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Killing Your Sales: the Second Foot

11 August 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith: Part Two of Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time

 . . .
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.

. . .
Shot #7 – Too much ego or bad thinking to use a pen name.

. . .

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?

. . .
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.

. . .

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.

. . .

Link to the rest at DeanWesleySmith.com

Guest post by Bridget McKenna



32 Comments to “Killing Your Sales: the Second Foot”

  1. Good advice!

    Interesting points. Why do authors today use pen names? Also, with today’s technology, I think finding the true author behind a pen name is easier to find.

    I agree about the “getting in a hurry.” Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I notice a lot of self published authors selling on kindle for $0.99 and it makes me think they don’t believe in their own work.

    I think the urge to get stuff out there can be as great as the urge to write. I always send my work out for feedback before trying to get it out to my audience.

    Thanks again for the tips!


    • A major reason for pen names is to differentiate genre. If you write a Romance novel, and a reader loves it and goes and grabs a book by you and it’s horror, they may think, “worst romance ever!” and never buy another book by you again.

      Also, pen names don’t have to be secret. It just gives your readers a street sign to know what they are buying from you. Plenty of writers have pen names that their readers know are actuall them them.

    • To give an example:

      Iain Banks – literary novels
      Iain M. Banks – SF novels

      Two different markets, no secret that it’s the same writer, but readers immediately know which kind of novel they’re buying.

  2. “Shot #7 – Too much ego or bad thinking to use a pen name.”

    I’m thinking of using a pen name just because I’d like to have one email account for me as a writer and a totally separate account, not shared with readers or publishers, for the rest of my life.

    And also just because I like the look of my pen name on a cover better than I like the look of my real name.

    • The email thing you can do anyway. I have six or seven email addresses which I use for various things.

      As Fiona pointed out below, though, you may want to use a pen name for privacy in other ways.

  3. In these post 9-11 days, I would think having a pen name would make life more complicated.

    Some people say you need to file taxes, do DBA’s or even had credit cards in your pen name.

    I guess that makes me lazy.

    • Some people are wrong. You don’t even need to file a DBA to use a pen name, as long as you do business with publishers and/or booksellers (whichever you sell to directly) under your own legal name. If you want to receive cheques under the pen name, you need to file the DBA, but not any of the other things. If you want to register copyright in the U.S. for a work written under a pen name, the forms have a specific option to include both your real name (to indicate the legal owner of the work) and the pseudonym under which it is published.

      • In some municipalities, you don’t have to file anything to use a DBA name. 🙂

        But you always should check the rules on the federal, state, county, and city level. If I lived in the next city over, I’d need a business license. This one, nope.

        • It’s not so much the municipal regulations, as being able to use the DBA name with your bank.

          • But you set up with all the retailers under your legal name, and they usually direct deposit (or Paypal) – so using a pen name is NO BARRIER whatsoever to payment or doing business.

            I do my taxes as a sole proprietor of my business, as my legal name. I claim income from 3 different pen names. It’s really not a problem at all. So don’t let the “business will be too hard” argument carry any weight. 🙂

            That said, managing a few different websites and FB pages can get old. I don’t do much with social media, but I do think it’s important to have a website tied to your name where people can find your work~

    • I’m not a lawyer, but it’s probably a good idea to form an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) with your pen name. If I remember correctly, if someone decides to sue you for something idiotic in your books (and in these litiginous times, someone will), then the limit of what they can get is whatever the LLC has as assets, but the “rest” of your life is protected. (also why it would be silly to buy your house under your LLC). Plus, the world is just plain full of creepy stalker types. It has long been a rumor (no idea if it’s true) that one of the largest consumers of romance novels is the prison population, some of whom are not always able to distinguish well between fiction and reality.

      • They can’t take your house if it’s your main residence. I debated going LLC or DBA/Sole proprietor. Sole proprietor won, for now.

        Also, you can ask your county/city clerk not to publish your address if you have a post office box, which I also purchased. They’re quite reasonable and friendly when you explain why.

      • I’m not a lawyer, but it’s probably a good idea to form an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) with your pen name.

        That costs a good deal of money to set up, and you will forever after have to hire an accountant to do your corporate taxes every year. And you will have to pay corporate taxes, and then be taxed again on any money you withdraw from the business for your own use. It’s not generally worth it unless you are doing a big enough volume of business to generate more profit than you need to live on. Fortunately, once you reach that point it is very easy to convert a sole proprietorship into an LLC.

        The hypothetical danger of a lawsuit (which probably won’t happen anyway until you are rich enough to be worth going after) is far outweighed, for most writers, by the real and present and guaranteed danger of the IRS.

        • With all due respect, this is not accurate. From nolo.com: “A limited liability company (LLC) is not a separate tax entity like a corporation; instead, it is what the IRS calls a “pass-through entity,” like a partnership or sole proprietorship.” And, “The IRS treats one-member LLCs as sole proprietorships for tax purposes. This means that the LLC itself does not pay taxes and does not have to file a return with the IRS.” See http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-llcs-are-taxed-29675.htm for further detailed information about LLCs and taxes.
          It is also NOT expensive to form an LLC. In my state of Virginia, it only costs $100 to file the required documents forming your LLC with the state of Virginia.

          • Ah! So sorry. We have LLCs in Canada as well, but they are not generally treated as pass-through entities for tax purposes. (We have ‘Professional Corporations’ which are pass-through entities and function in much the same way you describe LLCs doing in the U.S.)

            Same nomenclature, different beast; my mistake.

        • Also, if you make enough money, you can just move overseas to Fiji or something. No more IRS and the tax is cheap. Plus when all your money is in Sweden and you are 99% of the time swimming somewhere nice, a law suit is hard to press.

      • I’m not a lawyer either, but it is my understanding that forming an LLC does NOT protect an author from liability for the contents of a book. You wrote it, so you are responsible for it — and they can sue both your company and you separately.

        What an LLC will protect you from is if you publish someone else — then they can sue your company and the author.

        • I am a lawyer and camille is right. If you’re being sued for something you wrote in a book then you’re being sued under Tort law for an act. The corporation will help you very little. This may vary a bit in different jurisdictions but unless a lawyer tells you otherwise always assume an LLC’s not going to help you.

  4. A well-known YA writer told a class I was taking to always have a pen name. She says otherwise, you can have no private life because you get stalked by readers.

    I’m sure if you change genres, it’s also necessary, as he said, but the other reason seemed even more compelling.

    • I think most of my readers are afraid of me. I’m thinking they think I’m either a sociopath (I wish…) or a psychopath.

  5. These things go in cycles. Sometimes everybody has a pen name, sometimes a pen name is a confession that you’re not proud of your writing. These days, we’re in a time of pen names.

  6. Lance, I’ve been considering a pen name just because my name is common enough that anonymity is built in. My generation is full of Jamies. Every single year of school (including college) there was ALWAYS another Jamie, sometimes three of us in the same classroom. Plus my last name is one of the most common in the English-speaking world, and the most common in the world at large if you translate it. This means I have to supply my (fortunately distinctive) middle name when I’m at voting precincts, among other scenarios. I once got out of paying a medical bill sent to me in error by pointing out that my name is common. How easy was it to make that case? The receptionist was also named Jamie. I had to register my entire name for a domain name because my first and last name were predictably taken. Where the web is concerned I’m glad my name is common enough that I can keep my privacy. But I’m thinking I might publish under my first and middle name just to make my work easy to find on Amazon and Google. Otherwise I’ll make up another name entirely.

  7. I always wanted to write under the name ‘That Guy’, ‘Ahem’ or ‘Excuse Me?’ I may one day do that if I make enough money.

    “What ya reading?”
    “Excuse Me?”

    I would be well stocked for LOLZ for the rest of my days.

  8. Jayne Ann Krentz has written under 5 different names in her career. She now actively uses/promotes 3 names (Jayne Ann Krentz, Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick).

    She’s said in interviews that if she had it to do all over again she’d just stick to one name. So not every successful author agrees with him.

  9. I use a pen name because I do business professionally under my real name. I’m also writing in 4 distinct genres, one of which I don’t want anybody in my family discovering. So, I have 4 pen names, and I have no problem adding a 5th or a 6th if it comes down to it.

  10. Pen names are useful for any number of reasons, even to non-professional writers like me. I started using “William Ockham” many years ago because my real surname is unique (i.e. no one shares it besides me, my wife, and my five children) which makes it really easy to find through a search engine. At the time, I was posting my professionally controversial opinions under my real name and my politically controversial opinions under the Ockham pen name. Because some of the places where I posted political opinions had higher search engine rank than the technical blogs I was posting to, I wanted to ensure that potential clients found my opinions about software architecture.

    When I became a corporate employee, I gradually stopped posting about professional topics and started posting almost completely under the Ockham pen name. Now, due to my participation here, I’m in the odd position of starting a business associated with the Ockham pen name more than with my real name.

    • I’m actually really unlucky for similar reasons. My real name is not rare, but there is a super famous religious writer with it too. He’s dead and I’ve out written him long ago, but most of his work is five star level. It makes it a little hard to reach the top, unless one sorts by Kindle.

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