On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Topic of the Night: Learning in the New Year

At the professional writer lunch today, a lot of the conversation on writing turned to how the industry is changing, bookstores, and so much more about the future. Great conversation.

And tonight on a nifty program on the Travel Channel, I learned a little about how books were sold door-to-door after the Civil War and up into the last century. It was a major way books were distributed, and publishing company sales forces were basically door-to-door salesmen.

When I came into the business in the early 1970s, the major publishing sales force had morphed into selling to bookstores, and only encyclopedias were sold door-to-door.

Wow, has publishing changed. (grin) Now major publishers no longer have sales forces to speak of, other than to sell to major wholesalers.

And most books published back fifty years ago wouldn’t even be written well enough to be publishable for the most part now, with a few exceptions. Writing craft has changed along with the industry itself.

Part of the conversation we all pretty much agreed on at lunch with was how the writers of old (who only wanted to be taken care of by publishers) would be gone in the future of publishing. They will become a relic of the past of publishing right along with the door-to-door salesmen.

Writers going forward need to have multiple skill sets on the publishing side and be better storytellers on the writing side.

Well, here we are at the first of the year when resolutions and goals are often set. I put up the Heinlein’s Rules in hopes it would help a few people kick-start their escape from some of the myths.

But as I did the workshop letters last night, I realized that January had the fewest sign-ups of any month of workshops we have ever done, even back in the beginning when we only did five workshops in a month. (Even the interiors workshop we brought back special on request for two months only has one person signed up for it.)

It dawned on me that Kris’s blog post about the year of writing was very accurate. Writers this year were going to focus on writing. I’ve been hearing that a lot.

Only on writing.

Oh, oh… Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

Just focusing on the writing without also balancing the learning at the same time will lead you in a large circle. You will find yourself at the same spot at this time next year. Typing without learning is just typing.

In my opinion, learning needs to be balanced with the writing, no matter how you get the learning. Workshops, blogs, conferences, and so on.

And business learning and skills also have to be brought in at the same time.

Spending a year doing nothing but writing sounds wonderful on the surface, but it won’t really help you get forward, even though it sounds like it should.

Just as spending a year doing nothing but learning and publishing stuff won’t help you without the writing at the same time.


That’s the key.  Writing focus is first. Sure, I have always said that. But spending a year writing and learning craft and business at the same time will move you forward in a balanced way.

So, in my opinion, New Year’s resolutions need to include both. (Mine do, if you noticed in the January 1st topic.)

The writers of fiction going forward have to be balanced in skills. And wow is there a lot to learn. But learning is fun. And it can be balanced with the writing without hurting the writing.

This is not a black or white thing. Honest.

So give a look at your resolutions over this next month and make sure the year includes learning, lots of learning of craft of storytelling and the fun of business combined with a focus on the writing.

The one fact we all agreed on at lunch today is the writers that only wanted to write and be taken care of will be long gone in a number of years. The new publishing system won’t allow them to exist, any more than door-to-door salesman exist in publishing anymore.

It’s a new world.

Balance the writing and the new focus on more writing with a new focus on learning at the same time. And in a year you will be surprised how much farther along the publishing road you are.



  • Lisa Nixon Richard

    Good Morning Dean,

    After looking through my goals for last year, I realized I failed at the publishing side of life. This year, I have better goals. I worry that it will mess with my writing goals, so I liked the reminder of balance. I also set a goal of reading four books about writing for this year. I am hoping to also sign up for a class shortly. Busy, busy, busy!!! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Marsha

    Funny. I know I told you in a private email that I wanted to take January off to absorb the workshops I’ve been taking for the last 5 months before starting up again. (I have at least 4 more on my radar.)

    Well, when I got up this morning I felt somewhat bereft that I didn’t have a new workshop to dive into. 🙂 I’ve decided to sign up for a classic while I finish up the interiors workshop. For those of you who haven’t taken this workshop it is invaluable. Actually, they all are. My learning has accelerated to warp speed since I started taking classes with Dean and Kris. Now to get my word count up there……

  • Vera Soroka

    Balance is the key word for me this year. I need to publish what I have written so I can move forward with new stuff. It will be a year of learning also. I’m going to do print so I have to learn how to do those interiors. I’ll start off basic probably and once comfortable with it, will try something more fancy.
    Learning to merge photos in Photoshop is another thing to learn this year. I have some cover ideas in mind so will give that a try. This year is also the year I get back into doing my art. I want to do a couple of coloring books. So, yeah it’s all about balance and learning this year. I think it will be a fun year, as long as I don’t stress about it.

  • K.S. Elkins

    Meeting writing goals for February release, but fully intend to take more classes in March and onward. Your and Kris’ workshops and lectures have been the guideposts and learning opportunities I needed to get me where I need to be.

  • Robin Brande

    Agree with this whole-heartedly. Although I’m one of the writers who has declared this a Year of Writing because last year I felt too side-tracked by too many side businesses, I know how important it is to keep learning and experimenting and learning some more.

    Last year I took a whole bunch of courses, including some excellent ones from you and from Allyson at WMG Publishing: the Productivity course and the Organization and Paying the Price lecture series. All highly valuable and worth the time and money.

    I recently bought some of your and Kris’s craft books. Even though I’ve followed the writing of some of those on your blogs, it’s nice to have them in separate concise books. Plus I’m one of the many people who is grateful for what you and Kris have to offer for free every day and every week, and so I’m happy to support your work by buying your books!

    I’ll be one of your students in various craft and business courses this year. Thanks for offering such great instruction and inspiration, Dean. What you do is so valuable!

  • Elise M. Stone

    I am a writing class and writing craft book junkie. I love learning. As I was planning my goals for 2016, I browsed through your list of lectures and workshops, several of which sound appealing.

    However, a couple of years ago I was burned when I took a “story” class on a site where I’d previously taken some excellent courses. A couple of weeks into it, when I saw that the “teacher” was spouting nonsense, I did some investigation and discovered that she’d never published a single novel and was mostly regurgitating things she’d learned from another writer.

    That’s when I came up with my two rules for spending money on a class: 1) The teacher must have published multiple novels. Five or more would be best. 2) I must enjoy the novels they’ve published, think there’s something about the books I want to learn how to do, feel that what I want to write is in the same vein as the work of the person teaching. Obviously you meet criteria number one, but I realized that although I’ve read several of Kris’s books, I’d never read one of yours.

    So now I’m in the middle of reading Thunder Mountain. I’d like to read a second book before making up my mind. I’ll probably enroll in a class later this year.

    • dwsmith

      Great rules Elise. I would tend to raise that bar higher on novels, however. Ten or more. That number tends to carve out most of the writers who give up early instead of going for a career.

      Actually, in lots of ways, most people until the last few years would have never known if they read a book of mine or not. (grin) Not kidding. I wrote so much under pen names, or in media or ghosting that my name was known in New York to traditional publishers and the long-time editors, but not to fans and readers. The fun of the old world of publishing, that a writer like me could be a major bestseller, have over a hundred novels published, have 17 million books in print, and no one is sure they ever read a book of mine.

      So no worries on that, I like your rule and hope you like some of my name work.

  • Dane Tyler

    “Balance” sounds like a GREAT word to hang onto in 2016. I know how much I enjoy learning, and how inspired I can get from it. I’m hopeful the learning opportunities will continue to open up for me this year and I can grab some of the essential tools I’ve been missing and wanting to move to the next stage. You know, reach that next floor of the building, I guess.

    Looking forward to it all; coupled with my commitment to write more, it should be a real solid one-two punch.

    Thanks for the reminder, Dean.

  • Bob Mueller

    Good, I got it right!

    I’m already going back to school for a journalism/mass comm degree. I’ve set some very auspicious writing goals for the year too.

    But I want to get some of your workshops in as well.

    Book launch this month. Second semester at school. 3d book in series looming. So I’m putting the workshops off until summer. I’d really like to hit the OWFI conference this year too, but it’s in May, near the end of the semester, so that’s probably not the best idea.

    Balance in all things.

  • Kort

    For me, the last few months have been brutal financially and I know a lot of people who are in that position. So, while I have plans to take classes this year, they have to wait until some of the cash flow issues have cleared up. You’ll probably get hit with a record number of sign up in March 🙂

  • Linsey Lanier

    Great post, Dean. I needed to hear that.

    Just because some of us aren’t signing up for workshops doesn’t mean we’re not still learning from the ones we’ve taken in the past. 🙂 I’ve taken at least 3/4 of your offerings and recommend all of them highly. The things you teach haunt me every time I end or start a chapter. I know I’ve advanced several levels because of what I’ve learned in them.

    Thanks again to you and Kris for so generously sharing your knowledge.

  • Alexandria

    Thanks so much for the reminder Dean. I usually try to find out things when I need to know them, but maybe this year I should try to learn stuff just before I need it.