Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Career You Learned No Longer Exists

Happens All the Time, I know…

But it seems to really be happening just lately in fiction writing. Or maybe I am just noticing it more lately.

But in Publishing in the 1970s through the early 1990s, it was possible to learn the career and it would remain as you learned it. In fact, there are still old pro writers teaching those old ways to young writers even today, even though the writing career of those times no longer exists at all.

Kris and I used to tell writers it was possible to make a living with your writing in traditional publishing, because that was the only game in town and she and I had been doing it for going on 20 years. Now I flat say it is impossible in traditional publishing, but very, very possible in indie publishing.

So for some reason, just lately, I have been contacted by two (not one, but two) whatever-happened-to writers from the early 1990s. They were seeking my advice on agents and editors and such, as if the last 20 to 30 years hadn’t happened. That publishing hadn’t completely changed.

(And yes, one was so out of touch, he asked me about agents. (grin))

I got nothing I can say. Just flat nothing.

So that’s what I said. I said I couldn’t really help them. I coped out, dodged the question. And most of you know me enough to know I am blunt and answer just damn near any question, no matter the answer.  I flat told both I was the wrong person to ask unless they were thinking of going toward indie publishing. Then I could help.

One said they would never do that. The other didn’t even know what it was.

I almost asked what rock they had been living under, but stopped, took my fingers off the keys, and didn’t respond.

There are enough really hungry writers who want to learn and are doing their best to soak in all information about this new world of publishing. Those I want to help, love to help.

But someone who wants to be spoon fed and can’t even bother to spend some time seeing that publishing has changed since they crawled under the rock are not worth my time or energy.

Thanks for listening. This was just a rant I have wanted to do for a time. I think I kept it fairly tame considering how much I hate stupidity. (grin)

(People who really know me are now all nodding.)


  • D J Mills

    I just smile and nod wisely when someone tells me they are looking for an agent or publisher for their book. Then I am usually asked to read it. I say I am very busy writing my own stories and don’t have time.

  • Cora

    Wow, Dean. I really admire your control. Do these people not know about Google? I took it for a test drive and found both trad pub and Indie pages in equal measure. It sounds more like all they really wanted was for you to introduce them to your agent/publisher. Problem solved.

  • Vincent Zandri

    Great post as always Dean. When I started out with my first big book deal in 1999 (Delacorte), tradtional was the only way to go. But I didn’t earn out a high mid-six figure advance and no way I was going to be another advance of that magnitude. It wasn’t until the indie movement started, and I lucked out by getting my rights back for those two books, that I started taking off and making a really good living. Of course, new big deals were tossed at me, some of which I jumped at (Thomas & Mercer, for instance), and other smaller deals too. At the same time I was building my own list of indie titles, and in the process, pissing said publishers off. But it wasn’t until relatively recently, that I looked at my overall indie earnings, and how impressive they were that I realized, indie is the only legitimate path forward if I want to continue doing this full-time. The earnings increase a little everyday. They don’t go backwards. It’s an upwards trajectory that will continue to climb forever. You don’t need to even be an Amazon bestseller to realize you’re not only recouping your initial investment, but you can estimate fairly accurately when you’re going to be in pure proift. No more dealing with agents, no more fickle editors, no more waiting, waiting, waiting for the market to turn itself around (which it never does), or a publisher to get its act together.

    • dwsmith

      Vincent, yeah, you reminded me of the one thing I totally hated about traditional publishing, and that was the waiting. They needed something yesterday, so I would do it, then wait and wait and wait for them to get around to the next step. Waiting for everything, from editors to checks. Everything was waiting and I hated that. Hadn’t thought of that in years. (grin)

      • Kate+Pavelle

        Wow, Dean. What rock, indeed? Regarding waiting, I got so spoiled by the “write and launch,” the concept of writing a whole series first and THEN branding it and deciding what it wants to be when it grows up is actually really challenging on my sense of patience. I don’t know how people ever put up with trad pub. Even my first publisher, a small press, had a 6-9 month turn-around. I’m so spoiled.

  • Jason M

    November 19, 2007.
    That was the day that the Kindle was first introduced to the reading public.
    These ancient writers must really enjoy that muddy space under their rocks. It’s dark and comfortable there.
    If you ask, they’re probably also operating with ancient information in all parts of their lives. You know: eggs are dangerous and unhealthy, always wear a necktie to a job interview, write no more than one book a year, etc.

    • dwsmith

      I am betting you are dead correct about one book a year, and of course all novels must be 110,000 words. Of course that means they must write at the blazing pace of 300 words per day.

  • Liz D.

    How did these people contact you? Text, phone, handwritten letter? If through this website, they probably at least know about Google.

  • Annemarie

    You have no idea, how solid the trust in publishers and agents still is in Germany. *shudder*. It’s like they live in the Stone Ages.