Dean Smith preps us for 2010

If you haven’t been reading Dean Smith’s blog lately, you should. He’s doing a crash-course whirlwind series — like he did last year — designed to get everyone on the ground running. Or, rather, writing. Quickly. Regularly. With realistic and concrete goals in mind. I’ve been glued. I think you should be too.

Granted, Dean’s not aiming his advice at the MFA grad — though MFA grads have and do attend Dean’s workshops, usually after months or years of frustrating futility, where getting their fiction sold is concerned.

In many ways I like to think of Dean — and his wife Kris Rusch — as issuers of “blue collar” writing advice. They’re not trying to help you become the next Pulitzer winner. They’re just two people who, through trial and error, stumbled their way to financial independence through writing. One story at a time. In the process they believe they’ve uncovered a lot of industry b.s. — upon which they expound a great deal on their blogs, and especially during one of their classes aimed specifically at the aspirant: The Kris ‘n Dean Show. (NOTE: Best weekend I ever spent, as an unpublished writer, bar none. HIGHLY recommended.)

One of the reasons I am willing to spend money on Kris and Dean — as opposed to something like Clarion or even an MFA — is that their success is precisely the sort of success I want to model my career on. Others will feel differently and may have different goals, and I respect this, nor am I trying to say that my way — or Kris or Dean’s way — is The Only Way. It’s just that I’ve discovered, through my own stumbling, to trust a lot of what Kris and Dean say. Even the stuff that sounds off-the-wall or counter-intuitive. Even the stuff that flies in the face of Aspirant Gospel; such as the requirement for exhaustive re-writing to “polish” your manuscript.

My goal is to pay off my house and put the equivalent amount in the bank, so that I can finally quit The Day Job and work from home and be truly happy in my work. I may never reach the bestseller list. I may never have a movie made out of a book I write. But Dean and his wife insist that you don’t have to be Stephanie Meyer to get where I want to go. They’ve built a very, very comfortable and happy existence for themselves largely as “under the radar” writers, though in Kris’s case even she’s scored Hugos — on both sides of the writer/editor fence.

In the end, what appeals most — to me — about their combined philosophy, is that it doesn’t take itself so gottdamned seriously. These are not writers enthralled with The Art for its own sake. For them, writing seems fun, and a means to an end. I can absolutely plug in with them, on this level, because I don’t take it that seriously either. Not as a writer who is trying to say something Deep and Important about whatever. If I happen to actually say anything Deep and Important, in anything I publish, it’s liable to be on accident, rather than on purpose. And Kris and Dean insist that many of the Greats who are now considered Deep and Important, weren’t trying to be deliberately Deep and Important either.

Dean loves to tout Dickens as the most misunderstood Great, in this regard. Over and over Dean talks about how Dickens was a “blue collar” writer who wrote quickly, to deadline, to feed his (large) family. There was nothing overtly Deep or Important — from Dickens’ perspective — about what he was doing. It was a job, and he enjoyed doing it. Only after his demise and subsequent passing into the Halls of Litrachure (hat tip: Alastair!) did other writers and critics begin to put the man on a pedestal, because as far as anyone can tell, he didn’t put himself on a pedestal. Nor his craft, for that matter.

My aim is to write and sell books and stories. So that I can work and live at home and not have to answer the corporate bell if I don’t want to. I have almost no control over whether or not I go bestseller or become a “hit” like J.K. Rowling or anyone else on that scale. Even J.K. Rowling never had any control whether she’d reach her current state. It was the right series for the right audience at the right time, like Dan Brown. Sure I’d love to go that big, but because I cannot in any way determine whether or not I go that big — nobody can — I must focus on what I can determine. Which takes me back to Kris and Dean and how they focus, over and over, on “blue collar” advice for a “blue collar” writing lifestyle. They don’t promise to know how to make the bestseller list and become a millionaire in one book deal. They do promise that if you follow their advice, chances are very, very good you will make a living as a freelancer, given time and hard work.


5 thoughts on “Dean Smith preps us for 2010

  1. Brad,

    I followed your links to Dean’s site from WOTF and have really taken to his advice. You’ve mentioned a few times that you got a lot out of the Kris n’ Dean Show and I was wondering if you could expand on that? After reading his blog I’m intruiged by their classes, but am not sure about traveling all the way up NW for a writer I’m not familar with.

    Thanks again for the links to his blog. His advice really pulled the scales off my eyes and I’m taking a different approach to selling books this year (straight to the publishers!)



  2. Hi Tom. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wish I’d done the Kris’n’Dean Show ten years ago. I think it might have saved me ten years of relative writing stump-headedness and I might be a lot farther along with things than I am now. I’ve done conventions and sat in on panels before, and those can be a grab bag because the guests are hit and miss and there is seldom any time for specific, personal questions. Doing Kris’n’Dean is like having the best panel you can imagine, and having it for the entire weekend all day and much of the night, and you can ask the ‘panelists’ — both working pros with excellent pedigrees — all the questions you want, and they gleefully answer as best as they’re able. The workshop inspires as well as challenges, and I felt like the cost was more than worth it by the time it was all done. I cannot recommend the workshop enough.

    They cover all aspects of the freelance fiction writing career, from technique and aspects of writing, through marketing, defeating the roadblocks that get in the way of putting your work in front of editors, how to stay buoyed in the face of rejections, how to network, long-term longevity plans for the full-timer, cautionary tales galore. It was simply awesome.

  3. Just to make sure, that workshop is this one?

    FICTION CAREER WORKSHOP (Kris and Dean Show). Sept 11-12.(Starts 10 AM on the 11th, ends 5PM 12th). Cost $300. Room Rate $50.00. Workshop open to anyone at any level. A complete overview of the publishing industry from how to write a story or novel that sells to what happens in editor’s office and much more. Open to all skill levels.

    Seems like a catch-all of information for the writer. Was there any work on the actual craft of writing or this is strictly business talk? I’m very tempted to sign up for it.

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions.



  4. Yup, that’s the one. And yes, they do hit on aspects of craft, though there will be no story critique or writing per see. It’s basically a whole weekend of non-stop all-in-one workshop that runs the table from one end of the writing biz to the other. Again, I wish I’d done it 10 years ago because I feel like there was professional wisdom there that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and because you’re paying for it you can ask all the questions you want without fear of annoying the ‘panel’ as it were. Now, just to be clear, Kris and Dean take a very ‘blue collar’ approach to writing, so there won’t be a lot of poofy talk about art. What they will hit are business elements, lifestyle elements, career path, roadblocks, some basics on structure and how to pack as much salient info into your opening scenes — that was an after-hours bonus with Dean — and a whole lot more. Usually Dean is there the Friday night before, too, when most people arrive and so he can make sure everyone gets in, and he will talk your ears off then too. So in reality you get practically three days worth of info.

  5. I’m a ‘blue collar’ type of writer so that sounds like a workshop I’d like to attend. I’ll probably also wish it was something I went to fifteen years ago myself. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes trying to get things published and have only recently started to get how the whole thing works.

    Thanks again.


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