Friday, May 16, 2014

AiIP: Takin' Care of Business

Small commercial first: I am doing a reading in Snoqualmie, WA Saturday, May 17th at 5pm, at the Black Dog. If you're in Western Washington, you should come!

Ben Franklin knew how to take care of his business
A big part of the appeal of being an author-publisher, I think, is that you get to do it all yourself. You get to pick the cover art, you get to pick which editor you use, you get to choose how much it costs, you get to choose where it gets sold, and on and on and on.

Only, suddenly your job description reads more publisher than author. This really hit home over the last month-plus, with the Kickstarter campaign and prepping the second edition. I knew my time and energy would be elsewhere, but still it was basically a month with very minimal, you know, writing.

Conventional wisdom says write every day and writer's write, and that's as it should be. But the modern author calls for more, and frequently it's a delicate balancing act. Sometimes, it's all writing, all the time. Series One was that way- nearly a solid year of writing and editing. 2013 was about publishing. So for (the rest of) 2014, I think more balance is in order.

I had initially kind of meant for this to be a "here's a great way to do it" post, but honestly, it varies tremendously from person to person, so it really wouldn't be helpful. Heck, it even varies within each person depending on where they're at and what needs doing. And you might not even care. I don't write, Dean, you say, I just want a good book to read. Hopefully that is provided for you. There is a lot that goes into bringing it to you.

For more about that, I asked Zachary Bonelli, who is an author and the founder of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, to share his indie publishing experience:



Building a Small Press For Fun and Profit


Fuzzy Hedgehogs FTW
How many times have you seen a book review site that says something to the effect of, “we’ll review books by small presses, but not self-published works”?
Well, there’s some good news about small presses. If you have at least one other person you can team up with, it’s fairly easy to quality for its definition.
You need to make less than $50 million a year. Likely not a problem. And you need to publish ten or fewer title per year. Also likely not a problem.
The kicker is that you can’t just publish your own work. You have to pay to acquire publication rights to one or more authors’ works and publish them. Here’s where your good writer friends come in. If you trust these individuals enough to go into business with them, then you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for a small press that functions internally more like a collaborative writer’s group with book industry connections.
As with any route to publication, there are pros and cons. As a self-publisher turned small press owner, here’s what I’ve discovered.

Small Press vs. Independent Author: Pros

·         Small presses get access to book distributors, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores
·         Small presses get access to book reviewers who only deal with small presses
·         Small presses get the opportunity to one day help aspiring authors achieve their dreams, too, should your press grow big enough.

Small Press vs. Independent Author: Cons

·         Starting and building any business (including a small press) is a vast time and money sinkhole.
·         Your writing time will be at least partially compromised.

Small Press vs. Agent/Traditional Publisher Contract: Pros

·         Similar to being indie, being the operator of the small press give you complete creative control over:
o   Cover Art
o   Content
o   Editorial Review
o   Marketing Decisions

Small Press vs. Agent/Traditional Publisher Contact: Cons

·         Under the traditional route, you will retain many hours of your life for creative endeavors that you otherwise would have had to spend on ebook creation, print layout and marketing
·         You will also get access to your publisher’s marketing network, though the extent of this gain is highly publisher-dependent

Money

·         Agent/Traditional Deal
o   Money will come in modest lump sums. Your hourly wage won’t be great, but you’ll be in the black.
·         Independent Author
o   Money comes in as a trickle from online vendors. You probably get to buy yourself a coffee or maybe a pay a bill on your writing.
o   Occasional big expenses (cover art, interior layout, etc.) will eat into your personal budget if you let them, but other funding sources (like Kickstarter) exist.
·         Small Press
o   A business must be presented professionally. Expect to have to shell out for cover art, software, printing, etc. You will spend most of what you make reinvesting in your business. You will also likely end up investing a lot of your own money in your business, too.

If the small press option is appealing for you, I recommend you walk through the steps below to make sure you’re ready.

1. Do you have just one book in you, or many?

My mind is kind of a sprawling multiverse of possibilities. I literally don’t have time to write all my book ideas down. Small presses don’t run on one book. They run on many. If you’ve got that one book your passionate about, and you don’t have other ideas simmering on your mind’s backburner, just waiting to be written, a small press is probably not a great idea.

2. Do you have a business license?

In the United States, this should be a fairly simple endeavor. Any individual can start a sole-proprietorship, and while you’re making less than a couple thousand dollars a year, this should have a negligible impact on how you do your taxes.
I can’t speak to the business license practices for every state, but if the other forty-nine are anything like Washington, this should fairly easy to register and establish (total investment: 2-3 hours).
Your small business retail license will also come in handy if you want to sell your books at conventions.

3. How well do you know/trust your friends? How reliable are they?

Going into business together is a big deal. Especially once contracts get involved. These should not be people you’ve talked to at writing group a few times, but people you know really, really well.
Speaking of contracts, be ready to create those. Be comfortable seeking legal advise on correct wording and situations to protect yourself against. Learn about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy contract practices.

3. Are you ready to present yourself to bookstores and book distributors as a business?

This is true of self-publishing, but it is even more true when you start a small press. Be prepared to begin the slow and demanding work of building up a network of individuals in the book business—owners of small bookstores, the Community Relations Managers at Barnes and Noble stores, and individuals who interface with small presses at book distributors.
You will need to have face to face conversations with these people. You will need to be comfortable walking into their offices and presenting yourself as a business. Are you ready to do that?

4. Who will print your books? What format do they want for print files? How much money will you make per book?

The per-unit profit on a book is going to be very low, though it gets higher the bigger the run. Of course, a bigger run means a bigger monetary investment on your part. Figure out how much you will have to invest in advance.
Most printers should want PDF files to print books from. Adobe InDesign is the industry-standard software for creating a book layout. Do you or one of your colleagues know this software? Can anyone learn to use it with high proficiency?

5. How will you generate eBooks? What is your digital marketing strategy?

Do you have software that can generate eBooks for you, like Scrivener? If you or someone working with you is a programmer, you could go the route of building your own eBooks from scratch with a tool like Sigil. All eBooks you generate, regardless of method, should pass ePubCheck (to ensure that it works on all devices). Some vendors, like Smashwords, enforce compliance with ePubCheck.

6. What are your business values and ethics?

I would encourage you to think about this beyond the all-too-common answer of most businesses in American society, which is: “To rake in the moola. Duh.”
For example, my company, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, refuses to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program, because one of our business values is that a healthy and vibrant marketplace contains numerous entities with a diverse selection of goods for sale. Since the KDP Select program, in my opinion, seeks to undermine a diverse marketplace by restricting the distribution of content to multiple web platforms (KDP Select enabled books must be exclusive to Amazon), the program seems to me to violate one of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press’s core business values, hence we do not participate.
He’s another business value: “Fuzzy Hedgehog Press wants customers to be able to access our books from as many venues and in as many different formats as possible.” All of our eBooks are available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play and Smashwords. You can buy ePubs and PDFs of our books directly from us. You can find our print books on IndieBound and numerous online vendors.
Knowing your business values helps you better communicate to customers what they’re getting and how they can expect to be treated by you, and when you’re running a small business, building customer trust is crucial.

Conclusion

Starting a small press represents a huge time and money investment compared to other publishing options, but more potential rewards. Not only do you own all the creative control (like independent publishing), but you gain access to book distributors and bookstores (like traditional publishing). The kicker is you have to do all the work and build all the relationships yourself. If that sounds more fun than scary, then I encourage you to explore the option further. If the kind of small press you would want to publish your books does not exist, you might just be able to build it yourself.


Zachary Bonelli is owner and operator of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. He’s also a writer with two published books, Voyage Embarkation and Insomnium. His third book, Alterra, is due out this summer.


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-DESR

Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog.
  He is also an aficionado of good drinks (extra dry martini; onions, not olives), good food and fine dress. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.
  He also has an unhealthy obsession with old movies and goes through phases where he plays video games before kind of forgetting they exist.
  Dean lives in the Pacific Northwest and likes the rain, thank you very much.

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