Business Musings: Triage (Rethinking The Writing Business Part Five)
Everyone who read the previous post on inventory and the things you needed to do to manage your inventory freaked out. Or, rather, everyone who communicated with me afterwards ran the scale from mildly freaked out to majorly freaked out.
And I must confess: the idea of going through all of my inventory, with an eye to licensing every little piece, freaks me out as well. Okay, “freaked out” is too mild a phrase. I was totally paralyzed for more than a week.
Part of my brain wondered why in heavens name I even needed to write anything else. The rest of my brain had answers. The critical/logical voice said, You must finish your various series, of course. And the creative voice huddled in a panic. Once I disassembled that panic, I figured out what, exactly, was going on.
Remember, my creative voice is barely verbal. Maybe two. And once she stopped communicating in metaphor, she whined, I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life doing stinky licensing.
Okay, then. (I particularly liked the “stinky.” That told me just how young the creative voice really is.)
Me—all of me, every single part, the critical/logical and the creative, doesn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing stinky licensing either.
But, when I start a project, or when I’m in the middle of working on one. Or when I focus on a project, I love doing the licensing. That whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter thing I mentioned a few weeks ago? Yeah, I love doing that.
Not as much as I love making up stories, but I do love spitballing the new stuff. The and-this, and-this, and-this. I love it.
I just don’t want to spend my whole life at it.
Rather like editing. I gave up editing for a while, but I missed it. I just don’t want to do it full time. I don’t want to do licensing full time either, but I do want all of the opportunities licensing presents.
I’m sure you want that as well.
The key is wrapping my arms around all of my inventory. Somehow. And if I think about it as one single thing, with many branches coming off of it, I see the inventory as a never-ending forest that I could easily get lost in.
It took a while to figure out how I wanted to handle this, and to do so, I took a word out of medicine. I decided to triage my inventory. Using “triage” as a verb means that I will assign orders of priority to dealing with the items in my inventory.
In other words, whatever needs care most will receive it first. Once I have taken care of the materials that need immediate care, I will move onto the other items in the inventory, mostly by size—series first, then standalone novels, then short stories by popularity.
Whatever I’m working on currently will get the licensing treatment immediately. And whatever is coming up next in the writing queue will get the licensing treatment concurrent with the writing.
That’s for current and future projects, though, which is relatively easy. What about existing projects?
Here’s where it gets personal.
For me—and me alone—I am going by outside interest. I need to protect certain properties that are already under option and/or being examined by various film/TV and gaming corporations. If a property has received interest from one of those, then that property will need my attention first.
I did much of this when I negotiated deals on the properties currently under option. I have frozen out the licensing on a few, and I have actively retained licensing rights for everything except a TV or movie on others. Those are more or less taken care of, but we’re going to review those properties anyway, just to make certain that I didn’t miss anything.
Next, I will deal with active series. I will go through the various items I noted in Part Four, and will put those series in order.
To do that, I need to organize here in Las Vegas. In our rapid move, we lost time and track of the various filing for all our projects. I kept current deals active, but everything else is in boxes either here or in Lincoln City, waiting for some kind of order.
We’ll be organizing that starting in August, so that we can make the up-to-date spreadsheets that I mentioned in Part Four.
I can do much of it off the top of my head, however, because I do have a memory for all of this. And I did keep online lists of everything. Only the paper is out of order.
Part of my plan to keep all of this information under control and to begin the licensing projects for the inventory is to go slow. First I will organize the current and future projects; then I will triage the inventory; and then I will work my way down each item.
I will work on no more than one or two licensed properties at a time—of mine. I will be helping WMG on some upcoming projects (that need to be started right) and with projects that already exist and need the same kind of attention that my IP needs.
So, I see myself working on four or five big licensing projects (organizing them and making decisions for them) for the next year, with an eye toward prepping some of them for the 2020 licensing expo.
I won’t be working on more than four or five, even though I have hundreds of pieces of IP, because four or five is all I have time for.
If I don’t keep that kind of lid on the inventory, I will get paralyzed again. I see too many possibilities and they could take up every moment of every day.
So, this is a short post, discussing how I plan to triage my writing and the licensing connected to it.
I know many of you are as overwhelmed by your inventory as well. If you are doing something different from what I’m doing, please let me know in the comments. Other people will want to see various methods for triage. Most of us have a lot of IP and are facing a daunting task of wrangling it.
There are millions of ways to wrangle, and if we can hit on a few, then it will help all of us.
More discussion is happening on my Patreon page. I’m writing up parts of the Licensing Expo (still) and am also posting these weekly post there as soon as I finish them.
In addition, Dean is doing a year-long program on the transition that WMG is going through. If you want to follow along, you can do so by signing up here.
Thanks for sticking with me through all of this, and for sharing what you’re doing. We learn best when we learn together.
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Triage (Rethinking The Writing Business Part Five),” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / iqoncept
Just a couple of random comments here:
(1) Contrary to everything that the publishing industries (note the plural — it’s critically important to both understanding what’s going on and spotting problems) proclaim, publishing of all kinds has been a licensing transaction as a matter of law in the US since 1978, in most of the rest of the world since the 1870s, and as a practical matter in the US since 1912. The industries, however, have persistently refused to use the L word… because a licensor (author) has certain rights both regarding the contract itself and outside the scope of the contract (and generally not overrideable by contract clauses, even where those contract clauses exist) that a seller does not.
So, congratulations and welcome to the party, licensors. Just remember that you won't be educating just yourself about licensing: Frequently, you're going to have to educate your licensees (publishers, merchandisers... even self-publishing and distribution platforms), and just as frequently, they don't want to be educated. Some of this is because they actually already know this material but also know that it's to the licensor's advantage, so they push back. Some of this is arrogance and ignorance arising from "we've always done it this way." Some of it is darker. And there's substantial overlap.
(2) I strongly, strongly, recommend creating a relational database for managing rights and properties. It’s just not that hard — actually no harder than multiple spreadsheets, precisely because a relational database can be represented as multiple spreadsheets! The free LibreOffice includes a relatively simple, powerful relational database system… that by the time any author outgrows it will still function effectively as a data source for a customized solution. (If you have a higher-end version of Microsoft Office, Access will do the same thing, but it’s slightly less simple to port its data to other programs, and it’s not free.)
The main advantage of a database program is that when you need to extract just a subset of data, you do NOT run the risk of accidentally altering or deleting other data. There is NO spreadsheet program that comes close to protecting against this problem. Excel, LibreOffice, and other spreadsheets try to pretend that they can do passive data extraction using "lookup" type functions, but using those functions is itself not risk-free -- especially because MISusing them can result in other errors propagating throughout the spreadsheet. That doesn't happen with a database report.
(3) Triage is an important concept, but the analogy is inexact and perhaps a bit misleading in one respect. For a medical professional, “triage” also includes consigning certain high-care-needed and low-probability-of-survival-even-with-care cases to later, not first. (In other words, “urgent,” “important,” and “critical status” aren’t the same thing.) That concept also applies here: If properly exploiting Property 1 is going to require so much of your attention and resources that it will consign Properties 2 through 5 to NOT being exploited, a true “triage” process requires considering whether Property 1 should be treated as an untreatable terminal patient and abandoned in favor of 2 through 5. Because sometimes you must murder your darlings, and other times you must leave them to the horrible fate that the entertainment industry has imposed so that others might live.
Thank you for mentioning the LibreOffice database. That’s the program I was going to go with for this, and you just helped me see it’s a viable idea.
I miss FileMaker!
This will sound like I’m tooting my own horn. Well, screw it, I sort of am.
But I didn’t find your inventory post intimidating at all.
I “met” Dean, and later you, shortly after commencing my writing journey way back in the days of yore in early 2011. One thing he impressed in me through his blog posts, and that I should have thought of myself but didn’t at first, was the importance of tracking costs associated with each piece of writing work, so as to be able to judge return on investment from each.
Consequently, I tapped into the anal Engineer in me (not hard to do considering my background) and I have tracked all of my writing output – to the minute – so as to be able to accurately track number of words written and time spent per project, and thus the labor cost associated with each. As a result, I have accurate records of every piece of writing I’ve ever done. Now, those records are spread out among multiple spreadsheets, since I do a new one for each year. But I know exactly what I’ve written, how much labor it took, and what my average words per hour has been, from the very beginning of my writing career.
And since I’ve been primarily focused on indie and have made only made a few professional sales since then, I also know exactly what rights I have and have not licensed. Now, I’ve only got a few dozen IPs out there. But as I continue to crush the Great Challenge through the rest of this year that will grow to well over a hundred total. And I’m continuing to track everything because anal, and because it’s pretty fun.
Not at all in your league, but still. 😉
So when you said, “Make an inventory,” I honestly thought, “Hell yeah, I’ve already got one.” Anal Type A personality for the win! 🙂
The inventory is not complete, in that I haven’t been tracking rights licensing as well as I should. For that, I intend to use the Intellectual Property Tracker App that Monalisa Foster is developing. It’s getting ready to go into Beta testing shortly. Once it’s ready to go, I would highly recommend folks check it out. It’s going to be awesome.
tl;dr – This new chapter you and Dean are discussing has me pretty darn psyched. This is going to be awesome. And if what Monalisa’s creating is as great as it looks like it’s going to be, it will be an invaluable tool going forward.
So, not to be the “what computer do you use to write” guy but what program is WMG planning to use to track and categorize all the pieces of information from last week’s post?
Spreadsheets don’t seem like they’ll do this easily because you’ll have so many pieces of data tied to each story/character, as well as the history of, say, contracts you previously negotiated. I’m not a VBA macros power user but I know my way around a spreadsheet, so if this is possible in Excel, I’d be curious to see how it’s done.
I am not going to be the person to discuss this with. I’m dyslexic and spreadsheets actually make my vision vibrate. So whatever we work out will probably be in Dean’s transition class. I’ll be the person who gets the data in a word file after it’s exported. Sigh.
Maybe borrow a page from requirements management and adapt a traceability matrix? Depending on how much inventory you have, and how much you’re going to do with it, a simple template might be a starting point with the option to convert to one of the software platforms once your inventory (or licensing activity) progresses past a certain point. There are some other tools used that I’m not as familiar with (I’m just starting out in that field), but the matrix might be a good way to document the ‘hey wouldn’t it be neat’ ideas that aren’t feasible in the current market environment but can then be reviewed in the future. You’d already have the relationships to the other activity (current or completed) and would be able to adjust the relationships as needed.
I’ve been contemplating this as I think it over for my work and the two collaborations I’m participating in.
In a spreadsheet, I think I’d use an arrangement of pivot tables, myself. I’ll have to rough it out and see how it looks once I have a scope established.
I’m also considering whether it would be easier in the long run to construct a simple database with a long-running, open-source database program as a base.
The hardest part is defining the scope of the data to be tracked. The sheer open-endedness of it all is exciting – but really hard to build a tracker around. (Do I track worlds as well as each story inside them? How about series? How am I going to handle characters? Items? Maybe they’re all just ‘properties’ and tracked alike, differentiated with a description tag for sorting. How many ‘interest trackers’ do I build per property? Do I want specific kinds of categories for them, or a text field? How about ‘state’? active? closed? historical? hot/warm/cold? A text field? Should there be follow-up alert dates on each? Optional or not? Do I need long description fields, or just enough room to remind me what I’m looking at and reference a file kept elsewhere? There are so many options I need to contemplate for a while, I think.)
Other people’s mileage may vary; my day job involves a lot of spreadsheet fun and a fair sprinkling of database work, so those options sound straightforward and are the sort of thing I’ve put together for paid and volunteer work (or to manage my book collection before the advent of LibraryThing). It’s the kind of task that seems challenging-but-manageable to me.
My husband, who worked in entertainment negotiations for a few decades, is taking all of this much better than I am. (‘Well… of course. Did you mean you hadn’t thought of that?’) I’m going to have to sit down with him and pick his brain, I think. I love having such a clever fellow about.
Pivot/lookup tables might work, for a limited number of IP works.
TBH I’m not sure how Excell handles relationships these days. The versions I used for work couldn’t handle it. Does Excell handle queries to other spreadsheets?
This is a challenge!
Excell really isn’t the right software for more than a dozen separate IP properties. You can have a sheet for each property, and track licensing that way. It will work for the ‘average’ Indie.
But an inventory of even 30 IP properties, or the size of the WMG catalog…nope, not ‘big’ enough. Access or some other database would be much better. Any time you need a ‘one to many’ relationship, a spreadsheet won’t cover it.
However, I’m not sure that Office includes Access anymore. A lot of databases are crazy expensive, but I haven’t priced one in decades.
Sorry for the ‘geek out’, couldn’t help it.
Zoho has an online database builder that is soooo much simpler than Access. There is a free version for smaller accounts.
I just published my 13th book, so I’m not in your league, but your post got me thinking. I am starting audio books on my most successful series and it seemed like a good idea to start some kind of inventory. I have 4 series with 4-5 distributors in 2-3 formats. That started feeling overwhelming. So I started with the most simple stuff – listing my books by series, with a separate page for each book with distributor, publication date, format, ID/ISBN, if exclusive, when that expires, price. At the top I have the genre and the headline I use for ads, #words, # chapters and #pages for the print version. At the bottom I put a running tally of sales numbers and royalties earned by year for just that book.
Then because my form was already crowded I started a sales by series with books sold and royalties earned by year with a running total. It amazed me to see how little I had made on one series. I knew it didn’t do well, but I had not analyzed how badly it was failing.
I’m sure the form will grow and change as needed, but for now I have consolidated all the information I currently have about each book at a glance. And when I’m ready to think about next steps, I’m already organized. I hope.
I’m overjoyed! I actually have the jump on you, just this once.
I have a complete inventory of every short story (320) that I. C. Talbot ever wrote! These stories were my mother’s and I’ve been publishing them a few at a time. (One has garnered interest from a publishing/media company.) I can add my own work to the inventory in about 10 minutes.
I’ve been reading your blogs for years and really appreciate all the wisdom you have shared. Thank you, ever so very much.
Thank you, this is a great series of posts, and I’m keeping notes. That’s as far as I’ve got.
I’m still mulling over in my head what to put on the spreadsheet? As in formatting for what is or is not useful or needed to keep track of an IP.
I’ve been thinking of using this as a place to store agreements and dates by project. It’s a new project put together by John Scalzi’s agent. I think he’s productizing the spreadsheets he’s used to keep track of the clients in his agency. https://www.royaltyreminder.com/ I haven’t started yet, but I’m toying with the idea. The inner creative me has grown to loathe these kinds of things though, so it will take some coaxing.
Interesting … from a brief look, I’d be worried about lock-in and the cloud components (didn’t see any T&Cs related info while poking around). Owning the data and related contract info would be hugely important, I would think, in this new world.
I do think this same type of thing could be done with already available database software. Only problem is, that type of software isn’t necessarily easy to use and most people don’t know how to use it (including me, though I sort of understand how it works).
I know there was a Kickstarter Dean mentioned a while back but I looked it up recently and saw that they were having some issues with their developer, so I’m wondering if any software for this exists out there at all (though of course, other IP businesses must use something).
There’s a ton of software for this. They sell it at the licensing fair. However, it’s geared toward larger businesses and corporations, so it’s pricey. I don’t know if there are cheaper versions for smaller businesses. Something we plan to investigate.