Taking Summer Break To Restructure The Writing Business

Tropical BeachAfter writing a three-part blog post about forming a revocable living trust for my personal life, converting my writing business into a limited liability company (LLC), and using the two together, I felt it was time to take a break for the summer. With my father’s death from lung cancer and starting a new non-writing tech job last month, writing short stories, four 500-word blog posts every week, and a new short story or essay ebook every other week have left me stretched thin. I’m halting the publication of ebooks to work on several projects for the next three months.

Writing A Business Plan

One of the reasons why I converted my writing business from a sole proprietorship to a LLC was to impose structure. I’m no longer a writer sending out short stories into a cruel world of rejections in the slush piles, but a business owner with copyrights, ebooks and websites. All these areas require my attention to make the new structure successful. Writing a business plan will put everything into focus.

Re-branding Existing eBooks

When your business becomes a LLC, you need to let the entire world know that you have a LLC. I’ll be adding “Published by C.D. Reimer & Associates, LLC.” to the title page of existing and future ebooks. This will also be a good time to update each ebook with a new cover, navigation structure and content changes.

Filling Up The eBook Buffer

Although I have 24-month publishing calendar for my ebooks, I don’t have a four-month buffer with ebook titles ready for publication. Every other week becomes crunch time to put together a new ebook. Unlike reprint short stories ebooks, original short stories and essay ebooks require additional work. I can fill up the buffer before I resume ebook publication in September.

If this summer break works out well, I’m hoping to take every summer off to work on longer writing projects (i.e., my unfinished first novel that’s been gathering dust since 2009). As a writer, I want to write without worry about the business side. As a business owner, I need to make the business run well enough to make that happen.

A Revocable Living Trust And A LLC For This Writer (Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part blog post. Read Part 1 – A Revocable Living Trust.

A Limited Liability Company (LLC)

For the last six years, I have muddled through the business side of being a writer as a sole proprietorship (i.e., everything got shoved into a manila envelope until tax time). That was fine when I was selling first serial rights to print magazines and anthologies. After I started turning my reprints—and later, original manuscripts—into ebooks, I was not only a writer but also an ebook publisher. Now that I’m making more money from selling ebooks than first serial rights, it’s time to change the business structure into a limited liability company (LLC).

As a writer and ebook publisher, do I need to have a LLC for my business?

The short answer is no. If you don’t take out business loans or credit cards, don’t rent an outside office and/or invite people into your office, you don’t have any liability issues that you need to protect your personal assets from.

If you have significant income, you may want to consider forming a corporation to take advantage of the lower tax rates and benefit perks. A LLC that doesn’t elect to be taxed like a corporation is a pass-through entity for tax purposes (i.e., all income gets reported on Schedule C of your personal tax return). If tax planning is your primary concern for setting up a LLC or corporation, see a qualified tax advisor for more information.

The longer answer is yes. For my particular business situation, I’m setting up the LLC for several different reasons:

  • Having a LLC requires that you keep your business assets and your personal assets separate from each other. If you fail to maintain this separateness, a judge can declare your LLC invalid and put your personal assets at risk.
  • Unlike dealing with individual publishers for selling first serial rights, you’re dealing with the public at large when selling ebooks. Some idiot will always come along to shake you down for money. A properly structured LLC can prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed in the first place.
  • Some of my future business plans may put me at risk for a lawsuit.

The major downside to incorporating a LLC in California is the $800 USD per year franchise tax that gets paid regardless if the business was profitable or not. Although I’m running an Internet business, and could form a LLC anywhere else in the United States for significantly less money, fighting off the Franchise Tax Board isn’t worth the trouble.

I’m forming my LLC without using an online service like Nolo’s Online LCC or consulting with an asset protection attorney. I’m comfortable with the process that I can do it myself. As I grow my business over the next few years, an attorney will need to review everything to make certain I’m doing this correct.

Next: Using A Living Trust & LLC Together (Part 3)

Reprint Sells Better Than Original For Short Story eBooks

eBook Reader On Dead Tree BooksAfter selling short story ebooks for over a year-and-a-half, I can say that reprint content (i.e., published manuscripts) sells better than original content (i.e., unpublished manuscripts). This may surprise some writers. Although the ebook publishing revolution is the great equalizer for content, some content are more equal than other content (to paraphrase George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”). Knowing the difference can increase your ebook sales.

Depending on the content, I include one of the following two lines in the description and on the title page for the ebook.

For reprint content: “This 1,029-word short story was first published in The MacGuffin (Fall 2009).”

For original content: “This 1,155-word short story is being published for the first time.”

Readers looking for something new to read—especially from a writer they haven’t read before—would probably purchase the reprint ebook because an editor thought the original manuscript was good enough for their publication. (Assuming that the editor wasn’t an utter moron, which I have encountered a few during my snail mail submission days.) Readers can independently verify most publication credits on the Internet or at the local library, if the reader wants to go one step further before buying the ebook. Reprint content inspires trust, whereas original content requires a leap of faith, from the reader.

My goal as a short story writer is to publish my manuscripts elsewhere first. After the exclusive period is over (i.e., 90 days for web publication to 365 days for print publication), I can re-publish my short story as a reprint ebook. My goal as an ebook publisher is to fill the pipeline with reprint content as much as possible and use original content to fill out the publication calendar (two ebooks per month). Reprint content takes very little time to turn into an ebook. If I can get enough reprint content into the pipeline, I’ll have enough free time to write and publish an original novel ebook.

The 500-Word Blog Post

Blog  Puzzle PiecesWhen I decided to get back into blogging on a regular basis for my personal blog and this writing blog, I also decided to limit myself to 500 words or less per each blog posting. Having written numerous 500-word flash stories, this was a comfortable length that represented 15 minutes to two hours of work. Like any good flash story, you need a solid beginning, middle and ending to make a blog post work at that length.

When I surveyed the 300 postings from the two blogs to start compiling them into ebooks (starting with ASVW Volume 1), the shortest blog post was 29 words (i.e., an introduction to a video) and the longest blog post was 3,000+ words (i.e., a book review with a half-dozen books).  The average length between the two extremes was about 500 words. I have enough material to release ten 15,000-word ebooks over the next year. If I continue to blog at a regular pace, I’ll have enough material to publish two blog compilation ebooks each year.

Writing a 500-word blog post isn’t a piece of cake. If I can’t shoehorn an idea into 500 words in less than two hours, I need to split it into multiple blog posts or turn it into a 3,000-word essay ebook. That’s what I did for the Kickstarter blog posts (Part 1/Part 2). A bit ugly but a practical workaround to stay within the 500-word limit I set. Quoted text from other sources doesn’t count towards the limit.

If everything goes smoothly (and nothing ever does in my life), I can knock out a week worth of blog posts—2,000 words—on a weekend afternoon.

A Slightly Different Kind Of Demoness

Succubus DrawingI seldom get reviews for my short story and essay ebooks. When I got a head’s up a few weeks ago that TeraS of Succubus.net was reviewing my recent short story ebook, “Some Bad Decisions,” where a serial killer finds himself rolling in a world of hurt with a “succubus” prostitute, I welcomed the full-length review even though I got skewered with a pitchfork for taking some obvious shortcuts with the succubus character.

More telling to me personally is that I just found it hard to care to know or see anything more about Jane when the story was finished with. She just wasn’t a Succubus that I could like in any shape, way or form. It’s rare for me to say that, but in this case it’s true. She was a means to an end, a direction in the story, a way to tie up loose ends in more than one way.

Guilty as charged. Plain Jane as a succubus—or, more precisely, a sexy demoness—tied up quite a few loose ends. Until I read the review, I haven’t given any serious thought about what a succubus was beyond being the deadly prostitute who takes revenge against a serial killer stalking prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip. I wrote a straight forward horror short story with a huge dollop of sex added, which is something I don’t like reading from other horror writers.

As a short story writer, I always danced around the sex scenes because most print publications didn’t go there. “The Unfaithful Camera” was my most “sexually explicit” short story to date, where a little boy comes home from school to find his father and older sister doing the “bouncy bounce” in bed. That’s all, folks.

Writing a sexually-explicit short story for an erotica horror anthology on a short deadline was a special challenge. The editor rejected the first submission as being too short and a requested a revision. I doubled the length of the story by playing the characters against each other and sharpen their personality quirks. The editor accepted the second submission without a peep about how I handled the sexuality of the succubus character. But that was also the general complaint about the anthology: too much horror, too little erotica.

I find myself wondering what Jane was really like… this image of her was formed, as I said, to ensnare Claude and I have to wonder if she isn’t more than just a being of terror as she was here. There is a hint of connections with the Vegas underworld in the story and I find myself wondering about that aspect of her, and where it would take her story in the future should the author continue the story from here.

I’m thinking about moving Plain Jane the Succubus out of the horror genre into the urban fantasy genre for a novella, novel and/or series. The short story will be rewritten as the first chapter from Plain Jane’s point of view as she eliminates a serial killer that she later discovers was the wrong guy. With the planted evidence implicating her, the homicide detective designates her the Las Vegas ripper, the supernatural underworld turns against her, and the chase is on for her to find the real serial killer before something really bad happens to her.

I’m going to take my time developing the longer story. Urban fantasy is not the same as horror. I need to know more about the supernatural creatures that inhabit the Las Vegas underworld, which I know little about except for the Godfather movies. I’m more confident about writing sex scenes now that my second sexually explicit short story is available in print. Maybe I can nail down the erotica part this time.

Should Kickstarter Fund Your Next Writing Project? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two-part blog post. Read Part 1 – The Wrong Way.

THE RIGHT WAY

Should Kickstarter Fund Your Next Writing Project? (Part 2)

 

The second project is from the artist/writer team of All New Issues web comic who wants $4,000 USD to publish a print book.

This Kickstarter is to raise enough money to pay for a print run of a 140 page perfect bound book, collecting the first 200 strips of All New Issues. The funds we raise would cover the cost of the print job, Kickstarter and Amazon fees, and help cover the cost of any extra shipping for the incentives. Any additional funds that we receive will be used to help pay for travel costs for conventions this summer.

This is a tightly focused and more realistic project with all the ingredients for success available from the start.

  1. If you check out the archive page, the source material is ready for book form.
  2. An established audience wants to see a web comic book in either PDF and/or print format.
  3. The $4,000 USD price figure is typical for a printed web comic book.
  4. Additional funds beyond the minimum goal will go towards traveling on the summer convention circuit to meet fans and sell signed books.
  5. A short video introducing the project sponsors, the web comic and the goals for the project also helps.

 

The initial $4,000 USD minimum goal got met within the first week. The project sponsors upped the incentives for reaching the new $5,000 USD and $5,500 USD funding goals. With less than a few days to go before the project gets funded, the $6,000 USD level is within easy reach. The project sponsors will have a busy summer traveling the convention circuit as they reach out to fans and sell more books.

Updated 04/21/2012 — The All New Issues Kickstarter project completed their funding goal at $8,111 USD, doubling the initial amount they were seeking. The completed book will be available in early May 2012.

IS KICKSTARTER RIGHT FOR YOU?

If you have a realistic plan, a proven track record and an established audience, Kickstarter might be a useful tool for funding your project.

If not, don’t bother. Raising money is an important aspect of the creative business. If you’re not willing to treat this as a business with a hard-nosed attitude towards defining your goals, you have no business asking people to fund your project. Don’t waste everyone’s time by throwing your project out there and hoping for the best.

With my content producing business model (i.e., blog postings and short ebooks), I really don’t have a need for Kickstarter. I’m still in the audience building stage. If I have written and self-edited a novel trilogy within the next few years, but don’t have the funds to pay for the professional editing, cover art and ebook formatting, I might give Kickstarter a try.

Should Kickstarter Fund Your Next Writing Project? (Part 1)

I came across two tweets last week about artists using Kickstarter to fund their projects. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a social media website for hosting creative projects, setting a minimum funding goal, and offering various incentive levels for people to make pledges. If the pledges meet or exceed the funding goal within 30 days, all the pledge backers will have their credit/debit card charged to fund the project. If not, the project isn’t funded. This is a very clever mechanism for funding creative projects. The tweets illustrated the wrong way and the right way for setting up a Kickstarter project.

Kickstarter Logo

THE WRONG WAY

 

Should Kickstarter Fund Your Next Writing Project? (Part 1)

An unpublished writer wants to self-publish his unwritten epic fantasy novel for $20,000 USD.

[…] I will be working to create an epic fantasy. There will be warriors, wizards, possibly a damsel maybe a dragon or two, fights, and of course, mead. I’m planning to self-publish, which means that there will be many additional costs. Printing of the books (as I intend to have a limited print run), marketing, editors, more editors, the list goes on and on. That’s where Kickstarter and you come in. Your pledges will be used to fund all the minutiae involved in self publishing, like the purchase of ISBNs, having the formats converted to work with all the different readers, and other assorted minor costs. Also, these pledges will go to the larger costs as well, like the cost of editors and marketing. In all, these pledges take this self publishing dream from something that might be fun, but not truly profitable, to something that might make enough money on this first book  to allow me to move to writing as a full time job, once this book is published, instead of something I do when I have the time.

The rational for this project seems absurd. Give money for an unwritten novel from an unpublished writer without an outline and/or synopsis in hand? No, thank you.

Perhaps I’m biased from my experience as a short story writer. I had 200 rejection slips before my first short story got accepted for publication, another 100 rejection slips before my second short story got accepted, started publishing regularly in the genre anthologies not long thereafter, and recently started publishing my own essay and short story ebooks. That’s six years of hard work to develop my talent, learn the business and be somewhat successful. I’m still a few years away from quitting my tech support job to write full-time.

What made this unpublished writer so special that he could solicit money to write full-time without proving he’s capable of doing so?

Kickstarter allows you to send private messages to the project owner to ask questions. The lengthy reply that I got back to my question was that the bulk of the money would go towards editing and marketing as these are the two areas for why novels often failed to break out.

Having written a sprawling 700-page rough draft for my first novel (a postponed but not yet abandoned horror/urban fantasy/OMG-WTF-BBQ story), editing is a daunting and relentless task. This is why most epic fantasy writers sometimes go for years between publishing books. You shouldn’t bother with professional editing until your manuscript had gone through two or three drafts and spit polished to the best of your ability.

You shouldn’t worry about marketing until you built up your author platform via website and social media to establish yourself—the writer—before an audience. No brand, no audience. No audience, no pledges. At the time of this writing, the project had no pledges to get funded with. If you’re careful in laying down the ground work before your publishing your novel, the marketing should take care of itself.

An epic fantasy novel ebook with professional editing, cover art and ebook formatting can be done for $2,000 USD.  I would recommend that the project owner write his novel—and build up his brand in the meantime—before coming back to Kickstarter with a focused plan to turn his novel into an ebook. If done right, the pledges will come in. And even at $2,000 USD, success will still be a long shot.

UPDATE 04/13/2012: The project owner cancelled the project on the same day that this blog post appeared, which, presumably, was purely coincidental. A wise choice given that the project failed to attract any pledges after two weeks.

The Right Way  (Part 2)

Are You In The Writing Profession Or The Writing Business?

There’s a story in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki about Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, challenging a group of MBA students with a simple question, “What business am I in?”

Everyone laughed but didn’t answer him. He repeated the question. Finally, someone told him the obvious answer: the hamburger business.

Ray chuckled before announcing that he wasn’t in the hamburger business but the real estate business. Although his profession was selling hamburger franchises, his business was owning the real estate underneath those franchises. McDonald’s today owns more real estate than the Catholic Church, including the best street corners and thoroughfares in America.

The point that “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” made from this story was not to confuse your profession with your business. Your profession is something you do; your business is where you make your money. Most people don’t know the difference.

I thought my business was being a short story writer. I wrote short stories, sold them to the anthologies, and republished them as short story ebooks.

As ebook sales continued to outpace short story sales, I found myself spending more time on developing ebooks than writing short stories. This frustrated me. I started missing the “old days”—about six years ago—when I wrote short stories, dropped them in the mailbox and collected 300+ rejection slips before I sold my first short story. Since my ebook sales were dependent on my short stories and essays, I would never find the time to write a novel to earn bigger ebook sales. I saw a vicious circle forming in my life with no easy solution.

Are you in the writing profession or the writing business?

I started thinking hard about that question since the beginning of the year. The answer I came up with is that I’m in the writing profession—when I’m not consoling hurt computers and broken users as an anonymous technician in Silicon Valley—but I’m also in the content producing business. Writing is central to everything I do, but not the only thing that I do.

Since I’m in between non-writing jobs at the moment, I’m in the process of revamping my family of websites. I spent the past three weeks updating my free open source software to get back into web programming, quadrupling web traffic and click-through for advertising. Updating the personal blog will be every week and this writing blog twice a month. (The key for writing multiple blog posts is to stay under 500 words for each one.) I’m still publishing two short ebooks every month. Writing new short stories are on hold until I can revise or spit polish a dozen short stories for submission.

If everything falls into place over the next year or two, I should  make enough money from my business to ditch the non-writing job and start writing novels as my profession.

Smashwords, PayPal & My Borderline Incest Short Story eBook

Read on the Smashwords blog that PayPal is forcing the removal of erotica ebooks from the marketplace with themes of bestiality, incest and rape. Although I didn’t receive a notice to remove my short story ebook, “The Unfaithful Camera,” I did send off an email to the Smashwords support team to find out if I should remove it on my own.

My short story is about a little boy who comes home angry because his father didn’t pick him up from school, finds his father and 16-year-old sister doing the “bouncy-bounce” in bed, and uses the camera on his sister’s cellphone to send a video to his mother to prove that he wasn’t lying about what he saw in the past. While the theme of incest is prevalent in the story, the focus is on the little boy reacting to an unfair family situation. The description for the “bouncy-bounce” scene is mild and a little more explicit than the incest stories in the Bible.

Among all my short story ebooks published to date, this is perhaps my most “controversial” ebook. Most readers don’t read it because of the implied incest theme in the ebook description. The few who have read it sympathized with the little boy’s family dilemma, which probably isn’t that uncommon these days. This is the only ebook I have  on Smashwords that has a rating (three stars, “cute short story”). Readers may soon no longer have a choice on whether or not to read my borderline incest short story ebook. If censorship in Corporate America taught us anything, the axe wielded with a heavy hand leaves nothing untouched.

Updated 03/04/2012 — My borderline incest short story ebook is staying on Smashwords for the time being since the incest content is “incidental” to the main storyline. This may change if PayPal decides to impose a broader ban against bestiality, incest and rape, forcing Smashwords and other ebook retailers to pull such ebooks from the virtual shelves. If a broader ban goes into effect, this short story is history, and, ironically, I might have to find a print publisher for a science fiction short story that I’m writing about a human police officer investigating sex trafficking on a feline-humanoid planet where sexual behavior between the two species is regarded as bestiality. Print publications have stronger First Amendment protections than ebook publications against censorship.

Updated 03/17/2012 — PayPal got out of the business of censoring legal fiction for ebooks. Readers will decide the fate of my borderline incest short story and not the credit card processing companies. For now, that is. And this will not the last battle over ebook content.