On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: Goals and Dreams

I’ve been promising to start a series on how to set yourself set up and plan for 2013 here in December 2012. A couple people actually have asked me when I was going to start that series. Well, I already have.

Part One: Some Perspective on 2012.

Part Two: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

So now we move to Goals and Dreams in this post. Any business plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work. The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

So, the series is continuing, but before reading this, please read those first two parts. It’s all going to build from part to part and I’m going to reference parts of those posts as well at times.

Defining a Dream

So what is a dream?

Be rich, sell millions of books, hit #1 on the New York Times List? Yup, all dreams. How about winning the lottery? Yup, a dream.

How about being published by a traditional publisher? Yup, a dream.

You can send a novel to a traditional editor or put it up indie published for publishers and readers to see. That is working toward the dream of being published by a traditional publisher. But you have no control over the fact that you will be published by any traditional company. None.

That’s why they are called “dreams.”

For the purpose of this series of posts, let me define a dream.

A dream is something that you want that is out of your direct control.

We work toward dreams, but we have no control over gaining them. That’s what defines something as a dream. No direct control.

Defining a Goal

Again for the sake of this discussion, A goal is something you can do that is in your direct control.

Goals are set with the hope of achieving a dream.

Dream: Win the lottery. Goal: Buy a lottery ticket every week.

You can buy a lottery ticket. That is working toward the dream of winning the lottery. Buying a ticket is in your control.

“Making a Living With Your Fiction” Dream

Dream: At some point in the future you hope to pay all your bills every year with only your fiction writing.

So what kind of goals are you going to need to get to this dream? Remember, you set goals to achieve dreams.

Before we set some goals, let me give some basics.

To be a professional writer, you are going to need the following just to start:

1) Determination bordering on psychotic.

2)  The ability to keep standing back up and going on when something knocks you down.

3) The ability to ignore the negative from all those around you, especially family and friends.

4) The hunger to keep learning writing craft and the knowledge you will never be good enough.

5) Fearlessness.

6) The desire to learn business.

7) The ability to control your own time and what comes at you.

If you think you have all seven of those points, or can learn or fake a part of them, then we can move on to the next step.

Please understand that three years ago there was only one path to this dream of making a living with your fiction. Now there are numbers of valid paths and a lot more writers achieving the dream. See my post How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013. I tend to lean toward the #4, #5, or #6 paths, but the #2 path will also work given enough time.

So what steps are next?  There are a couple of ways of approaching this as a business person.

#1… Set desired income and work backward to a production goal to attain the income… or #2…. set a production goal and work forward until the income arrives.

I tend to like just setting a production goal and working toward the income as it happens. More in my control. But both methods need production goals set, just as any manufacturing business would.

So that’s where I’ll start.

How to set production goals

FIRST STEP… even if you are writing pretty well already, take an inventory of all the time you spend every day for three or four sample days. Doing everything.

Every minute in fifteen minute chunks. Do a log. And be honest. And also record your mental state during the time frame. For example, up at 6:30 but too tired to think until 8:30 and two cups of coffee.

After you have the log, figure out how much writing time you have.

Add in reading time, research time, and so on.

CAUTION!!!  Writing time is only writing time, creating new words only. Rewriting, researching, reading, taking a workshop is not writing time. Be clear on that because if you start to blur those lines, you will discover your new word production has decreased.

(Honestly, I expect very few of you to do this, even though it might be the most important step you take in production. Most writers fall down on point #7 above and it is often terminal to a writing career.)

SECOND STEP… Keep time over a number of writing sessions how many NEW words you get done in an hour. Round that to a general number per hour. For example, I write slower at the starts of stories and faster at the ends. So the general number I use for myself is around 1,000 words per hour. I tend to be comfortable with that and many professional writers I know are in that range.

Find your own range and be clear on it and don’t tell us. This is for you to figure out for yourself.

THIRD STEP… Look at all your writing time from step one and your word count per hour from step two and figure out how much you could write in A PERFECT WEEK.

Divide that in half and that is your writing goal of new words per week.

Example: So say with your day job and kids, you can carve out ten hours per week of actual writing time. Divide that in half and if you write about 1,000 words per hour of new words, you will be producing 5,000 new words per week. (5 hours x 1,000 words = 5,000 words per week.)

Take two weeks off and you get 50 weeks x 5,000 words or 250,000 new words per year.

That’s just five hours per week.  That’s how you write a lot of words.

If you can manage to actually write ten hours per week of original fiction, just over one hour per day, you would produce a half million words of fiction in one year. (And you would be called one of the fastest writers in publishing if you worked that one-plus-hour per day for a few years. Not kidding.)

What is the next goal?

You can’t do anything without producing and finishing new novels and stories. So the production goal has to be the top importance. Period. Those hours have to be protected like gold. And you have to work during those hours, not play video games on your computer or answer e-mail. You have to protect those hours from yourself mosts of all.

But after setting the production goal, (and defending your writing time and actually writing in that time) it will now depend on your own beliefs in both myths and how you want to go at  the publishing industry. Again, back to my last post in this series, “How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.” You have choices.

Are you writing short fiction or novels or both?  (Again, please only answer for yourself in your own planning.)

Do you also have a dream of traditional publishing novels? Or can you be happy for now indie publishing and making a living that way? (Ignoring that indie publishing is now a route to traditional publishing for the sake of this discussion.)

Again, look at the six roads I laid out in the last post and figure out which one works for you and your dreams.

Let Me Help a Little in the Decision…

Going back to doing a business plan, let’s come at the entire thing from another direction.

First, set how much money you need to live for a year. Say the number is $50,000.00 for the sake of this article.

Traditional Publishing Route: (Path #2 from last week.)

If you are writing for traditional publishers and making $5,000 advances, you will need to write and sell ten novels per year plus to get close to that amount. Or get higher advances. If you want to make $50,000 per year and only write one book, you need to sell it for $50,000 plus. And do that every year.

Yup, that’s a dream like winning the lottery. It’s possible if you buy enough tickets… I mean write enough books.

I have written entire novels for under $5,000 and I have made over $50,000 per book. Both are more than possible. The low end is more likely in this new world. (And plan on never seeing another dime from the book after the first year. You will never get it back with modern contracts unless your advance is way above six figures and you have a great attorney.)

And remember that selling a novel to traditional publishers is a dream, so to achieve that dream you will need to pound editor’s desks (again option #2 from last week) with dozens of novels for years. It will take a long, long time, as it has always done.

But it is possible. That’s how I did it. And for years Kris and I taught that road, the only road before three years ago open to writers.

Remember, I am writing this assuming the dream is to make a living with your fiction. To do so on the traditional route, you would have to set your goals to write a lot of books, far more than one hour per day, actually, or plan on taking a lot of years. The first novel breaking in will speed up the process, but with traditional publishing route, make sure you are clear on all the stuff I have been talking about here. And what Kris has been talking about on her blog. Contracts, agents, and so on. There are thousands of pitfalls on that road, but again, writers do walk it.

I walked it for decades and never really got very lucky. I just worked harder than almost everyone and have now published over a hundred novels with traditional publishers. It can be done.

Do I suggest it as a road to walk in 2013?

No. But it is your career. Your choice.

Indie Publishing Route:

First five to ten novels you put up you will be lucky to sell 25 copies per month average over a year. Average. Some will sell none, some more. (And I’m talking across the planet, not just Kindle.)

But do the math. If you are selling the novels at $5.99 each electronic (ignoring paper and audio for the moment) you make about $4.00 per sale or about $100 per novel average per month. Or around $1,200 per year per novel.

You will not do this with your first or second or even fifth novel.  This path, just as traditional publishing does, takes a lot of product. That is a drawback. If the first year you write three novels (about six hours per week), you would be lucky after the first year to make great dinner money on all three books total every month.

Also, you have to go back to Step One above and figure in the time where you can learn how to do covers and layout interiors of books.  And that can’t be your writing time. You must dig out the indie production time from other time. Not writing time.

And you will need to set up a business as a small press or indie publisher. My “Think Like a Publisher” posts under the tab above are free. (I will be doing a lecture series with that title to help people as well starting in 2013.) So that can be learned, but not on writing time.

Indie publishing route is much easier to do business “projections” on. Say you have finished ten novels in four years (again ignoring paper and audio editions for now). You are averaging 25 copies per month sold over those ten titles. That is a pretty steady income of $12,000 per year. Not $50,000, but a nice start.

As with traditional publishing, this method of approach assumes a few dreams happen given enough work.

With traditional publishing, this method assumes that with given enough years and work, you start selling regularly to traditional publishers.  That’s the dream part.  It might not happen. In indie publishing, the dream part is that you average 25 copies per book per month in sales. That might not ever happen either.

You can’t control if you sell to New York and you can’t control if your books sell to customers.

So that approach does not really work as a business plan because it assumes sales that are out of your control.

So I’m going to back up to what is a goal, what can be controlled.


You control in Traditional Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale, meaning how many do you mail to traditional editors and how you keep them in the mail to as many editors as you can over time.

That’s it.

You control in Indie Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale.

3) You also control the quality of the cover, the blurbs, and where your book is sold (paper, electronic, audio and all markets for everything around the world.)

That’s it.

Control of both major paths ends right there. 

So how do you work to get the money flowing and growing and eventually make a living if you don’t control either sales to editors or customers?


1) You control where you attempt to sell your work.

2) You control how much you are learning to make your work better every time.

On where to sell your work, my suggestion is this: Attempt to sell your work everywhere you can think of, in as many forms as you can figure out..

Let me repeat that, since it is such a simple sentence and so fantastically hard for people to follow.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

That you can control! You control the attempt to sell. You don’t control the buying or not buying, but you control the attempt to sell.

So a goal can be to get your work out to every market you can get it out to in all fashions. EXCLUDE NOTHING.

A couple of very simple examples:

Example #1: You write a short story.

— First, try to sell it to traditional magazines that pay above 5 cents per word and give you rights back to your story within a year.

— After it hits the top markets, then indie publish it, or if it sells, after you get the rights back, indie publish it as a stand-alone for $2.99 electronic. (Get it in every electronic market you can get it into around the world.)

— Put it with three or four other stories and publish it as a collection.  Do print and audio versions of the collection as well. Get them into every outlet you can around the world as well.

And so on…

Example #2: You write a novel.

Publish it indie first electronically, in paper, and in audio and get it out around the world to every market you can get it out to.

Then mail a copy of the trade paperback with a cover letter and quick synopsis and a SASE to five traditional editors who might buy it for their line. And if they don’t respond or reject it, mail it to five more editors in six months. (Path #5 from the last article.)

There is no either/or in 2013.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.


In the next article in this series, I will break down how to get the production going. The decision on traditional or indie or both does not matter if you can’t get production of new words going.

And keep it going.

That’s a key. I’ll give you in the next post a number of tricks and methods to keep your writing going through 2013. And a few nifty games to play as well.

Also, I will talk about how to keep learning through the new year. That’s also something you can control and will help in money made in the future.

You control production, learning, and where your try to sell your work.

But until the next article, figure out how many hours of writing you can carve out of your life and how fast you write original words.  (And again, keep them to yourself… not our business, just yours.)

And then I’ll help you get to those words and keep them flowing.

And remember the point of this article.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

As I said in last week’s article, it really, honestly, is that simple.

And that hard.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  

I’m now getting back to writing fiction, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this column somehow in how I make a living.

So, if you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal