Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

A Glimpse Back Almost Nine Years

Right Here On This Blog…

I wrote this in August of 2010. Eighteen months after I got pulled into the indie movement. It is an introduction to a series of blogs I did called The New World of Publishing, but now it sort of serves as a reminder.

Thought it would be fun here tonight to look back eight years and and six months. (This has been edited only slightly.)




Over the last two years, publishing has been starting into a radical shift, a move that for the first few months I just ignored. Michael Stackpole, a friend of mine, had been shouting at a lot of us to wake up for years ahead of that, but I was slow to the alarm clock to be honest.

Now understand, I had a book hit #1 on the electronic bestseller list done by Peanut Press in 2000 and even have an award on my shelf proving it. I thought the entire thing stupid in 2000 and my feelings didn’t change in the slightest until 18 months ago. Remember that in the year 2000 I had been hearing and ignoring all the talk about electronic publishing being the next big thing for ten years. It was old news in 1995 let alone in 2000 and I thought of it as just people constantly shouting “The sky is falling!”

One editor said to me in 2000 about me being #1 on the electronic bestseller list was like being the best hockey player in Equador. He was right. Another editor in 1995 complained to me that she was spending 80% of her time in meetings talking about electronic publishing that only accounted for less than one tenth of one percent of all sales at that time.

And during those years up until 18 months ago, when someone asked what I thought of electronic publishing, my answer was always, “Some day electronic publishing will be a nice source of extra money for writers like audio books are.”

Oh, wow, was I wrong on that. And right at the same time. But like everyone else, I just didn’t know how I was wrong or right.

About 18 months ago I realized that maybe, just maybe, with introduction of the Kindle, the time had finally arrived that everyone had been shouting about for over twenty years. I decided to pull my old head out of the sand and look around, and what I saw scared hell out of me because, to be honest, I flat didn’t understand a great deal of it.

My first desire to was to go back and jam my head down into the sand. I know the traditional publishing system and I know it pretty well, having been a publisher, an editor, and a writer now for thirty years. The new world I didn’t even understand most of the terms and what all those letters meant. You know, HTML, DRAM, and so on and so on. (grin)

So 18 months ago my wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I met for dinner with two of the top young writers who know computers and this coming new world, Michael Totten, a freelance Mideast writer and blogger and Scott William Carter the short story writer and published young adult novelist. And after three hours I came away from that meeting even more frightened, but at the same time energized and hungry to learn.

Now, as all my friends will tell you, when I get focused on learning something, just get out of my way. I learn it, I question it, I test it, I don’t believe the test, I learn more, I test that, I try it a different way, I test it again, and again and then eventually I know more about something than most people around me.

I have been doing that now for 18 solid months with electronic publishing, with a daily focus at it and the new world of publishing and the impact it might have on traditional publishing. And I don’t plan on stopping that chase anytime soon. I am a long ways from knowing everything about what is happening with publishing, but I am now willing to talk here about different subjects concerning this brave new world of publishing and see if this group mind around here can help us all move forward.

Yes, I have been following blogs and people working the different sides of publishing and the impact of the electronic or epub publishing and POD publishing on it. And I have been reading publishing financial reports and stock reports and sales figures and so much more. As I said, when I want to know something I am a vacuum cleaner for information with far too much suction.

At the moment, here is what I can say firmly.

1) Here in 2010 no one knows where this is headed. If they claim they do, ignore them. They will be proven wrong in about three minutes.

2) Things are changing by the day. In all my years in publishing, there has never been a time when events that have a huge impact on publishing happen daily.

For example the big event in the last few days (as I write this in the first week of August 2010) for authors is Amazon opening up the Amazon UK Kindle store to all books with the correct rights that are being sold on Amazon US. One moment I have nothing but a few Star Trek books being sold in the UK, the next moment I have twenty-some of my short stories that have been recently put up by WMG Publishing. And more going up every day.

3) Major traditional publishing will not go away. But it will be changed and changed drastically. Those of you who have the ego to think that New York publishing is ignoring all this are being silly. New York is run by humans who know this business better than anyone, and they see what’s happening. But the problem for many of them is that they are captains on large ships, and large ships do not turn quickly. Right now things are changing quickly.

Also remember that for New York, this has been a case of “the sky is falling” for twenty years. It’s hard to suddenly believe that after that long something actually is now happening.

At lunch today with a group of professional writers, we were using examples of two major corporations who had to deal with massive changes. Kodak and NetFlix. Kodak saw the changes coming and in many ways were innovators of some new products, but couldn’t move their large company fast enough to save it. NetFlix knew it had a service that would be short lived and planned from the beginning for the coming change. Time will tell if they make it, but they seem to be out ahead just fine.

Some New York publishers will be able to change course fast enough, others won’t.

Changes and how to adapt as writers.

Honestly, at the moment I would say if you find yourself attached to a set way of doing something, almost in myth-like firmness, step back and take a deep breath. Again, right now in publishing, everything is changing. You need to be open to new ideas and not be like I was 18 months ago, with my head firmly planted deep in the sand and my focus only in one direction.

I honestly can’t believe how fast things are changing. For decades it seemed that in publishing change was slow. Then one moment everything went into fast forward.

For example, did you know that it is now easy for a writer to sell their own work overseas to overseas publishers in translation rights? What caused that change? E-mail and internet and author web sites, that’s what.

Did you know that it is now frighteningly easy for a writer taking their own work out with their own publishing company to get into all the major bookstores? And library distributors. And so much more. In other words, an author with some knowledge can now get the same market penetration a major publisher can get. And get the publisher’s profit share as well. Will all authors want to do this? Of course not.

In ending this first introduction chapter, let me talk for a moment about the real wonderful value of this new change. And I will talk about this much more later.

Writers can write what we want!!!!!

This new change now allows a writer to sit down and write the story they want to write, no matter the trends in New York, no matter the tightness of a market, no matter what some agent thinks will sell or won’t sell.

For decades I have been telling new writers to just write what they want to write, what makes them passionate, what makes them angry, what makes them happy. But often, in the real world of traditional publishing, those passionate books would not sell or be labeled “hard sells” and end up in drawers and the writer discouraged.

No more. Writers now have a lot of different ways for readers to find and discover their work beyond traditional publishing routes. And more opening up by the day.

So I stand by what I have told writers for decades now. Write what you love, what makes you passionate or angry. And when you are done, then we can talk about this new world and how to find readers for your work.

Wow, is this stuff fun. Welcome to The New World of Publishing.


  • Dale T. Phillips

    Back then I was still in the trad process- had an agent and New York interest, but was hearing about the changes happening in publishing. Blogs like yours convinced me to change paths. Started with small presses that let me control everything, and went full Indie a few years later, after I’d learned to do it all myself (starting with 5-story collections, as you advocate). Followed the advice of you and Kris and others, and am now one of the happiest writers around. While others kvetch about sales, marketing, agents, etc., I keep putting out the stories I want. More books, more opportunities, and more fans every year. I tell folks I only have to deal with one jerk in the business (me). It is a delight to have this freedom. Thank you for your years of honest advice. Would love to get to Vegas at some point to thank you and Kris and maybe take a workshop.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Dale. And back then (18 months before I wrote that) I had already fired my agent and had mostly walked away from the industry. One of my down writing times when I played poker instead. Or at least it was 18 months before I wrote that. I had been so sick of the business and how it was morphing into something I didn’t recognize on the trade side with bad contracts, no loyalty, and complete power-hungry jerks running the show. Indie is wonderful as you said. Especially with the opportunity. That seems to only be growing instead of leveling every year.

    • Bea

      Regarding Dean’s recommendation about starting with 5-story collections, is this in one of the blog posts or a book? I’d really like to read up on this, if possible.


  • Robot Overlord

    Mike Stackpole really was ahead of the curve. He got mocked and ridiculed for it both behind his back and to his face, but time has shown he was 100% correct. He was predicted the indie revolution back in 2005, before the kindle even started development.