Category Archives: business

Frank Talk About Money (and the Immediate Future)

So tax time has come and gone and having looked at what I had left after re-investing in my business, the government walked away with half my profit. And this was a wake-up call for jaguars. We don’t do the art for money, but we also don’t do the art so that we can feel we sweated blood to pocket less money than we make at the day job in a month.

The reason I’ve had such a small take-home for the past few years is that I tend to re-invest a lot of my earnings back into the business. The money I make off your tips, the books you buy, the Kickstarters you overfund? Buys print editions of books that don’t have them, pays actors for audiobook editions, buys new covers for books that had quickly-done things I slapped together to just get the book on the shelf. I think of those things as strategic decisions, because I know they’ll pay off in a few years (maybe less, if some weird thing happens and I suddenly have publicity: when the Spots controversy hit, my print edition of Spots moved copies that obviously wouldn’t have sold if they hadn’t been there to answer the unexpected demand).

But the toll here in my health and well-being is becoming insupportable. If the business were earning more, I might be able to swing the kind of forward-thinking decisions that I’ve been making. But it’s not. So I am having to make some hard decisions about what to do in the future.

Here’s the net effect then: there will be no more print or audiobook editions without capital. And since I only have time to run maybe one Kickstarter a year, we’re looking at only one book in the year that will get more than one edition. In addition, I’ll probably be cutting back on other activities (for instance, when I mentioned not having time to answer comments on both of my websites, that’s one of those things). I have some irons in the fire currently, so you’re going to see a few more paper and audiobooks in the next few months. But after that, I’m going to retrench.

I’ll still be writing. I’ll still be serializing. I’ll still do e-book editions (with unimpressive covers). But the money isn’t there for anything else, and the time to go raising that money isn’t either.

I would very much like things to be different! But as much as I love being an artist, I also love being a businesswoman. And we have looked at the bottom line, and all the Jaguars are in agreement: I can’t treat this like a Real Job because it just isn’t earning like one. Wrecking my health to try to make it become one while also working a different job and being Mom isn’t an option.

Here is where I say thank-you, though, because you are all the best readers I can imagine. You’re generous with your time, your thoughts, and the money you have available, and I never forget how fortunate I am to be part of a circuit of ideas and creativity with you! You make it worthwhile. And I fully expect we’re going to enjoy our serials and our e-books and our conversations in the future. And maybe at some point, I’ll be making enough to afford all the other fun stuff too.

So there you are. There I am. And now I go to work. The one that pays for Child’s school, and I will be grateful for that too.

A Proper Looking Set: Mindline Print Edition Now Available!

mindlineandmindtouch

They look good together, I think. :)

(Yes, the print edition is now available! Amazon here, Createspace here, and eventually percolating to other retail sites. You can order it through your local bookstore if you ask for it.)

Office in Progress (and Books on my Bookshelf)

As I mentioned a week or two ago, my office has moved from the corner of the living room to the dining room (now absent its table). Several people have asked how it’s going, and hoped for photos, so here’s where I am in the settling-in process:

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The two desks fit neatly on one wall, so that’s where they went. I’m pretty happy with that part of the arrangement, though I still need to hang my to-do magnet boards. Those I’m definitely keeping, but I’m currently re-evaluating my marker storage solution; previously I had them hanging from a magnetized strip on the wall which was awesome to look at. I liked a lot of things about doing it that way. What didn’t work, though, is that I had way more markers than I had strip, and hanging them all would probably take up a lot of space. At which point I’m not sure it will remain as aesthetic a solution. If you love your art marker storage solution, tell me about it?

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This is the side that needs work. I have the little end table (super-cheap from Ikea!) but it needs either a loveseat to curl up in or a big comfy chair. That’ll be my “nest when tired” spot.

Once I have the furniture in place I’ll know how to handle the espresso wall (honest, that was the name of the paint color). My uchikake used to hang there but it’s too big if I’m going to put a piece of furniture against the wall. So I am hunting for a chair and not really liking any of the options. How can there be so many furniture stores and nothing I like, that’s also affordable? *sigh*

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The view head-one. That window–I heart it! Even though it makes a wee bit too much sun in the mid-morning; thankfully, I’m rarely home and working at that point. Also, as you can see, no door! But who knows, if I become independently wealthy, maybe we’ll be able to afford a painting studio where I can use stinky not-safe-for-asthmatics solvents all day long. I can dream, right? :D

Finally, a couple of you heard about me arranging my bookshelves and wanted to know the titles of the more interesting books. Writing them all out would take forever, so I hope you’ll settle for careful photos of the shelves in question. Click to embiggen.

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Note that a lot of these books are either out of print or textbooks, and you’ll probably have to hunt the used market to find them. Feel free to ask me if any particular title is worth the effort.

The Exciting Life of the Businesswoman Writer

This is more a to-do list for myself than anything else, but you’re welcome to opine or comment, if opinions or comments you have. -_-

Irons in the Fire:
* Writing Laisrathera.
* Preparing Conversations with the Ai-Naidar for e-book. (Also, writing foreword and final word for it.)
* AF illustrations (one down, 6 to go).
* Finish proofing the Mindline print edition.

Things I Need to Do Soon:
* Call the IRS so they can send me the 1099-miscs to issue. Figure out if there’s an easier way to do that.
* Launch posts for the two new audiobooks, once they reach the iTunes store.
* Follow up on contract revisions for the podcast version of Shell.
* Pay C for the illustrations for the Blade print edition.

Backburner, but Soon:
* Make website moar better.

Probably Never at This Rate:
* Figure out what’s wrong with all the Smashwords editions that’s preventing nearly half of them from being eligible for broader distribution.

Studio MCAH Year in Review, 2013

2014 is only a few days away! And I refuse to do anymore work. So here’s my year in review post!

First, the raw numbers.

NEW WRITING
1. I wrote four new novels: A Bloom in the North, Mindtouch, Mindline and Rose Point.
2. I wrote two new short stories, currently unreleased. I also wrote five new case studies (“Wet,” “Knife,” “Swimming,” “Finite” and “Piano”) and four chapters for The Ai-Naidari Guidebook.
3. I wrote a couple of articles for SFWA and Lord knows how many blog posts and vignettes, including the “Lair by the Sea” fluff and some backstory for Even the Wingless (“The Usurper”) and Black Blossom (“Three Suitcases”).
4. And for fun I did a count; this year I discovered 68 new Ai-Naidari words with your help.
Total Count (Fiction): 481,390 words

NEW ART
1. I drew 88 comics.
2. I did 4 full-size paintings: “Protection,” the Art Deco Alysha for the cover of Alysha’s Fall, and the back and front cover for The Godson’s Triumph.
3. I did 12 paintings for the children’s book interior.
4. I did 2 color pencil pieces for the covers of Mindtouch and Mindline.
5. I did 10 B&W interior illustrations for The Godson’s Triumph and Claws and Starships.
6. I did 14 micropaintings (I believe! I sold them all so I don’t recall).
7. I did a lot of sketching, which I didn’t keep track of, in both tiny sketchbooks and large; in the car, at restaurants and bars, at home.
Total New Finished Art: 130 pieces

BOOKS/STORIES ISSUED
1. I released six new e-books: Pearl in the Void, A Bloom in the North, Earthrise, Mindtouch and Mindline, The Godson’s Triumph.
2. I released four new print editions: Claws and Starships, Mindtouch, Earthrise and Rose Point.
3. I released seven audiobooks: The Kickstarter book, “Unknowable,” “Anadi Dolls,” A Rosary of Stones and Thorns, “The Blade to Your Hand,” Even the Wingless, and Earthrise.
4. I published two short stories in anthologies, “Improved Cubicle Door” in Unidentified Flying Objects 2 and “Second” in What Happens Next.

SERIALS
1. I concluded the Earthrise serialization!
2. I started the serialization for An Heir to Thorns and Steel.
3. I have posted, ad hoc, entries in two quasi serials, “Lair by the Sea” (5 entries) and “The Usurper” (5 entries).

KICKSTARTERS, LIVESTREAMS, APPEARANCES AND NODS
1. I ran two Kickstarters, and prepared for two more.
2. I attended one convention, NecronomiCon, more for enjoyment than anything else!
3. I ran two livestreams! Wow, lol. I was quiet this year.
4. I did one twitter chat for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat folks, and did a chat presentation on cover art for SFWA.
5. I started a newsletter this year, and have sent out 2 quarterly updates so far.
6. I got my own Wikipedia entry! *beams* Feel free to add to it if you like.

Before I get into other goals and some analysis, I’d like to make some notes here:

1. I didn’t know I was going to have a day job this year. I was planning to get a lot more done up to that point. I tried as much as I was able to keep to my original schedule, but I failed on several points (most notably, on art). Having gathered a year’s worth of data on what I can manage while working a separate job, I have concluded I need to be more canny about how I manage my time next year.

2. If you have tried to contact me, request a commission or a card reading, or feel like you’ve sent email and it’s fallen into a black hole… I am sorry! But I think you can see why that might have been so. Please be gentle with my forgetfulness and busyness: I am working hard to bring you Awesome Things. :)

Finally, I’d like to talk about some overall goals I’ve put in place for myself as an artist and a businessperson:

I had a goal to make major progress on sequels and serials. This year I completed two series (The Godkindred Saga and the Stone Moon Trilogy) and wrote and released Rose Point, which takes us 2/3rds of the way through the Her Instruments duology. I remain committed to getting people What Happens Next in a timely fashion, and I feel like I delivered on this promise this year.

I had a goal to make as much as I did last year, or more. That, I fell down on, by about 1/4th of the money I needed. There were extenuating circumstances, but it taught me, very powerfully, that I have to manage my Kickstarters aggressively, and choose only projects I know I can control as completely as possible.

I have an ongoing goal of getting my print editions out as close to the release of my e-book editions as possible. This particular goal is constrained by how much capital I’ve got in the account, but I’m getting better at managing that pool so that things happen closer to simultaneously.

This was the year of the contractor. It was my plan to use freelancers to offload as much of the work as I possibly could to other shoulders, while also getting money into the hands of cool people. This goal sounded great in concept, but fell down pretty hard in practice. Managing people is as time-consuming as doing the work yourself unless you have fabulous employees. Nevertheless, despite making attempts at sixty percent more people than I ended up using, I did add two more amazing freelancers to my team. I count that a lesson learned, and I’m grateful to have found them.

This year I was going to experiment more. This got eaten by the day job I didn’t know I was going to take until January of this year. I still want to get into podcasting and other experimental models, but I’m going to have to figure out how to budget my time.

And… in the unexpected publicity department… Finally, it would be hard to talk about this year without mentioning the whole Spots the Space Marine brouhaha. Fighting GW did not catapult me to overnight success, but it taught me a very great deal about bringing your case to an audience.

***

So that was 2013. I’m not sure what to make of it. There were things that deeply dissatisfied me about it, and things that I’m pretty proud of, and I think most of my take-away from it is that next year I have to work smarter, not harder, if I want to get everything on my to-do lists accomplished.

Random Accounting Stats, Plus Question for the Groupmind

I am doing accounting for the end of the year, and it looks like the mess-up with Alysha’s Fall cost me at least a fourth of my revenue for the year.

That’s… a very bad thing. I guess the silver lining is that I have less revenue to report at tax time? :,

Interestingly, serial money outpaces my print and audiobook revenue combined—so far at least. E-book royalties pwn all, as one might expect.

Question now: I am much discontented with the solution I’ve got for accounting. I log hundreds of microtransactions a year and right now I’m manually inputting them all into a spreadsheet. I don’t have a customer database worth speaking of, something that really upsets me from a “treat my patrons right” standpoint, and while I’ve got a lot of graphs custom-made for my spreadsheet the whole thing just feels kludgy. Does anyone have any recommendations for good accounting software for small business owners who don’t necessarily have inventory? Something that can take Paypal’s data easily would be very good. Paypal exports to spreadsheet and the usual comma/tab separated flat files. Something that also does my taxes easily would be awesome. Help from the groupmind?

Where Should I Buy My MCAH Print Edition? (Pricing, Discoverability, Etc.)

Three people have asked me where they should buy their print editions of my books today, so I figured now is a good time to talk about that.

From a monetary perspective, Createspace gives me the highest royalties, with Amazon in the middle and everyone else (B&N, other retailers, etc) a distant third. A typical spread would be $7, $3 and 50 cents. At this point, pricing on my print editions is controlled by my desire to offer the book at retailers other than Amazon (or Amazon affiliates); to prevent having negative royalties from them, my print books have to hover around $15-18, which gives me the crazy high spread in the other direction.

So if you want me to have the most money, or you want to avoid buying from Amazon, I encourage you to buy the book from Createspace. $7 a book is a lot when you only move 2 to 6 paperbacks a month…!

However, if asked, I will encourage people to buy the book from Amazon, for a few reasons:

1. I still get a reasonable royalty rate per book.
2. You can get better shipping options through Amazon, especially if you have Prime. Also, Createspace is now doing local shipping through overseas Amazon sites, so if you live outside the US you can get a much better rate from them.
3. Amazon allows you to do bundling, so you can get the e-book for cheaper if you buy the print book. (Also the audiobook is discounted for buyers of the e-book, I believe.)
4. Buying from Amazon feeds their also-bought, recommendation and sales ranking algorithms, which helps other people discover me.

At this point, Amazon does discoverability better than any other vendor online. Smashwords and B&N are both abysmal at leading people to new work. My royalties from B&N for any edition of my books (e-book or print) are absolutely useless. No one buys from Smashwords unless they already know about me, either. I think I see one or two hits on other retailers, while Amazon will reliably send me 4-7 royalty checks a month from their various sites and affiliates.

I wish this was otherwise… it would be wonderful if fewer of my eggs were all in one basket. But everyone else is playing catch-up to Amazon, and so far they’re not succeeding. Hopefully they’ll figure it out before they become irrelevant.

TLDR; my answer to “Where do I buy my print edition?” is, in order of descending preference: Amazon, Createspace, B&N.

The Three Jaguars Present a Case Study: Car Marketing

Recently I came into some brochures for cars and found them so fascinating I couldn’t resist keeping them around in anticipation of sharing them with you—what? Yes, I know. I am not a car person. But I am a marketer, and up until this point I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about how cars are marketed. This was just such a splendid example of how it’s done, though, so let’s have a look!

Our two cars are in the same class: the crossover sports utility vehicle, called (Lord help me, but it’s true), the “cute-yoots” because they’re small-frame SUVs, built on car chassis instead of truck chassis.

This is a woman’s car. Don’t believe me; believe the sales figures the car dealers will quote you. They won’t try to sell this car to a man, but if a woman walks in, they point her at these first, because overwhelmingly they’re purchased by women with small families who need cargo hauling capacity but don’t want the enormous “can haul six kids and half the grocery” version. Given that assumption, let’s have a look at my two brochures here.


Here’s Mazda’s entrance into the field, the CX-5. Note the urban background, artistically smeared, the asphalt glowing, the fact that it’s taken at night.

The interior of the brochure continues this trend. The backgrounds are black, or the photos are taken at night. There’s a lot of smear and flare. Most interestingly, there are no people in the brochure. If there’s a car obviously in motion, the windows are tinted or there’s a reflection so glaring you can’t see inside. All of the shots are urban city scenes: some appear to have been taken in tunnels, even. The back cover is a river of lights at night bled into lines on a night-time interstate leading toward a downtown skyline.


Very sleek. Also, let me repeat that there are no people in this brochure, even when the car is being driven. Maybe they got Google to operate the things for them? Dunno.

Fascinatingly, when the vehicle is shown hauling anything at all—only twice—it’s either mysterious (there’s one shot where I believe they’re packing some kind of avant garde furniture, but I can’t make heads or tails of it)…and then there’s this:

Have a close look at that one. At first glance, it looks like someone packing for a fun outing…very family-oriented! Right? But if you look closer, there are only two towels. There’s a cooler for drinks (wine maybe?) but no sack of supplies, like sunscreen, toys, hats, etc. And the real kicker: on top of the towels is a single pair of women’s sandals, implying that the woman is the one driving; she’s got a change of shoes for when she gets to the beach. So, two people going to the beach, no kids, woman driving? They know this vehicle is supposed to be mostly of interest to women, but they’re making their own statement about the kind of woman who’d be interested in it. My husband questioned my reading so much into this, but they put that photo in there, they put all the things in there, they bothered to sprinkle it with shells: someone was thinking this out, and you don’t hire a full-time marketing department not to consider the implications of your photos.

The brochure tagline reads: If it’s not worth driving, it’s not worth building. We build Mazdas. What do you drive?

So, Mazda makes a car in a class aimed at women with small families and talks about the driving experience, elides the kids, and makes sure there are no people in the brochure. Got it. Let’s look at the next.

Here’s Subaru’s contender, the Forester. The first thing I noticed about the cover is that there are four people in it: a man, a woman, and two kids. And they are walking away from their car into nature, apparently intending a camping trip from the luggage strapped to the top of the car.

Let’s look inside:


Wait, there’s only one picture of a car here… everything else is good clean family fun! Vegetables picked fresh from a farm (hauled in the Subaru, which is modestly tucked almost out of frame), Dad teaching his child to look through a telescope, happy family going down a path toward a gorgeous sunset…

All this is repeated throughout the brochure. Not only that, but almost all of the photos were taken during the day and are in outdoorsy locations, with a couple of exceptions, like the Forester parked outside the quaint little Organic Market Bistro (seriously). Most importantly, this brochure is full of people. If the car is in motion, you can see the person inside it driving. Even in the most distant photos, you can tell whether it’s a man or a woman, even what they’re wearing, which brings me to the most interesting detail (to me): this brochure is full of wedding rings. In at least two photos, you can see them prominently displayed on hands, and on one photo of a woman driving on the highway, they had to work at it for you to be able to see her ring on the hand that’s driving: someone used a sharpening filter to make sure that detail didn’t get lost.


Both Mom and Dad figure prominently throughout the brochure. They either have a humongous family or they run their own small business, one that requires a lot of vegetables. Oh, wait, there you go: they obviously own the organic bistro and they’re buying up produce for it! Mystery solved. They’re telling a story here about the kind of people who own their car.

Even the major color palette of both brochures is different: the Mazda is all gray, blue and black, the Subaru all green, brown and yellow.


The photo’s too grainy for you to see the person in this one, but in person it’s obvious.

Here’s what the back of the Forester brochure says: Responsible. Reliable. Ready to join the family.

Compare those two taglines for a moment. The Forester is subordinating itself to your existing lifestyle: “Hi! I want to join your already existing family! I’ll be really helpful! You won’t regret asking me to help you out!” The Mazda wants you to live up to their lifestyle: “You can drive any old car. You can even drive that pathetically useful Subaru. But are you (wo)man enough to step up to the plate and drive a real car?”

Now, Mazda knows its market is composed of people in love with their driving experience. And Subaru knows their market are outdoorsy types who are more in love with its utility. I think they aimed their brochures amazingly well. The biggest test of this? Their cars drive like their brochures. The Mazda was quick, agile, fun, fast, a really connected driving experience. It also had almost no visibility out the back and any number of other “accept this, because it’s our style” issues. The Subaru was stolid and utterly unremarkable to drive, and not very stylish, and extremely useful, from the visibility to the bed in the back.

So Marketing did its job well: there was truth in their advertising. I find it fascinating to see how deliberate the choices were, and how different the results, despite the market segment still being overwhelmingly composed of women with small families. It only illustrates the importance of positioning, no matter what business you’re in. Do you know your clientele? Do you know what they think of themselves? What kind of people are a good match for the product you’re selling, and how can you communicate that to them? Attention to detail is important!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my breakdown here. I had a great time looking through these brochures and discovering all the techniques and tricks in them. Maybe next time you see some advertising, you’ll see some of the same sorts of things. And don’t forget to apply it to your own stuff! If you sell something, you no less than a giant car company have something to accomplish with your marketing, and it’s as simple as “connect your stuff with the people who’ll love it.” :)

Fun with Orientations

I am working on re-branding the Jokka stuff now and have these fabulous abstracts from Kit to do it with… but before I start messing with the text and the contrast (very important, otherwise you won’t be able to read the words!), I have to decide on the orientation!

This is not a choice I have had to make before, and it is fun. :D

Rethinking 2013: Crunching Numbers for the Art/Writing Business

I have settled down with my calculator and had a look at all my planned expenses and projects for the remainder of the year. Here was my original plan:

Alysha’s Fall re-issue, print, ebook.
Pearl in the Void print edition.
Bloom in the North print edition.
Children’s Book print edition.
Rose Point print edition, ebook
Mindline print edition, ebook.
Earthrise audiobook.
Even the Wingless reissue, print, ebook.
Claws and Starships audiobook.
Ai-Naidari Guidebook print, ebook.

Why yes, I am insane.

Having a look at my spreadsheet, I would have been fine to pay for all of this had I not run into my unexpected expenses (and there were a lot of them at once). Given that, I’m about $3K short.

Now, my original plan had been to supplement my cash by running another two Kickstarters this year: one to pay for the new Jokka cover art, and one to pay for the Rose Point cover art. The two of those together would probably have netted me about $1200-1500. But Alinsa (*eyes Dread Vixen*) has suggested I Kickstart the children’s book because of the potential for hitting a broader audience, and suggested I solve the sales velocity problem I mentioned here by buying the books for Kickstarter backers… from Amazon.

Here, I explain some things!

When I offer physical books as Kickstarter rewards, I price them based on the discount Createspace gives me for buying directly from them. That discount is pretty significant in some cases (in others, not so much… Spots was a notable exception there, and the full-color Kherishdar chapbooks too). But it allows me to use most of the balance of the backer money to apply to the actual expenses needed to fund the project. So, for instance, if I have a $50 prize for an autographed book, and it costs me $25 to buy that book and package it and mail it, then I have $25 left over to apply to the (say) $500 it will cost to buy cover art. That’s why it’s more expensive to buy the book during the Kickstarter than it is after; you are helping subsidize the cost of making it available.

Buying my own books from Amazon after the Kickstarter’s over, though, will slash into that left-over money… but it really will solve the sales velocity problem: buying 100 copies at once from Amazon? That should be hugely helpful, and technically isn’t dishonest: I’m not buying them for me even if I am buying them in a way that guarantees my own sales ranking. And unless I’m mistaken, I should get free shipping. I don’t get free shipping with Createspace. The shipping bill on 50-70 books? Is painful. -_-

(Yes: the procedure is that I buy the books from Createspace, they ship them to me, and then I pack them and reship them to you. At this point, Createspace has no way to bulk-mail orders to individual people, so I can’t just upload a mailing list and have them ship to you directly.)

So right now I am thinking… I could run two Kickstarters that will make probably exactly what I need. Or I could run the children’s book Kickstarter and roll the dice, hoping for extraordinary success. And instead of applying that extraordinary success to stretch goals and prizes (which I don’t have the time to do), I could sock it away as profit (with apologies to my backers) and use some of it to not only pay my expenses from my other projects, but put some money away for next year.

That’s assuming the children’s book Kickstarter takes off, of course. It might not!

I’m also pondering a really, really short Kickstarter for the Rose Point or Wingless cover—$300 and one week—just to bolster the bank account before it bleeds to death.

Or I could do both: the tiny short Kickstarter in September, then the children’s book Kickstarter in Oct/Nov, with a plan to ship before Christmas.

So… that’s where I am. I have the Alysha’s Fall Kickstarter to fulfill in August, and that gives me some time to decide one way or the other.

I want to make this clear, though: my success right now has been based on my deciding to ask for modest amounts of capital and using that capital to invest in royalty-generating properties. Counting on single Kickstarters to generate all my necessary cash for half a year is a gamble. A lot of people want to aim for that high ticket, but I’ve built my business based on slowly-and-surely-and-small. No one expects the modest success! But it works. So this would be a big risk. Thus, me not being sure about it.

And now I am open to suggestions and questions! Talking with Alinsa has already been hugely helpful to refining my uncertainties and options. I’ll take a good idea where it’s offered. :)