I Feel Bad For New Writers… Part 10… More Myths

More Myths on Both Sides… Part Three…

I say this little introduction to each new parts… New fiction writers coming in now are really torn between all the myths and hype of traditional publishing and all the myths and hype of indie publishing.

But as I said back in the first post of this series, the paperback era of big publishing is pretty much done, and the distribution of fiction is changing over to the electronic era of indie publishing, with indie writers in charge.

These kinds of major shifts in fiction distribution to the readers has happened four major times through the history of this country, with each new era lasting about 50 years and the transitions lasting about 25 years. Again, see my first post.

New writers coming in today don’t know this history, don’t realize they are coming in smack in the middle of a transition. And to make matters worse, the myths passed on by writers on both sides make it often impossible to know what is truth and what is myth.


The Writing to Order Myth…

The most deadly myth that seems to have been carried over from traditional publishing and is now implanted solidly in the indie side is “Writing to Market (or to Order).”

In what is left of the traditional publishers and their agent employees, writing to order or market is a must. The writer often doesn’t have any idea who is doing the ordering, but the agent seems to pretend to know the market and can have a writer rewrite a book a bunch of times to this mythical “order” to fit one publishing line or another. Deadly for the writer and creative voice in very short order. But sadly, the death is long and drawn out before the writer notices they hate writing or can’t write the next book.

In indie publishing, the blogs and articles are full of “You must…” commands. And poor beginning writers believe that once they have started a series, “They must…” write the next book and the next and so on and faster and faster and faster. All with the excuse that their fans will be angry at them.

Head-shaking stupid unless you are in Select. Then I have nothing to say about that. I talk about long term careers, not bad myth choices.

This type of writing to order is deadly as well for indie writers, and much quicker death than the slow, painful death of traditional writers trying to chase a moving market that no one understands. Indie writers with this kind of belief in the myth of writing to market just flat burn out.

The truth that is in indie you can write what you want, as fast or as slow as you want.

If you can ignore the myths that swirl around this craziness and write the books you want and sell them wide, all over the world, you have a great chance at long-term success. It might be slower in the start than those who flash and burn out. But you will be at least happy.

The Myth of Indies Can’t Sell To Bookstores…

Or Libraries, which often gets dumped into this myth. To have your work in libraries, just get your books for sale on Draft2Digital and from there you can get to numbers of the major library distributors.

As for bookstores, I have personally been laughing about this myth for years and years, ever since indie publishing started.

Traditional publishers never care or sell to readers, unlike indie publishers who only go direct to readers in most cases. Traditional publishers sell to the trade, which is a channel that runs from traditional publishers to the buyers at bookstores, including Amazon and so on.

This channel is full of all sorts of people who make a living off the books flowing through it.

This trade channel is not locked, is not a secret, and any indie publisher can get into it if they want. And many do.

But what is even more fascinating is that now an indie writer can publish the book through Ingram, which is basically the last big distributor left standing. If the publisher sets the discounts correctly, and allows returns, Ingrams (with a little interest in the book, meaning just a few sales) will stock their warehouses with your book and bookstores can buy it.

(They stock the warehouses by buying your books and printing them. If you suddenly get spikes of ten or fifteen copy sales of your paper or hardback through Ingram, your book has been stocked for faster delivery to stores.)

At WMG Publishing, we sell a lot of books into bookstores, physical books without ever wasting a dime on climbing into the going-extinct trade channel or doing one of the ABA programs.

And we don’t mind full-copy returns since we either resell them or use them for other promotional purposes.

If you hear someone talking about how they can’t sell their books into bookstores, just shake your head and walk away. One of two things is happening…

  1. The writer is spouting a myth and has no idea what they are talking about.
  2. The writer tried the trade channel, but the book cover and sales copy is so bad, no bookstore owner would think of putting the ugly thing on their shelves.

Traditional publishers only sell to the trades.

Indie writers have cut out all those middle people and businesses and sell direct to readers.

And the future is direct to readers for distribution. At least for the next fifty years until something new comes along.



  • Philip

    I’ve said this many times, but the bulk of current Indie gurus has actually created more myths and barriers than Traditional as if they’re in an arms race with Trad.

    I deal with enough rules and regulations and opinions of others in my day job, I’m not bringing that into my writing.

  • Philip

    Another Indie Myth: Success for everyone means quitting your day job, and quitting it as fast as possible, to become a full time writer.

    Writing is my passion and hobby. I just happen to monetize. Don’t get me wrong, I do hope it grows into a very healthy income supplement in 20 or so years when I retire, but I don’t burden my Creative Voice with the panic that everything I write must be a blockbuster hit to change my life overnight.

    I write for fun and I write because I have to. My soul needs it. I’m in it for rhe long-term. $50,000/year starting 20 years from now would be just fine. I just want to share my joy with readers.

    • Brady

      This is great. Personally, I want to make a full time career of it but it’s stone cold truth that if you can’t be happy now and enjoy the journey you’re not gonna be happy when you get the money. As the philosopher John Candy says in Cool Runnings: “a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” I’m not the poster child for embodying this attitude but it’s very admirable.

  • Dave Creek

    I’m glad to see your comments about the myth of writing to order, which I couldn’t do if I tried. Anytime I’ve had someone suggest that I write a particular thing other than my usual SF that takes place in space or on other planets, my creativity freezes up. I have no concept of writing high fantasy or RPG fiction, for instance. I’d like to tackle a mystery novel sometime, but I’ve never come up with a concept or characters.

    When it comes to churning out books quickly, I wonder about a couple things. First of all, how long are these books that are coming out only a month apart? Are they somehow managing 60,000 or 80,000 words every month (Yes, I know some writers like you can probably manage it and produce good copy, but you’re an exception). Or are they really writing short stories, novelets, or novellas?

    And who are the readers? With all respect to you and other prolific authors, unless you resurrect Ray Bradbury, there’s no one I would want to read a book by every month.

    • dwsmith

      Dave, caution. You are assuming the worst English teacher myth there is, and that is writing quickly means writing poorly. Horrid myth. Often it is the other way around, since writers who are quicker often get out of their own way and let their voices come forward and readers love voices.

      80,000 plus novels is a manufacture of traditional publishing starting back in the 1980s and through the early 1990s. Their big offices in New York started to cost them more and they needed more money, so they started forcing writers in their contracts to write longer books (same amount of money) so they could put out longer books and charge more for each book. For the history of novel writing, most novels range from 35,000 to 60,000 words and the freedom of indie publishing has allowed that length to return. I suppose I should include this in a chapter.

      Also, do the math, Dave. If you can write abut 1,000 words of finished fiction an hour, and your work at the blazing pace of 1 hour per day, that is 365,000 words a year. That’s six 60,000 word novels a year, or one every two months. Yeah, I know, the poor writer must write 1 hour per day to do that. Math sort of exposes the myths at times. (grin)

    • Brady

      My two cents is you can become skilled enough to turn out excellent copy at those rates. I don’t think that’s average though. I always think of the jazz greats. Those classic records are all one takes and some of it is genius and none of it is bad. But the practice that went into being able to do that is why they could hit record and lay down gold. Writing is the same in my opinion.

      And I think you’ll get readers that like you enough to read monthly novels. I have a few true believer fans already. Personally I’d read somebody like John D MacDonald a new novel per week. Ofc he was a master. But with time we can get that good. Sure there is talent but work always trumps it.

      Nothing I’m saying is arguing with you. Sympathetic to all your points. I think we just do our own thing with dedication and the readers will come. Cue Field of Dreams reference…

      • dwsmith

        Brady, you may want to check in with yourself that you desperately want to hold onto the belief that writing fast (unless you are major experienced) means writing poorly. Horrid, horrid, basic English Teacher myth.

        Every story, every novel, is practice. I know writers hate that word, but the more stories you write, the more practice you have and if you combine writing a lot with continued learning of craft and business, you become one of those genius you are referring to. Talent is only a measure of your craft at a moment in time. Talent does not exist, only the ability to write stories and hold readers and that comes with a lot of words over time, called practice.

        You might want to really check in with yourself because the attitude you are expressing here will really, really hold you back. Just some advice.

        By the way, when I was writing for traditional publishing, I would write a 90,000 plus word novel in four or five days. Sadly, I must have duped (in your opinion because I was a newer writer) over 23 millions readers into linking my work because I wrote it so fast. Head-shaking myth, one I have not seen on this blog in a long time. So long, in fact, I no longer thought I had to mention it anymore. Guess it is still major out there.

        Only art form on the planet where uninformed teachers tell newer writers to write slower and practice less to get better.

        If you write faster and do more and more practice, you get better in writing, just as you do in any art form.

        • Brady

          Perhaps I wrote unclearly above. I am in full agreement with you. As a musician I know the power of practice. I was attempting to caution against the idea of talent being a determinor of success. I have had a number of 5k word days that I think are printable copy. I wonder a bit how I miscommunicated so badly. My first thought when I hear it takes writers years for a book is “that’s ridiculous”. All the people I admire wrote quick and clean.

          I personally try to emulate the pulp greats and I observe Heinlein’s rules. I took 3 months on my first novel and that feels slow to me.

          Sorry if it seems I was perpetuating the myth. I’m not sure what I missed in conveying my thoughts here 🙁

          • dwsmith

            Brady, yup us writers are sometimes the worst at basic communication.

            One more comment. You said you have 5,000 word days you think are printable, which tells me there is doubt there and you are surprised at that printable fact. Nope, you should not be surprised at all if that myth was completely gone from your mind. So it is still lurking and just came out.

            Another thing to be cautious of is that we are the worst judges of our own work. Let the readers who buy it judge it. Just write and put out.

            By the way, I wrote most of a 70,000 word Trek book under extreme deadline because I was hired to fill a problem another author had and I had to do the book very fast. Wrote about 35,000 words in one day (Kris brought me food), sent the book in at 6 in the morning my time so the editor had it when they got in at 9 am in New York. It went straight into print without a copyedit because it was on deadline and not one person in New York ever read the book. Never once occurred to me that the story or the writing might be bad. Got a hunch it was some of my best work but I am the author and have no clue.

            I did that when I was in my late 50s, so I was young then.

          • Brady

            For what it’s worth, printable was meant as a positive for me. As in “I’ll put my name on that and get it out to people”. And the only thing surprising is that I’ve had a few of those 5k days with a full time job and kids. I “print” everything I write and am a Rule 3 purist. Somehow I’ve put my foot in my mouth a bunch apparently. I rarely if ever disagree with what you teach and kind of a bummer we seem to have butted heads. Sorry if that’s down to expressing my thoughts poorly.

          • dwsmith

            No issue at all, Brady. I hope my comments help you dig out the remains of that old myth about writing quickly equals writing poorly. Sounds like you have it beat on the surface just fine. It just came through what you said which tells me it is still under the surface. Amazing how we all catch ourselves at old myths at times. Myths we no longer really believe in, but yet come through our words. Kris and I to this day still catch ourselves on some things. Never in the belief, just in the expression. So we’re good. I didn’t mean to pick on you, just using it as an example more than anything else.

  • Ron Collins

    Beyond being at least a little shortsighted, I’m more than sure writing to market as it’s being discussed among some Independently Published Writers today would burn me out in record time.

  • Alexander Boukal

    The “You must…” talk is also plentiful on the Authortube side of Youtube. Too many would-be “authors” who say that you MUST write to market and outline your novels.

    There are seemingly only a select few writers on Authortube who give legitimate writing tips that are based on their own experience and practice. Most seem to reiterate what everyone else has said, spewing nonsense and surface-level writing “advice” that does nothing in way of actual learning and developing writing techniques/skills.

    One of the legitimate writers whom I have actually learned something from on Authortube is Michael La Ronn.

    Great writing advice, apps for writers, discussions around publishing and AI.

    • dwsmith

      Michael La Ron is great people. Really smart and great work ethic. Never heard of “Authortube” until this moment. Sounds like one of those mostly deadly sites. But most are. Got to pick and chose what to listen to that fits what you are doing. Avoid “Must do…” writers. All of us are different. Remember, I spent a decade chasing market books in traditional publishing.

      • S. H. Miah

        Hi Dean,

        “Authortube” is just the name given to Authors who make videos on YouTube. Though you’re right, a lot of them give horrid writing advice (buying £500 covers with £3000 of editing per book being one of them, not to mention bludgeoning to death critical voice’s favourite tool: writing to market).

  • Kristi N

    Thank you, Dean, for taking on these myths in the indie world. I struggle with the myths because I’m in the hole between “I published a book” and “I can pay bills from my book earnings”, and I see others making substantially more than I am, or being invited to speak at local writers’ conferences. It’s easy to feel small, and insignificant, when others garner more attention and accolades while I’m struggling.

    Then I did some searching online, and realized that some of my ebooks are already on the Powell’s and Waterstones websites. And one of my ebooks is in the collection of the Brooklyn Public Library. I’ve done no promotion (not enough books published to make it worthwhile) and have merely tried to up the game on covers and cover copy. (Shameless plug for the WMG workshop on Fiction Sales Copy–it has really made a difference!) Reminding myself of my goals and accomplishments reminds me why I chose to do this writing thing. I enjoy writing, I enjoy creating worlds and people, and sharing them.

    • dwsmith

      Kristi, well said. And comparing yourself or your earnings to other people is always deadly. No writer is the same. Just write your books, have fun, and keep going and it is stunning what can happen.

  • Anthony

    As of the first of this month, Ingraham Spark no longer charges a set up fee. That means that in exchange for just a few minutes of his time, an jndie writer can now get his book into almost any bookstore in the entire world, with either a full discount plus returns (much better than kdp expanded distribution), or with a short discount with a much greater reach that will net said writer more money than kdp print does on Amazon. There is also no longer any need to buy ISBNs from Bowker, as the only consequence of using the free ones provided will be two editions on Amazon that both pay extremely well.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, indie is slowly breaking that US monopoly by Bowkers and their price-gouging stupidity. KDP expanded only gets you these days to Baker and Taylor and they are mostly to libraries now. A few independent bookstores still use them, but not many. Most go with Ingrams now, but you need full discount for them and returns.

    • Kate Pavelle

      Wait, hold on re: the ISBN’s. Are you saying that Ingram will now accept the free ISBN from Amazon, or are they also providing free ones? I bought a bundle of them at a discount few years back so I still have a bunch, but still. They won’t last forever, and not needing them will save me the step of filling out the Bowker form.

      Or does something else render the need for Bowker’s ISBNs obsolete? Thank you.

      • Anthony

        Ingrams provides you with a free one, just like Amazon does. You just use both for each book. The only difference is that there will be 2 editions on Amazon, one of which no one will buy because it will say it will take 1-3 days, and your kdp version ships in 24 hours. No one will notice or care if you used the free ones, or ones you paid for.

  • Brady

    Coming across yours and Kris’s talks on YT before seeing other indie advice (sad to say almost universally bad) saved me from worrying about write to market, thank God. I’ve found I’m a genre-hopper and blender by nature and most of the writers I love to read are as well. I think Kris said that path can take longer (understandable) but in the end people fall in love with your voice, not the tropes and box ticking for a genre. I suppose they have to shelve somebody like King somewhere, so they put it in horror but he writes everything. And people buy his name (i.e. voice), not a genre. So the long term goal for me and I think what you’d advise is to become that name people love, not a market hack. (and no offense if ppl aren’t like me, like you’ve said, write to a market if it’s a market you love, and that’s very cool indeed).

  • Emilia

    Might bit off topic, I saw discussion on how some, namely popular thriller authors, can’t write well and why would you study their books.

    My writing got better after studying both James Patterson (early Alex Cross) and James Lee Burke. I’ve also ordered Nora Roberts books for studying emotion.

    • dwsmith

      Beginning writers who think major bestselling writers like Patterson, Burke, Nora, King, Koontz and so on can’t write are just showing their own ignorance of the upper levels of craft. Early on writers can’t see actual craft in writing. They think it is
      all about the words and those top level writers don’t care about the words, only the story and how it is getting to the reader.

      It’s fine to not like what those writers produce. That is reader taste. I don’t like what Steele produces in topic, but I sure as hell study her craft.

      • Rikki Mongoose

        A good argument about story, no words is that all specific words choice is lostin translation.
        As native reader I can say everyine: Dostoevsky is easier to read in English translation. His syntax is messed up, his word choice is terrible and even plot lines… Oh my… In The Adolescent the newborn girl became boy on next chapter, in Himilated and Insulted he borrowed the whole story of girl Nelly from Dickens.

        But he’s widely read all around the world. Why? He was a level four writer.

        Ah, also, he wrote in the dark, and sometimes very quickly – he dictated and proofread his novella The Gambler in 25 days, because of hard deadline from new publisher.