The Secret Myth of Traditional Publishing

I keep laughing when writer after writer goes on about how much better traditional publishing is than indie publishing. Now, granted, I am still a traditionally published writer with a couple books under contract, but the myths involved with traditional publishing are just head-shaking to someone like me, an old-timer.

And there is one major area that almost no one talks about when having a discussion about indie publishing vs. traditional publishing. And I was reminded of this area tonight by a writer asking me about a book. So give me a minute and I’ll get to it.

But first, you all know the standard myths. But for fun, let me list the major ones here:

— Traditionally published books are cleaner and better proofed than indie books. Well, no, maybe, sometimes, but not always. It totally depends on the level of proofing an indie publisher has done on his books. It also depends on how bad the proofreader was at the traditional publisher and what level your advance was. These days, as we are through the start-up phase, indie books are often far cleaner than a traditional book.

– Traditionally published books get better promotion. Well, not really, unless your advance is way, way above six figures, and even then you are going to be doing a ton of it yourself. These days a midlist book out of a traditional publisher gets NO promotion. You do it either way.

– You get more respect if you sell your book to a traditional publisher.  Well, maybe in your own head, but real readers never care if Bantam or Bongo Books published the book they love. If it looks professional and is clean and easy to read, they will never notice the publisher. This one is only a concern to insecure writers who need professional help. Or authors who care nothing of writing, but only want to be published to brag and sit on panels at conferences or join writer’s organizations. They are not writers, they are authors.

– Traditional publishing is a better way to launch a career.  Well, if you have years to wait around while editors and agents and production departments get their fingers out of their noses and actually do something with your book. But most writers starting out would rather have a few readers on their books a little sooner than four or five years. It might only be a few, but that number will grow if you keep writing. If a traditional publisher buys two or three books and your first one bites it, they will drop the other two and you will repay the tiny advance.

–Only “Good” books get traditionally published. That is so darned silly, I have little I can say about it. Some of the major classics were rejected twenty and thirty times, which would never happen today. And some of the clone vampire/magic/sex books that are coming out of traditionally published houses are art I’m sure. Sigh. There are “good” books being published both ways. Whatever “good” is.

–You can only get into bookstores by going to a traditional publisher. Well, maybe a year ago. But that has changed completely. There are indie distributors starting up all over the country that will take indie books directly into all bookstores, including B&N (unless you were really silly and signed an exclusive agreement with some store.) We are firing up a distribution company ourselves that will be up and running this later summer that will take WMG Publishing books and other publishers’ books directly to stores.

–You can only get reviewed with a traditionally published book. Well, that’s a surprise to those of us who know how to get books to reviewers. We have had both Pulphouse books and WMG Publishing books reviewed by all major review sources. It’s called “acting like a publisher” instead of a spoiled writer. If you do a professional book and act like a publisher and send them out the same way as publishers do, reviewers will treat you like a publisher and review your authors’ books.

– You are guaranteed to sell more copies through a traditional publisher. Let me just try not to choke with laughter. Folks, I have sold books to traditional publishers that sold exactly 625 copies at last royalty statement. I have had books go out of print and the publisher still hold them at less than 2,000 copies. Some of those books I got advances beyond thirty grand. Trust me, selling to a traditional publisher doesn’t mean numbers of copies.

And that leads me back around to the reason for this silly post.

The myth that no one mentions.

You write a book, you spend the years and the energy to sell it to a traditional publisher. They pay you part of the advance. You think the book will then come out. Right? Well, not so fast.

That’s right, fair myth believers. Selling a book to a traditional publisher is not a guarantee it will ever see the light of day.

I say I have “published” more than 100 books through traditional publishers in my official bio.  My sales numbers of novels are even higher.

At a rough count, going quickly back over records and sadly-functioning memory, I have sold and been paid for, and sometimes written, at least seventeen novels that never got published.

Yes, 17 novels. I said that, I really did. Thirteen of them are fully written, the rest are partially written with outlines. That is not counting novels that didn’t sell but I wrote or partially wrote with outlines. There are a bunch more of those.

That’s right, I’ve written, sold, and been paid for more novels that never saw print than most writers have written in their entire careers.

Guess what? A bunch of those novels are going to be coming out through WMG Publishing this next year. Wow, after decades, all the work didn’t really go to ruin and a long-spent paycheck.

Have I said lately how much I love this new world?

Have fun. I am.


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73 Responses to The Secret Myth of Traditional Publishing

  1. Carradee says:

    I keep forgetting to mention that one to folks, too, though whenever I have mentioned it, I get startled expressions.

    There are so many things that are normal in the business world—companies having different official policies than applied policies, contracts falling through, companies ditching planned projects, etc.—that inexplicably shock so many writers.

    Well, maybe it’s not inexplicable. Writers are told their work is art and not to worry about business. So they don’t. *sighs*

  2. Dean,

    I just wanted to say again a big thanks for sharing all this info. It’s helped me and hundreds of others immensely.


  3. That’s the one that scared me the most about traditional publishing. Leaving your baby in the hands of neglectful caregivers.

  4. allynh says:

    I was going through old notes and found this from 27 April 2001.

    Rattle of Pebbles

    It’s an article from the New York Review of Books about the new technologies changing the business, from one of the big players of the day.

    “Jason Epstein is the former editorial director of Random
    House, the cofounder of The New York Review of Books,
    and the founder of the Library of America. With over
    fifty years in book publishing, Mr. Epstein has received
    several awards in recognition of the contributions he has
    made to literature and to book publishing. He lives in
    New York City.”

    Not only is the article an interesting historical document, but the pdf itself is an example of what they thought was the future; everything is locked down and protected. They had no clue about people reading books on phones, etc…, and you will note, that in the book the original company “” no longer exists. HA!

    I’m using this pdf to remind myself about how technology changes so fast that it is best to keep e-books as simple as possible. Not only the e-book itself, but the source material that sits on the hard-drive and on who knows what ten years from now.

    Everybody has to keep these questions in mind:

    – Are the work files you generated the e-book from still working.

    – Can you fire them up, make changes, and create a new e-book today.

    – What is your plan to maintain those work files so that you can do that ten years from now when you may not even have a “computer”. HA!

  5. Nancy Beck says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard misinformed writers say they’re going the trad route because “then I can just concentrate on my writing.” Even as a relatively newbie writer, that didn’t sound right to me.

    And then those writers are wild eyed, wondering what the hell happened, when, as you’ve said here many times, there are phone calls/emails from your agent (if you have one) and from your editor, about cutting and adding scenes…and who knows what else. I suspect that back-and-forth from agents and editors goes on for more than just a day. :-)

    So where has the “only writing” gone?

    You and Kris have dispelled a lot of myths about trad publishing, a lot of which I held as true. (After all, other trad published writers were saying it, I wasn’t trad pubbed, so it had to be true.) So glad my gut told me that what you and Kris have been saying was the real truth. :-)

    Back to writing.

    • “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard misinformed writers say they’re going the trad route because “then I can just concentrate on my writing.” Even as a relatively newbie writer, that didn’t sound right to me.”

      Good point. Whether you’re working with a very good or a very bad publishing house, either way, the writer who does NOT also concentrate on the publishing process and the business end is making a huge mistake. Expecting to be a pro writer -without- thinking about the publishing process and the business aspects of publishing is a lot like expecting to be a basketball pro without ever, er, playing with a team.

      • Nancy Beck says:


        Freelancers know they have a business, so why should it be any different for those who write fiction? It’s the same for both types. Or should be.

        It’s because of Dean, Kris, and you that that sort of thinking isn’t part of my thinking anymore. Knowledge is power, but only if you’re willing to have an open mind.

  6. Todd says:

    Dean said: “I have sold and been paid for, and sometimes written, at least seventeen novels that never got published.”

    I can’t resist drawing yet another comparison to Hollywood:

    17 paid-for-but-unproduced works of writing?

    Are you SURE you’re not a screenwriter??

    Parallels aside, I’m not sure exactly why, but for some reason, this stat makes me respect your writing ethic even MORE.

    Now go birth those babies!


    P.S. BTW, I’ve been ePubbing a few of my own unproduced works. It remains to be seen, however, whether there is an “audience” for reading stories in script format rather than prose…

    • dwsmith says:

      Todd, good point, but I have far fewer not-produced screen plays than novels. Only three, maybe four, if memory serves. The moment I got one produced, I never went back to Hollywood. You folks think traditional publishing is nuts, try working in Hollywood. (grin)

      Let me know down the road how the readers accept script format. That will be interesting in this new world. Good luck.

      • Thom says:

        Boy, has Todd hit it on the head. I have screenwriting friends with dozens of optioned, but un-produced screenplays. What a world.

    • Meghan says:

      Not that this is terribly relevant to the discussion here, but I just wanted to mention to Todd (above) that I have “translated” one of my screenplays into a novella with the plan to release it next month. If it is a successful venture I know where I’ll be getting my back list from!!


      • I wrote a screenplay that placed very highly in a national screenwriting competiton. I knew it would never go anywhere in Hollywood, so I turned it into a novella. It’s selling rather well now.

  7. This is a fantastic post. Thank you SO much for writing this. I am so sick and tired of reading these old myths (widely accepted as truths).

    The one that gets me is the one about how if a book is good enough, it will be accepted by a traditional publisher, and how if it’s not accepted, then it’s obviously not good enough. There are “good” books being published both ways, and there are “crap” books being published both ways.

    But wait…who determines whether a book is “good” or “crap”? Oh yes, it’s the reader…not a gatekeeper at a publishing house, distributor, or bookstore.

    Unfortunately, not enough self published authors understand the ins and outs of business and marketing, so they don’t realize how much they can do on their own.

  8. Lyn Perry says:

    Dean, I can tell you are having fun. Thanks for the inspiration. And I’m excited about the opportunities we post-traditionally published folks have…but I’m always wondering if we’ll “miss the boat” since we don’t have a backlist of novels to put up. (In fact, I have yet to write my first novel, lol.) I can see myself with two or three books self-published within a year or two, but will there be a place for me then? That’s a silly fear, I know, but one I think a lot of people harbor. Thanks again for giving hope! Lyn

  9. I always love that comment, that traditionally published books are automatically “better”. On JA Konrath’s blog, there’s a comment that now that everyone can publish a book, the floodgates are open to all kinds of crap. Hey, the floodgates in New York publish crap all the time. But no one says, “New York/traditional publishing is doomed, because they put out books with poor copyediting, bad writing, idiotic editing, etc.” But let someone read ONE poorly produced indie book, and the rest of the lot gets tarred with that brush. It’s stupid. It’s illogical. But oh, so predictable.

    “Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.” — Niccolò Perotti, a learned Italian classicist, writing to his friend Francesco Guarnerio in 1471, less than twenty years after the invention of the printing press.

  10. You know, it’s as if you can read my mind, Dean. I was just reading a traditionally published author’s blog who was saying that all indie writers will make no more than fifty bucks before vanishing into obscurity and their books will never even touch a bookstore’s shelves, meaning very few people will ever find them and read them.

    Honestly, it gave me pause. Made me worry. No one will ever see my books, except if they shop online? There’s a whole world of people out there that only buy books in airport bookstores – I’ve met these people! Gah!!!

    But as you pointed out, the answer to that is: not so fast. Yes, there will be distribution of indie books to booksellers, it’s starting now and WMG will be part of that movement. The books will be in bookstores, even, gasp….Barnes and Noble!

    Thanks again to you and Kris for putting your insight and wisdom about publishing on the internet where we can all benefit from it. There are certainly a lot of myths that continue to swirl around on the web, and having a voice of reason to listen to is a joy.

  11. I’ve published both ways. Indie is better.

  12. Cyn Bagley says:

    Glad to see that you are getting those old novels (new again) published through WMG. I just started to read Kathryn’s short stories and I am hooked. I’ll be looking for her stuff on kindle when I get more time to read. (I read Thorn on her free fiction Monday). I am still very excited about Indie…

    • dwsmith says:

      Cyn, thanks. And interestingly enough, the novels that did get published, for the most part, I can’t reprint. Unlike Kris, I have very few backlist novels at this point. My first novel, a couple of others along the way, but not many. However, the ones I sold and then they never got published, those I can bring out. So they will be brand new to the reading public instead of backlist books. Weird how that has worked out, now that I think about it. There are a ton of indie writers who wish they had seventeen novels to bring out. I had forgotten all about them, to be honest. That’s the problem with still being locked into old traditional publishing thinking. I sold the book, wrote it, got paid, and it never came out, so it’s dead and buried in a drawer. Nope, not any more. I have letters on almost all of them from the publishers killing the contract and letting me keep the advance. Rights reverted.

      And on one company, I had to wait for a two year statute of limitation to run out after the company declared themselves dead and done with no assets. But that has passed as well.

      I can’t believe I forgot about all those books. Strange, huh?

      • So none of those unpublished novels were work-for-hire then? As in commissioned Star Trek novels or whatever other universe you sometimes play in …

        Wow – good for you to have the rights back. I wish I had that kind of backlist laying around.

        • dwsmith says:

          Frank, now that you mention it, actually, I don’t think I wrote a Trek novel that didn’t get published. And I wrote a lot of them. I don’t have all the rights back, but most of them. A couple I don’t own the universe I was hired to write in. But luckily, only a couple.

      • Cyn Bagley says:

        Very strange – Good luck with those seventeen novels. Now I am very very jealous. lol

        I usually blame forgetfulness on meds, menopause, or age. I have not been able to blame it on traditional publishing. I guess I need to put them on my list. ;-)

  13. Niki says:

    “Well, if you have years to wait around…”

    That was all you needed to say for me Dean. I don’t have years to wait around. Been there done that. Besides a big advance, I can’t think of anything a traditional publisher can do for me that I can’t do myself (maybe marketing but apparently that’s not happening either.) I don’t have the time anymore to wait for answers from One editor, One agent or One publisher to tell me if my books are worth reading for the general public. They can decide for themselves. If one of my books ever makes enough waves to get the attention of some big publisher, it’s then that I’ll see what they can offer me, and if my lawyer and I agree, I’ll go from there. In the mean time. I’m going to continue doing my own thing.
    Thank you for keeping us all informed.

    • Carol Frome says:

      I am right there with you, Niki, in every respect. I’m 56. I’m all done “hoping” and ready to make it happen myself. I’m not a good marketer, I admit, but I have seen enough complaints about publishers who fail to market to know that marketing is not a reason to go with a traditional publisher. Instead, I look forward to (but I’m not counting on) more indy distributors and marketers.

      • Niki says:

        Is there a way for Indie writers to band together and help one another market our work? I realize that there are lots of ways to market, but I’m referring to a specific group that Indie writers could join, maybe for a small fee even, to market our books. Like some type of rotating air time – but big air time, equivalent to the big name authors. I think if something like that was in place, we’d all have it made. I’m not good at marketing so I could never form such a group, but I would probably sign up. If it already exists, someone point me in the right direction, I’d like to check it out. :)

        • dwsmith says:

          Niki, there are numbers, and I do mean numbers, of indie publisher distributors starting up. We have just started up Ella Distribution Inc. as one of them, actually. We are going to run Ella on the ABE Books model that indie bookstores use. We will get catalogs and lists each month, and sometimes each week, to indie stores and into the buyers at the bigger chains. In other words, do the promotion to the bookstores.

          We will require a quality product from the publishers and quality professional cover look. And certain discounts. That way a bookstore can group together books from four or five publishers to make an order. They will pay Ella and we will, after taking a small distribution fee for our work, send the money on to the publisher. Then the publisher will buy the books from CreateSpace and have CreateSpace ship them directly to the store. No one touches the books along the way. (As ABE bookstores do in that system.)

          We should have the first catalogs out later this summer or middle fall and will be building publisher lists and bookstore lists from there.

          At the BEA this last week there were four or five indie publisher distributors starting up and looking for publishers, but all of them, to my understanding, will work on the old warehouse model. Too much up front costs for both the publishers and the distributor for my tastes, but some of them will make it. Watch for exclusive contracts with those distributors. Never go exclusive with a distributor.

          • Dean, I’ll be watching for updates on Ella. Definitely interested in being a part of that.

          • Niki says:

            Thank you for the information. Sounds like you are doing some great things for Indies. I have so much to learn, and you’ve been a great help. I look forward to learning more about Ella Distribution Inc., I’ll keep watching your post for updates. Thanks again!

          • Carol Frome says:

            This sounds great, Dean! Aside from quality issues, do the books have to fall within certain genres?

          • Will you be taking submissions for books to distribute, or will it be invite-only to start? :)

          • dwsmith says:

            Ella Distribution will decide those questions after everything is up and running early this fall. I would imagine we will be expanding our list of publishers slowly, and starting with a few publishers we know who don’t mind being test subjects in the Beta start-up. So stay tuned, I’ll keep you all informed on how it goes.

          • J S says:

            Niki & Dean,

            The indie distribution is a great idea. Keep us posted.

            Another option for independent writers is to self form into a small group (maybe readers of this blog?…) and at the end of your novel where you put “other good books by this writer” you can add “other good books by our friends” and put quick copy. Important to remain consistent with the genre (or identify cross-genre suggestions as such). Trade ARCs and collect ‘blurbs’ too.

  14. All of your points are so true—especially third point which made be decide to start my own imprint and self-publish. Even as a reader, I never cared who was the publisher so long as a book was entertaining, well written, and held my interest. In the end, it’s all about writing a great book.

    • Nancy Beck says:

      “Even as a reader, I never cared who was the publisher so long as a book was entertaining, well written, and held my interest.”


      I know that Scholastic is the publisher for all the Harry Potter books, and I only know that because the original publisher (Bloomsbury) is also the name of a town in the state I live in. :-) But that’s the only publisher that comes to mind for any of the trad books I have – and that due to unusual circumstances (for me only).

  15. Kerry NZ says:

    Well, I’ve been reading this blog for almost two years now and in March I decided to get off my butt and do something. I’m not a writer but a translator. So in March I got hold of an old writer who was public domain in most places (died 1940) and has a huge output and started translating his novellas. Just today I approved the proof of the print copy from Lightning Source for the third book (each around 150 pages in 5×8). I’d read your talk about how easy it was for so long but I never quite believed exactly *how* easy it would be. A big thank you, Dean (when I break even I’ll make a donation ;-) but I’m not rushed about sales – my copyright in the translations lasts a long time and it’ll be available all that time…)

    You might be interested in this little snippet from his autobiography (1934) where he explains what he did after his second novella was published (over which he lost two court cases – one for writing a “blasphemous and immoral” work, the other for slandering a neighbour – with resulting illness from stress):
    “During the ever increasing hollow­ing out of my body through sickness, I wrote in one year the novella “The Shingle Maker” and the three novels “Leonore Griebel”, “Three Nights” and “The Buried God”. With that I saw the gates to recognition coming loose, though they still lay far-off in indistinctly foreseeable parts whose light was nevertheless embracing me, so that I began to march towards them.”

    He obviously understood about writing fast (that and he wanted out of his job as a teacher in rural Silesia – sole teacher of 135 children at all year levels! I’m not surprised he wanted out.)

    Thanks again to you and Kris.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Kerry. And I assume you got hold of his estate and got permission. Public domain is back in the 1920s, so just assuming something is in public domain can get you into a ton of problems with estates. (Just because he died in 1940 means nothing I’m afraid.) But if you have checked and cleared the rights, I’m glad you are doing the hard work to get lost writers back into print.

      (I am always a defender of the writers and copyright first, which is why the worry. The statement about “public domain” and died 1940 sent off all sorts of alarm bells, to be honest. The Copyright Handbook is your friend. (grin))

      • Kerry NZ says:

        These works were late 19th century (he published about 20 novels before 1923) so copyright has expired in most major markets – I have a long country list that I have to go through the rights for every time I add one on Amazon.

        • dwsmith says:

          Great, Kerry. Glad you are doing it right. Great you are getting his work back into print as well.

          • Kerry NZ says:

            You may also be interested to know that Amazon are quite proactive on checking rights – another case of them being very author-friendly.

  16. RD Meyer says:

    I think your point about marketing is the best one in the post. Too many unpublished writers think that if they sell to a major house, the publisher will do all the heavy lifting and the writer will just have to show up at the occasional signing so they can be applauded by adoring fans. That way, they can enjoy concentrating on writing their next masterpiece. In the real world, if you can’t market, you won’t sell. Most houses won’t give a lot of press to someone not named King or Patterson(an exaggeration, but not a big one).

    Your other point about only “good” books get published is also awesome. One of the more frustrating things to me is going through a bookstore and seeing just how much rubbish is out there.

  17. So Dean… at the end of the day… there really ISN’T a remarkable amount of benefits to be had from publishing traditionally. Right? :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Stephen, well, I would still be selling them books occasionally if they allowed me to get my rights back at a set time in the future, such as ten years. And if they made no attempt to control my other writing at all. Those are two contract terms I (and othres) can’t seem to fight around with my publishers, to be honest. With those terms, I can see no reason to write a book and give the rights away forever. Not happening for me.

      • Absolutely agreed. But of course, there are a legion of writers, published and not, who will disagree with the notion that self-publishing (or creating a business where you publish your own works) as being a viable, acceptable career path.

        I find this rejection of reality annoying. And also kind of funny, as I collect ten grand a month and my peers and colleagues continue to wait for quarterly statements and payouts even months later.

        • J S says:

          Every time I see an author exclusively pursuing traditional publishers it makes me think they have a vanity need to fill. Traditional publishers often equals new vanity press.

          • Joe Cron says:

            For some reason, this expression of the situation as trad publishing being the new vanity press really resonates with me. That need for validation is very similar between the old vanity press concept where a writer was willing to spend money to be able to say, “Here, I have a book!” and the new one where they are willing to lose money and rights to be able to say, “Here, I have a book published by New York!” Excellent observation.

  18. Thanks, Dean. I’ve been following your blog for a few months, reading every post, but I seldom give thanks. So…thanks for the great information you post.

    This argument of who is better is getting tiring. Like you said, readers don’t give a damn who published the book as long as it’s a good read.

  19. Ah, sweet sanity raises its weary head, shakes its mane, and roars out from the page of your blog. Bless you.

  20. L.L. Muir says:

    I wish I could bottle and sell the feeling with which I leave this blog.
    Every. Time.
    Rock on, Mr. Smith. And thanks for taking us all with you!

  21. Randy says:

    I cannot even imagine the level of frustration I’d feel if I sold a novel but never saw it published. But seventeen? I’m amazed you’re not in a rubber room, Dean.

    • dwsmith says:

      Randy, you know me. Are you saying I’m not in a rubber room? (grin)

      I can tell you why my number is so high, but I would imagine other long-term professional novelists have similar books. My number seems high because one publisher went under with six of my finished books in their office. (I got all my money, however. And now have the books back.) That was frustrating because I wanted to keep writing in the two series, and now I can, with a few changes. I did a number of books that they paid me for doing a bunch of pages and outlines, some for movie stars writing fiction. On a number of those it was easier for me to mostly write the book and then do the outline, so I did. Those will take some changes to get out and some finishing last few chapters, but I got paid for the books. I wrote three shorter books (50,000 words) for a publisher and was about to turn them all in when that book line went away and the editor was fired and the books cancelled. Again, got to keep the advance. My fault I wrote all three. I was only expected to turn one in. (grin) On the Frakes book called “The Abductors” that I wrote fast, I went ahead and wrote most of the second book for fun. I had been paid the advance for the second book, but the trilogy was cancelled. Not sure if I can scrape off enough serial numbers on that one to make it safe to publish. More than likely not worth my time. And so on.

      And remember, I sold my first novel in 1987, so that is also a lot of years.

      And remember, I am a writer, not an author. I just have fun with the writing. What happens to the books after I get done writing them is not much of my concern. I know you authors out there think that is silly, but it keeps me sane and in my little rubber room. (grin)

  22. Eileen says:

    There is no doubt that there are many myths about both traditional and indie publishing. However, I do disagree with your comment that traditional published authors get no marketing support from their publishers.

    I am not a six figure advance author. My publisher (a division of Simon and Schuster) provides to me (and to other books coming out) as a mid-list author.
    – Inclusion in their color catalogue that goes to book sellers and librarians.
    – They take and display my book at events such as BEA, NCTE etc.
    – They create ARC versions of my book for book bloggers and review sites. They also pay the shipping to send these ARCs out.
    – They send review copies to sites such as Kirkus, PW etc.
    – They do regular newsletters to English teachers (I write YA) and librarians. These newsletters have thousands and thousands of people who subscribe to their audience
    – The publicist has arranged magazine interviews and reviews.
    – I’ve been provided with colour bookmarks to distribute at events
    – I’ve been provided with free copies to use as donations for charity events
    – The have a “book buzz” site for teen readers where they get early access to books and behind the scenes info and in return are encouraged to spread their opinions on social media.
    – The publisher does a range of social media (twitter/facebook) etc that mentions my books and releases. They frequently “retweet” my news to their large audience
    – The sales team distributes sales materials to booksellers
    – Paid for advertisements on book sites
    – Included my books on their website

    Let me be clear I still feel a responsibility for marketing. This is my career after all, but I do not believe that my publishing team is a “negligent caretaker.” This also isn’t meant to say I think indie publishing is a poor choice, but I think it’s important that people understand the pros and cons to all of their options.

    • dwsmith says:


      All sounds good, and you are lucky, and trust me, I would have never said anything about not getting publicity on books from traditional publishers if I got half of what you listed on even most books. Wow, a “publicist” on a midlist book. I have a hunch when you get this your books are slotted a little higher than standard five-ten thousand advance midlist novels. And there is a “sales team” for your books. I would never complain about traditional publishing if they did half of what you lined out. And let me have my books back in ten years, of course. (grin) I hope you realize that your experience is not normal for most these days. Not by half. So I hope it continues.

  23. Eileen says:

    While I like to think I’m a special snowflake, I know other authors with my publisher who are having the same experience who are debut or mid-list. Certainly the “big names” are getting much more marketing- being sent to BEA, book tours, floor displays in stores, co-op etc. I appreciate what they do, but wanted people to know you don’t have to big a six figure author to be getting support.

    Another positive of indie publishing (IMHO) is that as authors have options it motivates publishers to look at what they can do to encourage authors to stay with them. This is why I believe you’ll see more publishers offering more marketing support. I believe imprints will look to brand themselves. I agree with your point that at the present most readers don’t care who publishes a book. One exception is Harlequin, where readers buy particular lines because they have a sense of what they will get. Blaze will be hot/sexy, Nocture will be paranormal etc. As more books flood the market imprints will look to brand themselves so that readers know- Edgy sci-fi is published by X, contemporary YA is done by Y etc.

    It makes for interesting times and puts more control in the hands of authors which is a win.

    • dwsmith says:

      Eileen, not arguing with you at all. If you get the things you are talking about, the value is there. And honestly, both Kris and I have gotten, at times, the things you are talking about. Not every time, or even a majority of times, so going into traditional expecting that kind of treatment and promotion is where the problem comes in. But not arguing that it doesn’t happen. It does, as you say.

      And trust me, if you get with a great publisher like Baen or Daw in science fiction, they treat their writers wonderfully, for the most part. So you must have one of those kind of publishers in young adult. Hold on.

      Just as with writers, not all traditional publishers are the same. Far from it. And not all agents are the same either. I know some wonderful and ethical agents like Joshua Bilmas (sp?) and Rich Henshaw who work hard, understand author relationships, and are as honest and ethical as the day is long. I am sure there are others. But there are other agents who don’t work as hard, think they control writers, and will take your money at a moment’s notice if you let them.

      So again, not all publishers are the same. The advantage I have, and the reason for this blog post, is that not all publishers give you the treatment like you are getting and that so many beginning author’s expect. And not all agents will treat you with respect and work for you instead of the publishers. The difference are where the problems come in.

      In indie publishing, you are only gambling on yourself.

    • “Another positive of indie publishing (IMHO) is that as authors have options it motivates publishers to look at what they can do to encourage authors to stay with them. This is why I believe you’ll see more publishers offering more marketing support.”

      Good point. The pres of Belle Books, a small press that’s doing well these days, has said that publishers in this changing market need to offer “value added” and to “elevate” the work in a way the author either can’t or else may prefer to leave to a business partner (i.e. publisher) because it’s expensive and time-consuming–“elevate” meaning to provide quality service in terms of packaging, marketing, editing and copy editing, distribution, promotion, etc.

      So far, major houses have mostly responded to the digital age by making rights grabs and exercising bad, short-sighted beyhavior. Ex. Claiming that “in book form” in a contract signed 30 years ago “really meant” -ebook- form, though ebooks are not mentioned anywhere in those contracts; sending egregious e-licensing riders to writers with mendacious cover letters that say things like “we’re perfectly entitled to e-publish this book without your signature, and we’re just asking for it as a courtesy–now sign, sign, SIGN; threatening not to sign writers for new books if they won’t formally turn over to the publisher their e-rights to old backlist books; doing slap-fash POD and epub editions for books they’ve neglected for years, just to hang onto the rights; ergegiously interpreting “non-compete” clauses as “you can’t self-publish ANYTHING–not even books we’ve rejected;” offering appalling low royalty rates; and–oh, yes–allegedly committing antitrust violations. And so on.

      But, eventually, yes, I agree, they’re going to have to stop drumming their heels and throwing tantrums, and recognize that times are changing drastically and writers have many more choices for success than was the case before–and publishers will need to ATTRACT writers rather than bully, manipulate, and cheat them… though cheating them is still very profitable (hi, Evil Empire!–how’s that shell company you set up to hide e-royalties from your writers? still going well?).

      And I’ve started to see a few faint hints of changes on the distant horizon. One writer I know, a bestseller, found her publisher obdurate and unwilling to negotiate about e-rights two years ago… And this year, after some intial bristling and posturing, the publisher pleasantly surprised the writer by negotiating on e-rights terms, agreeing to much more reasonable terms than had previously been the case. In another instance, a writer I know (also a bestseller) who initially rejected a reqyest to extend a limited e-license… was pleasantly surprised when instead of threats or ultimatums, the publisher came back with persuasive enticements, presenting an attractive case for negotiating with them (which the writer did).

      This is mostly confined, so far as I know, to the bestseller level–to the people publishers are quickest to see have other choices available to them. They still don’t think of midlisters that way. But I think there’s a good chane of this attitude filtering through the system and trickling down gradually, as it becomes clearer and clearer in the next few years that writers ALL have a lot more choices than we used to have.

  24. “if you get with a great publisher like Baen or Daw in science fiction, they treat their writers wonderfully, for the most part.”

    Yes, this has been my experience. I signed with DAW several years ago, and the differences in my experiences at DAW, compared with all the houses I previously wrote for in the first 20 years of my career, are STUNNING.

    Although I worked with some stupendous editors over the years and had excellent editorial relationships with them (though I also worked with a couple of bad editors over the years with whom my working experiences were appalling), every -publisher- I was at prior to DAW pretty consistently treated me like a crack whore and my work like something I had defecated on their doorsteps. Very good editors mitigated or tried to mitigate this consistent problem; bad editors always made the problem much, MUCH worse. But, either way, my experience of dealing with publishers for twenty years was that every single company I dealt with treated me like a diseased hooker and treated my work like street garbage.

    (This is a key reason I wrote so much material over the years for Marty Greenberg and his associates at Tekno Books, a packager (not a publisher). Compared to every publishing house I’d ever dealt with, Tekno–which was an honorable company that treated writers well–was always such a pleasure to deal with, I’d have done almost anything for them. Working with Tekno was always the respite I needed, the working-vacation I took to get away from the way I and my work were treated by publishers.)

    By contrast, at DAW Books, I am always treated like a respected professional partner in the publishing process, and my work is always treated like a valued professional asset. This is treatment I have NEVER experienced at ANY publishing house (and never with any company in the business other than Tekno).

    It makes a HUGE difference. Not only in my “job satisfaction” and how I feel about working with them, but also in terms of how well the books are published and in terms of career development–that is to say, I have found that the publisher treating me like a respected professional and my work like a valued asset consistently has turned out to be part-and-parcel of this house doing its job (publishing my books) much better than any other house has done it.

    So speaking from long experience, yes, it is perfectly possible to be treated well and -published- well, and to have a productive worthwhile relationship with a publishing house wherein there are good reasons to continue licensing books to them in the current market. It’s perfectly possible–but, in my own experience, very, very unusual. It took me 20 years of working steadily in the biz to get under contract at a house that doesn’t treat me like a diseased prostitute.

    • dwsmith says:

      Laura, I agree completely. And I really, really agree about Tekno under Marty. Wow, it was always wonderful to work with him or Denise there. I did a bunch of novel projects for them and uncounted short fiction. I really miss Marty and having Denise there as well. Sign… everything always changes it seems. But the Tekno world was one I sure wish hadn’t changed. Marty is missed.

  25. Brilliant, reassuring post reminding me of the reasons why on balance I am better off going the self-publication route with Gunshot Glitter. Your reasons and also my desire for creative control. Thanks for this post. I might print it and mount it lol xx

  26. David Berger says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. As an indie author, I found it extraordinarily helpful to read about these myths (some of which I had believed as truths). This actually makes me feel a bit better as an author going through what is now becoming a more common publishing avenue. This actually made my morning.

  27. This is a very interesting post indeed. I am an indie author, and I frequently hear fellow indies (and even traditionally published authors) mentioning these very ‘myths’ as if they were established rules. I’ve always wondered what details were skewed or perhaps for lack. Thank you for your telling words~

  28. Dean, I’m shocked, 17 novels paid for and unpublished? Wow! Thanks for sharing the info and what you say really is forcing me to rethink my writing life strategy.

    I had self-published a book originally published in Italian in 2007 and that I rewrote in English, just to see how it would fare in the US market (it’s an ebook on Well, I’ve seen some sales and had some excellent reviews (9!) but nothing earth-shaking. I’m not like you with a fan base, first constructed many years ago with your traditionally published novels. You can always put on the cover NYT bestseller author and that’s something I can’t do. And that explains the difference in my humble opinion. You don’t start from scratch in the ebook publishing world if you’ve already been traditionally published, but I do.

    I start from scratch since my publishing experience in Italy doesn’t count in the US – I suppose it would count in Italy and I’m seriously thinking of republishing a revised version of my novel in Italian on . But I was also back to thinking that the trad route was the only way to enter the US market, that traditional publishers would help me solve my marketing problem. You very clearly say they won’t.

    Now I’m in a quandary. Still, it’s better to ask the right questions than to wander ahead in a fog of misconceptions!

    Thanks for the post, Dean, very useful and thought provoking!

    • dwsmith says:

      Claude, what you are forgetting is that I have started numbers of pen names. Those were not attached to my name or had a fan base.

      Folks, sorry, but what builds a fan base is two things. A lot of product under one or two or three names and more importantly, quality storytelling. If you can tell a good story that people want to read, you will sell. If you can’t, no amount of fan base or pretend promotion or traditional publishing hopes will help you. I HATE the always “You can do it because you have a fan base.” The reason I have any fan base (actually, I have a number of them) is that I have written a ton of books that managed to make it through the traditional marketing system and were stories that people wanted to read. And I sold and got paid for 17 books and wrote some of them completely that never got published for one of numbers of reasons, each different.

      Folks, trust me, when you have written as many books and stories as I have, you will also be insulted by beginning writers telling you the only difference between you and them is some magical fan base. I don’t have a magical fan base. I can just tell a better story because I have spent the years and the millions of words learning how, including writing the ones that never got published.

      Have I said how tired I am of that insult????????????????

  29. You know, I only have … four books fully written and paid for that never saw the light of day, but then my published novels are about 1/5 of yours, so that tallies.

    I also have a fully written historical romance which my then agent refused to send out (not enough sex, she said and also “you’re not a romance writer.”) Then I was busy firing her and dealing with other stuff, and by the time I had a new agent I’d forgotten.

    The joys of a traditional career. If indie had been available 9 years ago, that novel would be up and making me money… for a long time.

    • dwsmith says:

      Sarah, thanks for sharing that. This tended to be a topic long-term pros didn’t much talk about because it just never comes up. And in the old world, we all just sort of put these books away and tried not to think of them and the work and hours we spent on them, since they were basically dead. The range I’ve gotten from long term traditionally published writers like you since my post is from zero to nine. I think mine is so high for a couple of reasons. First off, I did a bunch of work-for-hire in a decade-long period and that world tends to have more of these kinds of slips. I always swore I would never write a book without the up front money in that world, and I was clear on that, so they gave me my advance to me to get me writing, but that often meant that the book got written and never got out because they gave me the money ahead of some agreement between license people. Secondly my total is so high because of one company going bankrupt after they paid me for six books but before they got into print.

      But my point of the entire blog was to make sure that newer writers didn’t walk into traditional publishing thinking that a contract guaranteed publication. If you want to guarantee publication, do it yourself.

      Thanks again, Sarah.

    • I don’t have any unsold completed books–or even unsold proposals anymore. But I sure had a lot of projects that I couldn’t sell, and even MORE projects that my carious literary agents refused to send out (so -I- sent them out and eventually sold them).

      After my first sale, I never again wrote a completed MS on spec. Mostly because I’m not a fast writer. So when I was under contract, I couldn’t keep up with my commitments and -also- write complete MSs, so I only wrote proposals for uncontracted work. And when I was not under contract, I needed to keep getting proposals out there until I sold something; so I couldn’t risk the time investment of writing a whole book I might not ever get paid for.

      But I always used to have unsold proposals in my trunk. For years, I would regularly review these projects to see what I still wanted to sell and what I was no longer interested in.

      A number of my unsold projects eventually wound up getting permanently deleted. Sometimes after 2-3-4 years had passed since I’d written something, I’d realize it just wasn’t very good. Other times, I had moved on and was no longer the writer who’d been interested in writing that book.

      And some things, I always liked and so I never gve up on them… Which is the key reason there’s nothing in my trunk these days. Because as long as I wanted to write something, I never stopped trying to sell it.

      Predictably, a LOT of the stuff that I wound up selling out of my trink got there in the first place because my various literary agents refused to send it out, or declared it unsaleable after 1-3 rejections. (Ex. The first thing I did after firing my third agent was sell 5 books he’d been unwilling to send out or had declared unsaleable after a few rejections. About a year after that, I sold a 6th book that he =and= my next agent, #4, told me was unsaleable.)

      So just continually trying to sell unsold books–and, in particular, not listening to agents (I also sold “unsaleable” books while I was still with #3; and I fired #4 for declining to send out my stuff and then saying if -I- sold it, I had to pay her a commission on it–this was clearly just a non-violent mugging, and I couldn’t think of any reason to put up with it)–is the other reason there’s nothing in my trunk now, besides not being a fast writer.

      The forgotten/aborted stories I HAVE found, though, while self-publishing my out-of-print backlist, is that when I was a romance writer, I worked on =4= different trilogies that I never got to finish! Because the subsequent books got rejected and/or I got dumped by the publishers. In one instance, in fact, I wrote 2 books of a trilogy, then was dumped while working on #3. So I revamped #3 as book #1 in a new trilogy about all-new characters… and the new publisher of that first book laid of my editor, closed down the imprint, and dumped me after that one book.

      So while editing and self-publishing my backlist this past year, I’ve realized that when this is done (about 4 books to go), next year I want to start writing the never-written books in these various romance trilogies. Not necessarily all of them (some of this material is old enough to drink whiskey and enroll in graduate school), but I’d definitely like to finish at least two of these unfinished trilogies. (And who knows? Maybe all four. It depends. Like I said, not a fast writer.)

  30. Nelson says:

    Hey Dean;
    Thought this link would be of interest to you:
    It’s along the same lines as you’ve mentioned before.
    good post. Cheers

  31. Carole Avila says:

    Thank you for sharing -I love your humor and more importantly, the important message you shared. I’ve been compiling information on pre-publicity and marketing and I’ve gotten the best information from self-published authors.
    Which published book of yours do you think is your best?
    Sincerely, Carole Avila
    Posse Member

    • dwsmith says:

      Carole, which book is my best? Not a clue, to be honest. More than likely I’ll think that book is my next, and then the next, and so on. I’m still learning and growing as a writer, so sure can’t answer that question. Thanks for the nice thoughts.

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