Business Musings: Bread and Cupcakes

Business Musings: Bread and Cupcakes

I’m allergic to dairy. It’s one of the many allergies that sent me to Vegas. In Lincoln City, restaurants didn’t understand that no dairy meant no butter, no milk products, no cheese. The restaurants would often scrap off the offending item if they accidentally mixed it into my food, not caring about cross-contamination. Between that and my perfume allergy, I was no longer able to eat in any restaurant in the city by December.

So Vegas has been wonderful. When I say “allergy,” a restaurant here snaps to. They get it, because the competition for customers is so severe that everyone lives and dies by their Yelp reviews. One allergy screw-up and a restaurant is out of business. It’s been absolute heaven for me—except for bread.

I can’t find good dairy-free bread anywhere. I find some in grocery stores, but that bread is…mediocre at best.

So today, I was at my new haunt, the vegan bakery that supplies vegan desserts to half the restaurants in the city, and has fueled my sweet tooth since I moved here. I asked the owner if they made bread. They did not, although, she told me, every restaurant they do business with will buy dairy-free and gluten-free breads if they would provide it.

“You should!” I said with great enthusiasm.

“Oh, we can’t,” she said, looking tired. “We’re already doing too much as it is. We simply can’t take on any more.”

I get it. I really do.

Her bakery is so good that her clients want more. Not just more of what she already makes but more items. There’s a market, and they know she would fulfill that market with integrity, and it would add to the restaurants’ bottom line.

But she can’t.

Because they’re moderating growth.

It’s sensible. It really is. If you’re good at what you do, you will end up with more work than you can do.

When Dean and I started Pulphouse Publishing a hundred years ago, and people asked us for more of this and more of that, we worked hard to supply it. We hired more people, rearranged the business half a dozen times, and grew and grew and grew.

The problem with that was that the money didn’t grow and grow and grow with it. Accounts receivable grew, because our clients had 90 days to pay us, and often took 120 before we got too pissy.

The fact that the money didn’t arrive for nearly four months meant we were always running behind. It was a treadmill at top speed. It felt like we were going somewhere, but if we stopped moving, we would careen backwards and hit the wall.

Which was eventually what happened.

It left me gun-shy. Dean evaluated and obsessed and figured out what we did wrong, using facts and figures and tons of numbers. All that work, necessary as it was, simply confirmed what I had already known: we grew too fast and without the proper financial support.

That was a mistake we vowed not to make again. We’ve come close a few times with WMG, but we’ve always pulled back.

It means that we’re constantly saying no to things that would be good for our business, and eventually good for our bottom line. It’s extremely frustrating, because when you pencil out the numbers, it’s clear that doing all of those things would be great—if we could pull it off.

And that’s always the gamble.

I saw that frustration in the bakery owner’s eyes today. She knew that they’re refusing to service a market that would make them tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. But it would probably cost tens of thousands to start up, and a lot of time and energy and maybe a loss of focus on their core business.

Writers get into this same situation. I’m in it right now. I’m getting settled from the move. I can finally see what life here in Vegas will be like. I know how Lincoln City will continue to factor in, and I know where I’ll be when. It no longer feels chaotic.

I’m still organizing my writing, revisiting deadlines and figuring out what I can do with my entire research library in boxes. And as I’ve been doing this, and I’m realizing just how much better I’m feeling, which is bringing hours back into the day, projects have reared their abandoned heads and asked, What about me? You haven’t thought of me for years.

I’m interested. I really am. I want to revive the old projects, do the work that fans are writing me and asking for, get a few projects done before any film/TV starts shooting (three possible at the moment), and explore some new ideas that have come up in the last year. I know if I schedule too heavily, I’ll break out of the schedule, because that’s what I do (and have done since I was a kid). So, I’m assessing what I want to do, and what would be best for me here, given the resources that I have right now.

A very real factor is time. There’s the time it will take me to write something, the time it will take me to rebuild my knowledge of a world I haven’t written in for a while, the time it’ll take to research something I want to write about.

But the bigger factor is the treadmill. I’m feeling better now. We’re having to look at the overall schedule for all of the businesses, given the changes my health has caused, so this is the perfect time to redo all of our plans.

If we’re going to add anything—if I’m going to add anything—the time is now. Just like this is the perfect time to delete something as well.

But we have to be really cautious. Because the biggest mistake we can make—as a business and I can make as a writer—is to work at the very edge of my productivity. Not the bottom edge, but the top edge, where every waking moment is spent on words or a deadline or something for the business.

I’ve done that in the past—did that during the early years of Pulphouse Publishing, in fact, through the time of my editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It leads to burnout, and a lack of interest in the work. And writing ceases to be fun.

Writing should always be fun.

Not gleeful, screaming-on-a-rollercoaster fun, but something that we look forward to every day. And pushing it too hard, putting too much emphasis on it—even with the good things—will eventually cause writing to become work. Ditch-digging, back-breaking, garbage-hauling work.

The quality won’t necessarily go down (although it might), but enjoyment will and there’s no reason to do this profession if it’s not fun.

That look on the bakery owner’s face was cautionary for me as I’m slowly returning to the land of the living. That frustration combined with the knowledge that taking the slower road, doing less and keeping the business alive, was the better choice—that look. I’ve experienced it.

But I’ve also fallen backwards off a treadmill (metaphorically and in real life), and it’s not something I want to do again.

The question is balance. How do you—I—all of us figure out how much is too much? How much is too little? Are we pushing hard enough or not engaging enough?

Sometimes the numbers are clear. For the bakery owner, adding in bread would mean at least doubling her workload (not counting a learning curve on figuring out how to make bread in bulk), adding employees and maybe another site for baking. And delivery trucks and sales people, and, and, and.

When you’re a single-employee shop, as many of you are, increasing your writing production might mean that you’ll need to hire someone to handle the publishing duties. Because those take time as well, and what’s the point of increasing production if you can’t get the books out?

That very question was why, in 2010, Dean and I realized we would have to start another publishing company. We had too much writing to do, and we needed someone to handle the production.

We couldn’t afford that someone in 2010. We had a dollar amount in our heads, and we needed to get the business to that point before we could hire anyone. And I wanted to hire Allyson Longueira. I knew what her job at the local paper paid her, and I wanted to pay her at least that, if not more, since we couldn’t guarantee the job for longer than a year.

We talked and talked and talked to her, and she was willing to wait for us (thank heavens!). We didn’t hire her until April of 2012, which makes this her sixth anniversary month. Clearly, we made it through that year, and then some.

But we had her entire year’s salary in the bank when we hired her. Learned that lesson from Pulphouse.

Even when you have the money banked or the time or the ability, you don’t always have to grow and expand. A lot of businesses remain the same size for reasons other than financial. Quality of life, enjoyment of the type of business it is, and a whole bunch of other reasons.

Because any growth will change the nature of the company. It’s that simple. It’s like being promoted past your competence. I know a lot of people who have turned down a management job or who refused to relocate to another city because they liked where they were, and what they were doing.

Quality of life factors are just as important as the financial factors.

And every change should be penciled out for its costs, not just financially, but in time and energy, with a search for potential headaches.

You’d think writers would be immune from some of that. But I watched a friend of mine increase his production to the edge of what was comfortable for him. It lasted a month before a life event caused him to derail, which frustrated him, and made him decide to work harder than he really should have.

The odd bottom line—something I’d seen happen to other writers as well—was the harder he worked, the slower he got. He was and is a speedy writer, but he was working at half-speed during that time. He was tired, he wasn’t interested, and there was much too much to do.

Fortunately, he’s the sensible sort and he saw the impending burnout before it destroyed him.

But it was close.

It’s frustrating, though. Just as frustrating as it is for the bakery owner. Because the possibilities are out there. And for us writers, those possibilities are easy to imagine. The ideas are graspable, and yet…

Writing and business form a fragile alliance. Too much emphasis on the writing, and no business gets down, which means not enough money to continue the writing. Too much emphasis on the business, and it can destroy the writing by overburdening it or forcing the writer to work on projects she’s no longer interested in.

Every business has to find its balance. And that balance is as unique as the business is. Just like every writer must find their balance.

It’s tough, and it often requires a reassessment every few weeks or months.

If we do it right, we end up with a thriving and successful business as it is, rather than constantly imagining what it could be.

Yes, I’m sad that the bakery doesn’t offer bread. But I’m so happy that the bakery is here, in this city. Because I lived in a city where the only dairy-free sweet I could find was a fairly mediocre raspberry sorbet at the grocery store. Or unless Dean or I baked the sweet ourselves—and that was time consuming.

I would much rather have a great cupcake and no bread, than bread and cupcakes for a year or so, and then no cupcakes at all.

That’s what we writers have to remember when we think we need to work faster. Nope. We need to continue to work smart. Because working smart will keep us in cupcakes, even if we never get to the bread.

****

The inspiration for this blog was a stupid noodle in my head that I should start another blog series so that I could do another nonfiction book. The Branding Book will be out soon, and it’s causing WMG as many fits as it caused me. I don’t need that kind of headache right now, but it sure would be nice to have a new nonfiction book in the fall…

And no. I’ve got other things to do, such as continuing this move, and finishing two major fiction projects.

I will have more posts soon, though. I’m starting to read through the saved articles from the past few months, and I’m finding them quite inspiring.

Thanks to all of you for sticking with me during this transition. And to many of you for remembering that this is a reader-funded blog!

If you saw anything you liked in the last few weeks, please feel free to leave a tip on the way out. If you want to support the blog in a more direct way, head over to Patreon.

And thanks for all the kind words, support, and suggests as I scrambled across country. (For those of you who asked, the cats are doing better than expected, although they are protesting the lack of comfy chairs at the moment. [There will be more chairs by fall.])

Thanks, everyone!

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Bread and Cupcakes,” copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright Canstock Photo/BVDC.




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38 responses to “Business Musings: Bread and Cupcakes”

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  2. Nicole says:

    I was going to suggest the artisan bread thing myself – I had that going when I was doing a dietary challenge for migraine control (I brought wheat back in early – no effect – but hadn’t added in dairy or any preservatives or dough conditioners.) The dough’s just flour, salt, yeast and water, and it sits in the fridge until you bring it out to rise and bake. Flatbread (drizzle with olive oil and zatar or kosher salt and rosemary or sesame seeds) takes very little rise time (so no thinking ahead) or you can make loaves for sandwich bread or shape for baguettes or cottage loaves or pizza (there are great soy or coconut-based cheeses we use with vegan friends. Some melt better than others).

    I made a batch last week, and I’m thinking of starting up again, except that then I eat so much more bread.

    If you don’t enjoy baking, though, buying bread is a better use of your time. I find the smell of the baking bread is a huge bonus, and I love kitchen things, so the low-labour bread is a good trade off for me. (Baking counterbalances my engineering day job. I can write while waiting for the bread to rise, and I’m clearly /busy/. I’m /baking/. It’s like the annual fruitcake – three hours in the oven for me to write, while the rest of the world can be shooed off because I’m doing Important Arcane Magical Stuff. Like drinking the rum and writing about a Sasquatch detective.)

    I empathise – some of my allergy items just give me a blinding migraine, but a few put me into respiratory arrest. I can live with a three-day headache (I do, frequently, when the weather changes or the light hits me wrong or the stars align), but, well, the others? I might not. And they’re weird ones, too.

  3. Love what you are teaching here. Thank you again.
    Sharing with my writer group.

  4. Thank you for this one.

    I’m struggling with the feeling of not getting enough done, every single day. Some of it is true – I’m not working as much as I could. But your article gave me much needed perspective. Not everything I “could” do is good for me, my writing or my business.

    Time for some hard thinking.

  5. […] https://kriswrites.com/2018/04/11/business-musings-bread-and-cupcakes/ “It left me gun-shy. Dean evaluated and obsessed and figured out what we did wrong, using facts and figures and tons of numbers. All that work, necessary as it was, simply confirmed what I had already known: we grew too fast and without the proper financial support.” Something to think on! […]

  6. Catrin Lewis says:

    My reaction to this article was an ironic illustration of your point.

    I do just fine with dairy, thank you, and with gluten as well. But as soon as you said there wasn’t a bakery near your that sold dairy-free bread, I began to think of all the recipes I have for that. I visualized opening a bakery that would sell those items, and how I’d display them and label them and market them. I thought how I could research gluten-free breads and how I could make them taste just as good as the gluten-in variety. Yeah. All that.

    And you know? I could probably open a bakery specializing in dairy- and gluten-free breads, had I world enough and time.

    But I don’t. I’m hardly keeping up with my life the way it is.

    Maybe that’s part of why I write. So many things would be cool to do that I can never do. But I can write stories where my characters do them. And that will be good enough.

  7. allynh says:

    I think that it was Jorges Luis Borges who talked about the library where every book that you dream of writing, actually exists. Neil Gaiman in his Sandman comics actually had that library sitting in Dream’s Realm.

    No matter how many books I publish, I will leave thousands of books on the shelves of that Dream Library.

    Give yourself a year of being in Las Vegas, stable, healthy, functional, before you start planning anything new.

    Each day that you start looking at “What about this, what about that” you are adding to your own shelves in that Dream Library. You are adding hundreds of books that you can never publish, so stop that and enjoy being healthy. The real books that you publish over time will take care of themselves.

    As for bread:

    Learn to make tortillas, both corn and flour, or find the local Mexican grocery that makes flour and corn tortillas fresh. You have never tasted a flour or corn tortilla until you have it fresh at that moment.

    Since you are in Las Vegas you now have access to a real Mexican grocery that supplies the locals.

    Here are some videos that show what I mean.

    Homemade Corn Tortillas

    How to Make Flour Tortillas

  8. acflory says:

    Thank you for this: ‘Every business has to find its balance. And that balance is as unique as the business is. Just like every writer must find their balance.’

    I still have to juggle work, life and writing, so the admin/marketing/being-out-there side of things has really suffered. I’ve caught up on most of my writing related jobs since Easter, but I have no energy left to ease back into the creative writing. 🙁

    A lot of time and energy will be freed up in July when I officially retire, but until then, I’m just trying to keep the frustration levels low and the pace kind.

    I’m so glad the move has brought about an improvement in your health. Everyone talks about ‘time’, but few mention energy. Sadly ill health drains energy faster than Niagara Falls.

  9. […] Ich hoffe doch, dass ich nicht so lange an einem Roman herumverschlimmbessere. – Kris: https://kriswrites.com/2018/04/11/business-musings-bread-and-cupcakes/ Ein tolles Bild über das Wachstum und die Wachstumsgeschwindigkeit eines Unternehmens. Besonders […]

  10. Writing is my refuge, the one place I’m unique and myself – for up to a couple of hours a day, if I’m very lucky.

    It is getting strained by our plan to move to a retirement community – dejunk and sell house of 37 years and 3 kids, find a new place on the other side of the country, move and resettle – because my good hours need to be dedicated to solving problems only I can solve. I don’t get to write for days on end (we only manage a moving-related task a day or so, but it takes all our energy). I am grumpy. I keep telling myself it will be better – this will be a permanent move. To a forever home. Yikes!

    I can only gape in awe at all you do – we’re close in age. Take care of yourself; not only is writing not fun when you overreach, but the stress is dangerous.

  11. Very timely post. I’m seeing a lot of talk this week on Facebook and a thread on Twitter about burnout and taking on too much.

    Good luck on your bread hunt. I’m so grateful none of my allergy problems have crossed into food.

  12. Amy Laurens says:

    It’s so interesting reading this – I didn’t realise that American bread had milk in it!! Explains why the bread at Costco when it first moved out here tasted so strange to an Australian palate. I know a couple of people above have suggested a bread maker, and I can definitely attest to their usefulness – we grew up with one, and I use ours occasionally too now as an adult. More often, though, my husband will bake us break on a Sunday for the week – only takes him half an hour or so. Highly recommend Fork’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast, and also this is a quick, basically no-knead version that we used to do. Makes a softer-crumbed bread than the ones in FWSY. http://www.pepperplate.com/sharedrecipe.aspx?id=dfa9542d-fb80-4b65-a19c-5c046f30bdbc

    Of course, you might not have time in your schedule to make bread, in which case hurrah for the kosher option and cupcakes, etc 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. P.D. Singer says:

    You’ve just described perfectly how undercapitalization will sink a fledgling business.

    On the bread front: have you considered a bread machine? The three minutes to dump ingredients in and press a button can be the most wisely-spent three minutes of my day. And you will know without a shadow of a doubt what’s in there. Most recipes calling for butter can be made with olive oil or canola oil instead. I’ve been meaning to try coconut oil too.

  14. Mirtika says:

    I feel ya. I’m allergic to ALL Seafood and hubby is sensitive to gluten (he gets digestive ickies). We went to eat at a kabob place and I mentioned both our allergies, and I mentioned gluten/wheat/rye etc as a no-no; and the gal brought pita bread. I said that pita bread has wheat. I think she was thinking regular old sliced bread was what “gluten” was referring to. Ditto another one where I asked if a particular sauced dish had any seafood. “No, only some fish sauce.” Um……

    I buy Ezekiel bread for myself, which I find very nice toasted (though not room temp). I happen to LOVE Dave’s Killer Bread with 21 Grains and Seeds. It’s delish. No dairy in the ingredients, BUT….it is manufactured in a facility that processes dairy, nuts, and soy.

    I get Schar multigrain or Udi’s from the supermarket for hubby (also the gluten free tortillas from Food for Life and Engine 2). There is an allergy free baker — Katz Gluten Free Bakery–that has kosher items that are free of items like dairy, nuts, gluten. I’ve gotten their Everything Bread to give hubby a taste of those Everything bagels he loved eating as a kid. They also have some nice muffins (the zucchini chocolate protein are my fave, the iced chocolate with sprinkles are hubby’s). The cookies (choco dipped, esp) are nice. They ship frozen.

    Because so many folks down here are health conscious–vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free eaters, preservative free or raw eaters, etc– it would be smart for restaurants and bakeries to offer options. For celiacs and the super-duper-super sensitive that’s a problem: they’d have to have a totally separate kitchen or use an outside provider. But I’d look into it if I had a restaurant, due to knowing so many folks with allergies (ahem, right here) or with special diets by choice.

    Keep thriving!

    • Thanks, Mirtika. I am one of the super-sensitives on dairy. I can’t have bread made in a facility that could cross contaminate. 🙁 I will look into the things you mention. And yeah, I’m also allergic to seafood and people who don’t understand that fish sauce is a problem make me shake my head. 🙂 But here, at least, they try…

      • claredragonfly says:

        I’m a big fan of Ezekiel bread (the brand is actually Food for Life) myself. You’ll find it in the freezer section, possibly the healthy/natural freezer section if your grocery store has such a thing.

    • Kate Pavelle says:

      Trader Joe’s has a nice gluten-free bread, and of course it’s better toasted.

  15. D J Mills says:

    I have made bread for myself for over 45 years, first by hand, which took time, then in small bread machines which took long enough to measure the ingredients into the pan and push start. I still make my own bread, but don’t eat as much so slice and freeze and only remove and toast when I need a few slices. 😉

  16. So much of what you’ve talked about here is what I’ve been feeling for these past six years and my journey into parenthood. Having those moments of quiet and wanting so bad to write more and get to all these stories I’d put on hold, only to slowly accept what I can actually do in each moment—which never felt like enough when it came to my subconscious. Talk about a balancing act! Recognizing those days or moments when writing would feel like my inner two-year is digging her heels into the sand, kicking and screaming… and those days where I’m just tired but I sit down and simply try to write and suddenly an hour later I’ve got my word count in and a smile on my face. It’s like I’ve got to do this constant checking in with myself… when it’s just being tired or lazy, and when I’m truly exhausted and forcing the writing would head down that path of not-fun and burnout. I’m also slowly coming to the realization as well that just because my kids are getting older and more independent I don’t suddenly get this freed-up amount of time to write or do business stuff. Intellectually, I should cause that’s what is supposed to happen. But in reality… we just simply weren’t built that way. Emotions and energy are huge for us and I need to be aware of it—and of people and/or situations that sap all that right from us. I’m going to try and use that as a reminder when I’m feeling frustrated and when I want to write more: work smart.

  17. I feel for you on the bread. I’ve been no dairy for nine years because of the massive headaches that milk proteins handed me, especially whey. The weird places that it hides is crazy, like in bouillon. The whey is used to control moisture so that powders flow. I’ve found that I need to know how food is made to make good calls because whey often doesn’t get correctly labeled.

    Aside from coconut milk ice cream, apple pie, and other fruit based pies (crusts are just fat and flour), dessert is too hazardous to order. I took up baking bread a few years ago, which isn’t hard but it is particular. I’m also the breakfast maker in the family, so I’ve gotten really good at dairy free pancakes and waffles. (Hint: Use water, then sub in a bit of sugar to get proper browning, but the caramelization doesn’t quite smell the same.)

    As an unexpected bonus, I get a free righteousness pass whenever anyone complains about giving up anything.

    Good luck with your no dairy life. You aren’t alone and we other no dairy folks get it.

  18. Isabo Kelly says:

    Great blog, Kris! An always excellent reminder. I burned out hard 2 yrs ago (the serious kind where I might have never written again–first time in my life that sounded good and doable). Took me 2 years (thanks to some family life rolls coming in that same time period to complicate my recovery), but I’m back to excitement about writing. And it’s definitely a delicate time when I could easily over commit myself (again!) in my enthusiasm. I’m going to keep coming back to this post over the next few months. Thanks again for the warning/reminder.

  19. May I suggest the purchase of a bread making machine. It makes making bread a doddle, and you will always know what is in the bread. We’ve never looked back since Susan bought her Panasonic Breadmaker.

  20. Mary Fishler-Fisk says:

    Also consider real French bread, not the similar Italian bread, probably not supermarket French bread. If there’s a French bakery, you should be able to get the real deal–flour, water, yeast, salt, that’s it.

  21. Kris,

    When you say “rebuild my knowledge of a world I haven’t written in for a while,'” what does that entail? I have multiple series and I would love to know how you get your head back in the game each time you switch to a new series.

    • Generally, it involves rereading everything including my notes and my inexplicable half-sentences. I have to reread the entire series as well. [sigh]

      • I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear that! I’ve heard Dean before seem to talk about not rereading your work (and perhaps this is the exception to that). Then last year I read most of the Retrieval Artist series again and was blown away by your reoccurring details, sometimes several books (and several years) apart, and I wondered, “How on earth does she do that if she doesn’t reread?!”

        I’ve started series bibles where when I’m proofing I pull whole paragraphs of descriptions or make notes about plants, animals, people, titles etc. mentioned as well as family histories and local histories (in the case of sci-fi and fantasy) and put them into an Evernote document so I can pull up those details on a device when writing the next book. But all this time I’ve been thinking maybe it’s just because my memory is so dreadful that I need all this information.

        Do you put tabs or something in your books so you can quickly flick back to descriptions as needed (e.g. Flint’s office)?

        I don’t envy you getting your head back into the Retrieval Artist series. With a million words in the Anniversary Day saga alone, at what point does that seem just too daunting to contemplate returning to?

        • I do tab things and I have a system on the computer as well.

          If I have another story to tell, it’s never daunting to go back. I just need the time to do it. (That’s the problem with the Fey) I have to figure out timing. But the story is always there, at the edge of my brain, waiting to be told.

  22. Do you know about “parve” bread? It’s kosher, with no dairy. Challah, which might not be what you want is often parve. Any food designated with kosher P or U is often parve. Kosher dairy has a P. I don’t know if it would meet your other requirements, but at least it’s dairy-free.

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