Episode Summary

From film and TV adaptations to short stories to hundreds of stand-alone novels, Dean Wesley Smith is the role model for the prolific writer. His work includes fiction and non-fiction, with incredible, useful guides such as “Writing into the Dark.” D2D’s own Mark Leslie Lefebvre chats with Dean about his life, his work, and how he does it all.

Episode Notes

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writers, workshops, writing, books, story, write, people, selling, Kris, publishing, question, called, world, poker, magazine, rewrite, year, editor, learning, month

Mark Lefebvre  00:03

Hello, and welcome to Draft2Digital Spotlight. This is Mark Leslie Lefebvre from Draft2Digital. You can also call me Mark2Digital. And I have someone else with three names, but he’s way cooler than me. I have Dean Wesley Smith here. Dean, thanks for joining me here today. 

Dean Wesley Smith  00:16

Oh, thanks for having me. It’s gonna be fun. 

Mark Lefebvre  00:18

It’s great to have you, to hang out with you. I guess the last time we were just hanging out in person together, at one of the workshops that you guys teach in Vegas. So…

Dean Wesley Smith  00:28

Yeah, the anthology workshop. 

Mark Lefebvre  00:29

Yeah, but I’m getting ahead of myself, because what I want to do for anyone who’s not familiar with you is to take them back to the very early days and when you first got into writing, because there was a story you had shared with me that I found absolutely fascinating. And it was the very first story you sold. Can we go way back to those days? It was only a decade or two ago, right? 

Dean Wesley Smith  00:50

Yeah, I could mess with you and say I don’t remember. But no, no, yeah, it was back in the 70s, 1974. And I had been writing poetry. Actually it was, I think, ‘75. I’d been writing a lot of poetry and selling it, which was surprising me, I had no idea. I never wanted to be a writer, hated to write anything, hated to write essays or anything. And since I was selling poetry, I thought, well, I should try a short story. And I wrote one, mailed it off, and it sold. And I wrote another one and mailed it off, and it sold. And at that point, I’m thinking, well, you know, maybe I should learn how to be a writer. And then I got into all of the really stupid, stupid rewriting myths and, you have to write slow. And you have to do all of that stuff. And for seven years, I didn’t sell a thing. Didn’t even get a personal rejection on anything. Because I was rewriting everything into, you know, just nothingness. It was hard, and I had slowed down to doing all the way to, you know, two short stories a year, where I think I wrote the first two that I sold in the space of, overnight type of thing. And it just, it was my hard-earned, many years lesson before I finally, actually it wasn’t until 1982 that I found Heinlein’s Rules, on January 1, 1982, and started following Heinlein’s Rules, those five simple rules, which are very hard to follow, but I followed them. And that’s when I started selling again and stopped rewriting.

Mark Lefebvre  02:25

Really? So for the audience who may not be familiar with Heinlein’s Rules, what were the rules that you found most valuable within those five?

Dean Wesley Smith  02:35

Well actually all five of them. You must write, that’s number one. You must finish what you write, that’s number two. That kills most people.

Mark Lefebvre  02:42

Those are two hard things, right there. 

Dean Wesley Smith  02:44

The two ones. Number three is, you must not rewrite. Number four, you must put it on the market. And number five, you must keep it on the market. And Heinlein did those rules in 1946, and they’re called his business rules. And he just, you know, and it’s so simple: you must write, you must finish what you write, you must not rewrite, you must put it on the market, and you must keep it on the market. 

Mark Lefebvre 03:10

So as someone who has been in the industry for as long as you have, obviously you worked your way through many different phases of traditional publishing, as well as indie publishing. Those, it’s amazing. It’s like he wrote it last week.You must keep it on the market. Let’s talk a little bit about that, because I know that you’ve had that experience of having books that were traditionally published and then the rights reverted to you. What, how did you deal with that? That change in the industry?

Dean Wesley Smith  03:39

Oh, it saved me. Basically, I was burnt out on New York mostly, on all of the crap in New York. The lack of memory, no respect, nothing … I had done, I did 106 to my best count. There may be a couple more in there somewhere. But I’ve done 106 novels with traditional publishers. That is the, you know, the New York big publishers. A lot of those were ghost books or media books, under many, many, many pen names. I still haven’t dug out all of my pen names that I wrote and published stories under. And I just was burnt out. And so when the indie movement came along, in what, 2008, and realized that in New York publishing, we were already tired of ebooks. We were starting to have meetings about ebooks in 1990. And it was always, the sky is falling, it’s gonna ruin everything. And then nothing would happen. I was on the bestseller, in fact, I was number one on the electronic bestseller list in the year 2000. I think it was Rocket Books or something like that. One of my novels was number one, I knocked Grisham off the top of the list in the year 2000. Most people think that ebooks started in 2008, when when Kindle came out. And no, it’s not the case. I was so tired of them I didn’t anything to do with it. But a couple good friends convinced me that this was the real time now, the sky really was changing. And I got on board, and that brought me back. I was playing professional poker at that point. I was, you know, writing a couple books a year for hire. But at that point in time, I’d gone off and was playing professional poker, and making really good money and having a blast. But here comes the indie movement and sucked me back into publishing and writing, and I’ve done another hundred books now in indie, 100 novels, not counting all the other books. 

Mark Lefebvre  05:37

Yeah, all the other stuff too. I want to get into the prolific nature of your writing. But I want to go back to why you had so many different pseudonyms? What was the reasoning behind having to do that back in the day? 

Dean Wesley Smith  05:48

Well, back in the day, you know, publishers had this thought that they could only publish one book from an author, maybe two books a year. I was writing between 13 and 15 novels a year. And these were the, you know, full 70- to 90- to 110,000-word novels. So I had to have many publishers, it just was the nature of the beast, and I had to have many names. And then so it just was, again, that nature of, the breaks, that traditional publishers seemed to think that they couldn’t promote more than one or two books. In romance, you could have three or four. But in science fiction you had to have one, in mystery you had one or two. And I was writing in all those genres under, so it had to be multiple names. Now as an indie author, everything’s under Dean Wesley Smith, just everything. I’ve tried to pull everything back in. I have no pen names, no reason to have a pen name. Unless you’re writing erotica and young adult, then you probably want to keep those two apart.

Mark Lefebvre  06:52

Now you applied so many of your personal passions and experiences into genres. You’re not just a science fiction and fantasy and mystery writer, you wrote westerns, right? You wrote the Poker Boy mysteries. What am I missing?

Dean Wesley Smith  07:09

The mysteries are Cold Poker Game, which is retired detectives in Las Vegas who are solving cold cases. And I think I’ve got like 10 or so books in that series and a few short stories. Poker Boy started a long time ago. And that’s a, sort of a fantasy series, where Poker Boy is, he solves cases and solves problems by asking stupid questions. Pretty much my life. 

Mark Lefebvre  07:40

I could be on his team, apparently. 

Dean Wesley Smith  07:42

Exactly. Pretty much you know me writing about my wish fulfillment, you know? And his superpowers are kind of ramped up poker powers, just ramped up a little bit. Observation, things like that. 

Mark Lefebvre  07:54

Okay. Yeah, because that was something at the last workshop … Now, you and I, I’ve had the honor of getting to teach alongside you and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. 

Dean Wesley Smith  08:04

No, you’re our third, you’re our anchor, we need you. 

Mark Lefebvre  08:07

Thank you. It is an honor to be, to sit alongside you wonderful giants of the industry. You had said something at the last WMG workshop in Vegas when I was sitting beside you. And I remember writing it down because it stuck with me. And it was something that you said, and it was about the manuscript itself and the format and the reader. And you talked about when you were playing poker, that you weren’t playing the cards, you were playing the other players, and you adapted that into writing. I’d love to hear a bit about that. 

Dean Wesley Smith  08:40

Yeah, I do that. I have a lecture called the stages of fiction writers. And it dawned on me one day when I was sitting at a poker tournament. And you know, it was actually some high-level players that were there. And Eric Seidel and a couple others, it was in the World Series of Poker. And I’m sitting there and I’m not paying any attention to the cards that I have. I’m only paying attention to what the other people think I have. And that’s what happens at a certain stage. Early on as a writer, stage one, stage two, all the writers care about are grammar and, you know, making sure their sentences are pretty and oh my god, they don’t want to upset their workshop or something stupid like that. You know, and that’s all they care about, are the sentences. When you get to the next level, where you start selling, you know, regularly out there to magazines and other places, what occurs is that you’re paying attention to the story and the character. So you’ve moved up a level and you’re paying attention to, you know, whether things work together, what, like that. And you’re paying some attention to the readers also, on the other side. There’s always readers on the other side of these screens. And then the fourth level, the stage four writers, the ones that are doing it, been doing it for a long time and have it under control, we don’t care about the grammar and the spelling. We, the only thing is, our words are to be used by us to tell a story to the readers. So we don’t care. Which is why beginning writers will think someone like a Clive Cussler can’t write, even though he sells millions of copies. You know, it’s just, they can’t even see what Cussler is doing. It’s that, my analogy is that, watch a couple chess masters play a game of chess. And if you’re a beginning chess player, you have no idea what they’re doing. That’s exactly what beginning writers looking at a Grisham or a King or a Cussler or a Nora or, you know, people like that, you can’t see what they’re doing. You just can’t see it. But you will if you keep writing and getting a lot of books out and keep learning and, you know, learning everywhere you can, you’ll eventually get to that level. But it’s, you know, it’s a craft. You know, those folks are the masters. That’s the bottom line. Stage four writers. There’s a lot of stage four writers out there. Stage four poker players, that’s just basically … you don’t care. I mean, I played many, many, many thousands of hands of poker, never looked at my cards, never once looked at my cards. Wouldn’t even, didn’t even care. All I cared about is what the other person thought I had. 

Mark Lefebvre 11:20

Right, right. And that’s what you’re playing. So that kind of is an interesting parallel to one of the workshops you teach, and even a book of the same name, Writing Into the Dark. What is writing into the dark?

Dean Wesley Smith  11:32

That’s trusting yourself. trusting yourself as a writer. You have been absorbing since you were a baby. All of us have, you know, especially if, you know, we were lucky, and parents read to us and everything else. We’ve been absorbing stories, so we already have it all, you know, in our heads. Our learning process as a writer is to knock down all of the critical voice blocks that are stopping that stuff from coming out. You already have the same techniques and the same knowledge that any writer has. You just don’t know how to access it, and get it out of your creative voice and back. So writing into the dark is not outlining, not thinking ahead about the story, just sitting down and writing the next sentence. And then the next sentence. And letting your characters go where they’re going to go. You know, and that’s why, you know, back in the day you used to hear a lot of major writers say, oh, the characters took over. You know, it’s like, well, yeah, that’s what they do. You follow the characters until the story’s done, and that’s it. It takes an enormous amount of confidence in the process. Because beginning writers don’t believe they can write. And so therefore, they have all this critical voice that stops them from accessing all of their actual skills. And so the actual. the learning process in writing is just knocking down one roadblock after another until you can access what’s already inside of you. 

Mark Lefebvre   12:58

Okay, excellent. 

Dean Wesley Smith  13:00

That’s what it is, just write. You start it off, I start with titles on novels. I’ll start with a title. Start down, start typing.Anywhere from 40 to 70,000 words later, the book’s done. I have no idea where I’m going, anywhere. I’m always like, “Oh shit,” but I never allow myself to try to think ahead. I just write the next sentence and see where it goes. 

Mark Lefebvre  13:23

So you have, I mean, continually … so WMG Publishing. You’ve got that for imprint to re-release some of your stuff, to release some new stuff. You also have magazines that you’re publishing there, and one of them was Smith’s Monthly, where not only were you releasing a full magazine every month, but you were writing a short novel for every issue.

Dean Wesley Smith  13:45

Yeah, just a regular-sized novel, 40 to 50,000 words, and for every issue, monthly. Did that for 44 straight months before Kris got sick. That period, Kris got sick, and then we had to move to Vegas, and then Alison got sick, and the business … And so I’m bringing it back now, I’ve got five issues basically in the pipeline. But I got 44 issues in 44 months. Actually I think it took 46 months, as it sort of drained there at the end when Kris was getting sick. And then I’m gonna bring it back with issue 45. And they’re fun. I got one here. The last one that came out had the novel Burn Card, which is one of my poker, but yeah, see, it’s a regular size magazine. Two column. 

Mark Lefebvre  14:33

Yeah. Well, I’m actually, since we’re doing show and tell, I’ve got the latest issue of Pulphouse that I just got in the mail, which is another thing. So you and Kris were publishing Pulphouse magazine back when I was starting writing. It was my dream to one day maybe get you to look at a story of mine If I was lucky. It went away, but then you brought it back. Can I kind of hear just a little bit about that? Because you did it differently, back in the day then. 

Dean Wesley Smith  14:57

Yeah, we started Pulphouse Publishing, the company, in 1987. That’s how long Kris and I’ve been around and been together. And it was a hardback magazine, and meaning it was an anthology made out of hardback and leather. Some of them were signed, we have the leather editions of Pulphouse that had every author in every volume, signed it. That was a trick, and those are slipcased and quite expensive.

Mark Lefebvre  15:23

And worth a lot of money, I’m sure. 

Dean Wesley Smith  15:24

Oh, yeah, we did. We had 250 of those alone. We built that company off of starting that, we had a novella line, we had a short story author collection line called Author’s Choice. We had short story paperbacks. We were way out ahead of the curve of the indie movement in 1987 through 1992. Actually, we closed it down at ‘96. But that was Pulphouse Publishing. And when Kris got the job editing FNSF magazine, we were basically done with the 12 issues. We had 11 of the 12 done. And she went off to edit FNSF magazine. So we wanted to keep Pulphouse magazine going. So I moved into magazine and became the editor. And I was the publisher of Pulphouse, I became the editor of Pulphouse magazine. And I did about 20 issues of that before we shut the company down. And so that was the one thing we wanted to bring back. And I always wanted to bring it back. And when we started up WMG, WMG bought the assets of Pulphouse publishing, and took it in under WMG. And then we finally, I guess it was like three years ago now, brought Pulphouse back. And it’s been quarterly, and now you are, yeah, there’s a lot of, yeah …. And now we’re doing a thing with you. We had you edit an issue, we’re going to be doing a special section of every issue. And we’re going to, after this phase of the world is done, we’re going to go to six issues a year. And so we’re increasing speed. And Mark is going to be, you’re going to be doing the guest editor spot for two or three stories an issue.

Mark Lefebvre  17:09

Yeah, after you asked me and I passed out, and I got up again, and you guys brought me back …

Dean Wesley Smith  17:14

Let me tell you something, he’s the only person on the planet I would ever trust to guest edit.

Mark Lefebvre  17:19

Very, very kind of you. 

Dean Wesley Smith  17:20

We did this once back in the early edition, and the guest editor was the Grand Master Damon Knight, who was the only one who’s ever guest edited besides me on Pulphouse. And Mark’s now coming on board as a guest editor too, to get a little bit of … I mean, otherwise, it’s just my tastes all the time. Gotta have his taste too, and he knows what a Pulphouse story says. 

Mark Lefebvre  17:43

And so Pulphouse is cutting-edge of modern short fiction. You don’t call it speculative fiction. You don’t call it whatever, because you kind of go with whatever just feels right. 

Dean Wesley Smith  17:56

Yeah, it crosses genres. We also have reprints in it, because I believe that a story doesn’t spoil. And, you know, and there were some great stories that we published back in 1988, 1999, and 2001 that are fantastic stories that, you know, no one’s seen for 30 years. And it’s like, so we bring those back. Pulphouse has to have a twist. It has to be, think of it as Twilight Zone, a little off kilter.

Mark Lefebvre  18:26

A little off kilter, okay. 

Dean Wesley Smith  18:26

Yeah. And, you know, a little messed up. 

Mark Lefebvre  18:31

Now, I think Kent Patterson’s one of those authors that’s really a Pulphouse style author. 

Dean Wesley Smith  18:35

Yeah, I mean, Kent’s the only one that can write, was the only one that could write about, he died back in the mid 90s from polio, another epidemic. But one of the things that Kent wrote was a story, basically about, it was a Western story about cowboys, and they had a stampede. But the stampede was spuds, Idaho spuds. And he had to save the Idaho spuds. And he got away and it worked. It’s a great story. It’s absolutely memorable. If you ever read it, it’s called “Spud Wrangler.” 

Mark Lefebvre  19:11

And you brought that back in the latest incarnation? 

Dean Wesley Smith  19:14

Yeah, it’s, I think we put it in issue zero actually, of Pulphouse. You know, along with people like Nina Kiriki Hoffman, way back in the day, wrote a story called “Savage Breasts,” where a woman’s breasts sort of take over and, you know, they’re just Pulphouse stories. 

Mark Lefebvre  19:32

Strange stuff. 

Dean Wesley Smith  19:33

Yeah, you’ll know them when you see them.

Mark Lefebvre  19:36

Now because you and Kris have worked in traditional publishing and indie publishing for so long. And you know so much and you’re so giving and you’re sharing, you guys do workshops. Now, we talked about the workshops in Vegas that I’ve been privileged to participate in. But I mean, right now, obviously people cannot go to be in person, we’ve got to keep our distance. And so, but you’ve always run these online workshops. Can you talk a little bit about the online workshops that you guys are doing? 

Dean Wesley Smith  20:04

Well, not always, because a couple people had to drag me kicking and screaming to online, and there wasn’t anything like Teachable or anything when I started, I had to kind of invent my own website to do this. But now we’re on teachable.com, and you can find them under deanwesleysmith.com there. You can find, it lists all the workshops we have. We started off and I said, “Well, I’ll do this for a half a year. I’ll do these couple workshops for a little while.” It turns out that was almost 20 years ago now. And I, because we were doing the Dean and Kris Show, and we were doing some craft workshops, you know, locally in Lincoln City, Oregon, where we used to live. And it just sort of kind of kept going. And every year I would do more and do more, and then the old ones would still be there. And then if it got dated, I would take it off. And now it’s, I mean, there’s, you know, enormous amounts of workshops up there. There’s enormous amounts of lectures, there’s things called pop-ups, which are, you know, 10 to 12 videos about a topic that we just think it’s important right now, and we just pop it up. We have classes, like there’s a class called “Shared Worlds,” that basically, I’m writing a novel which will be the Bible for the shared world. There’s another class called “Licensing Transition,” how writers can start thinking from being a writer to being a licensor, and things like that. So we have everything up there. And we have monthly regular workshops that last six weeks a month, six weeks and those are monthly. So everything’s there. And we’re doing a special starting tonight, starting tomorrow. 

Mark Lefebvre  22:48

Wait, this is breaking news.

Dean Wesley Smith  22:51

Yeah breaking news. We did this back in March. And we did a, it was sort of when this whole thing started, it was almost a month ago now. And they had canceled March Madness. And we knew people were going to be inside and all that and so we called it March Sadness Special. And for 48 hours, we basically made everything on Teachable, everything, all of them, even the lifetime subscriptions. We made them half price, and thinking that this was going to be over in a few weeks. Remember, when a lot of us thought back then that this would kind of go … well, it’s not over yet. Here we are in the middle of April. And it’s not over and this doesn’t look like it’s gonna be over for a little while yet. So, and a lot of people missed those 48 hours because we didn’t publicize it very well. We just decided to do it, and to try to help writers be focused on learning while they’re stuck at home like we are. And, although stuck at home for a writer is a normal day. But you know, the reality is, we thought, let’s do this again, because a lot of writers missed it. So starting tonight on my blog, it’ll be at midnight tonight, we’re going to do a special called Spring Training. And Spring Training will be again for 48 hours, where everything on Teachable is half price. Everything on Teachable. And so it’s it’s going to be, you know, if you can jump in, and a workshop you wanted to take but couldn’t quite afford, or something like that. It’s all going to be there only 48 hours. And then knock on wood, we’ll never have to do this again. We’ll get through this whole world crisis and get to the other side, and we’ll just keep going. This is the first time ever we’ve ever discounted workshops, except we discount them slightly in Kickstarters when we’re doing them. But, I mean, never half price except for that one in March, and now this one in April.

Mark Lefebvre  23:48

You had something on Kickstarter, you had a Kickstarter Teachable program, didn’t you? 

Dean Wesley Smith  23:57

No, no, we always do our Teachable workshops in Kickstarter. We kind of add them as an offer, as a reward. 

Mark Lefebvre  24:03

Oh, so people can get access to donate and get early access and a little bit cheaper than normal. Okay.

Dean Wesley Smith  24:10

So like a $300 workshop’s $250 if it’s in a Kickstarter. And you can get credit and stuff. And again, if you buy these things half price, you don’t have to use them right now. You can use them whenever. You know, credits last forever on Teachable for us. 

Mark Lefebvre  24:23

So, one of the things that you’ve been very adept at, or very good at, is changing with the times. Obviously changing the way you’re selling fiction, working with different publishers. You’ve written a lot of media tie-in novels as well. Star Trek novels, Men in Black, all of those things as well, done your own stuff. One of the things from the last workshop I was at in person was when you, and you mentioned it briefly, is thinking about yourself as not necessarily the book, but you start with you as the author brand. And you think about your IP, and then the book is merely one way. 

Dean Wesley Smith  25:00

Yeah, the book is, that’s the new kind of way of … Kris and I went to the Licensing Expo, which has been going on since the early 90s. And if I’d known that, I’d have been richer than I am already. But the reality is, we always … It’s sort of a mind shift in the way that, back in history, human beings used to think that the planet Earth was the center, and everything rotated around the planet Earth, the whole you know, the sun went around and everything went around. Well, the difference is, writers now think their book is the center and everything rotates around their book. In reality, it’s the intellectual property is the center, and the book is just a planet rotating around the intellectual property. The gaming rights, the all the other rights, are all just planets rotating around this intellectual property. You have to understand copyright before you really start to grasp that. But a book is just a planet off of it, and then all the things you can do off of the books. The electronic rights, the audio, the, all the different stuff you can do. But, you know, once Kris and I finally got the right thing into the center, everything changed and we make most of our money off of licensing anyhow. I mean, we make nice book sales, but if we had to depend on the book sales, we wouldn’t be living where we’re living. Book sales are just a very small part of what we do. And workshops are nothing, that all goes to WMG. I get nothing out of the workshops. I just do them to try to help writers. 

Mark Lefebvre  26:34

Excellent, excellent. Now we’re getting close to the time where I’m going to start popping up some questions from some viewers. So I’m going to take you back to that not rewriting, you know, Heinlein’s Rules, Dean Wesley Smith’s Rules. And the question is coming from Maddie Dalrymple, who says, “What are the factors that distinguishes legitimate story editing from ‘don’t rewrite’?”

Dean Wesley Smith  26:58

Legitimate story editing? Copy editing, finding your typos. The moment you start changing anything else beyond typos, or beyond an unclear antecedent, or something like that, you’re rewriting. And you’re doing it from the front of your brain, which is the critical voice, which is dumber than a post. Every one of us. And we do not know what makes our stories good. I don’t know what makes my stories good. You don’t know what makes your stories good, but you just got to trust it. And so when you write something from creative voice, fix the typos and mail it. Or have a copy editor fix the typos and mail it. Don’t let an editor, don’t … why would you let someone who can’t write into your own work? You’re the writer. Grow a backbone and believe in yourself, and just trust your stories and put it out. There is no such thing as a perfect story, folks. There just isn’t, you know, and you can just stir that pot as much as you want and all you do is make it worse.

Mark Lefebvre  27:57

Well that reminds me of the Fiction River, the anthology workshops that you and Kris host, because I think one of the most critical lessons for writers … Can you describe, like, the process, and why that’s such a valuable experience?

Dean Wesley Smith  28:09

The anthology workshop? Yeah, it’s, because you have six or, this year, seven of us sitting up front, seven editors who are buying or might buy, with editor opinions. And we’re looking at your story out in public in front of everybody. We’re not beating stories up. We’re not doing that. We’re just saying, “Oh, this works,” or, “I really like this,” or, “This wouldn’t be right for my anthology.” We’re doing that sort of thing. And it makes you realize in very quick order, because all the writers have written 6, 7, 8 stories this year, I guess, that’s what could have been written. And that just makes you realize that it’s just personal taste. I mean, there were a number of times this year, I remember, that we went down the row, and all of us really liked it, until it got to the editor who could actually write a check for it. And then the editor said, “No, this just doesn’t work for me.” And so if you’d have kept that story out into editors and mailed it, it would have sold on the second or third time out. But a lot of writers, you know, are too afraid because they might get a rejection. You know. Nobody’s gonna come to your house and shoot you just because you wrote a story that doesn’t work for somebody. And you know, it’s just one of those things where, you know, you make up this stuff as writers. Of course, we’re trained to make shit up. Pardon my French, but we’re trained to do that. And the reality is, then you make it up over in the business world and that’s not where you want to make up stuff. You want to keep it very real, in the business part, and you save all of your making stuff up for the fiction part. 

Mark Lefebvre  29:43

Excellent. Thank you. Well, I’m going to pop up another question. And this question is from Diaz. He said, “First time writer here.” Hey, Diaz, welcome. “I have a question. When writing any style, do you have to worry about how you are writing it?”

Dean Wesley Smith  29:57 

No. No, in fact, that’s the worst thing you can worry about. That’s your critical voice. The critical voice is right there on the front of your forehead, the one that is always negative. How do you tell the difference between a creative voice and a critical voice? A creative voice is always positive, always positive. “Oh, this will be fun. Oh, let’s go do this. Oh, this is fun. Let’s try this.” It’s the two year old child going, let’s take our clothes off and run down the street. That’s what you want to access. But your parents, the critical voice, have always said, “No, don’t do that. No, that won’t work. No, people will hate that.” And so if you allow that critical voice to write, what you write is boring, dull stuff that’s just like everybody else’s. That’s not what you want to do. You want to allow the true you inside to come out. You know, that two year old kid. And let’s play, let’s go have fun. So how do you tell the difference between critical voice and creative voice? Critical voice is always negative, always worried, always afraid you’re going to do something wrong. Creative voice is: let’s go play. And so if you can access the “let’s go play,” and then have the courage to not touch it, which was the previous question. Have the courage to fix the typos and release into the world. You’ll be surprised. That was the first question that Mark asked, is what did I learn from that, back in the day? Well, I learned that if I just played and released it, I sold. But then for seven years, I got into the “Oh, I better fix it. I better make it perfect.” Never sold a thing. It wasn’t until I got back to Heinlein’s Rules where I didn’t rewrite, didn’t touch anything, just wrote it, fixed the typos and mailed it that I started selling again. And now I’m sitting here with 23 million copies of my books in print and 200 novels and, you know, a 40 year career. So the reality is, the moment you can get past that and start trusting yourself is when you win.

Mark Lefebvre  31:54

So let’s go to, I want to kind of play off of that a little bit and just understand a little bit about where you write, how you write, when you write. Are you longhand, are you on a keyboard do you dictate? Is it late at night, early morning? Like what’s the, how do you do it? 

Dean Wesley Smith  32:08

Yes. I don’t write longhand, I’m a keyboard person. But I have a dedicated writing computer, and I would highly recommend everybody do that. I mean, computers are cheap these days. Just get an old computer that the only thing you have on there is like your word program. And then that is the only thing you do on that. You turn off all the electronics, the emails, the games, all that stuff. And so when you sit down … My, why I go this way is, my writing computer is over here. And so, this is my business computer, I have two other business computers over here. I’m surrounded by computers. And I have my writing computer over here. So when I sit down at that writing computer, my little voice goes, “Oh, time to play.” And I don’t do anything else. When I’m sitting here, it’s business and it’s teaching, and it’s other stuff like that. And emails. So it’s a Pavlovian thing. I’m trained that when I sit there, I write fiction, and nothing else. And you can do that with a laptop, you can do that, a specific thing, you will be stunned at what that is. So it’s just, and I write when I … At this point in time, you know, I’m just sort of all over the place. I used to be a night writer up in Lincoln City, because there was nothing to do up there. And basically, I would start writing at midnight, maybe 11 o’clock. And, you know, and Kris would go off to bed, and I would write til four or five in the morning. Now I’m kind of an hour here, and a couple hours there, and a little bit at night. Whenever.

Mark Lefebvre  33:41

Excellent, thank you. All right, gonna bring up the next question. So this question is from Nick, via YouTube. And Nick says, “What do you think of rapid release, being originally from a traditional background?”

Dean Wesley Smith  33:54

Write them as fast as you can write them. As much as you can do. You know, rapid release, I guess is an indie term, meaning you save some books up and then put them one out a month. We did that with, Kris had a big huge series in her Retrieval Artists, world. And she had put out a book, and then she put out another one and about six months later, and then the story was so large that it was in six books, and we released those one a month. And she wouldn’t allow them to be released until she was done with the entire story, because she was always fixing things in the previous ones. And so, you know, that was a one a month rapid release. That worked out pretty well. But at this point in time, in this modern world, you need to be prolific. We’re back in the pulp era, folks. The world and the history has come around again. And the people who are succeeding in the indie movement are, you know, four books a year, plus some short stories, maybe a collection or two here and there, things like that. I have a challenge on Teachable. In fact, we have three challenges. But one of the challenges is to publish a major something a month, either a novella, a novel, a collection, or an omnibus for 12 months. If you sign up on that challenge, and actually succeed at publishing one thing a month, for 12 months, you get a lifetime subscription. 

Mark Lefebvre  35:19

Whoa. Wait, wait again. So you kind of win twice? 

Dean Wesley Smith  35:22

Well, yeah actually, you’re never losing. Yeah, it’s $600 I think to sign up. And if you don’t make it, you fail somewhere along the way or miss a month, or you know, like the plague hits, and you’re not writing or something, what occurs is that $600 goes to workshop credit. So you don’t ever lose, you know, you get you get $600 in learning, you get $600 to do this. And if you actually hit it, then you get a lifetime subscription to any of the choice, we have like four different lifetime subscriptions.

Mark Lefebvre  35:53

And even if you only do half of them, you know, you still have six more assets out there, right?

Dean Wesley Smith  36:00

Yeah, you got six books out, and you get $600, you get your $600 back in workshop credit. And so it’s a win-win. We have, we started one year ago, this week, I started what’s called called the Great Challenge, which was, write a short story and send it to me every week. And if you made it through 52 weeks, you get a lifetime subscription. I think I have four people that have made it through. Four or five people that have made it through 52 weeks that started back then.

Mark Lefebvre  36:31

And they ended up with 52 stories they can sell or they can publish.

Dean Wesley Smith  36:37

They made it through the whole summer, then they made it through the fall, then they made it through the Christmas holidays. They made it through sickness, they made it through birthdays, and now they’re making it through the plague. And yeah, and they’re gonna, and those people earned those lifetime workshops. Plus they have 52 short stories to market.

Mark Lefebvre  36:56

That’s fantastic. So let’s go from prolific with people with a big catalogue and lots of IP that they can leverage. Let’s take a look at a question. While you take a drink, I’ll read the question. This is from Stacy, said, “For new writers who have only a small list or a small following and limited resources and time, working full time, whatever. What would you recommend focusing on for gaining new readers? Obviously besides, you know, writing a good story?”

Dean Wesley Smith  37:19

Well, you can’t think about writing the best story possible, because that’s going to put you into perfect mode. And that’s going to put you into all that rewrite crap and you’ll write nothing but pablum. Trust me, as a longtime editor, I mean, I’ve been editing since the 80s. As a longtime editor, I can see a story a mile away that was rewritten to death. That’s not what I want to see. I want to see the stories, think of a polished rock and a regular rock, you find a beautiful rock on the beach. And it’s unique. It’s different. It’s got edges, it’s got sparkles, it’s got stuff, and then you throw it in a thing and polish it to death. What does it look like? It looks like every other polished rock. And that’s what, editors don’t buy sameness. We buy different. And so that’s the key with that, is you got to let your stories be different. I know that takes courage, but you got to let your story stay different. Okay, what was that question again? 

Mark Lefebvre  38:12

Oh, sure, let me bring that back up. 

Dean Wesley Smith  38:13

Oh, how did you do it small?

Mark Lefebvre  38:15

Yeah. If you don’t have a lot of assets, right? 

Dean Wesley Smith  38:17

You won’t like my answer. I’m sorry. You just won’t. Have some patience. This is a long-term career. Keep learning. Write more. Put it all out. Write the next thing. Just keep writing. You can’t do, promotion will do you nothing as a beginning writer, or with two or three. There’s a magic number around 20 books, 20 major books like a collection or novel, or novellas that are standalone and out around the world. Not in Kindle Select, but around the world, that will make all the difference. There’s a magic number in there where there is a discoverability that comes in. And once you get past that magic number, so if you’ve only got a few things, take a deep breath. Keep learning how to be a better writer. Don’t try to polish your stories into better writer, just keep going to classes and studying other writers and reading how to write books and things like that. And then write more. Just write more. And eventually you’ll get there. You really will. But you gotta just be patient and keep writing. 

Mark Lefebvre  39:23

Thank you. And now let’s go to writing more. So Jeremy asks, “What is a good daily word count for someone who wants to make a living as a writer?” Oh, and I’m gonna let you answer that while I go answer the door. because I’m home alone.

Dean Wesley Smith  39:36

Go for it. What’s a daily word count?  I’ll tell you, I’ve been friends with some of the great writers of all time. And with a lot of major writers now. And it, there doesn’t tend to be an average. What is the averages they all produce? We all produce words, pretty much every day. Now, if you want to be as prolific as I am, I am, by and large, I’ll do about 120 to 140,000 … that was quick. 120 to 140,000 words a month is my average thing, but that is what I call consumable words. Like for example, my blog, I do a blog every day on deanwesleysmith.com. Sometimes they’re deadly dull. And sometimes I’m doing something like talking about my day, or talking about workshops, or sometimes I’ll get on a soapbox and go off on a soapbox. You never know what you’re gonna get at my website. And thank you. But by and large, I would say, you know, Fred Pohl, you know, the Grand Master Fred Pohl, he basically would not come out into the world until he had his thousand words done. And he did that for decades. 1,000 words a day, day after day, produces a lot of stuff. But I consider anything I produce that is consumed by the public. So I don’t count letters. I don’t count emails, things like that. But I count my blog posts and fiction, and I’ll do between 120 and 140,000 words a month. So I’m up at like pulp speed three. 

Mark Lefebvre  41:22

Wow. Okay. Thank you. Thank you for that. I had to answer the door because the dogs were going crazy and I wouldn’t have been able to turn my mic back on. So another question here I’m going to pop up. This is from Vijay. Vijay says, “I’ve been writing Indian romance and mystery stories for Western audiences with little success for the past seven years. Do you suggest anything to accelerate my book sales?” It’s gonna be difficult to answer because we don’t have details. How many books, right?

Dean Wesley Smith  41:50

Yeah, it’s all, it all depends on numbers of books, making sure you’re wide around the world, which I would assume you are. And just keep learning how to write better stories, keep working on that. Probably … What stops sales? Let me tell you, there’s three things that stop sales, and beginning writers tend to not want to hear any of these. But I’m, you know, I’m known for being blunt, as Mark well knows. And so it’s always gutsy to have me on one of these things. Especially live. 

Mark Lefebvre  42:26

Live, unedited. I can’t bring up censors.

Dean Wesley Smith  42:28

He can’t go no, no, no! Stop that! Number one, your covers suck. That could be the case. You’re not imitating your genre. You probably, you may not know your genre. And that’s, that just takes… 

Mark Lefebvre  42:45

I have made both those mistakes. 

Dean Wesley Smith  42:47

Oh, all of us have. All of us have. I have a series, my Thunder Mountain series. I mean, it’s science fiction, it’s historical Western, and it’s romance. And, you know, and…

Mark Lefebvre  43:01

Everyone should love it.

Dean Wesley Smith  43:02

Yeah, I put a horse’s ass on every one of the covers. That’s what we decided, that was the branding we were gonna … Horse’s ass on every one of the covers. I’m not kidding. Go look at any of my Thunder Mountain books. There’s a horse’s ass on the cover. But the reality is that you have to have these covers branded to a genre. Theoretically. You need to have your covers look professional. You need to have your copy, your sales copy. Now you may think you’re writing good sales copy, but if there’s a passive verb in it, you’re not. If you’re giving too much plot, you’re not. If you’re not telling the reader what they’re buying, versus the plot of what they’re buying, you’re not. You’re not writing good sales copy. And so the reality is that that you just don’t know. The third thing that keeps you from not selling is your openings. You know, you don’t do depth, you don’t pull the reader into a setting, you don’t get the readers down inside of a character’s head. Because, think about how you, think about if you’re standing in a bookstore. Which is, I know, unusual these days. But you look at the cover, the cover grabs you, you read the blurb on the back, and you go, oh, that’s interesting. And you open it up and read the first paragraph or two on the first page. And those are the three things that will stop you. And in electronic books, it’s even worse. The cover’s gotta catch, the blurb’s got to be not all plot heavy and passive and dull. And then the first line’s, you’ve got to be able to pull the reader down until they go, oh, I want to buy that, and they go and buy it. So if you’re not selling a lot and you’ve got more than 20 or 30 books outthat are major. Not just short stories, but books. Then I would go analyze those things. Blunt, I’m blunt. I’m sorry.

Mark Lefebvre  44:47

Oh, no, no. It’s fantastic advice. I just popped up some comments while you were chatting because we’ve only got about, less than a minute to go. We have a question that we weren’t able to answer from Tamara, “Do you recommend publishing standalone short stories?”

Dean Wesley Smith  45:00

Yes I do. Yes. Publish your standalone short stories. It helps, it’s discoverability. And put them in collections on top of that.

Mark Lefebvre  44:07

Yes. As much as possible. As a matter of fact, I have a book about that, that I co-wrote with Maddie Dalrymple. But we’re not going to get into that right now. 

Dean Wesley Smith  45:16

That’s a good book. 

Mark Lefebvre  45:17

So, Dean, thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with me today, for having some fun. I think this one, Jamie says this was the best Spotlight yet. Obviously he enjoyed the bluntness and the horse’s ass and all the things that we talked about. Thank you again. Have a fantastic day. And thank you guys for watching and listening to the D2D Spotlights. We will be back again tomorrow at 1pm. Thank you, Dean. 

Dean Wesley Smith  45:41

Thanks, bye.