It is amazing what a change of scenery will do for the imagination. Every year, after tax season, I try to get away for a couple of days to write. It is a little present I give myself after four months of non-stop tax-related work. Writing is work as well but it is a different kind. I am fortunate that I love both my jobs but anticipating that mini vacation helps get me to April 30.
Since I spend much of my time in the hotel room pounding away on my laptop, the rooms have to be clean, with a desk and chair plus enough space that I don't mind being there for hours at a time. A refrigerator and coffee maker are also required as I don't leave my room until I've put in at least five hours so breakfast is usually some yogurt and tea while I keep typing. Add a pleasant view and I am in writing heaven.
This year, I went to a new place that came highly recommended by a coworker. She did not steer me wrong. All the requirements were met. I had no trouble getting my work done. In the afternoons, I took a long walk before returning to my room to write some more.
This short trip is my way of recharging my batteries and getting a jump start on my current writing project. My point is this - writers need inspiration. We also need "our" time when we can devote ourselves to our craft and concentrate only on it. That can be hard to come by but it is the reason for artists' retreats and camps.
If you have the opportunity to get away, even for just a day or two, I encourage you to take it. Don't feel guilty about doing it. I suspect you've earned it. If you can't leave town, try a local park or forest preserve. Go to a library in a different town. The idea is to change the scenery, give your mind a rest, and open your imagination so you can be more productive.
If you're like me, you have a few unpublished books and stories lying around. Perhaps they are from your formative years or possibly they originated out of a life event that, once passed, no longer required you to write about it. No matter the source or age of your personal slush pile, e-publishing may be a way to put it to work for you while providing material for your fans.
Every now and then, I get an idea for a story that I draft but don't finish for one reason or another. With the advent of e-publishing, those writings have a purpose so I polish, edit and publish. There are a number of shorts on my computer that beg for my attention. When I need a break from the next novel, I find working on them rewarding and an excellent way to polish my craft.
It takes a while to write a novel. In the span of time between one Kyle Shannon mystery and the next, my fans are usually pushing me to publishing something. In this age of instant gratification, readers are unaccustomed to waiting a year for a new book from their favorites. Lawrence Block once said that a full-time writer needs 18 months to produce a solid mystery. Those of writing part time need at least 2 years. I stretched that interval to the limit while I worked on Dollars & Sense. Five years elapsed between Horse Power and Help Wanted. It was hard on my fans and I appreciate their sticking with me.
Short pieces are a way to stay in touch with readers and keep the creative juices flowing. Plus, as my CPA reminds me, well-managed businesses move out the old inventory to make room for the new.
Use tax. Have you heard of it? It's the tax you are supposed to pay when you buy something for which you were not charged sales tax. Like all those books and DVDs you got at Amazon. Think that was tax-free? Think again. Amazon may not have charged you sales tax but if you live in any one of 45 states, you are obligated to pay it.
How many people have you heard say they buy things on Amazon to avoid paying sales tax? We all saw it happen during the holidays. Shoppers went into a retail store, found what they wanted, and then ordered it online to avoid the sales tax. In some cases, that amounted to a ten-percent savings. It is that attitude that created the Marketplace Fairness Act. Learn more about the Act here.
The Senate finally dealt with the sales tax issue yesterday and, regardless of what some might say, an Internet sales tax is not a new tax. It is a different way of collecting the use tax we all should have been paying anyway. (Read about it here and here.) The bill may not pass the House now but it will eventually. Shop owners are voters so the House can avoid the issue only so long before there are repercussions for not passing the bill, particularly when more than half the governors and many big businesses like Amazon and Best Buy support it.
The Marketplace Fairness Act, as currently written, exempts businesses with less than $1,000,000 in revenue. That certainly includes me (although I hope the day comes when I will have to worry about this.) It probably excludes you too. The point is that our laws need to catch up to our technology. The Marketplace Fairness Act is an attempt to make that happen. Hopefully our government will soon address other areas where our laws and our technology don't play well together.
By now, most readers and writers have heard the news. Amazon bought Goodreads. The Internet was alive with commentary. I add mine now.
First things first. This is a business deal. The owner of Goodreads sold it and made a bundle. Good for him. He will have the funds to start another company or to retire in comfort. He literally can do whatever he pleases. Second, this was a preemptive strike by Amazon. Goodreads indicated that it intended to sell books and Amazon wasn't about to allow another competitor into the arena. Finally, Goodreads reviews were linked to rival e-readers like Sony, Google, and Kobo. As they are not colored by the questionable veracity of an Amazon review, they could be seen to have more influence over potential book buyers. That could steer readers away from Kindle versions.
Savvy move on Amazon's part - blocking multiple competitors with one big transaction. Good for it.
It really doesn't matter what you saw in the press about changes planned for Goodreads because Amazon doesn't own it yet. When the ink dries on the contract in a few months, it's a safe bet that things will change. Just ask anyone who works for Zappos.com. The minute Amazon took over, things altered dramatically. So it is with every merger and so it will be with Goodreads.
At Love is Murder in February, an Internet publishing expert talked about the relationship between Kobo and Goodreads. How quickly things change. We don't know exactly how Goodreads will function by this time next year. All we know for sure is that it will be different from what we see today.
As business people, we will deal with this change just as we've had to deal with the advent of Internet publishing and the rise of social media. Managing change is part of managing a business. We don't have to like it but we do have to deal with it. So it is with the Goodreads sale to Amazon.
Have you heard the news? A law firm is seeking individuals who have dealt unhappily with Author Solutions, the giant supported self-publishing house that includes iUniverse, Author House, and Xlibris imprints, among others. (Read about it here.)
I began my career with iUniverse. Supported self-publishing was the best publishing option for me at the time and I never regretted my decision. It charged a reasonable price to format, print, and distribute my first book, Greased Wheels. I was generally happy with the service I received for it and my second title, Defective Goods. By the time Horse Power was released in 2006, the company had changed significantly. Publishing packages were more complex and significantly more expensive. Then the news came out that iUniverse had been purchased by Author House and I had to make a change.
The company that developed subsequently is entirely different from its original format. Its focus is on up-selling services and add-ons. It is no longer interested in selling books. It doesn't care if its authors sell one copy or one thousand. The money is not in books. Their profit is in the extras. Any restaurant will tell you the money makers are the appetizers and desserts so I don't have a problem with the idea of add-ons per se. It is how they are represented and the methods used to sell them that bothers me and forced me to leave a company I once liked very much.
One lesson from this is that things change and we writer/business owners have to be prepared for that. Another is that there are no free lunches. Everything comes at a price. Author Solutions is in business to make money. It is up to writers to beware of fine print in contracts. We must watch for words such as maybe, perhaps, and possibly in the advertising from Author Solutions and others like it.
Author Solutions is one reason I included an entire chapter about analyzing contracts in Dollars and Sense for Writers. Buying publishing services is like buying anything else for our business and the company is just another potential vendor. We must do our homework before we make a purchase.
So you want to self-publish. Are you sure? Have you considered all that is involved? Let's be honest. It is not for everyone.
Chapter One of Dollars and Sense for Writers asks a number of questions and includes several checklists designed to help writers analyze key issues in managing a writing business. The intent of the chapter is to aid writers in determining whether or not they should self-publish. It is not for everyone and I am not the only one to encourage writers to be realistic about what is required. Dave Bricker, for example, recently addressed this subject on his blog. (Read it here.)
There is more to self-publishing than writing the story or book. As difficult as that may be, that is only half the job for the self-published writer. The publisher/author must market well enough to sell the product. He or she must also understand basic bookkeeping so income and expenses can be tracked. Results should be analyzed.
Brinker encourages writers to understand what it will cost to self-publish. Even using a free digital service like Smashwords does not mean the work didn't cost anything at all. What about your time? Think you can be successful with just digital versions of your work? Perhaps, but only about 40% of readers own e-readers or tablets like iPad, Kindle or Nook. If you do not offer a print option, you miss out on 60% of the market.
As any self-published author who wants to earn a living from the effort
will tell you, establishing a writing business is every bit as difficult as starting any other business. It can take countless late nights and
years of effort. Brinker and I have a lot in common. We want fellow writers to be successful. We also want them to know what they're in for.
We writers are often reminded to use all five senses when we describe something. The master of this is surely James Lee Burke. Whenever I read his work, I perspire in the Louisiana heat and my nose wrinkles as I read about the odor of the oil that pollutes the coast.
Most of us make great use of sight; we dig up plenty of adjectives to tell our readers how things look. Sometimes we add sounds and even have our characters touch things, but mostly, it's how they appear. Recently I read an article in a business magazine that made me realize we should take it a step further. How is the character positioned physically?
A key ingredient to writing about how characters look is that character's body language. Does a suspect cross her arms across her chest while being questioned by the police? Does her boyfriend lean lazily against a door jam while observing the scene?
The next time you have a confrontation with someone, make note of how he or she holds themselves. Look inward as well. How you are standing? Are you leaning forward? Where are your arms? Is your head cocked to one side? Observe your stance when you see or hear something pleasant or when you are near a loved one.
How we position ourselves physically can say things that mere words cannot express. Non-verbal clues play an important part in our lives. As writers, we can get a lot of mileage from body language. Now if I could just remember to make better use of it myself.
One of the things you may be asked to do as a writer is make public appearances. Many writers are solitary types (that is why you are happy being a writer) and the idea of speaking to a group of people fills you with dread. You may think you don't need to make appearances; that you can do all your marketing via the Internet. Up to a point, that is true. However nothing sells like fans who have met their favorite author. Plus, it can be thrilling to talk to people who appreciate your efforts. It is a great way to keep you motivated.
If you're not sure how to prepare for an appearance, let me offer the following suggestions:
1. If you've been invited to speak, consider it a great compliment. There are many writers who never receive an invitation.
2. Ascertain the kind of event it will be and what is expected of you. Is it an author fest where you make a brief statement and then greet fans at a booth or table? Is it a club where you will be the featured speaker? Will you talk or teach?
3. Prepare. First, write down your remarks or your speech. Make sure you cover the expectations of the group that extended the invitation. Second, anticipate the questions you will be asked and think about the answers you will give.
4. Arrive early to familiarize yourself with the room and to meet the host of the event.
5. Try to relax. The people who come to learn more about you and your work expect to like you. These are potential fans and customers. You may even find a new friend and kindred spirit.
Since my first book was published ten years ago, I have made many appearances, making new friends and recharging my creative batteries as a result. Most of all, I came to enjoy it immensely. I hope you do too.
Many writers still harbor dreams of getting a huge advance, making it to the New York Times bestseller list, and being on the shelves in bookstores. A recent blog post (read it in its entirety here) provides a detailed look into that most elusive of publisher's tools, the advance. If you're like me, you understand that celebrities get big money because of their name recognition but you've always suspected there is more to it than that. How does a publisher decide what to advance to Linda Mickey?
The Surprising Truth About How Publishers Buy Books is all
about business. A publisher's goal is to make money off whatever book it
releases. Therefore, it must estimate the potential sales and shelf
life of each manuscript under consideration. The blog details that process. So, whether the advance is small or enormous, we can see there is a thought process behind the offer.
In Dollars and Sense for Writers, I devote an entire section to understanding the numbers. In the Business Side of Writing, my workshop about the business aspect of writing, I stress the math in the publishing industry because it is important for writers to comprehend how the advance is paid, how it works with future royalties, and how much a writer can expect to earn.
We writers are creating a product for sale. We must consider whether or not someone will pay money for that product. Simply stated, would we pay as much as $30 for our work? It's a good question - one that an agent or publisher will be asking as they consider our manuscripts.
Credits, debits, general ledgers, journal entries, income taxes, excise taxes, sales tax.
Do these words make you break out in a cold sweat? Do you worry that a bookkeeping error will earn you a tax audit? Do you feel a lack of accounting knowledge is hurting your writing business? If so, I sympathize. It's hard enough to practice our craft without having to worry about whether or not our numbers add up correctly.
Much as we would like to, we can't ignore those numbers. They are a measure of our business' financial health just like the numbers on a thermometer are indicators of physical well being. Consequently it is important that those numbers be as accurate as we can make them. That is one reason why I strongly encourage writers to use some kind of software to track income and expenses. You may already own spreadsheet software that will do all you need.
I overhear a lot of advice given to the small business owner clients at the firm for which I work. The partners always encourage
the use of bookkeeping or money management software and they push
clients to do the data entry themselves. It is easier to understand what
is coming in and what is going out if the business owner does the input herself.
Getting the numbers into software is only part of the process. We business owners must understand the numbers once they are input. There are ways to learn more without getting a degree in accounting. Basic finance and accounting courses are offered for non-financially minded folk by junior colleges, as continuing ed classes at local high schools, in libraries, and by professional training firms such as Fred Pryor Seminars.
It doesn't matter how or where you gain the knowledge so long as you have it. Understanding your financial situation is one way to help you keep your writing business going.