Website Review: Dean Wesley Smith

Website Review



Dean Wesley Smith: Helping Authors Help Themselves

Reviewed by

Erin M. Hartshorn

Copyright © 2011, Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved

 

Dean Wesley Smith is a writer with many successes under his belt. On the writing side, he's a bestselling author, he's worked as a ghostwriter, he writes in several genres under various pen names (not all of which he'll share), he's done scripts, he writes media tie-ins, and he's working on getting his backlist up and available in formats from Kindle to POD. On the publishing side, he co-founded and ran Pulphouse Publishing and he's edited at Pocket Books. On the education side, he runs workshops in conjunction with his wife (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and others to teach writers about the business side of writing, and he makes time to blog about the business as well.

I first ran into his blog (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com) at the end of 2009. He had a series of posts on goals and motivation (first -- http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=627 -- and rest -- http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?m=200912), including pretty basic math about how much one could write if one just sat down and wrote. (If you can write a 250-word blog comment in 15 minutes, you can write 250 words of fiction in the same time.) His common sense had me hooked. I went back and read his original motivation posts from 2008, and I started reading his blog on a regular basis.

One of those posts on motivation (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=663) mentioned what Smith refers to as "the Race." It was originally a race between pros to motivate them to get more stories out, but it works just as well if you race yourself. The concept is simple: give yourself 1 point for each short story you have submitted, 3 points for every partial, and 8 points for every full novel manuscript out. According to him, when you're up above the 50-60 point mark, you start selling regularly. (Why? Because you have to write and submit a lot to get to that level, and practicing your craft improves it.) Authors he mentions as having done well in the Race include Kevin J. Anderson, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Jay Lake. More recently, he's created an addendum to the Race (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=2617) to include those who self-publish their work electronically.

Shortly before he ran that series of motivational posts, he'd begun the series Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860). The goal of that blog series was straightforward: he wanted to dispel some myths that authors have about publishing. He started off with a bang, discussing writing speed and how it has no relationship to the quality of what's written. In addition to speed, he discusses rewriting (unlike many, he's not a fan of editing one's own work -- or crit groups -- although he acknowledges that no two writers are the same, and those methodologies work for others), agents (in many posts), rejections, talent, research (if you have to research for one project, write something else while you're doing it), and more.

The comments are often filled with anecdotes, information, and dissenting opinions. Smith's attitude about agents is very different from that commonly presented elsewhere; for example, he feels that an agent is an employee and as such has no business telling a writer what is or isn't worth writing or trying to sell. He's not anti-agent, and states several times that he has used agents and still does occasionally. He works to present all the options, however, from using an agent, to using a lawyer to negotiate a contract, to doing it all yourself.

One of my favorite posts in this series is titled "Only 300 Writers Make a Living" (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=1121). It's a follow-up to "Can't Make Money in Fiction" (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=607).  Both posts challenge the notion that only a couple hundred writers make a living wage as writers. In the "Only 300" post, he links to a Publishers Weekly list of books that sold over 100,000 copies in hardcover, over 500,000 in mass market, and over 100,000 copies in trade paperback. Even discounting the nonfiction titles, there are clearly more than a couple hundred names listed, and there are many others making a living who do not have that many sales for a single title. Yes, the majority of writers still have day jobs, but reading these posts gave me hope that someday, I, too, can make a living just from writing.

As time went on, Smith started another series of posts, called The New World of Publishing (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=2168), dedicated to the rise of electronic publishing and how it affects the industry as a whole. He says in his introduction to the series that he does not believe traditional publishing will go away, but that change is here, and we have to adapt. This series has fewer posts than Killing the Sacred Cows -- 16 versus 35 -- but it does include some of the same metatopics, such as speed and time. Smith also points out the hubris of self-publishers who think that traditional publishing will fall before their might ("Small Press Ego" -- http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=2400),  which ignores simple facts such as most e-books are still put up for sale by traditional publishers. Important lessons from this series of posts include that no writer ever has enough time to write, that no one really knows what the shape of publishing is going to be in five to ten years, and that both traditional and self-publishing have benefits.

His latest blog series, Think Like a Publisher (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=3736), is all about how authors can professionally go about putting up their works for sale, including everything from setting up a business structure to figuring out costs, creating a production schedule, and planning distribution. He covers the basic formatting that he does for e-publishing, including separate files for Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords ("Some Basics on Production," http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3756), and he's promised to discuss in-depth how to format properly for POD, using CreateSpace as an example, in a later post. The primary focus in this series is treating selling one's work as a business, which includes thinking like a business owner and acting as any other publisher would. Even if you're not interested in publishing your own work, it's worth following this series to see the steps that go into getting a book into stores where readers can buy it.

Overall, Dean Wesley Smith's blog gives both a slightly different view of the publishing world than I'd seen before and detailed hands-on "here's how to get from A to B" instruction. He doesn't talk about the nuts and bolts of grammar or how to structure a story. This isn't the place to learn to write a query letter (although he does discuss the need to know how to do this when sending a query to an editor), and it's certainly not where to go to get the scoop on finding an agent. It is somewhere to see what's going on in the industry and how you can use it to your advantage, a place to hear that it's okay to write and submit quickly, and a blog where hard numbers are discussed. Even if you don't agree with everything that he says, it's worth reading his blog just to think about where and how much control you have over your own career.

Links in this review:

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=627

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?m=200912

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860  (Killing the Sacred Cows)

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=1121

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=607

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=2168  (New World of Publishing)

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=3736  (Think Like a Publisher)

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3756