Business Musings: The Spectacular Spectacular
Every year when I finish my work on the Holiday Spectacular, Dean asks me if I want to do it again. There’s a variety of reasons why he asks me that question.
The first is that this project is a lot of work, not just for me, but for all of WMG Publishing. The project is so complicated behind the scenes that the first year we did it, I had to explain what I wanted several times. It wasn’t that I was unclear, it was simply that no one had ever tried this before and we were literally inventing the wheel.
What’s the wheel?
Well, I got the idea for the Holiday Spectacular long before it was actual possible to do it. I had received a secular online Advent calendar that pleased me so much it made my (rather sad) holiday. We lived in Lincoln City at that point, and I was not well. I also was (and am) allergic to a lot of things. Going out to eat had become impossible there. Everything shut down over the holiday and driving into Portland or Salem was really scary at that time of year because of bad weather over the mountains. A trip to the local Fred Meyer was pretty much the highlight of my holiday season, once the local chain movie theater decided to shut off the heat in the winter to save money. (I kid you not.)
The online calendar and the joy it brought made me wonder why I couldn’t write a story per day and put it up throughout the holiday season. I was too sick to do that, and besides, I had a lot of other projects. That one would have eaten my year.
And…I could only do it once. If the online calendar taught me anything, it was that projects like this are slow-grow projects. If you want to see the modern version of the calendar that caught my attention, check out Jaquie Lawson’s work. The calendar is a marvel now. She can pay for a major orchestra and choir to do holiday music for her. She’s hired a bunch of artists, and some different voices to do video storytelling. She’s also developed some small online games which are super addictive.
She grew that calendar from something that was little more than a series of animated gift cards and made it into this marvelous project.
So, I put my story-filled advent calendar on the back burner…and then the world changed. Indie publishing became a thing. Dean and I started WMG Publishing, and we hired staff. For years, we were busy with our own work, but the Holiday Spectacular never left my mind.
Somewhere around 2017, 2018, I started talking about doing this project with other writers. We would produce a few anthologies after we were done with the Calendar of Stories, and then maybe an overall compilation, plus Dean and I would write a few stories as well.
Sounded doable to me. We figured out how we wanted to do this, and then Kickstarted it, and some people joined us. We have had stories from great writers all along, and we figured even if the Calendar of Stories didn’t have a lot of subscribers up front, the anthologies would more than make up for it.
So now, we’re on our fourth year of the Spectacular. Right now, we’re running this year’s Kickstarter, which is just one way we get subscribers to the project.
We’ve made some significant changes, rather like Jaquie Lawson did with her calendar along the way. We finally got the art that this project deserves. Bob Giordano has done our covers, with a design from Allyson Longueira. We decided to redo all of the anthology covers before the project became too unwieldy. I love them. They’re gorgeous, and finally reflect what we’re really doing here.
What we’re doing is fulfilling my love of holiday stories. For decades, I bought traditionally published holiday anthologies in any genre I could find. And back then, there were so many! Traditional publishers liked to showcase their newer writers next to their bestselling writers—and what better way to do that then through a holiday anthology?
Almost no traditional publisher does that now. When I find one of those books, I have to look at the copyright page to see if I’ve purchased the book under a different title or with a different cover. Chances are, I have.
During the past five years, we have moved from publishing our holiday anthologies into a crowded field to being damn near the only publisher who is publishing holiday anthologies. With the correct covers, we’re going to see an uptick in sales there.
We’re doing well on the project, but it does cost us a lot of time and energy. In addition to my editing and planning, Dean and I also have to write some holiday stories (oh, woe is us). Allyson has to corral everything from contracts to covers to delivery to the staff, who need to make sure that the daily stories go to subscribers without a hitch. Then there is the Kickstarter fulfillment, which is underway just as the writers are writing for next year’s Spectacular.
Lots of reading, lots of editing, lots of shepherding, lots of time. All because my answer to Dean every time he asks me if I want to do this again is yes.
You see, I’m doing this for people like I used to be. People who have very little to look forward to during the holiday season. People who need a bit of diversion throughout the last part of November through the first day of January.
And, it turns out, there are a lot of readers who fit into that category. I get email from them all the time. They really appreciate what we’re doing.
Then there are the folks who just like to read and really love receiving a story every day. Some have asked if we could do this every day for a year.
Allyson would kill me. She really would. And even if I could edit something like that, I wouldn’t. It takes the specialness out of the Holiday Spectacular.
Why am I telling you all of this in this business blog instead of as a separate posts on my various social media sites (and here on the website)? Well, because.
Our businesses—our writing/publishing/storytelling businesses—have moved to a new phase. Not just Dean and mine and WMG’s, but all of us. We can do passion projects if we can figure out how to make them work.
If we can imagine it, it will happen. If we can figure out how to do it.
A friend of mine is working on a multimedia storytelling project…that he can do pretty much on his own. Another friend has brought in a small cadre of folks to take his stories and make them into other kinds of art (from video to music and beyond). Many of you are writing books or series that no one in traditional publishing would touch—for whatever lame reason they have.
(Remember, these are traditional publishing folks who “go with their gut”—their (generally) white upper-class East Coast male gut to figure out what sells and what doesn’t, because who in the ever-loving hell would want to do the responsible business thing and actually look at sales figures to help make that decision.)
In indie publishing, the freedom to do what we want is incredible. We can spend time on projects that might or might not work. If they do work, then we can make them larger (or not), continue doing them (or not), and maybe even spin them off into other businesses.
I’m sure someone has already offered Jaquie Lawson money to buy her company. So far, it seems, she’s turned them down.
But selling off parts of a company is something that we all need to consider. I just watched a large publishing business shut down because it was a one-man show (run with volunteers) and that one man died. His family doesn’t want to continue the project, and he did not protect it enough to make it something they could sell as part of the estate.
(This is a mistake Dean and I made with our original publishing business. We learned afterwards that we needed to handle the IP better so that we had something to sell if we decided not to run the business anymore. We’ve learned that lesson maybe a bit too well.)
The Holiday Spectacular is, right now, my passion project, and something WMG supports 100%. But what happens if I can no longer do it? We have options.
Now that we’ve been running the Spectacular for years, we have a lot of IP and stories that we can reprint if need be. I might be able to train someone else to take it on, or maybe this isn’t even something that one person needs to do. Maybe a bunch of people could handle the editing.
There’s enough here now that without me, the project can continue. Not in quite the same way, because the Spectacular has my editing voice right now. But in a way that keeps the project viable…should WMG want to continue it. Or sell it if they want to or shut it down, if it’s not earning enough to continue without me.
In other words, they will have choices. Really nifty cool choices.
And not just with this project, but any other that we’re doing. When you build up a lot of IP, you put the company in a very strong position, even after the masterminds behind the company are gone.
Of course, that takes planning. It also takes a realistic vision. You have to know if someone will want to continue your company after you’re gone. If not, you’ll need plans ahead of time. You need to help your heirs shut the company down or sell the IP or find someone who can run things.
Because I’m older and because of COVID and all of the problems that folks are having from delaying medical treatment, I’ve watched what happens to the estates of friends and family. Most people have a relatively uncomplicated estate picture. The estate goes to the surviving spouse or gets split up between the kids or gets sold off, with the money going to charity.
But my writer friends? Particularly those that died unexpectedly? All of their warts are laid bare. Many of these folks didn’t expect to die so they have nothing set up. Even those who received bad news from their doctor about their futures did not plan for what would happen to their writing afterwards.
Now it’s up to their heirs, if their heirs want to take all of this on. In one case, the heirs are doing what they can. They know people in the writing field and they’re trying to keep their parent’s legacy alive.
In another case, everything the writer built will be lost, except, maybe, for a few books. And this is within a few years of the writer’s death. (Writer estates become more focused over time as people remember parts and let other parts go. I’m not sure what will happen with indie publishing, because everything remains in print. In traditional, often, nothing remained in print and someone had to proactively try to sell the work again and again.)
Do I expect the Holiday Spectacular to be my legacy? Maybe part of it, if the project continues to grow as I hope it will. But this is a part of the legacy I can let go of.
There are other parts…
Well, Dean did a bunch of interviews with me for a different Kickstarter this year, and in many of them, he asked if I would let someone else play in that particular series universe. In most cases, I said no. I wanted those projects to remain closed, with only me writing them. But there are a few, and they are detailed in my post-death instructions, that other people can write in…after I’m gone and I don’t have to read what they’ve done.
(Yes, I’m a control freak. Did you people doubt that?)
Having other people write in those universes means that those universes will probably live on. The finite ones might now.
We’ll see. I’m hoping I have decades left.
And if I do, we will spend more time on the Holiday Spectacular, because as hard as it is to assemble, it’s also a kick in the butt. I love reading what these really great writers came up with when I sent them the titles of the three anthologies. I love the puzzle pieces of scheduling the stories on the calendar, so that the readers get the best reading experience possible.
I find that the anthologies have a different reading order, so the same stories seem to come alive in a different way when paired with a different group of tales.
It’s fun and wonderful and one of the highlights of my year.
So check out the Kickstarter, if nothing else than to see all of the new covers. And maybe try out the Calendar of Stories. It’s so fun. And it will make your holiday season…or the holiday season of someone you love.
“Business Musings: The Spectacular Spectacular,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.