On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: My Biggest Fears

I have numbers of worries and fears about this new world of publishing where writers sometimes create their own publishing company or even publish a story or novel under their own name.

And not one of my fears deals with money and how much can be made. Or about cutting through the “noise” as everyone calls it. Or about the problems of beginning writers putting up slush-pile level fiction. I have no worries at all about those and think they are just straw dogs, to be honest.

And let me be very clear, I am excited beyond belief with this new world that is shaping up. I believe this new world will allow stories now blocked to find readers and literature will be better served in the long run because of that. And I believe it will free up writers to write more and more.

But just because I am excited and teaching people last week and this week how to take advantage of this new world doesn’t mean I don’t have some worries at the same time.

So let me outline what are my biggest fears about this wonderful new world of publishing.

Fear #1

Writers will spend their writing time publishing their old work and not create new.

Now, for me or Kris, this is not a worry at all, even though we both have massive backlists of fiction that need to get out. Both of us are having the opposite problem, actually. Suddenly, with the freedom that this new world gives us, we suddenly have a ton of projects that were pushed aside as not being marketable that now are demanding to be written.  I’m writing more Poker Boy stories and a second novel, Kris is planning to continue The Fey series.

But over and over I have heard about writers, especially writers who don’t have much writing time to begin with because of day jobs, spending their time and energy publishing stories. That scares me, because simply put, the only way to make a name and a living at fiction is write the next story, the next novel. I’ve taught that for 15 years now and I will continue to teach that, no matter what publishing system the writer uses.

Bluntly put, if you are not writing the next story, the next novel, you are not writing and thus not a writer.

But that said, the small-publishing side of this is so much fun. Seeing a book go live on Kindle is a blast, seeing your story or novel at B&N.com is great fun. But a book cover can always be worked on more to make it look better and a manuscript fixed to make it cleaner on Amazon. In fact, publishing takes time. It’s why there are so many people who work in those large buildings in New York.

Compared to just a few years ago, self-publishing is easy. But it still takes a learning curve that takes time. Doing a cover, formatting an already written short story and putting it up online can only take a couple of hours if you have done it a number of times. But if you only have a few hours of writing a day or a week, then by putting that old story up you are taking time away from your writing. And maybe that next story, that next novel that you don’t write would have been the one to make you rich or famous.

My suggestion:

Again balance is the key. Don’t let the publishing time cut at all into your writing time. Ever. You are a writer first, a publisher second. Hold that line and you will find a balance. Any of us can always carve out a few extra hours each week to get up a story online. Just don’t give away your writing time. Creating inventory is more important than anything else. In the long run, a lot of inventory will be the only thing that will draw readers.

Fear #2

Writers will get discouraged far too quickly in this new world of publishing.

I can’t begin to tell you how tempting it is to watch “the numbers” on different sites. Put up a couple novels or stories and then wonder why you are not making Konrath numbers in two days. So instead of continuing to write and put up new work online and sell to traditional publishers, you get discouraged and quit. You think rejections are discouraging, watching the numbers every couple days make dealing with rejection from traditional publishers seem easy.

I hate to break this to all you new writers in a hurry, but publishing takes time. Both sides of this take time, both online and traditional publishing. And small publishing of your own work online and in POD takes even more time than the years it takes to develop a career in traditional publishing.

To make decent money in electronic publishing, you must build an inventory. And I don’t mean just a few novels and six short stories. You must have a lot of work up there for readers to find. Otherwise the numbers never will grow. Konrath had a long-term career in traditional publishing before he switched over to electronic. He spent years slowly building readers and when he switched, his publishers already had things up electronically. He just added into it and kept building. But overall it took him years, not to build readers, but to build inventory.

If you are not into this new world for the long haul, meaning starting your publishing company with a ten-year plan and a bunch of long-term goals for your writing, run now. You will just be disappointed and then go online and discourage others who should not be discouraged just because you are impatient.

Building a writing career takes time. Building a publishing business also takes time.

My suggestion:

Watch the numbers once a month. Never more. And record each total to see how the growth is from month-to-month. There will be some down months, accept them and expect them. Plan for the long haul. And expect small numbers until you get past 15 or more products for the first jump, then expect still low numbers until you get up into around fifty different titles of short stories or novels or collections up. Then it will jump again.

Fear #3

Writers will want someone else to do all the work and be taken by scammers.

Trust me, building a cover and formatting a book takes time and some learning curves that 95% of all writers won’t want to take. So they will turn to others to help them and scams are already building.

Scam #1: The Agent Scam

Yup, here I go again worrying about agents, but across this country agents are starting to see that their jobs are on the line and are starting to step in and offer to take care of these “chores” for the writers. That means that those agents have stepped across the line and become a publisher. And taking 15% or 25% as one agent is charging of a book that sells even small numbers (say $1,000 a year) FOREVER (meaning the author’s life plus 70) is a ton of money for a few hours work.  All because the author was too lazy to do the work and wanted someone to take care of them.

And, of course, the agents will want to get all the money and paperwork first, because the writer needs to be “taken care of” and trust me, that’s exactly what the agents will do for your money, but you won’t see much of it. You think it’s hard to track publishing money from overseas and large corporations, try tracking money dripping in from fifty different sources for electronic publishing.

Simple solution to this one:


Scam #2: The New Packager

Again, most writers as I have disgustingly discovered want someone to take care of them, so they will give these over to some upstart business who claims that for a flat fee or a percentage they will do all this work for them.  CAUTION!!!

There will be good and bad of these new businesses. How you can do this right means that you still have to take some responsibility. For example, there are a ton of great freelance editors out there to help you. Go to them or use your trusted first readers for that. As far as covers and layout, a friend of mine set up this service for writers and she set up the service in the ONLY WAY I AGREE WITH. She has a menu. You as a writer, if uncomfortable with doing say a cover, for a set price can get a cover from her company. You know up front what a cover will cost and you pay half ahead and half when satisfied for the service. No percentage of forever sales.  Then you can do the rest. You can pick off the menu what will help you and your small publishing company. That works for the writer who needs help. It does not work for the writers who want someone to take care of everything.


Those are my three major fears for writers in general. Electronic publishing and POD publishing with the opening of the distribution channels has allowed writers to set up small publishing companies and write what we want. If it doesn’t sell to a traditional publisher, we can publish it ourselves. We have the freedom to write and publish how we want now. And the future looks bright. But there are huge problems with this future as well.  What would have happened if J.K. Rowling had given up when her agent wanted her to give up and self-published that first book? Would we have that wonderful series? Maybe, but maybe not.

Stay balanced and if you are going into this new world, take the responsibility of doing it yourself and watch out for the scammers. And for heaven’s sake, never use your writing time to do publishing chores.

Use this new world to push you to write more. Then we all win.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith

At some point, just as with the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, I will publish this series as a book. And this installment is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

And if want to read back installments of this series, check out the top of the web page for the site link.

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 or any of the earlier chapters along to others who might get some help from it.

Thanks, Dean