Dean Wesley Smith: Harsh Truths for New Authors

by: bradashlock

Jul 09
Dean Wesley Smith, About to Fight a Pine Tree

Dean Wesley Smith, About to Fight a Pine Tree


The following emails were between myself and USA Today bestselling Author, Dean Wesley Smith.

I love Dean’s style, and I really needed some help to get on the right track. He delivered truth bombs to my teeth.

If you’re interested in writing or struggling yourself–or just want to hear some words of wisdom from a pro poker player, hotdog skier, and famous novelist–enjoy the following exchange.

Dean’s a generous man, and I highly recommend his books and courses on writing, which have helped me immensely in my writing adventures…





Thanks for the offer but I don’t do things like that I’m afraid. [My initial email was a request for some one-on-one Skype mentoring–Brad]

But a couple of things that might help you understand what is going on. No
charge and what I would tell you if I charged you. But hold on, you won’t
like what I am about to say.

First off, you have very few titles. Discoverability is done with numbers
of titles and branding of series and so on. You just don’t have enough to
get to any normal number it takes to start taking off without luck. And
some of the titles you do have are short stories, which sell slowly at

Second, your covers look poorly done. Those borders around them look more
like a greeting card than a book cover.

Third, your blurbs will turn anyone away I’m afraid. They are not sales,
they are passive, far too much plot, far too long. (On that note, if you
are not already mad at me, WMG Publishing does a Sales Workshop where in
six weeks Kris and I teach you how to write sales copy. It really is like
learning another language.)

Fourth, you are in KU, which is short term thinking. If you want to build
a career, you go wide to the world, not just a few readers on KU.

Fifth, I’m not even sure which genre you are writing in. If I can’t tell,
readers can’t tell.

The problem you have is that you bought into the myth that promotion can
sell books. It can’t, not without other factors involved, and you don’t
have the factors that if a reader did see your promotion, they would then
go ahead and buy your book. Your sales, lack of genre, and bad covers
would turn them away.

So the key now is to stop being in a hurry to learn some secret, but
instead learn how to write better stories, do better covers, use ISBNs on
your paper books instead of letting CreateSpace be the publisher, set up
your own publishing name, learn sales language.

You are still young. You have time, but being successful in an
international business and craft takes time. Think longer term and start
putting the pieces together and learn how to tell better stories as you go

Two years is no time at all in publishing. If you really want this and I
think you can get there if you get rid of the attitude that your writing
is brilliant and take the attitude that you have a lot to learn. Then you
will open up to learning it.

Sorry to be so blunt, but you asked and that’s who I am. (grin)

Good luck and have fun.




Hi, Dean:

You could have just ignored me, but you shot some truth at me–I appreciate it!
I’ve been struggling with genre. I don’t know what to do. I think because of my training as an artist, I like to take a genre and attack it with its own tropes from within (postmodern bullshit).
It’s not me trying to be clever–or suicidal–but I’ll write a western, and it starts taking the cliches and flipping them around. Suddenly elements of horror have crept into my western.
And then I’ll do sci-fi, and elements of hardboiled detective novels dribble in.
I feel claustrophobic in one genre, and my one genre is a muck mish mash of other genres… do you think that will spell disaster, or are there writers who do that and are successful?
You write in many genres, so wasn’t sure why you thought this was important… but I’m guessing you have a main genre, sci-fi, followed by westerns. Please don’t be offended, I’m not comparing myself to you in that, just curious about genre. I wish it was easy for me to just pick one! Any advice on this is welcome.
The covers comment I was disappointed to hear about. My background is in the visual arts. I’m a painter with an MFA. The valentine’s card border is actually a border from a handmade bible from the 19th century. I thought it just made the books more consistent, but I’ll re-evaluate. Maybe we have different aesthetics: I have been going for a retro pulp feel. For example, I love this cover:
If I’m way off base, let me know… ! You’re the best seller: my tastes are not what the normal Joe public on the streets enjoys… but I think my covers are good–so there is something wrong in my thinking. So I need to really think about what you said in terms of commerciality versus art.
I can’t afford $300 for the copywriting course–we’re in the middle of a big remodeling house project right now, but I just purchased your book on it, along with a collection of your stories. (Your “Writing in the Dark” book has been so helpful – changed the way I write and unleashed my creativity–resonated more with me than King’s book on similar idea). I also follow your suggestions on pricing, though it’s been tough to resist lowering the prices.
The reason I concentrated on Kindle was from my research it dwarfs the other online sellers, so I didn’t think it was worth bothering with the others.
Again, thank you for your kind thoughts (or brutal thoughts?!). I’m releasing a novel on the 10th (if it sells millions I’ll send you a nasty letter from my yacht), and then finishing up some bits and pieces. I’ll take a break, re-group, and make some changes.
Wow, glad you took my comments in the spirit they were intended, which was to help.
As for genre, not saying you should change your writing. I also write all over genre and twist things and combine all the time.  The key is to come down, as an editor once told me on my very first sold novel in 1987.
I had written a novel called Laying the Music to Rest that was science fiction, sort of, had a ghost, sort of, had science and magic, sort of. He bought it, loved it, then called me and said, “Okay, now we have to come down one side or another. You want the book to be sf or be fantasy?”
I picked science fiction.  Diana Gabaldon had the same issue with Outlander. She thought she wrote a sf book about time travel, but her agent said they should come down in romance, she did, and became a top bestseller. SF is still in there.
So you don’t need to change what you write. Just change your marketing. Come down in a genre you think is slightly more than the rest and then slant the blurb, the covers to that.
As for the covers, graphic artists always have the most trouble with covers because covers are an art form all to themselves. And they are combined with sales.
What will make a reader pick up the book and open it? Pretty or fancy doesn’t do it. Sales.  An alien concept to most writers.
So yeah, study my book on sales copy. No passive verbs, meaning no “is, was, has,” or contractions with any of those and others. All active blurbs, much shorter than what you have.
And keep having fun. You are on the right track. Get hungry for the learning and take a long-term approach and use your time for promotion when you have something solid to promote that will help all your work. You’ll get there.