BSDCan 2020 Charity Auction

Every BSDCan concludes with a charity auction for the Ottawa Mission. It’s a highlight of the conference, and we’ve raised tens of thousands of bucks for this worthy organization. BDSCan is virtualized this year, because plague. Every year, I try to come up with two unique items to contribute to the auction. One of them is valuable, or at least has a small amount of inherent worth. The other is the stupidest thing I can think of, just to see if I can get people to bid on it. I consider last year my absolute peak success in both regards.

Today, the coronavirus has messed many people up. The United States is undergoing a long-overdue racism reckoning. If you have a tech job, many (not all) of you are moderately insulated from the worst effects of both of these. I would strongly encourage every one of you to donate to bail funds.

The Ottawa Mission still needs help, though, and I am unwilling to let the BSDCan tradition lapse. So this year, I’m offering something unique and stupid. It also includes just a soup├žon of humiliation for yours truly.

In October 2000 I attended my very first BSD conference, out in Monterey, California. This was before “Absolute BSD.” This was before my “Big Scary Daemons” column at O’Reilly Network. The conference sponsors flew me out on the strength of three or four FreeBSD articles I published in Sys Admin Magazine. This seemed ludicrous–but then, so did everything else in the dot-com boom that I’d so assiduously avoided. (This was the first of several times that Charles Mackay has saved my family pain.) Apparently the sponsors knew what they were doing, as meeting all these BSD folks changed my life. One day, I might forgive them.

I signed up for Kirk McKusick’s BSD Kernel Internals course. It included actual printed-on-paper slides, in a three-ring binder. When cleaning the basement, I found this notebook.

It has my notes. My bad notes. Because I didn’t understand anything, even after our esteemed doctor explained it in words of two or fewer syllables.

Not all the pages have notes. I thought I understood those slides and his lecture well enough that I didn’t need to take notes. I was wrong. The notes would have been factually incorrect, though, so it’s all the same in the end.

As part of Virtual BSDCan, I am auctioning off this historical flotsam to support the Ottawa Mission. Right here, on this web page. Comment with your bid. Comments not containing bids might be deleted.

The mission is in Canada, so all bids are in Canadian dollars. (If you screw up and pay the same number of US dollars or Euros instead, that’s okay.)

With all that’s going on it’ll to take some time for word to spread, so this auction remains open until 5 PM EDT, Monday 15 June 2020. If last-minute bids are coming in hot and heavy, I will let the auction run until they play out. I have no problem doing a virtual “going… going…. gone!”

The winner sends me a copy of their donation receipt. I mail the tutorial materials, including the Minimum Viable Three-Ring Binder that’s probably the most valuable component.

If you lose the auction, the Ottawa Mission would welcome even modest donations. So would those bail bond funds.

New book: “Cash Flow for Creators”

I make my living writing books. I don’t consult. I don’t teach, except for occasional talks at user groups and conferences–and cynics might call those talks “one hour commercials for a book.” It caused a problem I didn’t predict. People keep asking me how I do it. Some of these querents are making enough at their writing or other creative endeavor that they could make a living with their writing. I find my way of life immensely satisfying, and I believe similarly inclined folks should enjoy the same pleasure.

The answer comes down to: learn business.

Most business books are irrelevant to creators. Business books are aimed at franchises or stores or family factories, and contain chapter after chapter of stuff that’s utterly irrelevant to creators. I know. I read the books. Plus, the artistic stereotype includes “bad with business.” This is a pernicious myth that hampers many creators. A creator that dives into a business book filled with irrelevancies can be forgiven for buying into the myth, though.

This myth supports an entire industry. Any number of people will agree that creators have no head for business. It’s genetic. It’s not in their nature. That’s just how it is. They will soberly agree to handle your business affairs for a meager cut of the take. These people have an unparalleled skill at looking serious while their inner child is cackling and counting up the money. They profit by feeding the myth. These folks take the “no head for business” myth from a handicap and escalate it to utter pernicious fallacy.

A creative business isn’t hard, once you know how to do it. It might be the simplest kind of business there is, specifically because you don’t have to worry about so many of the things that make a store or a factory complicated. It might also be the most complicated, because being a full-time creator changes your whole life.

So I wrote a book about it. A small book. A cheap book. Cash Flow for Creators is about how to create, run, and build a creative business from the ground up. It explains how business works, and how to convert the irregular flow of creative income into rent payments without getting in trouble with the tax man.

It’s available my ebookstore and my brand new print bookstore. Or lots of other places shown in the book listing. (Still waiting on Apple, dagnabit.)

There it is. That’s how I do it. No secrets, no evasions.

The rest is up to you.

“git sync murder” status

TLDR: git sync murder will be out this year.

Slightly longer: it won’t be early this year.

In February I started writing git sync murder, a sequel to git commit murder. I’ve run at this book before, but the world put a 22-centimeter cyst on my thyroid to stop me. This time, it’s pulled out a pandemic.

The book is going slow right now. The git murder books, like all cozy mysteries, are about community. Our communities are going through the Cuisinart right now. My two primary community gatherings, Penguicon and BSDCan, have both been virtualized. I might discard the story I have and write about murder over YouTube and Zoom, but that’s not the direction I want to go right now.

As a bonus my wife is a nurse practitioner. I hear all sorts of inside information about how the pandemic is doing, and its impact on health care workers. The pandemic is doing just fine, thank you very much. The health care workers, not so much. Anything I write now will be extremely dark.

One of three things will happen (plus infinite variations on and gradiations between them, of course).

  • The pandemic will pass. Life will establish a new, sociable normal. All manner of things will be well.
  • The pandemic will hang around for a couple years, but we will fairly soon establish a new normal to cope with it.
  • Civilization collapses.

In two of these scenarios, things stabilize in a few months and I write the book. In the third, I’m grateful that I have all of my books printed on soft, absorbent paper.

I’m therefore focusing my attention on TLS Mastery and a different novel. Not saying what that novel is, because it might implode, but I’ll give the curious an extremely feeble hint. (If you figure it out: good for you! Now hush.)

“TLS Mastery” sponsorships open

My next book will be TLS Mastery, all about Transport Layer Encryption, Let’s Encrypt, OCSP, and so on.

This should be a shorter book, more like my DNSSEC or Tarsnap titles, or the first edition of Sudo Mastery. I would like a break from writing doorstops like the SNMP and jails books.

You can sponsor in print or ebook. Remember, the print sponsorship includes everything in the ebook sponsorship, so you don’t need to buy both unless you want your name to appear twice in the ebook.

As we’re in a pandemic: take care of you and yours first! I’m conflicted on offering sponsorships, as so many people have lost their jobs. Several folks said they were going to send me money anyway, so I’ve opened these up. Do NOT send me money if you have any doubts about your financial stability.

The Print Book Trade, and Money

I’ve had to explain this in two separate conversations, to folks I thought already understood it, so it’s time for a blog post about the business of paper books.

Beware: publishing industry neepery ahead. This is mainly aimed at folks who started off in self-pub and previously didn’t need to know the inside details of the book trade, so they’re missing out on options. I’m giving a high level overview here: this industry has evolved for centuries and is not this tidy.

The book trade has four main parts.

Authors write books, and license that intellectual property to a publisher.

Publishers produce physical books. They might pay a printing company to run thousands of copies, or use a print on-demand-facility.

If you’re a self-publisher, you are both the author and the publisher in this discussion. You wear both hats at separate times.

Retailers sell books to readers. This might be the general public, university students, or any other group. Retailers have the job of picking which books they will stock and attracting customers.

For a publisher to ship 1-2 copies of a book to each bookstore that wants them is cost-prohibitive, both in staff time and shipping cost. That’s where distributors come in. Distributors order a publisher’s books in bulk. Bookstores order books in bulk from a distributor, but those orders contain books from many publishers. The distributor breaks up one bulk order, stores them, and cost-effectively fills bookstore orders.

Some organizations own multiple parts of this chain. Penguin Random House is a huge publisher. They also own a distributor called, conveniently enough, Penguin Random House. (Why they didn’t go with Randy Penguin, flinging their treasures everywhere, I’ll never know.) Barnes & Noble owns a distributor and a publisher. Amazon is both a distributor and a retailer. (They even have a trad publishing arm that publishes some of the books they sell.)

The publisher sets a book’s cover price. Let’s say the cover price is $10, because that makes my math easy. The publisher sells the print book to a distributor for a percentage of the cover price. The exact percentage varies based on contractual agreements. For my examples I’m going to go with 40% for the publisher, 20% for the distributor, and 40% for the retailer. They make my math easy, and they’re also the numbers used by Amazon’s KDP Print program.

So the publisher gets paid $4 for a $10 book. Out of that $4 the publisher must pay to print the book, ship the book to the distributor, pay the staff, boozy lunches, and (presumably) pay the author. Eventually.

The distributor gets $2. Out of this they pay for warehousing, unboxing books, taking orders, reboxing books, and notably sybaritic boozy lunches.

The bookstore gets $4 of that. They pay shipping on their orders, plus clerk salaries and rent and all that boring physical stuff. It’s expensive, but there might be a box of wine at Christmas.

Anyone along this chain can discount the book by taking a smaller cut.

As an author, you get a chunk of the publisher’s take. The amount varies from 1% minus printing costs to 25% of the gross, depending on the drawing power of your name, how drunk you can get the publisher during negotiations, and how business looked when your contract was signed. Because I’m too lazy to do real math, I’m going to assume that your devoted study of the Munich Handbook of Necromancy paid off and you have a 50% split of the publisher’s gross.

The financial split looks somewhat like this. Green is money you get. Yellow is money other people earn. Red is where you get no share in the process, because you don’t participate in that level of the business.

trad pub

Your publisher pays you $2 for the sale of your $10 book. (Again, this is very high. Nobody really gets paid this much by a trad publisher.)

Easy and effective self-publishing changed the distribution of funds. Authors could get the entirety of the publisher’s cut, if they were willing to do the work.

self pub

You get $4, but you must pay for producing the book. All print-on-demand companies will tell you how much your book costs to print, so that’s easy. You also must pay for cover art, copyediting, and so on. Will you come out ahead here? That’s a question for you and your calculator.

Now let’s consider distribution. A book goes through the publisher and the distributor to the retailer.

The previous chart also represents what happens when a bookstore buys a print book published through Amazon. It’s Amazon’s Expanded Distribution. What if the retailer is Amazon? Amazon doesn’t take a distributor cut; they pay the full 60%.

Amazon distribution

You get $6, minus production costs.

Amazon has decided that they’ll skip taking a cut of distribution if they can get that 40% for handling the retail end. There’s no risk on their end; they don’t have to even physically stock the book until someone pays for it.

This is why Expanded Distribution pays so much less than Amazon direct; you’re losing out on that extra 20% of retail. If producing your book costs $3, a $6 sale nets you $3. A sale to a bookstore, routed through Expanded Distribution, nets you $1.

But now, consider IngramSpark. IS has an assortment of fees that muddy this model, and they let you adjust the percentage discount retailers get on your book, but let’s stick with the 40/20/40 split for now. It’s close enough. Effectively, you wind up with the publisher share and a piece of the distributor share.


Sell a $10 book to a bookstore via Amazon, you gross $4. Sell a book to a bookstore via IngramSpark, you gross $5.

That might not sound like a huge difference, but suppose your book costs $3 to produce. A sale via Amazon nets you $1, IS nets $2. That “margin” thing business folks babble about? This is it. Over hundreds or thousands of sales, margin adds up.

Part of this graph hasn’t changed. That’s the retailer, over on the far right hand side. I am unwilling to handle direct mail orders.

But there’s options for that, now. Enter Aerio. Aerio lets anyone set up an online store for print books. I’ve done it. It works.

Aerio splits the retail portion of the sale with the store owner. As a traditionally published author selling my books through Aerio, the income looks like so.

Aerio for trad pub

That’s $4 for me, and I don’t have to pay to print the book. Note that the author’s royalty I used in this example is way, way high; no publisher pays 50% on print books. For most trad-pubbed authors, an Aerio sale will net them far more than their royalty.

If you’re a self-pubbed author distributing books via Amazon’s Expanded Distribution, the money looks nicer.

Aerio and KDP

I have to pay for printing the book, but that $6 net is a lot nicer to start from than $4.

The Big Prize with Aerio, though, is when you sell books available through IngramSpark.

Aerio and IngramSpark

This is a pretty chart. I like this chart. I want to buy it dinner and flowers. If I can’t do okay grossing $7 on a $10 book, I don’t deserve to be an author.

And truth is, I’m delighted to pay Ingram their cut to produce the book and Aerio a cut to provide a spiffy web site and ship the book. These jobs give me splenic hives.

As an author, always look where the money’s being made. See how you can get a cut of it.

One note on using Aerio: Most author/small publisher accounting software, like TrackerBox, view the author’s income from different sources as a single sale. You sold a book to channel X, where X is “Amazon direct” or “Expanded Distribution” or “trad pub.” Aerio breaks this. Aerio is a retailer. They buy from a distributor. Each Aerio sale shows up once as a sale from Aerio, and also on your IngramSpark or Amazon report. You sold 100 print copies of Great Novel on Amazon Expanded Distribution, and 15 on Aerio? That’s not 115 copies. That’s 100 copies. You get paid via two different channels on 15 of them.

As far as I’m concerned, the only way to improve on the Aerio model is for someone to help me transparently offer print/ebook bundles globally. I would happily offer buyers of print books the ebook version for free. Help me do that, and I and my readers will flock to you.

So, uh: I have a print bookstore. You can buy many of my books directly there, in both hardcover and paperback. I make more off those sales than anywhere else. If you want print books, and you want to give me a bigger cut of the sale, buy there.

New “Prohibition Orcs” today

People ask me why there haven’t been any more Prohibition Orcs tales.

They exist, but you haven’t seen them. Traditional publishers have bought them. And traditional publishers are sloooow. They pay, though, and they get me exposure. (How do you know getting paid in exposure is real? Authentic exposure comes with a paycheck. Anything else is a knock-off.)

But today witnesses the escape of a new Prohibition Orcs story.

I’m this issue’s guest author on Uncollected Anthology.

You can pick up the entire anthology, or grab just my story. But really: less than five bucks? Get the whole thing.

This story will come out in print on October 1st 2020. For those of you collecting in print, it’ll be branded like the other print titles. The ebook version is branded like an Uncollected Anthology project.

And no, this is not an April Fool’s joke. April Fool’s has been cancelled this year.

My New Print Bookstore

No, I did not open a corner bookstore, with weird decorations and a shop cat. I now have an online store for physical books, however. They carry a wide selection of my titles, from multiple publishers, and I’m adding more as time permits.

No, I’m not shipping books myself. I outsourced procurement and delivery to Aerio.

Before you ask: no, I can’t do print/ebook combinations, yet. Some folks are working on this problem, but it is not yet solved. I am still unwilling to hire a lickspittle flunky to cope with shipping.

“SNMP Mastery,” April Fool’s, and The Networknomicon

I sent the official release announcement today: SNMP Mastery is everywhere. You can get it, no matter where in the world you are or what vendor you prefer. Assuming they’re open, that is.

The world is in chaos. This is the worst possible time to do a book release. Like every other industry in the world, my income has plunged eighty percent. Fortunately, I’ve prepared for just such a contingency. We’ll be okay for a while yet.

But the world has no space for April Fool’s Day.

I’ve long believed that a prank must have meat behind it. A funny blog post is not a prank. Ed Mastery was a prank, particularly with the Manly McManface edition. People saw it, snorted, and then discovered it was real and laughed. And certain people were horribly, horribly offended. Exactly as intended.

SNMP is often compared to black magic. Therefore, I prepared a grimoire version of SNMP Mastery, to be released on April Fool’s Day.

Presenting The Networknomicon, or SNMP Mastery, by Abdul Alhazred, as translated from Alien Syntax Notation.1 by Michael W Lucas.

It is the finest physical artifact I have ever produced. The dust jacket is glorious, and there’s still more glorious art beneath it. The interior is stamped with labels from the Miskatonic University Library of Computer Science. No other technology topic is so utterly fitting to be presented as a eldritch tome of forbidden black magic. I have labored over the Networknomicon for six months.

The world is flat-out not in a place for this prank.

The Networknomicon was a sunk cost when everything went to hell. It was already at the printer. Copies were shipped to all the print-level sponsors and Patronizers. The ball was rolling downhill, and people were looking at the sponsor copies and saying that they needed it.

I’m still proud of creating the Networknomicon.

I would much prefer the world was in a place to laugh with me. But it’s not.

I’ve elected to just let it quietly seep out, not using it as an April Fool’s prank. I’m not going to demand to know who did this, indignantly insist the perpetrators fess up, threaten lawsuits for soiling my good name. I will not demand to know what happened to the “My Little Pony”-themed editions I supposedly shipped to print sponsors and Patronizers. And what sort of idiot prices a book at $66.66? (Yes, it’s expensive. This art was not cheap.)

My excitement has been building for six months. I have been desperate for 1 April to arrive so I could enjoy the world’s perplexity and cackle for a solid week.

And it’s going to fizzle. This disappointing decision makes me sad.

But I can’t joke about necromancy, black magic, and a book bound in cyborg hide during a pandemic, while millions are losing their jobs and companies that charge thousands of dollars for desperately needed ventilator fittings that can be cheaply 3D printed on site are threatening to sue over saving people’s lives.

On the whole, I’m ridiculously lucky. What everyone else calls “social distancing” is my normal life. I bought a Costco crate of toilet paper a week before the panic hit Detroit. I have enough medication to get through a few months, and enough steel cut oatmeal for months.

I will get over the sad. And we will get through this. Most of us, at least.