On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Topic of the Night: Three Types of Thinking

Topic of the Night: Three Types of Thinking

More than likely this will be a topic I’ll talk about regularly in numbers of ways. But for tonight, what got my focus on this was a comment made by the Passive Guy on a post he put up from Kris. (Scroll down to Kris’s post, his comment is under hers.)

He said, “Under current contract practices, the author is the only person who has to think in the long term while everyone else in the publishing business is focused on the short term.”

Wow, is that the truth. In so many ways.

And so few writers focus on long term in business. In fact, my focus on trying to help writers think long-term is what I get the most criticism about. (For example, I tell people to write what you love, don’t chase trends. It’s like I have run over their bike with training wheels with a big truck. These young writers really get mad at me for that.)

So that comment from Passive Guy got me looking around and I realized that in many places, I am very, very wrong about writers not thinking long term. Let me give you some examples of writers thinking long term that sort of smashed into me over the last few days.

— The workshop this last week. There were 12-14 writers there that spent a week of their time and money to learn craft from Kris for a week. And they worked damned hard, writing upwards of 7,000 to 10,000 words a day. Those writers were all thinking long term. They were there to improve their craft to make more sales over a long term.

— All the writers taking online classes and who have taken online classes. Every one of you have been thinking long term, working to learn an area to keep going into the future.

— The fantastic group of writers who show up every Sunday for lunch. All are working to learn business and make sure their careers are long-term careers.

And so on. When you are learning to build a business, improve your craft, you are thinking long term. No other way it could be.

So how about some examples of short term thinking?

… The Passive Guy was talking about thinking long term with traditional book contracts. He was spot on the money and I see writer after writer pay no attention to that “all rights for the term of the copyright” stuff in traditional publishing contracts. Short term thinking there.

And as Passive Guy said in his comment, each one of these writers has a “reason.”

Now, are there reasons to sign those contracts? Sure, if you know what you are doing, have a great attorney helping you, and you have enough clout that you can solve a bunch of the restrictive problems in the contracts. And then only if you get a truck-load of money for the loss of the IP. But losing an IP forever (or at least 35 years) for a few thousand bucks is just stupid and very short-term thinking.

— Another example of short-term thinking… “I know it all, I don’t need to learn.” Wow, do I get those people coming to me for help all the time. They have sold a couple traditional books, think they know it all, have never taken a class from anyone to learn anything, and yet want me to help them figure out how to get back into traditional publishing. Uh, no.

— Not learning copyright. Always too busy is very, very short-term thinking. Scary and deadly.

— Writing to trends or “hot areas” to make a little extra money.

You get the idea.

But there is one more form of thinking I want to add into this discussion about short-term and long-term thinking.

Tunnel-vision thinking.

Tunnel vision will kill you quicker than anything, and I see this form of thinking all the time.

Some examples…

— I want to be published traditionally, not going to think about indie. The tunnel vision doesn’t allow the person to think of all the different routes to the goal of being traditionally published. (Also, these people chase agents like dogs chasing a car.)

— I’m going to keep working on my one book for years until it’s perfect. This kind of tunnel vision flat won’t allow a person trapped there to see any other choices.

—  My work has no value so I’m going to price it all either free to get “readers” or at 99 cents. This form of tunnel vision is based on false thinking all the way. And often the thinking starts with the false idea that beginning writers sell less than experienced professionals. Or that they have no readership, so giving all their work away for free will build a readership for a few years away. Uh, nope.

— If I take a class or listen to writing advice from anywhere, it will hurt my writing and my special “voice.” This thinking always results in a person leaving the industry quickly, and without anyone noticing.

Many, many more examples in all three forms of thinking in this business. Things like not setting up a business (short), not understanding taxes (short), afraid of taxes (tunnel), setting long term goals (long), and so on and so on…

So this first post on this topic is more to start discussion about the forms of thinking. I try to help writers out of tunnel vision, I teach completely long-term thinking, and shake my head sadly and the short-term thinkers.

There are lots of places in this topic to dig down much deeper. Stay tuned.


  • Cynthia Lee

    Why would anyone become upset over the notion that writing to trends is a bad idea? I honestly don’t understand this at all. It sounds like good news to me! How is writing what you want to write a bad thing? I mentally flail at this.

    Writers say so many weird and confusing things that I am increasingly grateful to have stumbled across your blog, Dean, a few years ago. (And Kris’ blog also, of course).

    I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you that this blog has changed my life in some not-so-small ways. Having thrown off the myths I’d been carrying around for so long (I’m a former English major), I am a happier and more productive person. I write more. I write faster. I write what I want. II am happier and that makes me a better wife and a better mother. I doubt I could have done it without your thoughts and experience and generosity (and Kris’ too, of course). I stumbled across your blog when I was feeling kinda hopeless and down about a publishing career and you and Kris have changed all that.

    So I need to say thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • dwsmith

      Cynthia, wow, thanks for the wonderfully kind comments. Glad some things we said has helped. That’s great to know and hear. So thank you. Keeps me going as well, knowing that these late-night ramblings are helping some at times.

      Keep having fun with the writing. That’s the key.

  • Teri babcock

    That was a great comment from PG and I’m glad to see it getting more airtime here.

    With Prince’s recent death, it’s been interesting listening to the stories from people who knew him, and how often they comment about his interest in learning business. My bf reminded me that Prince was one of the first not to sell off his copyright – he kept his rights, because he was thinking long term.
    An artist of his caliber could certainly find lots of people to agree that he needn’t think of such plebian concerns as managing his contracts, IP, etc – but I think he knew from the start that no one would care more about his business that he did. He wanted to be the one driving the bus.

    Mick Jagger is another one. He has a degree in economics, and was always very involved at the business end with the Stones. They are still around not just because of the quality of their art, but because one of their band members placed a big priority on the business end, staying engaged and educated.

    There’s a cultural meme that art and business don’t mix, that an artist who concerns themselves with business will somehow contaminate their work. I think this is completely false.

    Having a good foundation in business skills is like preparing the soil well for your seeds to grow. If the soil is tilled and fertilized, and you know which plants need a trellis or stakes, and which don’t, your garden will do so much better. And soil improves the more you work at building it.

      • T. Thorn Coyle

        Teri’s comment reminds me of something Prince said, regarding fighting to get rights back with his record label: “50/50 is a partnership. 90/10 is employment.”

    • JS

      Re Jagger; I watched some documentary or news show about a Stones tour years ago and a small shot showed MJ sitting ‘at the kitchen table’ in their tour bus with his young-teen daughter going over the (accounting) spreadsheets for the tour with her. The show glossed through that pretty fast but it’s one of those images that has remained, and now retold.

      The myth of the separation of Artist and Business has always been rooted in who has interest in keeping the Artist Asset under control.

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, I just finished “Kill Game” and I’m giving it two thumbs up. It’s a 5 star review! This book is proof that Indie publishing works. There were a couple times in the book where a traditionally published writer would have spun off into bloated, boring directions just to pad the word count and justify the $9.99 price.
    Not the case here in “Kill Game.” What we got is a very smart, very twisted mystery. Expertly portrayed characters, (ever consider giving Andor a shot at his own book?) and the twists were gasp worthy.
    Reading a book on Kindle, you get to a point where you figure the last paragraph is the end because you really can’t tell there are pages left. Once again, not the case in “Kill Game.” There’s more? Yes, there is! An ingenious ending.
    The cool thing is, after having taken your Depth Course, I went back and saw the principles taught there in action, the Master Jedi making his own lightsaber, if you will.

    • dwsmith

      Wow, thanks, Mark. Really appreciated. And I sure had fun writing those mystery novels. And remember, I wrote them into the dark, so I was surprising myself with all those twists as I went along as well. So thanks, great to hear. Appreciated.

  • Prasenjeet

    Your blog keeps me solely focused for the long term.This is the reason why I follow your blog almost every day. And it makes me happy. Your posts about writing a novel in 7 days was so inspiring that I finished my 40,000 word novel in just 20 days. I know it is nothing in front of you. But I’ve brought down the writing time to complete a novel from 30 days to 20 days. And will work harder to bring it down further. I’ve taken your suggestion seriously to read other best selling authors. That’s the best learning experience I’ve ever had. 1. I always read for pleasure. 2. If I’m moved by a book i.e. it makes me cry, then I analyse what the writer did exactly. 3. I try to implement the same technique in my writing. 🙂

  • Kristi N.

    Annnd…this is me ordering my hard copy of the Copyright Handbook from NOLO. (sigh) Thanks for the swift kick, Dean. I needed it to get busy with the business of being a business. As far as \’knowing it all\’? Yeah, I grew up with a Shetland pony. Nothing teaches humility and the awareness of one\’s limitations as well as a Shetland pony. Even when I was studying dressage and driving a team of Belgian draft horses, the Shetland could still take me down a few pegs. So I will never \’know it all\’. But the journey towards knowing a whole lot more about writing is very, very fun, thanks to you, Kris and Passive Guy.