Thursday, May 27, 2010

Starting your Own Company

You don't need to file lots of paperwork to create your own company. You don't need an office, employees, or even the wits to create an LLC. In fact, you don't need to create an "LLC" or INC." Chances are, this company is you and you only, which means it is a sole proprietary, a self-owned company. If this is true, you don't need to register your business (see my post on taxes coming soon). Of course, your business is named after you unless you file as a DBA, which is a sole proprietor business with a fictitious name. In my case, I created a DBA called 'Blue World Publications.' Looking online how to register my DBA, I figured it would cost an additional $50 for legal zoom to do it for me and made my choice: the time-saving choice. Paying the $50 extra gave me the freedom to not research the matter, not risk failure in filling something out, and above all else, time to work on other things.

Your business is what you make of it. If you make large profits and want to hire people, you can worry about that later since it probably won't happen while you are developing your first book. Of the many things to accomplish with your business, it would be wise to think (if not accomplish) the following:

Name Your Business and Set it Up
You should pick a name that is unique without being complex. What is easier to remember: "APPLE" or "XENEPHONETICS?" Your name shouldn't exist elsewhere (either in the book world or anywhere else; you don't want to be sued or forced to give up your name). Another bonus to a unique name is that it will be website ready (website URL isn't owned by anyone yet). Once you have a name - register it! (see getting an address below). There is a 95% chance you will want to register a DBA, so look up your city's legal registration requirements and determine if you can do this on your own, otherwise visit legalzoom.com and determine if their services are worth the cost.

Make a Website
Make sure a web URL exists that works for your business name. I created Blue World Publications in February of 2010. For the website I bought two URL addresses: blueworldpublications.com is the main site, and if you so happen to type in blueworldbooks.com, you will automatically be redirected. Be sure that if there are any variations people may confuse you are covered. To start, you don't need much information up right away, but it's vital that it is 100% complete 4-6 months out from your publication date (more posts on website content to come).

Get an Address
Will you be running this business out of your house? If you want to do this, are you legally able to? It may be problematic if you are renting, it's also easier to separate your company and personal life with a mailbox. Consider getting a mailbox for your business. There is also a convenience of receiving packages and shipments at a mailbox when you are not home and everything will always be delivered. Make sure you look into what works best for you. Do you want a USPS box or a UPS box? Or maybe even an independent mail center box? I chose a UPS box for several reasons, which made-up for the fact it costs twice as much per year over a post office box: it is very close to me (within walking distance) and my mailbox is not technically a 'mailbox.' Anything can be delivered there AND on my business address, the location is not a PO BOX, it's an actual address, making my business that much more prestigious (just don't tell anyone...shhhhhh).

There are countless things to worry about and do. Just don't worry! These three big accomplishments can be knocked out right away and are important to do early on. If you need a great resource for a timeline, make sure you read THE SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL for a thorough timeline.

ARTWORK

Early on I had a great idea about utilizing illustrations into my book. Not only would it be neat but since I was writing about time travel, cartoons or illustrations could only help my genre book. The first idea that shot into my head was my friend Antonio, who I met at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His ability to illustrate and draw cartoons was phenomenal and if I were able to get a cover drawing or maybe inserts throughout the book, all the better.

As the good friend that he is, he agreed. I gave him some rough outlines of my stories and what the illustration should be like. Below are the early drawings he sent my way:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Delusion

Working on something creative often creates a thick delusion of reality. Be it music, art, writing, movies - it's all the same. You created something that has been a labor of love and you are excited that it is near completion. The delusion lies in the fact that (1) it can be improved and (2) it's not the best thing ever made.

You have to learn to take a step back and realize that unless you have created the most revolutionary book of the decade, a stranger won't care about your work just yet. Face it, it's not the most amazing thing ever made. When you finish your first draft you need to get into business mode and occupy your thoughts on how to improve what you have. Too many people get caught up in the moment of the greatness it may become instead of what they actually have. It is a sight far too common in Hollywood where someone finishes a script or film and think it's amazing and all good things will just come pouring in.

Its a good thing to be excited about your book, but you have to be realistic. Hundreds of thousands of book are published each year. Billions of books are in existence. Not to say you can't write anything new or unique - but you, as one of the many, are creating another one of the many books to be published. It is your job to make it the best book it can be. Ensure you do everything possible to improve what you have. Make it THAT much better. Realize that you may be overly excited about what you created beacuse...YOU CREATED IT. Just because you finished a manuscript doesn't mean it's anywhere near where it should.

Don't be delusional. Set your creative expectations high and your rewards of awards, fame, and fortune low: they are a nasty means to drive your determination. Don't count on the big score to be your one and only chance for your book to shine. Why did you write your book to begin with? Is your goal to create an amazing book or to be on Oprah and become famous? Whatever your goal is, concentrate on fulfilling it and don't let the delusion take over.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guidance

A mentor or collaborator is always an ideal situation. Of course you never want a crowd of people all spouting their opinions. Remember that for the most part, there is no right answer, so if you open yourself up to a crowd of people, each one of them will tell you something completely different, and tell you it in a way that suggests they are correct. Of course any guidance you can receive, from one person or several, is extremely beneficial to improving your writing and assisting you with book publication decisions. You can write a book by yourself but you can't offer an outside viewpoint on what you've written (to say the least).

A friend began this process before I knew her and she has been a terrific resource for me. Having someone as a resource who just completed the process I was starting was valuable. I also had my family and select friends for help. Lucas, again, helped out by reading my entire pre-first draft of my book. This was before some stories were complete and when all horrific grammar and first sentences still existed. Being a screenwriter, he knew how to critique a creative endeavor and how to mold what I was trying to say. I also had stories read over by various others: fiance, father, mother, and brother, each adding their own valuable two cents.

While you may think you don't have a resource, it is best to not be alone in this process. Any friends can offer advice, just make sure you know how to ask for it. People who don't work creatively have great opinions, they just don't know how to express them. "I don't like this because I don't like it," is a general critique of what you can hear. Keep in mind that anything you do to enhance your book is for the better: book clubs, writing clubs, writing classes, writing events, speakers, you name it. We live in the age of the internet, there are many people just like you who are seeking guidance and collaboration. Utilize facebook and meetup and find a support network. There are countless ways you can improve your writing, book, and company before you need to pay a professional editor for a final review or go to the press.

What is a Self-Publishing Company?

The greatest realization I had in my entire process was realizing what Authorhouse and other 'self-publishing' companies were. This came to me when I was pretty set and determiend to get things rolling and noticed that there were percentages and cuts the company made for each sale. This seemed out of place. Here is a company that you are paying to make your book. Then, after thousands of dollars of paying them, they will take a large percentage of all sales. ALL SALES OF YOUR BOOK. If you want to sell the book yourself, let's say, as a door to door salesman, you would need to pay TOP DOLLAR to buy your own book. Something was very wrong here.

To add to this, my rep at Authorhouse was replaced. Maybe she retired, or maybe its common practice that any non-sale changes rep after a year. She was great and always helpful. My new rep was a young guy who seemed less interested in knowing what my wants and needs were. But after the third time I asked him for something simple and him not getting back to me (when specifically he said he would) I was done. Why should I work my ass off for a company I am paying? And then, when the book is done, only make $2-$5 a sale per book? How many thousands of books would I need to individually sell just to break even? I lost all interest and knew I had to start my own company and do this myself.

The main argument for not going with a [real] publisher is that you have to share profits with them, but this argument is balanced out when you realize any publisher worth doing business with has the power to get your book out there. But why share profits with a company that you pay to begin with and then does NOTHING to help to market? Start your own company and reap 100% of the profits.

Knowing what I do now, I am glad I ditched this idea and it's scary to think I almost went down this road. I wish I realized it earlier but nonetheless, I did it on my own and it was an admirable discovery. Now, just because these 'self-publishing' companies (which should NEVER call themselves such) are not for me, I don't want to discredit them completely. They have many beneficial aspects and to some degree, should always be included for consideration. First of all, it's cheap. Second of all, it's a one-stop book making process. Most people don't have the time to make a book themeselves, let alone write one. If you happen tow rite one, you may have exhausted all free time you have for the next few years. When you publish a book with your own company, you are doing everything youself. EVERYTHING. So these companies can be a real time saver without the fuss and mess of worrying. It's just a crock that they kill you in the long run with profit sharing.

I think what began my skepticism to these companies was Xilibris, who called me every 2 weeks with the most monotone, unethusiastic sales person. Seriously, and actor COULDN'T act and be more uninterested like this company. "Hi, I'm calling from Xilibris and I am calling to see if you are ready to publish your book yet," says a zombie sales rep. "Not yet," I replied. "When will you be ready?" the sales rep asks. My God. All they want is your money. While it may seem easier to go with one of these companies, I would strongly recommend you avoid them at all costs.

The Delays

I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to pursue film and TV. It is easy to say that while I had a great passion for my short stories, it was less important than landing a TV or film gig. I kept reading more books and came to the realization that self-publishing was the answer. Sure, I'd pursue small publishers but again, since I was a first time author, a non-expert, and certainly not a celebrity, I had nothing going for me to make a sale. Remember that this is business. No one cares how good your book is because no one will read it if they can't market it. Yes, there are examples from every side of a book that made it through, but remember that hundreds of thousands of books are published every year - you can't count on yours being the one break through book - you need it to be covered from all sides.

With this and many other details in mind, I was ready to get started with Authorhouse, a recommendation from Allan Rich. It seemed ideal: a self-publishing company to assist you in everything you need to make your book. Editing, cover design, copyrights, you name it. I looked into a few other of these independent firms and regardless of Allan's recommendation, Authorhouse was still at the top of my list along with Xilibris and iUniverse. I had welcome booklets from each and my own rep at Authorhouse. After going through the options, it seemed that Authorhouse could get my book together for under $7,000 for everything. EVERYTHING.

$7,000 is a lot of money, but not as much as what a short film can add up to. Still, I had a deadend entertainment job paying me less than my cost of living so paying anything was a tough sell. I had to keep this on hold and develop my thoughts further. So I kept reading more books to educate myself.

The Books

Over the last three years I must have earned the equivalent of an associates degree from the amount of books I read regarding book publishing, self-publishing, and marketing. The most essential thing you can do if you are interested in publishing (even if you have a publisher, it doesn't matter) is to read the following books. These are the top books that I have read and are vital for anyone even remotely connected with publishing a book to read. If you have a book you want to develop, I can't say how important it is that you read all five of these books right away, if not a few additional ones you find ony uor own. It's a long process and the sooner you soak in all the information the better.

#1 - The Self-Publishing Manual (Link)
#2 - Plug Your Book (Link)
#3 - 1,001 Ways to Market your Books (Link)
#4 - New Rules of Marketing and PR (Link)

The Beginning of the Beginning

I have been writing my entire life, which is odd to think about since I was destined to become an animator at an early age. That determination turned into filmmaker in my early teens. But what is most remarkable is that I have always been writing. In elementary school I wrote 20 page novelas as assignments when everyone else wrote a 2 page story. I created an original comic strip with a friend who together we cotninued and devloped for several years. Once we had a computer I kept journals, a dream log, and began a massive collection of story ideas. It wasn't until the summer of 2005 that I realized what I had: a growing collection of short stories involving time travel. I formulated all of my childhood questions about life into silly extreme scenarios to ponder the answers. What if every night we see into the future, but we completely forget that vision when we fall to sleep? What if I had an invisible entity flaoting around me at all times giving me the answers to everythingf I ever needed? Why do we attribute good luck when bad things happen? What amazing things could be accomplished if I could duplicate myself? How amazing would it be if I could rewind time just for 10 minutes here and there?

I told my brother about this newly realized collection of short stories and he told me to run with it. It was great advice. Why not? I'm already doing ti on my own without realizing it - why not aim to complete a collection of short stories? OVer the next year I completed my outline for this collection: 40 short stories involving time travel and misplacement. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it, but writing all of these ideas was something I needed to do. Whatever I ended up doing with it later was not a concern.

In June of 2006 I moved to Los Angeles to break into the TV/Film industry. While this story is a long one, I will hold off on these adventures for another time. My stories were always in mind for something I wanted to work on. In fact, I began reading about publishing, a world I knew nothing about. I bought a book, "The Self-Publishers Guide to Publishing" in 2007 and read it. Fascinating stuff, but I still had no idea how and where to start. I knew I wanted to publish the book, but not being a celebrity of known expert in the field of time travel, this would be a difficult task to find an investor or pay for the book, let alone an interested publisher to sign me up having never written a book before.

Lucas, a friend of mine from undergrad who lives in LA, called me up one day with a phone number. "Do you know who Allan Rich is?" he asked. I didn't know him by name, but he assured me I knew who he was. Lucas told me to call him and gave me his number. "Allan just published a book through a self-publishing service and I talked to him today about it - he said he would be more than happy to tell you about the process." Seeing how Quiz Show was one of my favorite movies, I at least was 100% familiar with one of his acting roles. I waited a day and gave Mr. Rich a call. He was pleasant and extremely helpful and outgoing "Anything for a friend of Lucas Tanner," he said. Mr. Rich published "A Leap From Method" through Authorhouse, a self-publishing company. This was the the first publishing spark that guided me in the direction I needed to be: a publisher.

The purpose of this blog is to log my adventures publishing my first book. There are many things I did right without knowing it, other details I wish I did differently, and everything else I wish I had guidance on. It has been an uphill battle of finances and business, with a hint of creativity on the side. I can only hope that this blog will be an educational tool for anyone looking to publish or carryout their creative endeavors.