Wednesday, September 23, 2015

7 Tips for Making a Living With Your Writing

Dean Wesley Smith
(Picture Source)
So while at the LUW conference, I attended a class entitled, "How to Make a Living Off Your Writing" which was taught by Dean Wesley Smith. It was a double session and I was excited to hear what he had to say. 

As it turns out, Mr. Smith has been a working freelance writer since the seventies. He told us he has dozens of pen names, and most people who have read things he's written have no idea that he's the authors. But the world is changing and he had lots of great insights and tips.

Here are some of the things he had to say. 

If you want to make a living on your writing:

  1. Keep your expenses low and have as few as possible. 
  2. Productivity - defined as increasing the amount of product you put out over a given time. The more productive you are, the easier it is to make a living. This is definitely true. Though I'm not as productive as I'd like to be, I know the authors who make the most money are the ones who churn out ebooks every month or two.
  3. Write to your passion. Don't chase trends. By the time you do, they'll be over.
  4. Be a hybrid author. (Yea! Great to know I'm doing something right.) He said that the authors who are still here, writing and producing in twenty years will be the hybrid authors.
  5. Learn Business. I think this is a major problem for lots of authors today. They want to write, but don't want to learn how to market their books. Unfortunately, if you want to move books, you've got to be an enterpreneur today. Smith suggests we all learn cash flow (where the money comes from, where it goes, and how to cover expenses), cash streams (have multiple streams on each book/product and never look down your nose at even small ones), returns on investment (think long-term), and stay away from exclusivity (Exclusivity used to be big in the writing industry, but if you're thinking of your writing in the long term, exclusivity can work against you. Make sure you always maintain at least some rights to your books.).
  6. Everything is changing. We must keep up. It's part of the job!
  7. Continue to learn your craft. Always keep learning and become a better writer. The instant you say, I know everything about writing," you've just stunted your own career and your own potential. Entertainment has VALUE in our society. Take advantage of that, but never take it for granted.
Picture Source
He also said he thought people like editors and formatters, etc. are superfluous. Kind of like agents, now. It's just something else to pay for that you don't need. I thought that was interesting. I kind of liked it as I do a lot of that stuff myself. (I format my own ebooks and have a writing group that does the majority of my editing for me.) To be fair, he did say copy-editing and proofreading for errors is a necessity, but he was talking about having editors for story, character, plot, etc. Just thought it was kind of interesting. But as I don't actually (and never have) paid for that type of editing, I do kind of agree. :D Of course I don't do my own cover art and we all know that you need an awesome cover, but that's something you an hire out on a case-by-case basis. And if I really wanted to be independent, it wouldn't be hard to learn to do digital cover art so I could do my own. (Honestly, I probably won't do that. It would just take too much time and I have too much on my plate right now, but I'm open to it for the future.) The point is, in this new world of digital publishing, it's possible to learn to do everything for yourself. As long as the finished product is high quality, your book will sell. Just something to keep in mind. 

Some other great nuggets he had that I wrote down:

"Act like a writer, think like a publisher."
"Luck is not a business plan."

Picture Source
He was also very knowledgeable about the history of publishing. He talked about how everyone is so scared about the upheaval in the industry right now, but it's really not any different than what's happened in the past. He told stories about when printing first came about, when novels first were mass-produced, how back in the day, every author by definition was self-published. Our big publishing house model is actually a relatively recent (last 50-80 years, depending on how you look at it) thing. And this is just the cycle repeating itself again. I thought his stories were fascinating. 

I talked to him afterword and told him he should write a history of publishing. He seemed to consider it but said it would take a hella lot of work. I said I was sure it would, but I would totally read it. He kind of got this smile on his face and thanked me for the suggestion.

I don't know if he will, but I hope he does. Maybe only nerdy authors like me would be interested in reading that, but I'd totally be the first in line. He's the kind of guy that's a wealth of knowledge, only a portion of which has ever been written down.

So if you ever get the chance to meet or listen to Dean Wesley Smith, totally do it. He's a fascinating guy and very knowledgeable about the industry. 


  1. That's true in the past, authors paid to produce their books. Guess that made them all self-published. Funny how we got away from that for so long.
    It's a rare person who is talented in all areas, so getting someone else to do your covers makes sense.

    1. Agreed. Yeah I probably won't be a cover designer any time soon. :D Thanks Alex! :D