Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Following Up on Yesterday’s Post…

With a Personal Story…

I wrote a novel for fun back in January of 2014 called KILL GAME: A Cold Poker Gang Novel. It came out in Smith’s Monthly in March and then as a stand-alone novel in May of 2014.  It sold very few copies, maybe three or four a month, maybe. (That’s what I have been told.)

Then in November my creative voice said “Write another.” I did, a book called COLD CALL: A Cold Poker Gang Novel. Again it was in Smith’s Monthly and out stand-alone a month or so later. Sold very few copies, maybe three or four a month. I did not care and paid no attention, as I suggested last night that writers do. I was having fun writing mysteries. I am not known as a mystery writer, but I do write them at times over the years. And I have written my share of thrillers as well.

Then in February of 2015, I wrote another one called CALLING DEAD: A Cold Poker Gang Novel. I had set orders that no one was to tell me how many copies any of my books sold, and I flat didn’t care. I was just having fun with the writing. And then another in October called BAD BEAT: A Cold Poker Gang Novel.

I never once told anyone on my blog about them, did no promotion, and thankfully no one told me how few copies they were selling. Again, just having fun with the writing.

I did three more in 2016 and two more in late 2017, one of which made it to Smith’s Monthly before the pause. So nine books out in the same series, no one knew about them, no promotion, no sales. And I didn’t care. All I cared about was the fun of the writing. They were amazingly fun to write.

But as Kris and I started the move to  Las Vegas in early 2018, Gwyneth at WMG asked if they could promote that last book I wrote that hadn’t been published yet and I was so busy and so worried about Kris’s health, I no longer cared. I said, “Do what you want.”

To be honest, I flat had no time to think about it.

So Gwyneth did some smaller bookbub like promotions for a time on Kill Game, the first book in the series, then managed to get a Bookbub for the first book. They put it free in the mystery category even though up to that point I had hated free for just about anything I wrote. (I have changed that opinion some in the last four years.)

I was so busy, if they told me any of this at that time, I paid no attention.

I continued to pay no attention and one morning Kris wakes me up and says my book was #1 on Amazon. I asked what book, she told me Kill Game and that it was #1 in the free listings.

I said, “That and ten bucks will get you a coffee at Starbucks.”

And I went back to sleep. It was free. All that meant to me was that I was going to get a ton of bad reviews and I didn’t care about that.

Hours later it was still #1 and the second book was starting to sell (the advantage of writing 40,000 word novels. Readers can read them faster.)

I shrugged and still flat didn’t care. The next morning it was still #1 and now not only was the second book jumping up the paid charts, but the third book as well. And everyone at WMG seemed to be excited but me.

Since we had not promoted these books for a lot of years, mystery readers didn’t know the books and the series was even there. Didn’t know that Star Trek writer Dean Wesley Smith could even write mystery novels.

The next day, somewhere in the middle of the day, after an amazing run at #1, it fell to #2 on the free charts. (The timing on this is just from my faulty memory. Kris seems to think it stayed at #1 longer.) And Cold Poker Gang books #2 and #3 had both hit #1 in science fiction and both were up high overall on Amazon.

Amazon, being very smart, saw the trend and bundled up #4 through #9  to make it easier for readers to buy them all at once, and that bundle was selling like crazy.

And two months later, the money started coming in. From not only Amazon, but all the sites. Let me just say this, wow did we make a lot of money on that. And the surge of money lasted far longer than six months.

And all the Cold Poker Gang novels are still selling well, and we made over $10,000 on a new Cold Poker Gang novel Kickstarter. That novel just came out.

THANK HEAVENS I never paid attention or cared about how a book or a series was selling. I never cared that the books weren’t selling for years. My measuring stick was the fun in the writing. And if WMG had done that promotion on book three instead of book #9, it would have failed. The fact that I had nine books in the series done gave readers who liked the book something to buy next.  (You know, magic bakery thinking.)

So that is a personal story of me practicing what I preached in last night’s blog.

If you go back through the first 50 issues of Smith’s Monthly, you will find lots and lots of novels I wrote in the last eight years that you have never heard of or heard of the series. But I wrote them for fun and we just published them. And that is what I am going to keep doing.

I understand that many beginning writers just can’t understand this kind of thinking. They are in too much of a hurry, especially with all the baby indie writers shouting how you must promote and spend thousands to publish a book. I say write for fun, put it out as inexpensively as you can, and have fun writing the next book.

You just never know when something will break and make you more money than you can imagine.



  • Kessie

    How do you get into Bookbub, etc. without a ton of reviews? I’ve been writing and publishing with no fanfare, mostly because 2020 was a dumpster fire but I still had books to launch. Most of the series has no reviews at all, but that’s still the only metric these promo sites look at. I’m kind of stuck.

    • dwsmith

      And yup, that’s what they want you to believe to keep the number of submissions down. You can submit every month. And if you are not creative enough to get past their guidelines or find ways to get reviews for your books, then their methods are successful. But I think my most important question is how many books do you have out. If under twenty, you haven’t even gotten to the point where your books are discoverable. Your bakery is empty. So go back and read both my posts again and learn how to pay attention to the process and not the product.

      As long as you are enjoying the process of writing, reviews and all this promotion crap won’t make a difference at all. So you are clearly product focussed.

  • Brenden Shouse

    Hi Dean, I wanted to thank you for the post you’ve done over the last two days. I thought I knew better than to become product focused, but as I was reading yesterday’s post and today’s post I realize that that is my main problem at this point.
    I wrote this series I really loved about superheroes in space, sort of like a firefly/Star Wars thing where instead of Jedi there are superpowered people running the show.
    The series doesn’t sell, I do everything myself so I see the sales results and it didn’t hit my expectations for the story. I hired a copy editor (as it turns out, they want to be a lot more than a copy editor, no Bueno) and for a while I had foolishly decided that since the books could have been better I might as well just rewrite the entire series.
    The whole idea has been eating me up for months until a few days ago I decided I wasn’t going to do that, I guess I never realized that I was losing my joy in the writing process, and solely looking at the money in the bank. I’ve been working on putting the books back up, no editing, just fixing some non sequiturs.
    The crazy thing about the first book is, I managed to get 30 free downloads in two days of the first book on Barnes & Noble. The book itself was selling completely fine, I got somebody on my newsletter list with those books, but yet I let critical voice come in, and tell me all the things I have to change, all of the issues with my writing that means I shouldn’t put this book out and just let that one sit on the shelf.
    I wrote 17 novels before I was brave enough to put my first one out and got trashed in it’s first review(another thing I wished I had known not to do at the time, I found your blog several years too late) if you were me, and had written all of these stories and never put most of them out, would you go back and publish all of those trunk novels, or should I just publish all of the things I write, going forward?

    • dwsmith

      Your problem, Brenden, is that you spend more time in your own past than you do living in the present and looking at the future. And turning around and moving backwards is never a way to make progress going forward. And you are so wrapped up in what other’s think that you are stuck.

      What kind of fear would make you write 17 novels and not publish them??? What in the world are you afraid of??? This is fiction, stuff you made up. No one will come and burn down your house if you wrote a book that doesn’t work. In fact, the truth is NO ONE CARES if a book works or not. NO ONE. And that is amazingly freeing. But you clearly think that the entire world will care and you will be shunned or banned from Starbucks or something.

      So I have no suggestion for you until you find out the source of your really, really exploded fears. Once you cure that problem, then decide what to do, but as long as you are reading reviews, watching your sales, and acting out of fear of what others think instead of being an artist, there is no right answer.

      Find the root of the fear and spend some time clearing it out.

  • emmiD

    A ton of lessons in this and yesterday’s post. 3 keys for me–which those focused on “get rich quick” writing do not understand:

    1) most important–fun while writing

    2) power of the backlist *before* promotions

    3) just keep writing. Let the writing be the goal. You said once (can’t remember when, last 6 years for sure) that writing is the writer’s only thing to control.

    How much the book sells, that’s out of our control. How the book *hits* the readership trends, that’s out of our control.

    So much is out of our control that item 1 is definitely the most important… because item 1 is what keeps us going.

    Taking these to heart are difficult lessons but so necessary.

    I plugged only since 2015 selling little but concentrating on writing the stories I want to tell. Not selling much. Some months not selling at all. Last year I started going wide with my back catalog. Still coffee earnings but now it’s steadier. The real joy is hearing from the readers who say “I’ve read everything. What’s next and when?” That spurs me more to put Bum in Chair than any dream I had.

  • Philip

    I see a lot of “successful” indies who are getting mere money market returns from publishing because they spend tens of thousands on advertising for every series.

    As someone who is bootstrapping my publishing, it’s inspiring to see an actual professional writer who hasn’t sank a fortune into manipulating sales.

    I was recently thinking about your magic bakery concepts and also your making a living on short stories (permanently bookmarked on my phone).

    Pulp writers made about 1 cent per word. According to the CPI, 1 cent in 1945 is worth about 15 cents today. Therefore, to be paid like a pulp great for your 5,000 word short story, you only have to make $750. But stories never spoil, so at $2.99 you have to eventually sell about 375 copies, which doesn’t include the sales as part of bundles or anthologies or other IP rights you sell. The pulp greats had to pound the pavements (sometimes literally) to get their penny, though. We can just throw it up there and immediately have a portal to money. It’s truly incredible.

    The barrier of entry is next to nothing but ironically the loudest indies want to turn indie into baby trad! They want us to be self-imposter gatekeepers. Your book isn’t “ready.” You need a huge “launch.” Write to “market.” No way. WMG, DWS, Kris… this is the way to go.

    • dwsmith

      Michael, free is fine for sales in first in a series like we did. Small promotions, always limited time. For example, Kris gives a story away every Monday, and it is only free for one week. Also, at the same time it is for sale in the regular sites and she makes sales, more than normal, on that free story for that week. So if used right, free is a powerful tool.

  • Chris

    The Magic Bakery metaphor and Dean’s explanation of it changed everything for me. As Christoffer Petersen I now have around 80 works – everything from novels, novellas, short stories and collections. I now have plenty of inventory in my bakery, and I add more every couple of months. I stopped advertising at the end of 2019, I’ve dumped all social media, but even with some ups and downs I’ve been a full time writer since January 2018.

    However, just this morning was the first time I ever thought about writing a different kind of story I like the idea of, and not caring about the time frame, meaning that I’m not worried if it sells within the next 5 years or so – not worried in the slightest.

    Sure, I have regular sales now, and I think very differently than I did back in 2018 and 2019. But I think that has more to do with trying to make a living from my writing only. I’ll admit I quit the day job too early, but every part time job I tried after that got in the way of my writing. While I don’t earn lots, I earn enough for my wife and I to get by in one of the highest taxed countries in the world. And this has to be the best job I’ve ever had, especially when I stopped checking mails or waiting for the phone to ring with the “big offer”. I realised no one is going to call, and, as Dean says: no one cares. Understanding and accepting that is perhaps the most freeing thought ever, and allows me to have far more fun with my writing.

    One other thing, in 2018 an agency took me on because I came to them with a foreign publisher in my back pocket. The editor found me on Amazon, wanted my books, but would only work with me through an agent. (Yeah… I know…) The agency told me they looked forward to taking on a self-published writer and helping him make more money. I jumped into the whole “rewrite” myth, as they told me I could expect that. But, in the last minute, when there there was a delay in sending my contract – for all rights and territories – I had doubts. I changed it to foreign and film only. Today, after a 3 month period since quitting my contract, June 1, marks the day I am free. I’ll never go back to an agency again.

    I’m writing this because a few of the comments above mention Dean’s Magic Bakery. Like I said, it was a game changer for me when I read it, and I’ve been working on my inventory ever since.

    The agency sold some of my books for translation. This year I’m doing my own translation projects… and slicing the magic pies in the bakery. 🙂

    Again, thanks Dean! Please, keep writing, we’re listening.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Chris. Great to hear and you are making some great moves forward. And great inventory in the bakery. Amazing how that really helps over time. And the day I finally got away from the scammers that was my agent, the freedom feeling was amazing. So I remember exactly how you are feeling.

      Keep the writing fun.

  • Kate+Pavelle

    WORK vs. FUN triggers:

    with these two posts and all these comments, I went to look for what makes me thing writing is work. My small international company and the home-office job that came with it died of Covid, so I’m writing and refinishing furniture on the side. So far so good – but what gets me in the work mode?

    Turns out, I’m something of a coffee junkie. I have a “workday mug” and a less serious, more quirky “weekend mug.” I spent the last few days navel-gazing as I went through my day, gauging my fun vs. drudgery levels. I have been signaling whether it’s work time or play time using coffee mugs for years now. It was a way to get work done from home. But I don’t do work anymore, I write. Therefore, the “workday” mug doesn’t belong next to my writing computer, no matter what day of the week it is! I might use it at another desk with my publishing laptop, though.
    It sounds really stupid, but there are subconscious triggers that put me into that “I need to stay in my cubicle, the whippings will continue until morale improves” mindset. So I said, screw it. I’m an artist. I can wear whatever I want (yes, clothing triggers attitude as well,) I can drink out of my fun mug whenever I want, and I can create whatever I want.
    This means changing media as need requires. If I get stuck writing, I can go sand wood in the garage shop, or whatever needs to be done next.
    I know some writers have a really structured day, and it works for them. It doesn’t work for me. When I try to micro-manage my schedule, it’s a trigger of being in that corporate mindset. Once I do that, I switch into Publishing Brain.
    So I am learning to give myself the permission to play and be spontaneous. Writing is easy – giving myself permission is the hard part. (Good news – this means I can write after dinner again. I’ve been trying to do all my writing before 5, but that triggers the workday mindset again.)

  • Ed Teja

    A great post with important points.

    I sold my first short story to a magazine in 1978 and I’ve always written for the joy of it. try to make the writing fun. Why else would I do it? Even so, at times I catch myself thinking about the “product” I’ll wind up with slams my creative mind up the side of the head and screams: “Wake up kid. If you do that this book won’t sell.”

    So, although I’ve been writing all my life, this was a lovely wakeup call to lock the SOB that screams that way in the closet.

    But then, your columns often help me remember why I became a writer in the first place and what about it made it fun. Tinkering with outlining and other byways I would have been better off not exploring weren’t exactly wastes of time, but they distrated me along the way.

    Your aside about rethinking free caught my attention. I would love to hear about your rethinking of making the first book in a series free when you have a chance.

    I’ll be starting your novel challenge next month–it looks to be a great refresher course in the grand joy of writing.