The New World: Publishing: Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time: The Second Foot

In the last post I quickly detailed out how I saw indie writer after indie writer shoot themselves in the foot with their publishing when it came to sales of their books. (Read it first if you have not. It is right under this post. I deleted all other posts between the two.)

So I’m now going to torture this metaphor until it’s dead. Or at least shoot it a few times. (Add in your own joke here, but please don’t send them to me. (grin))

— And, of course, on the first five toes article, I got many of the types of comments I expected.

— And almost all the comments ignored the toe I expected indie writers to ignore. (I sometimes hate being right.)

— And, of course, all indie writers claim they write across genre, ignoring completely that I said most writers I have met, beginner and professional alike, don’t know what genre they write in, let alone if they write across genre.

Of course, as readers first and foremost, we think we know a genre. But alas, that has nothing to do with writing inside the structures of a genre so that other readers will be satisfied.

I know most of you don’t like this thought, but reader satisfaction is why you must get genre right. Besides sales. You flat say something is a romance and it is not, (because you wouldn’t recognize a romance structure if it slapped you) then a reader of romance reads your work and goes, “Worst romance ever.” And never buys another book from you. In any genre.

But alas, as many of you pointed out in comments and private letters to me, you like to blow off that toe book after book because you KNOW you KNOW and you write across genres, so you don’t have to pay attention to this small little problem. Yup. Pull the trigger.

— And by the way, I NEVER SAID to write in series all the time. Heck, I write all over the place, and so does my wife. I seldom write in a series except for sort-of-linked Poker Boy stories. So some of you, please quote me correctly if you are going to quote me. (sigh)

— And the toe that got no comment at all really was the 5th and most important toe. Ah, well, not much to say about it, I suppose. If your book looks like an indie book and you can’t tell because you never hold it up beside a professional cover in the same genre, and understand that most professional bestseller covers tend to have four or five print elements, then the gun just isn’t pointed at that toe, it’s tied to it.

So moving on to the next foot. (You didn’t think I could leave an indie writer just hopping around on one foot, did you? Oh, no, there are more things indie writers do to cause bad sales. Many more.)

Shot #6

Spend all your time promoting your first book instead of writing your second and/or third book.

I see this all the time and it flat stuns me. The best way to sell more books is become a better storyteller, to have more product to sell, to work on craft and pacing and cliffhanging and all the thousands of things a professional writer needs. But for some reason the availability of social media and myths that you MUST promote force otherwise perfectly sane humans into spending all their time annoying a few hundred followers on Twitter and Facebook and doing blog tours and other silly things like that.

This toe is blown clear off of all “authors.” (Authors are people who have written and are always looking backward at what they wrote. Writers are people who write and look forward at what they are writing and what they want to write next.) Writers tend to get past this much faster, or only graze the toe with the shot.

Six toes now gone. (If you are an author.)

Shot #7

Too much ego or bad thinking to use a pen name.

Wow, I see comments from all sorts of beginning writers who are exploring around genres (which is normal and cool) stating they didn’t want to put a pen name on something in a very different genre than they already had their real name on.

Yup, that will kill sales faster than anything I have seen. Why? Because of reader expectations, that’s why. A reader picks up and likes a romance under “Real Name Writer” and then sees another book from the same author name and buys it and it’s a horror novel with ugly guts and blood. Reader says, “I’m not buying anything by that author again.”  And then tells their friends to avoid you.

And you know the biggest reason I hear beginning writers saying they didn’t want to put pen names on books different from what they already have under a certain name? “It will take too long to develop the name.”

Seriously? You are saying that to someone who sold his first short story in 1975 and didn’t sell a first novel until 1987.  And who has pen names far more popular than this name. Seriously?

If you cross genres, be polite to your readers and use a name for each major genre. In the long run, you will not hurt your sales and sell a ton more books.

That seventh toe is gone.

Shot #8

Underpricing your work for the wrong reasons.

There are times for smart writers and publishers to use the free or heavily discounted price to bring in more customers. No argument from me on that.

But if you discount your first or second or third novel down to 99 cents, without having a bunch of other novels at $5.99 or higher, you will lose customers. Period.

Sorry, folks, but the 99 cent and $1.99 is a price ghetto now. It makes you look like a beginner if it’s your first or second novel. It makes your work look cheap. And you might get a few more readers of the discount type, but unless you plan on writing completely to the discount bins your entire life, devaluing your work is not the way to start to gain readers.

If you have to discount something after a year or two, discount it DOWN TO $2.99. That way, compared to your other work, it will look like a deal.

Yeah, I know, write me your letters about how you personally made more sales at 99 cents. I expect them.

But folks, to be even more blunt than I normally am here, when I am looking for a quality bottle of wine for a celebration, my first stop is not the Dollar Store. If I’m looking for a quality piece of writing in a bookstore to entertain me for a night, my first stop is not the discount bin on the sidewalk.

Some people shop those bins to the exclusion of going inside the bookstore. Those are not my main audience for my books I’m afraid. But every writer is different. Just understand that if you discount your only book, or only your third novel, your audience has just moved from the shelves of the bookstore to the discount bin on the sidewalk.

So if you want to build a long-term career, with fans finding you slowly, over time, who are willing to pay a respectable price for your work, have some respect in your own time and craft. Price your book in the same range as traditional publishers price their works. ($4.99 to $8.99 for most for e-books)

I got an idea. Pretend you sold your book to a traditional publisher and price it exactly like they would price it.

That’s eight toes gone. Just two more left before you need new shoes.

Shot #9

Ignoring 65-70% of your market. Or worse, going exclusive and ignoring 90% plus of your market.

Indie publisher after indie publisher ignore paper books, even though survey after survey show that print books are holding strong among all readers, even those with electronic devices. And indie bookstores are growing in numbers every year. In fact, the new study out today shows that electronic books across all trades are just under 20% of books sold. Slightly higher or lower depending on genre and type.

So by ignoring paper editions, not having them available at least, you ignore 80% of all readers. And also kill a great price comparison on your own books. (I did an entire post on this topic, but say your print book is $15.99, it makes your $7.99 electronic edition look like a deal.)

And then there are the writers who go only with one electronic publisher. Sure, write me letters about your wonderful experience with Kindle Select. But I’m also talking to writers who feel it isn’t worth their time to go to Smashwords, thus cutting out huge areas of the entire world as an audience. Any form of being exclusive, unless used correctly, is just a killer to sales. And most indie writers I know don’t know how to use an exclusive sale correctly.

The ninth toe is gone. Just one left.

Shot #10

Getting in a hurry.

This tendency of all new writers kills more sales and writing careers than any I have observed over thirty years of paying attention.

Sorry to tell you, but writers like me and Kris and other long-term professional writers did not spring fully-formed from the head of Zeus (as my wife says). It took us years and years and often decades to get to where we are at. And millions and millions and millions of words.

And for me, those millions of words and years came at a pace of about 750 words per hour starting at typewriters and then moving to computers. I have thousands and thousands of rejections, 250 alone from just Asimov’s Magazine.

So why some writer who has written a novel or two or a few short stories thinks they should be famous and sell millions of copies is beyond me. That attitude shows a complete lack in the ability to understand storytelling and the complete lack of common sense or business sense.

So how does that kill sales? Did you read the four shots above this one? Getting in a hurry is a major cause for all of those mistakes and a number of the first five in the last post as well.

(The one I love the most is the “Oh, no, sales have declined in the last two weeks! I had better lower my price!)

I know this advice will get ignored, but if you follow any piece of advice in these two articles, follow this one.

Slow down. Focus on learning how to become a better storyteller, learn how to do professional covers, learn how to set up a business, travel and talk with writers farther down the road than you are.

Make a business plan that covers years, not months.

Warning #1… I don’t mean slow down in the writing process itself. If anything, speed that up. Write faster, do fewer drafts, mail more work. Follow Heinlein’s Rules. Combine that with constant learning and study of craft and you will get better. (It’s called “practice” for those of you not afraid of that word.)

I’m saying slow down in the worrying about (and the focus on) sales.

Warning #2… I am not saying you shouldn’t mail your stuff to editors or put your work up electronically and try to make sales. Do put it up, do mail it to editors. I mailed my very first short story to a magazine that bought it. And my second. And after that I got hundreds of rejections before a magazine bought another story from me. If I had been in a hurry, if I didn’t understand at a deep level that learning how to be an internationally-selling fiction writer took time and years, I would have stopped somewhere between 1975 and 1982.

But I didn’t stop. I kept writing and learning and working on becoming a better storyteller. And I kept learning the business, even as it changed.

And now, thirty-seven years later, I’m still writing and still learning and still working to become a better storyteller.

So slow down the worrying about sales, focus on learning, focus on the next story and the next story, and have fun. The sales will come if you put your work out there and keep learning.

The last toe is gone. And more than likely, if you shot your very short-lived publishing career in the foot ten times, so is your career.

But it is possible in this new world to stop firing at your feet. It’s magic, I know, but true.

Focus on the writing, focus on learning, do the best you can with every book and story and then move on to the next one and the next one. Mail your work or put it up indie or do both. And never stop doing that either.

Nothing will kill a writing career except for a writer stopping writing. But if you metaphorically blow off enough toes, this career you are trying to start will just not be fun anymore.

Trust me, it’s a ton more fun to focus on learning and writing the next story than it is worrying about sales.

Have fun. The sales will come.

(Now I have officially tortured this poor metaphor to death. Someone please bury it on the way out the door.)


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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

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149 Responses to The New World: Publishing: Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time: The Second Foot

  1. Bonnie says:

    On point number six. At a pet blogging conference (yes, they exist, I did not make that up), I listened to a number of published writers talking about how to market their books as sales were down. I know these women, having networked with them through mutual pet blogging for the last several years. Most of them are talking about books published well over a year ago. So I sat there and mentioned your name and Kris’ name and talked about how you give advice to writers who want to be career writers on your blogs. I told them about what you’ve both said about writing more books rather than marketing the prior one. One looked at me blankly. One told me in confidence that she was planning her next book but had so many ideas she just wasn’t sure what direction to take her career in. Another changed the subject back to book marketing.

  2. Ed Teja says:

    In terms of the print books what about the tradeoff of being able to provide much lower priced books by only using say Createspace online distribution. You talked previously about the high cost of those books through discounting. I understand the appeal of getting them into stores, but how many can you expect to sell to browsers at high prices when we (indies) are spending our hours writing rather than promoting? (And I understand and completely agree with that stance.) As a test I put a novella (50k words) up on Createspace and could price it at $6.99 and then the ebook at $3.99. It isn’t running out the door at high speed and only been up a month, but I’ve sold more print copies than ebooks so far. I have some short story anthologies in the queue and since you have been doing this far longer than I (publishing, at least) can you share your thoughts?

    • dwsmith says:

      Ed, I think it’s a factor of knowing markets, to be honest. I don’t use the extended distribution on the short stories I am putting in paper versions because to do so would raise the price beyond what anyone in their right mind would pay for a short story. (Right now I’m putting $4.99 on the paper.) Extended distribution on them would require me to go to $6.99 and for a 5,000 word story, just not a win situation. But again, this is just for my challenge and I’m just doing this for fun. I really honestly have no expectation of selling many of the paper copies of a short story. Time will tell, however.

      But all novellas and novels we run through the extended distribution, trying to get $1.00 on the novellas and $2.00 or more on the novels.

      Also, we are going to be using a bunch of other ways to get to bookstores. All simple and easy if you have enough product.

      So in my opinion, novellas, collections, and novels should all be priced high enough to get the extended distribution in play and pay the $25.00 per title.

      You just never know which title will take off. WMG Publishing Inc now has 40 of our titles in print form and that number is climbing quickly. By October we should have over 100 of our 300 titles in print.

      That’s just my opinion. Every month we are making more and more money from the print side, as I expected to happen. And we haven’t even started letting bookstores know, let alone having any place to buy them on our web site. Interestingly enough, all this will be up and coming up by the first issue of Fiction River next April. (grin)

  3. I agree with the majority of what you said. I do think promotion is important, though, AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T INTERFERE WITH YOUR WRITING. I leave promotion for the end of the day when I’m a bit drained and want to set aside my writing for a while. Much of my promotion is through blogging. This comes easy for me because one of my day jobs is as a travel blogger. Blogging helps with your SEO, you can use all those bits and pieces you gleaned from research that didn’t end up in your work, and a good guest blogger can lighten your load.

    I have another shot for you, taking off a finger this time:

    Finger #1: Spending all your time with other indie writers
    I grazed this finger when I started out. Although I had ten traditionally published books under my belt, they were all nonfiction and I was leaping into the world of indie fiction. I joined the KDP forum and various indie author online groups. Well, if Andy Warhol were alive today, he’d up the number on his famous observation that “90% of everything is crap.”
    What did I find? Amateur advice, constant flame wars, anonymous posters dominating the conversation and making hollow boasts without ever linking to their books, and just plain bad writing. I’m glad my work experience quickly showed me how clueless most people on these forums are. I don’t waste my time on them anymore. I do play in the blogosphere, though. It’s fun and I have some good online buddies, but I never, ever let it interfere with my writing.

    • dwsmith says:


      Scott William Carter and I, when we teach the Think Like a Publisher, repeat that concept a great deal. But Scott has a wonderful way of putting it. He calls it WIBBOW. (Would I Be Better Off Writing.) If it passes the Wibbow test, then do it, but otherwise, get back to producing more product.

      And I agree with your finger thing. (grin) I have made a few comments here over time about the Kindle Boards, and from what I am told, people on the Kindle Boards have made a few comments about me and my opinions as well. (grin) Yeah, go figure…

      • J. R. Tomlin says:

        Oh, you’re a favorite topic of conversation over there. *grin*

        I consider marketing (or posting on writers’ forums) what I do when other people watch TV which I don’t. We all have our own forms for recreation. Mine happen to be forums, blogs and twitter. You do have to watch that they don’t take over your life–kind of like playing World of Warcraft.

  4. Ron Dionne says:

    Holy florking schnitt! I agree with every word you said. Hold on — getting head examined now…

  5. Louise says:

    A question about genre and pen names (more like two questions, but they’re connected:

    I am currently writing a small collection of short stories that all have a central theme, but range across a few different genres. One of my CPs suggested grouping them according to genre instead of theme, while others say they prefer to read genre-spanning themes. I see the good points on both sides, and I’m wavering. I’m also wondering about the name thing if I do stick with the theme instead of one genre – do I use my fantasy-writing-name, or my fiction-writing-name, or am I just over-thinking all of this?

    I do appreciate all your tips, especially about slowing down. As I’m diving into indie publishing for the first time, I find myself just wanting to charge through everything and Get It Done, and I need the reminder to take the time to do it well.

    • dwsmith says:

      A little over-thinking, Louise. But good questions, and the only answer is, of course, do what you feel is right for you. No right answer at all.

      All the sites allow you to do multiple names as author or contributor, so just put all the names on the cover of the authors of the story and list them all as well. That might work and get all your fans to the book. But again, no right answer. Just any way that works for you. Have fun.

  6. Vera Soroka says:

    Great post! The most trouble I am having is placing my erotic romance as it has paranormal elements but also I see it as a gothic horror.
    I don’t do happy endings and these are also gay romances which is easy to place but not the rest.
    I don’t want to have to explain to my readers what I am all the time. I follow Zoe Winters and she had to do that with her other pen name. For some reason they thought that both pen names should be writing the same thing.

    • dwsmith says:

      Vera, well, can’t help you much except to say if you don’t do happy endings, you are not writing regular romance. You might be writing paranormal romance, which sometimes can get away without happy endings, but not always. So caution on the term romance if you don’t have happy endings. You are writing something else with romantic elements or a relationship in the story. But that does not make it romance.

      • Dean, this is why you got such a fuzzy reception to the stuff you said about genre: when people say their stuff doesn’t fit a genre, they mean it.

        What you said about genre was kind of subtle too. Up above, in this post, it kind of comes out sounding like you’re telling people to write to suit a firm genre. But in the other post it seemed clear to me that you were talking about learning to label your story correctly… which is a whole different thing.

        And I don’t know of any indies who would disagree with that. It’s unfair to say they would. Most of us are indies because we’re in Vera’s shoes: we can’t label our work with a specific genre.

        It might be interesting to talk more about genre, and how you handle things that cross lines. Here’s an example from my work that kind of speaks to what you’re saying:

        My easiest to label work is a mystery western. It’s primarily cozy mystery. It’s aimed at that audience, and would most satisfy that audience. It’s not historical or gritty or serious and not really suited to the western audience. But since both genres are pretty clear, I put it in both categories.

        I don’t get any complaints from either audience, but the enthusiastic feedback I get always begins with the following phrase, “I don’t like westerns, but….”

        Readers of westerns find it mediocre, but kinda fun, maybe. Those who love it tend to be readers of mysteries — especially those who specifically dislike westerns.

        The kicker is that both groups (pretty much everyone who has ever read it) agree that it’s a western. That’s the primary genre as far as they are concerned, and all would feel lied to if I didn’t label it that.

        But the primary audience — those who love it, and who are most satisfied by it — tend to be mystery fans who think they hate westerns. (Some are fans of other genres.)

        So I continue to call it a “mystery western.” I push the funny quirky side of it, so nobody mistakes it for serious or historical. (The title is “Have Gun, Will Play,” for instance.)

        Most of my work crosses genres in much harder to define ways. But even my one book which doesn’t cross other genres at all — it’s just a flat cozy mystery — isn’t in step with the current fashion of cozy mysteries.

        So with that I had a choice: I could go for a standard cozy cover which would attract an audience which might find it fine but not exactly what they were looking for — but would also drive away the audience that would most like it. Or I could go with a more retro cover which evokes a different flavor from another era. That would not attract the modern cozy reader as quickly, but it wouldn’t put off the readers who don’t like modern cozies.

        Going with the retro cover… did that shoot me in the foot? I don’t know. I got a cover design award for it (it’s The Man Who Did Too Much) but I don’t think it specifically sells books.

        However, the audience I’m going for doesn’t buy standalone books — so I don’t know that any cover would matter. A saw a survey which shows they won’t even pick up a book until they see six or seven books in a series (not just by an author, in a series with the same characters). And this cover is very brandable — very well suited for series recognition.

  7. I think I have *most* of my fingers and toes intact, but with a couple flesh wounds. I’m a professional graphic designer, and do my own covers as well as a few for others, but I’m not above learning. I’ll probably be reworking most of mine to brand the author name rather than the title. My question has to do with a cover I’m getting ready to do for a friend going to print. I’m with you on the 4-5 type elements, but what do you put for #4 if:
    – It’s the author’s first published book?
    – She’s not a best-selling or award-winning author?
    – The book’s not a series?

    Thanks for writing this series – I’ve found it so useful!

    • dwsmith says:

      Just put another tag line on the story. So one short blurb, one tag line. For example a tag line like “She bites every man she sees.” Then a short blurb in another area that says, “A Dog. A Woman. Too Many Men With Torn Pants. Will Stacey Ever Find Love?”

      But the story elements will have to someone relate slightly more on the cover to the title than the author name. That help?

  8. Carradee says:

    #6. (promotion)

    Agreed. I have plans to do “promotion” (basic “let people know you exist” stuff) after I have a large enough body of work that the expected returns will be worth the time invested. Considering a “buy” rate of 1% is good for copy, I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the time I reach that point, I’ll be selling fine without promoting, in which case I have no problem with changing my plans.

    But so many people seem to focus on promotion/advertising as if it’s a magic bullet, not a tool, and don’t realize that an ad that gets 10k hits a month actually did great if they only got 200 sales. All they see is that they paid $50 for an ad that earned them $70.

    And then there are the ones who don’t get that targeted audience ≠ target audience. They treat their ads as if the terms are synonymous and wonder why their marketing doesn’t work.

    #7 (pennames)

    Again, agreed. A reader looking for a dark fantasy title wants a dark fantasy title, not melodrama or lighthearted humor—at least, not then. later, maybe. But not then.

    I have a few pennames, and the way I pick the name that goes with a story is by looking at the audience. Might someone enjoy them all? Sure; they did all come from the same head, after all. But they should be able to clearly pick one type of story from the others.

    Even as a reader, I find myself picking up your wife’s Kristine Grayson titles before I pick up her Fey series, though I enjoy them both. I’ve just been in the mood for the former, lately.

    #8 (pricing)

    Yupperdoodle. (See my comments on #6.)

    #9 (market availability)


    #10 (hurrying)

    Yeah. I work as a line editor. (No, I’m not using that as a fancy term for “copy editor”. I do a lot of tutoring: what the rules are, why they exist, and when you can (and can’t) break them. And Dean, before you start twitching to type a rebuff: I’m not one of those grammar Nazis who thinks every grammar rule applies in every instance. But I do think that someone needs to understand why a comma usually goes in a sentence, before deciding to get creative with them. ^_^ (Like my non-essential dependent clause, there?))

    Some writers… *sighs* They buy an ad slot, then try to hire an editor, then freak out when the editor has other clients in the queue and can’t finish the author’s novel that week.

    And then there are the folks who for some reason think it’s a good idea to either send an editor a first draft or to let their paying readers’ complaints serve for their editing.

    reader satisfaction is why you must get genre right

    Oh, yes.

    Some genre crossover is normal. Normal for a story to have a few potential ways to look at it. Normal for that fantasy novel to have a romance component.

    That component doesn’t make the story a romance novel with fantasy in it. It might make the story a fantasy romance, but…that’s unlikely. (Though now I want to look at fantasy structure and romance structure and see if I can’t come up with a story that combines them.)

    There’s a reason I say one of my books contains a “sweet” romance, rather than calling it a “sweet” romance. The story’s “clean”, good-humored, HEA-type ending…but the story’s about a paranoid girl overcoming her sadistic family background, so that’s what the content and structure focuses on. A lot of those scenes contain the MMC, but that’s a side effect of him being one of the major people she learns how to trust, rather than an indicator that the story’s a romance.

    Hmm. Maybe part of the problem is that writers often define their genre, then look at their stories? Or look at the surface content and don’t consider the structure beneath?

    Or just don’t know enough about genre to begin with to know what’s in it and assume they know. :-/

  9. Josh says:

    RE #7

    What if I have an idea for a book that is out of my main genre(s), but don’t really have a desire to develop that pen name? For example, I have a cute idea for a horror, but really have no current desire to write ten or more of them. Do I stick a pen name on it and just let it languish? Or use an established pen name and risk alienation?

    • dwsmith says:

      Up to you, Josh. But I don’t think any book just languishes anywhere. Sure, having only one under that name is tough to get momentum going, but link to it on your web site. For example, say, “If you like Josh’s mystery, you might also like this horror novel written under the pen name…” And thus you have linked to the book and warned off the readers. See how my wife Kris handles her Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott major pen names. And yes, she has others. Right now she and Sourcebooks are building a brand new name for her. Kris DeLake. Wonderful sexy space adventures.

  10. Frank R. McBride says:

    Have you kept all those rejections in a bin somewhere? Care to share some anecdotes about them?

    • dwsmith says:

      Except for the first five years where I put them in scrap books, they are all filed with each story. But I also keep track of rejections per magazine. That’s how I knew I had been rejected by all four editors of Asimov’s and the total came to 250 since Asimov’s started as a magazine. And not one sale. Welcome to the world of writing off market. (grin)

  11. I’ve got a book up in paper and it hasn’t sold, not that I’ve seen yet, but I’m still happy I did it. I know it will sell eventually and it’s done something else. It’s made me more credible as an independent publisher. My ebook sales have increased.

    I know I need to work on my covers. They’re not that great. I’m figuring out how to rebrand them. In the mean time, I’m writing new work to mail out and put up and it’s a helluva lot of fun.

  12. Jamie D. says:

    Whew! I was thinking I was going to need a wheelchair when I saw the title of this post, but I actually have most of these toes left.

    6 – I mainly just write. I love to write. I’m also lazy. And I work 40 hours a week away from home. So aside from a few smallish, non-time consuming things, I don’t promote at all. I’d rather be writing, and there are already so many things to get in the way of that (formatting, uploading, personal stuff that must be done,etc) – there’s just no time for promoting anyways at this point. Tried that, burned out, never again.

    7 – I have pen names for each genre, and love them.

    8 – I’m working on this. It may not look like it, but I am. It’s a mental process.

    9 – I don’t do exclusive, I publish all over and I do print for novellas and novels. Now you’ve got me thinking about print for short stories, I’m just waiting to see how yours turn out first. 😉

    10 – I am alternately impatient and patient. Normally in direct correlation to whatever’s happening with my day job. But my impatience generally translates into writing more and trying to get better so I can build that body of work that people will pay to read.

    Thank goodness I’m still standing, at least. I’ll tell you right now, you can’t have my fingers. I need them for typing.

  13. Simon says:

    Dean, with Createspace, does WMG supply its own ISBNs, or do you use the free ones provided?

    • dwsmith says:

      We normally use the free ones because we want to be in the library distribution program they have. But on the larger books, we buy their $9.99 offering to get the WMG name on the listing at the top.

      • Hmmm…

        What do you mean by larger books?

        I’ve been using the free ISBNs too, but lately I’ve begun to think I made a mistake in doing that. Yes, getting into libraries is great. But I wonder how many libraries I’m really going to get into. Plus, in keeping with your advice to look as much like a traditional publisher as possible, I look at other titles which list the publisher clearly, then I look at mine, which lists Createspace instead of my company name, and I wonder whether I’m really portraying myself as professionally as possible by going with the free Createspace ISBN.

        Really, I can make up the $10 fee in 3 to 5 sales at most, depending on whether they are through Createspace, Amazon, or extended distribution. But the book still appears, as much as possible, to be just the same as any trad published book.

        So I’m thinking of going with the $10 ISBN bit from now on.

        Or am I smoking crack?

        • dwsmith says:

          Michael, larger books meaning series books like the Fey or Retrieval Artist novels. Collections and short stories and novellas we are putting the free ISBN on. And honestly, it makes no difference at all to anything.

  14. Byron Gordon says:

    That #10 hits one of my worst problems. I blame the internet for making me desire instant gratification! (tongue in cheek entirely). Now if I could just… wait a second, WIBBOW?

    Later folks!

  15. J. R. Tomlin says:

    ALL indie writers claim they write across genre? Really?

    So that means I’m not an indie? That the dozens and dozens of indie writers I know who claim no such thing don’t exist? And none of us know what genres we write? Well, I guess I’ll just take your word that you know what ALL indies do and know, Dean. (No, I don’t expect you to post this but honestly… I expected better)

    I will give you that I probably should have published my historical fiction under a pseudonym, but it’s a little late now.

    • dwsmith says:

      Well, J.R., in all the professional writer classes we have here at the coast, often with writers who are well-published in both traditional and indie, we have come to realize that most of them just flat don’t know. And I am constantly noticing indie writers who have their books in the wrong place for what they really are. As I said, as readers we all believe we know what we wrote. But alas, I have discovered now for over 12 years, to my shock, actually, that writers just don’t know. But they ALWAYS think they do. Just reporting what I have watched and observed. Sorry you took offense.

      • Dean, I think people are getting hooked upon the wrong part of your idea. They’re reading you as claiming “nobody really writes cross-genre — that’s just an excuse.” And because that’s obviously not true, they are missing your main point.

        So maybe don’t say “Everybody thinks they write cross-genre” but rather say “Most writers have no idea what genre they’re writing in.”

        Personally, I would be very very happy to have you read my melodrama and tell me which genre it is.

        • dwsmith says:

          Camille, sorry, but I said what I said. Nobody really writes cross-genre. All books fit clearly into one genre or another. Always.

          However, that said, the term cross-genre gets used to describe books with elements of more than one genre in them. That does NOT mean they don’t fit into one genre. For example, Kris writes Retrieval Artist novels. They are mystery novels, with a future detective, set on the moon and Mars and other planets. What genre do they fit in? Science Fiction, of course, which is why Analog buys the novellas all the time. Science fiction is a genre that trumps other genres.

          So you could say Kris is writing cross genre by writing mystery novels in a science fiction setting, but she knows she is writing science fiction novels and so do all her readers. (A few of her mystery fans cross over to read them, of course, but the science fiction trumps.

          Nothing sits on a line between genres. Not set up that way. One genre always trumps the other genre elements. AND THAT IS WHAT I AM SAYING. This is all about reader expectations and NO READER goes into a bookstore thinking I want to read something that rides a line directly between three genres. Hell, if you folks understood genres, all you would have to do is look at the endings of a story to help place it in a genre because genres have prescribed endings.

          A lesson short lesson on endings.
          Romance = Happily Ever After.
          Mystery = Crime is resolved. (not solved, resolved.)
          Fantasy = Good Guys Win
          Western = Good Guys Win

          And so on. Nothing is without genre, so folks, stop using that as an excuse. Get your friends to tell you what you wrote.

          You want something tough, try putting Poker Boy into a genre. Actually easy, but since I was the writer, I needed help to figure it out. And I still have some of them listed in the wrong genres bookshelves because I wrote a bunch before asking for help from friends.

          The Answer: Poker Boy is urban fantasy.

          • Dean — Yes, Poker Boy is an urban fantasy. I don’t know the genre well, so I’ll admit, I have no idea what genre you thought you were putting it in, but I can’t imagine it being in any other category.

            So that proves your point that a writer doesn’t always know what category a story goes in. But I didn’t disagree with that.

            There is always a wrong category, but that doesn’t mean there is always a right one.

            And sure, you could force any story into a category (“It’s got space ships! It must be SF!”), but that doesn’t mean forcing it into the nearest category is any more right than you forcing Poker Boy into one of those wrong categories you tried.

            You haven’t read my melodrama, so this won’t prove anything to you, but I’ll still try this as an example:

            Have I had other people look at it to try to tell me what it is? Of course I have! You can force it into dozens of categories, but that would by lying to the reader. I’ve had writers write to me who very much wanted to review it but they had no idea how to describe it.

            Romance? Well, love is a major part of the story, but it’s about the break up of a marriage, and an unfaithful wife (who the story, and her husband, hold as heroic for her wild ways). The message and morals and ending (and middle and most of the beginning) disqualify it as a romance.

            Trashy Pot-boiler? (Not really a category, but still a marketing description). Except for one decidedly non-titillating scene, it’s PG rated. Or maybe even G rated, except for the mature themes. Fact is, it’s actually puritanical, in an anarchistic kinda way.

            Women’s fiction? That’s where I put it when I have to, but it is in no way a realistic exploration of relationships or a woman’s experience. Women’s fiction readers really expect realism, and something they connect their real lives with, even when it’s cloaked in historical or fantasy terms.

            Fantasy? Well, it’s unrealistic, and it takes place in an alternate world, so that’s the other place I have put it. But the setting is intentionally sketchy and highly unsatisfying to alternate world fans. There is nothing about the story or style or message that pays off for the fantasy reader.

            Historical? It’s got costumes and flint-lock rifles. But it is not historical, and as with fantasy, has nothing that pays off for the history fan.

            Literary? Well, yeah, it’s a literary experiment. (That’s what the sketchy world is about — an experiment in writing a story which unfolds like a play, with the setting reduced to painted backdrops.) But it doesn’t fit the literary genre in terms of what the audience expects. It’s way too low-brow.

            Mainstream? Only by default. It doesn’t fit with other mainstream books — too many elements of romance, fantasy, trashy pot-boiler, women’s fiction, historical and literary.

            In Sichuan province in China they have a seasoning which intentionally balances multiple flavors (hot, sweet, sour, salty, aromatic) so that none of them predominate. It’s called “Strange Flavor” because none of it is unfamiliar, but you can’t identify exactly what it is. But it’s also really delicious.

            That’s my genre.

            You can say that writing in “Strange Flavor” is something which, in itself, shoots a writer in the foot, but I disagree. What you write IS the foot. Without the writing, none of the rest matters.

          • Not to rock the boat too much, but…

            “Fantasy = Good Guys Win”

            …and yet I think of A Song of Ice And Fire. Clearly Fantasy. Yet who are the good guys? And, for that matter, who won? I’ll grant you, that series is not yet finished, but it seems things are not going to be quite so clear-cut.

            Or am I mis-characterizing its genre?

          • dwsmith says:

            Michael, wait for the book to finish. Readers are getting it in installments. Wait for George to finish it. (grin)

          • Mercy Loomis says:

            So if you have a book that would otherwise be fantasy, but the good guys don’t win, what would that be? Is “dark fantasy” enough of its own genre? Gods know there are subgenres out the wazoo.

            I would love to get your thoughts on what constitutes “horror.” It used to be fairly straightforward in the 80s, but now everything is so broken out…and I so rarely find books that are actually scary anymore.

            Or would a story where the bad guys win automatically be horror? Hrm. Or tragedy, maybe? Not there’s a tragedy section in the bookstore…

          • dwsmith says:


            I would avoid the “horror” label as much as possible. There are a thousand ways to describe a book besides horror, such as dark fantasy, dark suspense, even gothic is better than horror.

            Horror has still not recovered from the glut and bust cycle of twenty years ago and readers still associate horror with bad horror films where five stupid teenagers go into the woods and get chopped up for no reason other than to catch a glimpse of a young girl’s bloody breast and there is a lot of screaming and red stuff splattered everywhere.

            As a genre, horror has no prescribed ending, which makes it less fun for most readers. And it must have, in this modern world, blood and guts. In the old, old days, horror often described a good Hitchcock film, but no longer. Hitchcock now would be suspense.

      • J. R. Tomlin says:

        I’m not offended, Dean, and I’m sorry that I sounded offended; I’m just a bit annoyed at being accused of something I am not guilty of. I do plenty of things wrong (such as choosing not to publish my historical novels under a pseudonym) but I definitely know which genres I write. So do most of the authors I talk to but I’ll give you that maybe we’re exceptions.

        • dwsmith says:

          J.R., the point you are missing is this: All writers I am around as well KNOW FOR A FACT which genre they write in. They know it, are certain of it. And my point is about 80% of the time they are FLAT WRONG.

          And that is the point I have been struggling to make. Writers may think they know what they wrote and what marketing and sales genre is fits in, but these are the same writers who will chase a stranger down the hall at a writer’s conference to try to give them all their money and all the paperwork with that money.

          We are talking about sales here, an area that a vast majority of writers know nothing or little about. And genre is a main way that writers, convinced of what they wrote, put their books on the wrong shelf and then wonder why they make little or no sales.

          So believe yourself and your friends exceptions and maybe you are. But let me put this to you. I teach this stuff, I know this stuff, I was a publisher. And when it comes to my own books, I often get it wrong.

          • J. R. Tomlin says:

            I am no longer a newcomer here either, Dean, although I certainly give you that you know a LOT more than I do.

            You ever heard of Bernard Cornwell? He and I both write something called Historical Fiction although it is often listed as War Fiction because there is more than ONE KIND of Historical Fiction. (Yes, it blurs genres because genres have always been blurred to some extent) My HF is not much like Sharon Kay Penman’s who is an excellent HF author but writes “royalty” fiction. Mr. Cornwell and I write, as I said, War Fiction in a historical setting.

            Am I going to stop writing a successful genre because you think it “blurs genres”? No. :)

            It has NEVER been as simple as you make it out. One of my major gripes with Amazon is the lack of appropriate subgenres under HF since that forces me to put my HF under the War Fiction category. So do Mr. Cornwell’s publishers, by the way. At the moment, I have a novel setting right next to one of his in that category. Perhaps you’ll believe that THEY know what genre Mr. Cornwell writes. And I write it, too.

            And no, I’m still not mad. I just don’t agree with you on this.

  16. Thomas E says:

    Hm… it’s depressing that I have made every single one of these mistakes and I am still making many of them.

    Still, I think the two biggest mistakes I have made as a writer so far come under two headings:

    1. Not having fun…


    2. Not writing work I care about.

    It is very easy as a new writer to be so caught up on the mechanics of story telling that you end up writing out of fear, and taking yourself out of your fiction.

    And having fun is so basic.

    • dwsmith says:

      Spot on, Thomas. Go have fun. Just tell stories. It’s a great thing we do. Sure, work on becoming a better storyteller. But make the practice fun.


  17. Lee McAulay says:

    It took me a while, but I put out my novel (“The Last Rhinemaiden”) in paperback through CreateSpace earlier this year and so far it’s sold twice as many as in ebook format. I really enjoyed the process – including learning some new skills – and I have two supporting short story collections in paperback too now.
    I’ve just finished editing another novel in a different universe and have a second that I’m nearly done, and they will both go out in paperback just after the ebook launch. Then… I have a trilogy to start in the Rhinemaiden universe, and two more in the second universe, and enough ideas to keep me writing for the next ten years at two per year (I have a day job).
    Do I have time for promotion? Nah, too busy writing. A regular blog post is as much “push” as I spare!
    Thanks for all your advice. Some of us need as much as we can get… :-)

  18. John Haines says:

    I fully understand your comments at the beginning about writers never being a good judge of what they have written. On a creative writing course I took a while back I was asked to read out the first few pages of a piece I had written. The tutor then asked me what I thought I had written. I thought I had written fantasy, everyone else in the room described it as horror. I still don’t see it that way but have to accept that 15 votes are going to be more accurate than my solitary one.

    • dwsmith says:

      As J.R. got mad at me for saying, yup, welcome to what I have been watching workshop after workshop now for twelve years, indie book after indie book now for three years. It really is stunning how little we know what we write as writers. And frighteningly, I still get it wrong with my own work at times. You should have heard my wife laugh when I handed her a novel and called it a romance.

      • I asked my multiply published critique partners what genre DANGEROUS TALENTS is. One said it’s 51% romance, 49% fantasy. The other said it’s 49% romance, 51% fantasy. I chose to go with a more fantasy oriented cover because I figured my romance fans would be more tolerant of that than fantasy readers would be of a romance cover. And the sequel is probably 52% fantasy. So far, it seems to be working out, and I’m getting some crossover sales for my paranormal romance. When I publish my horror stories, however, it will be with a different pen name.

        As for your other points, thanks again for the reminder about promotion. The proponents of social networking can be strident and hard to ignore.

        Slowing down now, and hobbling off to write the next book.

        • dwsmith says:

          Frankie, very good. And a good way of doing it. But I would have asked a few questions first on your book. Is your book only about two people, a woman and a man, meeting and working to get or stay together and then in the end living happily ever after? If that is the only focus of your book, then it’s a romance. If the focus is a fantasy plot with romantic elements, then it is a fantasy and all you need is the good guys winning in some way or another at the end. Sounds like your decision to drop to fantasy was the right one from your comment.

          A hint, folks. If everyone doesn’t say it’s a romance, it usually isn’t. In Frankie’s case, she split, so it clearly wasn’t a romance, but a fantasy with strong romantic elements in it.

      • J. R. Tomlin says:

        I’m NOT mad. LOL

        I can disagree with you without getting mad. I do it pretty regularly. 😉

  19. Hmm. To continue hammering on earlier toes, re genre: the reason I say I write across genres is because editors at publishing houses have told me so. And turned down my books because they didn’t know what shelf to put them on. I understand their complaint, and I understand the challenge of marketing to readers. Which is probably why I don’t spend a hell of a lot of time on marketing: for me, the effort to promote a book which is neither fish nor fowl just does not pass the WIBBOW test. I find that the genre question ties in closely to the pen name question, so maybe that’s a double shot?

    I’m glad you brought up Shot #9, paper books. Everything I publish over 10,000 words gets a paper edition, including the ones written under pen names. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to market to indie bookstores, one of which showed an interest. I know you have written about getting paper books into bookstores before, but I hope in the future you can update your advice on this matter. I’d be keenly interested.

    As always, blunt and extremely useful advice. Thanks, Dean.

    • Re: genre and pen names.

      I think Dean is right about folks who write books which fit in a genre (and therefore the audience is expecting things to fit in a genre) should at least consider using a pen name to help signal the audience which flavor of book they are getting.

      But for those of us who will never write a single book which fully meets genre expectations, our name IS our genre. The thing the audience reads for is the author voice and storytelling style. In that case, I think pen names would only be a good idea if your voice varies in ways that would disappoint.

      So if you write silly stuff in which no one ever really gets hurt, and then some stuff which take the audience to darker places…. a pen name would be called for, even if they were in the same genre.

      • dwsmith says:

        Camille said, “But for those of us who will never write a single book which fully meets genre expectations, our name IS our genre.”

        Sigh, I sure wish it worked that way. Afraid it doesn’t, or at least not at any level. And my second question is simply “How do you know?”

        What you are saying is exactly like saying “Fish swim upstream but when they get to the headwaters, they get out and walk. Uh, nope. Readers are readers are readers and they buy because they like to read something. No author on the planet is a genre unto him or herself. Not even King or Koontz or Landsdale, who actually tries this and is constantly making people angry and losing readers and then getting readers, depending on what he writes from moment to moment.

        But, as I have said so many times here, each writer is different and it is your career. I just wanted to make sure that people reading these comments didn’t think that was a real option. It’s your choice to do it, but you take the consequences of the action and I am sure know it.

        But sure seems to be a lot simpler to just use a pen name from genre to genre to get different groups of readers for each name and then let the ones that want to cross over cross over. Seems a lot fairer and more respectful to your readers.

        And sorry, I guess I am going to do a myth post on this, but there is no such thing that doesn’t fit inside a genre. There are off-market books and stories, but every story fits solidly in a genre. Nature of the beast I’m afraid. What you are saying is that with a deck of cards, one card is exactly the same as another card and then can’t pick. Nope, doesn’t work that way. You might have two aces, but if one of them is spades, it rules over the other ace. Same way in genre.

        Marketing excuses editors and sales forces use to not buy is another matter all together.

        • King, Koontz and Landsdale ARE genre writers who break out, they aren’t non-genre writes. Not even in their break out works. (At least where I am familiar with them.) King in particuliar writes mainstream/literary when he writes outside of horror.

          I suspect two things, here. One is that you are very right about a lot of people who do write in genre and just don’t know it — and you are probably exposed to them a lot through workshops and just knowing so many other writers in genre and being exposed to it all as a culture.

          But the other is that you are not used to the literary end of the world. You may read literature, but you don’t look at or care about the less commercial, non-category world.

          That’s a world where a writer doesn’t just two genres and then pick which audience will be more satisfied. It’s a world where you might borrow from any genre out there (or all genres) but the story is aimed somewhere else.

          And the world is full of readers who are interested in those stories, whether they don’t read category fiction at all, just want something different which still scratches some of the same itch. Sometimes a story like that launches a new genre or sub-genre. But more often, it lives and dies with the author, and the author’s name.

          And like it or not, the indie publishing movement has unleashed those writers — who once had to self-publish or become academics, or push their writing to please the academic press.

          Now all of a sudden, we can write lowbrow. We can be funny rather than sardonic. We can be melodramatic, or sentimental.

          You may feel that you have nothing in common with the literary writer, that you have nothing to offer them — but the plain fact is, you have a LOT to say to the literary writer. So you’re going to attract literary writers here along with the delusional newbies who really are writing category fiction even if they think they aren’t.

          Literary writers may not write the works that will make them rich (although I’m not so sure about that, frankly) but they ARE professionals. They are people for whom 90 percent of what you say is relevant — know your business, price like a grown up, learn your craft by writing (not endlessly rewriting), get your work into every venue you can manage, don’t fall for shiny marketing tricks and get-rich-quick schemes.

          The place where what you say doesn’t match up with the literary writer is genre. Seriously, Dean, unless you want to just use the catchall “mainstream” or “literary” (which doesn’t tell anybody anything), we don’t have a genre, and we use all genres.

          And even there, what you have to say is still useful. It just has to be transliterated to talking about categories and expectations which don’t have convenient marketing categories set out for you. You have to build it yourself, and that’s what every single literary or mainstream author always has to do.

          • dwsmith says:

            Camille, read your post twice, have no clue what you are talking about. Sorry. All I am saying is that it is impossible to write a piece of fiction that doesn’t fit in any genre. Nothing more no matter how much writers complain that what they write isn’t in a genre. It must be in a genre somewhere by the very nature of fiction. And there are genre rules out there that can be followed to help place books correctly.

            And why is it so important to place a book in the right genre? For reader satisfaction is why. If you don’t care about readers, toss your books any place they want to be. Makes no difference to me. I’m just trying to help people sell more books is all. I have no skin in this game besides getting help figuring out my own stuff so my readers are as satisfied as my silly stories can make them.

            Again, back to the point of these two posts: Help indie writers sell more books. So Camille, trying to convince writers genre is not important is not a good thing on this blog for these posts. Please take it elsewhere, because FOR THE POINT OF MAKING MORE SALES and READER SATISFACTION, genre is everything.

            And that said, every writer is different. My goal is to get my books out to as many readers as I can and make them as happy with what I write as I can. And that means parking my work in a genre somewhere, one that fits what readers going to that genre will expect. And that will help sales.

            And thus bring us back to the point of these posts. Help writers sell more. Follow or don’t follow my advice or suggestions. Makes no difference to me, gang. Just trying to help.

          • I’m not saying genre is not important.

            I’m also not saying that genre in the larger context meaning “archetype” isn’t extremely important. (And neither is anyone else.)

            I am also agreeing with you COMPLETELY that putting something in the wrong genre is a bad thing to do — but that’s a marketing category, not an archetype.

            So a romance which doesn’t have a happy ending does not belong in the category we label “romance.” But that doesn’t mean it belongs in some other category, and that doesn’t mean it’s not a romance in the archetypical sense — a love story.

            If you have a love story that doesn’t end in HEA, and there is no other category for it, then you’ve got to deal with that in another way.

            Don’t tell me that a romance that doesn’t have an HEA will disappoint all readers. That’s utter bull hockey.


            Oh, well that’s drama, right? It’s a label on a shelf, after all, right?

            No, drama is not a marketing category — it doesn’t do any of the things you’re talking about in terms of making promises to the reader. It’s a catchall for those things that do not fit in a marketing category. Those stories have to stand on their own. And there a plenty of them.

            Does Casablanca fit all sorts of archetypes? Sure. Does it have elements of all sorts of other genres? Sure. But you don’t put Casablanca on the comedy shelves just because it has great jokes, or in with the musicals because there are several musical numbers. Even the war picture shelves are not any closer than romance.

            You just told us NOT to put the story on a shelf where it doesn’t fit.

            Is there a shelf where it fits?

            Actually, there is. I’m going to try not to lose you here too….

            The shelf where Casablanca goes does not have a genre. The stories that get there might conform to any genre, or they might not conform to anything at all. It could be anything.

            So when you look at the classics shelves, what tells you the information that genre usually tells you?


            The genre, as the way you are describing it — as the thing that makes a promise to the reader of what the story will be — is “Humphrey Bogart.”

            But Bogie was NOT a romantic leading man when the picture came out. Before Casablanca, he wasn’t the brand that defined the picture.

            But after Casablanca, he sure as heck was.

            What sold Casablanca at the time was not genre. Sure war references and the stars raised anticipation, but they didn’t define the story the way genre does.

            What sold Casablanca is what sells it today: it’s a great story with a strong voice. And that voice — or should I say voices — continued to build through the careers of everyone involved.

            And then those voices themselves became genres of their own. And that’s why stars and directors generally have their own shelves in the video stores. That’s why directors like Norman Jewison and Billy Wilder could make movies in every different genre in the world, or no genre at all — and break genre expectations all over the place.

            They could do that because they ARE their own genre. They don’t disappoint because the expectation is that it will be a war picture or a gangster picture or a comedy: it’s that it will be a Bogie picture or a Wilder picture or a Jewison picture.

            Your advice is not bad, Dean. Recognize genre, get advice on genre, use genre — absolutely. But not everything fits in a marketing category, and not everything can or should meet the expectations raised by other stories.

            Sometimes a story stands alone, or only with tenuous bonds to other stories — and then you’ve got to build the genre around it yourself. It’s incredibly hard work, and not likely to make you rich, and everybody should think very hard before making that choice. But if the work doesn’t fit a genre, that’s about all you can do.

          • dwsmith says:

            Okay, Camille. Whatever.

            And Casablanca is not a romance and never was. Not even close. Granted, it has a strong romance element, but it never was even close to a romance.

            But in genre classifications, to sell Casablanca to the right audience to get them excited first, you would click first on “Fiction” and then look down to the category labeled “Espionage.” That’s where it fits and always has.

            And archetypes have nothing to do with genres. Genres are marketing tools to help readers find similar books that they will be satisfied in reading. It’s not a stupid literary class in college. This is commercial fiction I talk about here.

          • Whoa. Guys, guys, guys! All I said is that my work crosses genres, not that it isn’t IN a genre. My current novel includes a werewolf created by genetic technology, not magic. So is that science fiction or fantasy? SF editors say it’s fantasy. Fantasy editors say it’s SF. I figure it will go on the SF/F bookshelf, either way. My real name will go on the cover (as opposed to the pen names I use for Westerns and romances). But what do I put on the cover? Do I put “Science Fiction”, which is what I think it is? Will I thereby annoy some reader who thinks all werewolves, by definition, belong under “Fantasy”?

            I’m not saying I can’t figure this out, or that I won’t. I just brought it up as an example of EDITORS and other professionals who TOLD ME that what I write can’t be classified as one genre or another. Dean is right, these are excuses not to buy my work, but knowing that is not much help. I like Dean’s suggestion that my readers tell me what genre I’m writing in, but that starts me on an endless chicken-and-egg cycle — until I publish in one category, I don’t know if I belong in it.

            At any rate, I never intended to launch a water fight.

          • dwsmith says:

            All fine, Sarah. (grin) A little water around here is the least of our problems.

            And I understood fine what you were saying. Editors tell writers ALL THE TIME that a book isn’t in a genre, and usually they are right, or don’t want to buy it for their line for some reason they can’t put words to, so they don’t try.

            And thanks for being clear that you understand that all books must drop into a genre. My first novel crossed genre lines solidly between fantasy and science fiction and I had balanced it so well, the editor made me decide which way I wanted to come down and then do a rewrite focusing the book one way or the other. That’s when I learned that even the most perfectly balanced book on a genre line must tip to one side or the other for sales.

            And that’s all these articles are about: Sales!

          • Liana Mir says:

            Just a point: while literary is a style (such as U.K. Leguin), it’s also a genre. If you want to define your work as literary, that’s a genre.

          • dwsmith says:


            Exactly right, Liana. Literary is a genre. The lowest-selling genre in numbers, but still a very clear genre.

          • Josh says:

            Don’t tell the literary writers that–it will just make them mad. :-)

  20. How in God’s name do you write 750 words per hour? I’m lucky if I get 500. I have to squeeze time in over my lunch (usually about one and a half hours of writing).

    I confess I sometimes daydream, usually about something semi-related to my book. An example: I think about something that happened to me that is similar to what I’m writing about – I may even rant and rave about it to myself. (No, I’m not a complete weirdo – notice I said “complete.”)

    I feel this is helpful in the long run as it often results in new and better ideas on how to approach events in the novel. Any suggestions on how to speed up the actual writing?

    • Frank R. McBride says:

      Can I brag a little? ;). If I don’t have to think about every sentence, i.e. if I did a little plotting before or the writing just clicks – 500 is 20 minutes of work, an hour nets me 1.500 words.

      So 750 words an hour is entirely possible. Depends a little on how you type. I learned touch-typing about 20 years ago and practice got me up to speed so to speak :).

      • dwsmith says:

        Frank, I think if I ever hit 1500 words per hour I’d flat faint. (grin) My four fingers that hit keys just can’t move that fast. I really should learn how to touch type.

    • Dayle says:

      I thought I could do about 1000 words an hour until I tried a free online program called Write or Die. At which point I hammered out 500 words in 20 minutes…. O.o

      Now, because it starts flashing colors (and sound, if you want) at you if you stop typing, understand that these are very rough words. I mostly use the program to get me jumpstarted when I’m in critical voice. When you can’t stop typing, you absolutely get out of your own way!

      • The Smoker says:

        Ehem… 6000 WPM here…

        I’m a freak. Dragon Naturally Speaking for the win! 1,000 words per 10 minutes (100 a minute). I proof in Dragon Dictate on my iPad using speech selection, my Bluetooth keyboard, a tablet pen for selection, and dictation for phrases over 3-4 words. Overall, with corrections – final product level, not draft – it’s 80 WPM. (I’m very good at dictation btw. Lots of practice and I’ve put a lot of money into my set up.)

        On a side note, my fastest typing speed is around 33-40 wpm. Me and Dean are pretty close. We just use different methods.

        In case anyone’s wondering, I have severe RSI. I basically had to make my situation work or face not writing for a few years/months. That desperation lead me to do what I do. As far as I know, I’m the only one that uses the above process (try it. Windows 7 has speech recognition (sucks at first) and dragon dinctation is free on iPhone and iPad.)

        • Frank R. McBride says:

          1000 words in 10 minutes via Dragon Naturally Speaking? How did you get the program to do it that fast without misunderstanding 90% of what you are saying? I have the software as well and while it was good, I am still way faster when just typing.

          • The Smoker says:

            Don’t breathe so much. (I’m not kidding.) You can speak faster that way.

            It’s not so hard really. A good profile that you’ve put time into makes a big difference. Also, learning how to speak faster while maintaining a normal tone, pitch, etc., helps.

            Remember though, if I score 80-85% (I don’t have an American accent) that’s a lot of errors. Usually, the faster you speak, the more small words you/it misses out. I quite often have to add “a, him, it’s” into my finished draft. The trick is knowing what it makes mistakes on. I just find and replace the usual mistakes: them for him, the for a, to was for towards and so on. That cuts out 5% and takes 2-3 minutes. After that it’s fixing time.

            Personally, if you can type fast enough to be faster than the dictate and review workflow model, I highly recommend sticking with typing. Error tidying is not fun, even with strategy. That said, 100 WPM is quite possible (with pauses included). 80 is the low end, 120-150 the high end. I have a theory that over 150 the software can’t handle it, but I can’t speak that fast to find out.

    • The Smoker says:

      I do that too.

    • *shrug*

      If I’m writing steadily, I’ll do 1500-1600 per hour. 750? Totally doable.

    • The Smoker says:

      @ Inara Everett

      Sorry, I should also say that whatever pace you want or can write at is fine. Fast is good, but not always better. If a story written at 500 words per minute is golden then so be it. If written at 10,000 word per minute, the same story rocks so be it. Dean is big on saying he writes at 1000 per minute and he’s done well. It’s the same with others. And you. Find your pace and work within it. (wink.)

      As for the thinking thing, I do that too. How I beat it was to dictate my story into my iPhone 3GS (old times…). I would then type out anything I liked as i did my nightly play back then I would type out the ‘connections’ (the stuff that made the parts fit together). We, as humans, love to talk. Talking can beat your inner critic, creative second wheel, or back seat sentence driver. Give it a shot.

      +100 points if you pay your/someone’s kid to type it out for you. Kids are free labor and 20 bucks seems so much when you’re 10.

    • Carradee says:

      Try using a timer. Set it to ring every 10 or 20 minutes. (If you use a computer one, you can even have it pop up a little window, asking if you’re “Working?”)

      Also, are you a touch typist? (If not, it would probably help to learn.)

      What keyboard do you use? The QWERTY keyboard—the standard keyboard used by most people—was actually designed to slow typists down. (It used to be that typewriters would jam if the typist went too quickly.)

      Personally, I use QWERTY (though I’d like to learn DVORAK), and my max is 2k words in an hour (done in Write or Die). More usual is about 1k words in an hour, but so far when I’ve timed how long it takes me a story altogether, my end result is ≥ 750 words per hour, even after adding the time for editing, etc.

      Write or Die is actually handy, even if you don’t use the kamikaze mode. (In that mode, it starts deleting things if you don’t write quickly enough.) The online version is free.

      Something else that helps me (but may or may not help you) is music. I use specific artists/songs/playlists to associate with specific characters, moods, scenes, etc. When I hear them, I get back in the mindset for that character/mood/scene/etc.

    • Stop thinking so much, and just write. :) Seriously – set a timer for a half an hour (or 45 minutes, or 20, if that feels too scary) and write. Your fingers/pen MUST BE MOVING at all times. You cannot go back and read what you just wrote. You cannot stare into space, pondering your emotions. You must simply put words down on the page. That is how you write faster. Trust the back of your brain to be ‘pondering’. Trust yourself to return with a clear editorial eye. If something is off and you know it, put an asterisk * at the end of the sentence, as a flag to yourself that you’ll get back to it. Then keep going. Don’t stop until the timer goes off. You’ll surprise yourself with the results – I promise~

  21. Dan says:

    On pen names…

    I guess my question comes down to what counts as a different genre. My first two books (one out already, one out in October) are SF space opera. My third book should be coming out early in 2013 and will be urban fantasy. My ultimate plan is to alternate each in two ongoing series. Should the space opera and urban fantasies be considered separate genres with each deserving its own pen name?

    My current feeling is that no, they’re not different enough. Instead, they can be considered part of the larger speculative fiction genre. They are typically shelved together in physical bookstores, though their cover styles usually make it clear which is which. I also know many readers who avidly read both SF and fantasy. Thus, I think it can benefit from the same name cross promoting them. I look at C.J. Cherryh and Elizabeth Moon as two success stories in this respect.

    I have also toyed with some mystery and unconventional romance tales, but I consider them different enough from SF and fantasy to deserve their own pen names. So, is toe #7 intact?

    • Maybe we should be thinking in terms of “brand name” instead of “pen name”. For example, Nora Roberts is known for her lush romances, but under her pen name J. D. Robb she is known for gritty futuristic police procedurals. Those are two different “products”, so different that to brand both of them with the same authors’ names would confuse readers. So you have the Roberts brand on traditional romance, and the Robb brand on futuristic murder mysteries. They aren’t even found on the same shelf of the bookstore.

    • Here’s what I’m doing, in case it helps. Of course, bear in mind I’m still very much a newb. :)

      I write Science Fiction, Fantasy, and light horror under Michael Kingswood. Gory uber-horror (you know the kind I’m talking about, Dean ;P) under a different name. Mystery under another. And I’ve got the beginning of a romance that I’ll place under still another name when I get around to finishing it.

      But primarily I’m SF/F, at least for now, so most of my stuff goes under Kingswood.

      • dwsmith says:

        Sounds logical to me, Michael. Especially with that uber-horror stuff. (grin) Still can’t scrub my brain clean on that one. (grin)

        • R. L. Copple says:

          That was going to be my question. I write fantasy and science fiction. I was wondering if it would be beneficial to have a different pen name for the science fiction stuff or not.

          Or if it were better to keep them under one pen name, or it doesn’t really matter. I’m just thinking there are people out there that like science fiction, but not fantasy, and also the other way around.

          • dwsmith says:

            SF and fantasy tend to get grouped together and have the same basic fans, so no reason to have a pen name from sf to fantasy.

  22. David Barron says:

    I’m coming to the conclusion that identifying genre (and sub-genre) is one of the most important skills I need to cultivate. Time for another trip to the bookstore.

  23. The Smoker says:

    Re: Pen names.

    I agree, but not too many. 2-3 is MY limit. 7 was too much for ME. The problem is my fans expect 10-15 short stories each for two of my names and 1-2 novels/novellas and a promo stories for each novel for my real name per month. I found that doing that means my others get neglected. Others experience will vary.

    Lately, I’ve been doing 10 x .99c heavily formulaic stories each for my two big money pen names (the 2 x 4 story collections I make sell 3-4 times more than the shorts and i sacrifice 2 x to Kindle Select.). It’s 2 hours per short, so, when motivated, I hit 2-3 a day (usually one because I force myself to do novel work too.) I also 2x 50,000 word novels with promo KDP-S stories attached. That’s about 10 days work each (usually 12). As you can imagine, unless a month becomes 60 days rather than 30, 7 pen names is just too much.

  24. The Smoker says:

    Related Shot #9

    The only way .99c can really work if your on Smashwords. Amazon (I think) is the only one who differentiates at that price point in royalties. I see .99c at Amazon as a loss leader to sell other work and collections (which I HEAVILY advertise in-book and out). Anywhere else is ‘a bit less’ ghetto and a bit more possible, but this comes from an author who makes 50-60+% off non-Amazon sources. If I was very big on Amazon then I could not expect the same results IMO.

    • Carradee says:

      Amazon isn’t the only vendor that differentiates for royalties, from what I recall, they have the biggest reduction in royalties for the “low” price points.

  25. Teri Babcock says:

    Smoker, I’m wondering about your hardware. I’m getting a lot of delay (I’m using the Windows program) and the program holds the text until I pause, which is very annoying since I can’t read what I’m dictating as I speak it, and I have to add a lot of artificial pauses as I’m speaking… instead of just being able to speak at 100 words a minute.

    I don’t know if the delay is a function of the software, and would be solved by getting Dragonspeak, or whether having a computer with a faster processor would make a difference. I’m curious as to what you use, since I’m betting you don’t have this problem. I also wonder how quickly Dragonspeak picks up on corrections – I’m finding the Windows program to be very inconsistent. Sometimes I will correct a word seven, eight times and it still gives me the wrong spelling. Sometimes it gets it in two.

    I’m glad to hear you’re making it work so well. Very few people are willing to commit the hours to train themselves and the software and tweak their system until it works.

    • The Smoker says:

      Dragon has delay as well, but does not wait. If you dictate around 30-40 words without a full stop then it has to think a bit. Basically, I have a Leveno Thinkpad X100e. The big difference though is Dragon will allow you to set the number of passes the software does on a sentence you dictate. This is in the options. At 100 WPM with pauses, you can expect about a 2-5 second delay on the lowest setting. The max setting with my hardware is about 1.5 minutes delay a paragraph!

      As for spelling, it ‘guesses’ on a sentence level (Dragon), so you can correct at that level, if you like, or say “spell that”. It then allows you to spell out the word. You can also “train that”, which allows you to train commonly made errors (clinching vs clenching, him vs them, etc.)

      Processing power, sound card and input device are hugely important with dictation. My processor isn’t great. A quad/dual core would be a bit better. The sound card is standard issue. The only thing I do really differently is use my iPad2 as an input device. It has the same microphone as the iPhone 4S. Usually, the better the microphone the better the dictation quality and my iPad has been good to me.

      Overall, if you have standard Britsh or American English, I would recommend it. I don’t, so I get about 80%+ accuracy. With a mid-west American accent, you are looking at 95%+. Also, get the Pro version, as all others suck, and be aware it takes 30 minutes to train a profile to excellent recognition, but to get the higher stats, you need to keep a record of common errors and train those words until they stick (and they don’t interfere with other words.)

      Pro-Tip: Focus on your mouth when speaking. You can actually feel it when your voice gets sloppy, no kidding. That’s when you need to take a step back, stop, slow down, or focus on getting that mouth back into its normal movement. It’s a muscle and talking for 10-30-60 minutes non-stop is not natural. It does get tired. At my max, which is 120-130 WPM, guessing, I burn out in 10 minutes. I get sloppy and, at that point, it becomes more worthwhille to be typing by hand. That’s not my goal and so I slow it down a bit.

      I hope that helps.

  26. I never got the “multiple pen names means multiple promotion.” Bah. Everyone knows all of my pen names. Heck, a book blogger (upon one of my new pen names) did a little “can you guess who this is” post with one of my covers. For me, it’s just an easy way to divide up the stuff I write so that my regular readers can instantly know if I’ve gone off their reading path.

    It’s a little different if you are writing YA under one name and erotica under another. I can see that causing some fusses. Or, worse, children’s books and erotica. But for most of us, I just don’t see why it’s a big deal.

    re: 99 cents

    99 cents can work and does work. So does $4.99. So does $9.99. What’s important is to think and try and figure things out. JR Tomlin (who posted above) is a great example. She writes historical fiction. She priced her books higher – much higher than most indies – but her books are still a discounted price for her genre. And, if I recall, her sales improved.

    I have a little non-fiction guide. It’s a small little thing that’s been out for over a year. I lowered the price to 99 cents and no one was buying it. I mean no one. I did a brainstorm on Kindleboards and someone brought up that people probably thought it was one of those scrapped internet content scam books. Oh, oops. I raised my price to $2.99 and sales went back to normal across the board.

    I think 99 cents can work for 1st book of series, or even part of a series (especially when you have several out). In those situations, sometimes even a free book or two can do wonders for you. But, again, I think people need to look at a short term goal (i.e. try to get more eyes on Book #1 & have them on my mailing list) PLUS a mid-term goal (i.e. get Book 2 and 3 out this year) PLUS a long-term goal (i.e. finish the series and begin a new one that ties in those readers with my regular readers). A lot of people hit the short term one and struggle to see past it.

    • J. R. Tomlin says:

      “JR Tomlin (who posted above) is a great example. She writes historical fiction. She priced her books higher – much higher than most indies – but her books are still a discounted price for her genre. And, if I recall, her sales improved.”

      What? Did someone mention me?

      Well, you’re right that I priced my historical fiction higher than a lot of indies although not all that much higher. They are between $3.99 and $4.29.I did some experimenting to see what seemed to work best (for the time being). That seems to give me the best results although having them all at $4.99 worked well too. It is very difficult to separate factors such as seasonal changes from price.

      My books are discounted next to the books that are similar to them such as Bernard Cornwell’s. The good reviews don’t hurt. 😀

      I am not one of the “best selling” authors out there, but I do pretty darn well compared to most authors so — I suspect I may be doing something right. I’ve made some mistakes too and shot off one or two toes.

  27. Thom says:


    So right on genre. In television we always thought of it as a contract with the viewer. If you’re show is a particular genre you are expected to deliver certain things, and by god you better come through, or your audience will be very angry with you.

    I’m hearing you say we as fiction writers need to be very clear what genre we are writing in, and satisfy that writer/reader contract. We ignore those rules as writers at our peril.

    Thanks for the great information.


    • dwsmith says:

      Thom, spot on, except that I never tell writers to write to genre. Just make an extra effort to figure out which genre they wrote in before putting it out to market. Amazing how something that simple will help sales in so many ways.

      • The Smoker says:

        I really agree with that. I think it’s way better to be something one considers afterwards. Before just leads to bad stories.

      • Raven says:

        Wait a minute. I’m really confused now. I was confused before because I didn’t know how in the world I would categorize a novel that, all but the ending, fit into fantasy. I was going to ask if you were suggesting we write to genre, and that if we couldn’t, we should give up hoping for sales . . . but here you say specifically that you should not write to genre, which makes things much more confusing.

        Here’s a what-if situation: If I write a book I love, and the major components are magic in a world that doesn’t exist, perhaps even with species or creatures that don’t exist, such as dragons, elves, gnomes, etc., but the ending is NOT “Good guys win”, what the heck is the genre? Surely, the closest is fantasy, but it violates the most important part of the genre according to you. When discussing the time when your book straddled two genres, you said you went back and strengthened the genre that you wanted to be more prominent. But these are both pretty big issues. I mean, if I changed the whole ending, wouldn’t that be “writing to genre”?

        Or, because the good guys don’t win, would I have to take out all the magic and the non-existent world and put it in a genre that *does* allow for a good guys don’t win ending? And isn’t that also writing to genre?

        What if the reason I love the book is the way those two aspects work together? Do I have to choose between sales and what I love? And if I choose sales, am I not writing to genre, which is what you say we shouldn’t do?

        Yeah. I’m very confused now. Luckily, I haven’t written a book like that, so I don’t have that particular conundrum, but I could see it happening in the future.

        Maybe you’re just saying that if we know we’re writing something that violates a genre expectation but that’s still the best genre for it, we should still write it because we love it, but just be accepting of low sales? I’ve already decided that in part, but I am interested in the business and practical side of writing, so I don’t want to throw anything away if I don’t have to.

        I think I’m misunderstanding something crucial in all of this.

        • dwsmith says:

          Raven, always choose what you love. Always. And always write what you love first and foremost. Doing otherwise brings on madness and certainly no enjoyment of the art of writing. Be an artist and write what you love and what makes you passionate.

          Then, when all finished, figure out where it fits in the SALES genres.

          Your sample is clearly fantasy, but it will make pure fantasy readers angry if you just call it that and lose you future sales. So the key is “How to clue in buyers that this isn’t pure fantasy following all the rules of fantasy?”

          Simple, actually. You find a sub genre that allows bad-guys winning in a fantasy. Horror used to be a genre your example would fit into, but alas I would avoid that as well. So clue in your readers by calling it “Dark Fantasy.” (That’s another name for horror and works fine.) Dark fantasy is the genre you are describing. Often “Paranormal fantasy” is the same thing.

          Trust me, no one writes something so new and different that it already doesn’t have a place on the store stands where readers can find it who like it.

          Your example is not pure fantasy. But it is clearly dark fantasy.

          The key I keep saying over and over is learn genres to improve your sales. If you knew genres, you would have known the answer to your question easily. And thus found readers that will like what you are writing and not make other readers with other expectations angry. That make sense?

  28. The Smoker says:

    @ Casablanca

    Always thought it was Romance and I still have no idea who wrote it. If a name is a genre, but people don’t know the name, but only the book is the book a no-genre book? Also, does that mean I have to have a category with my name on it in the book store? I’m small potatoes. I doubt it’s going to happen.

    Also, who wrote The Great Gatsby? I know it might be a adventure novel or something. Gone With The Wind Is Southern Romance. The Wheel of Time? That one I know, but ask me what RJ writes and I say ‘epic fantasy’.

    Take the name away. What’s left is genre.

  29. Tilly says:

    I’ve been thinking about this blog post since I read it yesterday and I came to a different conclusion that I’d like to ask you about. Although, I just noticed from your post today that you’re rather busy, so I won’t be surprised if you don’t have time to reply to me. It’s okay, carry on taking care of your important things, obviously! :)

    Anyway, what I thought about was publishing small-time as a new writer. Because we don’t have a long-time author’s skills, I thought that online promo of a new writer’s work could be a good thing. The way I came up with this idea is because I’m going on holiday in a few weeks and I need to raise a few pennies for travel costs. I thought to myself, “self, how can I earn a few extra quid (£) ?”

    I told myself that I could maybe write a quick novella and promote it online in tweets and blog tours for a week to generate some brief income. Then, after the promo week is done my novella (or novel) will still be there to earn on forever. Well, not forever, forever, but you know what I mean.

    Also, if a new writer adopts a small-time approach to their writing, it can serve to enhance their skills. For example, if I want to earn a couple hundred bucks on a book of mine, I will know that all the internet promo in the world won’t sell it if it’s crap. Therefore, I will initially try to write a genre specific book. I will plan my novel based on specific reader needs. I’ll start with character arc (because characters are crucial to a story) then I’ll develop the plot around my character’s development.

    By writing to the best of my ability and by writing commercial fiction within genres, I (as a new writer) am learning, practicing and getting better at my craft. I’m just trying to earn a small amount of money initially, but the books I create now, and create well, will still be available for purchase after the week of promo is finished online.

    I think this could be a good approach for me within the self-publishing side of (practically) immediate sales of eBooks. I’m not talking about paper books and agents and traditional publishers. I’m just thinking small-time that could eventually lead to big-time book sales. Or long-term sales.

    The novels I start writing and promoting now could lead to me one day writing a bestseller with practice over time, but for now at least I’m trying to write good genre books that will sell to earn me a bit of extra cash, initially. So, in this sense I think online promo can be a good thing, just as long as you’re not constantly promoting your eBooks and not getting any new writing done. Thinking small-time about writing for new writers can lead to big-time knowledge about publishing as time goes on.

    (I’m an expat of the USA living in the UK now, so I apologize for the possibly confusing international overlapping of currency comparisons!)

  30. Zelah Meyer says:

    Like Frankie, my current title straddles fantasy & romance.

    I think I’ve done the right thing by filing it primarily under romance (with fantasy as a sub-category of romance on Amazon.) That’s because the romance is the primary focus of the story. The ‘bad guys’ are faceless & caught off camera, it’s all about what happens between the hero and heroine.

    The sequel is going to be different. It’s also got a romance between the two central characters, but the story is primarily about other things, and the story resolution isn’t based around the romance. The romance sub-plot will only end with a Happy-for-now & they will have to work through a second story before they can make it a Happy-ever-after.

    A prequel I’m planning, however, is squarely back in the romance camp again. Same world, different genres. At least, I think that’s the case! I really need to do that genre workshop. Hopefully next year. :)

    As for pen-names… I’m torn when it comes to those as well. My current romance/fantasy series is contemporary/futuristic alternate world. My usual genre is romance set in historical fantasy worlds – but I also have a fantasy series nearly finished in first draft that is also set in a historical fantasy world, but is fantasy rather than romance. (At least, I think it is…)

    Because of that, I am leaning towards keeping the same name for historical romance/fantasy as I’m using for the contemporary romance/fantasy (i.e. my real name.) – as they all take place in fantasy worlds. Then pen-naming pure contemporary romance, historical romance, etc. as there’s less crossover there.

    I need to decide soon really, as my next title to be published is sort of a fairy-tale romance without the magic or royalty – quite different to my current one! If it were just those two, then a pen-name would be a no-brainer. It’s when you throw the fantasy series into the mix that it gets complicated. In theme, it’s closer to the contemporary romance/fantasy series, in setting – it’s closer to the fairy-tale romance. That’s where I get confused!

    I don’t want to go with three pen-names for the above, as I already know I’ll need several other pen-names eventually. I won’t be able to keep releasing new titles regularly under all of them, so I don’t want to get too carried away!

    It’s a tricky business.

    • dwsmith says:

      Zelah said, “…it’s all about what happens between the hero and heroine.” And that combined with a happy ending in some way or another makes it a perfect romance. Well done coming down romance for the sales.

      • ABeth says:

        You would think the “relationship is primary plot” would trump — but it doesn’t. If the fantasy tropes are deep enough, it becomes a romance only accessible to the Venn diagran’s intersection of fantasy+romance readers.

        That intersection (as far as my sales are showing) is currently big enough to make me wonder if there is an un-served niche for this hybrid — but the reader/reviewer reaction does suggest I may have the special snowflake of hybrid genre (Venn genre?). We shall see if the next book succeeds as well. At the least, the cover art should be impressive.

        • But ABeth there’s a long and storied history of fantasy (and scifi) romance. Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Sharon Shinn, Juliet Marillier, Mercedes Lackey, Connie Willis, Lois Bujold… LOTS of precedent there, to my mind, and lots of readers hungry for more.

          Glad your stories are finding their readers – clearly I need to go check them out~ :)

  31. Larry says:


    So you are against .99 or, gulp, free in all cases? What if someone is planning to e-publish a dozen or more short stories in an erotica series? And he is unknown. Would it make sense to do the first one as a loss leader, then price the others at 2.99 or more? Pardon if this question has been answered before.

    As a reader, though, I have found that strategy has backfired. I have read the loss leaders of a few writers that made me never want to buy a title from them, ever.

    • dwsmith says:

      Larry, nope, not against the discount pricing in all cases. I just want writers to learn how to use it correctly for the book industry and understand what they are doing and saying when they discount.

      Let me give a few levels here that might make sense (as much as anything on this topic).

      If all your books and stories are 99 cents or free or $1.99, you are a discount writer. Nothing wrong with that, just understand that’s your audience.

      If you publish all your books in the mid-range, you are a standard publisher out for most readers.

      If you only publish high-end limited expensive editions, you are a specialty press publisher.

      Most of us fit in the middle group. So there, when would I discount a novel to $2.99 from say my normal pricing of $5.99? Well, if I had over five or six other novels at full price, and was about to bring out a brand new novel (which I would price higher than say my normal $5.99), then the first novel similar in the same genre I might drop to $2.99 and leave it there for a half year or so.

      Would I ever give anything away for free? Not likely. I do enough of that writing these posts here.

  32. Judy Goodwin says:

    About the covers–I thought was was very helpful, actually. I have some background in graphic design so the design elements weren’t so much an issue. But branding? Yeah, that’s something I’ve just started learning about. I only have short story collections out right now but I’m in the process of going back to change the lettering to make that similar at least, even if the other elements differ. And you’re right–I took at look at a number of printed books, and it seems having the name on top and the title of the book below is a style often used by well known authors. Not a bad thing to aspire to become, in my book.
    Pen names is something I’m debated about. My books (the one about to be published and the next one I’m almost done with) are definitely fantasy, but in short stories I also write paranormal and sci-fi. I figure my sci-fi is soft enough and fantasy enough (space fantasy) that it fits with my usual pen name. It’s more in the paranormal/horror where I start to wonder. (Especially stories that don’t have a happy ending.) I may have to consider a new pen name for those.
    I love your point about the bargain bins and $0.99 pricing.

  33. Dean wrote:
    But in genre classifications, to sell Casablanca to the right audience to get them excited first, you would click first on “Fiction” and then look down to the category labeled “Espionage.” That’s where it fits and always has.

    Casablanca has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen it dozens of times. But I’ve never thought of it as an “Espionage” film. I’ve also never thought of it as a romance. Long before I knew about HEA, I knew that the story of Ilsa and Rick was not what the movie was about. To me, Casablanca is a story about redemption. I think this is shown by one of the last lines of the film:

    ” But I’ve got a job to do too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

    Great post, BTW.

    • dwsmith says:


      Theme, which you are right, Casablanca is a fantastic story about redemption, has nothing to do with genre.

  34. There was no reply button for the Mercy Loomis comment @ 10:48 am, so I had to put it down here. But I second the question about “horror”. Would like to hear your thoughts on how to define it.

    I recently started writing what I call “old-school supernatural horror” shorts–more atmosphere, tension, and suspense rather than gore, splatter, and slashing. I don’t like to read the gory stuff where every slice and dice is described in detail, so I don’t write it. Some have twist endings, like some Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock stories. (Under a known pen name to keep it separate from my other two names for romance and erotic romance. I get to keep *that* toe, anyway! LOL) Is that considered “horror” nowadays? Or would it be suspense? I have only one book out so far. I shelved it under thrillers/suspense at first, then moved it to horror.

    Thanks for any thoughts you can share about this.

    • dwsmith says:

      Lanette, see my answer to Mercy above. But from what you are describing you are writing, you are writing suspense. No horror. I also write a ton of Twilight Zone stories and am lucky enough to be invited into the anthologies at times. They are all suspense or if paced fast enough, thriller. Or if they have a crime, they are under mystery, but usually they fall under the suspense genre.

      And caution, thriller must have a fast-paced flow through the story. It can’t be a thriller if it doesn’t feel like a roller-coaster ride. Many, many new writers think that because something in a story is thrilling, it must be a thriller genre story. Nope.

      Think Bourne movies for thrillers, although those would also be under spy thrillers as well.(grin)

      • I suspected as much because I kept going back and forth, and why I asked you. I like calling it horror, especially with supernatural aspects in the stories, but if it doesn’t meet today’s readers’ expectations, then what I like doesn’t mean squat. LOL

        I looked at Smashwords. SW puts Thrillers and Suspense together, with a few sub-categories. I put the story in Thrillers & Suspense > General. I also put it in Horror > General. And I think I’m going to leave it in the Horror > General as a second category because I can’t think of where else it would go. I’ll check Amazon and other retailers to see if I need to tweak the categories with them.

        BTW, I like slasher flicks. But when the chainsaws come out and the body parts fly, I close my eyes. LOL But I love seeing how the story progresses: the setup on how the group gets stranded, the way individuals handle the impossible situation, and how it gets resolved. Of course, some are worse films than others, but even the really bad ones are fun to watch. (I just wish they made some without all the gore.)

        Thanks for the help!

  35. Well, Dean, in my case I didn’t comment on Toe 5 because it has a lot of overlap with 1 to 4, and I know I need to work on those still. Until I improve on those, I have no hope of addressing 5.

    But as for Toes 6 to 10, they’re nothing new to me. Some guy named Smith taught me to avoid those a long time ago! I still have some work to do there, but I’m working on it.

    6 is easy for me. I’m doing zero promotion beyond announcing my titles to a few writer groups I’m in; but trickle sales keep coming in regardless. And my software design graphic novel has a larger trickle, despite having a much higher price than the others. It is consistently in the top 30 on Amazon for the topic, sometimes in the top 20.

    7 hasn’t been an issue for me yet. My publications so far — both pro and self-pub — have been Hard SF, Hard SF, Space Opera, Hard SF, and Software Design. Aside from that last one, they’re all very much the same genre, or close enough; and no one who picks up the last one will have any confusion that the others are similar (or vice versa). I have a series of fantasy novels in mind, and I’m thinking of pseudonyms for those; but mostly I work in the Hard SF genre.

    On 8, I’ve learned my mistakes. No more 99 cent shorts, just larger collections at $2.99 and up. I’m using word count and your pricing posts as my guidelines, then adjusting for interim lengths.

    #9 is trickier for me. For my short stories, I haven’t bothered going beyond Amazon because frankly I don’t want to maintain them at that length. I want to get them into longer collections (as above), and THOSE I’ll push to all platforms.

    But for my software design graphic novel… Oh, that one is frustrating! First, graphic novels are MUCH harder to get through CreateSpace. There are a lot of image resolution issues which keep blocking me; and every time I try, it starts taking so much time and effort, it frustrates me, and I give up and go work on other projects. It doesn’t help that I have only a slow 3G internet connection, and the graphic novel files are HUGE, so timeouts are common.

    And taking it to other platforms is also a chore. It has a lot of hyperlinks to related materials, and those are all Amazon links. To take it to other platforms, I have to change those to platform-specific links where available or remove them entirely where not. So I need a specific version of the file for every platform.

    But this is still high on my TODO list. If a Kindle version ranks top 30 on Amazon (not top 30 for Kindle books, top 30 for all of Amazon), then a paper version should climb even higher.

    • “And taking it to other platforms is also a chore. It has a lot of hyperlinks to related materials, and those are all Amazon links. To take it to other platforms, I have to change those to platform-specific links where available or remove them entirely where not. So I need a specific version of the file for every platform.”

      Here’s (yet another time) where I’m finding Scrivener to be a Godsend. In my project file, I simply create multiple versions of my Other Works page – Amazon, B&N, Kobo, DriveThru, XinXii, or a generic ebook file (which is what I use for Smashwords – I create a bundle of links to the title in every ebook store on the planet, then I link to that bundle for a generic book; this works since SW goes to so many stores, and people from Sony, for instance, might not like being linked back to SW; SW objected once, but when I pointed out what the link really was, they acknowledged and I’ve had no issues since). Then, when I’m compiling the project, I simply select the right page for each version and the compiler does it for me. No re-typing or cutting-and-pasting. Wicked easy, once the initial page templates were made. Plus, when I create a new project, I don’t have to retype anything either; I just drag the pages from my last project to the new one then take a minute to update the pages to include the last work. That’s it; nice and easy. :)

      • Michael,

        Thanks! That’s good advice for my fiction works. But for this graphic novel, it’s a lot more complex. I call it a “graphic novel” for simplicity; but what it really is is a bunch of comic strips on software design, each followed by an essay inspired by the comic strip. And those essays are chock full of hyperlinks to related books (and also to movies, since the comic strips use movies as examples). I forget the exact number, but I think there are around 280 to 300 hyperlinks, and 90% of them are Amazon links. So for that book, I just have to buckle down and make a separate version for pretty much every platform.

      • This works for me using Sigil as well. I keep a master file with all my “also by” pages included, then simply trim the ones I don’t want for platform-specific epubs.

  36. DeAnna says:

    Siiiiiigh. More things.

    At least I’m taking the Genre class :)

  37. RD Meyer says:

    I think point #9 is the best for indie authors. Ignoring print, which is where a lot of casual readers still get their stuff, limits your potential growth.

    However, one thing I disagree with to an extent is when you said, “reader satisfaction is why you must get genre right.” I think instead that reader satisfaction is why you have to get the story right, especially fom the outset of your career. Be diligent and don’t call an obvious mystery a romance, but I still think there’s too much stock put in genre placement where the answer isn’t always so obvious.

    • dwsmith says:

      RD, oh, trust me, when you find that magic formula or whatever that allows writers without fiction skills early on in a career to get a story right, please bottle it and sell it. Hell, no professional writer gets it right every time and thinking that is the only way will drive you nuts. Just do the best damn job you can every story, learn from every story, and then move on and write the next one and do the best you can and learn from that writing experience, and so on.

      Getting a story right can’t be controlled by anyone. However learning a simple business aspect of asking other people what genre you wrote a story in after it is finished and then believing them is something anyone can get right.

      • RD Meyer says:

        I agree…if there’s consensus. However, several people can look at the same thing and reach different conclusions. Take 11/22/63 – is it horror? Sci-fi? Mystery(given that Eppings has to make certain that Oswald was the real assassin)?

        Obvious works like The Lost Regiment series or Way of the Pilgrim are easy to place. However, many others aren’t easily put into a specific genre. For example, where would you put The Shack or The Two Georges?

        There comes a point at which a writer has to take the best guess he or she can, even after all the input in the world.

        BTW, still searching for that magic formula. I think it needs more Erumpet horn. 😉

        • dwsmith says:

          RD, (and everyone) are you starting to see why so many traditional publishers reject so many fine books? If it does not fit easily and soundly into an area they know they can sell, it is too much trouble for them to try to market.

          This genre discussion should be making that very clear to everyone and explain why, in this area, when a book line is defined by a genre, they are careful to stay within that genre. All sales.

          And that’s all this topic has been about is sales.

          I know for many the word “sales” is a dirty word. And many of you would rather talk about the meaning of a story or a subplot or the relationships in Gone with the Wind or something like that. But when talking about genre, it is ONLY SALES. Nothing more. And nothing less.

          And when it comes to sales, you must consider the reader, another thing most beginning writers never think about when doing covers or sales pitches for their books.

          The thinking goes something like this: “I think the romance element wins in this book, therefore I am putting my book on the romance shelves and I couldn’t care what the readers think.” And then those same writers complain about low sales. Go figure.

  38. Randall Wood says:


    One question.

    I’ve been following this post with interest, particularly the genre conversation. Most of the other items on the list I’ve already incorporated into “the plan”, so I’m feeling pretty good right now.

    But one thing jumped out at me, and that was your comment that you, yourself, have trouble sometimes identifying the correct genre. My writer brain said “Oh $hit, if HE has trouble, I’m screwed.” So I immediately set off in search of a solution.

    I have Beta readers, all of them picked for a specific reason, and they do an outstanding job for me. The question of genre sounds like one that would benefit from multiple people. So here’s my question;

    Should I saddle these people with the additional question of “What genre does this book fall into?” and once I have that answer, do I go with it blindly, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it? Do I trust the readers in the group over the writers? Or vice versa? What if the answer is split? Should that trigger a re-write?

    Okay, maybe several questions. Sorry. I believe my books fall into the thriller/mystery/suspense genre. There are some medical aspects to some of them. Some crime. Some military. Etc. What elements define such books and what genre trumps the others?

    Obviously I need to spend some more time with this, but if you have the time I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    • dwsmith says:


      I don’t think that having readers answer one more question is “saddling them” in any way. Or maybe put the question like “In what section would you think you would find this book in the bookstore?” That way you don’t use the term genre.

      And I would take the reader background into account as well. If the reader is a young male and you wrote a romance, I have a hunch the young male will not recognize it as a romance since there is little chance he would have ever read one. You get the idea. Take into account the background of your readers and their reading tastes.

      Let me give you the two large areas of problems in genre selection:

      Thriller. The most misused term by most writers. Because something is thrilling in a book does not make it a thriller. And thriller these days is not horror but there can be horrific elements. Thriller in modern genre refers to pacing. If your book is non-stop action from beginning to end, with only a few breaks for the reader to take a breath, you wrote a thriller.

      Romance. Most novels have romantic elements between two characters in them, and thus writers think because there is the romantic element, they believe their book is a romance…something. Nope. If a book is a romance, the entire focus must be on the woman meeting the man (often in a meet cute), the two of them having issues that keep them apart as they both stay together but are apart. And in the end they resolve their differences enough to make the reader feel there will be a happily-ever-after ending. The focus is only on the romance. All plot is light, setting is background in importance.

      If you keep those two firmly in mind, then most of the mistakes with genre will be minor and close.

  39. Richard says:

    Dean, your comments on genre made me rethink how I’ve shelved some of my work. Can you recommend a resource that best defines the different genres?

  40. I signed up for the genre workshop after this discussion. I’m sure I alienate some (many?) readers with my misunderstanding of genre plus my “strange flavor” writing (love that, Camille), so I’d like to get a better grasp on genre. For example, I classify some of my books as medical thrillers because Kris Rusch told me to, not because they are breakneck in pacing and I truly understand what thrillers are.

    However, I wanted to ask about the business plan toe. I write as fast as I can, which is not that fast, with my day job and two young’uns, but steady. I have a lot of previously written books, which I’m slowly releasing. I submit my short stories to editors when I have time. But I’ve never really understood how a business plan is supposed to make my career skyrocket. Do you mean something like the following, which is the top hit on Google? Thanks, Dean and anyone else who cares to comment.

    • dwsmith says:


      You are doing fine with the routines and the pace and such, especially considering your job and family. You have no issues there. The business plan I was talking about wasn’t so much day-to-day kind of thinking, although that’s a small part of it. It’s more along the lines of

      1) Doing an inventory of existing product.
      2) Figuring out at a decent rate how long that will take to get up and out around the world.
      3) Looking at a reasonable writing rate and then projecting that out into the future as well
      4) Then looking off at 5 years and ten years, with the information above, set some goals.
      5) And then with the goals set and the inventory set and the production pace set, do a plan on how you will get to the goals.

      That make sense?

  41. Sarah McCabe says:

    The fifth toe seems to me not worth commenting on because it is so subjective. Why exactly is it bad for your book to look indie rather than traditionally published? What exactly IS a cover that makes your book look like an indie book? Is there even a standard to shoot for?

    I’ve seen plenty of traditionally published books that I thought had awful covers. I’ve been surprised to see certain indie book covers praised as “as good as traditional” when I thought they were amateur and ugly. Who can say whether or not a cover is good enough, is effective? I think your tips are good in general, but following them won’t automatically lead to a professional looking cover. Quite honestly, I’ve always thought your covers were very amateur looking to the point where they would put me off from buying your work even if I liked the blurb. But that’s only my opinion. I’ve seen others say they love your covers. See what I mean? It’s all subjective.

    • dwsmith says:


      What you think “looks” bad is subjective, with that I agree. But what a reader feels looks cheap is another matter. And most indie books look cheap, even with expensive art and decent type fonts on them because of the layout and design.

      And that makes a reader uncomfortable. They might not know on a conscious level why they passed a book, but they passed it. I watch this happen all the time at writer’s workshops here and at our professional writer’s lunches. Sheldon MacArthur goes to lots of book fairs and the BEA and so on and comes back with tons of free books. He can’t sell them, so he brings them into the workshops to give away by the bags full.

      The rule is take the book if you want it, pass it on to the next person if you don’t. Without fail, there are piles of books no one wanted even for free. Of course, all the major traditional publisher’s books are gone. But in the pile that is left over is a bunch of really poor-looking books, most clearly indie or very small press. (Or on occasion, with a subject too stupid to believe it was made into a book by anyone.)

      Take a Nora Roberts book, a Patterson novel, or a big name in the genre you write in, and then put your indie book beside it. If you book looks like it doesn’t belong beside the other, then you have failed and readers will sense that. And you will lose sales.

      Nothing subjective about any of that.

  42. DG Sandru says:

    Dean, #7 regarding the pen name, I guess you changed my mind again about having a different name for each genre I write in. YA Fantasy does not mix well with adult Paranormal-Supernatural. That’s why I’m reading your blog. Good ideas all the time

  43. Scott says:

    I have to say that these are all great points, and I will try to keep them in mind as I write and work towards getting my stuff read. Thanks.

    (and on a side note, I loved the Star Trek novel Invasion: Soldiers of Fear – I loved that whole cross-series book series. Most of the other attempts to do that in the Star Trek universe, I didn’t particularly enjoy (e.g. Captain’s Table, Gateways))

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Scott, (I think. Since I invented the Captain’s Table for Star Trek. (grin)) But I have to admit Soldiers of Fear is one of my top five bestselling novels.

      • Scott says:

        Well, I always believe in honest feedback. I particularly liked your advice about not getting bogged down focusing on book one instead of moving on to book two. I wrote my first book in 4 weeks (it was 26k words) and then fretted about perfecting it and figuring out how to market and promote it for several months, going back and polishing/perfecting it after I had moved on to the next book I was working on. The second book took 4.5 months to write in part because I kept going back to book one (it was also 60k words, so it should have taken a little longer). I’m hoping to get my third book written in the next six months, even though I only get to spend about 8-10 hours a week writing because of everything else I have on my plate, so “moving on” is necessary.

  44. I’m late to the party (was away the last two weeks), but wanted to chime in here. Great advice, Dean, as usual. =)

  45. Dean, I know you get a ton of comments, so I don’t know if you will see mine, but I wanted to say that I thought this was a fantastic post, and I have been referencing it widely on FB, etc. I’d like to quote some of your thoughts in a talk I’m giving soon–the WomenWhoWrite conference in NJ (so long as that would be okay with you). I am a big fan of both you and your wife, and although now isn’t the greatest time to donate, I have supported in the past–hopefully enough to carry me for a few posts :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Jenny, feel free to quote as much as you want. Or put the ideas into your own words, which is fine as well, considering I don’t own them. (grin) But glad the post is hitting home some. And glad it will help. Thanks.

  46. CarlaJHanna says:

    I’m second-guessing myself, Dean. Perhaps I did shoot off one of my toes.

    I’m a new writer. I wrote a coming-of-age novel with romantic elements. I got an offer from major publisher for the 3-book single title series. I rejected the offer because the editor would re-write the book as a “Shades of Grey” for a younger audience. The editor suggested that I use a pen name, catch the wave, and sell some books.

    I love my characters and stories, so I said, “No.” In your experience, do you recommend writing something you don’t believe in?

    • dwsmith says:


      I am impressed. You made the right decision, one you can sleep with, and I am very much impressed. Most early writers could not have done what you did. And to answer your question, never write anything you don’t believe in or love. Ever. I tried it once, with one novel, and the process was so painful and ugly, I learned my lesson. From that point onward, I turned down anything I didn’t love. (I turned down the first book in a major new game because I thought it silly and couldn’t see myself writing it. Turned out they gave the same book to Eric Nyquest who did a fantastic job with it because he loved it and it became a bestseller. Would it have done as well with me writing it? Nope. I didn’t love it and had already learned my lesson.

      So congrats, Carla. If you had said yes, you would have not only blown off a toe, but more than likely an entire foot.

  47. Carla Hanna says:

    Thank you, Dean. I hope you can truly understand how grateful I am to you that you have shared your experiences and wisdom. The relationship I had with the editor forced me to doubt myself. Your blogs encouraged me to challenge that feeling of insecurity and focus me back to business basics. It it your courage that ignited my own. For anyone interested, I posted my brief encounter with traditional publishing at And, I’m taking Dean’s advice. I’m not in any hurry. I’m taking my time to be wise and keep my toes.

  48. Regina Clarke says:

    Great column. Also very encouraging…I have regular rejections from Asimov’s and Lightspeed, at a count of 4 and 7 respectively, and have thought it might be impossible to enter those realms. The idea of 250 is daunting, but after reading your blog, now seems an oddly reasonable horizon! Thanks a lot.

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