On Writing,  publishing

The Magic Bakery: Last Chapter

Chapter Ten…


This book, at its heart, has been about the business of fiction. And selling fiction. And the copyright associated with fiction.

Fact: So many writers ignore copyright and eventually go away. Long-term writers know copyright and know how to get every bit of money we can from copyright. That might be the most important element to why a long-term writers is a long-term writer and not a “what-ever-happened-to” writer.

Fact: So many writers equate the hours it took to write something with the value of the story. A short story can’t have much value because it only took four hours to write it. That is the thinking. I hear that all the time with writers afraid to charge a fair value for their short stories. Head-shaking.

And those two “facts” cause extreme problems, both large and small. And where those two facts come into the play the most is in the long-term maintenance of copyright.

How I Learned Value

Early on as a writer, I too equated the value of the time spent with the value of the story. Now understand, I considered myself expensive. I would never sell a story for under 5 cents per word and almost never did a media book for less than $20,000. Often a lot more and ghost novels even more than that.

And I could spend hours writing every day, so I was considered fast. And thus it didn’t take me much time at all to earn that advance on a novel or the sale money from a short story. So in my head I had set some value for my work at the amount I could get out of it and that was related to the time I spent writing it.

One simple story fairly early in my career quickly proved to me how stupid that very short-sighted thinking was. The story was called “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man.” I wrote it in under three hours while sitting facing Nina Kiriki Hoffman in a living room at a writer’s retreat. It was one of three short stories I did in that day or so.

It was for a vampire anthology, but the editor bounced it because it was too “nice” for his anthology. So I was about to toss it in a drawer when Kris forced me to send it to Ed Ferman at F&SF and he bought it. And then it was on the final Nebula ballot that year and in the Nebula Awards Anthology as well. Cool. I made a little more than I expected from it. But my world view as to value and time was still intact.

Until I got an offer for a radio play for the short story and they hired Kris to write the script. And suddenly that three-hour short story made us another $10,000 and was turned into a really great radio play.

And then the story got picked up for a number of reprint places and optioned once for a movie and I made money on all that. (I still think it would make a great movie.)

And then I ended up reprinting it in Smith’s Monthly and also putting it up as a stand-alone for $2.99 in electronic and $4.99 in paper and it sells regularly every year for years now.

Three hours. One simple short story. Twenty-plus years after I wrote the short story, it is still earning me money, more money every year than I expected to get from it at first.

That was the first story that finally got me realizing the long-term value of copyright. I have other short stories now that I have made more money on. “Jukebox Gifts” as an example.

Those Magic Pies are very popular with the customers of my Magic Bakery.

Maintenance of the Magic Bakery

As I said last chapter, Magic Pies do not spoil.

But sadly, they can be forgotten. And often are.

Now at the ten year mark of indie publishing, there are statistics coming out now about the large percentage of stories and books that sell no copies in a year. (This was always the case before, but no one talked about that.)

Think of all the billions of stories and novels now available to readers as a giant ocean. In this new world, the stories that sell are the ones on the surface of the giant ocean of fiction available to readers.

The ones that don’t sell are far, far below the surface, down in the dark, impossible to find or sell.

Now when I started into indie publishing, I had over a hundred published traditional novels, over sixty of which were under this name. And everyone thought that I was lucky. Used to make me very angry when someone would say that because I knew the truth. I wasn’t lucky. I considered someone starting fresh lucky. I had a massive wall in front of me to climb over.

When you clicked on my name on Amazon back then, all you saw was Star Trek, Men in Black, gaming novels and so on. Books I had been paid for and didn’t make another dime on and did not own the Magic Pie.

So when I started I put up in fairly quick order over fifty of my own short stories. When you clicked on Amazon, my highest short story was nine pages deep in the list of 50 plus pages of my novels and stories at that point.

Deep is the operative word there. My stories were way, way deep under the surface and impossible to see. Driven to the depths by my success in traditional publishing.

So I knew I only had one choice if I was going to make a career under this name in this modern world. I had to churn the surface of the ocean of books and do a lot of product and basically overwhelm the system. And I did. Not with any promotion tricks, but with simple production.

And it took me years.

Do those early stories I put up now sell? Very few of them, because I have not spent the time and energy to dive to get them and bring them back to the surface. (I will. All planned, actually.)

They are magic pies, sitting on my shelves in my bakery, but I have turned the lights off on that corner of the bakery. No one can see the pies, so they don’t buy any of them.

So maintenance of the inventory of the bakery is critical.

And difficult.

A Sample of Maintenance

Kris has figured out a way to keep the older stories and novels from sitting in a corner with the lights off. For the short stories, she puts up a free short story on her blog every week. She has been doing this for years and years.

The story is still for sale on all the wide markets, of course. Only free on her blog.

And when she puts the story up for free, often WMG puts a new cover on it if it is an older story, we redo the blurb, and so on. In other words, she brushes off the dust from the magic pie and puts a spotlight over the pie and makes it a weekly special in her bakery.

And the story not only is free, but people buy it that week and often the story will keep on selling at a decent pace for some time to come.

Value for Decades

Magic pies can last a very long time if you are smart with contracts and don’t let the entire pie leave your bakery. The pies can last for at least fifty or seventy years past your death (depending on your country) and even after that they will still have value.

But they will not have much value if you do not maintain them.

Magic Bakeries are like any other retail store. The inventory must be kept clean, the lights on for customers to see the product, and the door unlocked for anyone to enter from anywhere in the world.

There must also be someone to run the business and keep the bills paid, even after you die.

But more than anything else, the inventory must be moved around at times, displays changed, standard sales techniques used.

And the value of each pie in your bakery can’t be determined by either the year you created the pie or the time it took to create. Your customers will not care about any of that.

You, the owner of the Magic Bakery must believe in every pie. And if the lights over a pie start to flicker, change the bulb.

In Summary

I’m surprised, but The Magic Bakery, as a metaphor for copyright and the fiction writing business, does not seem to stretch too far in any area. When I started this, I thought it would.

Some basics I hope you got from this book in one metaphor or another.

— Writers need to learn to think like real businesses.

— Writers need to learn to think like retail and wholesale businesses.

— Writers need to learn copyright so they understand the ingredients of each pie they are creating and how the magic works.

— And writers, lastly, need to give value to their own work. Both as it is created, the year after it was created, and a hundred years after it was created.

The ocean full of reading will not be decreasing. So it is up to each writer to keep their stories near the surface and readers and buyers coming into their Magic Bakeries.

Now this book, this Magic Pie will take its rightful place in my bakery. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.

And if you did, I hope you will try another pie. After all, Magic Pies are not fattening.


  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Excellent stuff! I’ll be purchasing my copy of The Magic Bakery as soon as it goes on sale. I’ve been reading along as you posted it here, but I know I’ll want a copy on my ereader for easy reference in the future as my career grows. Thank you, Dean.

  • Hannah Steenbock

    Wow. I just had a light-bulb moment, thanks to you.

    You see, I have a short story collection out. Thinking about pies and reading the part on maintainance made it very obvious I also need to publish each of them individually! As soon as possible. Expand inventory, add value to the collection, give customers more options – and get eight NEW PIES!

    True eye-opener. Thank you so much!

    • dwsmith

      Yup, Hannah. That’s called discoverability. You give readers more ways to find your work and get into your store.

      Hmmmm, maybe I need to add a chapter on doors into the store. Hmmmm, each new short story would be like adding a door into your bakery.

      Guess I got to add yet another chapter stretching this metaphor just one more time. Thanks.

  • Danielle

    The book thus far is a good basic intro to how to think about a writing business. The overall metaphor’s incredibly inspiring!
    But I thought there would be more meat, especially in regards to how pies get sliced–does the author go out and query filmmakers/gamemakers, translators etc. to let them know there is a pie/product ready for rights-slicing? Where can I go to learn more about the nitty-gritty of this stuff?

    • dwsmith

      Danielle, I mentioned that all the way through. You can’t go begging to anyone these days. They must find you and by putting your work out there, they will find you.

      And I said numbers of times you can slice the pie (copyright) in as many ways as you can imagine. And as thin as you can imagine. THOUSANDS OF WAYS, that only is limited by your knowledge and imagination. I am not kidding. Said that in a number of places, actually.

      So you are looking for rules. Thankfully, there are no rules when it comes to this because we are each in control. Only rule I would ever suggest is never sell the entire pie for any reason.

      But as far as gamemakers, movie folks, and the like come in, you must write great stories and get them out wide around the world. They will find you if you are continuing to keep the doors open and not let your work sink due to lack of maintenance. This is a world of writer control.

      And trust me, you go begging to Hollywood and they will ignore you or laugh. But they come to you, that’s another matter.