MWL’s 2018 Wrap-Up

I set some ambitious goals for 2018. How did I do?

There’s a few reasons why. A relative fell off a roof and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I’m the family member that won’t get fired for not showing up to work, so I handled a bunch of it. There’s something about arguing with hospitals and rehab clinics that totally saps one’s mental energy. I lost a few months of productivity.

I figured that was why I was tired and slow. But: no.

Enter HP Lumpcraft, also known as “the abomination formerly known as the right half of my thyroid.” The surgeon did a fine job. It looks like I won’t even need a zipper tat to cover up the scar.

Theoretically, a slowly escalating thyroid debacle explains last year’s anemia.

With HPL out, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. Sadly, my cardio is utterly shot. I haven’t only been forbidden to exercise for the last few months, I’ve been forbidden to do anything that made me sweat. Apparently a “thyroid storm” could stop my heart. That sounded bad. I chose to become one with the recliner.

The upshot is, in 2018 I wrote 51,000 words of nonfiction. They appeared in:

FreeBSD Mastery: Jails was delayed by the aforementioned TBI and thyroid. It’s about half done.

On a more upbeat note: SSH Mastery and Relayd and Httpd Mastery are available in hardcover. And to my surprise, you people are buying them. All future tech books and novels will appear in both hardcover and paperback.

I wrote 121,800 words of fiction. That should be at least a novel, but unfortunately I didn’t finish any novels. Finishing a novel demands a mental clarity I lacked. All my the fiction that actually entered the world was:

Winner Breaks All will be issued as a standalone in 2019, as soon as I get the rights back. When I get the rights back to SttH, it’ll go to my Patronizers but not to the general public. Giving SttH a cover that matches the Immortal Clay tales is prohibitively expensive, and short stories don’t make that much.

Here’s a partial pic, minus Face Less and BSQ #4. I’ll post a true final 2018 pic once my copies of both arrive.

2018 in print

So what does 2019 hold?

I am assuming that the thyroid lobectomy fixed my root cause problem. It’s a hopeful assumption, yes, but I can’t plan based on the idea that my health is still mysteriously fubar. The only evidence I have for this is that my word-per-hour productivity more than twice what it was before surgery. That’s the only indicator that matters, right?

First, I must exercise. A healthy writer is a productive writer. I gained a good twenty-five pounds this year, and blame HPL for every one of them. My double chin is his fault. Losing weight is straightforward: eat well, and exercise. The latter is where I’ve fallen down.

I’m working back up to an hour of forms first thing in the morning, five days a week, plus 2-3 nights at the dojo. I started today with ten minutes, and plan to add a minute a day. Yes, that’ll stagger back and forth as my body demands. I turn 52 this year, I can’t charge full speed ahead any more.

My flexibility is gone. You are as young as you are flexible, and my physical inability to kick people in the head really wounds my soul. After each bout of exercise I’m spending fifteen minutes on the stretching machine. For the record, this morning I hit 49″ between my ankles, or not even a right angle. This measurement is personal to me and this particular stretching machine, but the only person I’m competing with is me, so it’s all good.

I still have the standing desk. I’ve been using a stool most of the time since September, but standing full-time is the goal.

The last health goal is to master a split keyboard. Should make my shoulders happier. The Kinesis Advantage2 made my wrists happy, but rather than the Kinesis split keyboard I decided to try a Keyboard.io because the connector cable is a standard cat5. The Kinesis split keyboard has a built-in cable that maxes out at twenty inches, which is too limiting for my eventual use plan. (As I work at a standing desk, I’m pondering strapping a keyboard to each thigh and truly relaxing as I write.) I’m already pretty well adapted to the keyboardio, except for the all-important arrow keys. My most frequent key combination, CTRL-SHIFT-arrow, is kind of annoying on this critter.

I’m breaking up my word goals a little differently this year. Last year I wanted to write 600,000 words. This year, I want to write 50,000 words a month, or… 600,000 words in the year. Only words meant for inclusion in books and magazines count towards the 50kwpm goal. This blog post doesn’t. Book announcements don’t.

Why do it this way? A yearly goal is difficult. You can’t get to December and go “oh crap, I’m 200k words behind!” and make it all up. With a monthly goal of 50,000 I can get to January 25th, say “Oh, crap, I’m 20,000 words behind!” and make it up in a couple of long-but-not-impossible days. I’ve written 18,500 words in one day when I really needed to. (No, I won’t tell you which words they were… but you lot bought them, read them, and told me you enjoyed them.)

That’s 2-3 hours a day, six days a week. It leaves time for tech research, experimenting, and testing, plus the annoying minutia of being self-employed. (Sometimes, owning the means of production kind of sucks.)

Also, if I fail one month, next month is a clean slate. I want to set goals I can achieve. Psychologically, it’s better for me to say “I met my goal ten months out of twelve” than “I failed my 2019 goal.”

So, there we are.

What books will those 50,000 words per month be? FreeBSD Mastery: Jails for sure. Probably second editions of N4SA and Sudo Mastery, because of stupid publishing industry reasons. But I honestly have new content for both, so that’s okay. Finish novels I started, like git sync murder and Terrapin Sky Tango.

After that? You’ll know when I know…

Pricing Shifts between CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and KDP Print

The massive KDP Print Migration is underway, and I noticed pricing differences straight off. While they initially infuriated me, once I gathered all the data I became much more mellow.

I put my short stories (8,000-12,000 words) in print, primarily so that comparative pricing makes the ebook looks cheap. Maybe folks won’t pay $0.99 for a short story in ebook on its own, but they will pay $2.99 for that same ebook if there’s a print version for $5.99. I don’t expect anyone to buy my shorts in print; that’s not what they exist for. I consider those folks who do buy them hard-core fans, though, and I try to make them as nice as possible.

How do I price these? Well, if someone buys one of these stories I want to make at least a dollar. (Yes, that’s difficult for ebooks–Amazon, for example, gives a 35% royalty on prices under $2.99 and 70% at $2.99 or more. Figuring all books are priced at $X.99, I can make roughly $0.35, $0.70, or $2.)

Print books are a little easier, though. I feed PDFs into the system, let it compute print costs, and twiddle the retail price until I make just over $1.

With the CreateSpace shutdown, though, I’m really noticing pricing differences. Let’s look at the first short I converted.

Spilled MirovarThe first Prohibition Orcs story was priced at $5.99 in print via CreateSpace, for 100 5×8 pages of orcish bootlegging. That gave me a profit of $1.44; perfectly reasonable.

I fed that into IngramSpark, and was rewarded with a net of $0.61.

Whoah. Cue boiling blood.

Before I go all stabby, though, let’s gather all the information. For an apples-to-apples comparison, I’m setting the CreateSpace price of Spilled Mirovar to $6.99, same as KDP Print and IngramSpark. We really need to make two comparisons. CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution (CSED) is analogous to IngramSpark, and CreateSpace’s Amazon service is migrating to KDP Print.

 CreateSpace Expanded DistributionIngramSparkCreateSpace to AmazonKDP Print
US ($6.99 retail)$0.64$1.12$2.04$2.04
UK (£5.99 retail)n/a£0.96£1.97£1.89
EU (€5.99 retail)n/a€0.6€1.89€1.69

First off, it’s clear that IngramSpark smokes CSED–especially when you consider that CSED pays everything in US dollars.

It’s also clear that KDP Print’s European net is lower than CreateSpace’s.

This exposes a weakness in my “make at least a buck on a story” strategy. It sounds reasonable, but I never made a buck on CSED of short stories. I ignored CSED on these titles, because nobody was going to buy a stupid story about orcs bootlegging in 1927 Detroit. (I’m grateful to the people who proved me wrong.)

Once I impose that requirement on CSED/IngramSpark, everything gets more expensive. So while it initially looks damning, there’s no cause for outrage. Annoyance at losing margin on EU sales, yes.

The question is, what do I do with this information?

The obvious thing to do would be to price print books differently by channel, but online price-matching is rampant. The cheapest price I set in a currency is the real price I’ll be paid for. I’m not willing to give my work away.

My decision is, I’m not going to migrate most of the short stories to IngramSpark. My best-selling shorts will go on IngramSpark, but that’s it.

I’m still going to migrate everything to my ISBNs, because I want that control. Pricing will change, new channels will open, and with my own ISBNs on everything I will have the flexibility to take advantage of it. There’s a big comfortable difference between “finish this before an unknown deadline a few weeks from now, or else!” and “try to polish this off before 2019.”

What about larger books? Let’s check out my nerd cozy mystery git commit murder. While I should revisit the pricing in light of exchange rate changes, the comparison should still make sense.

 CreateSpace Expanded DistributionIngramSparkCreateSpace to AmazonKDP Print
US ($14.99 retail)$2.00$3.16$5.00$5.01
UK (£11.99 retail)n/a£2.48£3.87£3.88
EU (€12.99 retail)n/a€2.38€4.65€4.06

The difference between CSED and IngramSpark really shines on larger books. I make a penny more in the UK, and less in the EU? Uh, okay, fine, I guess.

Before someone asks why I make more on novels than short stories, it’s because 1) they took longer to write, and 2) bookstores make their money based on the sale price. A bookstore won’t handle a book unless they can make a few bucks off it. A book like git commit murder or FreeBSD Mastery: Specialty Filesystems has a narrow audience, and cutting the price to $0.99 is not going to improve my sales.

IngramSpark is definitely improving my sales. I’m selling print books through third parties in Asia and Australia, which I never really managed before. I’m being paid more for sales that would have gone through CSED. Additional IngramSpark sales have already paid back what I spent for a thousand ISBNs. I have only a small subset of my titles fully through their system so far, so I’m hopeful that’ll increase when the rest grind through.

The truly annoying thing about all this: CreateSpace and IngramSpark both use the same printing machinery, at the same companies. The different prices are entirely business decisions. I’m not declaring that my lower net on CSED books was absolutely Amazon’s attempt to discourage availability of my print books outside their ecosystem, but my lower net on CSED books was almost certainly Amazon’s attempt to discourage availability of my print books outside their ecosystem.

On the plus side of this migration: the Prohibition Orcs books have spiffy redesigned covers. I am well pleased. And the first one is only $0.99 in ebook.

Bookstore Reading

My first ever reading at a bookstore happens this Friday!

I’ll be at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson, MI, at 7 PM this Friday, reading from git commit murder. The bookstore is really easy to get to, maybe a mile west of I-75 on 14 Mile Road.

If people show up, I’ll read aloud and answer questions. Otherwise, I’ll just sit quietly and read to myself. They have a whole bunch of books. Maybe I’ll get gelato afterwards. Wait–there’s no gelato near Grey Wolfe? How do people even survive?

Well, I’ll find something. You could join me for that. Even if it’s not gelato.

GWS is really heavily into Michigan authors and publishers. If you’re in Clawson some time that isn’t for my reading, stop and peruse their shelves.

Writing Business Cashflow

Most craft businesses fail. It’s not surprising. Being an expert knitter doesn’t mean you should open a yarn shop. Lots of those hobbyist stores go broke in the first year because the excited, enthusiastic storekeeper doesn’t know how to pay himself and the landlord. In business, cashflow is king.

Writing is a craft business.

Kris Rusch’s writing business blog has a lovely article about business capitalization and implosion. As an IT nerd who survived not one but two dot-com crashes, and as a writer who’s been paid increasing amounts for his work since 1995, I’ve seen exactly this problem hit people in both the technology and writing businesses.

Kris makes wonderful points, but she skipped something. How, exactly, do you manage cashflow in your writing business? Specifically, how do you pay your bills? How do you get groceries in the fridge and pay the copyeditor? How do you decide when you can afford to expand your writing business?

This is roughly how I do it, in both my long-gone consulting career and as a professional writer. I did not invent this method; rather, I accumulated it over decades of largely involuntary exposure to business. It covers how I decided I could afford to become a full-time writer, because that decision is an utterly critical part of cash flow management. There are other methods; I am not offering you the One Word of Truth here.

Every successful business plays some variant of this game. The only difference is how complicated the spreadsheets are.

Premises

You’ll not only have good months and bad months, you’ll have good and bad years. Understand this all the way down into your toes. Burn it into your soul. If you want your business to survive, you must have actionable plans to endure bad years.

Have a business organization, with a separate bank account. Big thick books are written on business organization, and I’m not going to pretend to advise you on the right organization for you. The important thing for this discussion is that the business receives every penny of your writing income. If you’re not doing that, start now.

Start with money in hand. If you don’t have cash in your greasy mitts to pay your bills your business will fail. End of discussion. I had a year’s expenses in my business bank account before I went full-time writer. I accumulated those savings by… wait for it… not spending my writing income. Maybe you have a supportive spouse, and don’t need a full year of expenses. Maybe your savings are in your personal account rather than your business account. Modify my example to fit your reality.

The Cashflow Game

You don’t write for a living. You make a living so you can write, but you play a game for a living. The game is called “Keep The Bucket Full.”

Money irregularly enters the Business Account Bucket. Some months it’ll get a drop or two. Other months, a torrent arrives.

Money leaves the Business Account bucket at an (approximately) fixed rate. Your rent isn’t going to go down just because your books aren’t selling.

When money leaves the Business Bucket faster than the bucket refills, you’re losing.

When money enters the Business Bucket faster than the bucket drains, you’re winning.

Playing the game takes two numbers: how fast the bucket drains, and how fast it fills.

You can be a successful craftsman and produce professional-grade work without playing this game. True professionals are paid, though, and you cannot be a successful professional craftsman without playing the game.

Draining the Bucket

Start with your expenses. Go through your last six months of spending. What do you need, and what do you want?

Only you know how much money you need to pay your bills, and which of your bills are necessary. You require health insurance and you must fund your retirement. I don’t have cable TV, but if you have kids the Disney Channel might well be a wise expenditure. My family lives in Detroit, because of the low cost of living. That might not work for you. On the other hand, my tech writing means I need thirty megabit of bandwidth. You might need much less Internet. You might read a good book on financial decision-making.

Brutally honest self-reflection is essential here. What did you need to spend, what was excessive, and–the hardest category: what did you not strictly need, but you know damn well you’re going to buy anyway even if it’s not in the budget? In my younger days, I most frequently blew my budget by buying books. My budgeting vastly improved once I allowed for that.

Make your choices. You can and will change them later, but at least start.

Perfection isn’t necessary. A starting list is. Preferably, a starting list with pessimistic-but-not-apocalyptic assumptions. Maybe all of my favorite authors will release a book in the same month, increasing expenses, but if I catch wheat rust everything blows up anyway.

Group these expenses into a two-by-two matrix: business and personal, versus “essential” and “stuff you’re willing to surrender if it means you get to keep writing for a living.” Again, you can and will change these later.

expense categoriesbusinesspersonal
essentialessential business expenses (copyediting, book proof fees, accountant)base pay (food, rent, health insurance)
nice-to-havefull business expenses (better covers, more promotion)full pay (vacation, pocket cash, someone else to mow the lawn)

If an expense can be a legitimate business expense, declare it a business expense. This is not a tax blog, so none of this is legal advice, but in general: those writing conferences? Business expense. Microsoft Word and InDesign for your writing PC? Business expense. Lunch while you’re writing? Personal expense–you’d have to eat anyway. Read a book like Tax Savvy for Small Business and consult an accountant.

Arrange them by month or by year. Yearly is more effective for the long view, but many people find monthly more comprehensible. Divide those annual expenses, like tax preparation, by 12. You’ll save money for them throughout the year, so that sudden $500 bill is not a nasty shock to your wallet.

Separately total up the four categories.

Your essential business expenses? That’s how much money the business needs to survive. I’ll call this “essential business expenses.”

Your nice-to-have business expenses? This, plus your essential business expenses, is how much you’d like to spend on the business each month. I’ll call this “full business expenses.”

Your essential expenses? That’s how much you must pay yourself. I’m going to call this “base pay.”

Your nice-to-have expenses? That, plus your base pay, is how much you want to pay yourself. I’m going to call this “full pay.”

Your goal is for the business to pay its full expenses every month, while paying yourself full pay every month.

Armed with this information, visit your accountant. If you’re unsure, ask them to verify the legitimacy of your proposed business expenses. It’s much better to pay a few bucks for a proactive check than have the local tax agencies add you to their list of “Suspicious Bastards We Need To Closely Watch.” Then have the accountant look at your base and full pay. How much must you to pay in taxes to pay yourself each of those?

Your full pay, plus the taxes on that pay, plus your full business expenses, are your expenses, as shown here. The numbers don’t reflect my reality. I chose them to make the examples simple.

expense categoriesbusiness expensespersonal expensestaxestotals
essential$500$2000$500$3000
nice-to-have$500$1000
essential plus nice-to-have$1000$3000$1000$5000

Ideally, I want my company to support $5000/month in expenses. I’m willing to accept $3000/month to have the job I love, though.

Worst Case: Don’t Refill the Bucket

Suppose the business account has $30,000 in it. With no income I can survive six months at full expenses, or ten months at base expenses.

Total annual outgo is $60,000 at full expenses, or $36,000 on base expenses.

Wow. That extra couple grand a month got big real quick, didn’t it? This illustrates one of the most important principles of cashflow: fixed recurring expenses will murder your business.

Filling the Bucket

Now that you know how quickly money goes out, look at the history of your business income.

If you made over $60,000, especially for multiple years, it’s realistic to think that you can probably pay yourself your full expenses.

If you’ve routinely made over $36,000, it’s realistic to think that you can probably pay yourself your base expenses.

If you made under $36,000, your business is in trouble before it starts. It’s better to know that you can’t survive before starting. It’s also better to know what you must change to make your writing a viable business. Now you know why I live in Detroit and not San Francisco. More than one writer I know personally lives in Thailand specifically to destroy their fixed recurring expenses.

Yes, once you’re writing full time your income should go up. The word should destroys more businesses than any other. The year I wrote more books than any other year, my income decreased. The next year I wrote fewer books, and my income increased. The books I’d written the previous year finally started paying off. You can’t control how well a book will sell. Hope is nice, and dreams keep we artists going, but seriously, spending in anticipation of an income surge will tank your finances.

Winning and Losing

Winning at your craft business is easily defined: you can stay in business, living the life you want to live. It’s okay to not meet goals like “write eight books this year,” so long as you keep going. Don’t define “winning” by increased income: remember, you don’t control how money arrives in the bucket.

You might find that being a full-time writer is not for you. That’s okay. It takes a peculiar particular sort of person to sit alone in a room and hammer out words forty hours a week. That’s not unique to writers. My wife’s favorite bead store went out of business after three years specifically because the store owner realized she wanted to play with beads, not manage cashflow. She was successful, but hated the actual work. Today, I can only presume she’s at home reveling in her glorious bead collection.

But then there’s failure.

Failing isn’t the worst that can happen. Most businesses fail. My first three businesses failed, but I learned from each.

But worrying about failure can destroy your creativity. Not releasing new books will also destroy your business. Reduce the worry by setting a Yellow and Red threshold on your bank account.

When your business account balance is above the Yellow threshold, you’re the Green zone. Pay yourself your full expenses. Life is good.

When your business account drops to or below the Yellow threshold, you cut your expenses to the base level. You pay only for essentials. Yes, it’s possible that you can get in a situation where the rules say you bounce Yellow and Green each month. If that’s the case, I’d suggest you stay at base expenses for a while until you get a comfortable cushion.

Hitting Yellow is also a good time to revisit your expenses. When I had to commute two hours a day, a good car was a necessity. Now that I only drive to and from the dojo, a new car is a waste. Inside a month any car I drive is gonna have that faint yet utterly penetrating aroma of “Eau de Sweaty Bludgeoned Lucas,” so why bother? Killing the car payment sufficed to drag me back into the green, no problem.

Again: monthly recurring expenses will murder your business. You control those expenses.

When your business account drops to Red: you’ve lost. It’s time to get a straight job.

How do you set these levels? I set them by months. My Yellow level equals one year’s basic expenses. I’m willing to live simply for a year, with zero income. This gives me time to cope with emergencies.

Job hunting while flat broke is terrible, though, so define your Red level accordingly. How long will it take you to get a job? My background is in technology, so my Red threshold allows for two months of base expenses with no income. Plenty of time for a techie like myself to choose the least loathsome employment. If you wanted your old job as a high school teacher, though, your Red level would be much higher. Schools hire teachers once a year.

The advantage of this system is you get to stop worrying. We artists are temperamental, high-strung critters. By setting thresholds, you can quickly know how things are going. When I start to freak out about this month’s cashflow and ask myself if I should return to corporate serfdom, I can check the bank balance. Most often I say something like “Oh, I’m at twice Yellow, everything’s fine” and get back to making words.

The nice thing about losing Fill The Bucket is that you don’t lose at writing. You wrote when you had a straight job before, you can write during that job again. Next time you try, you’ll be better prepared.

Increasing Expenses

Cash Flow Doom sounds like good news.

“A million dollars just landed in the Business Bucket! We’re rich! Maseratis all around!”

“I signed a Hollywood shopping agreement for my novel, I’m gonna be rich!”

Or, most insidious of all: “I don’t like doing this work.”

All of these encourage you to head down the same awful path: increasing your fixed expenses.

Fixed expenses are what kills a business.

Never increase expenses based on expected income. That way lies failure. Maybe you had a massive spike in your Amazon sales this month–but what happens to your business if next month Amazon decides to suspend your account and not pay you for that spike? Act only based on cash in hand.

Increasing your fixed expenses means that your Business Bucket drains more quickly, every month–and that your bucket will continue to drain at that rate, forever, until you reduce expenses. You’ve turned up the difficulty level on your game of Fill The Bucket.

That $5000/month for your full expenses? You hire a flunky, and suddenly it’s $10,000/month. What would have lasted you a year will now last six months. Your flunky doesn’t have base and full expenses, either–they expect their full paycheck, every week. That expense is truly fixed.

Your Red and Yellow levels change. And that person you hired? As people, employees are human beings and not disposable. Treat them with respect. Their employment with you, though? That’s totally disposable. Employees are Yellow-level expenses.

I know more than one writer who hired a friend to handle their scut work. When their income dropped, they chose to let their writing business tank rather than fire that friend. Placing your friendship ahead of your business is a valid personal decision, but think ahead of time what your decision will be. Firing a friend sucks. Don’t hire a friend unless you can cut them loose when times get hard. Worse, good employees tend to become friends. You’ll care about them.

Don’t hire employees unless you can bring yourself to fire them.

Company car? How do you feel about it being repo’d during the next stock market crash?

My rule of thumb is: don’t increase either full or base expenses unless I have enough cash in hand to keep the business above Yellow for an entire year at the increased level, assuming zero income for that year.

Also judge how those increased expenses affect your long term dreams and goals. I have a dream of writing enough to pay off the mortgage. (It’s a dream because I influence but don’t directly control my income.) Hiring an employee would make that dream much more difficult.

That’s why Tilted Windmill Press has no employees. I’ve assembled a team of consultants for cover and interior art, an entire editing and copyediting team, an accountant, and all the other bits I need to have a functional company. I also have a whole list of awesome artists on tap for when Brad is inevitably eaten by a grue, so please don’t send me your portfolio.

Firing a consultant is much easier than firing an employee. You just don’t hire them again.

I had some medical issues last year, and have been in something of a slump since. If I’d hired someone during that flush year, and couldn’t bring myself to fire them, I’d be out of business. As it is, I’m doing okay.

All this doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself. It’s been a good year and you want to replace your decrepit computer? That’s a one-off expense. If you can afford it, and it doesn’t interfere with your long-term goals and dreams, proceed.

Help, My Bucket Overflowed!

If you play this game even moderately well, you’ll find yourself with money in the bank. Keep your accountant up to date on what’s happening.

Many businesses invest in new equipment in December. One 28 December I bought a new laptop, a filing cabinet, a bookcase, and a thousand ISBNs. I needed them anyway, but my income was higher than I thought. Spending that money in that year helped cut my taxes.

Eventually you will need to revisit your business structure. Even one-person author businesses eventually need to incorporate, for tax reasons if nothing else. You’ll need to consider investments, like index funds or your niece’s Schoolyard Savings and Loan. (Sixth graders often charge fifty percent interest, so get in on that if you can.)

Adjust your model as money changes.

Help, My Brain Overflowed!

The first time you do this, it’s a pain. It takes hours.

That’s okay. It gets easier.

Revisit your plan at least once a year. Successful business people review their plans quarterly. Expenses tend to creep upward while you’re not looking. Find and squash the unnecessary ones, or at least classify them appropriately so you know what to cut when you hit the Yellow threshold.

Eventually adjusting and revisiting your full and basic expenses, along with your Red and Yellow thresholds, becomes easier and easier. Soon it becomes reflex. That recurring subconscious wish to hire your favorite cousin will start to drift towards your conscious mind, only to be intercepted and devoured by your finely trained and deeply ravenous Fixed Expense Hunter-Killer Instincts.

And you’re going to need that instinct if you’re to survive as a full time writer.

“SSH Mastery, 2nd ed” in hardcover

I’ve been publishing books for about a quarter century now. At long last, one of my books is out in hardcover. With a dust jacket and everything. Introducing the newest version of SSH Mastery.

Why produce this book in hardcover?

First, because I need to know how to do it. Self-pub hardcover books are a different beast than paperbacks. One day I’ll have a serious need for hardcovers. That’s not the time to learn how to create them. I’ll need those skills in advance.

And second, because I wanted to. Because how cool is this?

Hardcovers are not cheap. This book retails for $39.99. Much like paperback print on demand, I expect the price to drop with time.

In theory, the hardcover will withstand more abuse than a paperback. I love theories. They make spending forty bucks on a book you can get for ten in ebook sound sensible.

I’ve ordered a case of hardbacks, as gifts for the fine folks who sponsored this book.

Also, this book uses my own ISBN, 978-1-64235-022-7. As I have very few combination book nerd/tech nerd readers, let me explain the joke: this is ISBN 22 out of my block of 1000, 978-1-64235-022-7. You have my permission to roll your eyes now.

As I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase the hardcover edition, I let myself have fun with it. The dust jacket is very BOFH, and contains Extra Rat.

Podcast Interview with Yours Truly

Season 2 Episode 7 of Chris Sanders‘ Source Code podcast features me. It’s a tech podcast, yes, but as Chris and I are both writers, we talk writing. Plus growing up in a farm town, reading, and the assorted unspeakable horrors of the literary life.

Chris not only donates his book royalties to the Rural Technology Fund, when he interviews someone on his podcast he donates $100 to a charity of the guest’s choice. I chose the Soroptomists International of Grosse Pointe, who are doing good boots-on-the-ground work on Detroit’s human trafficking problems. They’re less the “Ladies Who Lunch” and more the “Ladies Who Launch.”

The bad news is we, of course, discussed Savaged by Systemd. Somehow, we kept the podcast’s PG rating.

MWL’s 2017 Wrap-Up

It’s that time again. Time to reflect on my myriad personal failures in 2017.

The obvious place to start is my 2016 wrap-up post, where I listed goals for 2017. As usual, these goals were wildly delusional.

The short answer is, my iron was back up to normal. My writing speed wasn’t, though. I’d lost too much general health, and needed hard exercise to recover it. Yes, writing requires physical endurance. Maintaining that level of concentration for several hours a day demands a certain level of blood flow to the brain. I could have faked it in a day job, but when self-employed as an artist? Not so much.

Then there’s travel. I did my usual BSDCan trip, plus two educational trips to Lincoln City, Oregon. The current political mayhem convinced me that if I wanted to hit EuroBSDCon any time in the next few years, I should do it in the very near future. So I went to Paris, where I promptly got pickpocketed. (Thankfully, they didn’t get my passport.) I was actively writing the third edition of Absolute FreeBSD, so I visited BSDCam in Cambridge to get the latest information and a sense of where FreeBSD was going. I also did weekends at Kansas LinuxFest (because they asked and paid for my trip) and Penguicon.

(Because people will ask: why EuroBSDCon and not AsiaBSDCon? A six-hour transatlantic flight requires that I take a substantial dose of heavy-grade tranquilizers. I’m incapable of making intelligent decisions while on those drugs, or for several hours afterward. They don’t last long enough for twelve-hour flight to Japan, so I need to be accompanied by someone qualified to tell me when I need to take the next dose partway through the flight. This isn’t a predetermined time that I can set an alarm for; it depends on how the clonazepam affects me at those altitudes. A drug overdose while flying over the North Pole would be bad. When I can arrange that qualified companion, I’ll make the trip.)

I need most of the preceding week to prepare for long trips. I need the following week to recover from time shifts and general exhaustion. Additionally, I have to hoard people juice for a few weeks beforehand so I can deal with folks during these expeditions. Travel disrupts my dojo time as well, which impacts my health.

Taken as a whole: I didn’t get nearly as much done as I hoped.

Here’s my complete output of big books.

Or, everything I put out: one novel, one tech book, one story, and one novella.

I wrote more stories, but Kris Rusch bludgeoned me into submitting them to trad markets. (The woman is a brute, I tell you. Cross her at your peril.)

Among my 2017 titles, my fiction outsold the tech books. No, not Prohibition Orcs–all four of the people who buy those love them, but the sales tell me I’ve done something wrong with those tales.

My cozy mystery git commit murder outsold Relayd and Httpd Mastery.

But what outdid them both, as well as most of my older books? What title utterly dominated my sales for the last quarter of the year? It was of course, my open source software political satire disguised as porn Savaged by Systemd: an Erotic Unix Encounter.

I can’t believe I just wrote that paragraph.

The good news is, once I recovered from EuroBSDCon, my writing got better.

I finished Absolute FreeBSD, 3rd edition and submitted it to the publisher.

I wrote the second edition of SSH Mastery (no link, because you can’t order it yet.)

I’m plowing through git sync murder, the sequel to git commit murder. I don’t get to see the new Star Wars movie until I finish GSM, so hopefully that’ll be this month.

All in all, I wrote 480,200 words in 2017. Most of that was after September. It’s annoyingly close to breaking half a million, but after 2016’s scandalous 195,700, I’ll take it.

One of the nice things about being an author is that most of your income is passive. You do the work, and the money trickles in for years afterwards. I had money coming in while I was out of commission. The bad news is, that income slowly drops. If I’m to stay an author instead of becoming a wage peasant, I have to schlep some books out PDQ. I can do it, provided I remain focused on production.

That slump is the big reason why I broke down and started a Patreon. It’s why I started taking sponsorships for tech books. You folks carried me through my health problems. I can’t thank you enough.

The fact that AF3e is trad published complicates the financial picture. I won’t see any money from that book until 2019. No, I’m not complaining–that’s just a fact of life, and I knew that going in. But it provides extra motivation for getting my butt in gear right off in 2018.

So 2018 will be my Year Of Making Words. The finest words, of course. Artisinal. Straight from Detroit, a third world city in America’s heartland.

So what’s on tap for 2018? What’s the plan?

  • BSDCan, Penguicon, and two educational trips to Lincoln City, Oregon. That’s it. Under no circumstances will I leave North America, sorry.
  • write 600,000 words, or 50,000 words a month.
  • Complete and release four tech books
    • SSH Mastery 2nd ed
    • FreeBSD Mastery: Jails (I suspect this will turn into two books, it’s a huge topic)
    • either Mastodon Mastery or Ansible for Legacy Systems.
    • #MWLSecretBook, which I can’t talk about until for now, for reasons which will become clear once the book comes out
  • Write the tech book I didn’t complete above, and release it if there’s time
  • Write four novels
    • git sync murder, a sequel to git commit murder
    • Bones Like Water, or Immortal Clay #3
    • Drinking Heavy Water, Montague Portal #5 or Aidan Redding #4
    • To Be Decided From a List of Candidates, All of Which I Really Want to Write
  • Be sufficiently flexible to kick Ray Percival in the head at BSDCan. A front kick will do, but I’m shooting for the high-flexibility side kick as a stretch goal.
  • Exercise enough to drop twenty pounds
  • Stay married while doing all of the above
  • Stay alive

Other than the last two, these are all deliberately fail-forward goals. If I only get three tech books done instead of four–hey, I’m ahead by three tech books! If I only drop ten pounds, that’s better than gaining ten. “Stay married” and “stay alive” aren’t fail-forward goals, but I have a good idea how to achieve them both.

This time next year, come back to see exactly how I failed!

“SSH Mastery” 2nd ed tech reviewers wanted

Last night, I finished a first draft of the second edition of SSH Mastery. The book covers OpenSSH as a server and a client, and PuTTY as a client. There’s small updates throughout the book, plus some new topics–most notably, SSH certificates.

I’m looking for SSH mavens who’d be willing to review the manuscript before publication.

I’d need any comments back by 2 January 2018.

I’d like comments in plain text, with enough context that I can find the spot you’re talking about.

Interested? Drop me an email at mwl at mwl dot io.

If you’re a sponsor and want to be a tech reviewer–you already have a copy of the manuscript. Read it. Send me comments. You’ve already helped me a bunch, but I won’t turn down your thoughts.

MS Word auto-recovery files and Dictation

Today, I learned about Microsoft Word auto-recovery files.

If Microsoft Word crashes and can’t auto-recover the document, find the autosave file. The location is given in File->Options->Save. Sort the directory by date, and your autosave should be at or near the top. The file name ends in .asd. Copy that file elsewhere and open it in Wordpad.

Your text will be therein, stripped of all formatting but present.

In related news: I’m trying dictation. I know several authors who produce several thousand words per hour with dictation. I would like to produce several thousand words per hour.

Seemingly unrelated fact: I habitually hit the “save” button after typing every sentence. Note the key word: typing.

In more related news: installing Dragon 15 has made Microsoft Word lock up three times today. The third time, it couldn’t auto-recover the lost text.

And I hadn’t even thought about saving. Because I automatically hit “save” every sentence.

Beware your habits. They will cause you pain when you change.

Also: computers are terrible. I need a stenographer. Who understands MS Word styles.

I have a Patreon now

I’ve done it. I’ve sold out. I’ve joined the trendy hip crowd.

By popular demand, I now have a Patreon.

Why announce this now? Well, I’ve finished the intensive work on the third edition of Absolute FreeBSD. I won’t have the rights to distribute electronic versions of AF3e to patrons. (Why? Remember, authors don’t sell books; they license copyright. I’ve licensed those rights to No Starch Press.) I will have the rights to distribute all of the Tilted Windmill Press ebooks, though. I feel it’s wrong to ask people to patronize me for working on stuff I couldn’t share with them.

Stupid ethics.

Financially, your best choice is to look at the books I write as they come out and purchase the ones you want. And I am perfectly good with that choice. I’m perfectly good with people who never read my stuff at all. My Patreon is for people who want to offer ongoing support, and get a couple tidbits in the bargain.

If you want to throw me a couple bucks but don’t Patreon? I have a tip jar. Or buy another book.

Short on cash? Reviews at the ebookstore where you bought a book are always nice.

Utterly indifferent to my existence? Then why did you read this blog post all the way to the end?