Business Musings: Things I Learned (Or Relearned) in 2014

In the past two weeks, I wrote two year-in-review posts, “What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014,” and “Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014.” Those two posts came after I started this one. I’ve been writing bits of this one off and on since October, as the year has become clearer in my brain.

Usually, I do a year-end analysis just for me, and there’s a lot of year-end stuff that I learned or needed to revamp that I have not put in this post. It’s personal or too deep in the business weeds to make sense to other people. But what I have here are things that I figure will be useful to folks other than me.

2014 was one of those years where frustration seemed to be the dominant emotion for me. Some of the lessons I learned twenty years ago got refined for the new age, and some of the new things I learned took more time than I anticipated. I also learned a few things about other people in general, some of which I did not want to know. The good things about other people though, came through strong, and that was truly wonderful.

One of those good things happened in the last few weeks. It’s been great to come back to the blog, and to find so many of you still reading, still waiting, and still supporting. You’ve touched me with your kindness and your good words. Thank you.

Now, without further ado, here’s what I learned (or relearned) in 2014—or at least the things I feel comfortable sharing. I hope you find the list useful.

 

Working On A Big Project Takes A Big Effort

Dammit.

Big Projects Suck All of The Air Out of The Room

When people are working on a massive project, they can’t do anything else. So even important stuff goes by the wayside.

I finished the big Retrieval Artist project in the fall and have been cleaning up ever since. Lots of projects left undone, lots of people waiting for things, lots of little details missed.

I should have expected that, but I stumbled into this big project. I truly thought it was going to be smaller—three books instead of six. Jeez. It kept growing and growing, and I kept triaging.

I doubt I’ll ever plan something that big—I didn’t plan this one!—but next time I won’t be surprised by the way it took time from everything else.

A Break Can Be Necessary

We took a couple of interesting breaks this year. I took a writing break (or tried to. See below). WMG Publishing went on hiatus in July—which was something all of us involved with the company decided to try in January of 2014. The hiatus was necessary in part because Dean and a friend were building a sound room for the audio department, and they wanted the freedom to do the construction. But also, the hiatus gave us some much-needed clarity on how the business works (or doesn’t).

We didn’t act on that clarity soon enough, but the hiatus allowed us to make changes rather than continue to charge ahead with the path we’d already been on.

Most of the publishing staff is on hiatus in December as well. (We always keep at least one person around during a hiatus to handle the truly important things…slowly). Our publisher had been agitating for time off over the holidays for two reasons: it’s almost impossible to get anything done that month, what with the big online services shutting down for the last few weeks of the year, and the distractions of the holiday season (particularly for those with little kids).

Last year, the holiday season became a series of missed opportunities because everything we tried to do got thwarted by the end-of-the-year closures at the various online sites. (For instance, we were going to change a bunch of covers between Christmas and New Year’s, but that proved impossible.) For 2014, we scheduled no major projects or releases during that period so we had the option of a hiatus.

The neat thing about a full business hiatus was the refocus. Before July, we’d never done one this dramatic, and honestly, it changed all of our perspectives. Things we thought we couldn’t live without were easy to jettison. Things we didn’t realize we needed rose to the top.

And we came back, ready to start again.

I think two hiatuses are probably too much, but we’ll all reassess in January, when there’s a full meeting of the all of folks in charge. Or maybe a month each time is too long. We’ll see.

Some businesses aren’t designed for a hiatus. We own three retail businesses. (Yes, three. Don’t ask.) Taking a retail break in December is just dumb.

In fact, taking a retail break at any point during the year is dumb. Because customers arrive when customers arrive.

The key for year-round businesses is to have vacation time for the employees. They will need time away from the grind.

I don’t believe that employees should take their work with them on holiday either. Because they need a full-stop break. They need to clear their heads and think about something else for a while.

This being available 24/7 that so many American businesses demand just isn’t healthy.

I work 24/7 at my job because it’s play for me. And I’m self-employed. And I do not want to do something else. Even when I go on “vacation,” I’m researching or writing notes or visiting historical sites. I consume a lot of entertainment which has an impact on my job. So…naw.

But require my employees to work when they’re on their personal time? It’s not fair. It’ll burn them out.

We didn’t offer enough time in 2013, and everyone was reeling by the end of the year. That’s when the hiatus idea came into play—forced vacations (because we had people who refused to use their vacation time—and they needed that time).

We’ll see what we can come up with in 2015. No sense losing valuable employees because they are too stressed to enjoy their jobs.

The Best Part About Running A Business Is Making Your Own Rules

If we want the retail store closed half the week, we can do it. If we want to stay open to accommodate a special client, we can do that too. (Provided the contract we signed with the mall we’re in allows any of this.)

If we want to take two hiatuses in two separate months, we can. If we want to close for six months, as another friend is doing with his business, we can do that as well.

We also know that if we cut our retail hours, we will cut our profit. Or if we work our publishing employees too hard, they will burn out.

If I want to write at one-quarter my usual speed, I can. If I want to spend all my time on one project in a year, I can. If I want to write short stories only, I can.

All the businesses need to do the cost-benefit analysis before making decisions. We get to figure out what works for our various businesses, not follow some weird dictate predicated on a preconceived idea on how things should work.

I’ll Probably Never Stop Working

When most people say that phrase, they’re whining. Me, I simply don’t understand retirement or relaxing. I tried to relax in a traditional fashion when I finished the massive Retrieval Artist project. I took a small trip, I saw a bunch of movies, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve tried to stay away from my desk. I keep wandering back to it.

I guess when play is the same as work, time off isn’t necessary.

Learning Costs Money

Sometimes that money gets spent on classes and continuing education. Sometimes it’s a failed investment. Sometimes it’s spent on heading down wrong roads and then backtracking or moving sideways.

I know this. I have known it for decades now. Apparently, I fail to absorb it. Or I’m getting less able to shrug it off. You’d think—I’d think—at 54, I’d be smart enough to avoid some of these costly pitfalls.

But I’m not.

Success Costs Money

Those investments I mentioned above, those wrong roads? Sometimes they happen because people like me try many roads and experiment and take chances. Those chances cost money too, but they always have a good return on the investment. So…the lessons are mixed here.

World Events Still Impact Book Sales

Book sales went through the floor on August 19, 2014, all across the United States. Why? Because Robin Williams committed suicide.

One well-known and beloved man’s death caused a crisis across the country. Suicides often create what’s called a suicide cluster, meaning that others who were tottering on the brink of suicide will fall off and kill themselves after someone else goes first. Usually, clusters are localized, but when someone as rich, famous, and successful as Williams dies in such a public and surprising way, the suicide cluster becomes huge.

All of the therapists I know reported a crisis uptick in August. Lots of families rallied to support their at-risk relatives. Lots of friends did too.

And, because this crisis was so severe, no one was focused on entertainment or books or book promotions.

Book sales went down across the board. Even folks who were running a promotion didn’t have the kind of success they usually did.

I doublechecked with friends across the country, and had several RWA members check when their summer sales decline began when I was in San Francisco in September. To a person, everyone reported that the decline began around August 19 and continued for several weeks. Some writers recovered quickly (within a month). Others took another month before their sales rebounded to the usual levels.

I’ve experienced this event-driven sales decline numerous times in my career. I watched a lot of writers lose their bestseller status because their books released in September of 2001 (9/11). Other friends lost their careers when the Berlin Wall fell because those writers were writing Cold War novels. It has taken 25 years for the Cold War/spy thriller to rebound.

Ouch.

World events do have an impact. Sometimes genre-focused events have an impact as well. (Subgenres sell well until they’re perceived as glutted, and then the sales stop.) And watch: as the contracts come due, lots of Hachette authors will get (quietly) dropped because Hachette will blame them for the sales decline over that summer-long public fight with Amazon.

Sometimes it’s not about us or the quality of our work. Sometimes the world actually does intrude on our lives—in very disruptive ways.

Doing Marketing Right Makes Everything Better

Marketing is easy to do wrong. In fact, it’s easier to do wrong than I had thought, having learned this year that what I consider to be common sense is counterintuitive to many, many, many people. I first learned this with my Discoverability series on my blog, and then again in person, with…well, never mind. Too deep in the business weeds.

Doing marketing right improves an already well-run business. This got hammered home to me in the fall, when Dean and I bought the store back.

The store, for those of you who don’t know, is Pop Culture Collectables here in Lincoln City, Oregon. Dean started the store eight years ago, then we sold it to a wonderful woman who kept it running through the recession and into 2014.

She made a living with the collectables, had a large group of regulars from around the nation who showed up whenever they were in town, and developed the store into a major stop for collectors of specific types (particularly comic book and cookie jar collectors).

She retired in October. For a year, Dean talked about buying the store back, but I hadn’t wanted to do it if we were unable find a good person to run it. (We sure weren’t going to.)

Dean’s collectable karma worked here. One of the local bookstore owners recommended a man who’d worked in bookstores around town for more than a decade, and had risen high in a national book chain (to the point where he would go around the country, opening stores). The local chain store closed due to a conflict between the parent company and our local mall, so the geniuses at chain store corporate laid this guy off.

Those geniuses tried to rehire him this fall—but only if he moved out of town. We had hired him instead, and he said no to his old bosses. (Life here on the coast is good.)

He spent his first month organizing everything. A collectables store can devolve into a junk store if the owner is not careful. Because collectables cover everything from thimbles to jigsaw puzzles, the shelves of a collectables store can end up looking like an indoor yard sale.

There are customers who like the clutter, but some customers—those who are looking for something specific or those who want to browse—get scared away by too much stuff. (As with everything retail, there are a bunch of studies that show this fact.)

Over the years, Pop Culture Collectables ended up with too many items randomly placed on the shelves. The first thing the new manager did was examine, clean, and move each item into a section.

That seems like common sense, right? The mugs are next to the mugs, the jewelry has its own case, trading cards are in a particular area. But the previous owner, who hadn’t had retail training, had stopped sorting as the years went by. Too much stuff, too little time, as is often the case in such stores.

After the reorganization, sales picked up immediately—not from the hardcore collectors, but from the browsers who were no longer scared of amount of stuff inside the store. With the stuff displayed in a logical easy-to-find manner, browsers (and the people who wanted one specific item) felt welcome, and spent money.

The new manager also removed every “special discount” or “special this week!” sign all over the store. He raised almost all the prices, and has not held a sale yet. He will, when he feels comfortable doing advertising, but as he said, he’ll do it for a weekend and make the sale into an event.

He sells more individual items than the store has sold per day in years.

Got that? He raised prices, and is selling more, not less. And making a larger profit on each item.

The other common-sense thing that the new manager did? Kept the store open seven days per week, for the same hours as the other stores in the mall. The previous owner would close early if the sales day didn’t look promising or if she had a doctor’s appointment. She made sure she had a minimum of two days off—more in the winter.

The new manager has time off because we hired a part-time employee to handle two days per week. But the store remains open during all posted business hours—and voila! sales went up again.

What does this do? It means people aren’t being turned away in disappointment by a closed door.

He hands out the store’s phone number to collectors. He already has a list of names for the mailing list. True collectors and what they’re looking for, have gone on yet another list. And, as the dead of winter approaches, he’s busy making sure everything is also available online.

Remember, the store we bought has been a profitable business of eight years. It supported one woman very well, and allowed her to have extra employees in the busy summer months. It was, by all retail standards, a successful business.

And yet, by doing marketing right, the manager has made the store even more successful in just three months.

This puts me in mind of writers and their marketing. A lot of writers have success doing things the way everyone else does or by discounting.

They also make their work available in only one format or on one platform. Being available on only one platform—or, to be more accurate, being unavailable on most platforms—is the online equivalent of a closed door. Because customers on other platforms hear about the book and will try to order, but can’t. They’re turned away—and they might never return.

The most important thing—the thing that the new manager reinforced for me—is placing items on the correct shelf, with similar items. Basic, basic, basic marketing. And it has more than doubled the sales at the store.

It’ll do the same for writers. If they correctly identify the genre of their books, then readers can easily find the books.

Pop Culture Collectables’ newsletter hasn’t launched yet. The Facebook page went up this week. The eBay store started a few weeks ago. There’s no website, no local advertising besides the store sign (yet).

Just proper marketing, good branding, and some common sense—or I guess, what the manager and I consider to be common sense. But we’ve both had sales, marketing, and retail training. And it’s engrained in our bones.

Writers and new publishers need to learn the same things. Because once books go to market, they’re in the retail market—and that has its own set of rules and expectations.

Price Matters

I’ve written blog posts about this before, and have a very long section in my Discoverability book about price. (Frankly, the stuff in the book makes more sense than the posts on my site because the argument is laid out in order. On the blog, it went back and forth, as I often do when I’m writing something. Check out the book on this.)

If I’ve written about price, how come I’m revisiting it here? Because, as I say all along, price is a strategy, a tool, and, at times, a weapon.

WMG Publishing and I did some price promotions for the Smokey Dalton/Kris Nelscott books which went very well. That series had terrible luck with its first publisher, St. Martins Press. The books are award-winning and highly acclaimed, and readers could never find and/or order them. So the books have a lot of potential readers, but very few actual readers.

Our strategy was to change that. We’ve done some introductory pricing of the first book A Dangerous Road, plus some targeted promotions to certain book clubs nationwide. There will be more Nelscott promotions in 2015.

One of the promotions used Book Bub, eBookSoda, and a few of the other ebook promotion sites to promote a three-day only $1.99 introductory price on A Dangerous Road. We had more downloads in that short period of time than St. Martin’s got on the hardcover sales of the last Nelscott book they published. So, our sales spiked dramatically.

But guess what? At that $1.99 price, our income went down. Significantly. Lots of sales, very little revenue.

That was something we planned for, of course, but seeing it in stark black-and-white terms made me deeply uncomfortable.

The halo effect of that introductory offer continues months later as readers work their way through the series. The books remain at full price, and the sales on A Dangerous Road have grown dramatically since that promotion as people recommend the book to friends.

The promotion did what it was supposed to do.

The following month, however, we sold fewer individual books than we did with the $1.99 price point and made a lot more money. Since I make my living as a writer, I prefer making a living wage to having a lot of downloads.

My advice remains the same: If you want to introduce your work to someone, lower the price on a special promotion. Then raise the price again—so you can actually earn money.

Use this tool sparingly. Because if you do it several times per year, the consumer will wait until you lower the price again before buying.

This New World of Publishing Is Strange

In addition to the Nelscott promotion, which WMG Publishing did in coordination with me, I experienced another $1.99 promotion in 2014. Sourcebooks routinely lowers the price of one of my backlist books on Kindle—without my permission. And let me be honest here, the royalties I make on those promotions (if I make royalties, depending on how the accounting department counts the discount [deep or not]) are miniscule. A percent of a percent of a percent. Tiny, tiny, tiny.

Usually there’s a small halo on the WMG Grayson books when Sourcebooks runs a promotion like that, but this time, the halo was huge. Why?

Because—for some reason—the book was chosen to appear on the front page of the Kindle Daily Deal, instead of one of the also-rans farther back. My understanding (and that could be wrong) is that Amazon determines which book hits that front page (and is the cover image for all the KDD emails), so there was no extra advertising spending on the part of Sourcebooks.

I saw a significant halo on my Grayson books this time, which continues—and (score!) I didn’t pay for the promotion. Sourcebooks did.

I gotta tell you: in the past, traditional publishers would never have invested advertising money in an old book. Now they do. I discovered Linda Fairstein because Pocket Books, one of her previous publishers whom she hasn’t been with in more than a decade, put one of her titles as a monthly Amazon deal (at $1.99). Now, I’m sure Pocket is doing this so that the books met a certain sales threshold. The sales threshold guarantees that the author and her agent can’t ask for a rights reversion (and the book remains as an asset on Pocket Books’ balance sheet), but hey, that traditional-publisher-advertising-an-old-book thing? Amazing. Blows my traditionally trained mind all to hell.

Sales Need To Be Special

Those of you who have read my book Discovery or who read this blog a year ago know I predicted that Black Friday would cease being the biggest shopping day of the year. Black Friday sales were way down in 2014

Why? Five Days of Black Friday! Seven Days of Black Friday! Black Friday Deals All November!

Plus, shoppers have figured out the major retailers’ systems. As Burt Flicklinger of Strategic Resource Group told NBC News on December 26, 2014,

The shoppers are outsmarting the stores, waiting for deeper and deeper discount as you get closer to the end of Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. So the longer the shoppers wait, the better the bargains.

If you can get the bargains at any point, then there’s no point in shopping on one particular day. In fact, if you’re expecting deals all the time, then why shop on anyone else’s schedule at all?

This applies to writing and book promotion as well. There are writers with only five books out who always have something free or 99 cents or on sale. If you’re a fan of their work, you will never have to pay full price for anything they do. Ever. Because they regularly put their books on sale to goose purchasing.

Weirdly, these are the same people who are often Amazon-only. So you might not be able to get their book anywhere except Amazon, and there you can get it on sale almost all the time.

The writers who used these strategies to get big “sales” numbers four years ago are mostly out of the business now.  They promoted their five books (or two books or one book) to death, watched the sales plummet no matter what they tried, and then gave up because “no one was buying books any more.”

At some point, if a writer has her books in one shop only, always on sale, and she don’t produce new product (or very much new product) then she will reach all the people who are interested in her work. Why? Because she’s not providing entry points for new readers. Those readers might have already seen her on-sale book and decided it wasn’t for them. If she had written another book or two, they might have tried those, but she never did. So readers no longer recommending her book to friends. Her book is so last year. So forgotten.

Constant sales just add to the noise. Do you know what the Black Friday specials were this year? I remember only one, a car company. I know about it only because I was watching a football game live and saw the ad more times than I want to think about. Even that special wasn’t special. For the entire month of November, that company was offering discounts to help it clear the inventory for the 2015 models. (How do I know this? I saw the ad so many damn times, I actually had time to read the fine print.)

Special has to be just that. Special.

And Black Friday 2014 proved this old adage right—in spades.

When You Ask People To Think Outside the Box, They Must Know There is A Box. They Must Understand The Box. They Must Know the Limitations of the Box

Some people can’t see the box for the cardboard. Or something like that. They have no idea what the box is, so thinking outside the box is impossible.

That’s one of those things writing teachers know: students must understand the rules before breaking them.

Same with that proverbial box. People have to understand the box before they can step outside it and figure out how to improve it.

Some People Want To Be Rewarded For Simply Showing Up

Whoa, have I had some real life lessons in 2014. One of them is that there’s a whole class of people who “get by.” They try to give the people they’re working for/with exactly what those people want by getting detailed instructions. If no instructions are forthcoming, then nothing gets done. Or gets done badly.

So we go back to our box metaphor. What might look like innovation might actually be ineptitude. Hard to tell at the beginning (when the relationship is new), easy to see in the middle.

Because I’ve always been a conscientious employee/worker/contract laborer even when I hated the work, I have never understood the people who get by. I once blew a group of get-by types out of the water at a job I hated by doing everything they spent 8 hours fudging at in 30 minutes. And then that group bitched at me for “ruining” their jobs.

So I have seen this before; I just forgot it.

Dammit.

People Are Entitled To Their Own Opinions

I just don’t have to listen to them.

I’ve decided to stop attending sf conventions for a while because of the normal nasty internal politics have gotten so ugly that I don’t even want to get near people on any of the sides—including the people I agree with.

I realized that one reason I stopped writing my blog was because I grew tired of dealing with trolls—most of whose comments I never even published on the website. I would respond to all but the worst of them, telling the trolls why they weren’t going to have a comment on my blog.

I have since decided not to do that. I have new rules for my comments section as I returned to blogging.

As always, personal attacks (on me or other writers) will not get through. Anyone who writes a comment must sign their real name with a real website that I can inspect before I put up the comment. No more anonymous posts. (I used to allow one anonymous post before the commenter got a post deleted.) If someone persistently writes nasty comments on this blog—even though that someone knows I won’t post the comments, that someone will get blocked.

Trolls and haters exist everywhere. Since I started editing in the late 1980s, I’ve had some persistent haters who naysay everything I do, both online and in person. These people (and there are always new ones) go out of their way to decry what I do in every single forum they’re on.

Staying in the business long-term means having personal ways to deal with the trolls and haters. Mostly, I ignore them. Life is too short to spend all of my time on the same boards or online forums or convention panels correcting someone else’s misperceptions and lies.

To be frank, though, I have no idea why some people need to constantly (and visibly) pee in the pool. If you don’t like the pool, find one you do like. It’s that simple.

I’ve stopped visiting some of my favorite bloggers because they’re allowing their own comment section to devolve into the same kind of nastiness I’m decrying above. The attacks on long-term writers who are very good at what they do but might not know about, support, or understand indie publishing sadden me. The attacks on indie writers because they’ve chosen not to follow traditional paths also dishearten me.

The writers who have made totally boneheaded comments to the media about things they don’t understand make me deeply uncomfortable. The opinions of some writers I can ignore (I read a lot of fiction writers whose politics I deeply disagree with), mostly because those writers are not in my face with their personal opinions all the time.

But continually get in my face with your opinions (not your fictional characters’ opinions), and I stop buying your books. Simple as that. And it’s much easier to get into someone’s face these days—with all of that social media.

You might think we agree because we like the same stories.

You are most likely wrong.

You have your opinions; I have mine.

Let’s just respect that and move on, shall we?

Speaking of Websites…

We did a redesign of my site that we’re still tweaking. I like it better (the old site was meeeeeeelting), but it still needs work, and that takes time. About the moment I think I know how to run the site, something else kicks my butt.

I’ve been fighting with the RSS Feed for months now, and may have a solution, but it’s one that I can’t implement. So I’m in the process of getting help to fix it.

Please bear with me. Because this website keeps reaffirming one of my major life lessons: I can’t do it all.

 

One Good Employee is Worth 12 Bad Employees

When you have people who do their jobs well, reward them. Pay them as much as you can, given your business model. Give them time off if/when they need it. And for heavens’ sake, tell them repeatedly just how good they are.

If you’re running a traditional business, then make notes in their employee files about how fantastic they are. Because you’d make notes if the employee sucked, wouldn’t you? Make notes on how good they are.

Because everyone makes mistakes. And at some point, you might want to remember the 1,000 things that employee did right, so that you can easily forgive the one thing he did wrong.

And if you’re truly lucky, you’ll find one of those indispensible people, the kind who make the job a joy, who do what they’re asked and more, who see the holes and fill them.

The kind who does the job better than you ever could.

Right now, we have several employees like that. They are wonderful.

 

Good Contract Labor

We also have some folks we hire on contracts from out of state, and they are wonderful as well. We give them as much work as we can—and honestly, not as much work as we’d like to. Because we only hire them on an as-needed basis, and sometimes we don’t need them.

Here’s what you do with a good contractor. Again, tell them how good they are. Pay them well. And the biggie—

Recommend them to other people.

The day before I first wrote this, I recommended three different contract laborers. One was an insurance broker (and that broker is paid by the State of Oregon, not me, because of the various new insurance laws); another was a copy editor; and the third was a book service that does a variety of things.

These recommendations are as simple as breathing to me—I don’t even think about it. I just do it.

Because if I recommend those people, then they can then build their businesses, and stay in business, and have success. They’ve done a good job. I can pay them, but I can also work the word-of-mouth. I feel obligated to do so.

And, considering all those non-thinkers I had to deal with this year, that experience has made me value the great people I work with all the more.

 

Writing Is A Damn Good Gig

I was on jury duty in 2014, which meant that when summoned by the court, I had to get up 3 hours after I usually went to bed, drive almost thirty miles over mountain roads, and report to a hallway in the courthouse, where confused locals wearing bright blue-and-white Juror buttons lingered.

Court employees scurried about doing their jobs. Other people sat nervously near the courtroom doors, waiting for some ruling that could change their lives. We jurors sipped coffee and talked, mostly about the weather or our previous jury experiences.

One morning, a cell phone pinged and pinged and pinged. We all looked around to see why someone wasn’t answering the damn thing. After a good three minutes, one juror chuckled with embarrassment and said, “Ooops, that’s me. That’s my alarm.” It was 9 am. That was his get-out-of-bed alarm. We could all relate.

Every time I sat in the courthouse, I realized just how lucky I am to be a professional writer. I can do the job anywhere. I don’t have to get up at a specific time. I don’t need a lot of equipment. I can count jury duty as research—because it is.

Once, during voir dire, a lawyer asked me what I did for a living. I said, “I write novels.” He said with complete disbelief, “And you make money at that?” I thought, You idiot, you just asked me how I make a living, and I’m under oath. I responded calmly, “Yes.”

Yes, I make a living writing novels, and writing all kinds of other things. And I’m really luck to be able to do it.

I’m even luckier that the ebook revolution hit. Indie publishing has increased my income more than fivefold, but that’s less important to me than what else the revolution has done.

It’s given me the freedom to write what I want when I want. Sometimes that’s a problem, but that’s one of those problems you trade up for. It’s one of those good problems.

I’m doing projects I could never do with a traditional publisher, in a way that satisfies both me and my readers. Not only am I my own master on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour level, but I also determine the kind of work I do.

After thirty years of writing, I forgot how wonderful that freedom is. It was and is my every day, and so it becomes routine. Then something like jury duty breaks my routine and forces me to remember just how fortunate I am.

The Hope of A New Year

Full confession: I buy nine paper calendars every year and scatter them around the house and my various offices. I also use computer calendars on every single computer I work on. Some of that is to track the current year, but mostly, I love to see those empty days on the page, waiting to be filled.

My favorite calendar time is just before the year starts, with the new possibilities gleaming ahead.

Whether you go overboard on calendars or not, I hope your new year is the best you’ve ever had—both personally and in your writing.

 

I didn’t think I’d be so happy to return to blogging, but I am. Yet another lesson learned in 2014. I really couldn’t blog while the Retrieval Artist sucked all the air out of the room—there was no space in my brain for anything else—but now that I’m rested, I’m glad to be reading the blogs and thinking about business. And writing my own again.

Thanks to all of you for the great comments and emails and forwards and tweets. Much appreciated. I also appreciate the donations, which does help to encourage me to blog more since I don’t get paid for the nonfiction.

So…if you found something of interest here, please leave a tip on the way out. (And yes to those of you who asked, White Mist Mountain is my company.)

Thanks!

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“Business Musings: Things I Learned (or Relearned) in 2014” copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 




30 responses to “Business Musings: Things I Learned (Or Relearned) in 2014”

  1. Howard Stein says:

    Fascinating! I’m a graphic designer embarking on a graphic book series. Little writing, lots of illustration. So there is a coherence here that is very useful. I’d never heard of you, but a comment on a Steven Pressfield post said you were a must-read. I love discoveries. I love being a new fan.

  2. Welcome back! You have been missed. Like you, I’ve taken time off (from fiction) while I work on a non-fiction project that is sucking all the air out of my world. Ignoring my sales and all other writing has been enlightening. Life goes on, the world doesn’t end, and I’ll have a renewed energy when I return to fiction. Like you, I also had had jury duty and the defense attorney thought my career as a romance writer was hilarious. Bet he didn’t think that when he lost the case I got picked for. That was a very telling experience that will prove worthwhile when I return to fiction. So glad you are back!

  3. I tend to not list my little story fan blog because even something so mundane can bring haters. And though I use a pen name I’m afraid I might get some blow back into my real life. I’m an attorney and, well, people like to mess with us.

    So I’ve not listed my site in awhile, though I do comment frequently. Mostly on Dean’s site. I haven’t updated it in forever, having decided to keep a minimal online presence, at least for now, while I write my first series of novels.

    I’m more of a hobbyist that likes to read yours and Dean’s sites for advice. I’m not really looking to deal with all the horrors of the internet, I might one day if my books sell well, but even then I’ll never be able to handle it as well as you and Dean.

    I listed my website here, just a fun blog for myself, I’ll probably get some haters commenting. I guess I could just turn off comments and stop being such a whiner. 🙂

  4. Kate Pavelle says:

    Glad to see you back, Kris! I enjoyed all three blogs. In fact, before the New Year I’ve been stalking this site twice a day, waiting for the last one. There’s so much going on I’m tempted to call the holidays and all of January a “life event.” Your posts, together with Dean’s blog, serve to keep me grounded and remember that yes, writing in short spurts and publishing in other blocks of time may feel chaotic, but it still counts.

  5. Cindie says:

    I love your brain! I’m so glad to have you back in this way!

  6. I am so glad to see you blogging again, Kris. Interesting lessons learned here and I agree with a lot of them.

    Related to Price Matters and Sales Need to be Special, one of the lessons I learned as a reader this year was: You don’t have to download a book just because it’s free. Like most people, I started grabbing free books by the bushel when I first got an ereader. Over time, however, I discovered that when it came time to choose the next book to read, I was much more likely to pick a book I’d paid for than one of the free ones. Unconsciously, I believe I have a perceived value based on price. (Not totally. I don’t believe a 10.99 book is worth more than a 5.99 book, but one priced at free or 99 cents isn’t as valuable to me as one priced at 3.99 or higher. Not rational, because I have read and liked free books, but I don’t choose my next fiction read rationally.)

    In the Sales Need to be Special department, I was immediately reminded of a traditionally published author whose publisher made each of the three books (at the time) in his series free in turn. I didn’t pay for a single one of them. I also haven’t read the second and third books because the first book rated “merely okay” in my mind, and I have no incentive to read the other two.

    I also concur with A Break Can Be Necessary and I’ll Never Stop Working. I think you do need time to recharge your batteries, particularly after a big project or an intense push. I published the second book in my Christian mystery series at the end of October and plunged right into NaNoWriMo to draft the second book in a different mystery series. I was feeling a bit frazzled about midway through November and committed to taking the month of December off. My month off didn’t last a full week because I wanted to start working on characters for the next book. Even with over a week of traveling on planes and staying in hotels over the holidays, I brought my notebook and continued to jot notes on characters and plot points. A more leisurely pace, certainly, but I’m now doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was five years old–tell stories–and I feel so blessed to finally be able to do it.

    PS: I now have your blog going into Feedly just fine. The last fix you made worked for me. I would have posted this as a comment on the original Facebook posting, but it would probably take me the rest of the day to find it there.

  7. Linda Jordan says:

    I’m thrilled that your back blogging again and of course I need to catch up on the Recovery Artist series.
    I wish I could buy that many calendars just for all the awesome artwork out there, but we don’t even have that many rooms in our house.
    Oh, and I’m still laughing about last week’s line – Whining is not a business strategy.
    Thanks for all the wonderful info as well as the laughs.
    Happy New Year!

  8. Hey, good news, Kris:
    your RSS feed worked again the weekend before Christmas
    and is still working for me on
    MyYahoo.

    And thanks for keeping me closer to being Up To Date !

  9. Great post, Kris – my first time at your blog, but it won’t be the last. I also picked up a copy of DISCOVERABILITY.

  10. Welcome back, I’ve missed you. I love the new site design. So many good points in this post alone, it’s a little over whelming. But, I’m in my 4th year of writing and doing my best to take your advice on running my writing business. I’m excited to start 2015 and move my business forward a little bit more. Thanks for helping me on that path.

  11. Avril Sabine says:

    “I’ve tried to stay away from my desk. I keep wandering back to it.”

    I know exactly what you mean. Writing is fun. Which is why I often write on my supposed days off and sometimes even forget to sleep because I’ve become so caught up in the story. It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to take time off from writing.

  12. Lovely to see you blogging about business again, Ms. Rusch. I was recommending your posts to fellow writers just the other day.

    My sympathies for the trolling problem. I agree that often the best answer is simply silence.

    However, in light of this – http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/16/living/facebook-name-policy – and similar incidents, could I ask you to clarify your “real name” policy?

    • I don’t care what you call yourself, Dusk, or your nickname, or whatever. But I need to be able to verify that you have a web presence or a real (matching) email address. I’m getting a lot of comments from people who use anonymous services and email addresses with those services or out of g-mail. So if you sign your post “Cutie” and then have an email that’s cutie@gmail.com, and no web address or anything (and an IP that comes from one of the the anonymous services), I won’t put your e-mail through. If I think the post is legit, and not a troll, then I might e-mail you behind the scenes for verification. Otherwise, I won’t put the comment through.

    • I don’t care what you call yourself, Dusk, or your nickname, or whatever. But I need to be able to verify that you have a web presence or a real (matching) email address. I’m getting a lot of comments from people who use anonymous services and email addresses with those services or out of g-mail. So if you sign your post “Cutie” and then have an email that’s cutie@gmail.com, and no web address or anything (and an IP that comes from one of the the anonymous services), I won’t put your e-mail through. If I think the post is legit, and not a troll, then I might e-mail you behind the scenes for verification. Otherwise, I won’t put the comment through. But if you sign “Cutie,” with that email address, and have a longstanding website with that name on it and a lot of content, I’ll put the comment through. (So all of those Facebook examples, of folks who have second identities, they would go through under my system.) I’m just trying to get rid of the people who say nasty things or make huge claims but won’t sign their name or give me any way to identify them (or verify the claims). I won’t put the comment through.

      • Thanks – I figured that was what you meant, but I thought I’d better ask, on behalf of anyone who might be too shy to.

        (Peterson is my legal name. Dusk is the part of my author name that I chose myself. It’s also my nickname, which I use socially, both online and offline. So having to sign a birth name I haven’t used for years, except on legal documents? That would be weird. Thanks for sparing me that. 🙂 )

        • It would be hypocritical of me, since my criteria would allow me to use Kris Nelscott to sign any comment or Kristine Grayson. Both have websites of long standing. 🙂 I have many names. I just admit to them (at least for the purposes of making sure I am who I say I am). 🙂 Thanks for the question, Dusk.

  13. Toby Neal says:

    Amazingly full of wisdom, humanity and generosity as always. Thanks for sharing!
    Aloha
    Toby Neal
    http://www.tobyneal.net/

  14. Robin Brande says:

    Kris, as one of the many, many people who always clicked here first on Thursday mornings for your business blog, it’s so nice to see you posting again–even if it’s going to be infrequent. We’ll take whatever you want to give!

    Thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do in the writing community. Everything takes time, and these blog posts of yours and Dean’s obviously take a huge amount of it. Thanks for being willing to share your opinions in public. Huevos.

    Happy 2015!

  15. Phyllis Humphrey says:

    PG: Thanks for Kris’s latest blog post. Now I can go back to following her directly. TPV is the best source for writers.

  16. Phyllis Humphrey says:

    I’m so glad to see you’re back to blogging. As PG himself has said, hardly anyone tells it like you do. I especially loved getting the news that the summer slump was due to Robin Williams’ suicide. I would never that guessed that, but it makes sense.

  17. Just wanted to dash off a quick note to say how happy I was to see you blogging again. 🙂

    I lurked on your blog for a very long time before, I don’t think I ever commented, I can’t remember. But I wanted to say thanks and wish you good luck in the new year!

  18. Alan Spade says:

    A very good blog, Kris, and food for thought.

    About permafree: I do use permafree, and at the end of 2013, I quitted my dayjob to go full time writing. In order to make a living, I had to go to at least four signing sessions by month in 2014 (my sales record was 70 paperback books priced between €14 and €24 sold in two days).

    It has been my experience that it was easier for me to sell because some people already know my name: one of my SF short stories has been downloaded 15,000 times on Apple alone.

    This same permafree, multiplatform short story (The Explorers) as been ranked #3 on the French Kindle store on December, 22, without engaging it in KDP Select (it was pricematched to free by Amazon) and without any marketing stunt from me: a reader that I didn’t know merely referenced the book on a website promoting free books. There were only 500 ebooks downloaded on the December month as a result, but I felt I was becoming more visible, and those 500 mere downloads have already translated in a few sales.

    I have other short stories in permafree, which generates a few sales a year for other stories or collection of stories related. For me, permafree is really a tool to increase my discoverability as an author, to get my name out there.

    About promotions: I agree with you these are to be used with care. The book that gave me the most hard work last year was The Breath of Aoles. After having experienced disappointing sales at the $0.99 price point, I experimented different price points and promo. With the “normal” price at $4.99 in March, one of the promos with the price reduced at $0.99 allowed me to sell 35 in a single day. And guess what? The novel is currently priced (as an ebook) at $8.99, and I still managed to get two sales at this price point this month!

    About anonymous comments: I absolutely agree that if there are message from haters, trolls, or personal attacks, it is wise to disable anonymous comments. But permanently?

    Look at Joe Konrath’s blog. One day in 2014, Joe allowed an anonymous author to post a guest blog on his blog. This anonymous author turned out to be Lee Child.

    I’m pretty much convinced that Lee Child also posted anonymously on the comments section of Joe’s blog previously.

    And he wasn’t alone. Many anonymous commentators on his blog are probably midlist authors, and sometimes agents.

    Granted, in the past, many anonymous commentators either disapproved strongly about Joe, or mocked him, or insulted him. When it became to much heated, Joe used to disable anonymous comments for a while. He also didn’t hesitate to delete some comments if too offensive.

    As a reader of his blog, it has been a fascinating experience to witness the gradual change of tone of anonymous comments on his blog.

    Just ask Joe if his blog would have been a better blog if he had permanently disabled the anonymous comments since the beginning. I don’t want to speak for him, but I don’t think the response to be a “yes”.

    Of course, your blog, Kris, is not Joe’s blog. Joe often uses a bit of provocation and heat to draw more traffic to his blog. We are all different, and the way you work is the best way for you (after all, erasing anonymous comments in a blog is also work).

    I just wanted to offer a different point of view.

    Ferran said: ““The attacks on long-term writers who are very good at what they do but might not know about, support, or understand indie publishing sadden me.”

    Sort of agree… sort of not. For starters, a writer is a person; this does imply a certain moral obligation, like any other biped. The same way I wouldn’t want certain people doing my floor tiles, I don’t want people pushing for certain practices that scam me, as a reader, and deprive me of certain writer’s work. This last season I got really fed up with Preston et al, for example, and a good deal of Tor writers. If they want to follow certain business practices, it’s their choice. If they try to support that with bad logic, I’m going to raise my hand. If they defend that by attacking me, I’m gonna balk”.

    I agree with Ferran here. Bad logic is bad logic, however prestigious is the voice speaking. Indie publishing has leveled the field in more than one way.

  19. Bill Peschel says:

    Great job. I’m looking back on the year as well and figuring out what to focus on in the upcoming year (besides putting out more books). I suspect it’ll be improving the marketing side.

  20. Such great insights. Thanks for sharing – and I’m glad you’re back blogging again. I don’t know how you find the time to write such thorough posts, but I’ve missed them this year. These three make up for it!

    What I’ve learned this year is that I love writing and publishing the indie way even more than I loved writing before. It’s demanding to be a publisher, but there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing my books out in the world, just the way I want them to be. I also love being able to experiment, which is key to survival in a changing market. I’ve added some fabulous people to my team in 2014, too, which just gives everything a better footing. Onward!

    All the best to you and yours in the new year – I’ll look forward to your blog posts, whenever you get to them.
    Deborah
    also writing as Claire Delacroix

  21. Suzan Harden says:

    Thanks for blogging again, Kris. Your words are my crazy-meter measure. As in, am I crazy, or am I on the right path for me? It’s very easy to get lost in the hubbub. It’s worse when real life drags you off your path, kicking and screaming all the way. Bad enough that I only released one novel early in 2014. I’m happy to be back writing, and happier to see you blogging again.

    Hop you, Dean and the furkids have a wonderful new year!

  22. Vera Soroka says:

    Very much enjoyed your 2014’s insights. I’ve made plans for production this year for my novels. We shall see what happens. I don’t know if I will ever make a living at this gig but will give it a determined try. Wish you all the best of luck in 2014!

  23. Ferran says:

    “I didn’t think I’d be so happy to return to blogging, but I am.[…] writing my own again.”

    Yippe! Kris is back.

    Now…

    “we had people who refused to use their vacation time”

    What happens in the US with unused vacations, once the year ends? Does it carry over?

    “I’d be smart enough to avoid some of these costly pitfalls.

    But I’m not.”

    Greetings, human.

    “Book sales went through the floor on August 19, 2014, all across the United States. Why? Because Robin Williams committed suicide.”

    !!??

    Besides the WTF moment… it makes a weird sense. Me, I’d buy more books and read more and give them to people, but… Also, this is gonna suck for some contracts.

    The Hachette thing… It’s been annoying. As a reader, I’ve been through enough insults. As a logical, but personally unexpected, result I’m hardly buying Big 5 any more. Tor for the SF ruckus (and insulting me as a reader), Penguin for several issues (among them, the Seal 6 book, but not only), Hachette for their tactics and behavior during their crisis. And so on. And, know what, I’m not missing them any. Imagine that some years back.

    “Some customers […] get scared away by too much stuff”

    Too much clutter or too many items?

    “They also make their work available in only one format or on one platform. Being available on only one platform […] is the online equivalent of a closed door. Because customers on other platforms hear about the book and will try to order, but can’t. They’re turned away—and they might never return.”

    Have you seen the KU stampede? I kinda, sorta, tried to tell it some months ago…

    “The attacks on long-term writers who are very good at what they do but might not know about, support, or understand indie publishing sadden me.”

    Sort of agree… sort of not. For starters, a writer is a person; this does imply a certain moral obligation, like any other biped. The same way I wouldn’t want certain people doing my floor tiles, I don’t want people pushing for certain practices that scam me, as a reader, and deprive me of certain writer’s work. This last season I got really fed up with Preston et al, for example, and a good deal of Tor writers. If they want to follow certain business practices, it’s their choice. If they try to support that with bad logic, I’m going to raise my hand. If they defend that by attacking me, I’m gonna balk.

    Anyhow, take care. Happy new year.

  24. D J Mills says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write your blogs. They keep me grounded on the business of writing.

    I suffered some micro managers in some of the jobs I worked over the years, however, I did appreciate managers who explained the outcome they needed along with the time frame and left me to do my job of creating the programs required. I tried to not micro manage anyone I employed.

    Now there is just me writing and I love this job. 🙂

    Also, calendars. Yes, I also love to fill the little squares with class dates, publishing dates, and daily word counts.

    Have a relaxing and refreshing New Year break and I will still be reading your blog next year.

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