Happy New Year!! I am very excited to be flipping over the calendar – yes, I realize that years and days and dates and time itself are all human constructs, but I choose to give meaning to this time of the year. It’s not like there’s any better time, IMO.
Two years ago, I made the choice to give up the idea of traditional publishing, and just write for my blog readers. Maybe I’d self-publish my serials, but that wasn’t the point. The point was letting go of the pressure to write a certain way, and just have fun with it. Then I self-published, started making a little money, and decided to pursue writing as a career again, this time, a DIY career.
My life is measured in cycles...
This year, I’ve decided to take the pressure off again. It’s a ton of work to run a publishing company, worry about getting other authors’ books out along with your own, promotion, marketing, trying to make a book (or books) visible...it’s a full-time job (and then some). I don’t mind the work. What I mind is working all day at my day job, and then coming home and feeling guilty about sitting and watching TV or playing digital games because someone else needs me to do something for them, or I should be doing something for the business. By the time I get to my writing time, I have nothing left...the well is empty, and I fight for every single word. Not cool.
The day job isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I like the things I have, and my lifestyle. I don’t even mind the job itself most days. And unlike those writers willing to put everything on the line for their art, including relationships and health, I’m not. I won’t ever stop writing, because I love it and I can't *not* do it, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice my creature comforts. If that resigns me to amateur status forever, so be it.
I’m also not willing to dance to a traditional publisher’s tune, or give Amazon exclusive rights to my books. Independent means just that, and I am fiercely so – but that comes with a cost, and especially in the case of Amazon, it seems that cost is visibility and sales. It’s all good though – I’m comfortable with my choice, and I’m willing to pay the price.
So I’m pulling away from marketing and promotion, and much of the business-y stuff I’ve been doing over the past year. I’m going to stop worrying about sales, money, and visibility, and refocus writing – craft, productivity, and just enjoying the process for what it is.
And I’m going to stop feeling guilty for watching TV and playing games in the evening before my workouts. There are plenty of workaholics in the world – I don’t need to be one of them.
This blog won’t be going away (in case past posts help someone), but it will be updated only very occasionally (kind of like it has been for the past few months). To those of you still reaching for that full-time career (and don’t get me wrong – I still want that, just not enough to work myself to death), I wish you much good luck. As for me, I’m bowing out of the race, and returning to writing for fun – though I can assure you I’ll enjoy every dollar I earn...
So the whole self-publishing community is shaken up today about Amazon’s newest announcement, KDP Select. A lot of authors are jumping right on it…basically it’s the option to make your book available to Amazon Prime members for free in their own lending library (this is separate, as far as I know, from the normal “lend this to a friend” feature).
There’s a really huge catch though – and that is that Amazon requires exclusive rights for the time your book is in the program, and the non-compete clause that goes with that. Frankly, I’m surprised so many authors are rushing to sign up – because at the moment (not for much longer, apparently), indie authors *have the power* to nip that power grab in the bud.
I’m also really surprised at how many authors seem to think Amazon does anything specifically to “help” or “be nice to” indie authors. I am 100% positive that Amazon does what it does to make money…nothing else. They don’t want to offer this as a service to indies, they simply need more books in their prime lending library (since traditional publishers aren’t going along as quietly as Amazon would like), and they know that indie authors will do nearly anything for a bit of exposure. So they dangle the three things authors want most – a little cash, a little exposure, and the ability to make your book free for 5 days – knowing that a lot of them aren’t confident enough in their business acumen to fight them on the exclusivity and non-compete terms.
Amazon isn’t out to help indies here. They listened to what indies want (access to the prime lending library, and the ability to make books free), and twisted it to use for their own gain. They aren’t for or against indie authors – they’re for making as much profit as possible, and they’re not above leveraging indies for that purpose.
I am *not* against Amazon…or any other retailer. I spend plenty of money there, and I’m a prime member myself. And I’m not even surprised or angry that they would do this – it’s business, and for them, it’s *good* business…they don’t have to give a lot to make their prime library explode.
I *am* surprised that so many indie authors, who have the power right now to take control and *insist* on better contract terms (because they have the most important thing Amazon needs for the Prime library to succeed – content), are so willing to play along with Amazon and not use the power they have to ensure better contract terms right from the start. If indies refused, by and large, to enroll in this program until the exclusivity and non-compete clauses were stricken, Amazon would have no choice but to either run with a much smaller library of books for Prime borrowers, or to back down on the terms.
Yes, I really think indies have that much power right now. Or they did, until literally thousands of them just jumped right on board and allowed Amazon to dictate the contract.
It’s disappointing, because I think we’ve missed a major opportunity to hang on to leverage of our own. But that’s the thing about being independent…we all get to make our own choices. Unfortunately, I think signing up for this program is a choice that will show Amazon (and other companies) just how much power we’re willing to give away as a whole…and that very well could be a bad thing in the future. Much like authors who blindly signed/sign away too many rights to traditional publishers.
In any case, you won’t see any of my titles or any BSB titles in the Prime lending library. They’re still available to lend to friends after you buy them, and they’ll still be available on Amazon and the other major retail sites, as well as the BSB store, of course. It may cost me in the end, but I wouldn’t sign an exclusivity or non-compete clause with a traditional publisher (or at least if exclusive rights, there would be a lot more money in it for me, but no non-compete clause, for sure), so there’s no way I’d agree to one with Amazon (or any other retailer who wants to try that).
November was an insanely busy month for me and BSB – somehow I ended up with far more projects (only about half of which were actually writing) than I really had time for. I can’t tell you how easy it is to fall into that particular trap, especially when things are already going pretty well, and I tend to think, “hey, what’s one more thing?” Well that, and all these things I’d promised to do for other people just hit at the same time, rather than being nicely spaced out (I’m not complaining – it’s just funny how it always seems to happen that way). In any case, I made it, and without any serious casualties (or I think, anyways), so that’s good. Here’s hoping I didn’t lose too many readers with my spotty serial posting and lack of online visibility, though I undoubtedly had some casualties. Unavoidable, unfortunately. I did what I could to keep up under the circumstances. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
So now that I have perspective and a lot more experience, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make sure I don’t get caught in that particular trap again. And of course this is a good time to be thinking about such things, since this year is ending and a shiny new one is waiting just around the corner. Unlike a lot of people, analyzing and reorganizing my goals is a process I actually really enjoy, so I’m quite excited to sit down and take what I’ve learned this year to apply going forward.
First though, I still have some catch-up/clean-up work to do for the year. There are a few business issues that simply *must* be corrected as soon as possible, because at the moment, they’re only affecting me personally, and I am determined that they will be taken care of before they start affecting the other authors working with me. If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you want all the dirty details of what goes on behind the scenes, so I’m going to be straightforward and share my biggest shortcomings, so that with any luck (and a lot of determination), you won’t make the same mistakes.
1) Contracts - This is something I knew in the back of my mind was a necessary thing to have for the authors publishing with me, but because they’re both good friends, and because I mistakenly thought they could read my mind (that’s a comment on my own shortcoming, *not* theirs), I let it slide. And that (along with a serious lack of sleep on my part) led to a pretty sizable misunderstanding that could easily have ruined a very good working relationship along with a friendship. The misunderstanding would have been completely avoided with a good contract from the start. I now have a basic contract in place to use with authors who do hybrid publishing with me (I’m not talking about Rattles, but hybrid deals that involve royalties rather than flat fee payments), and while it’s not perfect, it’s far, far better than not having things laid out in a clear format right from the start. Before 2012 gets here, I want to refine that contract and make it more comprehensive for the next round of publications – more to make sure we’re all on the same page than anything else. I haven’t hired a lawyer to look it over yet, but I may do just that after I have things as clear as I can make them. Even if you’re just doing it yourself though – don’t underestimate the need for this if you’re going to work with other authors.
2) Bookkeeping – Lord, how I suck at this. I truly just haven’t had time to keep up, but it’s not a “have time” sort of thing – it’s a “must make time” sort of thing, even if it means skipping a writing night. That’s the huge thing with running your own publishing business, even if just for yourself – you either pay a bookkeeper, or you make time. It simply *must* be done, especially when you bring other authors into the mix. I am at this moment nearly eight months (yes, 8) behind on my bookkeeping – tracking sales, expenses, etc. It’s going to take me several days worth of solid work (ie, no writing) to get all that data rounded up and put into Quickbooks so that I can both provide statements on time for the authors who publish with me, and so I can do my taxes next spring. I am *not* behind on any author payments, and that’s not going to ever happen no matter what state my books are in. But the books need to be up to date and I need to have a schedule for keeping them up to date in place before January 1. Period. There’s no point in even going forward with the business if I can’t master this one very important task – poorly kept books can bring an entire business to the ground in the blink of an eye. I will not let that happen.
So those are my two “Achilles heels” at the moment, but I’m not going to let them stop me or bring me down. In my day job, if I don’t know how to make something work, I figure it out. There’s no such thing as “can’t”, just “how long will it take to learn”. The same applies to my pub business – just because I don’t know how to do something “yet”, doesn’t mean I won’t figure it out. And I think that’s the sort of attitude you need to have to be successful.
Now that my fall storm seems to have passed, I’ll be free to pick up this blog again. So more posts coming this month on the business side of things.