Tag Archives: the business of writng

The Business Side of the Business, part 2: Inventory #writerlife

The pandemic will end someday. Whether you are traditionally published or indie, if you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you will have an inventory of books on hand to manage and account for at the end of the year. This can be quite a headache if you have more than one or two books to cart around with you.

Its a BusinessBut more importantly, even if you are traditionally published, you pay for the books you sell at shows. 

The good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information you will generate for your tax report is discussed the previous post, The Business Sequence for Writers. Ellen King Rice has given us a great framework for keeping our business records straight.

There is only one more skill to have, and this is only for those who intend to sell books in person. A wise author understands that good records ensure a successful business and sets up the bookkeeping system before they go to book fairs. They have a list of the stock on hand, what books are on reorder, the day they were ordered, and how long it takes for them to ship. Also, you should keep an account of your cost for each book, both for tax purposes and insurance purposes, if the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator. However, a green or yellow ledger book with eight to twelve columns is already set up for you to begin using.

I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in a green or yellow ledger book of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). Then, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure that we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable.

I use Excel for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several costs associated with it. What follows are several screenshots of a simple way to organize a spreadsheet:

Picture1

The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list each book you take to shows by the title. We will use Huw the Bard as our example book.

On the same line as the title, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the length of the book and the trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay KDP or Ingram Sparks or your publisher for that book: $4.69

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 19

Column 4 is the sum of column three times column two: Inventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a certain limit, say $5,000.00. My stock on hand never exceeds that limit.

This is why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what the book sells for at bookstores: $12.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions, and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.

Did you have to collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County. Washington State has no income tax, so all our state’s revenues come from businesses and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase. Make a note of the city or county where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to the Department of Revenue. If you are smart, you will make another page with these columns:

Picture2

At the bottom of the page for both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set the money collected as sales tax aside because it is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you are out there doing shows and signings every week.

The bookkeeping side of your business should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money on stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud as are all my business and other records. It looks like this:

Dummy_Inventory_Spreadsheet

Something we rarely consider is the random natural disaster, but we must be prepared. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss. Many authors are more prolific than I am. I have only 12 titles, including several anthologies that my work was published in. For most of us, replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is an expense that is difficult to carve out of the family budget unless we have sold enough to cover that cost.

Theft is rare, as people are usually quite decent at conventions and trade shows. I’ve only had one book stolen from a table at a show in all these years—a $15.00 (show cost) loss (or $6.80 my cost).

While it disturbed me on one level, I was a bit honored that someone wanted my book that badly. The experience left me confused as to how I was supposed to feel. But on the good side, it was nice to know that shoplifters are readers too!

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#amwriting: bloated conversations are bad for business

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORSBeing an author is a business. It is a retail business, and you must look at it from that point of view, even if your work isn’t selling like hotcakes at the local diner. Big, fat books that are full of bloated exposition and conversations to nowhere are more expensive to publish and are unlikely to sell once the prospective reader has leafed through them.

Once you have a book published, you have a business, whether you are an Indie or traditionally published, and you must think about it from that angle. Wouldn’t you like to see some money from your work? Your best chance of this is at trade shows and book signing events. However,

  • In the real world, authors must pay for each book that is stocked on their table.

“This won’t apply to me,” you say.  “I’m going the traditional route. Once I sell my book to that Big Publisher in the Sky, he will provide me with all the copies of my books that I will ever need when I do signings, at no cost to me.”

Not so, my deluded friend.

A traditional publisher who is really excited about your book might arrange for you to have a table at a convention and will advance you copies of the books for you to sell and sign, but the cost of those books will come out of your earned royalties. You will see no money from your publisher until your book has out-earned all the advances they have paid you. So, just like an Indie, you pay for the books for your table at trade shows, conventions, and at most book-signings. The fact is, many traditionally published authors never out-earn their advances. Retail sales at shows are where they stand the most chance of bringing home money from book sales.

Consider how many copies of each book you can afford to take to the book signing event. You must weigh this cost against what you think the demand will be. Books that cost YOU more than $5.99 each are not a good thing for an Indie, because you must pony-up the cash at the time you order them. If you buy too many and they don’t sell, you have a lot of cash tied up in stock-on-hand that is earning you nothing.

For an indie who writes epic fantasy, it’s most cost-effective to keep your work to between 90,000 and 120,000 words if you intend to print through CreateSpace, which prints my paper books. If you have written a 300,000-word epic fantasy, consider dividing it into three volumes of 100,000 words each. Otherwise, you will be required to charge $17.99 to $20.00 per book just to make a minimal profit through Amazon.

How do we keep this cost down? We get a grip on the fluff that has worked its way into our work, and trust me, I didn’t understand this when I first began writing full time.

In the first draft, we have created a large amount of backstory. This is because we needed it to get a grip on the characters, their world, and the situation in order to write it. This is work the reader does not need to know the minuscule details of. To avoid info dumps and yet deploy the background as it is needed, we write conversations.

We need to exercise restraint. In the second draft, we decide what is crucial to the advancement of the plot and what could be done without. In recent years, I have begun cutting entire chapters that, when I looked at them realistically, were only background. In some cases, it was my favorite work, but when looked at with an independent eye, it didn’t do anything but stall the forward momentum of my book.

So how do we convey a sense of naturalness and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded info dump and stilted dialogue? First, we must consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

The Arc of the Conversation

It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the launching point for the next scene. A good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Dialogue has a premise or premises and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.”

First, we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. How many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Think like a screenwriter–visualize the conversation as if you are viewing it on a stage. Does the thought of two heads yammering about the weather for half an hour really interest you? No. Show the weather and spend your conversations on the important things. Walls of conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we arrive in the minefield of the manuscript:

  • Delivering the backstory.

CAUTION INFO DUMP ZONE AHEADDon’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. Those can become info dumps laced with useless fluff and are sometimes seen as a wall of words by the reader.

When the dialogue is trying to tell the reader too much, characters end up saying a lot of unnatural and awkward things. Characters go back and forth explaining precisely what they are feeling or thinking, and it doesn’t seem remotely real.

  • Background information must be deployed on a “need to know” basis. If it is not important at that moment, the reader does not need to know it.
  • The only time exposition works is when both the reader and the character being spoken to do not know the information being artfully dumped.

When reading, even dedicated readers will skip over large, unbroken blocks of words. Elmore Leonard famously said, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

I feel this goes double for dialogue.

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