Ten Stupid Writer Business Practices

Because I had a wonderful and long conversation today with a friend who has been a major business lawyer for forty years in the real world, I decided to do this post. The conversation with someone who understands real business was refreshing after spending most of my time around writers who actively ignore sane business practices.

So in no particular order, here are ten of the really head-shaking business practices writers do that would be laughed at in any real-world business setting.

1… Give 15% of a piece of property for the life of the property to a person who does a few chores. (I call it giving the gardner 15% of your house for mowing the lawn a few times.)

2… Let a non-licensed English-major negotiate a complex legal document with multi-national corporations.

3… Refusing to do a basic background check on a stranger you want handling your money, and then give them all the money and all the paperwork to go along with the money.

4… Think that selling your goods in only one store is a smart, long-term business practice.

5… Try something for a month and then claim for years it didn’t work. Or have something work and close your mind to all other ways of doing something.

6… Think that corporations in publishing have advantages that you do not have and then whine about it all the time even though all evidence shows we all play on the same level playing field. (Of course, that playing field requires knowledge and business sense to see, so this one is understandable for most writers who have neither publishing knowledge or business sense.)

7… Sell property for the life of the property for a few thousand dollars and then whine a few years later that the evil bad people won’t give you (for free) your property back even though you signed the contract selling that property and took their money.

8… Refuse to learn how to negotiate on anything. Or stand ground in a negotiation.

9… Refuse to learn what is really being created and what is really being licensed in contracts.

10… Refuse to learn just basic business and instead follow the “standard” publishing business practices you heard somewhere even though the “standard” publishing practices are forty years old and worthless in this modern world.

Wow, there are a bunch more. But for now, this is enough.


  • Dane Tyler

    Yeesh, I’m embarrassed at how many of these I might be guilty of, especially the negotiation things. I have no idea how to do that, and need to learn PDQ, I think.

    Great insights. I hope more of these will come along from time to time. These are invaluable to indie publishers.

    Thanks Dean!

  • D J Mills

    I agree with this, but it could be because I have a Business Degree. 🙂

    I shake my head at the idea that someone in a publishing company can tell me to alter a book I wrote, without a contract to purchase after said alterations, expecting me to do the work. 🙂

    My answer to that suggestion is to write the alterations on the back of the cheque. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, D.J. Exactly. Another one of the many things writers just don’t think through. Work under direction of a national corporation with no promise of pay. Yeah, not even the dumbest contract labor person would do that, yet writers again line up and gladly do it.

  • Cynthia Lee

    I stopped querying the day I learned (from you, Dean) that literary agents negotiate legal contracts for writers. Many literary agents are English major types. I knew that English majors don’t know legal stuff. I was an English major!

    I’d been dutifully sending queries for about a year and, like a goofy goofus, it had never occurred to me to wonder about the contract negotiation thing. Then I found out that literary agents receive the money and the paperwork for that money and are expected to honestly divvy it up for the writer! I still can’t believe that’s a real thing in the world!

    I mentioned these ideas to a few writers friends that are looking for agents and they didn’t seem to think anything was wrong with these practices. *sigh*

    So I’d like to thank you, Dean, for that information. It saved me a great deal of time and energy.

    • dwsmith

      Cynthia, glad it did. But you had to step back and think about the information and put real world on it and say, “But wait a minute…”

      What I find scary is that writers hire strangers to handle sometimes up to millions and never once think to do a background check on that person. There is one agent working now, a major agent, who was convicted and tossed in jail for fraud. Got out of jail, went right back to it. Not kidding. And writers lined up to be clients. (Or victims as the case might be.)

  • Patrick R

    Hi Dean
    I’d sure appreciate hearing a few key points on “…how growing businesses make the transition from early stages to successful and stable businesses.”

    • dwsmith

      It would make no sense I’m afraid. And more than likely hurt more than it would help if I even tried.

      Put it this way… when you get your business up to five years or more, stable, making up to seven figures and more, you’ll know how to take it to the next step, and you will see the next step, and know people who can help you. Up until then it’s just all the fun of starting and growing a business. (grin)

  • Teri Babcock

    #1 is also like getting a job through a placement company and then paying the placement company 15% of your gross salary for the rest of your 35 year career there. Except that its 70 years, not 35. And the paycheck gets routed through your placement company first.

  • Bob Mayer

    I remember an agent at the biggest agency in NY telling me that when they show up for work in the morning, every editor is looking for the Great American Novel. At the end of the day, they’re looking for something that will make money.

    Bottom line is authors need to wake up and realize too many people in between them and the reader are taking a slice. I thought 3 years ago, trad authors would have that realization, but they are starting to now. Some big changes coming in 2016.

    • dwsmith

      Agree, completely, Bob. Saw signs of that at this conference. Agents just sat not even filling appointments. That and a bunch of other stuff show trends in major changes coming. So I agree completely.