Business Musings: Building A New World
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired. Bone-weary, in fact. The last six years or so have been a terrible rollercoaster, filled with disaster upon disaster. There have been some lovely moments, and a few victories for those of us who still believe in the power of the human spirit, but lately, it seems like the bigots and the haters are getting even louder, shriller. Maybe this is the dying gasp of a failed ideology, but right now, I’m not even sure of that.
History, which is my go-to guide, tells us that everything has its day. This cycle too will end. But…will it end in the next few years? My lifetime? The lifetime of the 20-somethings I see on campus? (Most likely. When they’re my age, these days will seem very distant.)
Sometimes I find comfort in that historical narrative. Sometimes it exhausts me.
And right now, we’re in a different kind of shrill cycle. Real journalists, reporters, and even the talking heads are in complete crisis mode. They never had a chance to process all they went through during Covid. A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be a reporter or even someone who comments on the news on a regular basis (no matter what the perspective).
It means looking into the crisis—whatever the crisis is—and explaining what the hell is going on to those of us who have the luxury of looking away. People who were on the frontlines of Covid, from health professionals to first responders to yes, reporters, are just now dealing with the mess they’d been handed over the past few years.
And a lot of them aren’t dealing at all. They’re pushing through. But the problem with that is that pushing through when your nerves are ragged means that everything feels like a crisis, even when it’s not.
That attitude filters down to the rest of us. It also doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of yet another election, which is truly (here in the States) one of the most important elections of our lives. We are choosing between candidates who would destroy our country and people who want to work within the system. A lot of people don’t understand this, because they consume their news in an ecosystem that lies to them continually. Propaganda is rife right now, and as someone who studied Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, that terrifies me.
But we’re a bigger country, we have a different system, and we have a lot more choices than Germans did in those dark days. I can’t pretend to know what’s going to happen next week in the U.S. election, nor can I pretend to know what’s going to happen in the next six months.
We lived in a period of calm (relatively speaking) from about 1980 forward, at least in the U.S. Life became predictable and that made it seem like we knew what was going to happen.
We don’t. We can only guess based on the circumstances before us.
But here’s what I do know, what I have known since Covid hit us in early 2020.
We’re building a new world. I’ve blogged about this many, many times. A major event like Covid changes the culture forever. We aren’t sure what that change really is, not yet. We only see bits and pieces of it. It will become clear in hindsight, after the historians and the analysts get done with it.
They’ll look back from the vantage of some future perch and point to all the roads that led to the moment they’re living through.
Right now, we’re facing a series of choices and a lot of roads. We’re not sure which one we’re on, let alone which one we need to take.
Or maybe I should do without the word “need.” Which one we will take. Or can take. We don’t know.
We’re muddling—like every single generation before us.
Often the muddle is invisible. I hesitated saying that the period from 1980 forward was “calm” because for me and the people I love, it was anything but calm. The roads ahead were visible. The chipping away of rights and privileges of all humans in the U.S. was happening simultaneously with the gaining of more rights. The threats were clear to many of us, clearer now to others in hindsight (god, that evil hindsight).
These kinds of cataclysms happen at least once every fifty years or so. They are sometimes country-specific, but the big ones, the ones that happen on a worldwide basis seem to occur over 70 years—and the world is entirely different after those events. Sometimes it’s unrecognizable from the world that preceded it.
And that’s the kind of change we’re in.
It’s happening to all of us, and we’re all struggling to figure out our place in this mess.
And yes—it feels personal. Actually, it is personal because it’s happening to each of us, in a way that is unique to us.
Right now, in the indie writer community, people are panicking. Sales have gone down for a lot of writers. The things that worked last year aren’t working now. And because in our regular lives, everything is framed as a crisis, indie writers are reacting that way too.
Privately, writers are scared that their careers are over. The Six-Figure Authors podcast came out of hiatus for a special episode to discuss the “the current global situation and how it’s affecting book sales.”
Their solutions, the things that writers themselves can do, are good.
The assumption on which the podcast is based—that book sales are down across the board—is incorrect. In tough economic times, book sales always go up. They’re going up now, but the writers who are doing well aren’t really discussing it.
What happens in a recession or any tough economic times is that people will gravitate toward cheaper forms of entertainment, and that includes books. As the economic shocks hit hard, though, readers will go to old favorites first. Readers won’t experiment as easily because they feel the pinch on their wallets. So a reader will be a lot more cautious. They won’t buy something based on a one-time Amazon ad. They will read the books on their shelf first or they’ll visit the library more. Or, as the Six-Figure Author podcast so succinctly says,
…if consumers are spending less, it might not be the time to ditch Kindle Unlimited if you’re established there and it’s been good to you, as people will cancel their subscriptions last.
If you’re not established in a streaming or subscription service, though, don’t immediately join one hoping to replace the sales you’ve lost.
I wrote a post about economic uncertainty in August, but I suspect many of you missed it. In that post, I gave a lot of advice about how to manage a business (any business, really) in hard times.
I’ve given different versions of the same advice over the years. I think I said it best in August of 2020. (Hmm, I’m sensing an August theme here.) Rather than send you back into that horrendous month, let me repeat the information:
The advice I’m about to give here applies not just to a freelance business or a commercial enterprise, but also to households.
The advice, in a nutshell, is this:
- At minimum, draw up an income and expense sheet.
- Predict how that sheet will look a month from now.
- Predict how it will look six months from now.
- Predict how it will look a year from now.
- Predict how it will look five years from now.
- Review those sheets every two weeks. Make changes as needed.
Businesses (and households) that have those sheets will do better economically than businesses that don’t have those sheets. That small bit of information and prediction will allow the business to remain nimble.
In addition, you need other things:
- A plan for a bad scenario (losing your best client, for example, or your job).
- A plan for a good scenario (getting additional income, which might result in more work).
- A plan for a great scenario (more work than you can handle—which can be dangerous to an unprepared business).
- A plan for the worst case scenario (loss of a key employee, loss of a year’s worth of revenue like many arts venues are facing right now, and more).
Here’s the thing you need to focus on. I’m not asking you to predict what will happen in the world. Just because there’s a war in Ukraine doesn’t mean that it will have an impact on an accountant in Denver…unless that accountant has family in Ukraine or that accountant is doing the books for someone who (until February) exported items to Ukraine.
What you need to figure out are numbers in a weird way. Your bad scenarios have to be you-based. They can’t be events-based.
For example, you need to figure out what you would do if your income went down by a quarter. By half. By two-thirds.
If you have a business that only has one income stream, figure out what you would do if that income stream dries up.
Frankly, if you only have one income stream, then you’re already in trouble, because that income stream will dry up one day. That’s a guarantee.
That’s why so many writers do so many things. They might write novels and publish them on multiple platforms. They might write short stories and do their best to sell them to traditional media. They might have something like Substack or Patreon that offers those short stories to backers. They might write nonfiction.
They might hold Kickstarters.
They might be doing something that I’m not familiar with yet, some new tech that I haven’t seen yet or haven’t tried.
Most writers aren’t used to thinking about income streams…unless those writers have been in the business for a long time. Even traditionally published freelancers learned this back in the day.
Indie writers didn’t have to learn it in the gold rush days of ebook publishing. In those days, they could put up books on one platform (usually Amazon) and make a six-figure living. Now, that isn’t possible, because things change.
What doesn’t change is that readers want books to read. Readers will buy books from their favorite writers if they know that the book is out. Then readers will buy books in their favorite genres. And finally readers will experiment.
Favorite authors, by the way, doesn’t mean the longtime bestsellers like John Grisham and Nora Roberts. It means the writers that a particular reader loves—including indie writers they’ve discovered over the various years.
For the writing part of things, the craft part of things, make sure you’re learning and growing and writing what you love. The more authentically you a book is, the better off you will be. Eventually, you will get regular readers who love what you do. Those regular readers will get you through tough times.
Tough times…we’re in them.
I’m sorry to say we’re going to remain in these tough times for a few more years (at best). We’re rebuilding the world after a cataclysm. Or we might still be in the middle of that cataclysm. Again, we don’t know. We don’t have the hindsight yet.
What we can do as writers is to stop focusing on the world, especially when we write.
When we plan for our business, we have to stop blaming world events for what happens to us. If there’s a problem—and there will be—then we have to solve it for our business.
Some of us will enjoy great success in an economic downturn. Others of us will lose most if not all of our income. While we’re going through a lot of this together, we’re not having the same experiences.
If I’ve learned anything after all of these years of freelancing, of surviving world crisis after world crisis, of surviving personal crisis after personal crisis, it’s this:
You can’t be wedded to the old ways of doing things. That will kill your business faster than anything.
You need to be nimble. You need to have that list (above) and you need to be ready to pivot.
Sometimes you’ll pivot too early. Sometimes you’ll pivot too late.
But if you remain stuck in the past, you will fail at what you do.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating.
The only constant is change. The best thing you can do is expect that everything you do is for a short time only.
If you want to keep doing what you love—and for most people reading this blog, that’s writing—then you need to figure out how to do it, no matter what the world—what life—flings at you.
Giving up is the only thing that will guarantee failure.
You’ll have down years, even if you hit bestseller status. Even if you hit six-figure author status. You’ll have great years, you’ll have bad years, and you’ll have stable years.
Those years will not match the years your best writer friend has. Trying to figure out writing trends based on the data from your Facebook group or your small circle of friends is a way to go mad.
What happens to you as a writer is unique to you because what you write is unique to you. No one else writes like you do. No one else makes the choices you do.
Stop looking outward, and focus on your own business. If it’s taking a hit right now, then figure out how to repair the damage. If it’s doing well, don’t increase your expenses. Bank the money.
There will be dark days ahead for your career.
There will also be good days.
The key remains the same. Notice and enjoy the good days. Plan for the bad.
You will get through this.
We will all get through this.
Oh, and acknowledge how tired you are. Sometimes that’s important.
Right now, I’m consuming less news and hiding in my office. I probably should have done that months ago. I’m doing my civic duty on various things. I’m voting, I’m encouraging others to do so, but mostly, I’m writing.
Because that’s what I do in good times and in bad.
And so do you.
Speaking of doing a wide variety of things, one tool we (meaning me and WMG Publishing) added to our toolbox in the past few years is Kickstarter. We’re finishing up (today!) the Kickstarter on one of my favorite projects, The Holiday Spectacular. Readers can get 39 stories over the final 39 days of the year, stories by some of the best writers in the business. Plus, there are a lot of great extras that anyone who backs the Kickstarter can get. But—seriously, all—we’re down to hours left.
Some of you will see this after the Kickstarter ended. You can still get the Spectacular if you go here. Do it soon because we send out the first story on November 24.
And then, of course, there’s this weekly blog. It’s reader supported.
If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.
If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Building a New World,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / colematt.
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[…] Last week’s post focused on the way that the world is changing and how that’s impacting writers. More specifically, a lot of writers are suffering from decreased sales, and are blaming various world events for the sales decrease. […]
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So much all of this!
By figuring out what “sustainable emergency spending” was ahead of time, we separated the stress of deciding what SES included from the stress of having to trigger it. We made wiser decisions that we could more easily live with. We triggered SES in April with a simple “go/no go” discussion.
The result was not just cutting that lump of stress in half; each piece of stress was MUCH smaller. Everybody involved knew what to do already.
Times like this are also good for adding tools to your toolbox. Trying new things doesn’t hurt. I just checked my figures for last year, and about 36% of my income was the direct result of experiments I ran in previous years. Without that 36%, I would be in SERIOUS trouble.
Brave heart, everyone. We’ll get through this.
This post reminds me of an audiobook I listened a few weeks ago: How to Deal with the Changing World Order, by Ray Dalio. Though honestly, as I was listening, I was reminded of both you and Heather Cox Richardson, and wondering what you’d think about it. The main concept is that there’s a Big Cycle that every country/dynasty/empire goes through. It starts with the country emerging and growing, proceeds through a period of prosperity, then moves into a time of decadence that leads to big debts and economic decline. In this stage, the wealth gap between the rich and poor grows, as does divisiveness, and this leads to populists rising to power. The final stage is revolution or civil war, though the fascinating part is that this isn’t always violent. The key is that something has to reset the system, distributing resources more equitably. In the ’30s, FDR achieved this through his New Deal. Dalio says this cycle repeats about every 80 years. We humans aren’t aware of it because that’s the length of a human lifespan, so these events are something we’ve never experienced before. Instead, we tend to think the future will be pretty much like the recent past, but with cooler gadgets.
What intrigued me is how Dalio discovered this. He’s one of the founders of Bridgewater Associates, and in his job as a hedge fund manager, he wanted to know how he could anticipate market trends of the future. This lead to an in-depth study and analysis of history. In his book he goes back 500 years, describing the rise and fall of the Dutch, British, and American empires, and he goes back even further with China, detailing their various dynasties since about (I think) 800 CE.
I’m curious to see what you’d think of the book. Here’s a link to it on Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Changing-World-Order-Nations-Succeed-ebook/dp/B0881Y73YG/ Also, for you or others who want to know more about the Big Cycle but don’t have time for a whole 576 pages/16+ hours of reading/listening, he has an illustrated, 43-minute YouTube video that describes the concept. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xguam0TKMw8