If you’re a reader, this may not interest you. Sorry. Every now and then, the Furred & Finned Management goes out on a limb to help another struggling author try to turn their bad business into success. My human? She loves helping people. She can’t help a lot of people, but she’ll try to take another author under her wing to give them a better chance of turning their dreams into reality.
But sometimes, sometimes we come across something so boggling we need to tell a cautionary tale of how not to run a business. Honestly, this applies to most businesses.
The Furred & Finned Management would like to state we have the author’s permission to discuss this venture.
It began with a single word: taxes.
You might want to grab a drink for this one, possibly some headache medicine, because meeeooooooooow, with an emphasis on the ow.
I’m convinced no one actually likes doing taxes. My human finds some form of glee in certain elements of the venture, such as turning a chaotic pile of receipts into something that actually makes sense. But in reality? Come tax season, the Furred & Finned Management works overtime keeping the human from brutally disemboweling herself with a rusty spoon before committing an act of self-defenestration. After making use of some gasoline and a match.
Well, one of her closer friends is an author, too, and the tax issue came up. Since my human was working with new software, she volunteered to help her friend make sense of the taxes and get her set up for better business practices. practices that would let her friend actually make sense of the expenditures and things like that.
For those of you who want to follow along or poke at the software being used, we’re using QuickBooks Self-Employed. (Why yes, I did just slip in an affiliate link on my human’s behalf. Because it’s a good business practice to try to earn as much legitimate funds/savings as possible. More on that later.)
We’re mostly using this software to make a sensible list of our receipts, our transactions, and our income to hand over to our various accountants at tax time and track how much our quarterly payments should be. It’s very useful for that. So very useful. My human loves it, because as long as she takes the 20 extra seconds when paying for something, she no longer has to worry about it later. Building good habits is a critical part of running a successful business.
My human’s friend? She’s a good author with a bad business.
Boy, is it ever a bad business. Ouch.
(And yes, we really did get her permission to post this shit. She’s currently in her box of shame while wearing her cone of shame, and she’s okay with this… because the Furred & Finned Management is going to call out the human for having done similar shit earlier in her career.)
But this is how and why my human recognizes the mistakes her friend has made. For the sake of this post, her friend’s name is Meowy McMeowyson.
Meowy McMeowyson loves bright, shiny things.
Meowy McMeowyson has many stories she wishes to tell.
Meowy McMeowyson wants to succeed and thinks of the future.
Meowy McMeowyson works hard.
Meowy McMeowyson does a lot of the right things.
Meowy McMeowyson does them all in the wrong way. And yes, there is a wrong way, humans. No one likes admitting that, but it’s the truth.
There are right and wrong ways to operate a business, and it’s very easy to do things the wrong way. This isn’t a post to teach you the intricacies of running a profitable business. The Furred & Finned Management would have to write an entire book on it. In the writing business, it’s really hard. Really hard. For every author who succeeds, there are at least a hundred more who never break even on their stories. I think the actual statistic is even less in an author’s favor. In reality, most authors spend their hard-earned money from other work to pay for expenses. And it’s hard justifying putting cheaper food on the table to write a book.
My human started that way, too. She did a lot of extra freelance work. She scraped the barrel for pennies and may have robbed a few couches of their loose change to get started. She begged for help getting started through a crowd funding campaign. Luck factored in her being able to continue writing. The male human played an even bigger roll, letting her muddle through on the extra earnings the household brought in trying to transform her hobby into a career.
My human made many of the same mistakes Meowy McMeowyson has made.
Here’s what the mistakes were and why they’re mistakes.
Publishing is hard. Advertising a book is hard. You need a strong cover, a better book description, and even better writing to make a sale. Here’s a tough pill to swallow: money matters. Cover art is the easiest element of the sales triad. You pay someone good money to make something beautiful designed to sell your book. Writing the book description requires a deep knowledge of the market. If you don’t know who your audience is, you won’t know how to write descriptions meant to cater to them. The hardest part is writing, editing, and formatting the actual book. No one likes being told their book needs work. No one likes being told the reason a book isn’t selling is because the book itself lacks that spark that makes a reader want to turn the page.
My human is constantly working at writing a better book. It’s hard on her because she just wants to write. But she wants to entertain. But she also needs to make money.
This is her only source of income. It’s how she puts food on the table. She works far more than 40 hours a week putting words on the page and bringing them to market. There are a lot of people out there who say money shouldn’t matter to authors and that they should love (and publish) for the love of writing.
No. Money matters. For authors who rely on their books to feed them, writing is a business, not a charity. My sister and I, as well as the finned menaces, rely on the money our humans bring in to take care of us. And we only get to see any of the money for food, rent, and bills if all our staff has been paid and the government has gotten their share of the pie.
Only then do we see any of the money.
Money matters. Money matters. Money matters. For hobbyists or those who are wealthy enough to spend a lot of money on a single book, by all means. Write for passion alone. But please, please, please remember that many of your favorite authors are treating their books as full-time jobs and rely on their income to feed themselves and their family.
Money fucking matters.
Please don’t feed the mentality that your favorite authors don’t deserve a paycheck. Take a moment to imagine a world without entertainment.
Turn on the tv. Imagine what it is like to flip through the channels to find only dour, serious news reports paid for by the government. You have the weather channel. You have some government-funded documentaries.
There are no movies. They require writers.
There are no television shows. They require writers.
There are no children’s shows. They require writers.
They require actors. They require artists. They require makeup artists. They require graphic designers. They require musicians.
Imagine a world without music.
You turn on the television, and there’s not even a jingle to separate the segments of the news. There are no theme songs. There are no background melodies anymore.
Artists, writers, musicians… they all deserve to be paid.
Money really matters, and the mentality that authors shouldn’t be paid because they’re frivolous hurts everybody. Free, free, free only takes you so far.
Imagine a world without art. Without music. Without movies, television, or books. It’s a dark, dreary place without life and spark.
Whether you realize it or not, art is an everyday part of your live. Even the clothes you wear today is the result of an artist’s hard work.
Forgetting that money matters is a huge mistake for everyone involved, and the failure to pay attention and focus one’s efforts (financially) is a recipe for disaster.
My human is the crowned champion of failing at this so hard core. Nowadays, she plans differently. She can get away with that because she’s investing profits back into her business. When you’re not making profit, the Furred & Finned Management would like to take a moment to remind you to avoid buying that thing you don’t need.
You want to keep writing (and selling) books. We get that. We definitely get that. And nothing is stopping you from doing that. Do it, but do it wisely.
Meowy McMeowyson is very, very bad at this. Meowy McMeowyson is so bad at this she’s spent over 10,000 on things she simply doesn’t need. She won’t use the things she’s purchased for at least five or six years. Maybe longer. There are some things that were purchased that will never be used.
The Furred & Finned Management, along with the helpful human with a calculator, sat down with Meowy McMeowyson and explained why this was a really bad idea.
Investing for the future is a good idea… but only if you have the excess profits to do so. The math works a little like this. (This is only for purpose of example. Please don’t use this math as your actual business practice. It’s an individual choice.)
Let’s assume it takes $1,500 to fully produce a brand new novel. This assumption includes the following: $750 for editorial. $250 for cover art. $500 for copyright fees, basic advertising, general misc expenses for the novel. My human spends between roughly $750 to $1,500 per book depending on length, cover artist, and advertising options.
That’s a lot of money.
It’s instinct to want to hunt bargains when you’re looking at a $1,500 gamble to produce a novel. (Oh, boy. Let me tell you about my human and her anxiety attacks investing that much into every book. We have to pay everything up front. Because that’s how the business works.) There are ways to lower fees, but here’s the problem.
A lot of authors buy shiny covers because they’re beautiful. My human? My human is majorly guilty of this.
So is Meowy McMeowyson.
There’s one critical difference between my human and Meowy McMeowyson. My human is taking her hard-earned profits and reinvesting them into the business. She’s hedging for rainy days. If the money runs out, she only has to worry about her editing fees. Authors who aren’t making profits should not be hedging for rainy days. Focus on the here and now. Buy only what you need.
To buy new covers, my human has to sacrifice out of her advertising budget to do so.
Here is a glorious gallery of my human’s guilt.
My human’s friends and fans may recognize some of these covers. Fowl Play is currently available for preorder. Cheetahs Never Win will release December 25, 2018. Blood Bound will release in February 2019. Storm Called has been drafted, and my human has begun typing the story into her glowy magical rectangle box. Hidden Talents has been started, as has Sword Maiden, Cold Flame, Pirate Magic, Lost & Found, and Sink or Swim. Amber was purchased because it fit so well with The Captive King and the human had already written an opening for a novella. It was an impulse buy, however. A luxury. One she’s itching to work on but would need to take a week of time off work strictly to research to make happen.
When the end game is making money, this is a glorious gallery of unpublished mistakes.
But there are ways to transform mistakes into success. But it involves strict rationing (AKA cover bans aahahaha oops) and understanding that hedging bets is not the same as putting food on the table.
Let’s break down what this glorious gallery of mistakes cost my human.
Some facts before I start tossing numbers, may have some variation as my human can’t quite remember if two of the covers were custom or premade. (Don’t ask.):
The covers cost my human between $140 to $200 a piece. We’ll roll with $160 as an average. The customs purchased due to new series cost $299 each.
Total Cost of this Gallery, including customs purchased due to new series: $8,889.
Meowy McMeowyson has far outspent my human in the cover department, both premade and custom.
Yeah, those numbers hurt. They hurt a lot. My human spent almost $9,000 in luxury money on cover art.
It’s also worth noting this isn’t a complete gallery of all these little mistakes made over the years. My human has many covers stashed for series completions. My human prefers to use the same artist for an entire series, so she hires according to that preference. She books the entire series with the same artist after getting the initial premade. It lowers her stress levels substantially. This is also part of hedging her bets with luxury money.
If the readers stop buying, she can keep writing because she has pretty covers.
But this is a mistake, especially if you’re not making profit to begin with. The Furred & Finned Management would also like to take a moment to remind readers mistakes can turn into success. That’s what hedge betting is all about. Some of these covers will go on books that never make a profit. That’s an unfortunate reality. Others will fly off the shelves and startle my human most gloriously.
It’s okay. If you’ve done this, it’s not going to ruin you. You’re just going to have to rein that horse in and change how you think.
For the record, my human just bought Rise, Crash, Soar, Sunshine’s Gambit, Sunshine’s Trial, and Sunshine’s Triumph because she has no restraint and when everyone says those three covers are so perfect for your brand… it’s worth making that expensive mistake.
So, here’s the compromise that you can use to keep getting those shinies while making the type of mistake you can be proud of later.
First, understand your financial situation.
Seriously. Meowy McMeowyson had no idea what her financial situation was. Literally. My human offered to help because my human has no common sense. (In this case, my human offered to be hired in a PA-type role to handle organizing and registering Meowy McMeowyson’s expenses into tax software. It is Meowy McMeowyson’s responsibility to double-check my human’s work and make sure everything matches up. What Meowy McMeowyson is doing is illustrating the problems in Meowy McMeowyson’s financial situation so they can be fixed.
Then, after you’ve acquired base understanding of your financial situation, understand where you’re going wrong.
Here are some facts of life that may trigger screaming and crying fits.
Let’s talk about these in closer detail.
This should be obvious. No matter how pretty your new cover is, if you don’t have a book to go with it, you just flushed money down the drain. If you just bought a cover you didn’t need, there are a few ways you can handle this situation.
You can ask your cover artist if you can sell the cover at original price to someone else. Most cover artists require their permission to transfer the license to another person. (Read your contracts carefully.) And typically, the cover artist has final say in if they’ll allow that license to be transferred. (Yes… that cover doesn’t actually belong to you. You’re licensing it, typically exclusively. Many designers have unlimited licenses for digital use because that is what the stock sites have. If you have print covers, you probably have a limitation on number of print copies you can sell before you have to renew your license. Pay attention to things like this. It’s important.
Let’s talk about Huntress, my human’s newest release.
Huntress was a mistake. Actually, Huntress was a real mistake leading to a loss. My human somewhat regrets the mistakes leading up to, well, the book itself being a bit of a financial mistake. Let me set some records straight: this sounds bad. For her wallet, it is. The book failed every expectation my human set out for it. She’s proud of the book. She’ll always be proud of the book. But she does not expect that book to do that brand any favors.
Here’s the anatomy of this specific mistake.
The book cover was sold as a FCFS sale in a premade cover group. My human pounced on this cover the instant it was posted and snatched that baby up. Why? It is everything my human loves about UF/F covers. It sang to her. That part will never be a mistake. She would have to check the invoices, but the Furred & Finned Management believes the human paid $200 for the cover. The book cost ~$500 to edit. Ish. My human spent about $300 on various advertising failures trying to get the book traction. Huntress released on July 31 after a 90 day preorder cycle at $0.99. The book was increased in price to $4.99 on release day.
Huntress has made $578.27 at time of posting. This isn’t a request to buy copies. It isn’t a plea of any sort. it’s just fact. This is why the Furred & Finned Management has chosen against leaving a link to the book. This isn’t about boosting sales.
This is about the anatomy of a book launch failure.
Huntress accomplished one thing my human secretly squeals over when no one is listening: it’s her first book to ever crest 1,000 preorders. So, to the thousand of you who grabbed a copy, thank you. The Furred & Finned Management and the humans (both of them) really appreciate your support.
But if we were to look at this book from a pure business perspective, it’s a failure from top to bottom. It’s current performance will eventually lead the book to paying for itself, but it’s riding off the coattails of the successful titles. That happens. It’s okay.
but it was born as a mistake, it grew as a mistake, it published as a mistake, and it still is a mistake.
But failures can be turned to successes in time. Growing a brand, becoming profitable… it’s a journey, not a destination. There will be mistakes and failures on the way. But it’s always important to acknowledge your mistakes and failures. Success isn’t someone getting lucky. Success is taking all those mistakes and failures, piling them on top of each other, learning from them, and climbing on top so you can make another mistake or failure and climb over that one, too.
If you’ve made this mistake, it’s really okay. We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all waste money we wish we hadn’t. What matters is if you take a solid look at your business practices and decide how to turn the car around.
But every time you see that beautiful cover you think you can write the perfect book for, stop and ask yourself these questions:
Just stop and think about it. Wait 24 hours. If the cover is still there, think about it harder. (This is what happened to my human with the Sunshine books. So many people thought it was a perfect fit and knew my human wanted to write stories like that. She ultimately caved to peer pressure. The peer pressure cost her (and her business) $600. She regrets nothing.
Here’s the critical element of consideration: she regrets nothing.
To make it work, she’s found a way to get Sunshine’s Gambit to publish in roughly 6-8 months. (Rise, which was a minimum bid on a premade auction, will be in the 8-12 month window. Longer than my human would like, but… that’s the way it is.)
My human spent that money out of her profits after discussion with the male human as it would come out of the savings account and the household budget.
Nowadays, my human mostly relies on #4.
She also looks at her list of unfinished books with covers made and booked, which helps a lot to stop her from wanting new covers. The covers must sing to her soul and be spectacular for her to consider buying them.
Every last one of these mistakes is burning a huge hole in my human’s pocket.
Don’t be like my human. Collecting beautiful covers is a mistake if you can’t write the books fast enough.
My human should be covered for the next ten years of her career. Roughly.
(Also, it’s worth noting that both of the human’s cover artists will spray her with their water bottles of author repellent when she considers misbehaving and won’t let her spend her money unless she can justify it like what the actual fuck. The two past set acquisitions slipped under the ban due to perfection for brand and after a great deal of thought and schedule shuffling to make room for them.)
In short, my human essentially signed up for an extra 5 hours of work a week to make those six covers viable. She’s currently working 50+ hour weeks.
Everything comes at a price, and that price isn’t always money.
This is the flip side of the previous point. Not having a cover is as much shooting yourself in the foot as having one without a book. Having a good cover is critical if you want that book to succeed. There’s a reason the best sellers all have professional covers. There’s also a reason all the covers in the same genre in the top rankings all look the same.
Here’s an example:
One of these is not like the others. This screenshot was taken on July 27 when Hoofin’ It had a US Bookbub. (The book did very well. On behalf of the human, the Furred & Finned Management thanks you all!)
The colors are all toned down. Hoofin’ It sticks out like a sore thumb. A very blue and yellow sore thumb. Naomi Novik’s book uses blue and yellow, too… but it’s not as bright. (It’s a gorgeous cover and us kitties love it.) But these are the types of covers that are currently selling books. Let’s just say my human takes risks in every element of her business, from marketing to covers to content. Her entire brand is founded on being different. And that leads to failure and more mountain climbing.
It’s a mistake to bank too many covers, but it’s also a mistake to not have covers when you need them. The advice, such as it is, is pretty simple: toe the line carefully.
Here’s where Meowy McMeowyson went really wrong. She spent more than five digits on covers she won’t use for at least five years and less than a thousand on advertising.
Yeah. That’s a problem.
Advertising is hard. No one really likes marketing. The newsletter droppers, outside of Bookbub, tend to be more misses than hits. My human only uses them when she’s doing a huge push during a sale. She usually loses money on those venues, but they do pay in terms of branding. (The more often someone sees a product by a person, the more comfortable they become with that product. It’s a major foundation point in marketing. You build familiarity, familiarity leads to interest, interest leads to sales.)
You want readers to go, “Oh! I saw that book before. It’s good?”
And then you want readers to also go, “Oh, yes! I read that book. It is good!”
That’s how the real magic happens. You want the sales. You want the returns on your investment… but you want your branding. You want to build a name. You want to get people used to seeing you around.
Advertising is a critical way of accomplishing that.
How you advertise will take experimentation and a lot of work. It’s hard. For some, facebook ads work marvelously well. For others, it’s a horror show. Apply this to every single marketing type ever. The Furred & Finned Management wishes every viable venue of advertising could be discussed here, but it’s just not possible. So, we’ll keep this one short and sweet.
If you have covers for the books you’re working on right now, say no to the cover and say yes to learning how to advertise your book. You’re going to lose money. You’re going to have to experiment. You might have to budget to replace that cheap cover you purchased because that’s what you could afford. You might have to rewrite you book description to make it do a better job of selling your book.
But if your book isn’t selling, there is a reason for that.
That reason is one of the following:
This is a hard pill to swallow. No one likes being told there’s a problem with any one of these things. Fix it. Go ahead and whine in private, but seriously. There’s only one way to resolve those problems, and that’s to put your ass in the chair and work hard at fixing those problems. The cover art costs money or selling your soul to the devil or bartering to fix. (Most authors simply do not have the necessary skills to create a professional piece of cover art.) Rewriting the description takes skill, but it’s typically the easiest to fix. Politely ask your friends, who are having good success at selling their books, for help and advice. Just be aware you will have to do 95% of the work. They won’t be writing the damned thing for you… unless you offer to pay them good money for their time. Maybe then. My human doesn’t know. My human learned the hard way and have never paid anyone to write their descriptions. There are freelancers who will write descriptions for you, however. Prices vary.
As for writing a better book, keep working at it. Keep writing. Read often. Reading helps you learn to write. (Really. It does.) Learn what makes a book tick. If you’re having problems figuring it out, hire a developmental editor, one who will teach you everything. (You want someone who coaches, not just someone who will look at your plot structure and make suggestions on how you can fix it and general input. Ask before you hire. You need a comprehensive developmental editor who will give you lessons as necessary.)
These editors are the most expensive type of all. Expect to pay a lot of money with a slower turnaround. It takes time to write up those editorial letters.
And here’s the kicker: when your editor tells you you’re doing something wrong, take a good, close look at it and figure out why it’s wrong. If you don’t know, ask.
If your editor replies, “That’s how it’s done in the English language, and you can verify it in the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style guide…” Well, fix it. Those two books are excellent guides on how to use the English language in fiction and non-fiction.
My human’s editor finds this problem very often, so the Furred & Finned Management is going to take a moment to give you a brief lesson.
Dialogue tags. They work in a very specific fashion in the English language.
This is correct: “I love cats,” Bob said.
This is correct: “I love cats.” Bob bounced up and down in his excitement. “I really love cats!”
This is correct: “I love cats,” Bob said, bouncing up and down.
This is also correct: “The real difference between cats and dogs,” Bob said, “is where they go to take a shit.”
This also correct.” “The real difference between cats and dogs?” Bob bounced up and down. “It’s all about where they go to take a shit.”
This is NOT correct: “I love cats,” Bob bounced up and down, “I really love cats.”
Explanation why this is not correct: Bob bouncing up and down is an action, not a dialogue tag. And while you can link to segments of speech with a comma following a dialogue tag, you can’t use an action in this way.
Let’s break it down: “This is a sentence,” Bob says, which is a dialogue tag.
Says, said, tells, shouts, screams, whispers… these words are dialogue tags. Bob is speaking in some fashion.
Bob bouncing is an action. Actions are not methods of speaking.
Use a comma only when you’re following with a dialogue tag. If in doubt, simplify.
Are you using a speech form? (Said, says, screams, yells, whispers.) If yes, use a comma. “I love cats,” I whispered.
Are you using an action without a speech form? If yes, use a period. “I love cats.” I ran into the wall in my excitement.
Are you using a speech form and an action? If yes, you use a comma! “I love cats,” I whispered, rising to my feet. “I want to own every cat in the world.”
That’s dialogue tags in a nutshell. (There are some other rules, but these rules will typically help you dodge complaints from your editor.)
Ahem. Please excuse that derailing of the subject.
Back on track. In closing, running a publishing business is hard. It’s heartbreaking. It tests the limits of authors around the world. My human sees writers lose hope every day. They’ve worked for years without any success. They have piled their failures upon one another, climbed up on top, only to discover there are more failures looming on the horizon. They see success around them, and they question themselves. Why do they do this to themselves? They’ve spent so much for so little.
It hurts. Every day you’re in the hole, it cuts deeper until the only thing left is questions.
Why, why, why?
You have to decide what you want out of writing for yourself. If you want it to be luxury art, something you do for the pure joy of writing, without ever wanting to make a profit off your work… this post isn’t the place for you. (But thanks for reading it anyway.) But for those who do want to rise over that pile of failures to find success…?
It took my human over twenty books to get traction, and that was only after tens of thousands of dollars of poor choices littering the path.
Here are some of the mistakes she’s made outside of the cover work world:
This ramble has consumed 5,700 words. It’s a good thing it’s my human’s day off today.
But, if you come away with any lesson here… don’t be like Meowy McMeowyson or my human. If you’re not making profit, don’t add to your debt buying things you don’t need. My human would’ve started making profit a hella lot sooner if she’d just stuck with buying what she needed and letting the shinies go. Well, most of them.
Thanks for reading, and the Furred & Finned Management hopes you’ve found something useful here.