The Journal: Post 3 in the Heinlein’s Rules Series

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Post 3 in the Heinlein’s Rules Series
* It’s no secret
* For an update
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

Fun quote of the day: “After I saw a bumper sticker that read I’m a veterinarian so I drive like an animal, I realized how many proctologists I see on the roads.” Anonymous meme

Topic: Post 3 in the Heinlein’s Rules Series

Today the topic is mostly about Rule 4: You must put it on the market.

Q: I want to dive right in to some of my questions about the rules, starting with #4: You must put it on market. I can see how this worked prior to self-publishing becoming so common because if your book stunk, you could send it to publishers but it wouldn’t go anywhere. So no harm done.

Q (cont.) But we all have seen writers who self-publish before their stories are ready. And this hurts them because it turns readers off of future books by those authors. So how is it a good idea to publish all of our stories—especially the early ones—in today’s publish-with-the-click-of-a-button world?

Harvey: Well, first, “put it on the market” means “submit it to readers.” Back in 1948, the only readers a writer sent work to were publishers, primarily of magazines. Today, that means all readers. “Put it on the market” means “make it available” to publishers or everyday readers.

Second, re “if your book stunk”: Stunk in whose opinion? There have been at least dozens and probably hundreds of manuscripts (including Harry Potter) that were turned down by multiple publishers before achieving incredible success.

So the thing to remember is that every opinion of a novel (for example) is just one opinion. That includes the author, the agent, the acquisitions editor, the publisher, and every other reader (because all of those are readers with only one opinion) who ever reads the novel.

What one person doesn’t like, another will love. And of course, the reverse is true also. (More on this later.)

Third, re “No harm done,” I constantly hear writers worried that if they turn out a “bad” work or one that “isn’t ready,” it will ruin their career. When those writers seem serious, open-minded, and likely to eventually overcome that fear, I take the time to ask them, “What career?” When they don’t, I just smile and nod or say something like, “Yeah, it’s rough out there,” and go on my way.

Stephen King’s wife Tabitha famously fished the manusript for Carrie (if I remember right) out of the trash can into which he’d dropped it. If she hadn’t, he might still be teaching high school English and working a second job as a janitor.

Closer to home, I wrote a short story titled “Old Suits.” Frankly, I thought (my opinion) it was pretty much a piece of crap. But I’d written it so I published it anyway (Heinlein’s Rule 4).

Maybe a month later, I received an email from a woman who compared it to Hemingway’s works and said it was one of the best short stories she’d ever read. I still don’t see what she saw in it, but it goes to the point: most readers will enjoy your work if you haven’t polished your original voice off it. That said, some few will hate it, and some few will love it.

The point is, writers shouldn’t pre-judge their work (as King learned with Carrie) and decide nobody will like it. Our job as writers is to write. The reader’s job (each individual reader) is to judge whether they like or don’t like what they’ve just read. But nobody will read your work at all if you don’t 1) put it on the market by mailing or emailing it to a magazine or 2) put it on the market by publishing it yourself.

Re “we all have seen writers who self-publish before their stories are ready”: again, I say according to whom? According to whose opinion? I’ve never personally seen a writer self-publish before a story is ready, which basically means finished and proofed for typos.

I have, on the other hand, seen a lot of stories in which I knew well in advance how the story will end. That is most often a result of ignoring HR3 (refrain from rewriting).

In most cases, lifeless stories, those in which the writer “figures out” what will happen next, are the result of too much rewriting and polishing. If the writer can “figure out” what’s going to happen next, so can the reader. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

And finally, to your big question: “So how is it a good idea to publish all of our stories—especially the early ones—in today’s publish-with-the-click-of-a-button world?”

I’m not saying you have to self-publish every story. But you should either submit or publish every story. Don’t prejudge the editor’s taste at Asimov’s or Ellery Queen or wherever. You wrote the story. Send it to them and let them judge for themselves. You won’t ruin your chances for future success even with that one editor.

Magazine editors receive hundreds or thousands of submissions each month. They often don’t remember the names of the authors from whom they buy manuscripts, much less the names of those in the Reject pile.

Editors usually read a story only until they believe they know how it will end. At that point, they set it on the Reject pile and go to the next story. Your first goal is to make an editor read to the end of your story. (The best way to do that is not polish your original voice off of it.) Your second goal is to have your story be just enough better (in the editor’s estimation) to beat out another story they read all the way to the end.

And the only way to achieve those two goals is to write a story, send it off (or publish it) and write the next story. Instead of hovering over one story rewriting and polishing, write it to the best of your ability the first time through, then submit or publish it and move on to the next story.

I also recommend having one technique in mind—for example, pacing or dialogue or depth of description, etc.—in mind as you begin each story. That’s how you improve. Practice and learning, learning and practice.

All of that being said, the rule I have the most trouble with is Rule 4. I fall off that one regularly because I’d rather be writing than designing covers and jumping through the hoops to put the stories and novels up. At the moment, I have 7 or 8 unpublished novels and probably a dozen or so unpublished short stories. I’ll publish them when the writing calms down for awhile.

As a side note, I personally believe Rule 4 was to help writers overcome the fear of failure that keeps them from publishing their work and causes so many manuscripts to be tucked away into drawers (or dropped into Stephen King’s trash can). If you don’t publish it, nobody can read and reject it. Especially beginning writers never seem to understand if you don’t publish it, nobody can read and enjoy it either.

Running a little long, so enough for today. More tomorrow. Stay tuned. There are two more posts coming, each around 1000 words.

It’s no secret that David Farland and I do not always see eye to eye. However, he’s an excellent storyteller and a very successful professional writer. And every writer is different. So what he offers might well work for others.

From David Farland, “Writers and storycrafters: DON’T miss this bundle!” at An over $5,000.00 value for only $49 this week only. I encourage you to at least check it out.

Just please remember that you have to apply what you learn if you want it to work for you.

For an update on The Journey Home: Part 8, see the numbers below. Still rolling.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Qualified Immunity: A Get Out of Jail Free Card for Police?” at

See “A Lot of Research Still Might Not Be Enough” at

See “Foundry Lawsuit” at See PG’s take on literary agents.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1360 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 8 (novel)

Day 1…… 4891 words. Total words to date…… 4891
Day 2…… 4495 words. Total words to date…… 9386
Day 3…… 4515 words. Total words to date…… 13901
Day 4…… 4078 words. Total words to date…… 17979
Day 5…… 4464 words. Total words to date…… 22443
Day 6…… 4040 words. Total words to date…… 26483
Day 7…… 3078 words. Total words to date…… 29561

Total fiction words for March……… 33788
Total fiction words for the year………… 232796
Total nonfiction words for March… 7820
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 53850
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 286646

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 58
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates it both regularly and publicly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Post 3 in the Heinlein’s Rules Series”

  1. I’m currently in the scheduling phase of rule #4 and I’m both excited and terrified. I’ve gotten a few.horrible reviews over the years and those can drag on a person’s soul. But, I’ve also gotten many more incredible reviews from readers that loved the work.

    I need to follow Dean’s advice and not read reviews and keep my head clear 🙂

    Loving this series. Thank you for posting.

    • Thanks for the comment, JR. Yup, that’s exactly why I don’t read reviews, and on that rare occasion when I receive an email directly from a reader, I force myself to remember that good or bad, that’s only one opinion. What Dean says on the topic is true: bad reviews can make you feel defeated, and good reviews can make you fear you won’t be able to live up to the review in your next work. Better to just not worry about it. (grin)

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