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As an author, you create a piece of art. But you also create an intellectual property asset that you can license in multiple ways to provide you with a long-term income. In today's show, I discuss the concept of the magic bakery with Dean Wesley Smith.
In the intro, I discuss how the traditional publishing industry is increasingly split between high earners and debuts, and then a mid-list who are struggling and what this means for how intellectual property rights can help provide new income streams.
In global news, Luis Fonsi's Despacito has become the most-streamed song of all time, evidence of the growth of internet-driven income streams for creatives. “Streaming has allowed a song with a different beat, from a different culture, in a different language, to become this juggernaut of success and pleasure … Anything and everywhere is up for grabs.” [BBC article]. Plus, Amazon launches the Pen to Publish competition for those authors publishing on Amazon.IN, clear evidence that they are trying to grow readership and author-publishers in India. Interesting times …
Today's show is sponsored by my own How to Write a Novel course, which I created while writing End of Days, so you get a behind the scenes look at how the book came together. One course member, Leigh Anderson said, “This course is exactly what I was looking for. I now feel well on my way to writing and completing my first draft. It has been a real breakthrough for me.” Check it out at www.TheCreativePenn.com/writenovel
Dean Wesley Smith has published hundreds of novels and short stories, including books in the Star Trek, Men in Black, and X-Men worlds, as well as many written under different pen names, plus his own science fiction, fantasy, thriller and other books. He has his own monthly magazine, Smith's Monthly, and writes a daily blog on his writing journey.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- What has changed for publishing and authors in the last 7 years
- The Magic Bakery metaphor and why it matters for authors
- Why Dean thinks authors don't need agents
- Dealing with comparison-itis
- Reconciling the two hats authors need to wear – business person and artist
- Why no writing is ever wasted
You can find Dean Wesley Smith at DeanWesleySmith.com and on Twitter @DeanWesleySmith
Transcript of Interview with Dean Wesley Smith
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I'm here with Dean Wesley Smith. Hi, Dean.
Dean: Hi, how you doing?
Joanna: I'm great. It's great to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.
Dean has published hundreds of novels and short stories, including books in the Star Trek, Men in Black, and X-Men worlds, as well as many written under different pen names, plus his own science fiction, fantasy, thriller and other books. He has his own monthly magazine, Smith's Monthly, and writes a daily blog on his writing journey. And there's practically no one better to talk about writing. So thanks for coming back on the show, Dean.
Dean: Oh, thanks for having me back. And it's fun. I always enjoy talking with you.
Joanna: It is great fun. Now, scarily, you were on the show back in 2010. I can't believe it's been so long when we first met online.
At the time you were writing the first iteration of “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” series. So 2010, think back to then, now big question.
What has changed for you in the last seven years in terms of publishing, practices, and opinions? Because you'd really just gone indie, hadn't you, in 2010?
Dean: Yeah, I had basically…If it hadn't been for the indie world firing up, I would be out of publishing, I would be done.
I was tired of all of the problems with New York, the contracts were starting to go draconian, and I wasn't gonna be able to sign them. And I had signed a lot of bad contracts over the years with media and other stuff like that, but I wasn't gonna be able to sign them anymore and give my own copyright away forever, the life of the copyright.
I just couldn't do it anymore, and I was tired of all of the stuff that was going on, the lack of respect, and everything else that was happening. And so I was kind of fading away. I was going to go play professional poker again. I had already done that once. I'd come back to publishing. I was going to go back and do it again, and here comes the indie revolution.
And so the sacred cow stuff was me trying to basically warn people about traditional publishing, about agents and about all the other stuff that you don't need. And then from that point forward, it morphed into the “Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing.”
I haven't done one for a while now. Every so often, something'll get under my skin and I'll do another sacred cow, but, you know, I haven't done one for a while now. It's changed. Everything has changed, everything has changed.
Joanna: But in terms of your own writing, you were doing a lot of these books under other people's IP, weren't you? Since then, you've created your own stuff.
Dean: Well, right towards the end, I was doing a lot of ghost writing. And I was the kind of ghostwriter that was only hired by New York publishers. I only did one in all of it, that I was hired by an actual author to hire me to ghostwrite something.
All the rest of it, New York hired me to save somebody, to save one of their big name authors. I was tired of that, I'd done a lot of that.
I was tired of the media, even though I still am a major fan of Star Trek and Men in Black, and all the other stuff, and Spider-Man, and all the other books I did. I was just kind of, you know, after 30 or 40, 50 media books, I got kinda tired. And so I was just ready to move on and do my own books.
So I was writing thrillers under a pen name. And they're still out there, they're still selling, but I signed a do-not-disclose, which is basically that I couldn't tell anybody that those are my books, because the publisher flat did not want, you know, them to be hyped as “Oh Dean Wesley Smith, writing as…” You know, “The Star Trek writer Dean Wesley Smith, writing as…”
And so I think now it would be less of an issue, since I'm known for my own books now more, because I've done 60 or 70 of my own books under Dean Wesley Smith, but it's just…at that point in time. So that was sort of towards the end of my traditional career, was I was doing these thrillers under a pen name.
I had two of them, two series. I just got tired of doing that too, because I just decided to put everything under my own name.
Joanna: You had got sick of the contracts back in 2010.
Which way has the industry gone? How is it now, in 2017, for people looking at traditional publishing?
Dean: Much, much worse. It is, I mean, I was tired of them back then, and in 2008 and 2010, seven years later, New York publishers, the big traditional publishers, have gone to rights grabs. They're basically trying to grab intellectual property.
And there's accounting reasons for it, there's all kinds of valuation readings for it on spreadsheets, but that's what they've done now. And the newer writers who are going to New York are just lettin' 'em. They're just givin' it to 'em. And that just appalls me, but you can't stop 'em.
Everybody makes their own decision, and they don't realize they're giving their books away for the rest of their life, and that's a long time. Plus 70 years, so not even their heirs will get any money.
And so it's kind of one of those sad things, it's just gotten so much worse, so much worse in the last seven years. And I see contracts all the time, because people send me contracts to look at, and get my opinion on, and they send Kris contracts all the time to get her opinion.
Joanna: That's really what we're talking about today. You have been doing some blog posts on “The Magic Bakery,” and you've got a book coming out on The Magic Bakery with those blog posts, and that will be awesome.
Can you explain the metaphor of “The Magic Bakery,” and how it relates to copyright and intellectual property?
Dean: Well, it started off because, you know, we teach workshops as you know, you were here last year, and you're coming as one of our guest instructors this next fall.
And I got really, really tired over the years of having writers not understand copyright, because that's what we license. That's how we make all of our money. That's what I've been doing for 40 years now is licensing copyright, and making a living at it.
It's hard for me to understand that writers don't grasp copyright. It seems to be the first thing everybody should go learn, but it's usually…the resistance is unbelievably difficult. People just, “Oh, I'll get to it.” You know, and then they never do. And because of that, they make bad decisions, all kinds of bad decisions.
One of the aspects is I was trying to struggle with ways of explaining copyright. And so I came up with the magic pie.
Just think of a pie, and each piece of anything you slice out of that pie is a license that you're licensing to someone to use part of. And so every time you write a short story or write a novel, or write a nonfiction book or whatever, or anything that's copyrightable, it forms a pie.
Just think of it as a pie. This is that metaphor, which I extend for an entire book.
And you slice that out. So say you want to sell a short story to Asimov's. So you take that pie, you cut out, and then you name that right, whatever you and the other person agree to, and that goes away, but it's still in the pie. Nothing's really sold.
It's magic, and this pie stays there. And unless you do something like selling it all rights to New York, that magic pie stays.
And so then of course those of us who have a lot of stuff, I created a bakery, and also that helps explain selling, a lot, with magic pies. That's the stuff that's kind of fun, is that if you realize, “Well, I've done one novel. Why aren't I making a lot of money?”
Well, imagine a customer walking into a bakery and there's one pie sitting on the shelf. They're gonna turn around and leave, because everything else is empty. And that's what exactly what writers are doing. That's why these newer writers are going, “I only have one book, and it should be selling, and I'm so disappointed.”
And I'm like, “Well, fill your bakery. Have something for your customers to purchase, and have ways for them to come in.”
So that's how this whole “Magic Bakery” got about. It's because copyright really is magic. You can resell it, and resell it, and resell it, and goes on forever.
Joanna: And keep going. But obviously the problem is that many people don't know how many ways to slice the pie.
Just to kind of get more specific, most people listening will understand e-book, print book, and audiobook, even though of course, those can be sliced in many ways themselves.
Dean: A whole bunch of ways.
Joanna: What are some of the slices that you would be most likely to license.
Dean: Oh, everything, from, well a movie. Movie rights are different than television rights. Gaming rights are different than movie rights and television rights.
In fact, a guy that was a friend of mine who was a major fantasy writer, he's been long dead now. I met him at a convention. I was just early on, when I was just starting off, and he came in, and he was all excited, and we sat down, and he was just, just kind of like on heaven. And I said, “What's goin' on, Bob?”
He goes, “Well, I just licensed my 37th gaming right.” And I'm like, “What?” You know, and he said, “Yeah. I'm just slicing these,” and he just was slicing them, he was down into all the stuff. This was 20 years ago. I can't even imagine how many ways you could slice gaming rights now. But he just kept slicing them and selling off, and licensing off the parts. He always just was a license for this over here.
For example, another way to cut it is, say you wanted to have translation into Italian. Well, that's a little teeny slice of the pie, the translation right, into Italian, you'd sell to an Italian publisher, they would keep it for five years, or so, do X number of copies, and then that slice would be right back in the pie, magically.
You start thinking about it, and it's only limited to your own imagination, as to how many pieces.
You make up the names. You and the person that you're selling it to. You make up the names. There's no real standard dictionary of what these rights are called, or anything else. I got that question a lot, is, “What are the rights called?” Well, whatever you wanna call it.
Joanna: I guess as long as the definition is nailed down.
We saw a contract from a friend the other day, and the contract said, “book rights” and I was like, “What is book rights?” I mean, come on.
Dean: Yeah. No, you need to be a little more specific than that. But see, that's where you can get into trouble is by having being too general on these things.
And so, what is book rights? Is that something that…some form…like we didn't know ebooks. Well, we sorta knew ebooks were coming back in 1990, but, you know, we didn't know it was gonna be what it turned out to be, and so that's where a lot of these contracts, these older writers got into trouble.
They sold book rights, and e-books were then defined as books, and they lost their e-rights.
It's just you have to be specific as you can be. You have to define it, you and the person on the other side of the contract for the license, needs to be as specific as you can. Cut that pie as thin as you can slice it.
Joanna: Yeah. One of the things that you say is that authors don't need an agent.
Joanna: And one of the things that authors believe they need an agent for are things like contracts and understanding some of these terms.
Explain why you don't think people need an agent. Or what are the problems with that?
Dean: Oh, the problems of agents are legion. There are the horror stories out there, and I had a whole bunch of them.
I had a agent for 17 years, one of the top agents that helped start Writers House actually. I was there for 17 years. And I have nothing bad to say. Her name is Merrilee Heifetz. She's still in the business. She's a tremendous agent, tremendous agent. The problem is, is that she was with the Writers House, and the other side of the coin is she got in the way.
Kris and I have continuous stuff going on with movie rights, and television rights, and a couple gaming rights, not so much at the moment, because our stuff doesn't really translate gaming too well. But we have a lot of that going on.
And the truth of the matter is, is that we didn't get any of that when we had an agent, because the agent was always blocking it. And so we deal with all the negotiation. We know what we want. And writers can learn it. It's not rocket science, it's something that's learnable.
It's seems fearful, and at a certain point you get an IP attorney involved. But not early on, you do everything by email, so you have a paper trail, you don't ever talk to anybody on the phone and do everything by email, and you follow that basic rule, and you have a paper trail, and that's all you need.
And then you'll make mistakes, but they won't be anywhere near as bad as some agent giving everything away. And those stories are horror…and then having to pay 'em 15 cents because they gave all your work away, or you had to wait for 'em for six months, or you had to…oh, and the stories just go on and on.
They get in the way. I am not kidding, they get in the way. And then we won't even count the fact that they also steal your money. Let's don't even go there. Merrilee didn't. Not saying that Merrilee did.
The stories are probably more than 100 on just my close friends now. One of the best places they embezzle of course is foreign rights, because you don't know you've sold foreign rights. They often will sign contracts. Kris had one agent that signed contracts for her, and they weren't supposed to. They just signed her name. Total fraud.
And again, you've gotta realize agents are not licensed. They're called agents, but they don't have any agent fiduciary duties. They can keep your money. You put on your New York traditional publishing contract right there, that all money is sent to the agent. It is never said that it has to be sent to you. It's in that contract. The publisher fulfills, sends the money to the agent.
Joanna: Do you think it's about the kind of the myths of what could possibly happen?
Like the lottery win and some authors and that there's still this need for the trad system.
Dean: It's ego. It's all ego. Early on in your career, it's ego. It seems like that's one of the myths of, “Oh, I'm now a successful writer. I've got an agent.”
Now agents hand out cards like they're candy to children. You just go to a convention and you get 10 agent's cards, and they're worthless. They're just totally worthless, but you could “have an agent.”
It just doesn't do anything for you as a writer. The problem with writers, all of us as a class, and I'm 100% certain I was no exception to this rule, is that we have insecurity issues. And especially early on we don't believe in our own writing, we don't believe in our own skills, and yet we should. We're artists.
And so we let people in that should never be in. We let people critique our work that should never critique our work. We let agents tell us how to rewrite, and an agent's never sold a book in their life. If agents could write, they would be writing, because that's where the big money's at.
But we listen to these people, they listen to peer groups that don't know how to write, tell us how to write. We're all insecure. And that need to go to New York and give 'em all of our rights, and have an agent, it makes for a good story with the family. Your family goes, “Hey, I'm successful now.” “Hey-oh, so-and-so is successful, pat him on the head. How come he's still working down at Safeway?”
Joanna: I think the comparison-itis is also an issue. I had some friends who were at the HarperCollins summer party, and everyone posts their pictures, and then you're like going, “Why aren't I at that party?” That kind of thing.
How do you deal with comparison-itis? Or have you ever suffered from it? You seem so confident.
Dean: Oh, sure. I think we all do. I mean, realize that before the indie world, there was no other choice. You had to go to New York. It was a different world when I came in, and I don't try to teach how I came in, because it would be wrong right now. I mean, I'm an old guy. You don't come in like I did back in the '80s.
I sold my first novel in 1987. I sold my first short story in 1974. That's another planet back there. But the reality is is that sure, I had those issues for the longest time.
The very first convention I went to, I happened to run into a wonderful writer by the name of Pat Murphy. It my very first science fiction convention, I turned a story in to the writer's workshop. And she was the young writer, she'd only published two or three things in Asimov, so she wasn't very far ahead of me. But she was the young writer who'd been stupid enough to volunteer for this writers' workshop. And she said, “Oh, you're so and so, I love your story.”
I'm like, “Nobody's ever read that story.” But she had, because she was doing the writers' workshop. And so she ended up taking me around to all the parties behind the scenes. And the friends that I went to the convention, who were other beginning writers, all they saw of me was I met Pat Murphy and vanished. And they didn't see me until the third day.
It wasn't that I was doing it, I was just in all the pro parties, and these guys didn't even know where the pro parties were. And at that point, I started realizing, “Oh, there's this other side.”
And then the following time, I got my friends in, and then we went in, and once you're in the door, you're in the door, and sure. You know, for the longest time, it was an honor to go to the phantom party. Then when you're down in Amarillo, Texas, or somewhere down there, they put us all on buses for the Bantam party at Worldcon, and bussed us an hour into the middle of nowhere to go to this thing. And so that's the last time going to a Bantam party.
Joanna: I'm pretty sure the parties were better back in the '80s. I think I know everyone's got expense things now.
Dean: Eighties and '90s. They were pretty outrageous back then.
Joanna: Pretty wild. What I was thinking as I looked at the party shots was, you've got to think about the value, and the money they're paying for that party with is the money from the authors, right?
What's interesting is you say in the book and the blog post that many writers still prefer the idea of getting an advance, so a bigger figure as an advance, without thinking how much they could be getting per month. The maths is kind of all screwed up, in that some people would like a couple of grand now, rather than say, $100 a month for the life of copyright.
How should people be thinking about that type of maths?
Dean: It's unbelievably difficult for writers to do math. I don't know. I've never met a writer that was that good at math, other than…there's a few.
Matt Buchman of course, M.L. Buchman, because he was a project manager before he became a full time writer. He's really good at this structure, and he can look at something and say, “Well, I could sell this for 5,000 over here, or I could do it myself over here for this much time, this much cost, and make this much money over the next 10 years.”
And even if it's just a trickle, trickles really add up. They really, really add up. And you just have to be good at the math, at saying, “Ahh, no, I'm not gonna give away my copyright for pride and a couple thousand dollars, or $10,000, which is spread out over three years, and, you know, for, where I can do it over here by myself and have control.”
Because they're going to put bad covers, they're going to give you bad copy edits, because you're a beginning writer. And that's just a horrid thing to do.
I fought so many copy editors over here, but now that I'm an indie, I have control of my own copy editors. They copy editors do exactly the way I want 'em to do, exactly the level I want 'em, and if they don't, I find another one.
I'm in control. I love the control. That's the aspect of, just love this control aspect of this new world, where writers are in control.
When I came in, there was no control. We had to go begging. We were like people with little cups going begging for every little morsel we could get. Don't do that anymore. None of that. None of that. I'm in control. If I'm not in control, I don't do it.
Joanna: Mmm. Well, that's interesting, because you also don't like KDP Select, or exclusivity in general. Is that a control issue?
What are your issues with KDP Select?
Dean: No. That's…oh, man. Trying to trap me here into something, aren't ya?
Let me put it this way. I want to sell to the whole planet, literally to the whole planet. I don't know if there's somebody sitting somewhere on the planet that picks up a Kobo edition, reads it, and writes me for a movie option. I don't know. I want to have that option, okay?
If I put it into Kindle Select, I have limited my entire audience down to a very small group. Not even all kindle readers, not even all Amazon buyers go anywhere near Kindle Select, because it's sort of known as a big garbage bin. And so, you know, I don't wanna go there. I don't want my stuff associated in that garbage bin.
I want everybody in the world to be able to read. So if one of my books, hopefully at some point, gets a real word of mouth going, and they say, “Oh, you have to read that Dean Wesley Smith,” I want them to be able to find it.
And if you're in Kindle Select, and they're not on Kindle Select and they're not doing that, which there's a lot of people that hate Amazon. They can't find your book, and so suddenly, they're mad. And who are they mad at? You the author, because they can't find your book.
We used to deal with this all the time in traditional publishing. Someone in Great Britain would say, “I can't find your book.” And I'm like, “Well, I'm sorry. I only sold North American rights,” so it doesn't get over there. And it's just like, now it's there. Now it's everywhere in the world.
And it's easy for us to do. We can have our books anywhere on the planet with D2D, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. You know, between those, we're in almost everything we can find. And library services, and stuff like that. You don't get any of that on Kindle Select.
Put it this way, it's bad business. And it's very short term thinking. You can really hurt yourself.
Not counting the fact that Amazon can at any given moment change the rules on you. And they have, three or four times over the last few years. I try not to giggle publicly when that happens.
Joanna: They have indeed. You said you want to sell to the whole planet, which I do as well. I'm really into the global stuff. And I think one of the problems many authors have is an issue with ambition. Like being able to say something like that out loud, or, I like money, thinking about business, and that type of thing, and many authors still have that issue between the business and the art.
How do you reconcile that? How do you talk about that to people?
Dean: I consider two hats. When I'm writing, when I'm actually sitting down writing, which I'm doing a lot of this month, I literally do the best I can. I write what I want to write, not to some market, not to anybody's idea of what I should write or anything else.
I just sit down and write what I'm passionate about and that's it. Nothing more, and I do the best job I can do. And I'm constantly learning, because I'm doing so much teaching of workshops and other stuff, and I'm constantly learning, and then I'm applying that in this practice that I'm writing. I'm just having a blast.
And so I make my writing fun, I do the best I can, and then I release it. When I release it, the artist hat comes off, and the business hat comes on, and I go, “Okay, now, what kind of systems do I need to set up, that I can sell that all over the world and get as many cash streams from that one piece of few hours of writing that I did, how many cash streams can I get off of that?”
And that's how I look at it as a business person. I am the CFO of the company that Kris and I started. We have nine employees, including a publisher, and Kris and I don't even run the company anymore. Allyson Longueira runs the company.
But I'm still the CFO, and I go, “Okay. How can I monetize that?” The artist is gone. The artist did its work, and it's working on the next story. I'm having fun as an artist on the next story. On the business, I have the other hat on, and I try to monetize it.
I want it around the world making as much money for me everywhere on the planet as I can. So that's how I do it is it's just two hats. Take off one hat, put on the other. And they never cross. I never take the business hat into the writing. I never write to a market, or what indie writers now are doing a lot of that sort of stuff. And then, “Oh you gotta write a series, oh, you gotta write fantasy, oh, you gotta write whatever's the hot new thing.” No. Just write what you love, eventually it works out.
Joanna: It'll come round again.
Dean: I'm proof of that.
Joanna: You and Kris actually have different physical spaces, don't you? In where you do writing and business?
Dean? Yes. Where I'm standing right now because I couldn't get my Skype going, this is Kris's internet office. She has a reading chair back over here, and all of this is some of our digest collection. We have one digest of every science fiction, mystery, and horror digest up to about year 2000.
And this, all four of these walls are covered with digests, as you can see some of them over here. And she has a standing computer here, which I don't stand for anything. And then she has another, over here, and this is all her business office here. And it is one floor above.
Her writing office is down over that way, and clear down and through a library and back in another corner of the building. My writing and my internet are in the same room, but there are two different businesses, they face two different things. On one wall I have creative stuff. And on the other wall I have business stuff.
So I'm facing business when I'm at my internet computer, and I'm facing creative stuff when I'm at my writing computer. And I have two chairs, two different set ups, two different everything. So when I stand up from one to go to the other, the hats change. So Kris has two rooms, and I have two spaces.
Joanna: I think that's helpful, and I don't write fiction where I'm standing now. I do all my business stuff here and then I go to various other places when I'm writing fiction, because I think, and you pointed this out years ago, about the two different computers.
That second computer doesn't need to be like the fanciest Mac, does it? It can just be basic.
Dean: Anything. Yeah. It's a mindset. When you're sitting down at your writing computer, you don't do anything else on it. You have no internet, no games, no nothing.
When you sit down, what happens is your creative voice is trained, “Oh, I'm here to write,” and it just clicks on. And so all of that start up, and all that problem, it just literally by having a second computer, maybe in a different chair, changes everything, just changes…it really makes that mindset work for you.
Joanna: Yeah, and that creative voice. Let's just talk about that, because obviously you are an incredibly prolific writer. But yet you've said that you don't write massive numbers of words per hour.
What is your secret Dean? Everyone can find it in your many books, but tell us your secret.
Dean: The secret is I sit down more than other people. I'm like every other writer, I feel like I don't write enough. Although when I say that, my friends get a little bit panicked, and Allyson gets really worried, because, I mean, I turned in seven books in the last two weeks.
I'm writing right now. I'm writing four novels in this month, which will turn into four novels plus four Smith's Monthlys, plus a nonfiction book about writing the four novels in the month. And so, I mean, that's gonna be nine more books right there, nine more major projects, not counting all the short stories that are in Smith's Monthly. I did 30 of those in April.
Joanna: You did one a day, right?
Dean: I did one a day for April, and I did it a year ago, July, I did one a day in July, too. When you're filling your own magazine every month…I do four short stories and one novel every month for my own magazine, plus a non-fiction or something else.
So it's 70,000, it's the same size as Asimov's every month, the old Asimov's, not the new double issues. I'm doing that every month, so I am prolific. And the only difference is I write about a 1,000 words an hour. I take breaks, because I have eye issues, and so basically, I just spend more hours.
Joanna: I think that's the point.
You won't sit down for the entire four hours, but you will allocate say four hours to writing, whereas many people might allocate half an hour or one hour.
Dean: Yeah. And a lot of people believe in the myths that “You can't write a lot,” and “Oh, it'll burn out your brain,” and, “Oh, I get so tired when I'm writing.” And I'm like, “Why are you getting tired when you're writing? You're just sitting making stuff up.” That's fun. It's energizing.
Yeah, sure, I mean, after I write 6,000 or 7,000 words in six hours or so I get tired. But it's a good tired, and it's a fun tired, and I'm still thinking about the story and everything else.
It's myth, it's mindset myth. The myth of, “I'm an artist, so I can only work 30 minutes a day.” Ahh, hooey. You know, “Oh, I don't have time.” That means you probably never will be a writer if you don't find the time.
But 15 minute segments is what I look at it. If I got 15 minutes, I can sit down, 15 minutes will give me 300, 400 words and that's all it takes.
Joanna: I think the other thing, like I've done a number of your courses, which are awesome, and one of them is on productivity. You talk about getting out of your own way, and I think that that is a huge issue for people.
Any tips on getting out of your own way so you let creative voice come through?
Dean: Oh, boy! It's the myths that are the biggest problem there. We all have these belief systems, and the problem with the belief systems is that it brings up the critical voice, and then it brings up fear.
It's like if you're really fearful of a crash on a roller coaster, you're not gonna get on the roller coaster. But you get on the roller coaster because you wanna experience the acceleration and the excitement, and the twists and the turns, and the ups and downs, and the kind of the adrenaline.
Well, that to me is what writing is. I'm not fearful of the writing, nothing can go wrong. Absolutely nothing can happen. Nobody can come and shoot me, or I can't fall out of the top of a roller coaster or anything else. I mean, the worst could happen, maybe is I fall out of my chair. But, you know, that's about it.
There isn't a lot of really important consequences to writing. The biggest failure is not writing. That's scares me to death.
And if more writers took that opinion, and said, “Well, I'm more scared of not writing than I am of writing,” they would find their way to the chair more often and get more writing done. That's the thing is you just gotta be more afraid, because total failure in writing is not writing, so that's total failure. There is no failure if you're actually producing words, nothing'd hurt you. You know, people may not like your story.
Joanna: I think people worry that they are wasting time if they're writing something that ends up not being very good.
Dean: Oh, yeah. You hear that all the time. I hear it continuously. No writing is ever wasted, because it's practice.
I know I just used a swear word. I apologize for the word “practice,” because “practice” is not something you would ever use around writers, because all of their words are golden. And they have to be perfect, that's how writers think. That's how that myth is built up is you sit down and you write, and you write the perfect story from word one to the end.
No, no it's just practice, just practice. I never stop practicing, and I never have. I've written getting close to 200 novels now, and more hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of short stories than I can think about. And the reality is, every one of them been practice.
I am practicing all the time, and that's sometimes I get a little tidbit out of one of the workshops, and I go, “Oh, crap, that would be fun,” and I'll practice that for the entire book that I'm working on. The entire book. And just that one little tidbit. So to me, it's just practice.
There's never a wasted word, and I throw a lot of words away. I write into the dark. So I'll go down side roads and go, “Oh yeah, well, better back up over here,” you know? I do that all the time. It's just part of the process. It's just part of the process.
Joanna: I love how much you always seem to be having fun, and that's why I really enjoy your courses. I did want you to talk a bit about your courses, because there are a lot of courses out there right now, but you have some really interesting ones at different levels. I did your depth course on writing. And the book I wrote off the back of that is now award nominated, which is very exciting.
Joanna: Thank you. I hope we'll win it like next week. But it was interesting that it came off the back of doing that workshop. But I did your advanced tax workshop the other day.
Dean: It was a lecture.
Joanna: Yeah lecture, yeah. And these are online courses, and some have homework, some don't. But I'm about to do your one on movie deals, and stuff like that. You have things for all kinds of people, don't you?
Tell us a bit more about the courses and how people can find those, and what types of things you have.
Dean: Well, thanks to you, we're over on Teachable now, for all of the lectures, and I've been moving 'em like crazy since last October, the minute you said, “Dean, go there.” And I'm like, “Oh, thank you.” I want to thank you publicly for that.
And the lectures and some of the classic workshops, which don't require homework, are now there, and I hope over this next month or so, to have all of what we call “Classic,” which means they were homework-based workshops, like the productivity workshop, but now they're just “Classic” workshops. And they're on Teachable.
If you've ever taken it, you can keep going back to it any time you need it. That's the nice thing about Teachable. It's always on your dashboard on Teachable.
The other workshops we do are where I actually give feedback on homework. And we're doing 12 a month now on those, and one of them that runs every month is the depth in writing workshop. That's how to get readers down into your story, so that they can't leave, down into the depth of your story.
That makes a tremendous difference. Because the depth, it has to be all the way through. It has to be through all of your chapters, and all of your everything. And so once you learn those techniques, you automatically start using it through the whole book. And it won't let readers out of books. That's basically, it makes books non-putdownable. Then you combine that with like a cliffhangers, and all the other stuff we do.
We now have three depth workshops. We have depth, advanced depth, and what we're starting here in July is research. Advanced depth number three, research. How to get all that research in through a character in a way that the readers will be interested versus what beginning writers call “info dumps.”
That's a beginning writer English teacher term. There's ways to do research and do it correctly through the character, and that's why we called it “depth three.” That's when you really get the stuff and how much to research, when to stop researching, when do you even research, you know, that sort of stuff.
Joanna: And then you're doing more of the advanced business stuff as well, aren't you? For those who might be a bit further along in terms of business?
Dean: Yeah. We have about 20 lectures, and then we started off, and then we're doing six, what we call advanced business lectures. And the one, we just, the taxes, and then I just finished estates for writers. That's one that nobody'll take.
Joanna: I'll take it. I'm gonna take it.
Dean: Because that's one of those things of, “Yeah, I gotta get to that.” And they never do. We did corporations, and we'll do six of 'em by the time it's done. I can't remember all six of their titles.
I think this'll be the fourth one we have up, and then we have two more to put up. The estates'll be the fourth one, and then there's two more. One of 'em was movies, yeah. Movie negotiation. How to do it correctly.
Joanna: Yeah. And I think what's interesting is it's about awareness, and that's what I love about what you and Kris do. There's so much smoke and mirrors from the traditional industry.
What you're doing is pulling back the curtain and going, “Hey, it's not that complicated. Here are the things.”
Dean: We try to break it down into simple all the way through. And if you follow these techniques, you'll do it your own way, and every writer is different, but we basically started to say, “It's just simple.”
Some of this stuff in some of these workshops, like character voice workshop, trying to understand where you can see your own voice and where you can see your character's voice, that gets a little more complex at times. Because all of us can't see our own, and hear our own voices. But we try to show you how to hear your own voice in that workshop.
But it's that kind of stuff. We're very proud of it. We didn't ever intend to do this. This was an accident, and we don't make any money off it. Kris and I make no money off of it, it all goes to WMG. We do it for free, the teaching.
The minute I start getting bored, we'll move everything to Teachable and then I won't deal with it anymore. But that's why you see some of these older workshops now on Teachable, what we call “classics,” because I would teach it for two or three times, and realize I didn't learn any new thing out of it. I'd done the same thing for two or three times, and I went, “Ah, nope, that workshop's gone.”
I'm being very selfish here. I'm glad people are getting a lot out of it, but I'm just doing it for me. I'm 67 years old here, and I don't know how much longer I'm gonna be doing this stuff. I could go do something else for a while.
Joanna: Where can people find you and all that you do online?
Dean: Oh, well, first off, those workshops you can find either on my site or at wmgpublishingworkshops.com and it's WMG, which was Molly, Galahad, and one of our other cats, workshops.com, Molly, Gal, you know, wmgpublishingworkshops.com. My stuff is deanwesleysmith.com. Wesley is W-E-S-L-E-Y, smith.com. deanwesleysmith.com. Or if you have a question about anything, just email me, you know, my address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And that's perfectly fine. I don't mind answering writing questions. You know, a word of warning, I'm blunt.
Joanna: That's what we love about you, Dean.
Dean: I'm blunt.
Joanna: It's tough love.
Dean: I'll write back to somebody, “What are you thinking? Think this through.” Usually only friends. I don't do that to people I don't know. Or I try to.
Joanna: Well, it's being really great to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Dean: Yeah, thank you. I really appreciate it.
Caroline Dudley says
Fantastic podcast as always. I never fail to come away from The Creative Penn without a new bout of energy and enthusiasm for what I am doing!
What particularly resonated this time was ‘are you getting in your own way?’ because the answer for me at the moment is ‘yes I am!’ I’ve been doing a lot of research into indie publishing options, marketing and design; which is great, but I have been allowing this to drastically eat into my creative time. I didn’t realise that until just now. The idea of having two distinct working spaces for creating and managing sounds like a good plan, so I’m going to put it into action today!
I thought a chat about intellectual property rights would be DRY, but of course with Joanna’s great questions and Dean’s wisdom, this was another great podcast. More about writer mindset, the need for validation and your beliefs about writing than IP. Thanks Dean for reminding to me to take a seat on the rollercoaster.
Joanna Penn says
A chat with Dean is never dry 🙂 Glad you found it useful.
D J Mills says
Dean’s workshops are wonderful, eye opening, and worth every penny. Especially the Depth ones.
Anne-Maree Gray says
so DWS is literally butt in chair? *joking*
Location makes such a difference to mindset, doesn’t it?
I saw his blogpost today that he finished the 4 book challenge for the month.
[166,800 words of fiction and 236,700 words of writing, not counting answering blog questions.]
man… half of the authors don’t have proper wills, we all need estate advice; especially with the long tail of copyright!
In the podcast, you mentioned coming back to your WIP and realizing that it wasn’t as bad as you thought when you left it. I stumbled on a trick that helps deal with the feeling that your prose is “crap”.
I have a handful of books that I read over and over. I know that they are “solid”. I use them as my “touchstone” books when I have a “crap attack”.
I usually collect the complete works of a writer. One guy writes these wonderful SciFi stories. He has a character that is a combat drone in the shape of a seahorse. He makes me feel for that combat drone, actually care about it. So when he put out a trilogy, I bought them with no worry. I waited until I had all three books, it took three years for them to come out, then I sat down one Friday to read through the whole trilogy, and the first book was awful. Glug! The words were dead on the page, I didn’t care about the characters at all, and neither did the characters. HA!
I picked up the second book, hoping that things got better, and my god it was worse. I felt awful, it was impossible for the prose by this author to be this bad, so I pulled out one of my “touchstone” books and started to read. I felt better right from the start, it was like coming home. I read the whole “touchstone” book, then picked up the first book of the trilogy again, and I was right, it was awful. I tried to read some other new books I had, and simply pulled up my “touchstone” book again, and it was joy. Over the next couple of months I read the same “touchstone” book at least once a week as I ran into bad books.
The trick about the “touchstone” book is that it works to show me if my stuff is “crap” or if I’m just having a “crap attack”. A “crap attack” is like catching a cold, everything feels wrong. It’s not the prose, it is me, and when I come back after the “crap attack” passes, the prose is actually fine. The problem is I would come back to that prose months or years later, after I’d set it aside thinking that it was “crap”.
Now when I feel that my prose is “crap” I pull out a “touchstone” book and start to read. I don’t wait months. Now and then, I have started to read my “touchstone’ book and it feels like “crap”, so I know that it is me feeling wrong, not the “touchstone” book. I read the whole book, and by the end I’m seeing it solid again, so I know the “crap attack” has passed, just like a cold. Then I pick up my WIP and if it still looks like “crap” then I know that it is real, and that I can fix it. If my WIP looks fine, then I go forward without losing months of time.
– The “touchstone” books are a tool to confirm something is working or not, rather than second guessing myself and losing time.
So find a handful of books that you love to read, that you know are solid, and put them on a shelf where you can grab them at any time. Have those “touchstone” books there so that you do not hesitate when you find your WIP turning to “crap”.
Thanks for all the help.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for the tip 🙂 I’m also challenging myself with a new genre, so that makes it harder, but will be worthwhile when it’s done!