June’s Jerryrigged Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of June, and the public at the beginning of July.)

Hi folks!

BSDCan dominated this month. It was good. It wasn’t the biggest con we’ve had, but for the first year back it was nice. A handful of folks said they wouldn’t attend because the pandemic is still raging, and that while we would be masked the rest of the world isn’t. I can’t blame them. A couple of random folks on the Internet complained to me that they wouldn’t attend because we had a mask policy, but I didn’t recognize the names as attendees so who cares? If you didn’t know, I’m taking over coordinating BSDCan next year. I plan to do as little as possible, shoving everything off onto a team of volunteers.

That leads into my next change:

My writing business is hiring help. Part-time help, but help.

Every title I publish adds administrative overhead. That overhead usually isn’t terrible, except when something changes and I must touch every title. The Mastery books have been $25 since 2011, and I can’t absorb any more inflation and meet my bills. My printers have increased their prices again, so I spent four days going through Amazon and Ingram’s web interfaces to increase retail prices. I spent a few days last week fighting a bot network registering useless accounts on my web store. It’s not that those accounts could do anything, but the constant registrations slow everything down. Then there’s the improvements I want to make to the web site, and the corrections to what’s already there. This time adds up, keeping me from achieving the flow state so critical to creative work.

I can do everything in my publishing business. That’s why it’s part of my publishing business, because I can do it. I forced myself to sit down and take a good hard look at the things I spend my time on, in order of importance.

Business and money
Dealing with retailers
Web site

Of those tasks, which do I hate the most? Obviously, the money. I have everything set up so that I can handle paying my bills and reconciling my receipts in a couple hours a month, provided I do so every single month without fail, so the pain is minimized. Dealing with money is the last task a business owner can outsource, however. Can’t ditch that.

Publishing? I can hire help for that, sure. It’s expensive for what you get. I know perfectly well that transforming a correctly formatted tech book manuscript into an ebook is an hour’s work. I allocate two hours to it, because ebook formatting exposes every formatting flaw in the source manuscript. I don’t do that kind of work that often. The work I do more often resembles the price changes, where I log into retailer portals and make adjustments. Most retailers offer small publishers a single account with all privileges. I have no problem sharing that access with someone I completely trust, but that trust has to be earned. I’m not going onto fiverr and picking up a random publishing assistant. That’s like hiring the itinerant laborers loitering in front of the home improvement store to polish your diamond collection.

Marketing? I loathe marketing. Marketing is about voice, a combination of attitudes and opinions and word choice and syntax. While any number of people can and do use my “I loathe marketing” approach to marketing, they can’t do it exactly as I do. I must be involved in marketing. Outsourced marketing assistants can reuse and repackage marketing content I’ve previously created, but can’t reliably generate new content without extensive coaching and interaction.

Writing? That’s why I’m in this business. ChatGPT can bite my nearly-nonexistent butt.

That leaves the web site.

Outsourcing web site maintenance feels wrong. I’m a techie. I can maintain a web site, especially on WordPress. WordPress is the easiest possible way to maintain the technical parts of a web site. But my web site has an entry for each of my dozens and dozens of books, and each entry has a dozen links to various retailers. There’s my web store, which is an entirely separate site. The technology now exists for me to offer touchless print/ebook bundles, but it requires I once again touch every single title and configure plugins.

The thing is, I bring nothing special to the web site. Sure, I write the blog posts and the jacket copy for the books. But as far as fixing the front page cover image gallery and updating plugins and figuring out how to block all registrations from spam domains (Ban Hammer is the bomb, by the way), I bring nothing special.

Will I lose geek cred by handing my web site off to an hourly aide? Nah. I am not known as a web site designer, and I still run the underlying operating system. I’m not outsourcing mail or DNS or even httpd.conf; just the WordPress pointy-clicky-linky stuff. My new flunky, Soma, actually likes running web sites. (I don’t get it, but there’s folks out there who like durian so he’s basically normal.)

Hiring people is like everything else: the first time it’s a Big Deal, but eventually it becomes routine. I have hired and fired while working for a company, but never on my own. This is unnerving. While we have a written contractor agreement and have agreed on a scope of work, I’m proceeding slowly. Many of the links on my web site are incorrect or flat-out missing, so he’s starting with those. If he survives that tedium, I’ll get him to fix up the rest of the site, then tune up the ecommerce site. That would let me do things like making my short stories exclusive to my site.

For an employee to work in the long term, it has to work for both myself and him. Here in the US, I can pay someone $599 before filing tax paperwork in their name. We’re going to meet just before we hit that limit and talk things through. I would rather let him go at $599 and remain friendly than pay him $650, let him go, and screw him on taxes. That would be not merely rude but downright uncivilized. (Yes, taxes are civilization. So is minimizing them.)

If Soma works out the way I hope he does, I might start a daily one-minute podcast containing whatever I’ve written that day. I’d post the recording on my blog, and feed it to the various aggregators. But that’s a future possibility. Right now, I’m fiercely protecting every writing minute.

The plus side to all of this? Hiring someone is a new business experience. I’m making notes on it. In a few years, they’ll feed into a second edition of Cash Flow for Creators. I deliberately wrote that book to be evergreen, blissfully ignoring the fact that I would foolishly continue to learn business.

If I really wanted to jump deep into this business: many universities offer degrees in publishing. Starting pay in publishing in Detroit is somewhere around $40k, which would cost me about $50k including taxes and insurance and all that. It would be a serious hit for me, but doable. I could spend the next year polishing some bright young thing into my personal publisher, turn the whole mess over to them, and focus on writing. I’d eventually give us both a raise. I’m not that ambitious yet. Mind you—if I have to transform some bring young thing into being a publisher, I’m not sure them having a degree in publishing would be a prerequisite?

Other news? Going to BSDCan has knocked some things loose on my current writing projects. There’s nothing for contemplation like a long drive across the Ontario beautiful desolation. The mail book has gained extra clarity, and I’ve figured out why I’m having such trouble starting $ git merge murder. A crime novel is not the same as a mystery novel, and I want this to be a particular kind of mystery, which means I get to practice a new skill. Woo hoo! It’ll take me some time to prep that practice, though, so I’m switching back to Skybreach for a bit. That monstrosity is halfway done, I might just buckle down and pound through it this year.

But first, I gotta get the mail book rolling. I have no more conferences this year, so that should help.

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