The Story of a New Author

Ultra-prolific indie author Dean Wesley Smith, he of Pulp Speed fame, tells the story of every debut tradpub novel you see advertised in Locus or Publishers Weekly.

Author Dean Wesley Smith

Here is the story…
— Author spent years wanting to be a writer.
— Author rewrote that “special snowflake novel,” following all guidelines, to agent’s and editor’s requests, taking years of time.
— Author ignores all warnings because they want to be taken care of by an editor and their cherished agent. Author has no belief in their own work.
— Author signed an all-rights contract for the life of the copyright, selling everything to do with the book with no chance of getting it back. The author celebrated the signing as if it was a good thing.
— Author a year or more later is excited that the book is coming out. Does launch parties or other such foolishness, all for the ego of showing friends and family it was worth it.
— A year later, since the sales were flat as all are in this new world, author can’t sell another book. Agent will no longer answer author’s phone calls. Author gets bitter and goes and does something else with their life.
There are a few side-roads to this. The author might have signed a two-book deal. Add a year before the large crash. The author might actually get, for even less money, two more books. Rare. Add another year or two to the torture.
And even more rare, sadly, do I see these young writers emerging from that grind and turning to indie.
I am seeing a ton of long-term bestselling authors with anywhere from 25 to 75 traditional novels, turning indie. They were either dropped or are fed up with the treatment. They are flocking to indie.
But those new writers are lost. Their dreams of having a book “published” and getting the fairy dust of honor from a traditional publishing turned out to be fools gold. Having a dream slowly crushed like that is almost impossible to recover from.
So every day I hear a young writer’s dream of traditional publishing, or I see hundreds of ads in magazines of new writer’s books, and I just have this sense of immense sadness for the writers.
There is no longer a career path into publishing using the old tin cup method of begging to publishers. You might beat the odds and get in the door, but you will soon be gone.
Career writers now are indie writers. We have accepted the control. In fact, we cherish it and the thought of anyone taking care of us is appalling.
But that is a matter of perspective. If your dream is to be taken care of by traditional publishing and having an agent, nothing I will be able to say will change that.
But I will see your name, your book, and feel sorry for you.
But I will say nothing to you.
After all, it is your dream.

Until quite recently I was always shocked when aspiring authors told me they planned to submit their novels to traditional publishers--especially now that even publishing industry insiders are admitting that Amazon and indie authors have sent the Big Five trad publishers into a death spiral.

But now I understand that most new authors--like most people in general--don't base their decisions on facts and logic. The hopeful young writer who toils for years on the tradpub rejection carousel trying to land an agent and sell to an editor in New York does so not because the evidence shows it's the best path to a career. He endures such futile drudgery because it reinforces an identity.

Authors tend to be introverted and insecure. Many of them believe that getting anointed by a bunch of strangers in some Manhattan office entitles them to embrace a new and superior self-concept: that of the Published Author™.

No amount of rational argument will sway those who dream of attaining Published Author™ status from their Quixotic goal. You may as well try to argue a Billy Joel fan out of liking "We Didn't Start the Fire". He doesn't like the song primarily out of any artistic merit. He likes it because he's a Billy Joel Fan.

Likewise, most aspiring authors are aspiring Published Authors™. It doesn't matter that even if they beat the increasingly long odds and get published by a traditional house they'll earn 1/6 indie royalties. It doesn't matter that their artistic impulses will be chained to the whims of trend-chasing editors. It doesn't even matter that they're as likely as not to never have another book published after the first.

No. The fact is that most aspiring authors don't want successful writing careers. Their identities are invested in the dream of becoming Published Authors™--even if that dream will crush them.

There was a time when I pursued traditional publication. But my blessing and my curse is that I'm one of those oddballs who's convinced by dialectic. Successful indies like Dean, Hugh Howie, and Joe Konrath provided the data that set me on the self-publishing path.

Now I have four books out within a time frame when most tradpub authors have only released two. My first book has earned more money than most new tradpub authors will ever see from theirs, and my work has received major award nominations and one win--all in two years.

None of it would've been possible without the real driving force behind publishing: the readers. They are who aspiring authors should strive to please.

Sadly, Dean is right as usual. It's a bad idea to wake sleepwalkers. There's no need, anyway. They'll get a rude awakening within the next few years when tradpub as we know it collapses.

Meanwhile, I'll be reaching and entertaining readers with my award-winning books, and releasing new ones.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier



  1. Brian,
    Thanks again for posting aboutbthe bizness(tm) side.
    I wonder how Dean would respond to the post and comment from Mike Shaztkin that I sent you some time ago

    And Regenery has cut ties to the NY Times bestseller list?
    Because Dean has flatly refuted Mike's assertion that traditional authors aren't becoming Indies.
    Lemme ask you and Dean this question what are the top 5 responsibilities of an indie without?
    #1 of course is the audience is your patron so your job is to satisfy them with an enjoyable story (aka spend their beer money)
    But what are the other equally important duties?

  2. Also, the traditional model doesn't allow for the "Mollison method" of publishing shorter stories, then compiling them into one big book united by a common setting.

    1. Tradpub doesn't allow for a lot of the publishing strategies that are essential to success in the new market. Yet indies have access to all the same tools as tradpub on Amazon.

      This is why Nick Cole is absolutely right when he observes that the rare few authors who are currently "taken care of" by the Big Five won't survive as indies when their contracts are cancelled.

    2. And it remains to be seen what we can build in its place.

    3. All tradpub books come in the same size, same length, and same formula. They're too limiting with what they allow.

  3. The last tradpub new discovery that actually got a fantastic deal was Scott Lynch, over a decade ago now, and that--freely admitted then and how--was a fluke that should not have happened.

    Scott's agent is also his editor at Gollanz in London (which, by the way, is why I always talk of a NYC-London axis in tradpub). It's this guy who screwed up and accidentally got Scott on his _seven book contract_ because he sold books to other parties that he didn't have and had to cover his ass fast.

    Scott is now at Book #4. #5 is in that same Development Hell that consumed Books #3 & #4. At this rate, by the time he finishes #7 "The hot young fantasy author" will be a greying old man- and fit in perfectly with the decaying WorldCon set.

    It's not worth it. Go indie.

    1. Listen to Bradford, folks. He knows whereof he speaks.

  4. Hi all
    Thanks for your input,comments and experiences.i concour with Rawle that the English language is roo restrictive with genre. For example the short stoeies are still in giod shape in Soaib. In fact nuvol.com has just announced its 3 finalists for its story competition. The winner of course gets published. If I Renner write the finalists too in ebook with their stories and the winner.
    nuvol.com is an independent cultural magazine that a few months ago started to publish in paper. They're also a micro publisher.
    So to answer Rawke's question: be audacious and publish the genre you like. If you can't find a publisher become one:)
    The future will be micropublishing. Most won't make money but they'll provide outlets for many talented content


  5. Sport it should read the short stories are in good shape in Spain

  6. Obviously, from a strictly practical point of view, Indie is the way to go. But I can't help feeling sympathetic to the dreamers who want a "real" publisher. I mean it'd be great to just be Mr. Author while an army of publishing experts handle the whole editing, marketing, and distribution thing. That's the life of an author one usually sees on TV and in the movies. It's also the life that doesn't usually happen unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson.

    So the dream is mighty seductive, but not really attainable. As standard publishing sinks deeper into the bog, that will become truer. But the dream will live on.

  7. I couldn't get published traditionally. so I gave up on trying. Wasn't like I needed the money, the day job paid really well.

    But I kept writing mostly for my own satisfaction.

    Then indy came along and I decided 'why not'? And suddenly found that those stories of mine that the trads wouldn't touch sold, and sold rather well.

    Now I write full time. Yeah, it doesn't pay as much as the job I quit, but pays more than enough to cover all the bills. Not a lot of people can do that.

    1. Congratulations, sir!

      One fact that's become increasingly clear is that the Big Five publishers are out of touch with what the reading public wants. They're also far slower to adapt to changes in the market than indie authors are.

    2. Brian
      I disbelieve the 5 publishers are deliberately out of touch. It's cultivated disdain. Notabrly that our tastes are pleabian,uncultured and we just need to follow their best seller lists and approved authours(tm) to truly appreciate Literatur(tm)
      i've never read Franzen for example and I don't plan on reading him. He strikes me as ur boring