Challenge,  publishing

The Wet Blanket Reality… Introduction


The Wet Blanket Reality will be a writing book about the reality of trying to sell novels to traditional publishers. I suppose the title of the book could be TRADITIONAL NOVEL PUBLISHING: The Wet Blanket Reality. But as I write this here on my blog, chapter-by-chapter, I’m just going to call it by the subtitle.

Fits better. And sadly gives away the book.

That’s right. I am going to be a wet blanket, smother a little of your writing dreams to help you gain a more sustainable and fun dream of being a long-term professional writer.

Think of it this way. Part of you is on fire so I’m going to take a wet blanket and put out the fire so the rest of you can live and move into a writing career.

Yeah, maybe that was a little much. Oh, well.

The book will be about 14 or so chapters long. And I am going to start right from the beginning and work step-by-step, detail-by-detail through the process a writer goes through when selling a novel to a major traditional publisher. My hope is that every-so-often a writer in the process will get this book and recognize where they are at,  and I can save them years and maybe their career.

A guy can dream, can’t I?

And maybe I can help some newer writers who are still lost in the myths of the 1990s to get out and join this century of publishing.

Again, just a hope.

Mostly I am writing this to revamp in a newer way the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. And now, after all these years of indie publishing, I’m afraid I just might get a little snarky at times. Deal with it.

Why can I write this book?

In case you have not looked up who you are reading, I sold 106 novels to traditional publishers under a variety of names. And as an indie writer I have done another hundred books or more, and make a ton more money now than I did in all the years as a traditional writer. I also edited for Pocket Books on projects and I had an agent for 17 years who never sold a book for me. I sold all 106 of the traditional books myself and my agent did the employee and grunt work because she worked for me.

I honestly doubt she read most of my books, if any. No need for her to. But she sure liked stealing my money.

I have about 25 million copies of my books or more in print and I am a USA Today and New York Times bestseller under numbers of names.

So I can write this book because I have been successful in both traditional publishing and indie publishing and went through the traditional process I describe in this book, and I have watched hundreds and hundreds of new writers fall into this trap and vanish.

Also, I got nothing to lose and nothing to fear from traditional publishing.

So this book, I hope, can save a few writers. It will be written two or three chapters a week on my blog for everyone to read for free and then put into a book in 2022 for sale.

If you have questions along the way, feel free to ask me directly by email or in the comments. Early on I will more than likely say I will cover that. But don’t be afraid to ask.


Because in fiction writing, when we all start out, it is impossible to not believe and follow the myths of fiction writing. Impossible. I know of no writer who escaped them. The reason is that the myths of writing fiction are taught to all of us in school from a very early age.

Myths like “Fiction writing is special.”

Or “Fiction writing is hard.”

It is neither special or hard. But as kids in school, we watch teachers who have never written a novel take apart novels, find them amazing, and thus teach that writing novels or stories must be special and must be hard. Teaching out of ignorance. Teachers just don’t know that sitting alone in a room and making stuff up is great fun and scary easy if you are willing to keep learning.

So teaching those two things brings up more huge myths. For example, the myth that you must rewrite everything. (The novel looks hard to teachers, thus the only way to do it is rewrite something dozens of times. This kills originality, but what would teachers know about that?)

“You must outline.” A myth that comes from the same belief that writing is special and hard to do. Also kills all originality.

“You must not practice your writing. Every word you write even from day one is precious.”  This myth is really one of the more deadly ones. Every art and sport has a person practicing a great deal, except writing. If you could hold a pen as a kid, you could become a writer as long as you don’t write too much, rewrite everything, and outline and world build so much ahead of time, there is nothing left to write.

The problem with these myths (and many others) is that traditional publishing, for its own reasons (called money) demand that writers believe these myths, and agents (not licensed or trained) believe them, and most young editors and agents are trained completely in the myth that they know better than the writer because they have a degree from Vassar or some other snotty university. That makes them smarter than any writer when it comes to writing fiction.

Nope. Every watched those stupid commercials where someone is an expert because they stayed at a Holiday Inn, or watched a show on television? Welcome to the modern editor and agent. Not kidding. The person in the commercials know more about a subject than a traditional editor knows about how to write and create fiction.

And the older editors who actually got some training way back are now mostly gone or moved up to corporate officers and no longer care.

Another driving myth is that traditional publishing can sell your book better than you can and to more places. This, in 2022, is pure hogwash. Indie writers can get their book out all over the world, can sell or do audio, can work their own translation rights or sales, can get books into gaming, movies, and other licensing. And can get their books into what is left of physical bookstores. Indie authors can do more than a traditional publisher ever can, and faster and better. Sadly, writers don’t realize this until way after a book is published with a traditional press.

And traditional publishing expects the authors to do all the promotion as well, just as the author would do if they were getting 70% of the gross sales price vs 8% of the net of what a traditional publisher gives the author if the publisher doesn’t discount the book.

The upshot is that any writer who thinks that selling a novel to a traditional publisher is the right way to go in 2022 still believes in a lot of myths.

So step-by-step, I’m going to detail out what a writer walking that traditional publishing road can expect to have to do and why. And how long it will take for each step.

So coming up, Chapter One the writer must write what they think is a perfect book, meaning lots of rewrites and other mechanisms to polish and get the perfect book ready for the agent step.

Thrilling reading that I bet a lot of you will know well. I know I did when I started.


  • Lawrence

    “I have always been intrigued by the vocations of writers or jobs that writers were engaged in before taking up the craft of writing. Offhand, I cannot recall more than two writers who studied journalism or writing in college. In fact, very few of the writers I knew actually went to college.”—Frank Gruber

    Just an interesting quote.

    • dwsmith

      Lawrence, when a young person says they want to be a writer and are headed to college, Kris and I both tell them to study history. It will come in handy the most over the years. Or business. Anyone who went to college to study creative writing must unlearn all the crap they were taught before they can even get started on being a professional fiction writer. Some can do it, but it kills more than it helps. Of course, if they want to teach creative writing to others who have no desire to be an actual professional writer, creative writing major is the way to go.

      • Kate+Pavelle

        I have a friend who’s a talented, even brilliant writer. She *was* totally fearless – and then she got into a MFA program for fiction writing. She spent 2 years doing retreates and distance study and exercises and “crit.”
        She hasn’t written a bit of fiction since.
        It was kind of hard to watch, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that she is happy with a master’s degree and writing non-fiction for a living. I miss her stories, though.

      • Dana Stabenow

        I have always been glad I waited until I was older to go for my MFA. I knew what I wanted by then and I had the experience and confidence to ignore all the b.s. and go straight for the gold. Some of the people I was with in those interminable writing workshops were scarred for life, though.

        I heartily endorse studying history, too. I minored in history for both my undergrad and grad degrees and those classes inform more of my work than anything else I ever studied. Plus I learned to read history for fun.

  • emmiD

    So GLAD you are doing this book. I will be sending these blogs to my nephew, who still thinks Trad Pub is the way to go. I’ve self-published since 2015, but in talking about a MS (that he hasn’t finished–which is another set of problems), he said “send to a publisher”.

    It’s not a debate I’ll win. Maybe he’ll listen to you with all of your credentials as evidence.

    Dang it. These lessons have to be taught constantly. Thank you.

  • Dana Stabenow

    Kris just sent me here and I barely got a paragraph in before I had to leave a comment. You write, “Because in fiction writing, when we all start out, it is impossible to not believe and follow the myths of fiction writing. Impossible. I know of no writer who escaped them.”

    Including the especially stellar myth that your tradpub editor always has your best interests at heart. True enough so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far.

    In my first three-book contract I agreed to a 4% royalty on the pb in exchange for a promise (oral, not written, as in not in the contract) of a 75,000-copy initial print run. And I had an AGENT. Who brought me the deal and endorsed it.

    In the contract there was a break point at which so many sales would bump up the royalty, eventually bringing it to the 8% industry standard. The book (published in 1993) has never been out of print. On the publisher page the edition # has been 27 since 1999 (Thor Power Tools, anyone?), and according to the royalty statements, it has never sold enough books for the break point to kick in.

    Nowadays I’ve got a weird hybrid publishing business model and my editor works for me.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, and sadly you can’t get your rights back to publish it yourself and make even more money. And Dana, as I am sure you know, but others here will not, don’t trust those royalty statements. Audits don’t take much and can find you a ton of money seemingly “just forgotten” or lost. And translation sales that never get reported or get sort of withheld by your agent. I’m going to get to a lot of that. (grin). Thanks!!

  • Kristi N.

    “Failure is a prerequisite for learning.”

    I’m studying Agile and Lean frameworks in business, and that quote reached out and grabbed me. My first thought was “that sounds like something Dean would say”. Not in the “Dean wants everyone to fail” way but as in “Dean wants everyone to learn”. I’ve failed to become a traditionally published author (actually, I pivoted from that goal after listening to Dean and Kris) and I’ve learned to become an indie published writer.

    Thank you, Dean, for helping more of us fail at (and pivot from) the traditional path.

    • dwsmith

      The quote is right, absolutely, but I sure don’t think of myself as helping anyone fail. I try to just be a road sign pointing to a good road. Or better put, a sign that says, “Wrong Way” at a freeway entrance. That is not helping someone fail, that is helping someone live and flourish.

      • Filip Wiltgren

        Dean, please do a chapter on contracts, and the way trad pub will try to F writers out of their rights.

        I’ve been trying to get writing friends (who are fresher than me, and instantly upon hearing that I have had some modest success want to know my “secret”) to start thinking about rights, and they don’t listen, no matter what I say.

        I even pointed to clauses such as “and the author shall hold the copyright for the benefit of the publisher, in perpetuity” (yes, that’s from an actual contract one of my friends signed. His book still hasn’t come out…), explaining what it means, and they just ignore me.

        Totally star-struck at getting published. But maybe they’ll listen to a pro…

        • dwsmith

          Oh, I will. But getting writers to understand copyright is just a fool’s errand. However, Kris and I have come up with a way to teach it, slowly and carefully, in bite-sized chunks so the writers will learn without realizing it. So stay tuned for that.

          And books do not have to come out of traditional publishers. They don’t buy them to publish them, they buy them for the IP value. Publishing is just something that is a cover and they let the young editors from Vassar handle that stuff as long as they follow a budget.

          Yup, I will get to all that.