I’m Not Good At This Self-Employment Thing

The last time I held a full-time office job was right about this time in 2009. I think my last day was September 30th. I worked on-site on a project out of town until 10:30 that night helping my team finish up a report, went back to my hotel, and flew home the next day.

I then took off the next three months, something I had never done before since I worked through college, both during the school year and summers and all breaks. I’d take a two-week vacation most years after college, but the rest of the time it was work, work, work. Often sixty hour weeks.

I spent part of that time off traveling around New Zealand. I cannot tell you how amazing those six weeks were. Such a beautiful country, such amazing people, such fun things to do. I wanted more of that and less of the stress and deadlines of full-time work.

So January 1st, 2010 I got back to work as a self-employed consultant who worked from home (which in those early years turned out to be New Zealand a lot of the time). I’ve stayed working as either a self-employed consultant or writer ever since.

Now, you might look at that and think, “Well, you seem to be doing something right since you’ve been self-employed for seven years now. Don’t most businesses fail after five years?”

But I’m not really. It turns out I was so good at being full-time employed that it allowed me to coast into self-employment.

In two ways.

First, almost all of my consulting business has come from people I knew when I was full-time calling me up and offering me work. That’s what happened in December 2009 and it’s continued to happen since. Only one project I’ve worked on in the last seven years came from someone I didn’t know before I started consulting.

Worse, I like to work from home and I know that if I go out to companies and say, “Hey, you have any work for me?” and they say, “Yes. And it’s on-site in this random city” that I’m kind of stuck taking work that involves travel I don’t want. So I have sat back and waited for people to reach out to me and say, “Any chance you’re free?” so I can then say, “As long as I can work from home (and as long as the rate’s good).”

That’s not a way to run a sustainable business. A successful entrepreneur should be out there hustling for new clients or for more business from their existing clients. Instead I do things like decide that the work a client was giving me wasn’t challenging enough and wasn’t using my expertise (even though it was highly lucrative) and move on at the end of the project instead of hanging around for more opportunities.

That’s a horrible way to run a business.

And the only reason I can do that is because of the other thing that being good at full-time employment gave me: savings. I can walk away from a good-paying project because I know I can cover my rent this month one way or the other out of savings.

But you can only do that kind of thing for so long. And the longer you do it for the worse it all gets. The savings go down, the people who remember you become fewer and more far between. Your skills atrophy or your knowledge becomes stale.

It’s amazing how long you can coast without realizing that you’re failing.

I envision it sometimes as my early career was one of those ramps you see at the X games and I’m some motorcycle that has gone flying off the end. The initially trajectory was even higher, but at some point now that I’m off the ramp, I’m going to start coming down.

I think the year that happens is 2018.

Unless I finally get my head out of my ass and get disciplined about being self-employed and start to treat it like a real bona fide business that requires deadlines and focus (for the writing) or actually pursuing work (for the consulting).

(Before you get out the violins, I am in the five-figure range with the writing this year, so it’s not like I’m selling three copies. It’s just that it’s not enough for how I want to live.)

Anyway. As part of that effort to break myself out of this funk, today I read one of the books in the NaNo bundle: Time Management by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Reading it brought home yet again that I don’t treat my writing as a real business. I’m still treating it as a hobby, which I can’t keep doing unless I want to go get one of those day jobs I’m so good at but hate.

So there you have it. Even though I’ve managed to do this for seven years now, I’m not actually good at this self-employment thing. But I’m going to get better at it, damn it.

I swear. (And I’ll get right on that after I waste the rest of this morning on the internet…)

On Collaboration

I’ll admit it, I don’t always play well with others. But when I was working in a corporate environment, I pretty much had to. A lot of the work I did involved coordinating my efforts with others and then writing up reports on what we’d found. Sometimes those reports were a hundred pages long and involved five or six people reading through and making sure that the terminology was correct and that we all agreed on the presentation of the facts.

So when I started writing I was glad to play in my own little sandbox. But there have been times I’ve been tempted to collaborate with a fellow writer. I have one writer friend who has brilliant off-the-wall ideas that I could never match. But I do better than they do with continuity and character development. So at one point I thought it might be good for us to combine those two strengths to write something together.

(We never did, but it was something I thought about.)

One of my hesitations though–other than the fact that I tend to prefer my own solutions to problems–was the legal aspect of it. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s write a novel together.” You have to think about who owns the copyright, how much you’ll each earn from it, what happens if one of you doesn’t want to continue, etc.

There was just too much that could go wrong and that I couldn’t foresee for me to be comfortable entering into a collaboration like that.

And how do you work together? Who writes the first draft? Who makes edits?

There were just too many moving parts to it for me to be comfortable doing it.

But it turns out that one of the books in the NaNo Bundle (and only in the Nano Bundle at this point) is Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson.

(You might’ve heard of him. He’s the guy who’s co-written all those Dune books.  And many more besides. Been on the bestseller lists multiple times. Sold millions of copies of his books. Just an average Joe, really.)

In that book, not only does he talk about different possible approaches to collaborating and outline some of the pros and cons of doing so, he also includes at the end a sample legal agreement that you can use.

That agreement alone is worth the price of the bundle. For example, it would’ve never occurred to me to include an indemnification clause in a collaboration contract even though it makes total sense to do so now that I think about it. Or to mention plagiarism, for that matter.

The book didn’t convince me to rush out and start collaborating with other authors, but I do feel much more confident in my ability to do so successfully and in a way that protects both me and any potential co-author.

So if you’ve collaborated in the past or you’re thinking about it now, buy the bundle, read the book. It’s a tremendous resource that you should definitely check out and that will probably save you a lot of heartache or drama down the road.

(And, not covered by this book, but shared by another author recently: Be careful if you decide to collaborate with someone you’re dating but not in a long-term relationship with. Keven and his wife and DWS and KKR have both successfully collaborated and stayed married for decades, but imagine collaborating on a book with someone you then break up with.)

Breathe

For some reason the level of “oh my god, the sky is falling” seems to have ratcheted up in the last few days.

The latest one I’m seeing is the “OMG, CreateSpace” drama because they decided to close their eStore. Now, I realize this does impact some people who used the store for discounts and perhaps sales at conventions, but I never used the eStore. I honestly never understood why it existed in the first place. Not like you could search it or really use it to shop.

So a business discontinued one aspect of its product offerings because it was probably minimally used and required too many resources to maintain.

And now there’s a five page long thread on one of the writing forums of people saying they have to switch to Ingram Spark. Um, why? If you were fine putting your books out on Amazon using CreateSpace before this, that hasn’t changed. That’s not what they’re closing.

Now, if enough people abandon CreateSpace altogether that may just lead them to shut the whole thing down in favor of KDP Print. But we’re not there.

So, breathe.  Remember the whole serenity prayer? Focus on what you can control and stop freaking out about things that aren’t happening.

(This from someone who runs contingency plans in their head non-stop. If X, I’ll do Y, If A, I’ll do B, If C, I’ll do D. Oh, look, E happened.)

It’s Friday…

Which means I should say something about AMS. And I will in a minute.

First, Dave Higgins has a poll up on his website about which books from the NaNo bundle he should review. So if you are tempted by one of the titles in the bundle but not quite sure it’ll be what you’re looking for, get over there and vote. (You should also take a look around and read his other posts while you’re there.)

Also, when I was over there grabbing the link to the poll, I noticed he’d already reviewed my Excel guides. Reviews are here. I’d had someone ask about whether the books could be used with programs other than Excel and I couldn’t honestly answer them because I haven’t used other programs enough to judge that, but here’s Dave’s comment on it:

“Humphrey includes sufficient explanation of the intent behind a step that authors are likely to be able to reproduce the reports in other office suites (such as Open Office or Libre Office) [with] a little extra effort.”

I’d also had someone voice concern about their level of Excel ability since the introduction says you should be familiar with Excel to use the guides.  And here’s Dave’s comment on that aspect of things:

“…both books also include both a clear definition of terms and extensive appendices of methods and commands, and provide instructions for each report in fine detail, so authors with even basic experience of any Excel are likely to find each report easy enough to recreate.”

So there you have it. Keep an eye on his blog for perhaps more reviews over the next six weeks.

Alright, so AMS. As I’ve said before, they’re a bit of a moving target. They were wonderful for my romance novel for four months, but then ads on that book just sort of died off for me. It’s hard to say why. I think part of it was I tried lowering my bids because it just made me uncomfortable to spend $800 to make $1000. I know, the rational part of my brain says if that’s what’s happening, then find a way to spend $1600 to make $2000. But I’m just not sure when I’ll go back to that pen name, so I didn’t think it made sense to push too hard to attract all those readers when I only had one other title for them to go to.

Which is maybe the thought for the day which isn’t AMS-specific: In a weird sense you are better off the later in your writing journey you attract readers. Because they’re that much more likely to read the rest of your books. If you have one book out and it takes you a year to get book two out, every reader you attract to book one during that time has to like you enough to come back in a year.

And maybe they will. I’ve certainly circled back to writers (or musicians) years later to see what else they had out now. But they won’t all wait for you. So all that ad money you spent to get that reader to your first book ends up being wasted, whereas it would’ve been really profitable to bring in that same reader when you had four or five books available.

I constantly struggle with this.I don’t want to have low sales. It’s demoralizing to think no one wants what you’ve written. But at the same time, none of my pen names (except maybe now M.L. Humphrey) have enough titles out to really justify pushing hard to get in readers. I’m pushing on the Rider’s series now because the trilogy is complete, but even there I should be waiting until I have at least one more trilogy out and possibly two. That’s the difference between breaking even on a promo and making two to three times the promo cost.

That’s one of the reasons I like AMS ads. They let you get in a little trickle of sales that makes you feel good about where you are, but it isn’t like cranking out a Bookbub and generating 400+ sales in a day. (Although I still want them to burn a little hotter than they do most days, because I’m a fool and I like to make money.)

Anyway. That’s where my thoughts are today. I’ll tell you what I’m telling myself: Write more and publish more. The rest will follow.

(And sorry for anyone who saw this post while the formatting was messed up. Block quotes were not my friend today.)

Some Great Writerly Advice

First, yesterday Chuck Wendig posted An Oubliette of Unconventional Writing Advice. Read it. It’s excellent. I particularly agree about the critique group point. His example is Tolkien (who is too slow for me as well), but my example is Nora Roberts. If I were in a critique group with her I’d tell her to stay with one point of view per scene and not to randomly move to another point of view for a paragraph just because she wants to.

But you know what? Nora Roberts has done just fine for herself without advice she would’ve received in probably 99% of critique groups. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that what readers went is a good story that resonates with them emotionally and that as long as your writing stays out of the way of telling that story, you can do pretty much anything.

Sure, writers who are also readers may hate you and cite you as an example of horrible writing, but the standard reader like my mom won’t even notice.

Second, Joanna Penn has gone through some of the books in the NaNo bundle and pulled out a few gems in her post on how to win Nano. Definitely worth taking a look.

And speaking of Joanna Penn…

One of the perks of being in the StoryBundle is that I get all of the books for free. And the first one I decided to read was Joanna’s How To Make A Living With Your Writing. The first part is a good solid overview of your publishing options when it comes to books, but it was the second half of the book that had me thinking.  The second half covers other ways to make money with your writing, like affiliate income and providing courses.

I’ve been toying for about a year with the idea of putting the information covered in the Excel books either up on YouTube or as course offerings through a site like Udemy, and I think her book has pushed me to decide it’s time to do that. (Now it’s just a matter of prioritizing it all, but don’t be surprised if you see a tab show up on this page with Excel videos at some point. I just have to figure out the best software to use for recording the videos and where it’s best to post them.)

So that advice right there would’ve paid for the bundle for me. And if I were earlier on my publishing journey the first part of the book would’ve saved me hours of research. And that’s just one of the thirteen books in there. If you haven’t already, check it out: NaNo Bundle.

It Ain’t The Road That Kills You…

It’s the paper walls.

That’s from a song I happen to love by Marc Cohn:

The portion of the song where he says that doesn’t actually occur until the end. (At 3:39 on that video.) If you listen to it you may be asking yourself what on earth that song has to do with anything except people making really strange choices about who they hook up with and when, but stay with me for a moment.

Because, as always, I take something completely different away from that song than probably anyone else would. See, I hear that line “It ain’t the road that kills you…” and I think that the song is about how it isn’t being alone that’s the problem, it’s knowing that others aren’t and being able to hear (in this case) what you’re missing and how knowing what you’re missing is the real issue.

Now to bring this back to writing.

I ran a promo on Rider’s Revenge this weekend. It ends today. And, good news, I sold at least 374 copies of book 1 and 24 copies each of books 2 and 3. The promo isn’t even over yet and it’s already been profitable and sell-through to books 2 and 3 over the long-term will make it more so.

Fantastic, right?

Except I kind of felt like crap about it the last two days. Because part of the promo was an international-only Bookbub. And according to their site, the average number of sales from this particular list should be 550, but I’m only at about 300 off of the Bookbub.

It paid for itself. And I think I’m still missing Google sales and maybe even some iTunes sales. But I’m not going to hit 550. Which bummed me out.

I had a successful promo. I made a profit. I hopefully have a couple hundred new fans. And yet…knowing that others have done better running the same promo spoiled it for me.

It’s like we’re all trying to hike a mountain here. And I know that as long as I keep going and putting one foot in front of the other that I’ll get there eventually. But it’s harder when someone breezes by like there’s nothing to it or the person you started the trail with leaves you behind because you’re going so much slower.

(Real life experience: I hiked Mt. Quandary, a 14er, years ago with a couple co-workers. They were both in excellent shape and left me behind after the first hour or so. But I made it to the top. Eventually. Just in time for them to be ready to turn around and head back down…)

It’s easy to always be looking to others and feel constantly dissatisfied.  Because there will always be someone selling more, getting more reviews or better reviews, or signing high-profile deals. But you can’t do that. It’ll kill you.

Step back and remind yourself what you have done.  See how far you’ve come. Embrace the positives.

(I say as I continue to sit here and sulk.)

Remember, it isn’t the journey that will kill you, it’s comparing yourself to others and letting their successes (or how you feel about them) defeat you.

Miss Priss Monday, A New Release, and a New Cover

There’s snow on the ground this morning. The first of the season. Which is sad because it was so absolutely gorgeous yesterday. Pup and I spent a good part of the day sitting outside enjoying the day while I read and she rubbed her nose in the grass.

Once the snow falls she still wants to be outside and I want to be comfy and cozy inside. This is not from today, but here she is enjoying the snow:

Miss Priss Enjoying the Snow

She’d sit there like that all day if I’d stay outside with her…

Unfortunately for her, I won’t. Love her, but love warm toes more.

I’m also happy to announce that the last non-fiction title I was working on is now live in ebook: ACX for Beginners. This is for anyone thinking about putting their book into audio through ACX. It does also cover more general topics like pros/cons of going into audio, what you can make from it, what to look for in a narrator, and how to review audio files once submitted.

ACX-For-Beginners-Generic

Of the presentations I gave at RMFW this year, the one on ACX was the one that had the most people coming up to me later to say they really enjoyed it and found value in it. I’d meant to have this book completed by the conference but got distracted writing those Excel guides. (And good thing I did…I’m loving that StoryBundle experience.)

And, finally. Last week I joked that maybe I needed to change up the cover on You Have a Date since it didn’t have a half-naked woman on it, so I did. Here are the old and new covers:


I do think the new cover is more effective if a little harder to read. We’ll see. Since most of Douchebag’s sales are in audio, I won’t really know if this works until the audio cover is up. That could take a couple weeks. (I did also turn on an old AMS ad on the book, so I might see some ebook or print sales off of that, but not sure the ad is still moving. And the next time I tried for an AMS ad on this book they rejected it because of the book’s title so that’s the only ad I can run on it.)

One of the nice things about doing your own covers is that you can do something like this in less than a day and for just the cost of the image. (I already had it, but I downloaded a new copy just to be kosher. It cost me 50 cents because of that AppSumo deal I mentioned recently.)

So that’s me. Still need to do the paperback version of the ACX book and then it’s time for fiction. FINALLY! I didn’t expect to take such a long break from novels, but I think it was worth it.