Showing posts with label Dean Wesley Smith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean Wesley Smith. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 24

Dean Wesley Smith: How To Write And Have Fun

Dean Wesley Smith: How To Write And Have Fun

Another great post from Dean Wesley Smith! This time Dean gives us 10 ways to write and have fun while doing it: The New World of Publishing: Having Fun.

1. Dare to be bad

If you find yourself getting halfway through manuscripts then abandoning them perhaps the problem is that you're thinking too much about what other people will think about your manuscript.

If that's happening, the solution is to write the kind of story you want to write, no matter what your writer friends will think of it.

In other words:

Follow Heinlein's Rules, just as he wrote them. (Robert Sawyer has written a great blog post about Heinlein's Rules which takes things from a slightly different perspective.)

This means writing a story and sending it out when it's finished. Don't put it through a workshop, just send it out. As Robert Sawyer writes:
"And although many beginners don't believe it, Heinlein is right: if your story is close to publishable, editors will tell you what you have to do to make it salable. Some small-press magazines do this at length, but you'll also get advice from Analog, Asimov's, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction." (On Writing)
Dean Wesley Smith agrees:
"Stop caring what other people think. Stop showing your work to workshops. Just finish and publish and never look at numbers or reviews or anything."

2. Learn what works for you

You've heard this before: Every writer is different, what works for one, often doesn't work for another.

What you might not have heard is that each book is different. Neil Gaiman said this in his wonderful hour-long chat with Connie Willis at World Fantasy 2011 (thanks Kim for the link!).

Learn what works for you, for this story. Be creative and be open to change. And trust yourself.

You don't know when to let your stories go and either send them out to editors/publishers or publish them yourself. As a result you hang onto your stories too long, rewriting them until your voice has been written out and the piece has all the interest and vitality of cardboard. Dean says that this strengthens your critical voice and hampers your creative voice.

Understand what works for you, for this book, and realize that your voice is unique. That's good, that's what you want. Some folks won't like your voice. That's fine.

Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds has a unique voice and it's not everybody's cup of tea. That's okay. He's doing fine, as will you.

You need to develop your voice and find your niche. And you aren't going to do any of that if you keep re-writing your stories until they sound like everyone else's!

3. You don't have to outline

Some folks are pantsers not plotters. If you're a pantser, that's fine. That's great!

Don't try and make yourself be something you're not.

Myself, I'm more of a plotter than a pantser, but sometimes I won't outline, especially with my shorter stories. If I feel something's missing, I can outline after I've written it and look at the structure to see if I have to add a scene, take something away, add a character, etc.

When you outline your story you lose all interest. Writing is as interesting as watching paint dry.

Don't outline! There's nothing wrong with outlining, but if it's not working for you try winging it.


Remember, each book is different. Don't think that just because you wrote the last book one way that you have to write your current book the exact same way.

4. Your story is a book, not an event.

In April, Kris Rusch wrote a terrific post called, Book as Event. If you haven't read it and want to publish your writing, I highly recommend it.

Kris Rusch writes:
Finishing the first novel had felt like a fluke. I managed to get it done and it felt daunting. The second novel felt less daunting, but much more important.

Before I had believed that if I could do it once, then I could do it again. After I finished the second book, I knew I could do it again. And proceeded to do so more than a hundred times. (Believe me, that number freaks me out more than it freaks you out. Seriously.)

Finishing my first novel had been an event. A mountain climbed. A life goal achieved. It felt more important to finish than it did to publish the book. And the second novel, well, it felt even more important.

It did feel on par with giving birth to a wanted child.

Now, not so much. I’m still proud when I finish a novel, pleased at myself, pleased that something I imagined has become reality. But I also know there are more novels to write and more stories to tell and so much more to do. I’m actually more afraid of dying before I can finish writing all the projects I carry around in my head, and those projects increase exponentially as each year goes on. (See my Popcorn Kittens post. You’ll understand.)

Books sometimes are events and sometimes they aren’t. Before the rise of indie publishing, prolific writers understood this. (Book as Event)
Dean Wesley Smith writes:
"Books and stories are not events, they are just stories. Entertainment. Nothing more.  But if you believe a book or a story is an event, it takes on a huge level of “Importance” to you and thus that book or story is almost impossible to let go of, or stop working on."
You're having a hard time moving onto your next book because you're discouraged by your previous books performance.

Realize that a book isn't an event.


Write a lot.

As you write you'll get better and you'll develop a readership.

Dean goes on to talk about other points, but these four resonated with me, especially the first.

Dean ends by writing:
I sit alone in a room and make stuff up.
That’s my job description.
. . . .
Readers now decide if they like my story or not, not some editor. And I can write as much or as little as I want without anyone yelling at me.
And I can make my books look exactly as I want them to look.
But most importantly, I can entertain myself.
I have thousands and thousands of choices now with my writing.
I have control and I have freedom.
And for me, all that is great fun.
Go have fun.
You heard him, go have fun. Go write!

(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Dean's article, Having Fun.)

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, July 5

How To Publish 52 Short Stories And 10 Collections Per Year

How To Publish 52 Short Stories And 10 Collections Per Year

This is another terrific article by Dean Wesley Smith, this time on how to make your stories visible: The New World of Publishing: Helping Readers Find Your Work.

The Plan:

1. Pick a genre.

2. Write one short story a week.

3. Each short story should be around 5,000 words.

4. Brand each book.

5. Publish each short story as an ebook and charge $2.99.

6. Every 5 weeks bundle 5 stories together into a collection. Sell this collection as both an ebook and a POD book. Sell the ebook for $6.99 and the POD book for $12.99.

If you take DWS's advice at the end of the year you'll have 52 short stories and 10 collections.

Not bad!

How To Make A Living Writing Short Stories

Dean Wesley Smith writes that the key to selling books is threefold: Produce a professional looking book, brand each book and have many titles available for purchase.

Produce a professional looking book

There are hundreds of articles out there on what it means to produce a professional looking book and how you can do that so I won't cover it again here. (If you're looking for some help, here's an article on where to find cover artists.)

Make sure each book looks professional, has a good description, has appropriate keywords and has been slotted in the right category. 

Brand each book

A brand is the "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's product distinct from those of other sellers" (Wikipedia).

I'm not going to talk much about branding because there are oodles of great articles out there (for instance, Why Content Marketing is the New Branding).

Especially in this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Look at Dean Wesley Smith's Books. (Note: You might have to scroll down the page.) Notice how his name is laid out in the same way on each book; the same styling, the same font.

DWS writes that you want all your books, especially the ones in a series, to look similar. Also, make sure that the cover conveys a sense of the genre you're writing in. Think of the cover of your average romance book and contrast that with horror.

Have many titles available for purchase

That is, have many titles under the same name (/pen name) and genre available for purchase. If you write everything from romance to horror under the same name (/pen name) make sure that the books within each genre are branded distinctively.

How many books should one have for sale? DWS says: It depends. Between 10 and 50, give or take. (grin)

And remember, that's 10 to 50 books within the same genre written by the same author (/pen name).

#  #  #

The above represents only a portion of his article, I recommend heading on over to DWS's blog and reading the whole thing.


Photo credit: "Happy Fourth of July 2013!" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, June 3

Dean Wesley Smith On What Makes Writing Fun

I love Dean Wesley Smith's posts--especially the mini series he did as he wrote a 70,000 word book in 10 days--but I have a feeling this one is going to be my all-time favorite: Success, Failure, and Caring: A Personal Note.

Ignore The Bad Reviews, The Rejections

In Success, Failure and Caring Dean talks about what makes writing fun for him and how he can ignore the bad reviews and the rejections. Dean writes:
So as a way of helping readers of this blog understand the type of person I am, why I can take the risks, ignore the bad reviews and rejections, and fight through the down times, I want to tell you a short, but personal story that few know. I think it is illustrative of how the ability to just not fear failure is part of my nature, a nature that has allowed me to keep taking chances with writing and publishing.

And how that ability, my very nature, colors everything I write here.
I've heard of students putting themselves through college by waitressing, or working at a supermarket--one student I knew paid for her tuition by being a mail carrier.

Dean, though, put himself through college by playing poker. That's right, by being a professional gambler!

This is what Dean says in one of the comments:
[M]y attitude from a very early age (and I have no idea where it came from) was that I could never see a reason to do any kind of job I didn’t like. Of course, I was broke many times over my life, and homeless a couple of times, but strangely enough, I never once put together a resume for a job. (I wouldn’t begin to know how to do that.) I just always had the attitude that if it wasn’t fun or worthwhile or educational, why bother.

Now, this attitude will cause friends and family no end of grief, especially early on when they think you are wasting your life and your (evil word) potential. And it drove a couple of wives nuts along the way as well. (grin) Kris now, after twenty-seven years, just laughs and says, “That’s just Dean.” The reason we are still together after 27 years I suspect. (grin)

Do I think other people in the real world should be like me. Oh, heavens, No! But do I think writers should learn how to let go of the fears with their own writing, focus on learning to be better writers, focus on having fun with their writing. Oh, heavens, Yes!
I've sort of jumped the gun by putting Dean's comment up there, before you hear his story, but it was too good to bury.

Dean's Story

Here's Dean's story:
So I ... caught a ride with three great guys heading for Lovelock, Nevada, in an old Volkswagon van.  When they dropped me in Lovelock, (south of Winnemucca) it was about two in the morning.  I went into the only open hotel and casino on the main street of town and asked how much a room was. I really, really wanted a shower and some sleep. But rooms cost $45.00 and I couldn’t talk the guy down into giving me one for $20 for just a few hours.

So I wondered over into the small casino, bought myself a candy bar and a soda with the change I had, leaving me with $22.00. Then I stood against a pole and watched the only blackjack table going. A single-deck game with a sloppy dealer who didn’t shuffle well and only one drunk customer playing dollar chips sitting in the last chair.

The pit boss came over and talked to me after a bit. Friendly guy, so we talked about me headed back to school and that I had gotten road weary and needed a break. (I never told him I was hitchhiking. I let him think I was driving.) I seem to remember he had a kid going to college in Reno. It was that kind of conversation and he didn’t seem to mind me standing there. He was facing a long, boring night, and I was a distraction.

All the while we were talking, I was watching the table and the cards. And when the deck turned in the player’s favor after a bad shuffle and the drunk taking some of the bad cards off the top of the new shuffle, I shrugged at the pit boss, said I might as well spend something, before heading back out onto the road. I got out my last twenty bucks and sat down.

At that point the deck had gone to a dreamed-of level where I had about a 60% advantage on the house, which meant, in reality, I would win 6 out of 10 hands under normal conditions, played over a million hands. The dealer changed my last twenty into chips and I put five bucks on the line.

I lost the first hand, put out another five. The deck was even better now. (That means it was filled to the brim with face cards and aces.)

I won the next five or six hands in a row, doubling up on some of my bets and all the time laughing with the pit boss and talking about his kid. He had no clue I was counting the deck. When I had exactly seventy bucks and the dealer went to shuffle again, I pulled my winnings. “Oh second thought, I’m too tired to go any farther. I think I’ll get a room and get a few hours sleep before heading on.”

The pit boss laughed and told me that was a good and smart idea, gave me a chit that cut ten bucks off my room. I tipped him five, paid for the room, slept until eight, had a great breakfast and hit the road again, making it to my mom’s house outside of Boise by dark. And with more money then when I had left Reno.

I could have just as easily have lost $15 of that twenty, spent a cold night on the street, bought a light breakfast with the remaining money. That was the risk I took. But I had a skill and I understood the chances and the risks and I was willing to take the chance and the risk for the reward of a hotel room and a shower.
Now that's a great story!

Don't Worry About Failure, Just Write What You Love

You might be wondering what it has to do with writing. Dean continues:
[O]nce I finally applied that same attitude to my writing in 1982, after really understanding Heinlein’s Rules, I have had little or no problems. Sure, my career has crashed a couple of times, but I’ve also had fantastic years, one year alone I published fourteen novels. Sure, I’ve had books tank and bad reviews, but I’ve also had wonderful reviews and have sold over eight million copies of my books to wonderful readers. Sure, I’ve been rejected more times than I care to think about or count, but I’ve sold more stuff than I can almost count as well. [Emphasis mine]
.  .  .  .
When you step back and look at everything, the risk with this writing business is little, the choices are many, and the fun is great. I will write some great stories and some stinkers, I’m sure, as time goes on. But what does that matter? The readers will let me know one way or another. For me, now, what is important is having fun with the writing.
.  .  .  .
And why do you think I remember that incident way back in the early 1970s? Because even though I was risking a cold night on the street, I was having fun with the risk.

Just as I have fun every time I type in a new title and start a new story that I have no idea where it is going or if it will work.

I always do the best I can and failure is always an option. The key is to train yourself with your writing to just not care.

Enjoy the hand, enjoy the play.
THAT's the attitude to have.

Life's not a stage, it's a poker game. (grin)

Dean's article is well worth the read.

Photo credit: "behold the mask" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, May 18

The Key To Being A Productive Writer: Prioritize

The Key To Being A Productive Writer: Prioritize

Writing 3,000 words a day is hard.

I can just imagine Dean Wesley Smith shaking his head saying, "You think writing three hours a day is hard work?!"

Well, no. Writing for three hours a day is, to a certain extent, the easy part. After all, I already wrote about 1,000 words of non-fiction and 1,000 words of fiction a day.

There's also--I'm not going to say 're-writing'--but there is editing. At least there is for me. That's another two hours a day. Then there's my blog--two posts a day takes about four hours. Sorting through and answering my email, reading other blogs, keeping up with Twitter, all that takes another two hours.

Lately I've put aside an hour a day to do nothing but read, but--necessary though it is--that is time I'm not writing.

These past few days I've become acutely aware that I spend most of my working day on things that, while good and productive in their own way, keep me from putting my butt in my chair and writing fiction.

But that has changed, which is why I didn't blog at all yesterday: I was busy writing.

I've decided I need to make some sacrifices. One of these is that I won't be blogging twice a day anymore. To be honest, I'm not completely sure how much I'll be blogging. I've been thinking about writing a post a day, or perhaps five posts a week like Chuck Wendig.

Speaking of Chuck Wendig, this is really his fault, him and Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch. Actually, Kris started it all by mentioning she wrote one million words in 2012.

One million!

The thought boggled me. I imagined Kris sitting at her computer typing away in a blue bodysuit with a red "W" on the front and a red cape falling gracefully from her shoulders. In my imagination I gave her the name: Superwriter.

Then recently Chuck Wendig revealed that he, too, is a member of the one million words a year club. That's 3,000 words a day, each and every day.

My first thought was that it would be hard never having a day off.

But then I did something Dean Wesley Smith is always encouraging writers to do (see here, here and here) and I ran the numbers.

Guess what I found? Assuming that one's books are moderately successful (and that's a BIG if), if one writes a million words a year, chances are good that, at the end of five years, a writer can make a reasonable living.

Now, I'm not saying that one has to write a million words a year for five years to make a reasonable living as a writer.

Not at all!

One or more of your books could be a bestseller, and if that book is part of a series then chances are you'll be well on your way to making a decent living.

But hoping that one's books will be bestsellers is a much bigger IF than hoping each of one's books does moderately well. Thus my goal of writing a million words a year for the next five years.

Yes, folks, that's the goal! Whether I'll end up doing that, I don't know, but I'm certainly going to try.

It's difficult re-aligning one's life, one's priorities, so that can happen. It takes time, and it has been difficult for me to decide what to let go. I'm not letting go of this blog, I find it too rewarding, on a personal level as well as a professional one. I've learnt so much. Both through my own research and from your many insightful comments.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that this will be a learning process for me and I hope you will forgive me if I don't post as much as I used to.

And, by all means, if you would like to see a post on a certain topic, please leave a comment or contact me here.

I'll be sure to keep you updated on how it's going.


Other articles you might like:

- Indie Writers Can Now Get Their Books Into Bookstores
- What Do Aaron Sorkin, Stealing, And Advice About Writing Have In Common?
- 4 Ways Outlining Can Give A Writer Confidence

Photo credit: "London Calling #5" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, April 28



Today I'd like to talk about Cliffhangers.

I've been reading Dean Wesley Smith's mini-series about ghost writing a 70,000 word novel in 10 days. (And he's doing it! It's day 9 and he has less than 8,000 words to go.)

One thing Dean has talked about are cliffhangers. He doesn't outline--he's not saying writers shouldn't, just that it's not his style--but he does try and end chapters on cliffhangers.

That got me wondering, What exactly is a cliffhanger and what different kinds are there?

What Is A Cliffhanger?

Here's what Wikipedia has to say:
A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. A cliffhanger is hoped to ensure the audience will return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma. (Cliffhanger, Wikipedia) (a great but addictive website) adds that the cliffhanger can involve "some or all of the main characters" (Cliffhangers).

Basically, a cliffhanger is when a character your audience cares about is put in jeopardy and left there. At least for a short time. Perhaps you put the cliffhanger at the end of a scene, or the end of a chapter, or the end of an act. You can put it in anywhere there some sort of a pause, break, in the action. Then you have the obligation to resolve the cliffhanger when the story resumes.

I read once that in the early days of European theater, playwrights started using cliffhangers before a scene change so audience members would return! A cliffhanger is another way of making folks care about what happens next, care enough to, hopefully, turn the page.

What Makes A Great Cliffhanger?

As TV Tropes notes, a great cliffhanger will have you on the edge of your seat screaming, "What happens next?!" But how do we, as writers, craft that?

The following advice comes from Martin Ralya, in his wonderful article Key to a Good Cliffhanger. Although Martin was thinking of paper and pencil gaming when he wrote this, storytelling is storytelling. Martin writes:
The key to a good cliffhanger is ending your session on a pause in the action, not right in the thick of it.

That may seem counterintuitive at first, but it’s actually pretty easy to implement. Let’s tackle this tip with a classic example: a big battle.
A climactic battle might break down into five segments:
  1. Opening skirmishes
  2. Major wave of enemy attacks
  3. Wave of attacks is repulsed
  4. More skirmishing
  5. Final showdown with the Big Bad
Assuming that the PCs [Player Characters] are heavily involved in segments 3 and 5 (the two most important parts of the battle), you should put your cliffhanger right before segment 5. (If you put it in 1, 2 or 4, that wouldn’t be a cliffhanger.)

Kinds Of Cliffhangers

There isn't just one kind of cliffhanger since there are many ways to put one's main characters in peril.

In her engaging article, Cliffhangers, Anne M. Leone writes:
My go-to resource on most plot-related things is the wonderfully organized and helpful Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Bell has created a list of nine different types of cliffhanger endings (or as he calls them, Read On Prompts):

Impending disaster
Dangerous emotions
Mysterious dialogue
Secret revealed
Major decision / vow
Announcement of a shattering event
Reversal / surprise
Question left in the air
Anne gives a lot of great examples of Cliffhangers from literature. Her article is definitely worth the read. TV Tropes mentions the Bolivian arm ending. This is probably a kind of impending disaster cliffhanger (the first one on James Bell's list), but I'll include it here anyway. If you have time, investigate some of the links in the quotation, lots of great information there.

Bolivian army ending

A Bolivian Army Ending occurs when the main characters face seemingly insurmountable odds which, for once, they fail to surmount, although their ultimate doom is sometimes left to the audience's imagination. The trope is named for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which ends with the two heroes surrounded by seemingly the entire Bolivian army (more likely just a company of riflemen) after escaping from the States. They could surrender, but instead they choose to come out all guns blazing. The film ends just as they do so, and we never see them die. ...

Nowadays, thanks to Conservation of Ninjutsu, there is a 99% chance that any character caught in a Bolivian Army Ending would survive if the incident took place earlier in the film. (Bolivian army ending)
A Conservation of Ninjutsu is a principle that states:
In any martial arts fight, there is only a finite amount of ninjutsu available to each side in a given encounter. As a result, one Ninja is a deadly threat, but an army of them are cannon fodder. (Conservation of Ninjutsu)
But there's more:
... the Bolivian Army Cliffhanger, can be used in TV shows and other serial media to raise the audience's tension over which characters survive to the next season or installment. See Uncertain Doom for scenarios in which a character's fate is left hanging in the middle of a work, season or installment rather than at the end.

Can be considered a variation of a Downer Ending, although it's ambiguous enough to give the viewer/reader some hope. When the camera cuts to a different scene unrelated to the battle right before the work ends, this overlaps with Charge Into Combat Cut.

Examples Of Cliffhangers

For examples of cliffhangers, see the bottom of TV Tropes post on Cliffhangers. Here is a link to some examples of cliffhangers in film.

I don't use cliffhangers enough in my own work, that's something I need to do more research on. I'm going to spend some time going over these examples and thinking about the different sorts, categories, of cliffhangers one could use.

Question: Do you use cliffhangers in your own work? What is your favorite cliffhanger in literature, TV, film or the theater?

Other articles you might like:

- New Minimum Length For Ebooks On Amazon: 2500 Words
- Word Processing Apps For Writing On The Go
- Dean Wesley Smith, Harlan Ellison, The Internet, and Writing A Book In 10 Days

Photo link: "crisp way" by fRandi-Shooters under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, April 26

Dean Wesley Smith, Harlan Ellison, The Internet, and Writing A Book In 10 Days

Writing A Book In 10 Days

I've been reading Dean Wesley Smith's miniseries of blogs where he publishes a running log of his progress as he writes a 70,000 word book in 10 days.

One draft.

With no outline.

When I first blogged about what Dean was doing I wasn't sure whether I was reading between the lines correctly but he has confirmed, over and over again, that he has no idea where he is going with the story, not even a rough sketch.

For instance Susan asked:
... do you have an end in mind when you start writing? As in, you know you’ll be in San Francisco at the end of your trip, but you don’t know if you’ll take a plane or a camel?
Dean replied:
Suzan, No. Not a clue, no idea, don’t care where it ends up. I’m just writing to entertain myself, just as a reader is entertained by reading a book. Do you, as a reader, need the ending before you start reading? Of course not. Why is everyone so surprised I don’t need it either.

Wow, this is teaching me a lot about some myths I knew existed, just didn’t think were very deep. I was wrong. (grin) I have no idea why anyone would read a book if they already knew everything that was going to happen in the book just as I have clearly little understanding of why any writer writes a book they already know all the details about. I had to do that under contract a couple of times and those were the worst and hardest for me. (Ghost Novel: Day 2, Comments)
Did your jaw hit the floor? Mine did!

Harlan Ellison

I was thinking about Dean's mini-marathon this morning and it hit me. Dean is doing a Harlan Ellison.

In one of Dean's posts, he wrote:
... many of you know that over the decades he [Harlan Ellison] has tried to prove this point* (and many others) to people. He would go into a bookstore, have someone give him a title or idea, then on a manual typewriter, he would sit in the bookstore window and write a short story, taping the finished pages on the window for everyone to read. He never rewrote any of those stories. He fixed a typo or two, but that’s it. And many of those stories won major awards in both science fiction and mystery. All first draft, written fast, in a window while people watched every word.

I know, I was going to publish a three-volume set of these award-winning stories written in public back when I was doing Pulphouse Publishing, but alas, he was still writing them, a new one almost every other week at that point, and the book never got out before we shut down. He’s done enough since then to fill two more books at least.

Every writer is different. I would have a tough time doing what Harlan does, but alas, it does prove the point that rewriting does not necessarily make a story better. And when you win as many awards in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and mainstream fiction as Harlan has, you can argue with him. But trust me, if you are rewriting everything to death, that will never happen [emphasis mine]. (Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Rewriting)
* That one should only rewrite to editorial demand and, even then, only if you agreed with the demand.

That quotation was taken from a post Dean made in 2009. There he writes, "I would have a tough time doing what Harlan does" but I think that's essentially what Dean is doing, ghostwriting a book in 10 days while positing a running log of his efforts.

Instead of onlookers peering through the windows of a bookstore he has us, the denizens of the internet, and instead of a bookstore, he has his blog.

Same idea, different tools.

Heinlein's Rules of Writing

Dean Wesley Smith often refers to Robert A. Heinlein's rules of writing. And with good reason, countless writers have attributed their professional success to them. That said, I'm not suggesting  there are hard-and-fast rules to writing, rules everyone must follow. As with everything, take what works for you, leave the rest.

But perhaps Heinlein's final rule needs to be--not changed--expanded, clarified, for the independent/self-published author. Here are Heinlein's rules:

1. You must write.
2. Finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. You must keep your story on the market until it has sold.

In Heinlein's day putting one's work on the market meant sending it to editors or agents. Today those options are still available but we also have the opportunity to publish our work ourselves. In that light, here are some questions:

- What if the story never sells? Leave it up forever? Wouldn't that be a bit like displaying a black-eye that never healed?

- Should independent authors market their work? If yes, should we wait until we have a certain amount of work on the market--say, 10 books or anthologies--or should we start with the very first one?

I'm sure there are countless other questions. I don't have answers, although I do favor the idea of holding off on expensive or time-consuming marketing efforts until a writer has been able to put a significant amount of their work up for sale.

Of course, each of us is unique and so no set of rules, even rules as wonderful and wise as Heinlein's, fits us all.

Thanks for reading!

Other articles you might like:

- Prada Writing Contest: Winner receives 5,000 Euros
- Getting Story Ideas
- 6 Tips On How To Read Critically

Photo credit: "The Bird Watchers" by psyberartist under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, April 20

Dean Wesley Smith Writes A Novel In 10 Days

How Dean Wesley Smith Writes A Novel In 10 Days

Writing A Novel In 10 Days

That's right. Dean Wesley Smith is writing a novel in 10 days!

If you're boggled by that--and I was the first time I read it--Dean discusses what he calls "fast writing" here: Writing Fast.

In Writing Fast, Dean says he believes that "the quality of the final product has no relationship to the speed, method, or feeling of the writer while writing." Therefore whether he took a year to finish the book or only 10 days, the quality would be the same.

But not only is he going to write the novel in 10 days he is also going to only do one draft. He writes:
I hope to write the book (70,000 words) in 7 to 10 days and then turn it in to the publisher. One draft. (The Ghost Novel Writing Is On For Next Week)
To find out about Dean's views on Rewriting see Rewriting Part Two.

How One Professional Writer Prepares To Write A Novel

In his first log I noticed Dean talked a bit about how he gets organized to write a novel and that's something I've always wanted to hear more about from established writers.

Dean's writing computer is different from his internet computer

Dean has different computers for writing and internet related activities. His writing computer (he has discussed this in other posts) isnt' conneted to the internet so answering email, surfing the web, and so on, won't be a temptation.

I think this is a brilliant idea.

Chapter templates

Dean writes,
1:45 PM… Moved to my writing computer, set up files, set up a chapter template since I keep a different file for every chapter and combine them at the end, then typed in a title, typed in the main character’s name and started writing. 
That's interesting, using a different file for each chapter. I do something similar, but with the help of Scrivener. I've found that having each scene on its own makes structuring and organizing a novel easier.

For instance, sometimes I will write a scene two different ways in an attempt to discover which feels truer to the story and being able to label them "Act 2 Scene 3 Version 1" and "Act 2 Scene 3 Version 2" helps enormously.

Background Information

Dean writes:
5:05 PM… Moved over to my writing computer from my internet computer and decided that before I went too far I needed to start a glossary of terms, character dress, place names and such, so I set that up and put in it the little bits I had done in the first 500 words.
- glossary of terms
- character dress (perhaps character names as well plus tags and traits)
- place names

That's straightforward. 

No Outline

Perhaps I'm burying the lead, but I found it interesting that Dean didn't create an outline previous to sitting down to write.

At least, that's what it seems. He writes:
1:45 PM… Moved to my writing computer, set up files, set up a chapter template since I keep a different file for every chapter and combine them at the end, then typed in a title, typed in the main character’s name and started writing.  I have no idea where this book is going, but to start I paid attention to making up some setting through the character’s eyes and opinions. [Emphasis mine]
At this point at 4:26 in the morning, I’m at 7,625 words for the day. I could go a little farther but this is a ton better than I had hoped for the first day so I’m going to stop and go downstairs with my cat and veg out on some stupid television.

I still have no idea at all where this book is going. Just making it up as I go. But at the same time I’m feeling no worry at the moment either. I have a hunch that will come. (grin) [Emphasis mine]
I guess I'm a plotter rather than a pantser because I'm getting a nervous tick just thinking about sitting down to write a novel in 10 days without an outline!

I'm eagerly looking forward to following Dean's progress. It's not often--in fact, hardly ever--that one gets to look over an authors shoulder as they write. This will be interesting. I just wish I could read the book at the end!

Other articles you might like:

- How To See Through Your Character's Eyes
- 50 Shades Of Grey: The Most Profitable Books Of All Time?
- When Is A Story Ready To Publish?

Photo credit: "Its Always a Journey" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, April 18

When Is A Story Ready To Publish?

When Is A Story Ready To Publish?

Or, to use Kris Rusch's term, when is a story ready to be released into the wild?"

"Into the wild." I like that phrase. It covers a multitude of events: sending your work off to an editor, a contest, that sort of thing, as well as publishing it yourself.

So, how does one determine when one's story is ready?


I feel some folks would say: "When it's perfect."

Let's say you've given your story to beta readers, your plot points are strong, your characters reactions make sense, there are no unfired guns at the end (Chekhov's Gun), and so on.

I guarantee you there are still going to be parts of your manuscript that could do with polishing.

But nothing's ever perfect. (And perfect for whom?)

The 80-20 Principle

The other day I read an article by Tim Ferriss and he--as he often does--mentioned the 80-20 Principle, that 80% of your benefits come from 20% of your efforts.

For instance ...

Economics: 20% of the world's population earns 80% of the income,

Business: 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.

Software optimization: "Microsoft noted that by fixing the top 20% most reported bugs, 80% of the errors and crashes would be eliminated. (Pareto Principle, Wikipedia)"

That got me thinking. Perhaps the 80-20 principle applies to writing as well.

Kris Rusch: No Story Is Ever Perfect

Kris writes:
At every craft workshop I teach, I make at least one writer cry. This week, I’m teaching a short story workshop for professional writers. These are workshop-hardened folk, people who have been eviscerated by the best of them, people who come to my workshops having heard that I make writers cry, expecting me to be the most vicious critiquer of all.

How do I bring writers to tears? Usually by saying this:

I loved this story. It’s wonderful. Mail it.

That’s my entire critique.

Is the story perfect? Of course not. No story is. Not a one. No matter how many times it’s “polished” and “fixed” and “improved.” No one can write a perfect story.

If such a thing existed, then we would all read the same books and enjoy them equally. We would watch the same movies and need reviewers to tell us only which movie is perfect and which one isn’t. We would buy the same comics, again, going only for the comic that is perfect, and ignoring all the others.

Am I telling people to write crap? No. Because the choice isn’t between crap and perfection. Those are false choices. (The Business Rusch: Perfection)
Kris continues:
... I always begin by asking them [my workshop-experienced students] this, “What’s wrong with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

Well, we’re all raised to believe that Shakespeare is a god who never could do anything wrong. Had he done anything wrong, had his stories been less-than-perfect, we wouldn’t be reading them? Right?


If William Shakespeare—professional writer—had turned A Midsummer Night’s Dream in at a workshop I taught, I would have told him this:

“Bill, lose at least two of your endings. The main story of the play ends in Act IV, Scene 2—and then you go on for two more scenes. All of these endings would work. Pick one.”

Bill Shakespeare, dutiful workshopper that he is, would nod sadly, go back to his room, and delete one of the most favorite and quoted scenes in all of English literature. Puck turns to the audience and says,

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear.

I would have said to Bill, “Lovely. Thematically significant. Beautifully written. Lose it. You can do the same thing elsewhere.”

Yeah, right. My harsh words, spoken with authority, and Workshopper Bill’s insecurity would have stolen 400 years of enjoyment from audiences all over the world.

Anything can be critiqued. Criticizing something is easy. It makes the critiquer feel smart, and just a little bit superior to the writer.

But that kind of critique serves no real purpose, because that kind of critique is wrong from the moment the critiquer picks up the story or the manuscript or the 400-year-old play.

Readers read for enjoyment. They vote for what they like with their hard cold cash. (The Business Rusch: Perfection)
In other words, write the story that's in you, finish that story (so hand it to beta-readers and make the changes that resonated with you if that's your process), then send it out.

Besides, you need to know not only what writers think about your work, but what readers do, and the best way of doing that is to send your work out into the wild.

Challenge: leave a link to the last thing you published, whether traditionally or independently. Let's celebrate the stories we've released into the world!

Other articles you might like:

- Owen Egerton's 30 Writing Tips, Inspiration For Your Muse
- 5 Rules For Writing A Murder Mystery: Keeping the Murderer Secret Until The End
- What Slush Pile Readers Look For In A Story

Photo credit: "Fly away" by martinak15 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, April 11

Is Writing Rewriting?

Is Writing Rewriting?

Rewriting Is Not Writing

We often hear the saying, "Writing is rewriting."

Dean Wesley Smith disagrees, he does not believe that rewriting can make a story better. Dean writes:
In the early stages you are better off just trusting your natural instincts, your natural voice, write on the creative side, and then just let it go to an editor. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That advice may seem radical--and it's certainly not heard often--but one could argue (as Dean does) that it's really a different way of saying what Robert A. Heinlein said in his rules:
1. You must write.
2. Finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. Keep your story on the market until it sells.

Creative Mode vs Critical Mode

Ever since I first read Dean Wesley Smith's views on rewriting, that was some time ago, one thing that didn't sit right with me was the idea that rewriting couldn't improve a story.

For instance, I remember getting feedback on one of my first novels; specifically, that the pacing in the first quarter of the book was off. It didn't take me long, a couple of hours, and I fixed the problem. I sent the book out again to my readers and they agreed it was much better.

But I think, now, I might understand what Dean's saying.

When I made those changes to my novel I was still in creative mode. Dean writes:
Creative voice is the white-hot heat you feel when creating. Sometimes, granted, it burns like an ember and it doesn’t feel so hot, other times it is a rushing fire of words. But the words always come out of the creative side of your brain. That is the key, learning how to stay completely, no matter what method you use, in the creative side of your brain.

Long-term professional writers like me can turn the creative voice on instantly. I call it a “switch on my butt.” When I sit down in front of my writing computer (different from my e-mail computer) I automatically just drop into creative mindset. It takes time to train that switch, but after millions and millions of words, it becomes automatic.

The critical side of your brain is where your English teacher lives, where that awful book by Strunk and White lives, where your workshop and all their voices lives. The critical side of your brain wants you to write safe stuff, wants it to not offend anyone or go outside of any rule. The critical side of your head thinks your own voice is dull and will always work to take it out.

No professional writer I have ever met writes quality fiction out of their critical side. No matter how many drafts they do. All drafts are done in creative voice except for the last draft of fixing mistakes found by a first reader.
My readers had shown me a place where the story wasn't communicated to my readers. So I didn't change the story, I just improved the transmission of the story.

Recently I wrote a short story, wrote it fast--it was like a creative gale was blowing through me, sandblasting the words onto paper. Afterward I gave it to my first reader and he pointed out a few things that were extraneous to the story as well as a couple of places I hadn't been clear. I took the story back, worked on it for a couple of hours, and it was done.

I have the feeling that particular story won't be universally liked--it's just not that kind of story--but it's done. I've communicated the story. If I started rewriting it the freshness of the passion I had, the passion that I think is evident in the language, would seep away.

That said, if there is a detail or two my readers would like put in, an explanation of how something came about, that sort of thing, I'm game.

I want to be clear that I'm not saying a manuscript can be sent out with incorrect spelling and bad grammar. Far from it! But I think Dean's right. We learn most from writing, not rewriting.
Question: What do you think? Does rewriting lie at the heart of the craft or does it bleed out all that is unique/creative/original?

Other articles you might like:

- PubIt! Rebranded as NOOK Press
- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
- Every Buffy Needs A Xander: What Makes A Great Sidekick

Photo credit: "Just THINK : ABOUT IT : Just write a title, YOUR thoughts....ENJOY! :)" by || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, March 7

Beware Alibi Publishing, John Scalzi Warns: "This is the worst book contract I have ever encountered"

In John Scalzi's latest blog post, A Contract From Alibi, he writes that Alibi's contract terms are so heinous he wouldn't recommend them to his worst enemy.

John Scalzi: Do Not Sign With Alibi

At least, do not sign the their standard, boilerplate contract. Scalzi writes:
I want to be clear: I can say, without reservation, that this is the worst book contract I have ever personally encountered. Not only would I never sign it — which should be obvious at this point — I can’t imagine why anyone whose forebrain has not been staved in by an errant bowling ball would ever sign it. Indeed, if my worst enemy in the world was presented with it and had a pen poised to scratch his signature on it, I would smack the pen out of his hand and say to him, “I hate you, but I don’t hate you this much.”
Alibi is a digital imprint of the Random House Publishing Group.

In his article John Scalzi steps through some of the more egregious sections of the contract and, colorfully and with wit, tells authors why they should run, not walk, away from this company.

John Scalzi is best known for writing science fiction, for which "he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). (Amazon Author's Page)"

If you're thinking about submitting work to any of the new digital imprints (Loveswept, Alibi, Hydra, Flirt) A Contract From Alibi is a must read. Heck, even if you're not thinking about submitting to them, it's good to know what to look out for in the industry.

Thanks to Dean Wesley Smith for blogging about this. Here is a link to Dean's post: Another Bad Publishing Contract.

Other articles you might like:

- Amanda Palmer's TED Talk: The Art Of Asking
- Moby Dick And Amazon One Star Reviews

Photo credit: "Dream" by seyed mostafa zamani under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, December 26

Writing in 2013: Bend don't break

Writing in 2013: Bend don't break

I'm loving Dean Wesley Smith's new series for writers on how to set yourself up for success in 2013.

Over the past couple of weeks, Dean talked about writing basics:
- The difference between a dream and a goal.
- How to create goals that have a chance of fulfilling your dream.

In his latest installment--The New World of Publishing: How To Keep Production Going All Year--Dean talks about how to work through failure to meet a goal.

Everyone Fails

What is failure? Obviously, on one level, it's pretty clear cut. If, for example, you set the goal of completing one short story a week and fail to complete a story one week, you've failed.

Dean points out, though, that sometimes failure isn't a bad thing. If your goal spurs you on to write more than you would have otherwise, it was worth it. For instance, if a writer sets the goal of writing one short story a week but misses a few and only writes 47 that's still pretty great!

Dean gives this example: A couple of years ago he set himself the goal of writing 100 short stories. Life intervened, and he didn't get 100 stories done, but he did get over 30 finished before the end of the year. Not bad!

Would Dean have written that many short stories without his goal of writing 100 stories? Probably not.

Technically, he failed to meet his goal, but working toward that goal still helped him, and that's why we set goals in the first place.

The trick to succeeding: If you see that you're NOT going to be able to meet your goal, don't stop altogether. Just do as much as you can.

What To Do When You Fail

Failure is inevitable. The trick is not to let it stop you. Dean writes,
So here are my suggestions when life derails you and you miss your short-term goal.

1… Don’t even once think about catching up. Can’t happen and will make things worse.

2… Climb back onto your production challenge or weekly page goal as soon as you are able.

3… If life alters so much as to make the original weekly pace impossible, stop and reset a new goal for the year and for each week and then stick to that.

4… Somehow, with help or with some mechanism, remember these suggestions.
Great advice! Now I just have to live it.

Other articles you might like:

- Merry Christmas! Giving Your Stories As Gifts
- Christmas Eve And Lee Child's Jack Reacher
- Writing And Publishing In 2013, How To Survive And Thrive: Part Two

Photo credit: "Little One" by Sukanto Debnath under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, December 16

Writing Goals Versus Writing Dreams: How To Get From One To The Other

Dreams vs Goals

Wouldn't it be great to win the lottery? Or sell a billion books? Or have one of your titles hit the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list?

These are dreams.

Dean Wesley Smith defines a dream as follows:
A DREAM is an object of desire over which you do not have direct control.
That's a paraphrase.
A GOAL is an object of desire over which you DO HAVE direct control.
This is Dean's example:
Dream: Winning the lottery.
Goal: Buying a lottery ticket every week.
Just because you buy a lottery ticket every week doesn't mean you'll win the lottery, but it's a course of action that will make achieving your dream more likely. And if you don't buy lottery tickets you are guaranteed not to win the lottery.

You have 100% control over whether you buy a lottery ticket each week. You have zero control over whether you'll win the lottery. There are no guarantees. You may win the lottery, you may not, but you're doing something to make your dream more likely to come true.

Goals And The Self-Published Writer

I think all new writers have a similar dream. They would like to, one day, be able to pay for all their wants and needs with the money their writing generates.

Before we look at what goals will bring us to that place let's look at the entrance requirements, the cost of the dream, what kind of person will be able to achieve it.

Dean Wesley Smith: What it takes to be a professional writer

Here's Dean's list of qualities:
1) Determination bordering on psychotic.
2)  The ability to keep standing back up and going on when something knocks you down.
3) The ability to ignore the negative from all those around you, especially family and friends.
4) The hunger to keep learning writing craft and the knowledge you will never be good enough.
5) Fearlessness.
6) The desire to learn business.
7) The ability to control your own time and what comes at you.
Got it? Feeling that fearless psychotic determination well up inside you? Great! Now let's set some goals.

Goal One/Path One

Figure out how much material (short stories, novels, flash fiction, whatever) you could, reasonably, create in a year. From that, guesstimate sales.

1. Reconnoiter and inventory: What are you doing now

Each day for a week (Dean says 3 or 4 days) keep a log and record:
- How much time you spent writing
- The time of day
- Where you wrote
- Your mental state (e.g., Were you too tired to write until you had your coffee?)

Also record:
- How much time you spent reading.
- How much time you spent doing research
- How much time you spend on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. (That's my suggestion.)

Folks, this is an excellent idea! I set goals for myself every Sunday and, this week, this is my goal. For the next 7 days I'm going to record how I spend my time.

By the way, I want to do the recording for 7 days rather than 3 or 4 because my schedule changes quite a bit on the weekends. For me, it would be much more representative if I looked at the amount I work per week rather than per day.

Okay, that's the first step.

These next two steps don't have anything to do with the time of day your wrote at or where you wrote or what your mental state was like, that's for you, and it's (I think) valuable information.

I'm going to start a running log. Today, right after I finish publishing this post, I'm going to get a new notebook and make it my recording notebook.

2. Figure out your words per hour

This is what you'll do next Sunday. Take the data you've gleaned from (1) and figure out, on average, how many words you write in an hour.

3. Figure out how much you could write in a week

Take the data from (1) and (2) and figure out, on average, how many words you write a day. This will help you figure out how many books you'll be able to publish in a year. Of course you could do this from your words per week (words per week * 52 = words per year) but math is fun! :-)

An example:

Let's say you dutifully do your recording and one week from now have the following scribbled in your notebook:

The Data:
Writing time (time spend writing, not editing or researching):
Sunday: 2 hours; 1,500 words
Monday: 1 hour; 800 words
Tuesday: 5 hours; 3,000 words
Wednesday: half an hour; 500 words
Thursday: 3 hours; 700 words
Friday: 2.5 hours; 2,000 words
Saturday: None

Total writing hours that week:
2 + 1 + 5 + 0.5 + 3 + 2.5 + 0 = 14

Total words written:
1,500 + 800 + 3,000 + 500 + 700 + 2,000 + 0 = 8,500

First step: Calculate, on average, how many hours you wrote per day
14 / 7 = 2  
Average writing hours per day: 2

Second step: Calculate, on average, how many words you wrote per hour.
8,500/14 = (about) 607
Average words written per hour: 607

Third step: Calculate, on average, how many words you wrote per day
607 * 2 = 1,212
Average words written per day: 1,212

Fourth step: Calculate, on average, how many words you'll write in a year
You could do this two ways:
8,500 words per week * 52 weeks =  442,000 per year
1,212 * 365 days = 442,380 words per year = (about) 442,000 words

Fifth step: Calculate how many novels you can write in a year
Let's say you want to write novels that are about 80,000 words long.
442,000 / 80,000 = 5.525

Let me say, wow! If a person writes only 1,212 words a day for a year, you'll be able to publish 5 novels that year? (I just did the math again.) Yep!

I read Dean's figures but it didn't sink in until just now. That's amazing! Over NaNoWriMo I discovered I could write 1,500 words an hour without too much difficulty. 1,500 words a day, one hour, and I'd have over 5 books at the end of the year!


Well, editing is where my time goes. For every hour of writing I spend 4 editing the darn thing (writers can have a love-hate relationship with their manuscripts. A lot like teenagers that way ...)

Goal Two/Path Two

Figure out how much money you need to live and then figure out, from that, how much material (novels, short stories, whatever) you'd need to create in a year.

Let's say (this is the number Dean uses) you need to make 50,000 dollars a year from your writing. There are two ways of doing this, the traditional publishing route and the independent publishing route. Let's take the traditional route first.

Traditional Publishing Route

What can a new author get for a first book, or for their first few books? It's very difficult to judge, but let's say $5,000 per book. Perhaps the first book would be less, perhaps some books would be more, but let's say $5,000.

At $5,000 per book you'd have to sell 10 books a year to make $50,000.

That sounds discouraging and I don't mean it to. At first no publisher will give your book a big print run but as you continue to sell more people will want to read your books, you'll get larger print runs and so publishers will give you larger advances.

It just takes time.

Independent Publishing Route

Dean says that, at first, an indie author would be lucky to sell 25 copies a month. So, let's say they're lucky and that the novels are selling for, as Dean suggests, $5.99. That means (if they are being sold on Amazon) the author will get 70% or $4.19 (let's say $4).

Each month our indie author will make 4 * 25 = 100 per month or 100 * 12 = 1,200 per year. That means they'd have to have (50,000/1,200=41.67) 42 books in the Amazon store to make $50,000 per year!

Of course 42 books is entirely doable, but not in a year!

Which, I think, is Dean's point.

So, how long would it take you to earn $50,000 per year if you wrote 5 novels per year? That's easy: 42/5 = 8.4. It would take around 8 years for an indie author to make $50,000 per year.

Actually, that's not bad. That's doable! 25 sales per book per month isn't much and many indie books are priced at $5.99 these days.

Wow. I think this was, for me, Dean's most awesome post--and there've been quite a few!

Focus On What You Control

There are no guarantees. Your independently published book might sell less than 25 copies a month. Significantly less. Your traditionally published book might under-perform and your publisher might drop you (if memory serves, this happened to Laurell K. Hamilton with her first book Nightseer).

There's a lot we don't control but there's two things we do:

- (T & I) How much you write.

- (T) How many manuscripts you send out.

- (I) How many books (short stories, etc) you publish.

- (I) The quality of your published books (blurbs, cover art, formatting) and where the book is sold (the markets, whether you have a print copy, audiobook, etc).

Indie Authors: Focus on selling your work in as many forms as you can

Dean stresses, and for what it's worth I agree wholeheartedly, that it's a good idea to make your work available in as many formats as possible (ebook, POD, audiobook). Dean writes:
You control the attempt to sell. You don’t control the buying or not buying, but you control the attempt to sell.
I think that, even if an author doesn't sell a lot of audiobooks, it's worth doing for the exposure to another market. It is one more way for you to get discovered by readers/listeners. That said, producing an audiobook can be expensive, but you can do it yourself. (See: How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio)

Dean warns against exclusivity and that's an old debate, one I've written about previously a few times. (See: Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans? and Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?)

That's just a sample of Dean's advice. I urge you to read his article: The New World of Publishing: Goals and Dreams.

Other links you might like:

- The Structure Of Short Stories: The Elevator Pitch Version
- Where Ideas Come From And The Conspiracy Against Nothingness
- The Structure Of Short Stories

Photo credit: "Blue Darkness Across A Beach" by A Guy Taking Pictures under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, December 12

Hugh Howey's Awesome Deal With Simon & Schuster And The Importance Of Agents

Hugh Howey's Awesome Deal With Simon & Schuster And The Importance Of Agents

Today I was spoiled for choice concerning topics to write about.

Hugh Howey broke the news about his terrific deal with Simon & Schuster.

Also Dean Wesley Smith has been having some interesting discussions over on his blog about agents and--since Hugh's terrific deal was landed with the help of his agent--I thought, in an odd sort of way, the two stories go together.

Hugh Howey's Awesome Deal With Simon & Schuster

Hugh Howey, bestselling author of Wool, has landed a breathtakingly good deal with Simon & Schuster. The bones of the deal are as follows:

- Hugh Howey retains control over ebook pricing and will continue to sell ebooks online.
- Simon & Schuster publishes paper copies of Wool--both hardback and paperback--and (of course) distributes them to traditional brick and mortar bookstores.

Congratulations Hugh Howey!

Here is what Hugh wrote about it:
In March, Simon and Schuster is releasing a print edition of WOOL here in the United States, and I couldn’t be more excited. This deal is all about the new publishing paradigm. There are no clauses limiting what I can write and how quickly I can release. I keep control over the ebooks, which means the prices will stay where they are. ... You’ll finally get a print edition with the utmost in quality and design.
Simon and Schuster is also doing a simultaneous paperback and hardback release. This is just a whole bunch of firsts! I'd encourage you to read Hugh Howey's post in full: Luddites, Rejoice!

Hugh Howey also made a 13 minute video in which he talks more in depth about his publishing journey and how this deal came about. Fascinating and highly recommended.

Agents And The Independent Author

One of the things Hugh Howey mentions in his video (Announcement Time!) is the role his agent, Kristen Nelson, played in landing his deal with Simon & Schuster. And not only that deal, his movie deal with Ridley Scott as well. Hugh Howey said that these deals would never have happened without his agent's help (this is my own transcription):
[W]e're talking about a book that's only been out since January and in that time we've had some incredible things happen.

One of the first of which was hearing from Kristen Nelson in the middle of the night who ... I'd already told some agents I didn't think it made sense to go with an agent, I was happy doing things the way that I was and she convinced me, "Hey, let's explore foreign rights, let's amp up the Hollywood push," both of which have been ... I mean, Ridley Scott and 20 countries later she's proven herself, everything she said has come true.
It seems like Hugh Howey feels that Kristen Nelson more than earned her commission!

Let's think about that for a minute.

Dean Wesley Smith has published two (excellent!) articles in a row about agents (See: A Side Note About Agents and One More Agent Question). Dean and a number of authors have been vocal in their opinions that, these days, authors do not need agents.

In fact, Dean feels that, for most authors, agents hurt your writing career more than they help it. Dean writes:

Agents are no longer needed in this new world of publishing for most writers.

I don't disagree with Dean. How could I? He, Kris Rusch, Laura Resnick and a number of other full-time writers have horror story after horror story involving their former agents. Everything from fiscal mismanagement (author's money not remitted to him, incorrect amount of money remitted, etc.) to neglecting to pass along offers (offers from publishers, movie people, and so on) to the author.

On the other hand, there are some authors who praise their agents. Hugo award winner, Jim C. Hines for instance. Jim has stated publicly that he is happy with his agent. He writes:
[T]here seems to be an assumption ... that I’m blindly sticking with a system that’s screwing me over, that I haven’t seriously considered or researched other publishing options, and so on. I would like to reassure people that this is not the case. I read my contracts, both U.S. and foreign. I review my royalty checks and statements, and I ask my agent about anything that looks odd. (Often he beats me too it, sending me royalty spreadsheets with a note that he thinks some numbers look off, and he’s following up with the publisher.) (In Which Others Worry About the State of my Career)

Does An Indie Author Need An Agent?

It could be that while many, perhaps even most, agents are a hinderance to a writer's career, this is not always the case.

It seems that for certain things: offering one's book for auction, pursuing a movie deal, and so on, having an agent can make sense financially.

Could Hugh Howey have done, himself, everything his agent did for him? Possibly. But chances are he wouldn't have had as much time to write. And chances are he wouldn't have gotten the movie contract or the publishing contract with Simon & Schuster, as quickly.

Also, let's face it, some writers loath the business side of writing. If they could find an agent who was both skilled and honest they would gladly pay them to handle rustling up movie deals and the like.

Perhaps in the beginning, before the writer has hit it big, they don't need an agent. But, afterward, when things like movie rights and deals with large US publishers are being discussed, then having a savvy agent can be an asset.

But, still, the writer is left with the daunting task of finding an agent both skilled and honest.

Other articles you might like:

- Turning Off Your Inner Editor
- Guy Kawasaki Writes The Definitive Book On Self Publishing: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How To Publish A Book
- The Dark Art of Critiquing, Part 2: Formulating A Critique

Photo credit: "My little ladybird" by jonespointfilm under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, December 4

Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath were the two writers who, more than anyone else, convinced me that independent publishing offered opportunities traditional publishing couldn't. And, yes, it works the other way too.

Today Dean published a post that will help a lot of folks understand what indie publishing can and can't do. I've already bookmarked the URL in Evernote. This is a post I'm going to re-read often in the months to come: The New World of Publishing: How To Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

Dean's Advice To New Writers For 2013

Dean writes:
1) Spend 80% of your focus and time on producing new fiction. Not rewriting, not researching, but producing new words on the page. Period. (Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.)

2) Spend 15% of your time on learning craft and business. Both a little at a time. In any way you can.

3) Spend the remaining 5% of your time mailing finished work to editors or getting your work up indie published or both. (The #5 path above I believe in 2013 is the best if you have the courage.)

4) Think five and ten years out and set production goals. (Not selling goals, you are not in charge of those, but you are in charge of your own production and how much you learn.)

That’s it.

Dean mentions Heinlein's Rules in (1), above. If you're a bit fuzzy on what those are, here's a post you might like: Heinlein's Rules, by Robert Sawyer.

Dean's Six Major Paths Writers Can Take

You'll notice that, in point three, above, Dean talks about "path #5". Although Dean gives his recommendations, he also details "the six major paths that a fiction writer can take in 2013 when starting out". Here they are:

1. Follow the myths

"[W]rite one novel, rewrite it to death, then spend all your time tracking down an agent."

Pro: None.
Con: "This path seldom leads to a decent sale or decent writing, but most beginning writers still follow this path ...."

2. Follow tradition

"Write a novel and mail a submission package for your book directly to editors. Then while that book is in the mail, write more novels and mail them as well while working on becoming a better storyteller."

Pro: "This is the way it’s been done forever in publishing and is still valid."
Con: "Contracts are much more difficult these days."
Note: "Only difference now from ten years ago is that now you need an IP attorney to work on your contract instead of an agent."

3. Pay to follow the myths

"Write a novel, rewrite it to death, pay a gad-zillion bucks to have someone put it up electronically for you and then take a percentage of your work, then you promote it to your 200 friends on Facebook until they start fleeing ...."

Pro: None
Con: "This path seldom works ...."

4. Go indie: write and publish novels 

"Write a novel, learn how to do your own covers and formatting, put the novel up yourself electronically and in POD and then write the next novel and work on learning and becoming a better storyteller. Repeat. Do not promote other than telling your friends once each book is out."

Pro: "This is more of a standard, traditional path that will work, but takes time as you learn how to tell better stories that people want to read."
Con: None

5. Go indie & follow tradition 

"Follow #4 and #2 at the same exact time, telling the editors in the submission package that the book is self-published electronically and sending them a cover in the package."

Pro: See Dean's comments on #2 and #4.
Con: None.
Note: "Very few beginning writers are trying this method yet because they are afraid traditional editors will come to their houses and break their fingers ...."

6. Short stories

"Forget novels completely and only write short stories, selling to traditional magazines as well as publishing indie."

Pro: "This method has a lot quicker feedback loops and is a good way to learn how to tell great stories ..."
Con: "... it takes a mind set most beginning writers do not have. And you must learn how to do all the indie publishing work yourself."
Note: "This method was never a path to making a living writing fiction, but now it is possible if you really, really, really love short fiction. Otherwise, just write a few stories here and there to help your novels."

You'll notice that I re-formatted some of Dean's points, above. (You should have seen my notebooks in school!) I did it so that I could take in more information at a glance. Oh, and all quotations are from Dean's article, "The New World of Publishing: How To Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013".

Dean's Advice For The New Year

Dean writes:
In my opinion, all writers these days should be writing, selling, and publishing some short fiction along with writing novels. The short fiction market is booming and short fiction should just be a part of any business plan for a fiction writer.
In other words, try a combination of paths 5 and 6, above.

Dean also holds that:
[T]he best way to sell books is write a lot, work on learning how to be a better storyteller constantly, get your work in front of editors or readers or both, and plan for the long haul. 

How To Defeat The Siren Call Of Social Media

I think this is brilliant! Dean writes:
[S]et up a writing computer that is only for creation of new words. Have no games, no email, no internet connection on that computer. Make it only a writing computer. That way the creative side of things has a line between it and the information overload and opinions flooding at you from everywhere. It honestly will help and be worth the few hundred bucks for a new computer.
Thanks to cloud storage you can save your work using utilities like Dropbox or Google Drive and then access your work on your main computer when you need to edit and format it.

Beware of Over-Marketing

I think this might be one of Dean's most controversial pieces of advice. As far as I can tell, Dean isn't against all marketing--after all, he recommends telling your online community about your book or short story when it's first published--but he is against over-marketing. Dean writes:
I watch new writers, who have managed to complete their first novel, promoting the life out of their “book” because they believe they should, and then complaining when there are very few sales.

From a place of perspective, this is like watching a brand new violin player stride onto the stage at Carnage Hall with their very first recital piece and wondering why no one showed up to listen even though they advertised their concert to everyone they knew. 
Point well taken.

The Importance Of Practicing Your Craft

Dean writes:
All fiction writers, at some point, given enough time, start to understand that to become a good storyteller it takes time. John D. McDonald said every fiction writer has a million words of crap in them before they reach their first published word. I agree and could go on about why this is so, but don’t have the time in this article.
I hope Dean writes that article soon! A million words is about 10 books at 100,000 words a book. Even if the finished word count isn't 100,000 chances are you'll have written at least that number when you count up all the drafts.

Those novels that you've stuffed under your bed--we all have them!--did you a favor. They helped you work through your 1,000,000 practice words.

The Writings and Opinions of Dean Wesley Smith

If you haven't subscribed to Dean's blog and you're interested in indie publishing, I highly recommend it. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but his advice is worth thinking about even if you don't take it.

Thanks to Andy Goldman for bringing Dean's latest post to my attention. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Robert Sawyer Says: Don't Worry About What's Popular, Write What You Love
- Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concept Not Just An Idea
- Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?

Photo credit: "Late for Work / Tarde pa'l trabajo" by Eneas under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.