Monday, November 28, 2011

The Merits of Small Publishers

"I would love to read your thoughts on the merits (or lack thereof) of publishing via small, boutique publishing companies. As a first time author, I get the feeling that I have a better chance of being published if I am able to make a deal directly with a small company, but I fear that I may lose out on potential earnings and exposure versus working to get connected with a major publisher. What are your thoughts."—Kevin Jackson

Small publishers play an important part in the industry, often nurturing newer authors who would otherwise not see print at larger houses.  However, they often pay very small or even no advance.  And authors need to beware of contracts that are grossly advantageous to the publisher.  For example, such contracts may insist on World rights, including audio and even film and television rights.  Larger NY publishers would be less likely to insist on such terms, especially if the author is represented by an agent.

Additionally, smaller publishers may not have the resources to actively promote and market your work.  Even with larger publishers, much of the weight of promoting a first novel falls on the shoulders of the author.  The publisher is not looking to make a bestseller; it is looking to make a profit.

I once heard a New York Times bestselling author complain about how her publisher promoted her work.  It had hit the list around number eight.  She asked her publisher, "How are we getting it to number one?"  They informed her the marketing budget was already spent.  She said, "I understand, but we hit the list.  What can be done to move it up the list?"  They replied, "The marketing and advertising budgets have already been spent."  She ranted and raved about the stupidity of this publisher.  I sat in the back shaking my head.  She didn't get it.  The publisher never expected the book to hit the list.  When it did, it was like hitting a jackpot.  Why keep pouring money onto the table if you are up really big?  One could argue that you are now playing with the house's money, so why not?  I would argue that that is a sucker's bet, as the odds always favor the house.

And perhaps there was more.  Perhaps the titles already on the list were selling in such greater numbers that there was no way to move up the list.  Perhaps the publisher already saw a trend in reorders that said sales were going to drop off, so it would be a losing bet to spend more on marketing.  Either way, it seems petty of the author, whose book was made into a movie and undoubtedly sold hundreds of thousands more copies after that, to complain that her publisher got her onto the bestseller list, but didn't do enough to make it move up the list.

On the other hand, small publishers will do nothing.  Fortunately, in this day and age of blogs and websites, the cost of promotion has come way, way down.  Small publishers and authors can do far, far more for far less.  Alas, we are all inundated with information from websites and Facebook postings, so you have to constantly barrage the end-user to penetrate the natural defenses against such promotions.

So, for many, smaller publishers can be a great opportunity to get into the business.  But there are caveats and authors should given them close attention.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

QuickBooks 2012: The Adventure Continues!

Yesterday I reported on my starting up with QuickBooks 2012.  Here are a few more observations.  Today, when I launched the program I got an error message that presented me with a link to the support site.  Always interesting that they know the error comes up and, rather than fixing the software, they send you to the support site where the advice is to "toggle your UAC" settings.  Seems to me that QuickBooks should toggle something and fix the problem.

I did install the QuickBooks Contacts Sync add-in.  My first reaction was surprise that it wanted me to import my QuickBooks contacts into Outlook.  This seems completely bassackward.  Obviously, contacts will first be in Outlook, not in QuickBooks.  Additionally, I use many generic entries in QuickBooks, like "Gas Station" and "Restaurant."  I won't need to sync those, so why would I want to import them?

My first step in using this is to create a specific QuickBooks Contacts folder in Outlook and then start the Sync add-in from Outlook.  It wants me to map fields.  I find some of these fields a bit strange.  For example, it wants to put Contact from QB into the Manager's Name field in Outlook and the Alt Contact from QB into the Assistant's Name field in Outlook.  To quote the kids, WTF?

Okay, so I did all that and then I get a "Contact Sync Error:  Unsupported QuickBooks version | Contact Sync will only work with QuickBooks 2005 or later."  Okay, seriously.  I'm running 2012.  Why am I getting this idiotic error?

On a second try, I don't mess with any of the mapped fields.  I just let QB use the defaults.  I have the sudden realization that I am syncing with an empty Contacts folder in Outlook and said that Outlook wins in any disagreements with Outlook and QuickBooks.  I wonder if a ton of data will now be deleted from QuickBooks and am praying I backed everything up!

Looks like I am okay....

Looking at the data in Outlook, though, I have to say I'm not impressed.  Addresses in the imported data are often missing line breaks, so the street address and city are running together.  Additionally, do I really need the address for American Express or Citi Cards in Outlook?  There are some addresses that need only be in Outlook and some that need only be in QuickBooks.  Perhaps what we need is selective syncing or integration of the Outlook files with QuickBooks in a manner similar to how the software integrates with Outlook.

Right now, I'd say that the Outlook/QuickBooks Sync Add-On is not ready for Prime Time.  It still feels clunky and not completely functional.  I'll be uninstalling it.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

QuickBooks 2012: Worth it or skip it?

I just installed my review copy of QuickBooks 2012 and wanted to share my immediate impressions.

Install went relatively easily.  I was asked if I wanted to replace my 2011 edition or put 2012 in its own directory.  Since 2011 was in a directory labeled 2011, I opted for a new directory and can uninstall 2011 when I feel ready.

Of course, you have to register by logging into your existing QB account online or by creating one.  I find this pesky, but standard.

QuickBooks 2012 did not automatically update and I can't say I understand why.  There was a prompt about it and I said go ahead, but it did not seem to happen.  So I did it manually.  First attempt failed with an error.  Second attempt worked.

In launching, I noticed that the Sync Manager was closed.  2012 doesn't use it the same way that 2011 did, which I consider an improvement.

Online Banking worked with two credit cards, but failed with my bank until the third attempt.  After the first attempt, I got an error message telling me to call the bank.  Fortunately I ignored it and kept trying.

QuickBooks 2012 includes a calendar on which you can enter To Do items and "Leads."  I can't think of a more useless feature and waste of resources.  Any business user has already got a To List process and probably a Leads process.  Why would QuickBooks want to try and replace such systems, e.g., the Outlook calendar or a lead system like ACT! or  There's no chance  it will compete, so why waste the resources?

QuickBooks 2012 now includes a Documents Center, where you can store scanned bills, invoices, etc.  You can then attach them to specific items, such a check.  On the one hand, this makes sense; it allows you to attach everything related to a job to that job.  Presumably you can then drill down and look at each item by opening something related to the job.  My issue with this is stability.  I simply don't imagine that storing a lot of attachments linked to QuickBooks items will increase the stability of the program.  I presume it increases the chances of file corruption and makes the amount of work required to recover from a corrupt file that much greater.  Geometrically greater.  I won't be using it.

QuickBooks 2012 also includes a Leads Center.  This aspect is presumably to compete with ACT! and other lead-tracking and sales-tracking programs and software.  It's exceptionally simple:  just an address book really, plus temperature-based tracking options (warm, hot, etc.), and the ability to "Convert to Customer" in one click.  Again, to me this seems like it will only create a more bloated file and increase the odds of errors and corruption in mission-critical software.

A better use of Intuit's resources would have been to increase integration with Outlook.  Seamless integration with Outlook would help users keep contacts' information in QuickBooks up-to-date.  Or how about simply coming up with a system that let's one contact be both a vendor and a customer, instead of having to have two different lists?  That would be far more useful than either a calendar or a lead-tracking option.  QuickBooks does offer an add-on option involving Outlook but I have not yet tested it.  I will report when I do.

Looking around the menus, I see that there is now a Condense Data function that replaces the Clean Up Company Data utility.  It seems pretty aggressive and should be used with care.  I would check with my accountant to determine the exact date before which I can condense all data.

QuickBooks 2012 works with both Intuit Payment Network and Intuit Payment Solutions and there are options for both within the program.  Confused?  I think Intuit maybe also.  IPN allows you to transfer money from you to vendors or customers to you for only fifty cents per transaction.  The party getting paid is charged the fifty cents.  Intuit Payment Solutions lets you accept credit cards and eChecks and the like.  It is essentially full-on merchant services and it all runs from within QuickBooks.  A lot of what you do with IPN may require you to go to the IPN website.  IPN also lets you accept credit cards and is less costly than IPS, but it's not as streamlined a solution.  My suspicion, though I have no evidence to support this, is that IPS is really a third-party vendor and that Intuit is getting ready to transition that service in-house to IPN.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that IPN is fully integrated by 2013 and that IPS as we know it is gone.  But will this mean lower prices for QuickBooks users who want merchant services?  Only time will tell.

Looking through the rest of the menus, I see the standard and annoying options to order checks and supplies that Intuit still puts in there.  Unfortunately, Intuit is still massively overpriced compared to other check-printing services and I've never had a problem using the checks I've gotten from Costco Check Printing or Checks-in-the-Mail.  If you really want to overpay, you can go through Intuit or Deluxe, but why would you?

Now Intuit has added some new features to QuickBooks over the years, including major improvements in the ability to file tax forms and pay taxes online.  Also Direct Deposit for Vendors (and a menu item to send those Direct Deposits; previously you had to know to use the menu item under the employees menu).  I can't tell if they yet allow Direct Deposit from two different accounts (say you have one for paying vendors and one for payroll), but I hope so.  I still think it's a must.

And I'm looking forward to processing my 1099s electronically this year, rather than using pre-printed forms.  Will it save me money?  I'm not sure, but I'm hopeful.  In playing with the process to see how it might go, I was confused by one Vendor item that did not seem to be showing up.  However, when I went to Preferences and 1099 Payments and opened the mapping window from there, it did show up.  Now, opening up the Print/File 1099 window includes it.

Mapping 1099 fields is entirely different in 2012, so be sure to double-check all of your fields.  Printing also appears to be different and likely going to present a headache for some.  For example, I have clients outside of the US.  I can't issue them a 1099, but I do need that 1099 figure to print out the form they get.  I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get that via QuickBooks now, since it didn't like the foreign address in one field.  Actually, looking at it, it appears QuickBook has a major bug!  It won't accept a non-US address in the 1099 Vendor list!  So even if you have US citizens living abroad, you won't be able to send them a 1099!  As Scooby Do would say, "Ruh roh!"

After going through the 1099 wizard, if you select print, you get back to the interface you'll recognize and you can preview your 1099s.  However, if you select "Go to Intuit E-File Service," it launches Intuit's Sync Manager and opens a screen that tells you you cannot file until January 2012.  You can print your 1099s on plain paper, it says, and you won't need a 1096.  There is no pricing information on the site, though, which is annoying.  If you are like me and trying to figure out which way to go, it would help to know what it would cost you.

Additionally, there's no sample form to show you what it would look like if you printed your own forms.  As I said to the rep when I called, using the pre-printed forms is pretty painless.  But if I have to print my own forms and those forms then have to be folded and put in envelopes that then have to be labeled, that's more of a pain than using the pre-printed forms.
Having now spent more than an hour and having spoken with several departments at QuickBooks, I could not find anyone to help me with this.  Thus, once again, I'm going to have to call the Office of the President at Intuit and see if someone there can actually get me an answer.  I've got Chad on the line now and we'll see what he has to say....

More to come!


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The October Monthly Round-up

Better late than never, here's the October monthly round-up.  I have to say, October and November have been crazy busy here.  First, there's been a top-secret negotiation and contract done that I could tell you about, but then I'd have to kill you...or at least be prepared to get my butt kicked for violating an NDA.  Next, my son, Sam, turned one, and so we had family in town.  Oh, and we were all sick.  And, last but not least, I never did find a fall intern, so I currently have no first reader.

So let me be frank.  I'm behind.  In fact, I'm quite behind.  And that situation is unlikely to improve until the holiday break.  So please be patient and remember that with everything we request, we offer the opportunity to order Express Review™ (so if you are really tired of waiting for me to read something, that's always an option).

Okay, here's where I currently stand:

In October, I received...
  • 79 queries and declined 5
  • 3 manuscripts and declined 2
  • 1 sample chapter that I declined.

Now, I have on-hand...
  • 118 queries that I have yet to read
  • 19 sample chapters to read
  • 2 proposals to read
  • 16 full manuscripts, of which three are from current clients

I will let you in on a little clue:  I read paper queries faster.  eQueries™ are easy to let pile up.  They don't take space on my desk.  But paper queries do take up space, so I try to get rid of them one way or another quickly.  The downside, of course, is that if I request something, it's just getting added to the pile.  Then again, I'm only waiting on 5 requested sample chapters.

There's a temptation to close to new queries, but where's the logic in that?  The reality is that I need to get more reading done.  This, of course, is highly dependent on my kids sleeping through the night, so that I'm compos mentis enough to get reading done.  So if you know any tricks to get a three-year-old to stay in bed the whole night (and perhaps a way to increase the size of his bladder), I'd love to hear them.

In the meantime, your patience is, as always, appreciated.  And if you know anyone who wants to intern for me (preferably locally; a "virtual intern" isn't really accountable enough), I'd love to hear from him or her.  Just send him or her to my website's Internships page.