November 15th, 2009


Small press panel topic suggestion

Here is one of the most important pieces of advice that I wish someone had given me when I embarked on the indie press gig. If you are thinking of starting a small press or have just started one, please please take heed.

When I started Twelfth Planet Press, what everyone told me was - you can't make money in small press. In other words, you do it for the love of it. I went into this wanting to prove people wrong - show that you could make indie press viable. But I came into this from a very negative standpoint - that the examples before me had not been viable and therefore, probably neither would I. I wish now that I had come into this thinking bigger than that, and assuming that I *would* be viable and for this one very important reason:

I would have set up the accounting systems better than I did.

Sure I do still do a lot of this for the love of it. I cover some of the expenses personally and don't expect to ever recoup those costs. If I factored in all the overheads for running a small business, TPP would not be viable. I do though intend to grow to a point where one day all the overheads would be included and it would still be viable.

But I didn't think big enough when I started - and didn't ever really make a definite "starting point" either. You kind of snowball into small business, I think. And you tend to be far more reactive than you would like. You think you will need certain processes, tools and systems in place but by the time you realise you're big enough to need them, you needed them like a year ago. I kept receipts and evidence of transactions and so on and figured if I did grow, then I could retroactively piece together the financial history. DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME!

Boy that piecing together the financial history sucks.

I have been lodging my tax returns since there was a point in doing that - declaring my income from TPP and offsetting it against the costs of running it. But the kind of information that you submit to the ATO is not necessarily the kind of information that is useful to you, as the business owner.

So my personal pain has been in the piecing together of my financial history. Here's some advice on that - as soon as you decide to throw yourself onto his magical, fantastic carpet ride, open a separate bank account and paypal account. Trust me on this one, it will ease so much pain. Also set up a clear cash book recording system. I set up some spreadsheets to track individual project cash flows. And a second one to combine these and general business costs in order to lodge that with my tax return. BUT!!!!!! I figured since I'm pretty ok at maths, I would be fine to just devise some systems and go with that. NO! DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Last night I had a friend of mine look at the mess I like to call my finance tracking system. She hmmmed for a bit. And then she pointed out why I am unable to actually interrogate the data. And why I don't understand what the tally at the bottom means (yeah, it's not my current profit or return its the percentage of project seed money recouped. Damn. Though in theory still the cash flow). See when things get bigger than you think they will, you suddenly find you will want to interrogate your data for useful information to underpin future business decisions. Some things I would like to know from my accounting system:

- stock levels
- number of books sold versus given away
- bottom line of individual projects and the business as a whole
- unit cost of books
- number of books sold at full price versus bookseller discount
- outlets for review and award copies (and ideally some way of tracking the effectiveness of these)
- investors' initial investment and profit share (and at some point, tracking their % profit share dividend)
- expenses (postage, transaction and account fees, launch costs, printing costs etc)
- tally of total number of books sold at discrete time scales (eg monthly, yearly)
- rate of returns of individual projects
- invoice tracking

My current systems are not flexible enough now to provide me with the kind of information I need for auditing and for decision making. I'm at a point where I am considering buying accounting software in order to upgrade my capabilities. And again, there will be pain in that I will need to reenter the information (5 years worth now) in order to begin again. There's no way I would have bought MYOB or something 5 years ago for this. I never would have thought I would have needed something so sophisticated. But if I had been keeping good records and accounts at the beginning, probably I would have figured out that I needed to migrate a year or two ago and that would have been about a third of the amount of information I now have to move.

The problem is that growth happens exponentially not linearly and you think you will be able to catch things in time and that you will be able to make decisions about your business systems and tools as needed. But the truth is that your reaction time is delayed.

So I guess my advice is, believe in yourself. And start out how you mean to proceed. Don't put off using tools or systems because you think they are beyond what you need - rather, aim and direct your business to justify having used them to be what you need. And inform yourself about things other than publishing - seek advice on how to build your small business. Don't let it build itself.

TED 2006: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original."
Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Awesome speech - we have been mining our minds for one commodity and that is no longer the commodity of the future. We need to start preparing our children to thrive in a future whose form we cannot yet begin to imagine.


Continuing the quest to be sorted

One of the things that I was worried about when I back to work after three weeks off was whether I would be able to maintain the momentum for my getting sorted project. I was still in the middle of sorting out my study, getting the finances finalised and some general household sorting things. Given that these things had gotten to this state, I was worried I would slip back into old habits and not have enough time to finish and then maintain.

But luckily my other theory seems to have held - tidiness forces further tidiness. Just like mess seems to spread. I've also begun enforcing a new set of calendar scheduling which will hopeful reap time for things that need to be done at home, more TPP time and also more personal time.

The TPP finances are very very close to being done. I might have to throw a party when they are. I tell you! The pain, I cannot fully convey it. In sorting through all the paperwork for TPP, I have also begun work on my personal budget which will be the next project and hopefully ready to go by Jan.

I've submitted one deadline for Aurealis judging. As well as one list of recommended reading for this year to another outlet. And I'm quite surprised to report that my kitchen remains pretty much immaculate. Dishes are getting done and all foods are continuing to be packed carefully away. It's pretty darn nice to have a clean kitchen as the norm not as the passing blink in the week. And I also noticed that whilst I've been at home, other things get picked up and put away so the house is progressively getting more and more organised and tidy. This is very restful and uplifting.

Interestingly though, I do have moments of panic as I see myself get on top of things. It's almost like I prefer to be behind, like I don't quite know what to do if I'm not running to catch up. Cause if you aren't buried in things that are late or need to be caught up on, then you have space to go forward, create, do new things, try news things, relax, conquer. Whatever. But that stuff is scary cause it's unknown. I'm pushing forward through the fear cause, I think I should be out there and not held back by my own tardiness and laziness. Or fear of having to come up with something else (or read a book when I buy it etc).

I have 74 short stories/novellas left to read and I intend to start 2010 reading Dec 1.