25 August 2019

My Small Business Plan


by R.T. Lawton


I'm not getting rich from my writing sales, so I'm grateful I don't have to rely on writing for my main income, otherwise my office would be a cardboard box in some alley with a long extension cord running up to someone's outside electrical outlet. You know, for a coffee pot and a computer.  In any case, regardless how you look at your writing, it's probably best in the long run if you have a business plan. For one thing, you want to keep track of your income and expenses (lots of expenses) so as to avoid paying too much to the tax man. Seems he always has one hand in your pocket.

So, having said that, here's the accounts receivable part of My Small Business Plan. It's got to be a small plan, you see, because I only write short stories, which don't pay much over any one year period, and the occasional cowboy poem, which doesn't pay at all. The important thing is, I have a plan and I'm finally using that Business Degree which Uncle Sam paid for after I responded to that nice letter draft he sent me way back in 1966.

Mine is a three-part plan

Part 1 - Short Stories
     I write short stories for paying markets. First submissions go to the higher paying publications. In case of a rejection, I work my submissions down the payment ladder until the story sells or goes into inventory. All of this is common sense and most writers already know this part. Moving on.

Part 2 - Reprints & Other Secondary Markets

   I was surprised one day to read about a market call from a company named Great Jones Street for reprints. This was a startup venture to put short stories on cell phones where readers paid a subscription to read the stories. I sold them seven reprints for $500 while they were collecting a base inventory. Ultimately, they got on the wrong side of the ledger and went out of business.
     In a different situation, Otto Penzler paid me $250 to use one of my reprints in one of his many anthologies. Since then, I've seen other markets for reprints. It's like found money.

     Another good use of short stories, whether they were previously published or not, is putting them into e-collections. So, after I had a list of previously published stories, plus an inventory of unpublished short stories, I started looking at Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other e-readers. Both of them are free to setup your e-books, all you need is to figure out how to format e-books. It is a different setup for each of the two companies, but due to advances in software, it is now easier than it used to be. Fortunately for me, I had a Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I can figure that out." And he did. In 2011, we turned some of my short stories into four e-collections: 9 Historical Mysteries, 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, 9 Chronicles of Crime and 9 Deadly Tales. Kindle paid royalties by EFT and Smashwords paid via PayPal. Then in 2018, we added two more e-collections: 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries and 31 Mini-Mysteries. These last two led to Part 3.

Part 3 - Paperbacks
     Kindle Direct Publishing recently acquired Create Space, which published paperback books. It was while uploading one of my last two e-books that I was faced with a new situation at the end of the upload. The Kindle software inquired if I wanted to also publish my e-book as a paperback. What the heck, one more form in which to offer potential buyers a choice to spend money on my books? I immediately checked yes only to discover that I needed my cover in a different format for this option. After all, an e-book only needs a front cover, while a paperback needs a front cover, a spine and a rear cover.

I went back to my Huey pilot friend. He is now figuring out the requirements for a paperback and we are working on the final details. The paperback has a fixed charge, plus a very small charge for every page, none of which the author pays upfront. It's all covered by the buyer when he purchases the book. First, you need to decide what size of book you want and the size of font you prefer. Those two items and the length of your manuscript will determine how many pages your book will have. Then, KDP has a program where you enter the number of pages your book will have and the program will tell you the minimum price you have to put on your book, which is also the cost to KDP for printing your book. Naturally, you want to make a profit, so you also enter the price you want to charge and the program will tell you your royalty profit. Simple, huh?

Well, we'll see. Seems there's a bleed factor on the cover when it comes to cover size. My friend says he's got it figured out, and while he did teach me how to fly OH-6 and OH-58 observation helicopters, I think this cover and formatting thing is over my head. It's nice to have friends.

QUICK UPDATE: A week and a half ago, the 1st paperback went live. We are now working on the conversion of the other five from e-book to paperback.

You've now heard about My Small Business Plan. Do you have your own plan? Feel free to share. Or are you still working on one? We'd like to hear about that too.

14 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

R.T., I think your small biz plan is as good as any. And it's pretty much what I do, too. I've made one collection of stories and several single stories available. But I have a couple other collections in the offing. We just have to keep throwing darts at the wall and hope they stick.

janice law said...

Best of luck in the online market. I must say I think the emarket only works well if one has some sort of on line following.

Eve Fisher said...

I'm just now starting to look into reprints. Other than that - pretty much, I write 'em and keep sending them out until somebody buys 'em.

Steve Liskow said...

Fascinating, R.T., and very encouraging because I've been considering some of the same ideas that seem to be working for you.

More and more of the print markets--especially the well-paying ones--are fading away. I have several stories that have run out of potential markets, and I have been exploring publishing them as e-stories and then bundling them into collections, too.

I haven't done anywhere near as much research on reprints as I should, and you've made that abundantly clear here. I have a paper collection of previously published stories out, and I have enough stories since that compilation that I could do another one soon. I would probably ONLY do digital format though, to eliminate production costs.

KDP library is another possibility. If you have the stories there, readers can borrow them and return them, just like a "real" library, but you get paid a small fee for every page read. It might add up.

I love the work my novel cover designer produces, but I can't afford to pay him his present (far too cheap!) rate. The next Woody Guthrie, currently slated for around the end of this year, will be my last paper publication. I'm starting to look at GIMP as a possible way to design my own covers, a daunting prospect, but probably practical in the long run.

R.T. Lawton said...

Paul, like you say, keep throwing darts at the wall and hope they stick, in which case it helps to have a lot of darts.

R.T. Lawton said...

Janice, I agree with you that the e-market works best if you already have a following of some kind. Somehow, I need to become famous or infamous to increase sales. As the old bar saying goes: Who do I have to kill in here to get a drink? However, I have noticed that my sales go up if I've been entertaining enough on an author panel at a writers conference.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, as I recall, you should have enough stories in AHMM by now to put out 2 or 3 e-books.

R.T. Lawton said...

Steve, KDP has Cover Creator as an option for its paperback format. It has several free cover choices. I opted not to use Cover Creator because it locks the author into their standard format, even with cover art choices. I had my own art, which I found did not fit their Cover Creator format. Also, if I remember correctly, you need a jpeg to insert your own art into their Cover Creator and a pdf to upload your own art if not using Cover Creator. Neither option accepts GIMP. And, we weren't smart enough to figure out how to convert GIMP to jpeg or pdf. Best of luck.

Steve Liskow said...

I've found how to convert GIMP images. If you click on File-export, there is a drop down menu of choices for different extensions and file types. If you click "show all types," jpeg should appear.

Lawrence Maddox said...

I really learned a lot from your blog R.T. Thanks for divulging your secrets of the biz. You also gave me a big laff w/ your cardboard box/extension cord riff. Btw do you know where one may purchase these super long extension cords? Asking for a friend.

R.T. Lawton said...

Steve, thanks. I'll pass that tip along to my cover guy.

Lawrence, tell your FRIEND to get the real long cord in a nice grass green color or camouflage design and lay it along the fence line for concealment. If you go cheap with a shorter cord straight across the lawn to the electrical outlet, I find that the owner's lawn mower frequently cuts your cord.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Becoming an Indie writer was not easy. Beyond the writing, you have to be able to design and layout the book in eBook format and paperback format, design covers for each, obtain the image on the front cover. We use photographers and artists. You have to promote the books after they are published. What we did was form a co-op of writers, artists, editors, graphic designers, photographers and other computer savvy people to put our books together. We work on each other's stuff and use whatever skills we have with each project. It is labor-intensive, time-consuming work. But it works.

Leigh Lundin said...

RT, I admire that you've got a handle on things. Well done!

R.T. Lawton said...

O'Neil, that's an interesting approach. Thanks.

Leigh, it is a slippery handle to get a hold of and most seem to find their own way to grasp it, something that works for them. Best wishes.