Staying on Top of the Writing Biz

Author CaptionWriters who are as serious about selling their books as they are about writing them know all too well that one’s writing life quickly becomes a business. Aside from arranging events, blog tours, social media shout-outs, and so on, there’s the actually selling of books and record keeping that accompanies it, or at least it should.

If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will track your sales, but if you’re self-published, well, that’s on you. Keeping track of income and expenses is an important part of the writing biz. Here in Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to know about every dollar you earn from writing and every dollar you declare as an expense.

Since I’m not an accountant and therefore unqualified to give technical advice, I’m offering only two general tips that come from twenty-five years of selling my books through gift shops, bookstores, craft fairs, and writers’ events.

The first is stay on top of your bookkeeping. If you’re self-publishing multiple titles and selling at numerous events, then it’s important to know which title sold where and for how much. Bookkeeping tasks can mount up fast, especially during the Christmas season, so I find it best to record my sales on a spreadsheet right after every event.

It’s also important to note any expenses you wish to declare for each event. There are a number of online accounting packages like QuickBooks to help you out, but if you only have a couple of titles and know how to use Excel then that will at least keep you from frantically rummaging through shoeboxes of mangled receipts every April.

Here’s where my second piece of advice comes in, and this is probably stating the obvious, but if you’re selling books through your own website and accepting different forms of payment from different countries with different taxation requirements, then consider hiring an accountant. The same advice applies even if you’re not, but are having trouble figuring out what is a legitimate expense and what isn’t.

I’m lucky to have three accountants in my family, but if I didn’t I’d definitely hire one. It might seem pricey, but a professional can help you set up an efficient recordkeeping system and possibly save you thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Even if you have only one book out, it’s still a good idea to keep track of how many copies you sold, when, where, and for how much. These stats alone will help you figure out which events are viable, and if your books are appealing to the right demographic. Trust me, demographics vary from community to community.

When it comes to the business of selling books, there’s a lot to think. Do you need a GST number? Should you form an incorporated business? If those questions make your head spin, I totally get it. If you’re procrastinating with overflowing shoeboxes on a shelf somewhere, you know who to call.

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Acquiring Mental Strength

o-MENTAL-STRENGTH-facebook[1]A few weeks ago, I came across and interesting article about things mentally strong people do that no one else does. It intrigued me because I’m immersed in a year that’s requiring a lot of mental and emotional strength. But as I was reading the article I was struck by how many of the 12 points listed also applied to my writing life, not just my family life.

For example, among the twelve points listed, the first one is practicing gratitude. I’ve been doing this as a writer from the day I sold my first piece back in 1983. I’ve enjoyed many moments of gratitude since then and have managed to acquire some of the other points on the Entrepreneur article list.

For example, mentally strong people create their own definition of success, delay gratification, don’t blame others, adopt practical optimism, acknowledge their limitations, and don’t compare themselves to others.

I can’t claim to have conquered all points listed. I still have trouble saying no, I still let my inner critic vocalize too much, and I still let fear get in the way of going all out in certain aspects of my career. But I’m working on it.

One of the things I’ve learned after nearly forty years of writing is that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I have something to share with newer writers just starting out. And that means a lot.

If you’re interested in reading all twelve points listed in the Entrepreneur article, you can find it HERE.

The Powerful Connection Between Nature and Writing

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpgWriting and gardening seem to go hand in hand. I’ve read wonderful blogs from authors whose photos and enthusiasm for their gardens is amazing. I’ve read biographies about deceased authors who were also passionate gardeners.

Although I haven’t done much gardening as an adult, I loved growing flowers as a kid. My favorite were gladioli. I still like big flowers, dahlias and sunflowers in particular. But after my husband started a vegetable garden in earnest last year (we enjoyed oodles of zucchini and kale) and we had some trees topped or removed (we still have plenty of trees, trust me), the sunlight has poured in, revitalizing flowering plants (which will hopefully attract bees) that have been there for years, but never really blossomed, until now, as you’ll see in the photos.

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019.jpgMany authors know that one of the best ways to sort through novel plotting problems is to take a walk, whether in the woods, by water, or in a park. There’s something about the tranquility, the sounds and smells of nature that ease our conscious minds while allowing our subconscious our brains to quietly knit ideas together. It’s no wonder that some writers prefer to write outside. Beaches, outdoor cafés, benches, campgrounds, can be inspirational.

At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who’ve been working hard to finish and/or edit a manuscript find the outdoors a way to re-energize and just breathe. There are certain outdoor places where I don’t think about writing at all. While in Mexico back in January, I spent a great deal of time outside walking and seeing the sights, with little thought to writing at all.

As most authors already know, writing about nature is an integral part of storytelling. Without a setting, we don’t have a fully developed novel, and while some stories might be set totally indoors, many are not. Writing about what we see, hear, smell, and touch adds depth to a story that relies too heavily on visual senses.

By the way, last week I wrote about weird and wacky days of the week. Tomorrow, May 23rd, is world turtle day, according to my WWF-Canada calendar. Not wacky or weird. Just poignant. Because I fear that we’re losing too much nature at a horrific rate and that one day we’ll be forced to step inside some sort of dome if we want to see it and inhale the many fragrances. It makes me want to do more to keep what we have before it’s all gone, and to enjoy the outdoors more often.

Inspiration from Game of Thrones. Who Knew?

18679295525_f39cc1bc70_z[1]If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like our family is, Sunday, April 14th was a big day, as it launched the beginning of Season 8, the show’s final season. I wasn’t completely waiting with baited breath, as I had plenty of other things to tend to on Sunday before show time.

One of my tasks was to edit a chapter of the urban fantasy I’ve been working on for some time. I always work on it Sunday mornings before spending the afternoon with my mother. Honestly, I didn’t really think about the manuscript the rest of the day.

After the visit and a few more chores, we sat down to watch the show. If you haven’t seen this series, you should know that it has some of the most creative and entertaining opening credits I’ve ever seen. And that’s when it happened.

I’m listening to the music and watching images of heavy square floor panels open and close when an idea for a second fantasy novel bounded into my head. And then another. I grabbed a sheet of paper and pen and started scribbling down everything I was thinking while the credits went on. By the time the first scene opened (there was no dialogue for at least a couple of minutes) I was still scribbling, and managed to write a page and a half on a notepad before the first word was uttered.

Once they were, I fell into their world and forgot all about mine, which seemed perfectly logical, given that I’m writing a modern day urban fantasy set here in British Columbia. Game of Thrones is completely different. Or is it?

Aside from the main plot, the quest to sit on the throne and rule the seven kingdoms, GoT is a story about relationships, trust, betrayal, love, ambition, and battles for the right to control the world.

As it happens, the components aren’t that different from my current WIP, albeit with healing-focused themes and significantly different twists in my work. Those opening credits last Sunday, however, inspired an idea about how to take the themes and aspects in my first book to a whole new level in a second book.

You might find it strange that I’ve never read one of George R.R. Martin’s novels. But, hey, that’s okay. The TV series is amazing and clearly, the opening credits are inspiring enough for the moment.

An Inspiring Family Conversation

Cartoon of Girl WritingI don’t often discuss my writing projects with my family. In fact, many writers I know don’t discuss their work in general, some because they feel it might jinx it or diminish their enthusiasm. Others believe that non-writing friends and family wouldn’t be interested. Let’s face it, there’s a reason no one’s made a TV show or reality contest about novel writing. It’d be pretty boring to watch.

My husband, daughter, and future son-law are all accountants, and my son is a science major working in the tech field. You can well imagine that my job doesn’t really fit into conversations easily, which is fine. It doesn’t bother me that no one’s ever asked “how’d your writing go today?” Most days, the answer would be pretty vague and monosyllabic.

This weekend, my daughter was helping me add hyperlinks to my ebooks and later, while we were having dinner she asked when my next book would be published. She also asked me about my creative process. She wanted to know if I create a situation, incident, or plot and then weave my series characters to fit that, or do I look at my characters first and create a situation to fit them? It was a great question, which launched a discussion about the creative process.

You see, my husband also paints water colors as a hobby. My daughter is a terrific writer and articulate communicator in her own right. She exceled at novel analyses in English classes and wrote songs and played guitar in her late teens. Both my husband and daughter have friends who are professional artists, so creativity isn’t completely foreign to their world.

It was a fascinating discussion because I learned things about my husband’s hobby that I never knew (he often gets up at the crack of down and experiments with drawings before he leaves for work), and I learned how my daughter’s friend arrives at the themes and decisions that appear in her paintings.

Through the half hour or so we spent sharing experiences and ideas, I became more excited at the prospect of finishing my current WIPS, of exploring topics in ways that I hadn’t considered in a long time. It was enlightening, inspiring, and a great boost. Isn’t it amazing where inspiration comes from?

Pondering a BookBub Promotion

Following up with last week’s blog about the Left Coast Crime Conference, I want to say that it was amazing. I was too busy catching up with fellow writers and meeting mystery fans from the U.S. to take pictures, but others took photos which have popped up on social media. Anyway, I totally recommend this conference for mystery writers and fans. Next year’s event will be in San Diego.

BookBub imageNow to current business. For some time, I’ve subscribed to BookBub’s book notification service. It’s a free site where subscribers can sign up and learn about great deals on free or discounted books. Authors can also submit their books for consideration and create their own profile, which I did a while back.

I’ve heard mixed reviews from authors about paying to feature their ebooks on the site. The main complaint is that BookBub’s fees are high–several hundred dollars, in fact. The more you want to charge for your book (the maximum is $3.99), the higher the fee is.

The approval process is also daunting. BookBub accepts only a fraction of the 100-300 daily submissions it receives. If you’re turned down you must wait another month to reapply. Also, they prefer books that have already obtained lots of reviews, although I’m told there are exceptions.

Still, BookBub sends daily emails to millions of subscribers and featured books can sell thousands of copies in a couple of days. A mystery writing colleague I met at LCC tried it with great results. So, I took a look at BookBub’s submission requirements and realized I have some prep work to do before even submitting my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark.

I’ll have to write a shorter book blurb, double check all my links and find a couple more, as well as the original price for my ebook, which is listed in five different countries. I also should be adding Amazon links in the back pages of The Opposite of Dark . Hmm.

I’m overwhelmed with busyness right now and, given the high fee, I’m still pondering if this is a good investment. Not everyone makes their money back, so if any of you have used BookBub to promote your books, I’d love to hear about your experience. Do you think that paying to feature your book on this site is worth your time and money?

Human Drama on a Sunday Stroll

conflicto_2[1]Last week I was out for a walk with my mom in her neighborhood. On her street, there are a number of assisted living facilities for seniors. Plenty of seniors using walkers are out and about on sunny days.

On our way home from the store, a man and a woman, in their 20’s or early 30’s, were having an intense discussion about thirty feet in front of us. She was carrying a bouquet of log-stemmed red flowers wrapped in cellophane. He had his hands in his jeans pocket and kept his head down while she did all the talking.

Suddenly, the woman’s voice rose in anger. She looked at her companion, then turned away again. At one point she stopped to face him and her voice rose a second time. With the traffic passing by on this fairly busy street, I couldn’t hear what she was saying and didn’t really want to, except to gauge if we were heading into a dangerous situation. Still,  I slowed my pace.

My 84-year-old Mom doesn’t walk fast anyway, so as we lagged further behind the couple, I kept watching, wondering if things could spiral out of control. I also worried that they might be heading to my mom’s building and could bring their conflict inside.

Suddenly, the young man marched ahead a few steps, then abruptly spun around, and said, “Don’t tell me how I f—g feel. You don’t know how I feel!” He turned back and kept walking.

She said nothing, but continued walking and was soon beside him again. After a minute or two, more words were exchanged but in a calmer tone. They reached the three-way intersection, and crossed the side street. At that point, she abruptly turned right and crossed the street we’d been walking down. He raised his arms slightly above his head, then brought them down hard in obvious frustration. He watched her a moment, then turned left, heading in the opposite direction. By the time we reached the intersection, both had vanished, as if nothing had happened.

Writing about conflict is one thing, witnessing it in real life is something else. Human drama is everywhere. As writers, observing and capturing emotions of the moment is part of our job, but at that moment all I thought about was protecting my mom. What if one of them had been carrying a weapon? What if they’d spotted us and decided we’d been intentionally eavesdropping?

So I write about it now, wondering if those two people resolved their differences or if further drama will enfold in their lives.