Productivity, Profitability

Still having trouble with staying focused. I feel like I’m not productive enough, almost daily. Things are getting done; the podcasts are all running on time, I’m doing two or more Art Walks/Fairs/Detours a month & I’ve painted a dozen new paintings since the first of the year. I’m even blogging semi-regularly, which you already know, reading this. But I could be doing more.

Yesterday I only did three or four hours of audio work, and even though I know I worked on other things, it feels like I didn’t get anything done, since it’s harder to tally the hours and to quantify what’s work and what isn’t. Does Twitter count? Reading publishing & other blogs? Blogging? It’s all part of connecting with people, with building an audience and building myself as a “brand” and educating myself about what’s going on, what’s working, and driving ideas forward. So in a way, yes. Then there’s the oft-repeated idea that everything an author does and experiences is a sort of reasearch for future books; this is somewhat true, but feels like a sort of excuse.

In addition to feeling that perhaps I’m not being productive enough, I also think a lot about my not being profitable enough. Even with the reduced up-front costs of doing business the way I am, not a single one of my books has even reached break-even, yet. The art, comparably, has been doing great – not bringing in enough to live on, but if not for the cost of going to Tools of Change in New York (ie: if not for a big, extra publishing expense), I’d already be profitable this year on art sales alone, with only bluer skies on the horizon. The margins on the art, even with prices basically cut in half & then frozen since 2004, are great – not just in money, but in time. It takes me hundreds of hours to produce a book, and somehow it’s harder to sell a copy of the book for $14 (or less) than it is to sell a painting (that took me less than 10 hours to create) for $150.  Lately I’ve been creating a lot of “Mini Paintings”: 8×10″ for $20, 5×7″ for $15, and 4×4″ for $10, right now.  Most of them are done in under 1 hour of work (though admittedly, some have taken up to 3), and they earn me as much as or more than a book does, usually without having to try to sell them at all.

Obviously, the art sales can only scale to the limits of my creativity & time to produce original works – I’m not sure what the upper limit is, but perhaps dozens a month. Certainly not hundreds.  Whereas the book sales can scale without proportional extra work on my part – Lightning Source prints however many copies people order, whether it’s dozens a month or thousands.  If/when I “hit it big” the books will quickly win in this regard.  Not to mention I can sell a book more than once, and without doing prints (something I am currently opposed to), I can only sell an original work of art once.  So it takes orders of magnitude more work to produce a book, but I can keep selling it over and over again forever, instead of just once.

If only my sales numbers were orders of magnitude better.  Did I mention not a single one of my books has yet earned back the costs associated with its production, yet?  That’s with $0 value associated with my time, no less.  Which is to say: if I were more productive (of books), I’d perhaps only be digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole.  Being more productive of art is good, but when I really need to figure out is how to be more productive of profitability.  I need to produce more book sales.  That’s a hard one.  The podcasting thing is meant to be helping with that – it certainly puts my writing in front of a lot more minds than everything else I’ve been doing, even if it is for free, right now.  Something approaching five hundred times as many people have downloaded Dragons’ Truth from than have purchased a copy of the paperback (not counting sales to family) – that’s a huge multiplier.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it hasn’t translated directly into interest in my other podiobooks or in sales of my paperbacks or eBooks.  Gotta keep it up, though.  Gotta keep working on it.  Gotta get back to work, right now – I’m supposed to be editing together next week’s episodes of Forget What You Can’t Remember, right now.  Gotta go.

Silly new comments options

I’ve spent some time working on this, today, some of which means that future upgrades of the two plugins involved will be a little harder (I had to go in and manually change the code in order to get dates to display correctly) but the result is that now comments from both Twitter and FriendFeed are added to the comments on my blog posts. So, if you link to the blog post on Twitter or comment on the blog when it gets posted to friendfeed (or if you want your comment to go to friendfeed from the blog), it all shows up nicely in the comments area of the post.

You know, so that that conversation no one is having about my blog posts all gets combined and returned to the blog post it’s about.  Well, except for livejournal comments.  I cross-post most of my stuff to LJ, and sometimes people comment there, but as far as I know there’s no way to get those comments to come over here, too.  I’ll look into it.  But except for that, now conversations on this blog, on Twitter, and on friendfeed related to my posts are all integrated here.  You can see what it might, theoretically look like, where I was testing it and getting it set up, on my last post.

Not about Tools of Change

Last week I was in New York, NY for the first time in my life.  I won a free conference pass to O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference from Booksquare, managed to afford the airfare and hotel (Would you believe I flew to NYC, stayed for 3 nights within 1.0mi of the conference at Times Square, was fed the entire time, and flew home for under $550?), and had a great time.  I have tweeted a bit about it, from the conference, and I have many, many pages of hand-written notes I took over the two days of the conference I attended, but this post is not about Tools of Change.  I may (or may not – but probably will) blog extensively about it later.  There’s a good chance I’ll write a thousand words or more per page of notes, not to mention anecdotes about everything that happened between sessions and at night.  This is not one of those posts.

This post is about everything else.  This post is about how, in between the last two First Friday Art Walks (ie: basically in January), I painted 6 new paintings, recorded the audio for the podcast version of FWYCR (inlcuding 6 chapters ahead of where I needed to be), wrote 5 (mostly long) blog posts, did my taxes, et cetera, et cetera.  This post is about how, since the February First Friday Art Walk I haven’t painted anything new, have only written this blog post, and have only finished the single chapter of MEPod that was due today.  This post is about how I don’t know when my next book will be ready for publication, or what book it will be.  This post is about how I occasionally notice that I don’t have a “marketing strategy.” This post is about feeling insignificant, helpless.

After this month’s First Friday Art Walk in downtown Phoenix (I show among the vendors known as “Roosevelt Row” – the booths in the blocked off streets of Garfield between 4th & 6th, on 5th between Garfield & McKinley, and starting next month on 6th as well – I’m there every month, I pre-paid for all of 2009, and you can see/buy my art and/or books in person there for cash), I sold two paintings.  Did not sell them at the Art Walk, one because I don’t take credit cards on site, the other because there wasn’t a convenient ATM, but sold them after being seen there.  Gladly drove across town on Saturday to deliver one (after processing the payment through Google Checkout) and to a different part of town on Sunday to deliver the other.  I’m always glad to put my creations into the hands of people who appreciate them.  People who love them.  People who are excited to be able to see them again and again.  These kind of sales are awesome.

Very early Monday morning I left for NY. Thursday evening I returned to Phoenix.  Friday I did laundry and tried to recover from the conference & the trip.

Saturday I had another Art Walk / Art Fair, this time at Angel’s Serenity in North Phoenix/Scottsdale.  The Angel’s Serenity Art Fair is a Saturday, daytime event.  It had better turnout when the economy was in better shape (and when there was an open coffee shop involved – since gone out of business), but I still feel it’s worthwhile to show there.  It certainly doesn’t cost anything but my time and effort.  Sold a few books (You’ve seen the new books, right?), about half to returning customers.  That’s my favorite and most reassuring sort of customer, the ones who have bought my books before, read them, and want to buy the new books, too.  That’s the basis for my publishing model; to build an audience of people who will continue buying my books as I continue to write them.  Didn’t move any art at the Art Fair, but a past customer and I spent a lot of time discussing the 5 or 6 pieces he wants to buy – if only I catch him at the right time of the month.  I’ll follow up with him after the first of the month.

Writing it out, I know it hasn’t been a lot of time – especially since the conference was actually work.  Yet I feel unaccomplished, so far.  Dilligent, yes.  I recorded three more chapters of FWYCR yesterday, and worked on trying to figure out what to do about the final main character’s voice – it needs to be distinct, striking, but not distracting or confusing.  I edited, mixed, compressed & posted chapter 15 today, went to two banks and a book store, and am writing this blog post.  I’ve been working on some other ideas (more below) as well.  Still, I feel I haven’t done enough.  On the other hand, a big part of why I chose not to buy the big TV was so that I would be able to work longer without stress and worry – so that I would be able to go at my own pace without having to freak out about whether my art & writing were bringing in enough money on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.  So I’m trying not to freak out.

I’m also looking at some new projects.  I’m considering designing a deck of cards – you can think of them like tarot cards or fortune telling cards, though I’m developing them largely from scratch.  I’m working out some planning and manufacturing ideas already, starting work on basic artwork & meanings.  Probably a set of 50 cards – thinking of maybe putting it out as a “deck” of moo business cards, actually, though I haven’t fully considered all the different custom card-deck printing options out there yet.  Feel free to suggest someone in the comments.  Then, in parallel with developing the deck, write a book explaining the cards, their meanings, and how to do a “reading” from them.  Publish the book & make the cards available – because I can, and it interests me to do so.  Not sure how to market such a thing, and certainly can’t bundle the cards with the book via Lightning Source, but it’s an idea.  If I decide to paint the images for the cards, that could mean up to 50 new Mini-Paintings – I’d want to do them at a size I could scan with the equipment I have, so probably 8×10″ or smaller canvas or canvas boards.  Or perhaps illustrations on paper, but then I’d have to mount/mat/frame them.  bleh.  But either way, that could be a gallery show I could shop around.  Hang the originals on the walls, sell the cards & books (& originals), and have me (someone) do readings for guests all night/nights.

I’m also increasingly thinking of trying to put together a music “album.”  Probably a “Christian music album,” at that.  I keep having to compose my own music for the podcasts (because I’m quite stubborn and independent) and thus to think about music, to design music, and to practice with its creation.  I’ve been vaguely thinking about creating music since middle or high school, but have rarely stuck with any physical instrument for more than a few weeks at a time & have never studied musical composition.  Having Garageband in front of me several hours a week, listening to music I’ve composed play behind my audiobooks, it’s been pushing me more and more toward writing songs & putting together an album.  That, I don’t have outlines or plans or marketing plans for (yet), unlike the cards/book thing above, but it’s rolling around in my head, closer and closer to the front all the time.

Which brings me around to what may be a lack of focus.  If I’m writing/composing/recording/producing an album of Christian music, am I focused on art?  On writing?  On publishing?  I’ve squeezed the designing of a deck of fortune cards (did you know the Old Testament  condemns divination?) into the art/publishing worlds with the hand-painting of the art & the writing/publishing of a companion book, but has my focus slipped?  What happened to the anthology of short stories I was working on last year?  When is UTFBF-RoaAP: Book Four going to be written?  Will I paint anything other than these cards any time soon?  What about my next podcast novel (due in April)?  What about marketing?

Marketing?  Fuck.  I knew I was forgetting something.  I still haven’t figured out how to do marketing.  Sigh.

In other news, since my books are increasingly apparent as some sort of idealized-communist propaganda, I’ve begun slogging my way through Atlas Shrugged.  The Fountainhead is next.  Then probably the Communist Manifesto, Wealth of Nations and Mein Kampf.  I’ve never read any of these, but time for reading is part of what I bought myself when I didn’t buy a 73″ HDTV.  Speaking of which, I’m going to go work on Atlas Shrugged right now.

Blog tinkering, late nights

I seem to have stayed up all night tonight. Bought a new video game (used at Zia for $22, vs. the original retail price of $60 = win), Civilization:Revolution for my PS3, and played it for 5+hrs, not finishing up until 4AM. Would have played a little longer, but this version of Civ doesn’t allow for the “..just one more turn” option after you win; you just have to stop playing when you win.

Blinked a couple of times, looked around, thought about heading to bed. Really, tried to decide between trying to stay up (ie: all day) and going to bed (and then trying to get up at a reasonable hour). Part of this is related to not getting out of bed until Noon on Monday. Now it’s after 5AM on Tuesday, and my typing is bad enough that … probably I oughtn’t to try to stay awake if my intention is to accomplish anything worthwhile. But I paused at a computer for a moment, and couldn’t help but do a little of this, a little of that.

So, I updated the “via Podcast” page for Lost and Not Found, added a via Podcast page for Forget What You Can’t Remember, and added an “eBook edition” page for FWYCR explaining that the eBook should be available in February (& I wouldn’t mind help getting it ready by then).

Then I came over here, to, and poked around a bit at the new Tweetbacks plugin I’ve got installed. It’s still not got the dates right, but at least that’s not my fault. It is separating everything out and labeling and displaying things appropriately, for now. Didn’t realize the version I was using wasn’t the original, or that since I dropped it in here half-working the first guy had gone ahead and written an entire TweetSuite – I’ll have to think about putting that in, too. I’m pretty happy with what it’s doing right now, though, so … until I feel like tinkering again…

Trying to do, perhaps, too much at once

So, I’ve been working on the audiobook version of Dragons’ Truth (available now in paperback from Modern Evil Press) for the last several weeks.  At least a full week, perhaps week and a half, was spent learning how to use the hardware and software tools I have available to reduce background noise as much as possible.  In the future (when I’ve been at this for longer, and have more experience (and more equipment.  ie: a better sound environment)) I’m sure I’ll want to re-record Dragons’ Truth.  I’m somewhat a perfectionist, and this recording isn’t as perfect as I’d like. But it will have to do, for now.

That is the conclusion I came to after the first week of fighting with the background noise.  The other few days were just me trying to get it “good enough” for now.  It’s better than a lot of the stuff that’s out there, it’s just … not as good as I’d like.  I’ve played it  for a couple of “normal” people (ie: not audiophiles) through “normal” audio players (ie: not high-end closed-ear headphones; just a regular stereo, regular earbuds) and they don’t even hear the things that bug me about it, so … it’s good enough.  Lost and Not Found, which I would like to tackle next, should be better.

I’m planning on podcasting these audiobooks, for free, through and perhaps through a Modern Evil Press feed that has everything. (Multiple books, videos, et cetera…)  There are hundreds of authors/titles already on, and a huge base of listeners, hungry for new books. The traditional model for podiobooks authors seems to be to only have a few episodes (or none) recorded ahead of when they hit the site (typically one episode a week).  The guide recommends to have 5 episodes finished before your first episode goes live, in case anything slows production down the line – no one wants an episode to be posted late, and it’s a sure way to lose traffic fast.  So, for most first-time podiobookers, based on what I’ve seen in the mentorship forum and from chatting with them on Twitter, they spend several months working on an episode or five, and then just try to stay ahead of the release schedule from then on.  I state this for contrast from what I’m doing:

Even including the 1.5 weeks lost to my insanity, I’m spending less than a month recording an entire audiobook.  I want the whole thing done, ready to go, before the first episode is available for free to the internet.  I want the completed audiobook to be available for sale before the first episode hits the internet for free.  I want to have links to where you can buy the audiobook as an MP3 CD (or AAC CD), as a set of audio CDs, or where you can subscribe to dl it for free, one episode at a time over months, and I want all three links to go up at once.  That month includes composing intro/outro/bridge music (so I don’t have to pay or credit anyone else for that), editing, mixing, test-burning CDs and designing labels and packaging for them, because I plan to do all that myself, too.

All of this is possible because of digital tools available to me relatively cheaply.  This audiobook is relatively short (it’ll probably come in at around 4.5hrs when I’m done), but with experience recording should go faster, so the next one will probably take fewer days per hour of audio, and at a higher quality.  Packaging for the LaNF audiobook, which will probably be on 10+ CDs, I don’t know about right now, but I’ve already got some good ideas about how to package D’T, and some ideas about combo-packages I can offer (buy the paperback and the MP3 CD together and save!)…  hopefully this will help with sales of everything.

Anyway, I’ve been somewhat busy lately with this one project, at the exclusion of almost all else, because I want to get this launched ASAP.  I want to get the audiobook broadcasting (podcasting) as soon as possible. But since I also want to get the entire thing done ahead of time … it’s a lot.  Oh, and people keep reminding me First Friday is THIS Friday, and am I ready?  Of course I’m not ready!  Are you coming?