Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pyramid Power

Sharon Wildwind

Normally I wait until January to stew over next year’s business plan, but considering the way my day job schedule falls out over the next two weeks, I decided to get this year’s angst out of the way early.

Question #1: Is it time to stop?

Am I making money? Not nearly enough. Am I having fun? Yes, most days. If I close the business, what would I do with almost 1,400 hours of free time next year? That's how much time I’ve spent on writing and running the business this year. Answering that question took a whole afternoon of thinking; the answer was I couldn't think of anything as much fun as a writing business on which to spend 1,400 hours. Besides, I have a play to finish and I’m closing in on conquering comma usage. I’d like to see how both of them turn out. So, I think I’ll go for another year.

Question #2: What am I going to do with next year?

Let’s keep it simple and go for pyramid power. No, I haven’t gotten all New Age. A couple of years ago I started basing my business plan on a simple diagram reflective of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Writing (the base) is seriously putting fingers to the computer keyboard. It includes fiction, non-fiction, plays, journaling, blogs, and book reviews. I want it to be 50% of what I do.

All of the other five sections in the pyramid make up the other 50%.

Adjusting the compass heading is like a ship tacking into the wind. Thanks mainly to my husband’s love of Patrick O’Brian’s novels I know a lot more about sailing ships than I once did. One of those things I learned is that ships can’t sail in a straight line. They have to go this way for a little while, change the orientation of the sails to the wind, and go that way a little while. Eventually they zig-zag their way into a safe harbor.

Goodness knows what with copyright changes, book digitalization, multi-media platforms, and all of the other changes writers and publishers have a gracious plenty of zigging and zagging. I’m sailing as hard and fast as I can to keep up with it.

Expanding the circle means honoring all of the other writers and readers I already know who are with me on crazy zig-zagging ship. It involves moving outside of my e-comfort zone and conquering the dreaded social media. It also means sharing critiques and that old-fashioned idea of keeping in touch with individuals.

Managing the business is marketing, branding, tracking stats, doing inventories, keeping the accounts up to date and the tax person happy. Occasionally it means making a little money, which is always something to look forward to.

Has anyone out there ever, for real, grabbed a brass ring on a carousel? I always thought it was the coolest idea, but none of the carousels I rode ever had a ring dispenser. Taking advantage of the brass ring means to take advantage of every unexpected opportunity that comes my way as a writer. It might be only 1% of the business plan, but it’s a heck of an important 1%.

You might have noticed I skipped a section: Read/keep current. My bugbear. Incidentally, I recently read that term had nothing do with creepy, crawly insects. Bug was the Celtic word for evil spirit. The bugbear was a creature that waited in the woods to scare children, a concept that does totally undesirable things to the lyrics of The Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Reading—Internet—Bugbear. Another triangular shape, only instead of helping me, this one drives me nuts. My name is Sharon and I am computer-literate. I’ve taken a long time to become that way and I’m not ashamed of it. That computer literacy lets me read an incredible variety of resources.

Remember that Send Me a Man Who Reads ad campaign sponsored by the International Paper Company back in the early 1960s? I loved that campaign and even if the title wasn't gender-inclusive it set me toward a love of reading at an early age.

Out of those 1,400 hours I mentioned before that I’ve spent on various parts of my business pyramid in 2010, I’ve spent roughly 270 hours reading about writing and the writing business (mostly on-line) and another 240 hours reading other mystery writers (mostly not on line). That a total of 1/3 (36%) of all of my time spent on business.

Okay, my reading addiction got out of hand for a couple of months. I was reading other authors far more than I was writing, and fortunately I was able to spot what I was doing and turn it around. Another of those zig-and-zag compass changes.

Even with all that reading, I am losing the “keep current” fight in a big way. There is too much out there to read and no real way to find the essential good stuff. I suspect there may not even be “essential good stuff.” I don’t have any answers for this, but if I discover any in 2011, you guys will be the first ones to know.

Hugs and holiday greetings all around. Pleasant journeys and safe harbors in the new year.
For out holiday special, there are two quotes this week.

Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.
~Barbara Johnson, scholar, teacher, translator and literary critic

I wish I had wisdom. I don’t have wisdom. All I have are processes.
~Catherine Weller, Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Sandra Parshall said...

You actually keep track of how many hours you spend on various things?? Am I supposed to be doing that too? If so, just kill me now.

Anonymous said...

Most writers keep a basic record, mainly because it's a good ploy to thrust your day timer in the tax auditor's face when he/she wonders aloud if you're a real author or playing at writing as a hobby.

I let my computer calendar do the work. At the end of each work day I spend about 1 minute filling in my electronic day timer. Since I've discovered the "duplicate" button for activities, it goes even faster. At the end of the month I print the calendar. Instant tracking.

The biggest value I get out of the numbers is spotting a trend when I'm not spending enough time writing and too much time reading or doing art. I've learned that I have to turn that around sooner rather than later if I want to have any meaningful output.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I don't quantify the way you do, Sharon, but I especially appreciated this post because I took steps to adjust my compass heading and expand the circle this morning (right before reading the blog) by joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators as a first step toward getting my recently revised YA historical suspense ms out there and, an even bigger financial leap of faith, registering for the organization's winter conference next month. The brass ring would be publication (and recognition), but I'm just stepping on the merry-go-round of networking. My ties with the mystery community, strengthened and expanded over years, are a key to any success I've had so far--and crucial to my having the heart to keep going. I don't know a soul in the YA field (and haven't been reading YA books for decades as I have mysteries). Gotta start somewhere.

Sandra Parshall said...

Tax auditor?? You mean my writing might bring on a tax audit? Now I *insist* that you just kill me now, before I write again.

Julia Buckley said...

Fascinating to see it broken down like that.

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Liz, way to go! I've got my fingers crossed for you.

Unfortunately, at least in Canada, being a writer sometimes has a big enough discrepancy, year after year, between income and business expenses that it can trip the tax computer looking for things like that.

Fortunately, I've heard that Canadian tax laws are a little more lenient than in the States. Revenue Canada usually just asks for some documentation that you aren't sitting around all day eating bon-bons. Then you and the tax auditor shake your heads over the state of art funding and you get to go on your way.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sharon, aren't your published books proof that you're actually working at writing?

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that I'm not publishing every year, and that my income when I do publish is miniscule.