Dean Wesley Smith

No One Buys New Writers

9 May 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the third biggest myth to hit indie writers is this:

No One Will Pay Good Money for an Unknown Writer’s Work. (So a new writer should make his or her work cheaper because it’s worth less.)

. . . .

Fact: Every writer started off as a new writer. (I know, shock.)

Fact: Every new writer who sold to traditional publishing for the first time in the last hundred years was paid decent, good, or fantastic money. Why? Because the gatekeepers thought they could sell a lot of copies of (you guessed it) an Unknown Writer.

Fact: A 100,000 word mystery from an Unknown Writer, when traditional publishing sells it, is priced EXACTLY at the same price as similar-sized novel from a bestselling writer. Price in old traditional publishing was based on printing and shipping costs and the size of the book and how many would fit in a sales and a bunch of other factors, including shipping cartons.

Fact:  Not once in the last one hundred years did any traditional publisher price a new writer’s book lower because the writer was unknown. (Nope, they priced it because of printing costs.)

Fact: All writers are insecure.

. . . .

While traditional publishers were fighting and breaking laws to not allow Amazon to lower e-book prices to $9.99 because it was shockingly too low, new indie writers were pricing their brand new novels at 99 cents because it couldn’t be any good since they were new writers.

And thus this myth got started.

A bunch of us were fighting the trend and getting kicked for it by shouting to indie publishing writers to not cheapen their own books, just price slightly less than traditional.

And since a lot of us saw electronic books replacing mass market paperbacks, our suggestions were to price novels and collections in the same price range as mass market paperbacks. $4.99 to $7.99.  Far under what New York traditional publishers thought was too low (back then and still in most cases).

But insecure writers (given price control) just won’t believe that anyone will pay a decent amount of money for their book. So the novels they spent a long time writing go into the 99 cent discount bin, the perma-free bin, or the $2.99 price.

. . . .

Since my wife has some open pen names, I’m going to mention her name here. She writes romance under the names Kristine Grayson and Kris DeLake. She writes mystery under Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kris Rusch, and Kris Nelscott. All her science fiction is under Kristine Kathryn Rusch. With me, she wrote five media novels under Sandy Schofield. With me, she did a bunch of movie tie-in novels under the name Kathryn Wesley. And there are others.

All of those pen names won or were nominated for awards and sold thousands and thousands of copies per book.

So she was a new writer with all those names at one point or another.


She sold all those books and started all those brand new names because she’s a great storyteller and liked to write across genres.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Books into Stores

17 May 2013

From Dean Wesley Smith:

For indie writers, print runs are a puzzle because they have never thought in print runs. Indie writers think in sales up to a point. How many sales this week, this month, for this book total? Print run thinking just never comes up.

And for traditional writers and publishers, it’s impossible to not think in print runs, since that made-up number controls everything from author advance to the purchase of the next book to cover copy and art and sales and tours and you name it.

. . . .

Last fall, every bookstore owner I talked to told me about how the major wholesalers such as Baker & Taylor and Ingrams had special codes on the POD books and that the standard discounts were limited to 5% no returns. Not much chance at all an indie publisher could sell a book to a bookstore with those discounts.

. . . .

The major distributors had killed most of the walls between indie published books and traditionally published books.

In other words, if you buy the $10 ISBN that puts your company name on the book in CreateSpace and put it into the extended distribution program, it will appear on the listings of Ingrams, B&T, and other distributors right beside a Simon & Schuster book or a Bantam book.

And the discounts the bookstore will get will range from 5% to 43% plus bonuses for paying quickly. And the discounts are set by the bookstore’s account, credit history, amount of orders, and so on.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to William for the tip.

Publishing Reversion Clauses

16 March 2013

From Dean Wesley Smith:

When and how do you get your book back?

. . . .

On a standard traditional publishing contract these days (in the States), you are signing over the rights in the contract for “the life of the copyright.” Now, under contract law in the States, a contract must have a firm end date, and this has been tested to be a firm end date. 70 years past the death of the author. Firm amount of time, so legal.

So the publisher is trying to get most rights to your book for your life, your kid’s life, and into the old age of your great-grand kids. Head-shaking, but true. (In other words, if you live for 50 more years, the contract could be good for 120 years. The same as if someone had signed a contract in 1893.)

Why do they need or want this? Because a license for a copyright is a form of property. And has value to the bottom line of corporation accounting ledgers.

. . . .

Now stop and think about that for a moment. The copyright license you signed over in your contract has value, so why should they just give it back to you?

Starting to see the problem? Pretend you bought a rental property. It is part of your net worth. Would you want to just give it back to the seller because they asked even though you paid money for the property and your contract says you don’t have to? Not likely.

. . . .

But wait, you say!!! (I can hear you.)  Right there, in my contract, is a reversion clause that allows me, under certain conditions, to get my book transferred back to me so that I can get it back into print indie publishing or resell it to another publisher.

On the surface it seems that way. And that land for sale in Florida looks great as well in those pictures.

Under all contracts I have seen lately, that reversion clause is phrased in such a fashion that almost no circumstance would ever allow that property to leave the corporate balance sheet. At least for the life of the copyright.

In other words, you will never see your book again.

. . . .

Also, I want to be clear to all of you traditional-published old-timers out there who keep telling writers this isn’t a problem. This clause in contracts for new writers has changed in the last eight years or so. Kris and I got every book we sold to New York publishers (that we owned) reverted except for one. (Not the work-for-hire books. All the reverted books had contracts done before the changes started.)

These new reversion clauses are one of the major reasons I won’t sign a traditional publishing contract at the moment unless it is a media or work-for-hire, which I don’t expect to ever own.

. . . .

If you have clout, meaning your advance is mid-six figures and up, you can get a termination date on the contract. Many brand names give a publisher ten years which I feel is a fair and decent time. But us normal writers can’t get a termination date on a contract. Most contracts out of Europe have either termination dates or totals sales terminations. Very simple and good for the writer. But most traditional contracts in the States define the termination date as the life of the copyright.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

As long-time visitors to The Passive Voice know, PG believes publishing contracts made for the life of the copyright are ridiculous and unfair.

PG will confirm Dean’s observation that out-of-print provisions in recent New York publishing contracts should more accurately be called never-out-of-print provisions. If you can’t understand the out-of-print clause in your publishing contract, you’ll probably have problems trying to exercise it.

While PG makes some money helping authors get out of lifetime plus 70 year contracts, he thinks the world would be a better place if publishing contracts, like all sorts of other business contracts, ended after a reasonable period of time.

One of the ways that some new small presses are competing for authors is to offer far better publishing contracts than New York offers. Some of these contracts are ending after three years, five years, seven years, ten years. When one of these new model contracts ends, if the author and publisher are both satisfied with the relationship, they can always extend it for several more years.

What a refreshing change! A business relationship continues because both parties are happy with it, not because one of the parties used its superior bargaining and market power to coerce the other into signing an unfair contract.

This is how contracts work in the reality-based business world. The fact that Big Publishing is so much different is yet more evidence of the inbred parochialism that makes that business a sitting duck for Amazon and others.

Crossover Deals from Self-Publishing to Traditional

7 January 2013

From Dean Wesley Smith:

As I have been saying for some time, the indie side of publishing will slowly become a major way into traditional publishing. And a way with power that allows a writer to negotiate a better contract.

But up until this morning I didn’t have any real evidence on that other than a few news articles about the large or different books that started indie and went traditional and a few friends it had happened to.

Then this morning Publishers Marketplace gave out their information about six figure deals in publishing that were reported to them. Combining nonfiction, children’s, and fiction, there were about 300 six figure deals reported to Publisher’s Marketplace. (There were a ton more, of course, since most deals are not reported.)

Then Publisher’s Marketplace followed with the line:

“As everyone knows, originally self-published books made for a number of high-profile crossover deals in 2012–though in total numbers, we recorded 45 such deals in all.”

Of the 300 or so six figure deals that were reported to them in 2012, 45 were from books that started off self-published.

Indie publishing is now a clear route in.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

2012 was the first seemingly stable year in the new normal

20 November 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

In 2012, traditional publishers were in a normal state of flux. They cut warehouses and printing costs as a reaction to reduction of print sales. That move has been expected for decades. They are adding in more ways to get books into electronic editions where more profit-per-unit-sale lives. Just normal “run to the money” thinking of all publishers.

. . . .

Traditional publishers have already started the expected cutting of book lines and mergers. They are also starting new book lines. This will happen at both large and small scales. Smaller publishers will continue to grow into the areas left behind and become big publishers over the years. This has been the nature of publishing for longer than any of us have been alive, so nothing new there at all.

And following the trend that started three or four years ago, they are working to tie down as many writers’ books as possible, and control as many rights. So their contracts in 2012 overall continued to become less and less writer friendly.

. . . .

More and more writers, both new and established, moved to indie publishing in 2012. Or more accurately, electronic publishing of their own work. Very, very few indie publishers bother with paper editions, even though sales of electronic books are around the 25% of all trade sales number, with the remaining amounts being paper.

. . . .

So the indie publishing movement near the end of 2012 is still in some flux, as it should be after only three or so years in this new electronic-added world. Many writers are doing books or backlist titles themselves, but at the same time indie publishing is seeing the early adaptors starting to get discouraged and dropping out.

Again, this is nothing new in publishing. To make a career in publishing, you have to be ready for a long haul, often over decades. Most writers who went indie two years ago didn’t want to do that, didn’t find the “gold” they were promised after a ton of wasted promotion efforts, and have stopped. Nothing unusual at all. Writers starting off and then quitting was always the way it was even when I came into publishing back in the dark ages. Nothing different. But now it’s not quitting after fifty rejections, it’s quitting after three books up and very few sales.

. . . .

Smashwords, the largest distributor of indie work, got faster and cleared out a bunch of bugs in 2012, but still have a horrid accounting system that will eventually drive all but the erotica authors away. But it seems from the outside that Smashwords clearly had a good year even though the Kobo move had to really have hurt them.

. . . .

Agents started spreading the myth in 2011 and increased the push in 2012 that writers needed agents to sell movie deals and overseas deals. A total myth, of course, in this new world of world-wide email. But it helped agents feel relevant to focus on an area that before was only a sidelight for them.

And the traditional publishers still have on their guidelines that you need an agent to sell a book, even though most smart writers have figured out that guideline is just a tissue paper roadblock to ignore. Just like the old “no unsolicited manuscripts” was when I came in.

Also, with traditional publishing contracts getting so nasty over the last four years as publishers made rights grabs, agents can’t negotiate a contract anymore. They are not lawyers. These days you need an IP attorney familiar with publishing contracts to even get close to a decent contract.

This area is the buggy whip area of publishing and I sure can’t see much that will save most agents over the next decade or so.

. . . .

Many large traditional publishers are in the process of setting up direct submission systems. Because of the draconian contracts that take all rights from writers, it is in traditional publishers’ best interests to get as many books headed their way as possible and not stopped by agents. Electronic submissions systems direct to traditional publishers (already going in a number of smaller genre lines) will put the final coffin nail in the agent world. This is happening fast in many major companies and you will start seeing these new systems appear in late 2013 and the year beyond. And that will start killing the “you need an agent to be published” myth.

. . . .

But thankfully, the war between traditionally published writers and indie writers started to sputter in 2012, flared up a few times, and then mostly just vanished as more traditional writers started to work their backlist into indie. There are still a few idiots on the traditional side who flat haven’t bothered to get their heads out of dark places and look around, but they will go away with time. And there are the hotheads on the indie side who look down on traditional published writers. They are usually beginning writers afraid of the larger world.

The main word I heard this last year from writers was “freedom.” It seems that suddenly we all feel free to write what we want, not what we think some editor and sales force might like. That’s great fun and really became a clear force in 2012.

We also have the freedom to not take bad contracts from traditional publishers if we don’t want. That’s a fantastic bargaining chip in a negotiation, so smart writers gained power over the last year. And now writers who care about their work have an option.

“Control” was a word I also heard a great deal from writers in 2012. Control of covers, control of the proofing, control of the quality, control of the rights.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to H.G. for the tip.

What Not to Do as an Author: Promotion

12 October 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I understand I am going to step on a few feelings (called land mines) with this post. If this makes you angry, come and talk to me when you have over a hundred novels published and been making your living with your fiction for over thirty years. At least get past your anger enough to consider what I am talking about. Then ignore it if you want.

So all those warnings done, let me start off with the following summary statement: Promotion can help book sales when done right and for the right reasons.

The problem is, of course, most indie writers only believe the myths of promotion and wouldn’t have a clue on how to do it right. But then the question is: What is the right kind of promotion? I’ll get to that.

. . . .

One day I was at the Pocket Book offices in New York when one of the editors slammed down the phone and made a swearing sound. Someone asked what was wrong and the editor went on about how this author was badgering to have a promotion tour. All of us laughed because the author was just a low-level media writer and a beginner.

Then another editor laughed and said, “Give him a mercy tour and let him discover what it is like to sit alone in a bookstore for a few hours.”

That was the first time I had heard that term “mercy tour” spoken out loud. But not the last. Basically it means let the author go to some bookstores, have a publicist at the company spend an hour or so to set up a few things. The reason it was called a “mercy tour” was to get the author out of the hair of the editor. It would not sell one extra copy of the book and everyone knew it, but it made the baby author happy. And it allowed the editor some breathing room from the annoying author. (Mercy for the editor.)

. . . .

So first, some things to NOT DO as an author.

1… DO NOT do bookmarks or any such flyer garbage with just the author name on it. Authors do not sell books. Publishers sell books.

2… DO NOT post more than once per week, at most, about your new book on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media site. All you do it annoy your friends. And then post only if you have something interesting to report. People will pay a little attention if you do it that way instead of just tuning you out.

3… DO NOT spend all your time promoting your book through reviewers or bloggers or worrying about bad reviews or even caring about any of that. A complete waste of your time.

4… DO NOT pester bookstores for signings or things like that unless they come to you and ask you to be part of something they are doing. Otherwise, as an author, LEAVE THEM ALONE!

5… DO NOT blog about writing or your writing process. No real book buyer cares. If you must blog, write about the content of your books. If you are doing books with cooking, blog about cooking. And so on. Otherwise, don’t blog. Again a huge waste of time.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

The Seasons of Publishing

22 September 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

For a very, very long time in the publishing industry, everything concerning selling was divided into three seasons: Fall, winter and spring.

There were numbers of reasons for only having three seasons in publishing. The most important was that it took time for sales reps to go out to all the stores and sell the books to the stores and drugstores and newsstands. Often the early sales reps covered vast distances and serviced many, many accounts.

With each season came sales conferences, when editors used to present to the sales forces their lists of books. These conferences were done by each company and often covered an entire week. And it often took editors weeks to prepare for the conference.

. . . .

A number of factors played into this fact of the missing summer season besides the ability of the sales force to hit all their accounts in three months instead of four. One factor was air-conditioning. When I first came into publishing, it was common knowledge and “New York” (meaning traditional publishing) shut down in August. Sure, in the 1970s there was air-conditioning. But the tradition of shutting down still remained from the 1950s and back.

. . . .

But the second major reason for no summer catalog and sales season for the publishers was that it was known that the lowest time for buying books by customers was May through the middle of September.

. . . .

If you look at your own life, the answer to that question should be clear. Graduation, nice weather, sports, kids are out of school, kids are going back to school, and so on and so on…

Do major publishers still release books every month? Yup. And often the bestseller game works wonders when a book is released into a known dead week or month, allowing the book to hit a bestseller list with far, far fewer copies than it would take in say October or November or early December.

But the books released into the summer downturn of sales are expected to sell less. That’s just the business.

. . . .

So here are my suggestions to indie writers and publishers.

1) Focus only on learning and writing the next book.

2) Check your numbers when the money gets deposited every month and no more.

3) Expect your overall sales to go down from May 15 to September 15 unless you push in new titles or do something else to change your list.

The summer is a great time to push in new titles because they will be solidly in the system, throughout the world, as we go into the fall book-buying season. So if you do anything in the summer, get new titles up.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Reading Paper or E-Books

14 August 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This nifty graphic shows the recent trends and backs up what I have been saying now for some time about paper and ebooks.

Note the 88% who have read an ebook have also read a paper book.

. . .

As I have been shouting for some time now, paper is not going away. . .

Link to the rest (and the nifty graphic!) at

Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time

6 August 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

 I started noticing how indie writers shoot themselves in the foot as far as sales. And not just once, but often so many times that it guaranteed that no sane reader (past family and friends) would pick up their book.

And they did it all purposefully. And were often very proud of the fact that they did what they did, having no idea what their decisions were doing to their sales.

I call that “Shooting Yourself in the Foot.”

You hold the gun, you aim at your own foot, you pull the trigger. You have no one to blame but yourself when you indie publish.

So, let me detail out a few of the “shots” I have seen indie writers take at their own feet lately.

Shot #1

Tiny little author name on the cover, sometimes hidden in some part of the very busy artwork.

It has been proven over and over and over that author names sell books. So an indie writer has ten books out, which means that if someone manages to find one of the author’s books, the reader wants to look for other books by the same author. And how does  the reader do that????

Author name.

I was looking for an indie author the other day who had a list of twenty books. I scanned right past the author’s books because the author’s name was so tiny on the covers, in thumbnail it couldn’t be read.

. . . .

Wrong genre on cover design.

Folks, I hate to tell you this, (and I made this mistake early on as well) but covers need to scream genre. For example, I had a book I did called “On Top of the Dead” which was a pure science fiction story with aliens and everything. So what did I do to make sure it didn’t sell?  I put the lower half of a dead body in a street on the cover, making it look like a literary mystery. And, of course, it didn’t sell much. I just redid the cover putting alien spaceships hovering over New York City on the cover instead. Duh…

And genre in fonts.

The types of fonts on a cover will shout to readers about the genre. Put a romance font on a science fiction book and trust me, you ain’t going to sell many copies. Start learning fonts.

And genre in blurbs.

For heaven’s sake, if you call your book a romance, it needs to have a complete focus on the romance, must have girl meets boy, must have issues, and must live happily-ever-after in the ending. And that needs to be clear in the blurb. The blurb must be focused on the romance, not on the murder that brings the two together.

. . . .

Shot #4

All your books look different, even if they are in the same genre or series.

A good friend of mine is having this problem, causing bad sales.  His name floats all over the covers, different sizes, his art is all different, his fonts are all different from book to book. He now understands what he did wrong and is fixing it. Here is how this shot works to not only blow off a toe, but kill almost all sales.

A reader finds a copy of a book and reads it and likes it, so goes to look for more work by the same author, and finds a ton of books that all look different. What happens?

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Fiction River

4 August 2012

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith are starting a new original fiction anthology series, Fiction River, based on successful anthology series of the past, from Orbit to Universe to Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.

Kris and Dean are funding Fiction River via Kickstarter.

Kris and Dean are not only very experienced in the publishing business, they’ve also provided invaluable advice to new authors – indie and traditional – through their blogs.

PG says you should check out Kris and Dean’s  Kickstarter Project.

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