Book Review: Think Like a Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith

I stumbled upon Dean Wesley Smith’s blog about a year and a half ago, and it changed my life as a writer.  At the time he was writing the series “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing”, which is still available on his blog, and sometime along the way he began the new series, “Think Like a Publisher”, to help writers novice and experienced, young and old, navigate their way through all the changes taking place in publishing.

I had been publishing short stories in science fiction and literary magazines for a decade, but I was discouraged.  It was such a slow process.  Stories might make the rounds of the magazines for years before being accepted, and sometimes stories which I knew were good would be unable to find a publishing home at all.  The problem was, the markets were dwindling, as was the pay, but at the same time more and more writers competed for the few slots available.  It was discouraging, to say the least, to one who had a dream of eventually becoming a fulltime writer.

But DWS opened my eyes to a new phenomenon I had known nothing about:  the new independent (or indie) publishing movement, fueled by the rise in popularity of e-books and new online distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords.  These distributors allow writers to upload properly formatted manuscripts to their online sales sites for no charge, taking a small percentage of any sales.  In addition, Amazon had launched another service, CreateSpace, which allowed the creation of Print-On-Demand (or POD) physical paperback books.

Right away I was struck by the possibilities.  I began to read everything I found on DWS’s blog, and also on that of his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who was doing a series called “The Freelancer’s Survival Guide”, about which I have already written.

To make a long story short, I studied formatting and cover creation and all the other details and began to publish my own stories, starting with those that had appeared in recent years in magazines.  Then I got more audacious and created a story collection in both print and e-book.  It was great fun and I didn’t want to stop.  To date, I have published a couple of dozen individual stories and four books:  “The Dragon Ticket and Other Stories”, “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search” (a memoir of my hippy travel days), “Painsharing and Other Stories”, and “Love Children: A Novel”.

I have no intention of stopping.  My publishing schedule calls for at least four new books this year, which are all completed or almost completed, not to mention creation of new material.

The income has been slow to start flowing, as DWS warned.  You have to be in it for the long haul, and build up an inventory that readers can find.  I have been averaging about twenty or thirty sales a month, but I expect that to increase, and I have already received the first few small payments from Amazon and Smashwords.  I believe these sites are a wonderful opportunity for writers to step out and create as their muse dictates, unencumbered by the restrictions and limitations of big publishing.

As for the book itself, “Think Like a Publisher”, it’s a compilation of the first dozen or so blog posts of the same name.  I wish, actually, he would have held off publishing them, as he has since done a lot more posts and I would have appreciated having them all together in print.  But the book is advice for writers, and as such would be of interest mostly to writers.  If you are one, I highly recommend it – and then go check out DWS’s blog for further studies.

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