S. J. Kelley

Business Matters

RSP #167: Diversifying Your Income with Rachael Herron

Great episode on RSP this week (so sad that Simon is only posting biweekly instead of weekly now; it’s my favourite show!) One thing I want to note for later is using WordPress’s Redirection plugin to have “evergreen links” in the front/back matter of books. Rachael makes a short URL on her blog and points the link in her book to it, and then just updates the link to tell it to redirect to different places. This is useful for lots of reasons:

  • You never have to update all the books, just the redirect on WordPress; this would save a lot of work as the number of books increases.
  • You can send everyone to the same newsletter sign-up page in the end, but have different links in the front/back of books so you’re able to segregate.
  • You can have a placeholder on your site for a book coming soon, then redirect to amazon or Kobo when it comes out (although I think I’d have to be careful about not using Amazon affiliate links; I remember reading somewhere that redirecting to affiliate links might be a no-go).

It’s essentially a service like bit.ly, but you own the whole process without having to go through a third party. I like it!

New host and website is live!

After reading on KBoards about some author blogs on the free services that got taken down for no apparent reason, I decided that I really wanted to have full control over my website, so I bought a 3-year hosting plan and switched from Blogger to WordPress. The transition wasn’t all that painful; there’s a great plugin to import posts from Blogger, and then it was just a matter of cleaning up a few things. I’m actually enjoying WordPress very much! I’m not sure if it differs from the free version on wordpress.com, but the install on my domain is fantastic. So flexible.

One thing I really like is how categories are displayed hierarchically and how I can use tags for SEO. Not sure if I’m doing it correctly or not, but I love classifying things, heh. I’ve gone through all of my old posts to try to make it easier to find posts on different topics.

In the course of setting everything up, I’ve added a few things that I’d like to note here in case I have to re-install, or in case you’re setting up your own WordPress blog! I’ve added:

  • A google analytics dashboard so I can see popular posts — Blogger had this but it was almost impossible to get it to stop tracking my own actions; here it’s easy peasy!
  • A breadcrumb trail to help with navigation
  • A plugin to allow me to put in custom CSS (you’ll see this in the works when I get my book review library page up and running)
  • A redirection plugin so that links won’t break if I change my post sorting rules
  • Updated permalink formatting

I still have to go through old posts that have internal links or pictures to fix them up, but other than that I’m back in business!

I’ve been busy

I haven’t posted in some time, but I’ve learned so much. I feel like I can take this writing business by the horns now. I stopped tracking my time, because tracking my time was taking too much time (oh the irony). I have to get over the strange feeling of not having metrics to track, and just accept that it’s for the better good. Not quite there yet.

I start my morning by reading The Passive Voice and the latest posts on KBoards; I check back in on them at lunch. In the evenings, I read books on craft and marketing. I’ve recently devoured several books by James Scott Bell, and have decided that I should really look at the iconic texts of storytelling craft: Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” and “Story Physics”; Robert McKee’s “Story”; and Christopher Vogel’s, “The Hero’s Journey.” I also tracked down a copy of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.” In terms of marketing, I’ve been enjoying Ryan Levesque’s “Ask” and Jeff Walker’s “Launch.” I’ll be reviewing all of these resources in the coming weeks hopefully (but with my track record of keeping this blog updated, who knows? Business comes first 🙂 ).

I also broke down and bought an AlphaSmart Dana; an antiquated piece of retrotech that runs off three AA batteries and can’t read SD cards over 1 GB in size. It’s an electronic word processor running on PalmOS and it does one thing well: typing. The keyboard is fantastic, and it’s a great distraction-free writing tool. Bought a whole set of them because shipping to Canada was so expensive I figured, why not? At least if one breaks I have a backup, and I also now have a dedicated machine for working on this new writing empire I’m building, heh. I’ll probably talk about it more in future.

I can’t believe another year is almost over… I started this blog in 2014; a few posts back I thought I’d publish my first episode around this time of year. Now, I’m realizing I really should have the complete series plotted before I get any further into my manuscript, even if it takes longer before I make a sale.

I’ve just been through our first crazy crunch time at work, and some serious burn-out. Now I’m heading head-long into another that won’t let up until February. Somehow, this year, I have to keep my head above water and keep working toward my business goals. This is despite the fact that I have taken on a part-time teaching job (yet again), as well as additional part-time consulting work.

Wish me luck.

Tax withholding and owning a company

When I initially looked into self-publishing, I came to the conclusion that I would have to register a business so I could get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS in the United States so that 30% of my earnings wouldn’t be withheld. Apparently it took a long time to get a ITIN (Individual Tax Payer Identification Number), but registering as a business made it much faster. However, upon reading several threads on KBoards, it appears that the policies have changed and now all that is needed to reduce tax withholding to 0% is an international tax identification number (if your country has a tax treaty with the US). For Canadians, this is your SIN number.

It may seem odd that I’m looking into this so early in the process, but I’m very judicious in spending my personal time and if something won’t advance my life goals, I generally shy away from it. So while I enjoy writing, I’m in large part motivated by trying to become self-employed, and taking a 30% cut or an unfair exchange would significantly impede that. Also, I have a very strong desire to stay anonymous because I prefer to just blend into the crowd; not having to set up a company means my name isn’t attached to it in public record, which is awesome. (I had looked into setting up a company anonymously, but apparently this is very shady, even though Canada ranks in the top for these ‘shell companies’).

Aside from the ease of obliterating withholding tax, I also wanted to register a company so that I could have an official-looking publisher name in the publisher field. I have yet to determine how to do this, as once again the owner of the company would have to be public record. Maybe I’ll just have to skip that part in the interest of staying a recluse 🙂 I think I’ve figured it out! Nothing strange needed to keep your privacy after all, if you’re in the right province. Thankfully, I am! But being hermit-like, I won’t go into the details 🙂 Suffice to say that hubby and I are now the proud owners of Suspension Publishing.

When our books are finally written and we have to set up a mailing list, we’ll have to rent a P.O. Box, as to be in line with spam laws we’ll have to list a mailing address. I haven’t decided yet if we’ll do a physical box, or use a virtual mail service. We’ll see.

Registering a business, deducting expenses

As I contemplate purchasing some more software for my novel pursuits, I’m starting to seriously consider officially setting up a business so I can claim all these expenses. Altogether it will cost $175 to have an official home based business in my city. Ouch. But I do have to do it at some point, and it’s a one-time fee, so better to pay it now than when my dollars aren’t worth as much due to inflation. Also, going by the CRA’s definition, my business is already technically started because I know what I’m going to do and have been making steps toward it on a regular basis, so I guess I already have a home office? Of course, still making product so no sales yet. Not sure what my city defines a “start” as, but I’ll register soon regardless.

I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read through the CRA stuff before I filed my taxes. Last year I purchased a lot of writing books and software to do outlining and that all would have been tax deductible. I could go back and modify my return, but that’s a really big undertaking. Plus I think my big push in January is a good way to define the start of the business (seems to match the following from the CRA: “In order that there be a finding that a business has commenced, it is necessary that there be a fairly specific concept of the type of activity to be carried on and a sufficient organizational structure assembled to undertake at least the essential preliminaries.”). Anything in this tax year is game now that I have my head on straight! So far I have some writing craft books, a marketing course, and hopefully software if I can convince my husband of the expense, which looks dismal at the moment, heh.

The good news is I won’t have to register for any tax account, since I’m not earning more than $30k a year on this… ha! Hopefully I’ll have that problem at some point. But even so, I don’t sell the books directly, so not sure how this would work (the retailers would collect the tax so don’t see why I would need an account). I’m sure there’s some process for commissioned pieces in there, but I’ll open that can of worms if I ever get there.

Coming back to the topic of business registration: It appears that Canada does not have the LLC option of our American counterparts to protect our personal belongings should anything terrible happen in this process. The only choice I can go for for liability protection is a corporation, and the thought of corporate taxes is, quite frankly, terrifying. It appears the corporation would pay tax at about 11% for a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC) claiming the small business deduction, and I think I would get paid as an employee and that would be taxed for income taxes. So double taxes? Confusing. In any case, the CCPC would function as it’s own “person” so I wouldn’t be able to deduct my expenses off my personal taxes. I think I’ll stick with sole proprietor (or partnership if my husband decides to get on board) for now, and if I become immensely successful I’ll look into this further.

More on seasons / episodes

After reading more about ebook pricing, I’m thinking my initial plan my need to be revised.

Writing / Editing Release Date Book Length Price
May 4 – 31, 2015 Oct 4, 2015 Season 1: Episode 1 ~25k FREE
Jun 1 – 28, 2015 Oct 4, 2015 Season 1: Episode 2 ~25k $2.99
Jun 29 – Aug 5, 2015 Nov 1, 2015 Season 1: Episode 3 ~25k $2.99
Aug – Oct 11, 2015 Nov 29, 2015 Season 1: Episode 4 ~25k $2.99
Oct 12, 2015 Dec 26, 2015 Season 1: Omnibus ~100k $5.99 (save 33%)
Oct 13 – Dec 15, 2015 Feb 7, 2016 Season 2: Episode 1 ~25k $2.99
Dec 15/’15 – Feb 16, 2016 Mar 20, 2016 Season 2: Episode 2 ~25k $2.99
Feb 17 – Mar 13, 2016 Apr 17, 2016 Season 2: Episode 3 ~25k $2.99
Mar 14 – Apr 6, 2016 May 15, 2016 Season 2: Episode 4 ~25k $2.99
Apr 6 – May 1, 2016 Jun 12, 2016 Season 2: Omnibus ~100k $6.99 (save 42%)

While books are on pre-order I’ll list them at a reduced price of $1.99 per episode, or 4.99/5.99 per season.

I’ve also come up with a new writing schedule. I reduced my hours at work to 3 days a week, but my Tuesdays and Thursdays seem to get swallowed up by my to-do list backlog, and I get less than 2-3 hours of writing in. I thought if I had a more strict schedule on those days I could treat it like a job. I wouldn’t be late for work or not put in the time, so why should I not put the time into this career? The schedule below allows for 8 hours of sleep per night (I need 8.5 to feel normal according to my sleep experiment, but this will probably do).

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday (1.5 hr/day; 6 hr/week)
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

Tuesday, Thursday (7.5 hr/day; 15 hr/week)
8:30 am – 10:00 am Novel (1.5 hr)
10:00 am – 10:30 am Break
10:30 am – 12:00 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
12:00 pm – 12:45 pm Lunch
12:45 pm – 2:15 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
2:15 pm – 2:45 pm Break
2:45 pm – 4:15 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
4:15 pm – 5:00 pm Life stuff / Logistics
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

Saturday (4 hr/day and week)
10:00 am – 12:30 pm Novel (2.5 hr)
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

In total I’ll get in 25 hours a week this way. I have 10 weeks left on this schedule, then one week of vacation while kids are in summer camp (writing binge like T/R schedule; 37.5 hrs), then 2 weeks vacation of nothing, and then I’m back to working 5 days a week, so I’ll only get in 1.5 hours every night (10.5 hours per week). Note that all of these times are actual writing/editing times. In my “leisure” and during my 20 min coffee / 30 min lunch breaks at work I’ll read business related things such as blogs like The Passive Voice and forums such as KBoards, and will try to squeeze marketing in those times as well.

According to my spreadsheet I average a measly 390 WPH writing, and edit at 2500 WPH. I’m hoping to finish editing Episode 1 this week, so starting Monday I’ll have 75k remaining. Each episode will take me 64 hours to write and 10 to edit, so about 75 hours total. By the time I add covers and promo planning, about 85 hours, or 3.5 weeks (lets round to 4 weeks because I have to learn book layouts and how to upload, etc). I’ll use my summer camp week to arrange promos, covers, beta readers, etc. I want to have the whole thing done before work picks up again and also before the first release, because I like to go back and add hints to make sure they’re all a cohesive document. I won’t be able to do that with season 2, but hopefully things pick up enough that I can work less at the day job all year, not just for a few months.

Releasing a book as “episodes” and “seasons”

I know I don’t really have an audience, so I’ll just apologize to myself for not being around in a while. In week seven I had my best week yet, largely because I was getting up very early (4:30 in the morning early) and actually getting things done. Then I decide to switch to writing after the kids were in bed, since I’ve always been a night owl at heart, but I ended up being so burnt out from work and getting up early for weeks that I’d just surf the Internet or waste time, often staying up until one or two in the morning and being a zombie the next day. Epic fail.

But that’s all in the past, right?

I spent the day coming back to the idea of serialization, which I first talked about in March. There’s been some debate on KBoards about how readers would respond to the different types of serialization. In the most traditional sense, a serial has a clear beginning, middle, and end, despite being a short piece. Meanwhile, a series is often thought of as several related, standard length books that can be read in any order. Apparently the term “saga” refers to what I usually consider to be a series, which are standard length books with a clear beginning, middle, and end that must be read in a specific order to understand the overarching plot.

The people posting on KBoards seem to be in one of two camps when it comes to splitting a traditional novel into several parts that have no clear beginning, middle, and end, and finish with a cliffhanger. The first believes that readers will consider it nothing more than a money grab, and that they will become annoyed and leave several one star reviews. The logic is that even if the serialization is designed for borrows through Kindle Unlimited, there will inevitably be a number of buyers who won’t appreciate having to pay for one book several times. Of course, if one were to price each of the installments at $.99, over a four part serialization the author would only earn $1.20. If the same book was sold for $3.99, the author would earn $2.79. So clearly serialization is not a money grab, but readers may not realize this. I think the key is keeping the pricing of each individual installment approximately the same as the pricing of the box set.

The second camp believes that serialization is a good way to maximize the benefit from the 30 day hot new releases algorithm. Also, readers are less likely to buy a book from an author who only has one book published, and breaking a novel into several parts will increase the number of books available. Several authors have had great success with this approach. Key is having a very clear blurb that specifically says the book is an installment and that it ends on a cliffhanger. As readers of short works are a different target audience than readers of full novels, posters on KBoards also recommend saying that the books will be bundled when the last one is released, so that those who prefer a longer novel format can wait until it is available.

So my current plan is to completely write the book so that I can work in hints in the early stages, but to publish it as for “episodes” approximately 25,000 words long, roughly corresponding to Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, and Act 3. The Self-Publishing Podcast started applying the “episode” TV term to serialization as people are familiar with TV episodes that must be watched in order and end on a cliffhanger. The SPP guys release all episodes as a “season” in one fell swoop, Netflix style. I plan on stretching the releases a bit more than this to maximize the algorithm, but for the most part think the terms “episodes” and “seasons” are ideal.

My plan is to release the box set when people are getting their new kindles for Christmas. Each preceding release would occur a month before that date, with the exception that the first and second episodes will be published at the same time. The purpose of this is for the first episode to act as a free loss leader, and the second is immediately available to show that I am an author doing this for the long term. As a reader myself, I will seldom buy into a series if only one book is available because the author may just drop off the face of the earth.

September 2015: Release episode one as free. Have episode two available for $1.99, and episode three available through preorder for $1.99, with release in October 2015.

October 2015: Episode three is published. Episode four is available through preorder for $1.99.

November 2015: Episode four is published. Box set is available through preorder for $4.99.

December 2015: Box set is published.

Total cost to reader purchasing individual episodes: $5.97
Total royalties for selling all four individual episodes: $1.79

Total cost to reader buying boxed set: $4.99 (savings of 16%)
Total royalties for selling boxed set: $3.49

Given the above calculations, it may look like serialization is a bad idea, however exposure is key. By having two books available from the onset, I’ll have the benefit of a loss leader with an immediate funnel to a purchase. Also, by releasing the next two episodes and the box set within the 30 day window, a title should be available on the hot new releases list for four months, instead of just one. If I’ve learned anything from reading KBoards it’s that getting discovered is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in self-publishing, so I’m hoping this plan will work.

To serialize or not to serialize

When I woke up a little past midnight tonight my brain was ruminating over whether or not to serialize my first book to take advantage of putting it in Kindle Unlimited and having ‘many books’ available right out of the gate.  My brain refused to turn off until an hour later, despite the fact that I have to wake up at 4:30…

Anyway, I was thinking of doing something along the lines of what Sean Platt, Johnny Truant, and David Wright of the Self Publishing Podcast do with their seasons and episodes. They’ve amassed quite a few of them now, so I was trying to figure out how long each one was. I’ve separated them into works with Sean and Johnny, and works with Sean and Dave, because when Johnny writes the first draft I find they tend to go longer and if edited could have been about 20% shorter. Kindle estimates on the high end of the standard 250 – 350 words per page and uses 350, so the word counts below are going by the page length of their complete seasons for season 1:

The episodes have chapters in them that run about 2-3k each.

Well, now I’ve used an hour of my writing time to satisfy my brain munchings and set up the above with Amazon affiliate links, so I should head back to actually writing the stuff I may or may not eventually serialize.