Monday, June 17, 2013

Today I started a new business and this one is kind of awesome!

Today I started a new business. It all started about 6 weeks ago with the convergence of 3 events. The first event was when my lovely publishing assistant/project manager decided to go back to school. She was still willing to work for me at the same time. But she's a friend and I could tell that she was overwhelmed, so I started doing everything myself again. I thought about hire someone else, but whoever I hire, I have to trust with financial info. That limits my options greatly.

The second event happened around the same time. I was at a friend's birthday party and I was talking to someone I know. They were telling me how they wanted to create software for authors. He didn't know what that software was, but he mentioned how he was planning on coming up with the perfect software idea. Having had a few drinks, I immediately told him he was doing it wrong. I told him that he needed to come and watch me work and then figure out how he could make my publishing life easier. He thought that my idea was better so he asked me if he could call me the following Monday to chat more about it. I told him he could.

I always like to be prepared for everything I do, so on that Monday I decided to put some time into coming up with ideas that I could tell this guy. I came up with 2 very solid ideas that would make my publishing life a lot easier. I sent them over to him suggesting that we chat. He never got back to me. He was drinking at the time, so I just assumed that while talking to me, he was writing a check that his courage couldn't cash.

But as I drudged through my added administrative work, I really started thinking about the ideas that I sent to the guy. I decided that I really wanted software that could do these things. So having some extra money to invest, I posted the job on a web developer site and found a software developer. I told him what I wanted and he quoted me a reasonable price. I put him to work.

But as soon as I hired him, I started thinking about what else I currently do which would be better, and more easily done by a piece of software. They were things like updating my website and creating newsletters. Those things help me to sell more books, but it takes hours every week and is very tedious. And because they are tedious, reality is that my site is never up-to-date and I don't always send out the newsletters announcing my new releases. By neglecting those duties, I am pretty much leaving money on table. So I figured, why not expand my software to do that for me as well.

This is when I started thinking, 'well, if I would find this software useful, then wouldn't other self-publishing authors?' I went back and forth on this quite a bit. The reason is because my publishing company is unique. I have to manage 170 titles which include working with 7 translators in 6 different languages. This means that I have different business requirements than your average author. And if I just sold the system to medium sized book publishers, I wouldn't sell very many. The authors that publish 4 or 5 titles a year are the ideal market. What I was designing would be overkill for those authors. So I would end up spending a lot of money trying to reach a market, when my market wouldn't be very large to begin with.

This was when a third event happened. I had hired a web development company for another website I have. They did a horrible job and I fired them. In turn, they hacked my server and deleted all of the files for, my retail website that sells products from the Bahamas.

I had the website files backed up on my laptop, so I just re-uploaded the site. But it started me thinking about I started that company 6 years ago with my mother. But 7 months ago, my mother left the business. Since she used to ship many of the products out from the Bahamas, I had to discontinue about 100 products (80% of my inventory). The site was designed many years ago and the site was hard to deal with, so I never really took the products off the site. I thought that this could be a good time to do it.

The roommate who I had my roommate war with, used to design websites for a living and he told me about WordPress. It sounded like the right fit for and I always thought that I would research it more if I ever had to redesign the site. Now was that time, and I decided that I would figure how I could use WordPress to build the new

It took a while to learn but I did it. And once I figured it out, I liked the whole ecosystem for selling WordPress Plugins. Basically, if a person wants to create a website, they can do it on WordPress for free. But if you want to do something special like create an eCommerce site, you have to pay for a webstore plugin. If you then wanted to ask your customers to join your mailing list right before checkout, there was another plugin you could buy to do that. It's really a great system. It's very consumer friendly.

That's when the idea for my new venture started coming together. I was batting around the idea of selling the new publishing software, but I didn't want to have to create a website and convince authors, who are really tech-ignorant to learn it. But most authors with websites have WordPress websites. So if I create this software to work with WordPress, I would have a whole ecosystem to sell within that authors are already familiar with.

That's when I had the idea of breaking my software up into different modules (or plugins). If an author just wanted to manage their books and advertising links, they could just get the first module. If they then wanted to have their website updated automatically with their new titles, they could get the website module. If they wanted to use it to automatically create their newsletters, they could buy the Newsletter module. Each would be sold separately, and the author wouldn't have to learn anything new to do it.

Even with this realization, though, there were still 3 things that made me hesitant. I wasn't actually sure who would own this software after it was done. Would I or the developer? Another issue was that the developer was currently creating a desktop app and not something that could easily be turned into a WordPress plugin. And third, I still wasn't sure if authors would want to buy this.

But I was chatting with the most successful self-publishing author I know. She had mentioned that she had just hired her first assistant. I decided to mention to her that I was creating my first digital assistant, and I told her what the software would do. Without hesitating for a second, she asked me if I was going to be selling it to others, hinting that she would want to buy a copy. Granted, she would also qualify as a medium sized publisher, but her quick reply, gave me a little confidence that others would want the software.

The other 2 questions were answered today. I have actually been having a lot of problems in getting stage 1 done. There are problems that I shouldn't be having. Every time my developer has sent me the latest draft, it has been riddled with errors. I didn't understand why, because at its heart, the software is pretty standard. It's just what I'm using it for that's unique.

But these errors have been going on for 4 weeks, until finally on Friday he was one function from being done. I was doing a final check of the software when I noticed this glitch. He told me it would be fixed in an hour. An hour turned to 4. 6 hours later I got an email saying that he needed to think about this seemingly simple fix over night. I didn't hear from him all of the next day, so I emailed him this morning. He explained to me that this simple fix, can't be fixed. This function is something super basic, so I decided to call him to discuss it.

It was then that he told me what the problem was. It turns out that when he first advised me about making it a desktop app instead of a web based app, he made mistake. If this was a web based app, like something that could easily be turned into a WordPress plugin, it would have been done in a week. The desktop app software he was working with was made by Microsoft, but was free and hence, filled with errors.

That's when I asked him how hard it would be to turn it into something I could sell on WordPress. He told me that not only would it be easy, but it would solve all of our error problems. I then asked him if we could next build the website module and newsletter module so that we could sell them separately. He said that it wouldn't be a problem. So that answered that question.

The only question I had left was who would own this software once we were done. This was something I had to dance around. At one point I suggest that "we" could develop it. And his response kind of gave me my answer. He told me about 3 other apps that he had developed for others. They paid him, and he developed it. His client then sold it in the Android App store and other places. This told me that he was a 'work for hire' guy. Like his other clients, I would owe it.

So there you have it. We are now using the heart of what he already developed, but he is turning it into a piece of software that users can purchase in the WordPress store to make their publishing life a ton easier. And initially, it will be developed for me. But for only a few hundred dollars more, he will turn it into something that can be sold in the WordPress store.

I'm making the app anyway, and I suspect it will pay for itself with my increased sales. But I will also be able to sell the software and at least make back my money. Best case scenario is that it gives me an addition passive income for the next few years.

But there you have it. Today I started a new business. And unlike any of my other companies, it is for something that people actually need, instead of what they want, or don't need at all. It's for something that will help authors make more money, while making their publishing process easier.

In truth, I'm not looking forward to starting the business as much as I am of having this super cool software that will make my publishing process so much easier. But hopefully, as a friend said, this business will also pay for a house in the hills. From that friend's mouth to god's ear.

Friday, June 7, 2013

My stories are outselling the owner of Amazon's and here is how that fact has changed me.

I had a unusual realization just now. I was watching Charlie Rose like usual and Charlie had as a guest the wife of the owner of She is a novelist and has released a new book. The conversation was interesting, and as an author myself, I like to know what other authors' experiences are like.

Mckenzie Bezos' passion impressed me. She wanted to be an author since she was 12 and she met Jeff Bezos years before he opened the largest book store in the world. Mckenzie is really passionate about writing. She went to Princeton so that she could be taught by Toni Morrison and she worked on her first novel for 10 years.

After the interview I couldn't help but go to Amazon and check out her book's ranking. An author's Amazon ranking is basically the measure of an author. It is how we judge each other. That, and the money, are how we keep score.

Well, what I found out from her ranking is that I have about 4 short stories that are outselling her novel. When I saw that I got a quick rush of satisfaction. But it was only for a second. What followed quickly was a feeling of guilt. I had felt good because I was outselling the wife of the owner of the biggest book store in the world. She had all of the advantages in the world, including promotional opportunities like being on Charlie Rose, and I was outselling her. Some might say that that is a legitimate reason to gloat.

But the guilt I felt was because, for the first time, I saw being an author in a different way. I've said many times that I don't enjoy writing. I enjoy having written. I'm a story teller and writing is the only way that I can do it. But take a way the billion dollars and Amazon advantages and she is just like me. She desperately wants to write. But more than me, she lives and breathes it. She is so passionate about it.

And staring at her book ranking, I suddenly saw her, not as part owner of Amazon, but as an author who is struggling to capture the heart and imagination of readers. In the core of her being, it doesn't matter if her family is worth a billion dollars, because no amount of money will truly satisfy her soul like the chance to make someone laugh or cry from reading her words. And having the opportunity to make someone laugh or cry is not a life experience that you can buy.

Her internal measure of self is exactly the same as the poorest of my author friends. We all write for similar reasons and because I am currently succeeding at it more than someone else, isn't something to gloat about. It doesn't seem right to point at another author, who wants nothing more than to enrich someone else's life and put them down because they haven't figured out how to accomplish this generous act of spirit. I'm naturally competitive, but suddenly competing about how successful you've been at taking someone on a journey of imagination, just seems wrong.

I think, from this point forward, I'm going to pull back on how often I tell people that I'm an international bestselling author. I know that I bring it up so often, and so quickly, because I struggled for so long. But somehow, after watching that interview with a struggling author who wants to write for all of the correct reasons, I feel that I need to show a little more quiet gratitude. She's not out trying to crush the competition like her husband. Her greatest satisfaction in life comes from bringing other people joy. That is at the heart of being an author. Because I am who I am and have gone through what I have, I never truly understood that humble desire before. But I do now.

I make my living as an author. There are those that are moved by my work. It doesn't matter how many or why they're moved. I have been granted unrestricted access to the imagination of people. It is almost a sacred act if you think about it. And for that, I am grateful.

And in the wee hours of this quiet night, I wish my brotherhood of authors, including Mrs. Bezos, the same privilege that I have been granted. Being an author isn't a competition; it's a connection. And as long as you're able to financially sustain yourself, it isn't the masses that matter, it's the connection you make with one individual. That individual is the person that is reading your book. Nothing else really matters. I learned that tonight and I'm glad that I did.

It was a good interview. I think that watching it has made me a different person.