2014: Year In Review, Part One, Lessons Learned

Lessons learned in 2014:

1) When it comes to marketing interns, you get what you pay for. I had two this past year. In both cases, my hope was to provide real-world job experience that they could use as a springboard to bigger and better things, as well as plenty of great details for their resumes. I didn’t set deadlines or make demands. I was open to them learning what they wanted to learn. I hoped, of course, that they’d also help me with some of the marketing jobs that I hadn’t been willing to invest my time in.

It felt win-win to me — I’d rather invest my time in helping someone learn about the business than do the marketing personally. As it turned out, not so much. Intern one — total bust. A complete waste of my time. Intern two got some great learning out of it — she learned she didn’t want to work in marketing. And she wound up getting a solid job doing something more interesting for her. I hope her work with me gave her some resume fodder — she earned that — but she did very little of the hands-on work I’d been hoping for help with. For my purposes, hiring marketing interns turned out to be a waste of my time. It’s true I didn’t waste my money, but my time is worth something, too.

2) Finding a great cover designer is crucial, but involves trial-and-error. I worked with five of them during the past year. The single cover I spent the most on doesn’t exist, because I finally gave up on the artist. The cover package I spent the most on (covers for multiple books) was… fine. But I posted those covers thinking, well, I can always go back to the originals if I feel like it. That’s not really a good sign. Two inexpensive options left me with the itch of dissatisfaction — both reasonable covers, but not somehow there.

All in all, investing in covers — while a good and necessary decision — left me less satisfied than creating my own. Should I have seen warning signs ahead of time? Maybe. I wouldn’t again pay for stock photos until I’d seen a design using comps, or hire a designer because I liked his aesthetics without thinking about his genre knowledge.

That said, the final covers from the final artist delighted me. With close to $2000 spent on covers this year, it was largely money invested in learning what worked and didn’t work, but I’m (mostly) satisfied with my end results.

3) Tracking expenses & income and doing taxes is tedious, and a lot more efficient when done promptly rather than trying to put the pieces together later. I’m good at math and competent in general, perfectly capable of managing this part of the process, but after almost a year in business, I would definitely rather be hiring an accountant. It’s not likely to happen this year, but that’s where my next investments in the business are going to be. Most likely, anyway.

4) I never got around to looking for acquisitions. When I started Rozelle Press, I intended to become a publisher for other people’s books, as well as my own, but the year slipped away from me. I feel as if I didn’t get nearly enough done, but realistically, I wrote one complete book, two short stories, and have three other books in progress, each with at least 10,000 words written. I invested time and money in marketing, participated in a few promotions, blogged regularly, and tried to stayed updated on the business. That’s pretty good for a single year, especially given what 2013 looked like. For next year — well, I may be more open to possible acquisitions. But it’s harder to find work that I love than I would have hoped. I suppose all publishers feel that way!

Babelcube

A screenshot of a brazilian website showing the portuguese translation of A Gift of Ghosts
O Dom de Ver

My first Babelcube experience came to fruition on Monday. A Gift of Ghosts has been translated into Portuguese. It sold its first copy on Kobo yesterday and received its first Portuguese rating on a Brazilian website, Skoob.

Authors used to really like it when we sent them their translated copies: now I know why. Even though I can’t read it and don’t understand a word, it’s somehow thrilling to see.

But let me tell you about Babelcube, since that’s undoubtedly why you’re reading. So far, two thumbs up on the Babelcube experience. The company links translators and authors. Like ACX (the audiobook service), authors or publishers can post books for translations and translators can apply to work on specific books. In my case, the two translators I’m working with were both international readers who asked about doing translations. I haven’t found any translators through the service, but I haven’t really tried to sell the books there either.

The contract was straightforward and easy enough to understand. Of course, I’ve been reading publishing contracts for a long time, so that might be my impression only. But Babelcube takes distribution rights for five years, after which time the author can decide whether to continue to be distributed by them or not. Only time will tell whether that distribution is worth the 15% of net that they’re taking, but since they’re also saving me all the financial hassle of working with & paying a translator, it seemed like a decent enough deal to me. (If they manage to get the book into Brazilian bookstores, totally worth it, but I am fairly sure that their print option is simple POD, basically CreateSpace, and so that’s probably not going to happen.)

The payment for the translation is a royalty share on sales of the book. Babelcube gets a 15% royalty on every sale forever, while the translator gets a sliding scale rate that starts at 55% and drops to 10% by $8000 in net royalties. Roughly, if Ghosts sells 3000 copies in Portuguese, I will earn $3900, the translator will earn $2900, and Babelcube will earn $1200. After that, Babelcube would continue to earn roughly .42 per book, Elaine (the terrific translator) would make .28, and I’d get about $2.

Of course, 3000 copies sounds like a lot. I don’t routinely add up my book sales anymore, because it’s a lot of work, but for the sake of proving a point that I failed to prove, I went ahead and added up units sold of A Gift of Time. It’s sold approximately 1723 copies since its release about 8 months ago, which is actually better than I expected and makes a 3000 unit goal seem possible, at least. A little more math: Brazil has a literacy rate of over 90%, a population of over 200 million people, and a last reported total number of ebooks (May, 2013) of 25,000. Oh, and approximately 50% of the population has internet access. Those numbers are nicer than I envisioned–and obviously, don’t even take into account any readers from Portugal. I didn’t bother to do any of that math before. Elaine was interested in translating and the total cost to me was the $15 it took to update the cover to Portuguese. It felt like a no-brainer. If I sell 20 books, I earn back that $15 so for me, anything else is gravy.

Anyway, Babelcube’s interface was extremely easy and clear. They report sales figures immediately–which is how I know that I’ve sold a book on Kobo already–but I have no idea how payments will work. I’ll have to report back on that one later.

Meanwhile, O Dom de Ver. I like it. 🙂

New Covers

The entire Tassamara series–including a couple of books that aren’t finished yet!–got new covers this weekend. I was hitting refresh half the night waiting to see them finally go live on Amazon. They did this morning and they’re beautiful.

Next step: to get the new CreateSpace covers up. I can’t wait to see what they look like in print!

The Tassamara series, present and future
The Tassamara series, present and future