Skip to content

Business Lessons from Award-Winning Author Dave Farland

Business Lessons from Award-Winning Author Dave Farland

On January 14, 2022, I lost a friend and mentor, John David Wolverton, better known as Dave Farland, writer of the acclaimed Runelords series and a long-time judge of the Writers of the Future contest, among so many other things. And it was hard to find the words. Funny when I am a writer talking about another writer, isn’t it? Dave was not only a giant in the field of writing who inspired and mentored thousands (without really exaggerating) of writers but also one of the kindest and gentlest souls I have ever encountered. Dave understood writing was a business and made sure to impart that wisdom and his love of the craft to everyone who crossed his path. Dave was one of the founders of Superstars Writing Seminar, https://superstarswriting.com/  , which is happening this week without him. So, I guess it is not a surprise Dave is on my mind. 

I learned a lot about business from Dave and his writing classes. Dave was a consummate storyteller. One of my favorite stories of his was how he chose his pen name. As a business lawyer, it is also one of my favorite lessons in business branding. 

Back in the old days, when it was easy to walk into a bookstore and pursue the shelves, Dave received a review along the lines that his books were well worth looking down to the bottom shelf for. In an alphabetical system that “W” in his last name put him on the very last shelf or close to it for the genre. Rather than get discouraged by the realization that readers might not find his books because they stopped browsing for something to read much earlier on the shelf, he did market research. 

What last names were at the tops of the bookshelves? Yes. “A” was obvious, but then he was competing with some fairly well-entrenched favorites in the Sci-Fi/ Fantasy genre (“Asimov,” for example). There was lots of competition on that “A” shelf. So, what other letters rose to the top shelf? After surveying a bunch of bookstores, he had a list. Then he started trying to figure out what names might work with those letters. Isn’t “Farland” an amazing name for a fantasy novelist? You bet it is. Dave knew it too. Just like the last name “Skywalker” or “Solo” already tells you something about the character, so does “Far Land.” It is a name that promises adventures in brave new worlds. And that is something Dave delivered time and again.  

Just like adopting a new name, Dave was not afraid to adapt to the market (even when he thought the experiment might go terribly wrong). My second favorite business lesson learned from Dave was “be adaptable” and do not prejudge a new method of doing business. At the dawn of self-publishing, there were very spirited debates during several Superstars Writing Seminars about the pros and cons of “indie publishing.” Dave had a historical novel that was a passion project that he was sure a traditional publisher would not take the risk on. He said he would self-publish the novel at one conference and report at the next one about all the mistakes and pitfalls so we would not fall into the same traps. He did not expect that novel to be a “success,” but it was something he was called to do. 

The book was In the Company of Angels, which won the 2009 Whitney Award for best novel of the year and was a finalist in the best historical novel category. He also received an outstanding achievement award at the 2009 Whitneys. He cheerfully conceded that there might be “something” to this self-publishing thing. Even had In the Company of Angels did not sell a single copy, he would have cheerfully told us what he believed had not worked about the process so we could walk an easier path. Dave was endlessly giving of his time and knowledge. The second lesson was his willingness to adopt an innovative approach to business – to transition from traditional publishing with the large publishing houses to self-publishing – and empirically analyze the pros and cons of the new method to determine if the approach was worth continuing. Do not just adopt a new idea for your business without designing metrics to evaluate if the “shiny” has value. 

The last lesson I learned from Dave and wanted to pass on might just be my favorite. Dave joined forces with some of the superstars (hence the name) of the Sci-Fi /Fantasy genre Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and Brandon Sanderson, and asked, “what would we have wanted to know about the business of writing when we were just starting out?” After many discussions, in 2010, the Superstars Writing Seminar was born. Though it is changed over the years, and other writing events and conferences have added some business content, SSWS is still an intense three-day business conference for writers and creatives to give them the skills they need to understand all the non-creative parts of the career they have chosen. Many of us go back year after year for the content and the camaraderie. 

What was the last lesson? Share what you have learned with others that are not where you are in business, Yet. They are not your competition. They are your collaborators and colleagues. If you are lucky, they become your mentors and friends. 

The life of a science fiction and fantasy writer has a surprising amount to do with being a business lawyer. While I cannot quite say that everything, I know about business I learned from Dave Wolverton, I learned an amazing amount. 

Your ideal client is not buying — can they find you as a business lawyer? Is there a problem with your name? Are they stopping their scroll too early? 

Are you not adopting a modern technology because of a preconceived notion that it will not work for you? It might be worth a test run where a failure is an option? That test run might just surprise you. Be willing to adapt and accept that your initial assessment was wrong. Adopt a strategy based on data and not assumptions. 
Are you sharing your time and knowledge with other business owners? In the end, the impact Dave made on this world because he shared his time, knowledge, and infectious smile with other writers will be his enduring legacy. I hope the fact that I have shared my time, knowledge, and hopefully, infectious smile with other writers and women business owners will be mine. Shouldn’t it be yours too?
If you want to learn more of Dave’s writing tips (and yes, there are business tips too), you can find them at https://mystorydoctor.com/pi-the-writers-bundle/?fbclid=IwAR1i9O-41NgTh5jMaYUEYbkFB6Wba79Rga3qBZPjvfy_-Pbg3f7YvvZWnc0. 

On January 14, 2022, I lost a friend and mentor, John David Wolverton, better known as Dave Farland, writer of the acclaimed Runelords series and a long-time judge of the Writers of the Future contest, among so many other things. And it was hard to find the words. Funny when I am a writer talking about another writer, isn’t it? Dave was not only a giant in the field of writing who inspired and mentored thousands (without really exaggerating) of writers but also one of the kindest and gentlest souls I have ever encountered. Dave understood writing was a business and made sure to impart that wisdom and his love of the craft to everyone who crossed his path. Dave was one of the founders of Superstars Writing Seminar, which is happening this week without him. So, I guess it is not a surprise Dave is on my mind. 

I learned a lot about business from Dave and his writing classes. Dave was a consummate storyteller. One of my favorite stories of his was how he chose his pen name. As a business lawyer, it is also one of my favorite lessons in business branding. 

Back in the old days, when it was easy to walk into a bookstore and pursue the shelves, Dave received a review along the lines that his books were well worth looking down to the bottom shelf for. In an alphabetical system that “W” in his last name put him on the very last shelf or close to it for the genre. Rather than get discouraged by the realization that readers might not find his books because they stopped browsing for something to read much earlier on the shelf, he did market research. 

Back in the old days, when it was easy to walk into a bookstore and pursue the shelves, Dave received a review along the lines that his books were well worth looking down to the bottom shelf for. In an alphabetical system that “W” in his last name put him on the very last shelf or close to it for the genre. Rather than get discouraged by the realization that readers might not find his books because they stopped browsing for something to read much earlier on the shelf, he did market research. 

What last names were at the tops of the bookshelves? Yes. “A” was obvious, but then he was competing with some fairly well-entrenched favorites in the Sci-Fi/ Fantasy genre (“Asimov,” for example). There was lots of competition on that “A” shelf. So, what other letters rose to the top shelf? After surveying a bunch of bookstores, he had a list. Then he started trying to figure out what names might work with those letters. Isn’t “Farland” an amazing name for a fantasy novelist? You bet it is. Dave knew it too. Just like the last name “Skywalker” or “Solo” already tells you something about the character, so does “Far Land.” It is a name that promises adventures in brave new worlds. And that is something Dave delivered time and again.  

Just like adopting a new name, Dave was not afraid to adapt to the market (even when he thought the experiment might go terribly wrong). My second favorite business lesson learned from Dave was “be adaptable” and do not prejudge a new method of doing business. At the dawn of self-publishing, there were very spirited debates during several Superstars Writing Seminars about the pros and cons of “indie publishing.” Dave had a historical novel that was a passion project that he was sure a traditional publisher would not take the risk on. He said he would self-publish the novel at one conference and report at the next one about all the mistakes and pitfalls so we would not fall into the same traps. He did not expect that novel to be a “success,” but it was something he was called to do. 

The book was In the Company of Angels, which won the 2009 Whitney Award for best novel of the year and was a finalist in the best historical novel category. He also received an outstanding achievement award at the 2009 Whitneys. He cheerfully conceded that there might be “something” to this self-publishing thing. Even had In the Company of Angels did not sell a single copy, he would have cheerfully told us what he believed had not worked about the process so we could walk an easier path. Dave was endlessly giving of his time and knowledge. The second lesson was his willingness to adopt an innovative approach to business – to transition from traditional publishing with the large publishing houses to self-publishing – and empirically analyze the pros and cons of the new method to determine if the approach was worth continuing. Do not just adopt a new idea for your business without designing metrics to evaluate if the “shiny” has value. 

The last lesson I learned from Dave and wanted to pass on might just be my favorite. Dave joined forces with some of the superstars (hence the name) of the Sci-Fi /Fantasy genre Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and Brandon Sanderson, and asked, “what would we have wanted to know about the business of writing when we were just starting out?” After many discussions, in 2010, the Superstars Writing Seminar was born. Though it is changed over the years, and other writing events and conferences have added some business content, SSWS is still an intense three-day business conference for writers and creatives to give them the skills they need to understand all the non-creative parts of the career they have chosen. Many of us go back year after year for the content and the camaraderie. 

What was the last lesson? Share what you have learned with others that are not where you are in business, Yet. They are not your competition. They are your collaborators and colleagues. If you are lucky, they become your mentors and friends. 

Interested in our services?

If you would like assistance with this or any other compliance matter, please contact Nancy at N D Greene PC by clicking on schedule an appointment.

SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT

The life of a science fiction and fantasy writer has a surprising amount to do with being a business lawyer. While I cannot quite say that everything, I know about business I learned from Dave Wolverton, I learned an amazing amount. 

Your ideal client is not buying — can they find you as a business lawyer? Is there a problem with your name? Are they stopping their scroll too early? 

Are you not adopting a modern technology because of a preconceived notion that it will not work for you? It might be worth a test run where a failure is an option? That test run might just surprise you. Be willing to adapt and accept that your initial assessment was wrong. Adopt a strategy based on data and not assumptions.
 Are you sharing your time and knowledge with other business owners? In the end, the impact Dave made on this world because he shared his time, knowledge, and infectious smile with other writers will be his enduring legacy. I hope the fact that I have shared my time, knowledge, and hopefully, infectious smile with other writers and women business owners will be mine. Shouldn’t it be yours too?

If you want to learn more of Dave’s writing tips (and yes, there are business tips too), you can find them at https://mystorydoctor.com/pi-the-writers-bundle/