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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Business plan

The Rules of Business

 I receive a daily success "tip of the day" from Dayna Steele.  I first heard her speak at last year's Lions Leadership Forum, and I was impressed by how down to earth and sensible her advice was. Sometimes the tips she offers are only applicable to certain kinds of businesses, but more often they have to do with how we deal with other people in all sorts of circumstances. And frequently, the tips carry an important message for writers. Here's an example from today's message.  She passed along "Eleven Rules of Business" and encouraged her readers to share them:

  1. Always let people know what you want or need; they can’t read minds.
  2. Failure is not the end; it’s a learning opportunity.
  3. Read everything you can get your hands on.
  4. Have a mentor.
  5. Google yourself or your product / company on a regular basis.
  6. Be able to say what you do in one compelling sentence.
  7. Return emails and calls promptly even if it’s just to say you are busy and will get back at a later date.
  8. Send handwritten thank you notes.
  9. You can’t spend it if you’re dead; take care of yourself.
  10. Give leads to others without expecting something in return.
  11. Whatever you do, do it because you love it, not for the money. The money will follow…

I'm going to keep these posted somewhere that I can see on a regular basis.  Wouldn't it be a nicer -- and happier -- world if more businesses followed them?

Second Thoughts on Pre-Publication


Here's the second step in the diagram I published last week.  Once again, I see some problems. Let's start with "Design Book Cover." By all means, start to think about your cover early.  Readers are confronted with millions of choices when they look for a book, and your cover needs to be able to catch their attention quickly. 

Try walking into a bookstore with no real purpose in mind.  Just stroll around and notice which books catch your eye.  Which ones fairly jump off the display table to say, "Hey!" and which ones make you curious once you have taken a closer look?  Many factors go into book cover design, and unless  you already have artistic ability or design experience, you may not immediately understand why some covers are better than others.  Look at how many different elements appear in your favorite covers. Is there just one image or many?  Are the colors a hint about the content? Does the cover image wrap around the book from front to back?  Do you like cutouts? embossing? glitter?

When you've found a few designs you like, try walking away from them and looking back at a distance.  While seeing your book prominently displayed on a bookstore table is the ideal, how will prospective readers actually encounter it?  Will it stand out from others of the same type? Will nothing but the spine show on a shelf? Will buyers go online and see only a thumbnail version?  And if so, are the elements on the cover big enough to be visible in a thumbnail?  All of these are issues you should understand before the actual design process begins.

But design it at this stage?  Not so fast!   Are you experienced enough to do your own design?  I know I wasn't.  I had an idea of what I wanted to show on the cover, but it took a professional to do the actual positioning, the trim sizing, and the font selection. Depending on what company you choose to handle the production of your books, you may need to pay for their design services or hire a designer to prepare to cover copy for  you. Don't scrimp here.  A poorly designed cover can lose a prospective sale in just a few seconds.  At least wait until you have production details set before you make a final decision on the cover.

Now, a brief word on copyright.  Authors NEVER need to pay for (or even register) their copyrights.  They come automatically when you write anything.  So don't let anyone charge you for that copyright.  Just make sure your manuscript has that all-important symbol: Copyright ©Your Name and Year of Publication. It goes on the second page, the reverse of your title.  That's it.  That's all you ever have to do. You may, however, want to look into obtaining a Library of Congress cataloging number, but your production company should take care of that for you.

That leaves two other optional tasks in this category, but I don't understand why you should even consider NOT buying your own ISBN numbers and forming  your own business.  Here's why you need to do both.

1. A production company will offer you a free ISBN number, but its numbers will clearly identify that company as the publisher and may even limit  your rights to do other things with the book at a later date.  You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker for a fee of $125.00 or so.  Or you can buy a set of 10 numbers for twice that.  The numbers never expire, so if  you plan to write more than one book, or publish in more than one format, get your own set of 10 in the beginning.

2. Forming  your own publishing company will make you feel important and make you rich!  (Well, maybe not the rich part, but it is an ego boost.) More important, if you don't have your own company imprint, like mine, Katzenhaus Books, your books will carry the name of the production company you choose.  Not a good idea, especially when most readers do not understand the difference between a print on demand company and a vanity press. Starting your own business is as easy as just doing it.  You don't even have to file papers on it formally until it is making a profit of several thousand dollars.  And in the meantime, while  you are waiting for your book sales to make you rich, you can at least take your expenses off of your income tax if you are the sole proprietor of a small business.  What's not to love?

So there you have it.  For pre-publication, start looking at book covers with a critical eye, name your company, and buy some ISBNs.  You're in business.

Creating Your Publishing Business



It’s one thing to decide you’ll self-publish your new book. It’s quite another to take all the steps necessary to become a publisher. Here’s the point you must understand: publishing a book starts long before the book is written. Publishing is a business, not an afterthought. So establishing a business was my first step.

A business needs a definition and a name. I started with the name, something I could use as a publishing imprint on my books. I didn’t want anything that would identify me too closely—not my name or a street address, nothing too cutesy, but something that would lend itself to a neat little logo. After coming up with several ideas, only to discover by way of a Google search that the name was already being used, I looked around the room where I was sitting and realized that all four of my cats were there keeping me company. My first thought was, “This is like living in a cat house.” Then, realizing the unfortunate connotations of that word, I switched to German, coming up with Katzenhaus Books and a simple black cat silhouette as a logo.

Next I asked myself what I wanted this business to do. The answer was fairly straightforward. Katzenhaus Books would produce, publish, promote, and sell one or more books of original historical fiction. It would remain flexible enough to expand into other book types. Perhaps eventually it would be able to offer similar services or advice to other writers who were seeking independent publishing choices.
 
Any business needs capital and a financial plan. During my academic career, I had relied on research grants to support the writing process, a publishing contract to pay production costs, and a publisher to bear the burdens of advertising and distribution. All I had to do was write. Now, all those expenses came back to me. I started my financial analysis by comparing several years of our living expenses against our income to discover how much discretionary income I had to play with. After deciding how much I could afford to risk on this venture, I did some research on self- publishing companies to estimate the total cost of a typical book. What I discovered was a wide range of offers, depending on how much help I was going to need.

UPDATE: To get an idea of what the various publishing services cost, check out this chart from Bibliocrunch. You'll see that they can easily run into thousands of dollars, but in terms of the resulting quality of your book, the investment can be extremely important.

The next step involved an honest examination of my own knowledge and abilities. I had easy access to most of the research materials I would be using, so I would not need to do a whole lot of initial travel. I’m a professional historian, a pretty good writer, and an experienced copy editor. Writing was not going to be a problem. Advertising and distribution remained question marks, but I had some experience in doing book signings and conference presentations. I was also an experienced webmaster. When it comes to book design, on the other hand, I’m pretty much out of my element. While I might have an idea or two about how I wanted a particular book to look, I was going to need someone to do the actual cover and interior layout. It appeared that I could afford to pay for some contracted design services and handle production costs out of the nest egg I had identified. Then I worked on establishing a book price that would make it possible to re-coup my expenditures.

My private resolve was to produce the book I was eager to write within the next two years. Then I needed to sell enough copies first to restore the savings account and then to accumulate enough of a cushion to finance any future book. I gave myself an estimated eighteen months to two years to accomplish that. If, at the end of four years, I had not made a profit, I would retire from the publishing business and take up knitting or crossword puzzles.

That left only two more things to be taken care of.  The first was easy.  On my next federal income tax form, I simply declared myself a "Sole Proprietor" business.  The form does no require "proof" of any kind beyond a few simple questions about the year you started the business, its name and category, and contact information.  That's it.  You've become a business owner.

Next I checked with my county clerk's office to see if I needed a business license.  I'm not offering legal advice, here, because your state may have different laws. I learned that I did not need a business license in Tennessee so long as I did not have sales that amounted to more than $3000.00. The amount does not  not include royalties, because you do not owe a sales tax on books that someone else sells. I did pay a $15.00 fee to register my business, but that was the extent of my responsibility.

Creating a business is really easy.  Don't fail to do so.

Portions of the above blog have been  taken from my book, "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing," available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, and Smashwords.com.

Three Good Reasons To Think of Writing As a Business

We're going to be talking about business matters for the next several days.  My comments will be addressed primarily to those who are indie writers, but even if you have a traditional publisher, you must start thinking in business terms.  Here's why.

Legal Credibility:
  • If you think of your writing as a business, you are less likely to find yourself involved in legal technicalities. You'll be dealing with contracts all along the way, whether with a traditional publisher or with separate individuals who offer publishing services for hire.  "New Press" seems more trustworthy and more likely to pay its bills than "Susie Newwriter." 
  • If you use one of the book production firms, they will offer you the option of listing your company as the publisher of record.  if you don't have one, they'll add their own imprint, and all too many people see a book published  by "CreateSpace"  or "Lightning Source" as a mark of inferiority.
  • Letting the printer put their own imprint on your book could cause copyright problems and control issues  down the road.
  • And if your book turns out to be a bestseller, someone may want to turn it into a film. In that case, you may find yourself in need of legal standing in order to negotiate your rights.

Financial Benefits:
  • Businesses are able to claim all sorts of deductions for their expenses.  If you have not formally declared yourself a business, writing is just your hobby, from which you happen to draw a little income.  And hobby expenses are not deductible.  We'll look at the details of deductions later in the week.
  • Further, if your hobby proves makes a little money, you may be required to pay a self-employment tax on the income, and that tax rate is extremely high.  Without legitimate deductions to balance the income, your "hobby" may well cost you much more than it brings in.
  • Businesses can also purchase their own ISBN numbers for their books, and business ISBNs are about five times cheaper than the one you get by allowing a book production company to provide one. 
  • In addition, an ISBN number identifies your publisher to people like bookstore owners, which brings us back again to the issue of legal credibility.
  • Advertising a book with a publishing imprint is more acceptable and more successful than just pleading with your friends to buy your book.

Motivational Advantages:
  • If you allow yourself and those around you to think of your writing as just "something you do in your spare time," it's going to take a back seat to everything else in your life. If it's your business, you are much more likely to devote regular hours to doing it.
  • Keeping careful business records of your income and expenses provides you with daily motivation to keep the bottom line in the black.
  • The very idea that you have a real business will encourage you to do other business-like things, such as creating a logo and branding yourself on social media sites.
  • Almost by definition, a publisher puts out more than one book.  If you think of yourself as a publishing company, you are much more likely to continue to write and put out other books.

Just this past weekend I ran into a couple of writers who seem to be destined to become one-book authors because they have failed to make this transition to a business model. One kept denying that he ever intended to make any money with his book; he just wanted someone to read it. Without any other goal, he's not headed anywhere.  The other protested that she had no time to write because she was promoting her first book. That's rather like a factory owner locking the door to the factory in order to concentrate on selling the first production run.  What happens down the road?  Nothing!


 

The "Business" of Writing. Seven Questions Every Writer Needs To Answer.

We started working on income taxes this past weekend, and the process reminded me that it’s time to talk a bit more about the business of writing.  Do you consider your writing a business? Should you?  What difference does it make?  Let’s start by having you answer a few questions –honestly, mind you, not what you think polite society expects you to say.  Then we’ll look at what your answers say about you as a writer.
 
Here are your questions.  Remember, I don’t want to see the answers, and no one else will see them, either.  This is just you, the writer, talking to your honest self.
 
1.  What kind of writing are you doing right now?
·      A secret diary or journal that no one else will ever see.
·      Absent-minded ramblings, in the hope that one of them will send you off chasing a new idea.
·      Little vignettes that could become short stories.
·      A recipe collection or family stories or local touristy notes.
·      A “How-To” book.
·      A scholarly study of an important topic.
·      The Great American Novel.
 
2.  Why are you writing?
·      Because I can’t help it.
·      Because I have something to say that no one else has said.
·      Because I am trying to sort out my own feelings about a problem or issue.
·      Because I want to save other people from making the same mistakes I did.
·      Because I have a skill that I want to share.
·      Because I love telling stories.
 
3.  If you could choose your audience, who would your readers be?
·      No one.  This is private.
·      Only my family and closest friends
·      A local audience of people who are interested in the same subject.
·      People who think like me.
·      People who need my help and advice.
·      Everyone.
 
4.  If your writing became a book, what format do you think it would take take?
·      Just a copy of my dog-eared manuscript
·      A glossy coffee table book with lots of pictures
·      A professionally-published hardback (case-bound) book
·      A paperback book sized to make it easy to carry around
·      An ebook
·      All of the above
 
5.  What publishing services would you be willing to pay for?
·      Nothing.  I want to do it all myself, because it is my book.
·      Substantive editing, with suggestions on how to improve the content
·      Copy-editing to catch all the spelling and grammatical errors
·      Help with layout and cover design
·      Publicity and marketing assistance
·      Guidance and hand-holding at every step of the way.
 
6.  What is your ultimate goal?
·      The satisfaction of completing the book(or essay, or poem, or collection)
·      A book I can pass on to my friends, my family, and my neighbors.
·      A publishing contract with a well-known publisher
·      A published volume sitting on the shelf of my local library and/or bookstore
·      A review of my book published in the local newspaper
·      Best-seller status on Amazon
·      Making the best-seller list in The New York Times
·      Royalty checks coming in every month
 
7.  What would you be willing to do to help sell your book?
·      Increase your presence in social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
·      Write a blog several times a week to try to attract readers
·      Join a writing group
·      Send out press releases about your activities as a writer
·      Go on a book tour, stopping in bookstores across the country to sell and sign your book (at your own expense).
·      Volunteer to give talks at all sorts of civic organizations, libraries, and schools
·      Pay for reviews
·      Give your books away in hopes of increasing readership