The New World of Publishing: Top 10 Reasons Why I Would Never Publish Traditionally

Got an interesting question last week when sitting having dinner with an old friend. He wanted to know why I said I would never go back to publishing novels with traditional major publishers.

Now over dinner, with my friend having no background in what was happening in publishing, that question because impossible to answer. So I muttered something about bad contracts and moved on.

Now understand, I published over a hundred novels with traditional novel publishers and made my living doing that for a few decades. So why not now? What changed?

The industry changed, that’s what. Traditional publishing is flat not what it was when I was selling books to it a decade ago. Not even close.

Let me go through my personal process here on what changed for me and give you my ten reasons. Now granted, each reason opens up its own can of worms. But for this article, I just sort of went light over each of them.

Note: I have no problem at all with publishing with traditional short fiction magazines. They are different in all ways. So this article is about me and traditional novel publishers.

Where to start?

Reason #10… How about I start with time? I am in my mid-sixties, and back when I was selling novels under a bunch of names to traditional publishers, I thought nothing of waiting two years to see a novel in print. In fact, the time was so long between finishing the novel and seeing it in print, I normally had just forgotten about the book and written another ten novels.

So traditional publishers taking so long is just not something I want to deal with anymore at my age. When I finish a novel now, in about a month it has been proofed and formatted and cover done and is in print in Smith’s Monthly and two months after that it is in print standalone so readers can find it. I like that.

Reason #9… Editing. If I sold a book to a New York traditional publisher, I would be stuck with an editor who hadn’t yet been born when I started selling novels. And this “editor” would need to try to tell me how to “improve” my book because the editor would feel that it was his or her job.

I am flat not interested in working with someone on my book who hasn’t learned as much as I have forgotten about storytelling. Once again my life is too short.

Reason #8… In traditional publishing, copyediting is farmed out just as indie writers farm out copyediting. The difference is that I control who I hire to copyedit my books and in traditional publishing I don’t. I can’t begin to tell you how many days and weeks I wasted fighting a bad copyedit.

With my work in indie publishing, I hire and pay for copyediting of my work through WMG Publishing and I like the copyeditors working there. And they treat my work with respect. They are not copyeditors who want-to-be writers who think I can’t write, so I need to be rewritten. Now granted, my writing is far, far from perfect, but it is a ton better than some want-to-be copyeditor’s writing. Every day.

Reason #7… Reversion clauses in contracts. If traditional publishers had a sunset clause in their contracts for say seven years, I would consider putting up with other issues at times. But trade publishers don’t.

A reversion clause is when you can get your book back from a publisher. In modern contracts, that does not exist in any real way.

So say I sold a science fiction novel to a genre publisher for a $10,000 advance. (I will under modern copyright law and standard genre midlist contracts, get my book back in 35 years no matter what the contract says.)  So that means my book, if it does not earn out, will bring me in about $285 per year average, all paid in the first three years as advance payments of about $3,333.33 each.

Say I indie publish my book and make the electronic price at $5.99 which means I get $4.00 a sale. And say for most paper sales I get $4.00 a sale as well, and say for audio I get $4.00 a sale (to make this math easy.)

So at those rates, to make the same amount of money I would make from New York, I would need to sell 71 copies of that book in some form or another each year for 35 years.

In other words, to make the same amount of money as a $10,000 advance, my indie book would need to sell about 2,500 copies over 35 years. I had indie novels published last year that sold more copies in that by a ways. Wow, how stupid money-wise would I have been to have sold them to traditional publishing?

And that’s assuming I got a $10,000 contract. Holy crap is that high these days. Back in the days I was working for traditional publishers, I very seldom did a book for under $25,000. Yet in genre these days, $10,000 per book is high.

Reason #6… Non-compete in contracts.  Seriously, why would a publisher put this in a contract? As much as I write, I could never, ever sign one of these. I have no idea why any writer signs these clauses. But writers do.

Reason #5… Life of copyright terms of contracts.  Again, this means 35 years if you know copyright, which almost every writer reading this does not. (See reversion clause part above.)

Reason #4… Money. I can make a ton more money writing and indie publishing my novels and stories than I ever could or did with traditional publishing.

Reason #3… I can get my books out to far, far, far more places and into more stores and more countries around the world as an indie publisher than I ever could through a traditional publisher.

Reason #2... Control. In indie publishing, for good or bad, I have a measure of control. Instead of some bored editor writing the blurb for the sales force, or some “let’s-try-him-out” artist doing a cover, I get to write my own blurbs and either do or approve my own covers.

No control in traditional publishing at all for 99% of all writers. The top 1% might have some control, but none of the rest of us do. Traditional publishers just don’t have time to give us that control in any measure.

And the top reason, the most important reason of them all…

Reason #1… I can write what I want, when I want, at any length I want, on any topic I want, in any cross-genre I want.

It is called “freedom” for those of you in traditional publishing. In fiction-writer land, it is heaven and a great dinner when you are hungry all wrapped into one.


For me, there is no chance in hell I would ever even send a novel to a traditional publisher as long as the publishing landscape is what it is at the moment.

Now, understand that I have some writer friends who sell novels to traditional publishers. And for one of them, I actually understand the reasons.

But sadly, most writers pick traditional publishers for two reasons that don’t come into play in my life. They go traditional because of ego and fear. And ego and fear are often wrapped together.

I have no fear about writing or indie publishing. I love writing, but I sure don’t think my work is anything special that needs to be anointed with a magic editor-and-sales-force wand in New York. I’ve been in those offices and there is nothing magical about them in any way. Just desks and cubicles and overworked good people who are fighting the good fight in a bad corporate system.

And trust me, if I had ego, I wouldn’t have written so many media books. Or ghosted for writers who couldn’t do their own books.

So I feel no pull to the lure of the traditional publishing Siren Song.

I’m a writer. I love to write. And now, thanks to this wonderful indie world, I don’t have to put up with all the crap from traditional publishers. And I make more money this way as well, which honestly sort of surprises me.

That’s my top ten reasons why I would never sign a traditional publishing contract.

Have fun with the writing. I sure do.


You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more this month.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.


Tip Jar


  1. Tim Tim
    May 18, 2016    

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on traditional publishing. I was strongly considering going the traditional route and I’ve been fighting myself on it for the past 4 years. After reading your article I’ve decided to stick with indie. Do you have any tips on getting over your fears of rejection from bookstores or how to get your book into bookstores?

    • dwsmith dwsmith
      May 18, 2016    

      Tim, just check back through the older blogs here and you will see a number of posts on how to do it. We used to do a six week major workshop that contained that information and cut it. We do have a lecture on the basics of doing so. And as I said, I have talked about it numbers of times. I think under the tab Killing the Sacred Cows I have a link also.

      But this new world, remember “bookstores” are about 70% electronic. Meaning you can sell paper books over the internet and a lot of stores do just that, such as Amazon, B&N and so on. Sure you can get your books on shelves, no issue, but many decide it’s not worth the extra effort because it is so easy to get books into electronic bookstores.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

My Newsletter Sign-Up

Current Bundle

Bundles: A great way to discover new writers and read some of my novels or nonfiction writing books at the same time.

So if you want to read two of my books about the business of writing, you can get it in a bundle with eight other great books from other writers from Storybundle. Click on image to go to the bundle.

Smith’s Monthly Subscriptions

Smith's Monthly, an original fiction magazine featuring every month a full novel, short fiction, serial adventures, and nonfiction now available for subscriptions.

And twenty-six of them now exist... Amazing, huh? And hard to hold. Here I am holding the first five...

$6.99 electronic and $12.99 trade paper editions are available at your local bookseller. All paper subscription copies are signed. For more information, just click on the cover.


Online Workshop Schedule

These are the starting dates of upcoming online workshops. Limited to twelve writers. All have openings unless I say closed below. For sign-up and more information about each workshop, click the Online Workshop tab at the top of the page.

Class #51… June 6th … The Business of Writing
Class #52… June 6th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… June 6th … Author Voice
Class #54… June 6th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… June 7th … Teams in Fiction
Class #56… June 7th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… June 7th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… June 8th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #59… June 8th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… June 8th … Advanced Depth

Class #1… July 11th … Author Voice
Class #2… July 11th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #3… July 11th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #4… July 11th … Plotting With Depth
Class #5… July 12th … Character Development
Class #6… July 12th … Depth in Writing
Class #7… July 12th … Advanced Character and Dialog
Class #8… July 13th … Cliffhangers
Class #9… July 13th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #10... July 13th … Teams in Fiction

Class #11… Aug 8th … The Business of Writing
Class #12… Aug 8th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #13… Aug 8th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #14… Aug 8th … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Aug 9th … Teams in Fiction
Class #16… Aug 9th … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Aug 9th … Plotting With Depth
Class #18… Aug 10th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #19… Aug 10th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #20… Aug 10th … Advanced Depth

Sign-up and more information under Online Workshops tab at the top of the page.

Classic Workshops

You can sign up for these and start at any point. They are the regular workshops, only you don't send in the homework and you can take them as fast or as slow as you would like.

They are half the price of a regular six week workshop.

Classic Workshops offered.

Making a Living... Classic
Productivity... Classic
Discoverability... Classic
Writing in Series... Classic
Genre Structure... Classic
Career... Classic

Lecture Series

More information on these lectures under the Lecture Series Tab above.

#1... Heinlein's Rules... Dean Wesley Smith 15 videos... $75.00

#2... Read Like a Writer... Kristine Kathryn Rusch... 8 videos... $50.00

#3... How to Write a Short Story: The Basics... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 7 videos... $50.00

#4... Writer's Block and Procrastination... Dean Wesley Smith... 8 videos... $50.00

#5... Carving Time Out for Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#6... How to Research for Fiction Writers... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 14 videos... $75.00

#7... Pen Names: Help With the Decision... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#8... Motivation: Starting Easier and Writing More... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#9... Practice: The Attitude and Methods of Practice in Fiction... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#10... Master Plot Formula: How and Why It Works Today... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#11... Prolific Lecture: How to Become a Prolific Fiction Writer... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#12... The Stages of a Fiction Writer: How to Know Where You Are In Learning and How To Move Upward... Dean Wesley Smith.... 11 videos... $50.00

#13... Starting Writing. Or Restarting Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#14... Endings: How to Write Them and Understand What Makes a Good Ending... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#15... Audio Narration Lecture... Jane Kennedy.... 9 audio lectures... $50.00

#16... Your Writing as an Investment Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#17... How to Get Your Books into Bookstores Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#18... How to Think Like a Science Fiction Writer Lecture... Kristine Kathryn Rusch....11 videos... $50.00

#19... Why Some Books Sell More Than Other Books... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#20... How to Write a Page Turning Novel or Story: Basics and Tricks ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#21... The Basics of Designing Science Fiction Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#22... The Basics of Designing Mystery, Cozy, or Thriller Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#23... Paying the Price: A Working Writer's Mindset ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#24... Writing into the Dark: The Tricks and Methods of Writing Without an Outline... Dean Wesley Smith... 12 videos... $50.00

#25... Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#26... Organization... Allyson Longueira... 8 videos... $50.00

#27... Confidence... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#28... Stories to Novels... Dean Wesley Smith... 9 videos... $50.00

My Publisher

WMG Publishing Inc. is now my major publisher of all my coming novels, collections, and short stories.

Support This Blog On Patreon

I now have a Patreon page with some nifty rewards for your monthly support.

Just click on the image to go to my new Patreon page.