The Devil is in the Details

Publishing news:

I’ve been working on spreadsheets, and accounting records, and contracts, and contract amendments, and book sales figures, and templates for printing reports and invoices and statements and packing slips…all that fun stuff that an intern would do if I could afford one. :-)

Basically, I’ve been following my own advice–the advice I so glibly gave at Barbara Krasnoff’s talk at Readercon when I urged everyone to “get the professional infrastructure in place before you need it.” Of course, I had the accounting spreadsheets in place, and I’ve kept records of every book and every penny that’s come in and gone out. I’m scrupulous about that, with my personal finances as well as the business. But things have been growing and changing so fast, and so much has happened just in the last year–as I realized when I was writing my bio for this year’s Readercon Program Book. My business records had been built up in layers like the Weasleys’ house in Harry Potter. I’d add things for new books and new situations and not go back and change all the past items so they were consistent. Notes were scattered around here and there depending when a book came out. I didn’t have an easy way to generate reports and invoices and so on, each one had to be done manually, one at a time. Brodart caught me by surprise, and suddenly I was selling books to wholesalers–lots of books. I’ve gotten everything set up with Baker & Taylor now, and they want monthly statements. I need to start paying author royalties, and I’m overdue sending out quarterly reports.

All that is now fixed! I’ve slaved and snarled over the Spreadsheets From Hell, and reached one point where a solution so incredibly obvious suddenly penetrated my thick skull that I just felt like banging my head against the wall for an hour or two to knock the stupidity out of it. The recent news items about all the problems that Night Shade Books in San Francisco were having, and the accompanying bad PR, and their explanations including the plea that they “grew too fast” and didn’t have procedures and systems in place…I took all that as a serious object lesson. By Light Unseen Media is growing and I need to stay ahead of that growth–way ahead of it.

I actually had my very first panic attack over the sudden alarm that I might be too successful. I’ve just sent off some review copies that are a long shot, but could be extremely influential if the books are reviewed. I was in bed trying to sleep, and suddenly I thought: “but…but…what if Baker & Taylor gets tons of orders for this book, and I have to front all that money and print and ship them, and then I don’t get paid for months and months, and the profit margin is teensy anyway, and…” *gulp*!!! I finally got myself sternly by the scruff of the neck and reminded myself that this is one problem I’ll just have to manage when and if it manifests. But this is the head space that I’m starting to get into! I’m actually starting to worry more about getting a tiger by the tail than about tanking!

If you’re inferring from this that sales are rising steadily, you’re absolutely correct. Ebook sales are a big part of this, and I’m running right at the head of the pack with those. Obviously, there won’t be any capitalization problem there no matter how wildly successful the ebook editions get. :-) But print books are still important and I have no intentions whatsoever of discontinuing them.

This isn’t to say that the news isn’t a bit mixed. All of BLUM’s ebook titles are now up on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, the Apple iBookstore and the Kindle store. I just rectified all the ebook prices so every ebook in every market is the same price, $6.99, and the Kindle editions qualify for the 70% royalty rate. Smashwords is finally getting sales reports and payment from Barnes & Noble–and BLUM titles have sold! But we’re still waiting for the revenues from all the other vendors. Kobobooks still lists only our first three titles. The Sony ebookstore has finally listed two of our titles, and I’m waiting to see when and if the rest of them show up. I have a sneaky suspicion that they know my name at Sony by now, and it’s probably on somebody’s dart board. *wry look*

I’ve gotten a couple of returns from Lightning Source, which makes me grumpy. The returned books, however, are in mint condition so I’m sending them right back out, and I’ll pay the authors royalties on those sales, even though the returns count against net profits–if I can resell the books, the loss for both of us is minimized. Accounting is a bitch, but I’m very big on minimizing losses.

My biggest news, which I can post here because the letters to the authors are in the mail, is that I’m raising the royalty rate that I pay BLUM authors for ebooks. I’ve been following the controversy about ebook royalties in the writers’ communities and trade groups, and the counter arguments from the Big Six publishers moaning and groaning about how ebooks aren’t any less expensive to produce and they have to be priced high “to be fair to authors” (who riposte that the royalties they’re being paid for ebooks are monumentally UNfair). As far as I’m concerned, the Big Six megaconglomerates are completely off the mark when it comes to ebooks. They don’t understand where ebooks stand in readers’ psychological book hierarchy–ebooks are replacing the mass market paperback, NOT hardcovers–they’re insanely over-pricing them, and they’re very clearly screwing their authors on ebook editions. I think that as a publisher, not as an author! After I ran my own numbers in every possible direction, and looked at where the ebook markets are very obviously going, I decided that the authors’ trade groups were right. So as of this quarter, I’ll start paying a higher royalty for all ebook editions.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing in my, uh, night job for the last couple of days!

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7 Responses to The Devil is in the Details

  1. p_m_cryan says:

    Lots and lots of object lessons to be learned from the Night Shade situation, and I am paying attention, believe you me.

    You should pat yourself on the back for staying ahead of the curve.

  2. paganpaul says:

    Impressive, lady, very impressive. Congratulations on the rise in sales. I am really glad to read that!!

  3. sarajlarson says:

    As an author, I always get a lot out of reading about the editorial and publisher’s side of the biz. Between you and Jason at APEX, I’m getting an awesome education. Every writer should know more about how publishing works, I think.

  4. Gwaetgar says:

    I think there’s more (and more disquieting aspects) to the Night Shade situation than is being made public, and many small presses struggle without being “put on probation” by SFWA. Of course, most of them never reach the point of being a qualifying market, I certainly am nowhere near that yet. But I don’t ever want to have to apologize for not paying authors or fudging reports, especially on the grounds of, “oops, grew too fast, didn’t keep records, thought person X was handling Y…” etc like Night Shade is doing. I’d like to sign some established authors and they won’t tolerate anything less than complete professionalism–nor should they (or any author) have to.

  5. Gwaetgar says:

    Thanks! Yes, it’s great to see book sales rising when the economic news continues to be so dismal.

  6. Gwaetgar says:

    Writers really need to understand more about how publishing works, they are SO clueless–even the Big Names! It’s pretty darned complicated. There’s so much more to “publishing” than simply printing the books. I believe in complete transparency, too–up to the point of confidentiality for specific authors, I have nothing to hide. There’s far too much smoke-screening, fact-fudging, hyperbole, prevarication and evasion from the publishing industry regarding what things really cost and who really gets the money. The utter nonsense that’s been thrown around to justify obscenely hyper-inflated ebook prices has been outrageous. Don’t tell me what it takes to create an ebook–I hand-code my Kindle books in HTML and right now, I’m learning to hand-code ePub, which is nothing but XHTML which I just finished learning for all my WordPress blogs and websites. I know exactly what it takes to create an ebook! And anyone who prices an ebook higher than what the mass market paperback would cost is either deluded or cheating you–and is also dooming themselves to failure.

  7. paganpaul says:

    Indeed, things like that are encouraging.

    Now… (drumroll) I hope you don’t mind me asking this (would do this by e-mail but I feel your netplus.com address is ‘out’ now)…

    I am looking into getting the first Hilda the Witch story published. I put it on Smashwords as a free ebook, and that seems to go nicely. What would be a smart step to try and get it out in print? (I know it is not your genre, it’s probably nothing for BLUM.)

    I’ve doodled a bit on Wordclay, which looks nice. I came to a full stop when it asked about ISBNnumbers. How important is that? Having such a number makes a difference of $99 at least, according to that site.

    I know you are very busy, so if you have no time to explain things, I do understand. This is just a thing in my head, not something my life depends on. I’m curious though, as I get such a great reponse from all over the world on the antics of that witch.

    Thanks for at least reading this far!