Challenge,  publishing

I Feel Bad For New Writers… Part 9… More Myths

Myths on Both Sides… Part Two…

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.

Myth: It’s Easier Going Traditional… It’s Easier Going Indie

You hear this silliness all the time from those wanting to justify going one way or another. Truth, the writing profession is not easy going either way. Sorry.

In this transition of fiction publishing from traditional paperback distribution to indie electronic distribution, the major difference isn’t the learning curves in either direction, but instead the time. A writer spends six-eight years now learning all the aspects of traditional publishing, only to find themselves in the last years of the form and in shrinking companies.

Same kind of learning time going indie can get you a lot more learning about how to be a better storyteller, a lot of writing practice, a lot of learning on production and business, and when you are through the early years, you will be right at the start of the new era of publishing.

Both ways have learning curves. Both ways take time. Just one way has no future after you spend all the time to learn it.

Myth: Make More Money Going Traditional.

In the first few years of the indie movement, that might have been true, but now even studies are showing a vast difference in the amount indie writers make vs traditional writers.

Indie writers make a lot, lot more. That’s because indie writers have a ton more markets and customers. Indie writers sell around the world and just doing a Kickstarter for a new book can earn the indie writer more than most traditional publisher advances and that is before one book is even sold.

Also remember, indie writers make 70% plus per sale. Traditional writers are lucky to make 10%.

And indie writers keep the books fresh and in print. A book in traditional publishing is fresh for six weeks or so and then it vanishes.

Myth: One Way Or the Other is Faster…

Beginning writers and early stage professionals are always in a hurry. Always.

So they think they should be making a living after one book or two. That never happened on either path, even back in the heart of traditional publishing era unless the writer was lottery lucky. I made six figure incomes for over fifteen years in traditional, but my lowest book output in that time was six novels, my highest thirteen. I worked at times for 6 to 10 different publishers at the same time.

There are only five publishers left. No one can do what I did now.

Now in indie, I make far, far, far more per year than my best year in traditional publishing.

Making a living at writing fiction takes time. And a lot of study on becoming a better storyteller and a ton more things.

The main reason I watched writers disappear in traditional publishing over the decades was because they were in a hurry. I am seeing the same thing in indie now. They don’t reach some weird and not valid imaginary point with their writing and they feel they are a failure and they quit.

Coffee money is a fantastic term. From 1974 when I sold my first short story until 1987 when I sold my first novel, I didn’t even make coffee money by todays standards. Not even close. Yes most writers do not have the strength or will to go that long letting sales grow slowly as they learn how to tell better stories.

If you don’t want to be a writer, tell stories, and just let the income grow over years, going either traditional or indie will be wrong for you.

More myths and other topics next post…


  • Philip

    Reading this, it sounds like one of the big ironies here is you’ll make more money as a writer longterm if you actually just love telling stories and that’s your focus because you’ll only think of the next story rather than a certain number of sales/dollars. Keep passionately improving and practicing craft and the money will slowly follow. Whereas if your motivation is money, you’ll quit because you’ll see there are faster, easier ways to make money in life (example: a part time/second job at my local grocery store pays $21/hour. A lot faster to generate money than writing pulpe, but no fun at all).

    • dwsmith

      Not irony, Philip. Just truth. If you love to write and tell stories, and just keep doing that and getting them out, the readers and the money will come. That is something that has not changed in this transition.

  • Ric

    Hi Dean,

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen this article, but it confirms everything you’re saying about traditional publishing:

    “More than half of authors (54%) responding to a survey by The Bookseller on their experiences of publishing their debut book have said the process negatively affected their mental health. Though views were mixed, just 22% of the 108 respondents to the survey described a positive experience overall with their first publication.”

    (I’m not sure how the views can be “mixed” when 78% didn’t have a positive experience, but maybe I’m missing something).

    The article’s a bleak read, and the section about Staff Turnover really stands out for me. It’s a dying industry, so it’s going to be hell working in or with it. And it’ll only get worse as it struggles through its death throes.

    Really depressing.

    • dwsmith

      Ric, it is depressing watching a form of the industry collapse, (one that I worked in for 20 years plus),but got to keep in mind that the excitement and growth in publishing itself is coming up on the indie side. As one side goes down in this transition, another method comes up. Must have felt the same way to many in the rise of the paperback and the fall of the pulps.

      But keep in mind that readers numbers are growing and loving what they are finding and they don’t know the industry, only that now they can find books they want and older books that are recommended without going through a used bookstore. Traditional publishing taught us that books spoil like bananas, while indie publishing is teaching that books, even niche books can live long and profitable lives. A huge difference.


    • dwsmith

      And Ric, a point about that article is that the writers who responded had an expectation of someone taking care of them, leading them by the hand through their “victory” of publishing a first novel. That is not the writer who will be future writers in this new world. Future writers will take care of themselves, not expect others to take care of them.

      So read that article again with that in mind and it just makes you shake your head at the 108 writers who responded. Poor babies, no one there to hold their hands… (head shaking)

    • David

      Back in the day before indie publishing was a thing and I was a young writer, I got an agent and thought I had it made. The process definitely affected my mental health, and four years later, I had lost my joy in writing and couldn’t complete any manuscripts. If indie wasn’t a thing… I would have a regular day job and post stories for free online.

  • Vincent Zandri

    I would have been commenting more on these terrific posts, Dean, but I’ve been Egypt for two weeks on a research tomb and pyramid adventure that would make Indiana Jones look like a p%&y (I believe I have an infection in my right arm from a fall I took in Aswan…one hopes I don’t have to become a left-handed-only writer LOL).

    But I digress.

    For the longest time I took pride in being a “hybrid author.” That is, publishing both tradtionally and indie. But deep down I was lying to myself. What was holding me back from going completely indie was the cost of editing, covers, etc. I was spending around $1,500 per month, almost every month thinking this was SOP for the business. But then I “edumacated” myself and found that I could have some very good book covers made for a fraction of what I was paying before, and better service when it came to the paperback and audio versions.

    As for the editing, I would tell my person “do not dev edit” but she couldn’t help herself and the bill would end up being anywhere from $500 to $1000 or so. Not a knock on her, because she’s a sweetheart and no one put a gun to my head. But now I use a nice man who I believe is a retired high school English teacher who is also a serial reader. He goes through my manuscripts and corrects all my terrible speling (that’s a joke) and grammar screw ups. All he asks in return is a $25 Amazon gift card for shorter works and a $50 card for novel sized works.

    Bang zoom, Vince is finally able to put out as much work as his fingers can write the stories. And I do about 2,500 to 3,000 words per day everyday (expect when adventuring…But even then I’ll write on a felluca, or on sleeper trains, or in airports, etc.). While my tradtional list is about 50+ books, I’m up to around 60+ indie novels, noevllas, and short stories and whole lot more in the works. I have two more trad contracts to fullfill–books that will likely go nowhere since the pubs will put no effort into the marketing, and then I am no longer hybrid but instead full-time indie with my company Bear Media.

    I’m 58, so I believe I have a lot of years left to bang out some humdingers and have a blast doing it.

    Thanks Dean…

    • dwsmith

      Vincent, congrats on the transformation!! And good luck with the last two contracts. I remember my last one. I wrote a nonfiction book about writing it, actually. I did it right here, called it Writing a Novel in Ten Days. My last ghost novel for a traditional publisher I just wrote out my process here for everyone to follow. I’ve made some pretty good sales on that book over the decade now. And to no one’s surprise, that publisher I wrote the book for now no longer exists. (grin)

      Keep it fun and hope the infection fades.

      • Dale T. Phillips

        Along with the great advice from Dean, Vin Zandri was inspirational and influential in my decision to stop pursuing the traditional path and go Indie. Vin’s horrible experiences in trad pub made me firm in my choice not to have to deal with anything like that, instead to be happy and productive in my writing. And so I put out more books every year and grow my writing business, and after talking to hundreds of writers, I’m the happiest one around. That’s my success story. Many thanks to Dean and to Vin for their sage advice and for passing on their experience.

    • Jason M

      Hey Vincent, you can make your own covers. All you need is about $50 a month (Adobe monthly subscription), plus the cost of a Photoshop tutorial course (there are many). I’m designing close to 35 covers this year, and it’s been terrific. If I had to pay someone to do that, I wouldn’t know what to do – it’s saving me probably $6K to $10K. Plus it’s a good for the brain when overwhelmed or burned out on making new words.

      • dwsmith

        I think InDesign is easier and can be used for other things as well. Tutorials are everywhere. Photoshop is for photos and is complex. InDesign is for covers and layout and simple.

        • dwsmith

          Make sure you download the Adobe font library with it, that way all your fonts are licensed for commercial use.

      • Filip

        Unless you want access to Adobe’s stock library, go with Affinity Photo instead.

        It does everything you’d need from Photoshop, for a one-time payment of $30-40, depending on whether they have a sale. And there’s both am Illustrator and InDesign alternative in the Affinity suite, too.

        • dwsmith

          But then you must license all your fonts, and that can be more of a pain and cost you more. Cheap is not often better because with InDesign, you get the license to the fonts.

  • syshbw

    This series is wonderful. You have busted so many myths in the traditional and indi publishing. However, it was somewhat hard to find the full series. Please use a common tag for all posts in this series, or maybe make a page where all the posts from this series are listed. Reading this was an eye opener. Thanks