The New World of Publishing: The Myths Are Still Strong

Sometimes, those of us playing out on the new edge of fiction, striding out for ourselves in the indie landscape trying to connect personally with readers, flat forget that the traditional side of this industry is still full of “the way it is done” and “flat silly myths.” (The quotes are just mine and mean nothing.)

I think there are a few reasons for this kind of thinking on our part. (And honestly, I’m talking some about myself here, but I am far from alone in this.)

Reason one: “If I have learned how to use indie publishing, then everyone has learned it, because it has to be obvious. Right?”

Reason two: “The old ways make no sense when looked at in a cold business eye, so no smart person would go that way now that there are options. Right?”

Reason three: “I’ve read about traditional publishing contracts and no way would I sign one of those and let them control what I write and give my book away forever. So no one else will either. Right?”

Well, not so much.

When you talk with insiders in the publishing business, off the record, they are not worried in the slightest about the books drying up. Not in the slightest. Thousands and thousands and thousands of writers are still flooding at them at full speed with new books. And as you can tell from the questionable comments from the likes of Scott Turow, most of the bestsellers aren’t paying any attention.

This also came clear to me at a writer’s conference a couple weeks back. I wasn’t there long, but had the pleasure of talking with a number of young (meaning just starting out) writers.

And of the ones I had never met before and who didn’t really know me, they wanted to tell me their exciting news for the conference. And without fail that news was that some agent wanted to see their work.

One young writer actually flashed the agent’s card to me like it was something collectable and to be cherished.

Of course, I said nothing.

Why? Simply put, it was not my place. I congratulated each writer in having someone interested in their work. Outside of their family, more than likely this was the first time for many of them that anyone showed an interest. And that fact is very, very cool.

So no problem there. They didn’t need me tossing cold water on their excitement and I didn’t.

(See how these myths just keep going and going?)

On the indie side, to be honest, I get excited when anyone reaches for their wallet and spends money on anything I wrote. Period. Never fails to excite me. I doubt it ever will.

So, I honestly do understand the excitement of having someone interested in work. Honest, I do.

But what really worried me was the fact that it was agents at a conference that were interested.

I know how that system works.

— Agents glance at something or listen to a quick pitch, give the writer a little hype about how the book sounds good, and the writer should send it.

— The writer thinks they have made progress (when in most cases, the writer could have done the same exact thing just mailing the manuscript to the agent without going to the conference).

— The writer, thinking they might “have” an agent, doesn’t mail the book to anyone else for months and months, just waiting for the agent response.

— Then when the rejection comes, the writer has built up a hope that is unfounded, and thus might have their dream killed.

It’s a stupid and ugly system for 99.9% of all writers out there.

Plus, on top of that, I really, really, really wanted to ask any of the writers (bragging about getting an agent interested) if they had checked out the agent’s financial statements, or criminal record. I really wanted to know if the writer had figured out where the agent lived. Or how many clients they had, or what kind of agency agreement they were going to be forced to sign by that agent or agency.

You know, basic business stuff you would do when hiring a contractor to work on your house.

But I didn’t ask, because I knew the answer. These writers, clearly hard-working and sincere, believed in the myth that they needed an agent to sell their work. Any agent who liked their work. And they were willing to send their hard work to that agent, give that agent all their money if the book sold, and the paperwork on that money.

They were willing to just trust a perfect stranger with their dreams and their money and their hard work. All because that stranger had handed them a card and showed some interest in their work.

The myths are still very, very strong out there in new-writer-land. (And with the bestsellers, but that’s another matter.)

So here is what agents need to do to get my vote and my trust again.

First off, agents, stop this crazy policy of going to writer’s conferences and feasting on the writers who don’t know better than to trust you or even ask a few basic questions about you. Wow, does that smell of a scam. So stop it. If you want to go, go to teach and help new writers understand the business. Nothing more. Don’t you have enough slush as it is, anyway?

(I know, some agents hate the entire thing and never go and I applaud those who don’t buy into that writer-dream-crushing method.)

Second, kill all agency agreements and have the publisher split payments in contracts. Make that your policy and tell people up front that is your complete policy. You don’t need an agency agreement if you just split payments. Stop trying to own or control a writer’s work. You are an employee, hired to do a job. Do the job and leave. If the writer likes the work you did, they will call you to hire you again. If the writer doesn’t like your work, let them go.

(I know a couple agents who will split payments, no problem, but still work for agencies who want to control a writer’s work.)

Third, if you are going into publishing as a side business, go read agency law. You are breaking a ton of it. Also, stop pretending you understand contracts. Tell your clients to spend the money on an attorney to do the contract and you do your job with everything else. That gets you off the hook with the publishers in negotiations and keeps you from practicing law without a license.

Of course, not one of those things will become “the way it is done” until writers start demanding it in mass, and trust me, from what I saw at that writer’s conference, that’s not happening in my lifetime.

Ah, well, tilting at the windmill can be fun at times. Now how do I get off this stupid donkey?

So writers who want to learn business and do understand some of the myths, what can you do?

So now I’m going to talk to writers who are worried about the “system as it has been” and don’t much like it. Here is what you can do to play both sides of this new world of publishing and avoid a ton of myths in the process.

One) Never stop writing. And having fun.

Two) Try some books indie, try some books the traditional route. Try some short stories indie, try some short stories the traditional route.

Three) When going traditional, send your work directly to editors working at lines of books you would like to be published by. Ignore the agent roadblock. Never deal with one. And if an agent comes to you with promises on a book, CHARGE THEM to represent your book. It’s called a “shopping agreement” and such agreements are standard in Hollywood. Make the agent pay you $1,000 up front for the right to take your book out to traditional publishers for one year. If the agent won’t do that, they don’t really believe in your book. Make them put their money where their hype is.

Four) If you get an offer from any publisher, hire an IP lawyer. They are surprisingly reasonable. The lawyer will tell you what you are signing. Then you will have data to understand if you need to walk away or sign.

Five) If you are going indie, make sure you are not shooting off toes in your sales. (See those two posts.)

Six) Keep writing. Figure out ways to spend more time in the chair. Follow Heinlein’s Rules for a year or two to understand them and see if they work for you. Then adjust. But give Heinlein’s Rules a year or more. Stop being in a hurry.

Seven) Learn business and don’t get in a hurry. It takes time, meaning years and years, to learn an international business.

Eight) Keep learning craft and don’t get in a hurry. It takes time, meaning years and years, to learn how to be a good storyteller.

A couple of last thoughts

This is a thought for you young writers out there who are reading this and getting mad at me. An agent wanting to see one of your books is just one person.

When you indie publish and sell one copy, that’s one person paying money to read your work.

Trust me, the reader paying money for your work is far, far more important than some scam agent at a writer’s conference.

And that’s called perspective.

And keep having fun. (I said that, didn’t I?)
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Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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52 Responses to The New World of Publishing: The Myths Are Still Strong

  1. “Don’t get in a hurry!”

    That did bear repeating in three points, didn’t it?

    And related to that is the repeated refrain: actually TRY things (like traditional publishing or indie publishing or Heinlein’s rules) before you dismiss them.

    (And remember that “try” doesn’t mean doing something in any half-hearted way. You have to keep going until you learn something.

    • Jodi says:

      I agree, Camille. Every time I try to rush something, that’s when I’m on the road to compounding mistakes and courting failure. Give something the time it deserves to get it right.

      Jodi

      • dwsmith says:

        Jodi, I let this post through but since this is my web site, I have to comment on it. You are pushing a HUGE MYTH. The time it takes to do something has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the quality of a piece of work. You can write it fast and it can be great or you can write it fast and it might suck.

        There is a set aspect of writing that most beginning writers just don’t understand and it takes a lot of time for professionals to finally catch this as well.

        Here it is:

        “The experience of the writer in the writing has absolutely nothing to do with the finish quality of the product.”

        Only writers care if something was written quickly or not. Readers never care as long as the story is good. So sorry, Jodi. You’re just pushing a very dangerous myth that more than likely you bought into when in school. Write fast, write slow, doesn’t matter. And honestly, all that matters in writing fast is more time in the chair. Nothing more.

        Writing fast or being prolific means nothing more than TIME IN THE CHAIR. I am considered fast as a writer but I type at the speed of about 750 words per hour. And I cycle through manuscripts as I go. And I tend to have moderately clean drafts when I get done the first time through. And I know story structure well enough to not worry about it much.

        So once more, the writer’s experience in the writing has nothing to do with the final quality of the product. I know this seems hard to believe, but it is the truth. And it drives a lot of us crazy, especially on those days when words come hard and you feel like crap and all you want to do is go watch television and go back to bed. The words those days are the same level as the words done on days when it flows and you feel great and are typing like the breeze. As Neil Gamon said, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

        • Yes, Dean, but to be fair, she didn’t say it was mistakes in writing — and we were responding to your own comments about not being in a hurry. (Which causes people to make mistakes and court failure when they do it in their business — look at your last three items.)

          • dwsmith says:

            Camille, when I said don’t get in a hurry, I didn’t say writing fast makes for mistakes. Did not say that. What I am aiming at is the stupidity of young writers finishing a first book and getting upset that they only sell a few copies. Or young writers pushing social networks to sell more books instead of writing the next book. Or young writers not taking the time to learn business, not taking the time to check out an agent who they will give all their money to and all the paperwork with that money.

            In the same article I said for writers to follow Heinlein’s Rules for a couple of years. I know of one writer who tried it for one story, decided it wasn’t right for him and went back to massive rewriting. Of course, the one story he sold was the one he did under Heinlein’s rules, but that seems to have not sunk in for him.

            So, if anything, go slow in learning business and sales expectations, but spend more time in the chair writing.

            And this business is so screwed up, if you spend more time in the chair writing, even at 750 words an hour like me, you will have idiots call you a fast writer. I’m not faster than anyone.

            But I work more hours than most. And that makes me fast I guess.

          • Dean, we know. What I’m a saying is that Jodi didn’t say “writing” — so I maybe she meant what you meant.

          • dwsmith says:

            Camille, maybe she did, and if so, that’s fine. But I sure took it as writing. So if you were talking about going slow in business, giving yourself years to learn craft, years to learn business, then great. I am sorry.

            But you were talking about showing others your writing, so I thought you meant you have to go slow in writing and that’s a myth. Type as slow as you want, but spend more hours in the chair and you will be “writing fast.” And writing slow or fast has NOTHING to do with the quality of the final work, no matter what English teachers believe.

            Am I clear on the difference? God, I hope so. Last thing I want here is for people to believe I am telling them to slow down their writing. Yikes….

            Sigh… can’t seem to get this right. Sorry, Jodi, if you were talking about business and learning.

        • Jodi says:

          Sorry, Dean. I didn’t mean fast = rush. I meant rush = rush. Meaning, putting something out before it is ready, whether it took to a week to write or a year. Hopefully, that is clearer.

          Jodi

          • Jodi says:

            As a way of example, I had a novel that needed an edit. I knew it, and I wanted to do it. But I was tired of looking at it. I had just finished proofing it, and I thought, “I got them all. I’m ready. Let’s publish this baby.” So I formatted it to epub. I proofed it to make sure no weird spacing or like occurred. I fixed several such areas. “Wow, finally,” I thought. “This is ready. Let’s go!”

            Then I thought, “Well, it’s on my nook already. Let’s just see what the actual text looks like to a reader. I’ll try an edit that way too; it shouldn’t take but a couple days.”

            I ended up with about a dozen pages of notes covering small errors–typos, grammatical, and the like. I fixed them, proofed that indeed the errors were fixed, and then I published.

            Rushing would have been publishing that work before that final proof.

            That is just one case of rushing in my own personal circumstances with my own writing methods. Some other cases occur when I push on to write when I sense some problems with the outline. I know it’s not ready, but I do it anyway–and that method spells disaster for me, with my writing method. They are irrespective of fast or slow speed. They were just me jumping the gun. Rushing.

            Hopefully that is clearer.

            Jodi

  2. Teri Babcock says:

    Apart from the people I see on this site, everyone I know, reader or writer, heartily subscribes to most or all of the Myths about publishing. They don’t examine what they believe and whether it’s really true unless they are compelled to do so.

    • dwsmith says:

      Sadly, Teri, that’s my point. Those of us who are working out on the new frontier in publishing can’t expect the everyone to come along and we should not. Which is why I said nothing to those excited young writers at that writer’s conference.

  3. “An agent wanting to see one of your books is just one person.
    “When you indie publish and sell one copy, that’s one person paying money to read your work.
    “Trust me, the reader paying money for your work is far, far more important than some scam agent at a writer’s conference.
    “And that’s called perspective.”

    Amen.

    M. Louisa Locke

  4. Vera Soroka says:

    I will admit I was one of those writers who believed that you could get no where without an agent. All those big publishing houses that I dreamed of being with said on their submision pages that you needed the agent to submit your work because they pretty much said they would shred it for cat litter if you tried.
    I have not been writing for a long time so have not done a whole lot of submitting to these agents but I remember their rejections always stung because I thought I just wasn’t good enough so that is when I stopped and decided to learn more about this business and boy have my eyes been opened with blogs like yours and your wifes.
    It’s amazing what is out there and now I have made the decision to self publish. Maybe I will submit my YA to someone but we won’t rush. I think that is the trick-don’t rush.

  5. Craig Reed says:

    “Follow Heinlein’s Rules for a year or two to understand them and see if they work for you.”

    I am embarassed to say I have not heard of Heinlein’s Rules before. Any place I can find them?

    Craig

    • dwsmith says:

      Craig, the rules are here: http://www.gazetteofthearts.com/writer3.htm

      I’ve talked about them a great deal here, but the absolute best take on them is by Robert Sawyer. http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm

      He is spot on the money about each rule cuts the number of possible writers in half. And for indie publishing, just replace market for publish.

    • Jeff Ambrose says:

      Craig:

      Chances are, you won’t need two years to be convinced. I needed three months of following Heinlein’s Rules and writing a story a week before I was convinced they would work for me. I collected dozens of rejection letters, but that didn’t matter so much, especially compared to feeling myself improve as a writer story after story and to the amount of fun I was having writing. It was a total blast, and I’ve never looked back.

      Bit of advice: In terms of Rule #3 — Don’t rewrite except to editorial order — if that scares you (as it did me), try “cycle writing,” which really works like a charm. It’s still the way I write. Dean explains is here: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=4477

      • Agreed. (I’m a cycler myself — but coming from an art background, I all it “layering.”)

        The big thing about Heinlein’s Rules is that people are so horrified by Rule 3 that they never give them a chance.

        Very often, the only time they wrote without rewriting was when they were under horrible pressure (such as a deadline, or a workshop with high daily word count requirements) and they ran screaming from the pressure. They just assume that’s the kind of thing Heinlein was talking about — but it wasn’t.

        If you try writing at your own pace… but you keep writing forward, and do it long enough, you will benefit from it, even if you ultimately go for a different method of working.

      • Jodi says:

        I’m the rewriter type. I used to think something was wrong with me. I saw other writers posting on crit groups a chapter as they wrote it. I never could because mine was like a sketch. Something more than an outline but less than a readable chapter.

        That inability to show others my work in progress got worse when I tried the technique of writing out of order (because of a writing book). I’d break the novel down into key areas, like beginning, climax, end, turning point one, and so on. Then I’d start with the book ends, beginning and end, and so on. And I’d edit it up pretty well before I moved on to the next key area. But even so, my first draft of each key area was still a sketch.

        Some things don’t change. The very core of one’s writing style doesn’t, not unless one spends a lot of time to change it. I’ve come to terms with it. I’m a rewriter or a sketcher. I’ll work from that.

        Jodi

        • dwsmith says:

          The problem you described, Jodi, isn’t that you can’t show first drafts, it’s that you were showing WORKS IN PROGRESS. Never, ever, ever do that. That way lies madness and working by committee, which just creates garbage most of the time. Be an artist and protect your work and your method. And if you are selling with your method, then stay with it. If you are not selling with your method, then maybe look at Heinlein’s Rules. But the key is to protect the method you find that works and sells. Never show works in progress to anyone. Hell, around here, Kris and I don’t even talk about a work in progress other than to say, “Working on it.” That’s the level of detail we go into if it comes up.

          • Jodi says:

            Good point. I guess I just saw others doing it, and thought, “Why can’t I?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing that, too?” ;-)

            Jodi

  6. T. K. says:

    I was just at an enormous writers conference and I wondered about the editors sitting back and letting the agents hold forth. I looked around at 1,000 conference attendees and realized OF COURSE, the editors don’t want 1,000 submissions in their mailbox on Monday. Agents are such a good deal for the editor. They work for the editor “screening” slush and keeping writers under control, but they are paid by the writer.

    One editor said, “0ur webite says ‘only agented submissions’ but the reality is we look at everything that comes in.'”

    What happens, though, is the newbie writer hears editors say over and over ‘we prefer to work with agents’ and they conclude they are better off with an agent because, after all, they want to get to the editor and if that’s what the editor prefers…

    I have a friend convinced that an editor will be more likely to buy a manuscript if it comes from a “top” agent instead of a writer. It seems likely that in some cases that’s true, so naturally, she wants a “top” agent.

    • dwsmith says:

      Only one problem with your friend’s thinking. No “top” agent goes to a writer’s conference or would even be seen dead at one. And most beginning writers wouldn’t recognize a top agent’s name if someone slapped them with it. Ahh, the fun of myths.

      • Also, in Hollywood they have a saying about top agents”

        The top agent’s one and only job is to steal top clients from other agents.

        A “top agent” isn’t going to rep you until you are already in demand enough to not need an agent at all.

  7. Jeff Ambrose says:

    Dean,

    It’s amazing the number of writers I know and talk to who are still caught in these myths. I have to say, like you, I don’t feel all that special doing what I’m doing. Making covers, putting books out in print, learning how to make ebooks, learning how to write ad copy for my blurbs — it’s just a matter of trial and error. What’s so hard about that?

    But my wife reminds me that I’m an incredibly proactive person. But because I live with myself — and because I see how lazy I am and how little I actually do day-in and day-out — it’s hard to believe that.

    Maybe I’m way off on this, but it just mind boggles me why someone wouldn’t want to keep their career in their own hands. It’s something I don’t understand.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jeff, I agree. But from a person who managed thirty years in traditional publishing, the idea that we didn’t need to give up control of some aspects of our books didn’t cross my mind. And sadly, I have to say, it still didn’t occur to me after I did Pulphouse for 7 years. You would think that at one point or another between 1994 and 2010 I would have slapped my forehead and caught a clue. Nope.

      I rail about myths around here, but trust me, I’ve lived them all, sometimes for decades.

      • Jeff Ambrose says:

        Wow, the assumption I made in my post (that writers might want to control their own careers) just shows the BIG CHANGE that has taken place. A mere two years ago, my motto was write, finish, submit. Everything was sent out to major markets. Then I jumped on the indie wagon in 2011 and haven’t looked back. It’s startling just to think about my own attitude and how different things were back … oh, just a few years ago. Wow.

  8. When I did my covers I looked at a bunch of covers online and in the stores, and I have a friend who works covers professionally. The additional text elements aren’t as common on traditionally published books as they used to be, and it seems to vary by genre quite a bit. More text on romance and thriller than on scifi and fantasy. One of my books is YA/MG and I’d say with YA other than title, author, series other text appears about 50/50. With MG, less than half have more than that. Scholastic MG often has small author names. Selling to kids is different.

    My only point is that I agree with you in general and to also say authors really need to study their genre’s covers, conventions, and trends.

    • dwsmith says:

      Ahh, David, you did it right and you did what so many thousands and thousands of indie writers DON’T DO. They don’t go study books inside a genre they have written in like you did.

      Great job and thanks.

    • Alex Hajicek says:

      Totally off topic David but I absolutely love the cover art on your books. Roughly what did it cost you to have them drawn up?

  9. That part about the criminal record made me chuckle…years ago I was told by an ex-agent that her husband “accidentally” used my royalty to pay off their car loan (itself a fishy story; her husband was not listed on the agency and would have no business helping himself to her clients’ funds, but I guess she felt it sounded better to say he spent it my money by accident than to say that she spent it and knew precisely what she was doing). I called the district attorney in her area, received permission to use his name and told her she had ten days to get my money to me or I was pressing charges. She paid ( just like the DA said she would) and the moment the check cleared I fired her. So by all means make sure you know who you are dealing with.

    • dwsmith says:

      Bettye, yup, another of the many horror stories. And the reason that her husband could do that was because like most agents, they don’t have your money and the other writer’s money and the rent money in different accounts. Many indie agents just have one account for everything, which is illegal under agency law, but they break other laws, so why worry about that one.

      • Daniela says:

        Really? Once one the first things I did when I decided to go freelance (I work as a translator) was talk to my bank and get a business-account so that I could separate private- and business-stuff. I even have a private and a business paypal-account.

        It’s one of the things most websites about freelancing and the seminar I attended pointed out. Basically they said you could do everything with just one account, but stressed that it’s a better idea not to.

  10. Great post.

    Side note:
    “On the indie side, to be honest, I get excited when anyone reaches for their wallet and spends money on anything I wrote. Period. Never fails to excite me. I doubt it ever will.”

    Yep, I’m 100% with you there. Just got report of making a sale in Sweden, $3.39, to an Apple iBooks user via Smashwords. Not my first international sale certainly, but nevertheless it blows my mind. So amazed by the size of this great new publishing world we are privileged to work in. And so honored that a person halfway around the planet (or anywhere for that matter) would buy one of my books.

    • CarlaJHanna says:

      What do you think about Amazon’s 3-month exclusive e-book publishing contract? My manuscript is ready for when I’ve learned enough. I’m taking my time.

      • dwsmith says:

        Carla, you really need to go back and read through my older blogs and the comments. As I have said many, many, many times, I think exclusive is BAD. For almost all reasons, and especially anywhere in the first twenty novels.

  11. RD Meyer says:

    You’re right – the myth of “you have to have an agent or you’ll fail” is far too prevalent among writers…probably because most of what’s out there says so. A lot of writers, eager to sell, will go with what “everyone” says is the way to go. And since there’s no dearth of eager writers, agents nowadays rarely have to work in getting new clients.

    The system has become perverted to where the employer – the writer – is begging for the employee – the agent – to please please please like the newbie and take his or her money.

  12. Sasha says:

    Thanks for this interesting article, Dean. It seems like good sense to get an IP lawyer to look over a contract if agents don’t have that expertise, but would IP lawyers be able to help negotiate a contract if they don’t know industry standards? For example, what a reasonable advance is, what reasonable royalties are, and so on (and I suppose by “reasonable” I mean “some figure that you’d be an idiot to go below”). I’m assuming (perhaps wrongly) that that’s where I’d expect agents to have expertise.

    For newbie authors who don’t have your decades of experience, I’m wondering if we have the ability to do those kind of “how much money to ask for” or “what terms can we expect to get” negotiations on our own.

    That said, I’m intending to go indie with my first novel, which I’m writing now, having heard so much bad stuff about dealing with publishers.

    • There’s a concept I’ve heard and employed in Real Estate negotiations that goes something like, “insult them with the first offer.”

      Seems to me you could apply that here. Take what they offer and make what you think is probably a ridiculous counter-offer. Maybe they’ll accept it, in which case, cool…except maybe you should have asked for more. More likely they’ll make a counter to your counter – that’s negotiation, baby. Worst case, they walk away. *shrug* Oh well, if that person wanted your stuff, someone else will, too.

      There is no “reasonable” amount of payment. There is only what someone is willing to pay compared with what someone else is willing to sell for. Economics always applies, even to publishing.

      • And of course, it is quite likely that the publisher is utilizing the “insult them with the first offer” concept on you (and other writers) as well. I wonder how many just accept without even -trying- to make a counter-offer. Lots and lots, I expect.

        And we wonder why advances keep going down…

        • Sasha says:

          Thanks, Michael. I know zero about negotiation at this point and would want to learn a lot about it before I went into it.

          I have a friend who gets asked a lot to do media appearances and she doesn’t like doing it and doesn’t need to do them to promote herself (she’s paid a good salary already to do her work). When she gets approached to do an interview, she asks herself what it’s really worth it to her to do something she hates so much and usually proposes an outrageously high fee. Mostly she gets turned down (and is happy about that because it’s genuinely not worth it to her to do it for less) but sometimes they agree. You’re right, it’s what the market will bear.

  13. DWS, great post. I attend at least one writers’ conf annually, and with each passing year I become more amazed at the extent to which the Old World rules continue to fascinate new writers. KDP has changed things forever, and those writers who are bedazzled by agents need to catch a new vision. I also appreciate your remarks about the business end of writing. We are all small business people and need to put our business hats on when we look at deals. I looked at Heinlein’s rules, too, for the first time and agree that very few writers will ever take them to heart. It’s like the kids who come to my office and say they want to be lawyers. I tell them what they will have to do, knowing that not one in a hundred will apply themselves to the task with enough discipline to get to the end.

  14. T. K. says:

    I agree entirely with R.D., the myth that a new writer is better off with an agent is so prevalent because it’s all you see out there. Take Publisher’s Marketplace, for example. There is a function which allows you to analyze the “top dealmakers,” who of course are defined as the agents with the most sales. In addition to seeing all these listing in which agents made sales, you can search for the agent who sells the most books. It’s easy to think that if the agent sells a lot of books, he or she is good at it, and will be able to do a better job me than I can (this is helped by the many ‘auctions’ and ‘preempts’ listed.

    Unfortunately, I think most writers who want to go traditional have to make all the mistakes to learn for themselves. Have you ever tried to tell a teenager what is best for the teenager? They look at you like you’re nuts and have to learn for themselves.

    before seeing the light, I had 3 agents since 2005. The first of those was a ‘top dealmaker’ in my genre according to Publisher’s Marketplace. She loved my book and wanted to submit it for me. She submitted it to 5 editors, got 4 rejections and said, “This book needs something, but I don’t know what, so I’m stepping aside.”

    What I learned: She sells lots of books because there is an endless stream of writers with manuscripts and the moment something doesn’t sell easily, she drops it. But she will always have a long line of new writers knocking at her door because she does sell a lot of books.

    I try to warn people but they get really angry at me so I stopped.

    • ” She sells lots of books because there is an endless stream of writers with manuscripts and the moment something doesn’t sell easily, she drops it.”

      AND

      “I try to warn people but they get really angry at me so I stopped.”

      BOTH of those phenomena are really, really, REALLY common.

  15. As I may have mentioned, I was assigned to a panel on “Agents” at a conference this summer. The other three writers on the panel were very pro-agent and spouting all the usual “you HAVE TO have an agent to submit to publishers” nonsense (including specifically citing publishers that SAY ON THE WEBSITES that they accept UNagented submissions; so the myth is so pervasive that writers MAKE IT UP, rather than just repeating it!) and saying things like “my agent MADE my career,” etc.

    Then I said, actually, no, you DON’T need an agent, that’s just a CHOICE, and it’s a choice you really ought to think hard about precisely because SO many are incompetent, and here are a bunch of serious problems with the accept, widespread agent-author business model.

    The other panelists looked at me as if I’d just grown a second head and immediately jumped in to negate what I’d said and set me apart as a dangerous loon. I am used to that, and I also happened to be far-and-away the most experience professional on the panel, so things gradually balanced out (well, with two of the other panelists–there was one who clearly thought I was just a demented bitch).

  16. CarlaJHanna says:

    I just declined my first offer from a publisher and was loaded with self-doubt and insecurity. I want to take my time and enjoy the journey. You just patted my shoulder and told me everything would be okay.

    I’m in no hurry.

    Thanks, Dean.

  17. I self-published my first novel and have just about finished writing my second one. Now I’m vacillating between self-publishing and querying traditional publishers. You’ve given me a lot to think about! Thank you.
    One thing for sure–I won’t hire an agent.

  18. R. Rodriguez says:

    I gave indie publishing a try and shot off I’ll my toes. I think I may give traditional publishing a go. It’s great to have options and the door swings both ways.

  19. Oh Dean. If I ever get to where an agent emails me to attempt to rep a book of mine, I am going to ask for an option fee, just as if a production company were to ask for the rights to hold a book for consideration.

    Oh, that’s just brilliant.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Krista, but nothing new, so I didn’t come up with it. Kris and I have had “shopping agreements” with numbers of Hollywood people over the years and I think we have two or three running now. The only way this isn’t how it works in traditional publishing is because it’s been done “the other way” for decades. As if that makes it right. (grin)

      What is also interesting is that in Hollywood the #1 Rule for all writers is never let anyone have anything for free. Period, no exceptions. If a writer gives someone something for free, like an option or some spec work, they get zero respect. Interesting how that has worked in traditional publishing, huh? Writers all have zero respect from the industry because over the years we have been giving agents our work for free and often writing for free or signing horrid contracts. We get as a group what we deserve.

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