On Writing,  publishing

Artistic Choice and Making Money

I Love Making Money with My Fiction…

For some reason, not sure how, some people have thought I am against making money with fiction writing. Never ever said that.

In fact, that is so far from the truth as to be laughable. I make great money with my fiction now. Not as good as many, but better than I ever did when I was writing for money as a ghost and media writer.

But for some reason I use the term “artistic” and “choice” and then suggest that writers should take the long-term goal and write what they love and people automatically knee-jerk reaction that I am against making money with fiction.

Nope. I’m a professional fiction writer. Why would I be against that?

So let me tell you another part of my story. Many of you know this, but let me go over it one more time.

In June 2013, just three plus years ago, I was making almost nothing from my writing. (Nothing for me means around $20,000 per year or so.) I had a bunch of short stories indie published and very little money coming in (around $20 per year) on royalties from all those books I had sold traditional.

Think that through. I had written for money and had sold over a hundred novels and owned just one of them. And was making about $20 per year in royalties.

I was selling some short stories to anthologies and such, and the different cash streams from the short stories sort of added up nicely because I had some collections and about a hundred short stories indie published. But looking only at my writing alone, I sure wasn’t making a living wage.

Luckily, at that moment in time I didn’t need to because I was also playing poker and Kris’s writing, which WMG had been focused on was doing great. At that point WMG Publishing had about three hundred titles up and three full-time employees and was growing.

The online lectures and workshops had just started and were helping WMG as well as selling collectables.

But my writing wasn’t helping much. So I warned everyone at WMG to be ready because I was going back to writing. I dug down into this challenge, started up Smith’s Monthly, and published from 28 to 36 major titles per year since that point. Twelve Smith’s Monthly issues per year, at least twelve novels per year, some nonfiction books, and other fiction projects such as Stories from July.

All that I wrote was what I wanted to write. Nothing to make money, all just to make me happy.

And now, three years later, from an almost dead start, I am making more than I ever made at writing and I now only play poker a few times a year with friends.

I am proud to say that not once, in those three years, did I ever think of trying a project because it was a hot area. Nope. Only wrote for myself. Western time-travel, massive space-opera, twisted superhero stories, retired detectives playing poker and solving cold cases, and so on.

All stories to entertain myself. All 100% Dean stories.

2015 was my biggest writing year for money ever and 2016 has gone way past that already. Great fun.

Yes, I said that. Making money is great fun. And that’s why I can talk about this topic of artistic choice right now.

I spent a decade writing for money, making good money, (most years past six figures) and I burnt myself out completely. I came to hate writing and even the thought of doing it.

Now I write for love, to entertain myself, to just have fun telling stories.

How did I get here so fast? From a basic dead stop in 2013 to now?

Simple. In three years I wrote more than most writers will write in their lifetimes and I kept learning as much as I could at the same time, about business and publishing and the craft of writing and telling stories.

I have cleared out most myths that hold writers back. And slow writer’s down.

And I’m having great fun.

So right now I am the poster child for writing for love and making money at the same time. Kris makes more than I do and she never ever writes for money either. Many, many writers make more than I do and write only for love of what they are doing.

But I have this blog and no worry about what you folks will say. So I can just put things like this post out here.

The formula for long-term success is easy. 

1… Write what you love, what entertains you.

2… Learn continuously about the craft of telling stories.

3… Learn continuously about the business of publishing.

4… Learn continuously about how to handle a business and money.

5… Write more stories and novels than anyone else.

You want to study how I went from stalled to making lots of money with my writing?

Just buy all 36 issues of Smith’s Monthly and study them. 36 novels, 160 plus short stories, tons of articles and non-fiction, serial novels, and so on. And realize I laid out the first thirty of those issues out, from cover to interior to ads. Yes, I did the work on them as well until just last spring.

Write that much in three years, keep learning, and find innovative ways to get your stories to readers and you will be surprised how much money you can make.

But you can’t do that writing to market. At least not for long.

Only writing for love will allow you to maintain that pace and have fun at the same time.

So now I have, as Heinlein said, “Given away the secret.” Now anyone can do it.

Anyone can, actually.

Have fun.


  • Linda Maye Adams

    I think it’s deeply ingrained in the writing culture that if the writing is fun, it’s never going to sell. It becomes more about hitting the bells and whistles the writers think will sell, not writing a story they enjoy. It doesn’t help that This Story is viewed as being the Only Chance. Everything rests on it. If it isn’t successful, it’s considered a big failure. Just like what Hollywood is doing now. No one wants to take chances, take risks, try something that might not work, or might work spectacularly. I just saw some traffic on covers–someone wanting to build their own covers. She was told not to do it because her book only had “one chance” and a bad cover would screw it up. The same talk exists for developmental editing–if you don’t get developmental editing, you’re not giving the book the chance it deserves. There are lots of ways for writers to explain away why a book isn’t successful and things to fall back on as an excuse when it might be they weren’t having fun when they wrote it.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, you named a bunch of the myths that hold writers back. One thing about writing a lot of stories and novels is that no one book becomes “important.”

      And don’t even get me started on the stupidity of “developmental editing.” (grin) Wow, one of the greatest scams working today. Only exception is if you can hire a Times bestselling writer to help you with your story. Most of us don’t do that sort of thing, but there are a few and they are expensive from what I understand. But at least they know what they are talking about.

      I did something similar once. This guy with too much money wanted me to read his book and tell him why he was stuck and what was good and bad about it. I told him I would read it and write him a two page letter about the novel, telling him the good and the bad, but it would cost him $10,000. (I wanted him to go away.) The 10 grand was in my paypal account in twenty minutes. Sigh.

      Took me about six hours to read the book, give it some thought, and write him a three page letter. Not at all sure if I helped him. But he then hired me to ghost the book and I was stupid enough to say yes and he paid me a ton of money and I wrote the book for him. It was never published. Too bad, I thought it was pretty good. (grin)

      Writing for money. What I used to do.

  • Marsha

    I used to believe the writing myths and it cost me precious years. I spent seven years—SEVEN YEARS!! writing and rewriting my first book because it had to be perfect. Every time I learned a little bit about dialog, or point of view, or whatever, I would dig back into that book until I was sick to death of it. I never bothered to look for an agent because The Book was never ready.

    Then I found Writers of the Future and they brought me to you and Kris. I started taking workshops to improve my writing skills. 17 workshops and many lectures later I am still learning, but because I follow your blog daily I have learned to write it, pub it, and move to the next project.

    I’ve written a dozen books in the last 18 months, all of them fun, all of them written to please me. I learned about formatting and cover design, found a line editor I could afford, and started publishing this fall. Could these books be better? Sure. Because I keep learning I see where I could have done a better job on each one of them. But they are finished and I’m not going back to rewrite a book ever again.

    I think of these early books as the concrete blocks that get laid underground when building a house. Maybe no one will ever see them, but they provide a solid foundation for me to build my castle on. If I wasn’t having fun writing these stories, I could never stick with the work and the effort it takes to erect a fine building. I’m aiming for a palace, but it has to be constructed one stone at a time. Eventually I will have enough stones laid that they will begin to show above grade and be noticed. If I keep laying and digging up the same stone over and over how will I ever create a whole building?

    Thank you for sharing your journey and the formula for success. It’s one anyone can follow, but the key is #1, Write what you love and have fun. If you build your career on this you’ll have a wonderful life.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Marsha. And isn’t it amazing how clear things get when you waste almost a decade doing the wrong thing? (grin) I did the same. Seven years for me as well. Keeps things clearly in perspective.

    • Teri Babcock

      “I think of these early books as the concrete blocks that get laid underground when building a house. Maybe no one will ever see them, but they provide a solid foundation for me to build my castle on. If I wasn’t having fun writing these stories, I could never stick with the work and the effort it takes to erect a fine building.”

      Beautiful analogy, Marsha.

      • Marsha

        Thank you Teri. I’ve been reminding myself not to expect much as I release my books. Just keep my head down and move on to the next one. Looking at these early books as foundation blocks has helped me with that.

  • Vera Soroka

    I never meant to imply that getting paid for your writing was a bad idea. Only that I admired those who did make a living from their art. It takes a lot of hard work and maybe some stubbornness thrown in to make money from the art that you love. It takes a lot of hard work and a work ethic to produce consistently. The indies that I follow have produced a lot of stuff in their short time. Both of them have nearly fifty full length novels out. They produced a lot in their first two years and that paid off.
    So nothing against making money from what you love. You just have to stick to that and not fall into those what is hot trends.

  • Scott

    I’ve really enjoyed this recent group of posts about writing for fun and letting the money follow. It’s wonderful advice. It’s easy to listen to all the great podcasts and read the great posts and want a piece of the action, but knowing the reality will take time–it took you three years!–can be frustrating. But I also remember something Erle Stanley Gardner said: Learn something slowly and then you will know. Having a long-term outlook while writing what entertains you will sustain any writer for the long haul.

    Thanks as always.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, and that’s one of the reasons we still remember Gardner and a number of his characters. He wrote a lot of books, that’s for sure under Gardner and under a number of major pen names such as A.A. Fair.

  • allynh


    I usually read your posts and move on, forgetting to check back if there are comments. I looked back to the start of your “Artistic Freedom” sequence and read through the comments. Wow! They begin to illuminate the weird reactions I get when I tell people:

    – Write 2000 words a day, and you’ll never have to worry about money any more.

    The comments I read make me realize that I am speaking the words, but people are “interpreting” what I’m saying rather than hearing what I’m saying.

    This is a great quote that speaks to that:

    “Everyone believes very easily whatever they fear or desire.”

    – Jean de la Fontaine

    Keep speaking truth, Dean, whether people can hear or not.


  • sam turner

    I taught school for thirty-five years. Mostly middle school. I certainly didn’t do it for money. I had fun! The students were great. After my Master’s, you know what they learned in my classes? They learned about RABBIT DAY. (That wasn’t in any curriculum taught at the University of Arizona.) I told my students that, if they wanted good luck for the rest of the month, the very first thing they had to do was sit straight up in bed, yell “RABBIT!” and crawl out the bottom of the covers. They may not have remembered the English assignments, but they remembered RABBIT Day. The compliment was: “Mr. Turner, my mother says you’re crazy!” I taught sonnets to eighth graders. “Mr. Turner, this has to stop. Last night, at dinner, I found I was speaking in sonnets!”
    Teaching was/is fun. So is writing. So are your blogs and lectures. I’m in my eighth decade and enjoying writing. Since your workshop on Teams, I have published one novel (in two months) and my second novel will be out by the end of December.
    You, your wife and Harvey keep me energized. THANK YOU!