Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Come Looking For Anger

Trolls Are Everywhere…

But seems for me, they have to come looking. The reason is that I just ignore them and eventually, because they are starved for attention, they go away.

Now, I know clearly that my opinions of professional fiction writing are only based on how it is really done, not on how some beginning writers think it should be done. I actually write and publish and make a lot of money, and that just pisses off a large part of the younger writers as well. But if a person doesn’t want to hear how it is really done, they tend to stay away from this blog and anything I say or write or teach.

Can’t say as I blame them. Beliefs being challenged can be upsetting.

Well, it seems my little blog post about the career you are after doesn’t exist anymore made a number of these younger writers angry on some location. I got one really angry letter with all sorts of swear words. I found it great fun.

And I got a person trying to reason with me about how wrong I am about traditional publishing. (This person had never sold a novel to New York, but “had an agent” and hoped to sell a book right after the next rewrite.)

Not a damn thing I could say.

So while I laughed at the swear words and deleted that comment, I felt sad deleting the one who tried to logically convince me I was wrong.  For a moment I had a compulsion to try to help him. The feeling passed right after I took some Tums.

Now understand before you go shouting at me that I don’t know anything about New York because I indie publish my own work, I sold 106 novels to traditional publishing under more names than I can figure out. And I edited for Pocket Books on one project for 10 years. And I had a powerful agent for 17 years that never sold a book for me. Not one. I sold them all. She just did the grunt work that I told her to do.

The world that I made a good living in is dead. And the number one thing I DO NOT MISS about it is the lack of respect toward the end. Kris reminded me of that lack of respect and it just made me shudder. I was in the last few years of the change from the old world to this horrid mess you see now in traditional publishing. I hated it.

So these two poor trolls came all the way across the intertubes to find this blog and yell at me and try to convince me I am wrong. I enjoyed the two letters, or at least the one with the swearing. The other one just made me sad that the myths are so powerful that this possibly talented young writer is wasting years and years when his work could be finding fans.

Sadly, after what traditional publishing will do to his ego and soul, he will never find his way back to indie and having fun and living his dream.

So I just keep on telling the truth about writing and publishing. All I seem capable of doing these days.


  • Mihnea+Manduteanu

    Keep fighting the good fight. Me personally, after years of struggle and two years of therapy on this very subject, I am writing and I already indie publushed some 20 short stories only because of you and your advice. So, thanks.

    • dwsmith

      Mihnea, fun, isn’t it. Having your work out no matter how it sells, the fun is having it out there and the telling more stories. Well done. And remember, I am only a sign post on the side of the road saying, “Go that way.” (Scarecrow on a post in a field in the Wizard of Oz movie might be a better analogy. (grin)) You actually do all of it. So well done.

  • Ashley+R+Pollard

    Now you’ll gone made me curious as too who the two writers were! I’m sure that feeling will pass. So sad. There, there. Never mind.

    People’s opinions can only be changed if they want to change them, or the consequences of said opinions have impacted their mental health so badly that they seek help.

    Even then, change is hard. We have opinions for reasons, and challenging said reasons is not something that’s done by just reasoning our way out of them. It ain’t that simple. But, I’ll stop, otherwise I’ll end up having a rant about how psychological therapies are sold as easy.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, trust me, these two were tame compared to what happens when I actually have the audacity to suggest that rewriting hurts your work. Opinions are religious beliefs when it comes to that.

  • Vincent Zandri

    Too true Dean…Trolls suck. But It all doesn’t end with them I’m afraid. I’ve published how many books tradtionally? Maybe 30+ and because I also have an indie list of close to 100 books (stories, novellas, novels), and sold close to one million of them, I still get the snarky ,”Oh, you just publish eBooks on Amazon, right?” from fellow authors who not only swear by tradtional publishing, but would never, ever, ever consider indie/self-publishing since it would somehow tarnish their stellor literary repuation, even though they haven’t put a book out in years and years because the system that used to be in place has been blown to smitereens.

    Even people I thought were my friends from back in my writing school days, ’95-’97, avoid me like the plague because I actually make a living with my words ( at this point I’ve made over $1mil…not even close to you and Kris but I’m working on it LOL), travel the world, have a ton of fun each day and don’t have to worry about showing up at a job.

    I’ll take it a step further. The worst are the writing school professors, who look down on me because I have my own publishing company for publishing my own work, as often as I want to, and when I want to. Of course, I’m discounting the publishers and editors who hate me for NOT DOING WHAT I’M TOLD TO DO, and for “dilluted sales” which is a fallacy on its face since my serial reading fans will gobble up everything I put out even if it’s once per week (a tradtional editor once told me, if you’re going to insist on indie publishing only put out one book every two quarters. Yet another, far bigger publisher said, “Poor Vince, he’s stretching himself too thin.” Huh????).

    Let’s go one step further. After publishing close to 100 books, many of these tradtionally, winning the Thriller and Shamus Awards both for best novel, being a finalist for a Derringer for best novellete, being the subject of a piece in the New York Times, hitting the NYTimes and USA Today bestseller lists, plus the Overall No. 1 spot on Amazon Kindle at least three times, not a word from the New York State Writer’s Institute who’s mission in part if to “educate” young writers. Crickets. But then, they are all busy teaching and/or working a job.

    Sorry for the rant, my friend, but I thought it appropriate!!!

    • dwsmith

      Totally appropriate. And so spot on the money. Kris and I have old “friends” from the traditional publishing days that are still over there, but won’t give us the time of day because we have our own company, publish what we want, and do Kickstarters for books and other modern things to get out our work. We just shrug. Not our issue to try to inform them. But like you I find it head-shaking that they can’t see that publishing for professional writers has gone this way and is not returning.

      And yea, one reason I had so many pen names back in the 1990s in traditional was the belief in only one book and the even more stupid idea of “diluted sales.” I had forgotten all about that silliness until you reminded me.

      Vincent, you know this, but for everyone else, “diluted sales” is a publishing sales channel belief that if you write a book that sells less, it will hurt your sales on your more popular series. This concept kept so many romance writers trapped writing the same book over and over. Romance sales were higher per book than other genres, so they didn’t dare write a fantasy because it would dilute their sales on their romance. Witness Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb as a prime example. Just stupidity from the jump.

  • David Anthony Brown

    I made it a rule for myself to never talk about writing at any day jobs. Just never know when you’ll run into a beginner still buried in the myths. Not worth ruining work relationships over “disagreements” on how the book publishing industry operates. Of all the coworkers I’ve had over the years, only a small fraction are aware of how much I’ve published, and only a handful have actually read my books.

    The trolls are also why I can no longer stomach Nanowrimo. I reached a point in following Heinlein’s rules that I no longer have anything useful to contribute to that community. Sad, because I got my start with the November challenge and really enjoyed it at the time.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, I always liked the idea of Nanowrimo, but then it go so corrupted by all the write crap and fix later and how most who write those books never bother to do anything with them. I now think it is just flat stupid. But for the occasional writer like you who used it as a stair step to the larger world and got out, it has a little value. But my bet is that it hurts and kills more writers than it helps. Sadly.

  • Dawn

    Keep delivering the truth. I’ll have your back (as I certain many others will too).
    When I was growing up in the 80’s, my mom got me a subscription to Writer’s Digest for my 13th birthday. In a small town in northern Nevada (population around 2,000), this was the best thing I ever had going for me. I devoured the magazine every month when it came in. I would attend writers’ conferences in Carson City and Reno and felt sorry for the speakers who always had to explain what query letters and submission packages were. I knew. If I knew this, why didn’t other people who claimed they wanted to be writers? It got worse when they realized the “kid” in the audience knew these things and actually had a couple minor publishing credits.
    I stopped reading WD when it went south in the 90’s and I could no longer agree with their advice. It didn’t help that the universe took me out of writing just as I was getting close to “real” publication. I never did like the fact that all the publisher guidelines were starting to include the line: must have an agent to submit.
    But, all this background gave me the insights to understand that when you talk about how publishing once was, I know it’s true!
    Truth, people. This is all truth. Dean is telling it like it was and how it is now.
    In fact, in listening to all the lectures and workshops, I’ve heard behind the scenes truths that I didn’t know about (like the reality about editor offices) and that would have scared this small town girl because I had such an opposite idea. But I know that the editor offices must be just like that because everything else you say about publishing is dead on truth with how I saw it.
    After attending the Masterclass a few years ago and sitting around with once traditionally published authors who were going indie and listening to their horror stories with the trad publishers, I am very thankful that the universe took me out of writing back when I was getting close and dropped me back in as the indie world developed. I only wish now that I could have been more awake to what was going on then. I missed years. I still feel like I’m behind the wagon trying to catch up. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop and I certainly am not looking back. I love writing. I love having control. I love steering into my own destiny.
    I also go back and read a lot of your old blog posts. When a question pops into my mind or I find myself dealing with a myth, etc. I Google and find what information you’ve put out on this blog. Even if I’ve read the post before, I reread it because I might not have been receptive to what you were saying (not ready for it) the first time. There are even a few posts that stay open on my computer so I can reread them at least once a week. I believe in repetition of information (as some of my other mentors instruct) and rereading until you find yourself automatically doing what is suggested there.
    Along with that (and as the other mentors also suggest), one should dive deep into the information that a mentor gives you and do what they say. You always say how you found Heinlein’s Rules, looked around at writers you admired so see they were truth, and began to follow them. Now you tell other writers to do this.
    People, do what Dean says. This is truth — follow Heinlein’s Rules. It’s the path.
    I realized back in the late 80’s-early 90’s when I was reading publisher guidelines and saw that they offered a $3,000 advance. There was no way that an author with one book coming out per year could make a living off advances like these (okay, I’d also spent the decade watching those numbers drop too). I knew I was missing a piece of the puzzle because I also knew that I could write more than one book a year. I couldn’t reconcile what I knew with what I saw. In the indie world, I don’t have to. And Heinlein’s Business Rules for Writers is as relevant today as it was then.
    You don’t need an agent. You don’t need a traditional publisher. Neither of those are going to do anything for you in today’s world except screw you and hold you back. You are better off being an indie. From the background, I have watched this become truth. Yes, you might have to learn things. Yes, things might change in the future. Airplanes turn. Be open to what comes. Stay relevant. Read lots about business and writing. Keep learning. Keep your ears open to new innovations. Consider the source of the information you’re reading. OMG – think! Write even more. Tell your stories. Love it. Have fun.

    • dwsmith


      A word of advice. Don’t worry about the time missed. That worry wastes time and you end up missing more now. Writing is always forward, which sure sounds like you are doing now. Thanks for the kind words, but most of what I suggest isn’t really me, it is just me relaying what I have seen and what happened and what others much smarter than me taught me coming in. Can you imagine a Harlan Ellison or a Ray Bradbury putting up with the crap at any point in their career? Either one of them having an agent say to them, “Not ready for publication.” Both were not afraid of language. There would have been language. (grin)

      Thankfully, at least for me, indie publishing returned the sanity to publishing fiction. What is sad is that so many writers put up their own roadblocks, like all the promotion stupidity. Have fun writing, put out the finished book on the market, write the next book. Wow, sounds exactly like Heinlein’s Business Rules. (grin)

    • David+Ai

      Dawn – I love the idea of having open tabs in your browser for good advice from Dean & Kris… I go one step further. I have some of their posts copied into my Scrivner templates so as I work on projects I have them to hand – always. Included too are Heinlein’s rules, Tips by David Farland, Crawford Kilian, Moorcock, George Orwell, David Brin… and more. But as I internalise these lessons I find I don’t need them – except they’re a constant reminder.

      Thanks so much Dean. I think the best advice ever is the no-rewriting rule, and the tip about looping. Just brilliant. I’ll never rewrite again.

      My hardest problem – I’m in the middle of a house design-build project – it sucks all my hours and creativity (and so it should really). But I need a way to parcel out time the way Dean suggests. I’m in awe of your streaks!

  • Rose

    I have an amazing writer friend who’s still trapped in that mindset, and she’s been submitting the same MS for a year, editing and re-editing, and the emotional and creative toll is just ghastly. I went indie a few years ago. I can’t say it’s always worked out how I intended (what does?), but between the waiting and the constant asking for someone else’s permission, I don’t miss trad pub. And don’t even get me started on the utter freaking nonsense of multiple rounds of unnecessary edits, all to hear, “Thanks, but I don’t think I can sell this” or “This book still isn’t ready to submit to editors.” (The second response was from my NY-based agent at a 100+ year old full-service agency. Yikes.)

    My indie career hasn’t been the amazing success story (yet) that you see in those FB groups where people talk about getting 6 figures right out of the gate, but anything I need to know, I can work on learning. It’s a lot better than begging someone else for validation and/or twisting myself into a pretzel to get them to like me. (I’d join a dating app if I wanted that. Ba dum tss!)

    • dwsmith

      Rose, I would have never been able to do that round of silliness. I missed all that because I was a writer in traditional when agents worked for writers, not the other way around as it became twenty years ago. I never submitted a book to an agent. Why should I? Agents didn’t buy books, publishers did. My agent just handled the garbage work and always got me just enough extra to cover her fee.

  • Kate+Pavelle

    Change is hard. Change of something as intangible as the way an area of business happens to operate is even harder, and it’s intangible to the former-trads and wannabe-trads because the presitge used to be high, but they never made any money at it.
    I made some money with a small press (7 novels, 2 short stories.) Not a bad start – and then the late P.D.Singer convinced me to take the plunge, and midwifed my first indie-pub novella into the world.
    The money I stopped getting paid by the small press was pretty darn tangible (#basket_accounting).
    The money I started making indie was even more tangible.
    We’re talking the perfect carrot-stick scenario here. Even with me, I had to reach a certain pain point, though. And I had to see Amazon earnings on-screen as she said shyly that “Oh…I haven’t released in a few month so this is just residual stuff, this is nothing.” She was published with the same small press, did well enough to have a good series translated and narrated by them, and despite her “just residuals,” she was excited about indie.
    For me, taking the plunge was easy since I got to see the contrast. I don’t think many people have that experience, and many people don’t have a good friend who’s willing to show and compare their trad vs. indie numbers.
    Some people just won’t come around, I guess.

    • dwsmith

      Kate my best year in traditional was just over $200,000 and I had to write 15 novels to get that. Now that would be a very bad year.

  • Matt

    Hi Dean,

    Speaking for my ownself, this beginning fiction writer has hung on your every word for the last 3 or 4 years.

    Truth is, listening to your advice on publishing, and having that attitude of *just getting to work*, has gotten me further along than listening to the myths ever did. (Myths which, unfortunately, I bought into for a very long time.)

    I’m not exactly new to indie publishing, though fiction is different waters from the non-fiction books I’ve sold in the past.

    But that’s given me some feel for quality… my own inclination is to listen to the words of those who have walked the path rather than know-it-alls with more credentials than results. And what you say rings far more true to me than what I hear from the “writers groups” and online hangouts.

    I have to avoid those places now. The personalities and negative attitudes muddy up my head-space.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, better to avoid if you let the stuff in. I don’t let it in, it’s just not worth my time.

      And remember, I wasted and lost seven years in the myths. Damn I wish I had those seven back.

  • Connor whiteley

    And I thank you for being the lighthouse in the storm of publishing and writing nonsense. It’s why you’re one of the three people I mainly listen to, I listen to others but their advice requires more thinking. There’s so much nonsense though.

    About the angry and arguments, it’s why I tend to laugh at lots of authors posts in the wiser Facebook groups because 90% of them are based on some false writing, publishing myth, the deadly promotion cycle or my personal favourite a stage 1 writer teaching other writers how to write bestsellers.

    I want to help them and correct them but the arguments aren’t worth my time, and I don’t want to be known as the moany writer who moans at ‘truth’

    Like today sort of told a writer to stop focusing on sale rank on amazon telling her its meaningless. And saying I’ve been the zon bestseller and everything but i don’t care, I just focus on having fun writing and learning.

    Doubt she’ll listen (implicit attitudes are quick to activate, hard to change) but it’s good to poke a windmill every so often.

    • dwsmith

      Connor, let the windmill poking to writers who have nothing to lose and a massive career to back up the poke. Better to spend your writing on new fiction words. Always better. When you get old and grumpy and a few hundred books through your fingers is the time to poke at windmills. (grin)

  • Philip

    Dean, curious what you think of my theory regarding traditionally published writers, as you say, not giving you the time of day because of indie and kickstarters etc.

    I believe it comes down to elitism. You see, the fact that you’re so up front about EARNING A LIVING means you’re viewing writing as creative WORK. Despite being a business owner, you’re “dirtying” your art by being so close to the SELLING part. In other words, you’re getting down to the level of the average, everyday person. And that’s a disgrace. These New York types like to think they’re somehow angels anointed with great talent and they merely collect a stipend for blessing us with their polished works of art. They like to believe they’re floating on some cloud way above regular people.

    • dwsmith

      Nah, just uninformed. They actually care more about money than most indie writers.

      We are getting a lot of stupidity being defended these days by the uninformed, or misinformed. The two that came at me with anger are the same. Defense and anger when it is too scary to look at truth. Nothing snobby about that. Traditional published writers are rarely snobby. Literary writers, totally. But genre writers just feel they beat the system and can’t imagine trying to learn a new system.

  • Dale T. Phillips

    Along with Dean, Kris, and others, Vin’s publishing path was illustrative and super-helpful, and convinced me I didn’t want to deal with traditional pub anymore. No horror stories for me, and oddly, I haven’t had any since I went Indie.
    Only ONE jerk in publishing to deal with- me. 🙂
    Just fun, increasing success, and happiness on my own schedule, putting out what I want, when I want. Pros like my work (thanks, Vin!), and I shake my head at the moaning writers at conventions. Many thanks to the writers like Dean and Vin who showed a better way. Some of us listen and learn, and follow. The rest don’t matter.

  • C.Y. Stewart


    I started writing fiction in English about two years ago (I used to write in Chinese before I moved to the US; English is my second language). It was around that time when I first came across your blog – so glad that I did! Your advice and insights have saved me from wasting a ton of time and energy for I didn’t go down the financially idiotic path of chasing the traditional-publishing myth. I truly appreciate it.

    I incorporated a publishing company, and so far have published two novels, one novella and a couple of short stories. I can tell that I’m doing better and better: Two years ago my sales was non-existent; now it is…well, existent but negligible. Unless something magical happens, at this rate, it is going to take FOREVER for me to “make it”.

    So I have a question on marketing.

    I remember you mentioned in one of your blog posts that it would take time to grow in indie. Five years as an estimate, if I remember correctly. You also mentioned that an author would need to have at least 10 (20?) titles out there to increase their discoverability.

    Whereas I will continue writing to increase my discoverability, I have a question: How should indie published writers go about marketing? Should we send advance review copies to places such as those publishing trade magazines? Is it worth doing at all? Or is it part of the dying “traditional publishing myth”? From what I understand, these publishing trade magazines usually require review copies to be submitted 6-12 months in advance. That’s 6-12 months of delayed/missed sales, and there’s no guarantee that at the end of the 6-12 months there’d be (positive) publicity.

    Similarily, how about sending review copies to bloggers, reporters, book reviewers on YouTube, etc.?

    I guess my question boils down to how should indie-published books compete with traditionally-published books on marketing? How do we get the word out there, other than keep writing and waiting, hoping that something magical would happen (e.g. book got picked up by an influencer by random chance) one day in the years to come? For indie-published writers, how do we make the transition from negligible income to tangible income?

    Thank you very much,

    C.Y. Stewart (a.k.a. Carrie)

    • dwsmith

      C.Y, you won’t like my answer. Do all of that stuff you mentioned if you want after you have some books to sell. Around 20 is the major number for discoverability. Until that point, all the money and time you spend on advertising is worthless because the readers don’t have enough books of yours to find. So you want to get to making money quicker with your writing, write more books. Stop rewriting, write what you want.

      You are about to go down a nasty myth. Marketing is totally worthless (long run) until you have enough books out to make it worth your time. The old cliche is accurate and always has been. Your next book is your best promotion.

      Stop worrying about it and write more. Really is that simple, but for those in a hurry, that is really difficult.

  • Lorri Moulton

    I can’t imagine NOT being self-published. I love the freedom, the flexibility…the fact that I can write and publish anything I choose. I don’t need someone else deciding what I write, when I publish, how fast I can release my books. I’m an adult. I like to make my own decisions. 🙂