Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Looking at An Old Post

New Year Making Me Look Back…

Plus I was cleaning up things, killing some old posts, and I ran across this post that was originally called “The Death of an Indie Writer.”

How’s that for click bait? (grin)

I wrote it in July 2011, way back in the start of all this craziness. And frighteningly enough, I was right on almost all of it and I am still seeing this same thing today, even though most new writers coming in have lots of information and this new world is pretty stable. That doesn’t seem to be helping.

So here is the long post, updated only slightly to 2017. I thought it was worth a second read, especially since most of the writers I was aiming this at back then are now long gone. Sadly.


In traditional publishing, in the past, writers that hang around for a few decades tended to get jaded about new writers coming in. We would try to help the ones that had the drive and a light in their eyes, but mostly we just watched the new writers come and go.

The old grind of submissions, rejections, a few sales, no real money, more rejections, and stupid agent and publishing business myths caused many, many writers to fail either early or after three to five novels. The writer would just vanish and then one day someone would ask “What ever happened to…” But mostly, sadly, we just didn’t notice that the writer had gone back to the real world.

It happens all the time and it has happened for as long as this business has existed. I couldn’t begin to list the hundreds and hundreds of well-published writers who have vanished just since I came into publishing. And those are the well-published ones. That doesn’t even take into account the ones that sold one or two stories and walked away.

Walking Away Can Be A Good Thing

I am not saying walking away is a bad thing. Not in the slightest.

I walked away from professional golf, architecture, and law, to name just three of my former possible careers. I have a degree in architecture and worked as an architect for all of ten months before walking away. I went to three years of law school and walked away before my last test my last semester. I was a golf professional for many years and now haven’t played much golf in years except for fun and dinner on the line.

Sometimes, when you realize something isn’t right for you, walking away is the best decision. Especially from bad jobs or bad relationships.

Life is too short.

I’ve walked away from writing three times, but just kept coming back. Sometimes you have to walk away from something to reset, get perspective, and just recharge.

So nothing wrong with walking away for the right reasons.

That, in fact, is the secret to having a long career that people remember. You walk away and quit all you want. Or get pounded down by the business. But you stand back up. You just keep coming back.

So Now Comes Indie Publishing

With indie publishing, we have gained a freedom we didn’t have before.

When traditional publishing gave up their monopoly on distribution to readers and stores, writers gained the freedom to publish and get readers to maybe buy stories and books that might not have ever seen the light of day.

This is a good thing and a bad thing and a neutral thing.

The Good Things

—Readers can find stories that they never would have found before. Readers can find niche stories that never would have been published because of lack of large enough audience.

—Readers can find new writers with unique voices that could not get through the traditional tightness of sales, sales, sales thinking.

—Writers can make money almost from moment one on a story or book. More writers will be making a living writing fiction. More writers will become very rich.

—Short stories are coming back strong.

—Writing fast will again be a good thing and not limited by publishing schedules.

—Quality storytelling will be important.

—Writers will understand all the aspects of publishing, from values of covers, to writing blurbs, to promotion that works and doesn’t work.

All good, and much more.

The Neutral

—The same courage will be needed to publish a book as it took to mail a book.  Same learning curves and time and fear, just different knowledge.

—Time to success or failure is the same. It used to take a long time for a book to get bought and make any money for the writer. That is the same in most cases indie publishing. Sales early are always slow and discouraging, just as rejection slips were.

—First pages, great writing, and great promotion either in submission packages or in your published book do exactly the same thing. And bad sales packages also stop sales just as effectively.

The Bad

The bad is pretty much the same as it was in traditional publishing, the problems just show up differently.

—A writer thinks one or two novels will make them rich and famous. Old days rejection or a small sale stopped this thinking and sent the writer packing. New world the writer publishes the book electronically and makes only a few sales. Exactly the same.

—Writers have no one to blame. With editor rejections, writers could blame the stupid editors or the system. With indie publishing, there is no one to blame. And new writers hate and can’t seem to take responsibility for the fact that maybe their book just doesn’t attract readers. Now they blame it on the noise or their price or something else just as silly. Rejections by editors made it easy. Rejection by readers is another matter. And it hurts worse, actually.

—Sales and success take time to build. In traditional publishing, a new writer counted rejection slips over years, sometimes for many of us, into the hundreds and hundreds of rejections. Now writers who don’t know or understand the time publishing takes, watch Kindle sales every day and wonder why they are only making a few sales. Traditional publishing forced writers to be patient. Indie publishing writers haven’t learned that yet and many never will.

—The learning curve to publish a book seems harder than mailing a manuscript to the correct editor. It really isn’t, but it seems harder. And that perception stops many, many writers who don’t even know where to start and can’t seem to figure out how to look something up.

There are more bad things, but let me just leave it at those major ones.

A Good and Bad Thing

—Writers have choices now.  That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. In the days of traditional publishing only, a writer pretty much had one path to follow to get in the door and get his writing bought and distributed to readers. The details varied, but the path was clear. We had to deal with the publishing system and have agents.

Now, even to sell to traditional publishing houses we don’t need agents and can use IP lawyers for contracts. We can now indie publish or go traditional or go both. All writers have many choices now, and that’s a good thing, but also a bad thing in knowing which choice to make. And there are no right answers. And that makes it harder.

How To Survive

Writers today need to learn a few things that were taught in the process of trying to break into traditional publishing.

— Sales take time.

— Learning how to write quality stories takes time.

— No one knows what will sell or not sell at any moment to readers.

— Everything takes time, but the writing must always come first.

— You must always strive to keep learning, both about business and about craft.

— You must become a business person and take responsibility for your own business decisions. And take control as well.

The Death of an Indie Writer’s Career

So let me illustrate by example how this will go these days.

— Indie writer gets all excited about writing, has written a novel or two or five and a few short stories. Hates the idea of going to traditional publishers. Too much work, not enough control even though they have no real idea what any of that really means.

—Indie writer becomes an indie publisher, reads blogs like this one and others who say it can be done. So they go learn how to do it, usually only paying attention to the success stories.

— Indie publisher gets up a book, watches the numbers, does lots of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and sells ten or twenty copies in the first month and is discouraged. (Indie Publisher does not do the math of how much money they would make at that pace over ten years, or even consider the book might grow in sales if there were more books up.)

— Indie publisher puts up another book or two, sales remain about the same. (Indie publisher only watches Kindle because they believe that’s the entire world instead of waiting and totaling numbers six or eight months later from the entire world of sales and then figuring that might increase or remain the same for ten years or more into the future.)

— Indie publisher panics, lowers price of novels to 99 cents, gets a few more sales, does more blogging and Twitter and Facebook instead of writing more. Nothing helps.

— Indie publisher doesn’t think that maybe their stories are not up to levels yet that will sell, or that their blurb sucks, or their cover doesn’t work or that they have their book listed in the wrong genre. They just keep trying to promote, which does nothing to help. (That’s like whipping a dead horse to get it to run faster. A dead book is a dead book. Leave it alone and move on. Let it sell its few copies per month.)

— Indie publisher runs out of time and patience and since they haven’t been writing, they see no hope.  Their first check is $25.00.

— Indie publisher gives up and walks away, telling all their friends you can’t make any money in indie publishing unless you are lucky.

Not one word about not being a good enough writer. Not one word about how their own stories just didn’t interest people because they had just two characters talking in a white room in their openings. Not one word of taking responsibility for their own slow start.

Or that slow starts are normal in publishing.

This is already happening all the time. And honestly, that worries me a little. Normally a writer got discouraged after a couple dozen rejections that took a year or more. Now a writer can come in, try it, and quit in less than a few months. That time difference often allowed a writer in the old system to learn something new and keep going. Not any more.

So How To Avoid This Death?

— Think Long Term.

A novel selling twenty copies around the world for $4.99 will make you $35.00 per month, $420.00 per year, $4,200 in ten years. If you got a $5,000 advance from a traditional publisher with an agent, you would lose your book rights for the life of the copyright and make $4,250 spread over three years.

— Keep Writing.

If you have ten novels selling ten copies, you make $350.00 per month, $4,200 per year, and $42,000 in ten years.

— Set Pricing.

Price your novel at a decent price like $3.99 or $4.99 or $5.99 and leave it alone.

— Stop Checking Numbers.

Check your sales numbers once a month. Let them alone, focus on producing more books and writing more books.

—Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers.

Just as you can’t compare your sales in traditional publishing to Nora Roberts or Stephen King. If you stay in long enough, you might become one with sales like them, but not early on.

—Keep Learning.

All your focus in the early years should be on learning. Writing and publishing and business. You can’t stop learning. And all your early stuff just consider good practice and if you make money on it, great, be happy.

— Celebrate Every Sale.

A reader thought your book was good enough to pay for. Trust me, that’s the highest compliment you can get. Period.


This new age of indie publishing gives all of us writers a wonderful opportunity. It lets us write what we want, when we want, and sell it how we want.

But this new world, just as the old one, also has a lot of land mines that can send you spinning away from your dream.

Those of us who have been around don’t even notice when a young writer vanishes. It is so common as to be sad.

Set your goal to not be one of them. Stick around and keep putting books out.

And keep having fun.


Speaking of Learning…

January Workshops Now Open On Teachable

You can sign up directly on Teachable now. Or write me and have me put you on the list for the workshops. Full list of workshops and descriptions here.

Those of you with credits from either the Kickstarter or the certificate special we offered, you must write me to sign up.

Those who would just like to sign up directly can do so on Teachable at any point.

Class #1… Jan 2nd … Depth #3: Research
Class #2… Jan 2nd … Author Voice
Class #3… Jan 2nd … Business
Class #4… Jan 2nd … Writing into the Dark
Class #5… Jan 2nd … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #6… Jan 2nd … Think Like a Publisher
Class #7… Jan 3nd … Depth in Writing
Class #8… Jan 3nd … Advanced Character and Dialog
Class #9… Jan 3nd … (Empty spot)
Class #10… Jan 3nd … Pacing Your Novel
Class #11… Jan 3nd … Novel Structure
Class #12… Jan 3nd … Writing Fantasye

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Thanks for your support.



  • Lisa Nixon Richard


    I love this post. I quite writing back in about 1997 when a short story of mine was rejected. I really have no regrets. I worked at raising my kids and living life. I came back in 2008. Since starting writing again, I have had numerous rejections and studied like crazy. I have grown so much and have had a blast. At this point, I have three novels indie published and sell hardly anything. And really, that is fine. I am working on getting more novels out there. I am having so much fun even when I am pulling my hair out with plot issues. My goal for the next ten years is to get as much inventory out there as possible. I love writing. I am having fun. Sure, I want to make money, but that is just a fringe benefit at this point.

    Yesterday, I chatted with my sister. She leant her book to a friend. The friend stayed up late into the night reading Pursuing Destiny because I hooked her. Yay!!! She bought the next two books in the series and handed the book off to her sister. The next day at work, she couldn’t stop talking to my sister about it. Of course, I am flying high and loving what I do. To me, this is what the writing is all about.

    Lisa Nixon Richard

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, on average, what percentage of the cover price (traditional publishing) of a book does a writer earn?

    • dwsmith

      Mark, just math. Say on a mass market paperback, a writer gets 6% of gross income from the book (used to be cover price, but that changed). So a book sells on Amazon for $7 and the publisher gets $4.90, then the author gets 6% of that minus 15% agent fees. The author would get about 25 cents of the $7 cover price.

      If the author was indie, the author would get the $4.90.

      And traditional, the author has lost all rights to the book for the life of the copyright, while in indie the author keeps all copyright and the author and heirs can continue to make money on the book for a very, very long time.

      Going traditional with novels in this new world is too stupid for words. But what do I know… I only wrote 106 novels for traditional publishers.

      • Mark Kuhn

        Hi Dean, my Kindle battery died before I could finish my post. Hopefully Santa is packing an ipad or a Galaxy S3 on his sleigh in a couple days, but I digress. Anyway, I always figured that I would price my own Indie book at that average figure that writers earn per hardcover book in the traditional world. So I was thinking around the $2.99 range.
        After reading your blog for the past four years (what?! Where the hell does the time go??) I would never consider traditional routes.
        So now typing this I realized it’s been 4 years since I’ve returned to writing and have nothing to show for it, really. So it might be time for a gut check and ramp up an ambitious New Year’s Resolution to finish at least a couple novels and a bucket of short stories this year.
        Signing up for your challenge might be part of that plan. Negotiations (grin) with my wife are still ongoing and the talking points you posted may have helped. Over the years great coaches have always brought out the best in me. Back in 1990, a desire to bowl better prompted me to take a couple lessons which brought my average from 150 up to 175. A year later the same coach helped me boost that to 200 and a two year stint on the northeast PBA tour.
        Wow, my longest blog reply ever. Sorry for the length, but all I really wanted to say was thanks for all you do, Dean. The blog, the lectures and the workshops. I may not have anything to show over these 4 years of writing, but without you I would have quit.

        • dwsmith

          Thanks, Mark. And nifty about the PBA Tour. That’s how it is done in this business as well, just keep on working at it and getting better. The rest happens if you keep having fun with it.

  • Kate Pavelle

    But Dean, but Dean! How can I celebrate every sale if I don’t check my stats every day? I’ve gotten great about controlling my Facebook exposure (switching to Instagram with just close friends helped, no clickbait, and photos/promo posts can feed to FB so I’m covered.)
    But giving up BookReport? Does a sale get celebrated when it’s unnoticed? It’s like that tree falling in the woods unheard koan.
    I get it that it can be distracting to keep checking sales stats, but you are at a place where you have people to do that. I don’t have people. I have mini-me, and the mini-me has to decide on marketing stuff.
    How often do other one-writer/publisher folk following this blog check their stats? Be honest, people. I want to know. If I hear real testimonials that less is more, I’ll cut back. Or once a week. But I’d be curious. Almost every writer I know and talk to seems to be absolutely addicted to their sales stats. Therefore, Dean, would you mind putting up a poll? That way, we can get an anonymous tally. Given a range from more than once a day to only once a month, how often will people click onto KDP, D2D, ACX, Smashwords, BundleRabbit,or whatever other venue they use?

    • dwsmith

      Kate, check the money that hits your account at the end of the month. That’s what you check. Of course, those who have only one sales channel like KDP Select get focused on daily stuff and forget about the writing new. But those of us with hundreds and hundreds of books keep track by the amount of money that hits our accounts from all the hundreds of cash streams every month.

      And trust me, if I had an employee wasting time checking stats every day, we would be having a talk. A horrid waste of time that gets you nothing in return.

      • Kate Pavelle

        LOL you’re the best, Dean! When you put it that way, I guess I’ll have to fire my internal stats-checker, and hire someone who will *finally* set up a short story submissions tracking system instead! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • Marsha

          Kate, I never checked sales until one month when I actually made a few bucks, then I checked every day for a week. Got discouraged with that right fast so am now checking monthly. I do enjoy looking at Book Report and Publish Drive’s sales reports because hey, great graphics. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to admit that not being addicted to checking stats keeps me focused on my writing. (And I couldn’t survive without my short story submission spreadsheet. How the hell to keep track of them all otherwise? I have one page that is stories/market submitted and one page that is markets/stories submitted so I can easily look up where things are going either by market or story.)

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Kate, for what it’s worth, I do the bookkeeping at the end of the month as Dean recommends. I made that switch last year, and I’m very pleased with the change. It keeps my focus on writing and producing, and my mood is better, too. I urge you to try it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Amy Laurens

        I just published my first two novels + anthology this year, and I knew they’d be slow sales. I’m just super happy that they’ve earned out their cover costs, tbh, and that I’m now in profit on them. So yeah, I check my stats once a month when Draft2Digital sends out their statements and reminds me that I should probably do that ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Harvey

      Kate, I don’t ever check sales stats. If they’re up that’s good, and if they’re down, there’s nothing you can do. You can only affect them indirectly anyway, by writing more stories and marketing. So I see no point in checking stats. This helps me focus on keeping the writing fun too. If the money comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it’ll come for my grandchildren. It’s all good.

  • Vera Soroka

    Nice post! This makes me think about my daughter who is a pastry chef for a high end bakery. It took the owner just over ten years to build that business to what it is today. She has loyal customers who will line up outside her door for her special cookies. She sells not hundreds but thousands in a day. This owner did renovations a while back and added onto the store and it looks really good. It reflects high end but renovations didn’t go well. The contractor was a jerk. I would have threw him under the bus and had him ran over a few times. She kept things going and customers kept coming through the back door at that time. They knew what quality they were getting and stuck with her. And baking is like writing. It’s both a creative thing. And I see the writing as a good ten year business to build high quality products to your customers so they will keep coming back. You want them to have that experience that they expect from you-just like the cookies. It takes time and practice and lots and lots of patience to keep going even when you have to deal with jerks or no sales.
    I don’t have many sales. My last deposit from D2D was $14.14. I thought that wasn’t bad and I believe it was mostly from my first contemporary romance. I need to step it up and get more out and start doing some promoting. Not sure what yet. Ads cost money.
    Anyway, sorry for the long post. It just made me think of that.

  • Kessie

    I appreciate this viewpoint so much. I hang out with a lot of authors across the success spectrum, from the experienced guys at the Kill Zone to the newbies on social media. Your long view is very refreshing. It takes time to market books, and it takes time to read them. Success isn’t overnight, but so many people forget this. I’m watching a handful of authors I looked up to spiral into burnout. Their small amount of books aren’t selling. So they whine and move on. This boggles my mind. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  • Topaz

    Thank you, Dean, for this wonderful article /update of your old article.
    I love to read and learn a bit each time I read your blog. Thank you so much, sharing your knowledge. ๐Ÿ™‚