I know I wrote longhand while nursing; I wrote on the computer while pumping, sometimes while my baby crawled on my legs; I handed off my kids to my husband regularly; but I also just took the time to sleep while my babies slept and kiss their fuzzy little heads. I figured I have my whole life to write and pimp my day job, but only a short time to relish my small children. I hope you find the course that’s right for you. Congratulations!

  22. Teri Babcock says:

    “It sounds perfectly reasonable until you start trying to separate research from writing. That doesn’t work for me, at least not with historical fiction. I suppose setting a timer and stopping it when as generally happens several times a chapter, I stop to double check some detail.”

    HiJ.R. – the way of working you describe means switching back and forth between two completely different types of thinking styles. This sort of multitasking has been shown to be much less efficient because it takes your brain time to come to full speed again every time you switch gears.

    Knowing this, and my propensity to get sucked into an ever-expanding ‘research doily’, I just mark the text every time I have something I need to double-check later. If the plot hinges on the fact, then I write as if my memory is correct, so that I can keep going. If that happens too much, then I know I haven’t done enough research about that part of the story to start with, and that I’ll need to return to it once I have a better foundation. In the meantime, I write what I can on that story, or switch to a different project, rather than stopping new writing to research. Cause Dean is right.:)

    • Carradee says:

      Yep. I like using square brackets for this, because they aren’t really used in fiction, so I can easily search for them and find them later.

      But if I find myself square bracketing more than details, that usually means I need to do more research before I write more on that story, because otherwise, I’ll likely mess up something significant and have to redo something later.

      *shrug* Granted, the closest I’ve come to historical fiction is a few historical fantasy short stories, which is rather expected to be less than entirely accurate. ^_^

      • Jason says:

        I use the highlighter function.

        This way, on the quick second draft to add setups and fact-checking, I just scroll down the document and look for the bright yellow sections. Saves time.

    • Mercy Loomis says:

      I do the brackets thing too. I also use it for descriptions of things that aren’t crucial to the action, if the description is going to slow me down. I’ll add the description in post. For example, one of my characters was walking through a Roman town house. I know the layouts well enough to have her move through the rooms, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in the details too much, so just added things like [describe fountain] and [describe courtyard].

  23. Randy says:

    And don’t forget non-fiction as an income generator. On days that my muse was out to lunch I worked on a Journalism textbook, which pretty much paid the utility bill this year. Not making me rich, but it’s nice and steady.

  24. Nancy Beck says:


    I want to thank you for such a timely post. This year has been nothing but a personal nightmare for me, especially late in the year, so I only managed to get out 2 novelettes, and those were under my pen name.

    Though I finished the first book in my fantasy series, the conflicts were tepid, at best. I didn’t want people to put down the book, never to read it again, so while the basic idea was good, the way it was written was trash.

    So I picked up a how-to on conflicts, goals, and motivations for your characters (my weak point) and feel I’m going in the correct direction. Of course, there’s no way to know if a lot of people will like it enough to buy it, but I feel better writing it this time – this despite the fact that the personal crap isn’t going away any time soon.

    ::sigh:: Which is why I’m going to take your suggestion on setting up production goals because I’ve made some personal decisions going forward into 2013…and my production must increase if I’m going to do anything with my writing career. Thanks for providing this suggestion, because although I knew I needed goals in that area, I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

    You and Kris are so wonderful to us beginning writers…thank you so much for all of the knowledge you’re willing to give us. :-)

    • Mark says:

      I occasionally write things I view as “crap”, then show a friend, and they say something like “Wow! I love this character!” and then I reply “But he is so flawed, and lifeless! I hardly spent any time at all in developing him”. Then he says, “That is what I loved! You left out just enough detail so my imagination can run wild”.

      Sometimes you just have to stop worrying about the bomb and just drop it and move on. Your job is done when it is let go (sorry for that terrible visual, heh)

      • Jason says:

        I’ve discovered that describing someone metaphorically is much, much more effective than doing so literally.

        Saying “He had a face like a bag of burnt chestnuts” is better than “There were several brownish lumps featured prominently on the skin of his cheeks”.

        FWIW, my own protagonist has never been physically described other than the fact that she’s somewhat tall. No ethnicity, no religion, no eye color, no physical quirks, nada, not even any metaphorical descriptions either — I let the readers fill in those blanks. It’s been interesting to learn how people have been envisioning her.

  25. Graig Almstead says:

    Mr. Smith,

    Say a person decides that they want to make their living being a writer who publishes only eBooks- would you recommend that in order to do this they need to write novels over short stories. And if you say that they can do both, is a novel more important than a short story?

    I know the days of making a living writing only short stories seems to be over- at least in print- but I do wonder about that in the electronic medium?

    I thank you for your time, Mr. Smith.

    • dwsmith says:


      Actually, I’ve been saying exactly the opposite as you quote me. In the old days, you couldn’t make a living writing short fiction, but today you can. In fact, I expect to see a lot of writers making a living writing only short fiction. My wife makes a living wage on just her short fiction alone, and she writes novels, so the money is above a living wage. (grin) I’m sort of aiming at writing only short fiction in the near future myself.

      So writers today can make a living writing short fiction. You can quote me on that. (grin)

      As for electronic only, I think that’s pretty damn silly, and have said so in a bunch of posts in the past. Electronic is going to level (eventually) at about 30-35% of all books sold. (It’s between 25% and 30% now.) So by skipping paper and audio, you are saying to 65% of all readers that they can’t get your work.

      And by skipping traditional short fiction markets such as Asimov’s or Ellery Queen magazines, you are skipping getting paid to advertise your work to 50 thousand plus short fiction readers.

      So you can quote me on this. Going only electronic is just flat short-sighted and silly and bad business.

      So two quotes. You can make a living on your short fiction in 2013. And going electronic only is bad business.

  26. Such inspiring advice, Dean. This is an opportunity to ask a question I’ve had for some time.

    In an earlier post, you explained that you are a “cycler.” You finish a section, then go back and work on it some more, get a little farther, then go back again until everything feels “right” (not “perfect”) (hope I’m getting that accurately). Anyway, I tried that method and sometimes it works really well. Other times, I just speed through, “free-writing” and using ___ when I can’t think of any word, or [DETAILS] or [RESEARCH] when I don’t know how to write about something, such as picking a padlock (I write romantic suspense). Later on, I go back and fill in more. So how do you count your “new words” with each of these methods? Just the first pass through? Or do some iterations count, too?

    What I generally do is get a word count of everything from chapter one, put it in a spreadsheet and subtract the ms word count of the previous day. But is that cheating???

    • dwsmith says:

      Linsey, I never go back once I finish, but I do grind to a halt, cycle back a couple hundred words and run at the spot again, like a car stuck in mud trying to gain speed. And as I go over those few hundred words back, I tend to add in stuff, still in creative voice. But when I get done with a chapter, I never cycle back, so counting words is easy for me. When I am done, I am done.

      I never rewrite. I do fix mistakes my first reader finds and I spell-check, but I never rewrite because, to be honest with you, that’s boring.

      So new words are what I have finished that day or that session. That help?

      • Yes, that helps. What about changing words or phrases you find yourself overusing? Or changing a sentence to make it more dramatic, such as changing “Cut it out.” to “Cut. It. Out.”? Or do you do all that during the first time through?

      • Mark says:


        On the topic of rewriting, just how good of a writer do I have to be (i.e. how many books/yrs of experience) to edit in creative voice and not risk the critical voice creeping in? Case in point: I sometimes will just write in a scaffolding scene just to get me from point A to point B in the story, something really mundane and basic, then later go back and figure out the clever way of getting to point B after I have hit my 2k word/day quota. I do this often, just to keep the momentum going. Is this a bad idea? I have often wondered if I should just take the extra time to create the best “plotting movement” scene I can the first time around rather than come back to it later (I highlight parts of text in bold or color that I tend to half-ass).

        There was an interesting article I read over at wordplayer on this topic, but it was in reference to writing screenplays, not fiction. He writes:

        “USE SCAFFOLDING. Imagine the construction of the Statue of Liberty. First, a shell of scaffolding is erected in the approximate shape of Lady Liberty. Then the actual statue parts go up inside the scaffolding structure. Then, finally, the scaffolding is taken away and — wow — the beautiful statue is revealed… When you’re writing, don’t be afraid to write “scaffolding scenes”. Not beautiful, just functional. You need Jason to deliver a package to Jennifer’s house. You can’t think of a clever way to do it. Don’t spend days on it. Write a crude, stupid scene where Jason delivers the package. Make it do what it has to do. Move on to the next scene, with a promise to yourself that you’ll come back and find the clever way before you let anybody read the script. My experience is, when I lay in scaffolding scenes and move on, I inevitably find a clue to the clever way in a subsequent scene — which I never would have found if I hadn’t kept moving. Also, by the end of a script, you’ll know your characters so much better than when you started — when you go back to polish, they’ll speak (through you) with a clarity you didn’t have the first time around.”

        • dwsmith says:

          Mark, honestly, I think the scaffolding image is just another excuse to rewrite.

          And honestly, I have nothing against fiction writers rewriting all they want. If a fiction writer can write top, sellable fiction doing intense outlines and fifty drafts, year-after-year, I got zero issue. Every writer is different.

          All I know is how the creative brain works, how art is done. Art is not created (very often) in a workshop and commercial fiction story-telling is not often done year-after-year with a ton of rewriting.

          The problem with your first question (How good of a writer…) is that if you are rewriting, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be good enough. Your English teachers are just not professional commercial fiction writers and they are the ones that trained that part of your brain. The creative side of your brain has been absorbing stories since your parents read them to you. It knows what it is doing.

          All I suggest here, every time, is that fiction writers get out of the way of that creative brain and let it play. But the moment you bring the English teacher, the adult “I can’t do that…” into the action, you dull down and hurt your story. And that I have witnessed hundreds and hundreds of times here, and I will witness it again this February. And prove it to a group of writers once again this February. But few will take the proof, sadly.

          • Definitely not a “ton of rewriting”! You have cured me forever of that, Dean, and I’m eternally grateful. :) But a couple of pounds, I think I need. I do have to be careful not to overwrite. Or go to the opposite extreme and underwrite, leaving the reader saying, “huh?”

            Hard for me to say whether Mark’s “scaffolding scenes” are necessary or not. Do they move the action forward? Do they reveal character? Or are they just fluff. You don’t want to spend four pages describing how the main character got across town unless something really significant is happening. Otherwise, just say, “I drove around town awhile and ended up at Sally’s house.”

            As you have said, it takes experience to be able to see when to expand and when to contract. I’m early in my second million words and I’m just getting a good handle on that. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. I’m definitely hooked on this blog. :)

            Happy Holidays to you and your wife. :)

        • Roscoe says:

          That’s funny, I usually call scaffolding scenes ‘the first draft.’ 😛

  27. Rob Cornell says:

    Hey, Dean. After one works all this out, in the final analysis, do you recommend just sticking to a time schedule, or do you agree with authors like Stephen King who advocate a strict word quota?

    Seems the word quota would get you more consistent results. But there are days when I don’t get the words I’d hoped for during my regularly scheduled writing time.

  28. Yonatan says:


    I love your blog but I can’t find a way to subscribe to it to get your new posts. Is there a way to do it?

    • dwsmith says:

      Yonatan, honestly have someone looking at setting that up. As the new year goes on I’ll have stuff like that added in. I now have great help. (grin)

  29. Mitch Wagner says:

    Thanks for this. I was discouraged by the poor sales of my two published short stories, but this post tells me that I’m pretty much on track.

    I told my wife about my main takeaway from this post — even writing at a much faster pace than I do, it’d take five years to see significant financial return, and even that would be far short of a full-time income. She said, dubiously, “You find this ENCOURAGING?” Yeah, says I.

  30. Roscoe says:

    Dean, thank you. I know I said it in the last post. I’ll say it again: Thank you for this.

    I’ve been falling down on the fourth and fifth of Heinlein’s laws, and was just considering amending that. You’ve put it in sharp relief and made me realize what I need to do. Here’s hoping, eh?

    I’d like to also recommend, as a novel way to get publicity and perhaps even cash, running the occasional Kickstarter campaign. Obviously, this would make more sense for novels (especially part of a series), but short stories can work too. Greg Stolz, a horror writer, runs regular campaigns for his illustrated short stories.

    Speaking of shorts, I had a question for you as one of these battle-scarred veterans of both kinds of publishing. *smirk* I early on got copies of various “How to be a Writer” books from the Dark Ages and started out writing short fiction. I’ve started two or three novels in my life, and have outlines for more, but I’ve never written a full one. I have, however, written a ton of shorts.

    How viable is it to take the traditional first few steps of the SF writer’s path, that is, writing short stories until you build up a backlog and some notoriety, and THEN writing the first novel or six? …while still writing short stories.

    • dwsmith says:

      Roscoe, honestly, no right way, but a very large percentage of us old-timers started with short fiction and did that for years, building up readership. In fact, an editor at Bantam saw a short story of mine in Night Cry Magazine (sister magazine of The Twilight Zone Magazine) and wrote me and asked me if I had a novel. I wrote one for her and she didn’t buy it, but another editor did.

      I can’t imagine how much more exposure writers get today than back then, but it’s a ton more. So short fiction is a way to get going and also to make a living these days. Not kidding. (I think I did an entire blog about it a while back.)

      • Roscoe says:

        You did, but, eh, show me a fiction writer who isn’t dreaming of writing a bestselling novel one day, and I’ll show you a master storyteller. 😉

  31. Mimi Foster says:

    I love the following idea. My question is – are you suggesting that you mail a copy of the actual book to the editors? It was my understanding that most would not accept books, only a few chapters. This is a fantastic alternative. Thanks! Just delving into your work and loving it.

    Publish it indie first electronically, in paper, and in audio and get it out around the world to every market you can get it out to.

    Then mail a copy of the trade paperback with a cover letter and quick synopsis and a SASE to five traditional editors who might buy it for their line. And if they don’t respond or reject it, mail it to five more editors in six months.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mimi, an old post. No, I no longer suggest that. A couple years ago I did, but not in 2015. Does not work anymore at all I’m afraid.


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