Category Archives: Forming a Business

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Starting Your Own Publishing Company

One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is that you don’t have to publish under a vanity press name or any other publishing service name. You can publish under your own company’s name. For some indie writers it’s not that big a deal and that’s okay. However, for people like me who have been entrenched in the sales side of the industry (almost two decades for me) it’s a sign of professionalism. The second booksellers see a vanity press or publishing service name we automatically regard the book as amateurish. (A small press that we’ve never heard of will always be in higher esteem than a vanity press.) Having your own house name is one of those little details that can make stores take you more seriously.

I usually don’t include disclaimer in my posts but in this particular instance I feel it’s necessary because I am not a lawyer or a business consultant. Besides, this isn’t a how to start your own company post. There are great posts from independent business organizations that explain it better than I can. I’m just sharing my own experience from starting my own publishing company. There are a lot of things that took me by surprise that I wish I’d been better prepared for.

Here’s a list of things that I learned along the way that might help ease the way for you:

  1. Take the time to check local and national databases of registered business names. There’s nothing more embarrassing then picking a name that’s already taken. Yes, it’s extremely tedious and the print on the website is tiny. You still need to do it. Once you’re sure your name is unique register it in your state right away to stake your claim. Registering it nationally is a good idea too. Yes, there’s a registration fee (one for state and another for national) so be prepared for that.
  2. When deciding whether to register your company as a DBA (doing business as)/ sole proprietorship or to go ahead and file as a LLC don’t think you’re selling yourself short by wanting to do the former. If you feel a DBA is right for your business at this point in time, that’s fine. If circumstances change later and you need the extra legal protection a LLC provides you can upgrade your business.
  3. Decide now if you want to take on authors other than yourself (along with the expense and bookkeeping that goes with it). It doesn’t matter if you have a website or not. The second an aspiring author, or the mother of an aspiring author, finds out you’re a publisher you will get asked that question. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be asked, it really is a matter of when. Knowing the answer ahead of time will help you maintain a certain level of professionalism.
  4. Know how copyright works as well as how and when to file for it. You’re the publisher so there won’t be anyone to do it for you. It’s a good idea for authors to know how that works regardless but it’s doubly important when you have your own publishing company.
  5. Speaking of you having to do everything, you’re also financing everything so it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out a budget or even write a full financial plan for your start up — not just for the company but for the first title you’ll publish too. How much will it cost to: register your business, get a website, buy ISBNs and barcodes, get cover art, hire an editor to go over the manuscript, purchase publishing software, etc. If you need a few more months to save up day job income to buy ISBN numbers then maybe you should push out that publication date to give you the time you need. It’s also a good idea to figure in a buffer for unexpected last minute expenses.
  6. Terms of service and other user agreements are the bane of modern existence. That being said you really do need to read every item and subheading so you understand what the sites you’re selling your book(s) on expect of you. If they say that they’ll close your account and take down your titles if you break the agreement, they mean it. With that in mind I recommend giving yourself twice as much time to read them then you think you’ll need because trust me, you’re going to want to take a break on some of them. I also recommend that you don’t do more than one a day. They kinda blend together if you try to do all of them in quick succession.
  7. Keep receipts for everything! All of the expenses for the start up as well as the publishing costs are tax deductible.
  8. Don’t forget that you’re still a writer. The business side can easily take over your life. Make sure you’re still spending time writing the next release. With that in mind, my last bit of advice is…
  9. Be realistic. Don’t be afraid to farm out some less desirable tasks to someone else. I’m not saying that you have to take on an employee but you can take advantage of certain services that online retailers provide. I don’t have the storage space let alone the time and energy to fulfill book orders or process returns myself. But for a small percentage of the profits one of retailers I sell through will do that for me. I also have an accountant to handle my taxes. Being free of the headache and hassle so I have more time to write makes it a worthwhile expense.

Sean Golden: My Year as a Writer

A Guest Post by Sean Golden

DollarKeyboardDec 15, 2014. That was the day I started my journey to live as a writer for a year, to see how I could do. After being laid off from my corporate job with a reasonably generous separation package, I calculated that I could spend a full year “writing.” So I did.

My very first monetary decision was to attend the SuperStars Writing Seminars, in February. That put me roughly $1,000 in the hole before I even published my first book. But I figured if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to learn from experts.

From Dec 15 to Jan 18 I focused on whipping my first book, “Warrior,” into shape. That included doing my own editing, artwork, and cover. On Jan 19, 2015, I hit the “publish” button on Amazon.com’s Kindle Select program and became a “self-published” author.

My first month, I sold roughly sixty books. At $2.99 a copy, that meant I had pocketed the princely sum of approximately $104.31. But then I was buying gas, meals and a hotel room for the conference. By the time the conference was over, I was about $1,500 in the negative column in my writing account.

In February and March, I did some free-lance work, which helped. By the end of March, when my first Amazon paycheck from January came in, I was back down to a negative $1,000.00 in the balance sheet. Yay!

Warlock, my second book in the series, was coming along. Of course, during all this, Warrior was still on Amazon, and sales were trickling in. In February I made another $140, so that put me at roughly -$840. I must admit that, by the end of February, my enthusiasm was drastically declining, after making less than $300 in six weeks of sales.

Then, in March, something happened. Warrior started to sell. From my perspective, it was suddenly selling a lot. My total sales in March hit $1,010. I was actually in the black now. That was huge. Then April came in at $1,040. I kept plugging away at Warlock. I figured I’d publish in June, and then I’d be making REAL money.

May brought in $1,230. Woohoo! I’m +$2,000 now! Maybe I should get a real cover for Warrior and Warlock, and hire an editor for Warlock! So I did. My covers for Warrior and Warlock cost me $1,100. Editing cost me $2,300. So that was $3,400 committed (but not paid yet). I figured “What the heck? I’m selling books!”

Then I hit the downside of the Warrior sales curve. And when it went down, it went fast. June brought in $785. Not even enough to cover my editing and book cover costs. I had to dip into my personal income to pay them. And so, after six and a half months, my great writing adventure had netted me a net negative $515.

I hit the free-lance route hard in July and August. I pulled in about $1,500 in free-lance work those months. Warrior sales in July were only $680. But I was $1,700 in the black again.

In August, the bottom fell out. $440 in sales. But I also spent $350 on cover design, so ended up netting only $90 in August. September was $209, and I did no free-lance work. But I did manage to get Warlock finished. On October 8, I published Warlock. Just a few weeks after my brother passed away from cancer.

I had been a “writer” for almost ten months. Had written two books, published one and had “done well” with that first book by most people’s estimation. I had made a grand total of $2,000 in profits. Not even enough to pay for the covers and edits I would need on “Warlord” the third book in the series. And I had to pay $500 to reserve a slot for that editing, bringing me down to $1,500.

As I hit the publish button on Warlock, my spirits were low. My finances looked horrible. My year of writing was coming to a close, and my grand dreams of proving I had what it takes, were clearly demonstrating exactly the opposite. Those were dark times, I’m afraid.

And then Warlock started to sell. Which also triggered renewed interest in Warrior. I raised my prices and sold both Warrior and Warlock at $3.99 instead of $2.99. I thought that would potentially kill sales, but it didn’t.

October sales from Warlock and Warrior combined came in at $1,800. My biggest month by far. My enthusiasm soared, and I started hitting Warlord pretty hard. My balance book put me at $3,300. But one thing I haven’t mentioned, is that Amazon pays out sixty days after sales, so that big October payday wouldn’t come in until December 31, just in time to pay my editor. In an attempt to rev the sales engine even higher, I poured about $400 into advertising. Maybe it paid for itself. I don’t know.

November was, again, my biggest month, at $2,010. $4,900 in the black, and, hopefully still rising. But reality was also setting in. $2,000 a month might sound like a decent performance for a couple books, but it didn’t come close to covering my bills. It was time to admit that this grand adventure was a failure, and to start looking for a real job.

You can probably guess the rest. December sales were down to $1,400 and falling fast by the end of the month, promising a very disappointing January. My first free-lance jobs were coming in but those also tend to pay out 60 days or so from submission, so that wasn’t going to help much. After getting my December payout from Amazon, on Jan 1, 2016, more than a year after my adventure began, I had $6,300 on paper, but only $1,500 or so in the bank. And a big editing bill coming due, plus a book cover to purchase for Warlord.

So, I started looking for a job, and am now back in the ranks of the gainfully employed.

To summarize:

Thirteen months after being laid off, and a full year from hitting “publish” on my first book, my total “profit” from writing existed mainly in deferred payments from Amazon.com in the amount of roughly $3,400, and a bank balance in my writing account of $185. I’m sure I could have worked harder and been more productive, but I did get two books out and was very close to my third, which is a decent output for an epic fantasy author, I think.

I’ve learned a few things, about writing, and about myself:

  1. I don’t write well when I am in terror of ending up homeless.
  2. I don’t write well when I focus on the economics.
  3. I write well when I’m able to think about my stories without feeling like every single word has to make a profit.
  4. My success so far, in having made any profit at all on my first books, seems to be unusual for self-published, unknown authors. I’ve had a lot of other writers tell me they wish they had sales similar to mine. To which I can only say, “wow.”

The thing is, for pretty much my entire adult life, I had told myself that I could make it as a writer. And despite the fact that I’m back at a regular job, and made a pittance of “real money” in my year of being a “pure writer,” I think I learned a lot, and what I learned will help me to keep on writing even as I’m working a day job. And now I will never have to go to my deathbed wondering what my life would have been like if I had only had the courage to follow my dream.

I followed it. And because of what I learned by doing so, I’ll be following that dream for the rest of my life. And there’s another thing. Based on the success I had with “Warrior,” I applied for and received a membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) organization. I am now, literally, a card-carrying writer.

I had wanted to become a writer. And I succeeded at that. And that’s more important, really, than the balance book in the end.

End Note: Someone asked me a while ago how much money they could expect to make as a self-published writer. I wrote a blog post to answer that, based on my own experience. The post was, by far, my most popular post. “My Year as a Writer” is a very condensed version of that blog post. To read the full post, please click here.

 

Sean Golden:

Sean Golden is many different things. Father, husband, writer, programmer, project manager, gamer, crafter, fisherman, amateur astronomer and too many other things to bore you with. He took a year off from the grind of corporate cubicle farms to write “Warrior” and “Warlock,” both available on Amazon.com. The third book in the series, “Warlord” is in the final stages of writing now. Sean has a BS in physics from Louisiana State University and had the second highest rated rogue on his World of Warcraft server after taking down the Lich King, and then retiring from raiding.

Why I Write

A Guest Post by R.J. Terrell

There is a fundamental reason behind most of the things we do in life. The larger, or more significant the activity, the core value or reason will correspond. This base, or core reason behind our actions is a reflection of who we are and the experiences we’ve had in life. Now this may be dramatizing the subject if we’re referring to why I chose the shoes I laced on this morning, but if we’re referring to something with more significance in life, the ‘why’ also becomes more significant.

When Bruce Wayne climbs into that awfully uncomfortable-looking batsuit, there is a strong ‘why’ present. Growing up with the recurring images of his parents’ murder before his young eyes, he swore to make a difference, and to bring justice to gotham while striking fear into those who would strike fear into it’s citizens. There was a time in my life when I’d been at the precipice of a similar decision, where I’d been ready to become part of the night, stalk the streets of my home city, and bring justice to it through the nightly terror of those who commit crime…

But I didn’t have enough money, so I became a writer.

While my reasons for becoming a writer might not be as dramatic as Bruce Wayne’s decision to become The Detective, we share two elements in common. Love, and calling. As Bruce loved his parents was called to become Batman because of what was done to them, and to protect Gotham, I was called to become a writer because of my love of stories and writing. This is something not to be taken lightly. I believe that whether easily accessed or buried deep within us, each person comes to this life with a purpose, or to put it another way, a calling.

This is what keeps you going despite lack of sleep, lack of recreation, the difficult times when you’re banging your head against the wall, or even those times when you’re ready to quit. It is what helps you to think outside the box when faced with a challenge. It is what gave Michael Jordan the strength to lead the Bull’s to victory against the Utah Jazz despite being very ill.

Years ago I learned a hard lesson about striving for my calling versus striving for that which will make me money. It was a costly one lesson. I was practically born an actor who discovered during my college years that I was also a writer. The little signs of the writer in me were always there, but I’d never paid attention. Even my friends saw it despite my blindness to it. I’d always wanted to be an actor, and that was considered a hobby that people starve while working in futility to achieve success at.

So I read books on business and real estate. I devoured as much information on the subject as I could, attended seminars and workshops, classes, etc. I listened to speeches, and did my best to replicate the methods of those millionaires who’s success I sought to achieve. But I’d missed one detail. Each of these people enjoyed the business of real estate. The lived it and breathed it. They loved what they did, and were creative at being able to solve problems and create deals that had them virtually drowning in money.

I, however, had zero interest in real estate. I didn’t care for it, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t even want to do it. But it was a lucrative industry that could yield a large residual income for the rest of my life. I could build my little real estate empire, then pursue writing and acting on the passive income falling from the trees of money I’d planted.

Alas, you’ll be surprised to learn that this did not happen. My lack of interest made each problem significantly more taxing. I had no creative way to solve problems because I was going on knowledge alone without desire. Whenever a problem arose, it sucked the energy right out of me. As a result, I’d spent thousands of dollars in classes and books, destroyed my perfect credit score, and lost 3 investment houses as ‘tuition’ for an important life lesson.

The lesson? Asking and honestly answering the question of ‘why’, and understanding how the world works in relation to it.

I became a writer because I love stories. Just as I love reading about different worlds and the peoples and species that inhabit them, I love creating them as well. I love building a world and traveling alongside the characters as they relate their life histories for me to transcribe along the journey.

I write because at the time I began my first book, Echoes of a Shattered Age, the fantasy genre was severely lacking in human diversity, and this was a thing I felt the genre could benefit from, and also something I as a reader hungered for.

It is this ‘why’, the passion and love for the craft of writing that sees me through the difficult times when I’m editing a manuscript and figuring out a difficulty in the plot structure. It is this strong ‘why’, that kept me writing despite the numerous rejection letters I received in the beginning that all writers receive. It is this strong ‘why’, that plants me in the chair in the coffee shop or my office when it’s beautiful outside, or my friends are inviting me for some social ordeal or another.

I could not sit down and write a five hundred page book if I didn’t love it. I could not sit through the tedious process of reading over a manuscript for continuity and other details if I did not love what I do. And I certainly could not endure the climb to success that begins with an income that one would be happy for if it paid just one credit card payment.

Why do I write? The answer to this question is the same as when people ask me how to know if you’re really a writer. I have an irrational love and passion for the craft. Contrary to popular belief, most writers are not wealthy. Most writers do not earn enough from their work to live on. It is not a field to pursue if one strives for wealth.

But as with being a teacher, or an archaeologist, or a nurse, I love what I do, and I love how my work affects the people it touches. My calling and irrational love of writing sees me through endless hours at my craft. This love will see me editing instead of the Sunday motorcycle ride my friends have invited me on that I’ve refused with the intention to get back to work after I finish writing these words.

It is my irrational love for writing, the calling to create, that I am a writer.

 

 

About the Author:Author
R.J. Terrell is an actor and author who instantly fell in love with fantasy the day he opened R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard. Years (and many devoured books) later he decided to put pen to paper for his first novel. After a bout with aching carpals, he decided to try the keyboard instead, and the words began to flow. As an actor, he has appeared in the hit television show Supernatural, izombie, and Arrow, as well as the hit comedy web series Single and Dating in Vancouver, and is one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Once Upon a Time. When not writing, or acting on set, he enjoys reading, video games, and long walks with his wife around Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.

Connect with me at:
www.rjterrell.com
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J. Terrell on Goodreads