GREEK KEY has been out for two weeks, so this is the obligatory getting-my-working-life-in-order post.
I live in the United States –North Carolina, to be specific– and am a one-woman show. Each day, I get up and put in 8 to 14 hours on various projects. Comics, short stories, novels, products… I do all of my own shipping. I answer emails (poorly, and usually in batches when I finally get a spare hour). I’m trying to salvage a simple Kickstarter that went so far off of the rails that I’ve had to start building new rails. You want to see me juggle plates? I will try to juggle plates! And then I will need new plates.
In other words, I’m exactly like every single other independent businessperson working for themselves in the creative economy. Sure, the tasks change: maybe you make music instead of comics, or put out .pdfs of knitting patterns instead of novels. Regardless of the flavor, we all put in the long, long hours because we love what we do.
(Lord knows it’s not for the money. This has been my first year as an independent full-time creator, and it’s been ridiculously rough. Sometimes I’ll search online just to learn what a dental hygienist or an actuary makes, and sigh.)
But as of December 30th, I’m making minimum wage for a typical 8-hour workday. In North Carolina, this works out to $7.25 an hour. That was my benchmark for whether or not I can (airquotes) make it (/airquotes) as an independent creator. I gave myself a year to see if I could do it. And I can! Woo hoo!
Here, I’ll save you the math: this works out to $290 a week, $1160 a month, and $13920 a year. Also, this does not include overtime. If I work over 8 hours a day, it’s unpaid labor.
(Did you know that an actuary can earn upwards of $250,000 a year?)
One of my steadiest sources of income are digital downloads. These are amazing! I create a product, bundle it in a handy downloadable file, stick it in my store, and forget about it. I don’t have to invest in maintaining an inventory or shipping. It’s an up-front investment of my time that can pay out again and again. Combined with Patreon*, digital downloads are a major component of my earnings.
are were also the best way for me to reach international readers. I no longer offer shipping anywhere other than within the United States. I will ship overseas when asked, but nothing turns a potential customer away more quickly than seeing that the shipping and handling on an item exceeds the cost of the item itself. There are no barriers to digital downloads.
Well, not until January 1, 2015.
I wrote about VAT-MOSS a month ago, when I first learned that new tax regulations would target digital products in the European Union. These taxes are… complicated. The stupid-short version is that taxes are based on where the customer is at the moment of purchase. Not where I, the seller, live and/or work. Not where the customer lives. It’s determined by the location of the customer when they decide to purchase a digital product.
I’ve been watching the subsequent VAT-MOSS clusterfuck like a dog watching that last pizza crust on the plate —Where’s it gonna go? How’s it gonna land? Will I be quick enough to take advantage of it?– and I’ve been hoping that the EU would simply decide to postpone the VAT-MOSS rollout for creators making less than X-Amount for another year. Since those supervising VAT-MOSS at the EU seemed surprised to learn that independent creators across the entire freakin’ planet had never even heard of this new legislation until it gained traction in social media, I felt that this wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Allowing a one-year exemption for small independent creators would give everybody time to sort out the mess and prepare for the next stage in the creative economy.
As of December 29th, it appears that VAT-MOSS will roll out as scheduled.
There have been some minor changes to cushion the blow for small businesses, but these aren’t substantial and will have no significant effect on me. (I should point out that while the article I just referenced says “non-EU sellers are probably safe if they ignore [VAT-MOSS taxes]”, the breakdown from the gov.uk website states that “Businesses outside the EU (for example, the USA) that supply digital services to consumers in one or more EU member state are also affected by the changes,” and I’m gonna go with that one, thanks.)
So, I’m disabling digital downloads from my store to EU customers. This won’t involve much, since I use Big Cartel/Pulley as my shopping cart system and they are awesome. I change a setting, and EU customers no longer have the option of buying my digital products directly from me. Sorry, guys. I don’t want to be a dick. I’ll make sure you have access to these items through third-party vendors, Patreon, and by giving them to you free of charge when all else fails.
Finally, I don’t think this is a death knell for me as an independent creator. I was lucky enough to squeak in under the wire. But if 2015 were my make-or-break year… Well. It’s not. I got lucky. My sympathies to those who have to make major changes to their stores, or who have to abandon their creative pursuits altogether.
(I should tie all of this together with another joke about becoming an actuary, but that’s in poor taste when peoples’ livelihoods are a’splodin’ all over the world.)
*I should note that my Patreon has been lurking in the $750 range until mid-December, and the Spirit of My Readers are FREAKIN’ AWESOME! recently tipped it over the top.
ETA (5:15pm): Big Cartel also has a tax setting, and is aware of the VAT-MOSS changes. They are looking into workarounds so they can collect and report tax directly, but it will take time.
I try to do this every holiday season over at the comic, but I’m slammed this year and I thought it’d be nice for people to have a permalink to their sites. Plus, I’m slammed this year and can’t email the emails. Did I mention I’m slammed this year?
Hey! Dog! Don’t be like that. Don’t you know that publishing as an industry is in a state of transition, and that new opportunities for authors to promote and distribute their work to readers seem to be popping up nearly every single day?
Like this one! If you are an author of any stripe, whether that be self-published or traditionally-published, promote your work here! Blurb your book, tell us about your universe, and remember to add a link to where people can buy your stuff.
(Please try to keep it short. Pitching comic projects is fine, but there will be a separate post for artists coming next week, and if you’re an artist you might want to camp there instead.)
Thanks to all who participated in GIMME BOOK! 2014. Hopefully this is the start of a fun annual tradition. Here are the winners:
CATEGORY 1: MOST BORING
I got a lot of pictures of Post-It notes on tables and hanging from bookshelves. There were also a few that jumped out at me, but had to be disqualified. For example, I liked this one in terms of its artistic merits–the blank book with a GIMME BOOK! plea is especially meta–but it was didn’t win because there is just too much that was right about it as a photographic composition. Definitely not boring enough.
Second prize is by J.B. This entry is yet another sittin’-onna-kitchen-table piece, but there’s something almost nihilistic about it. It’s like staring into the void, but the void wants you to file your 401K…
The first prize winner is Donovan C., who took a screenshot of my sample post and sent it in. Donovan, you are one gloriously boring dude.
CATEGORY 2: WEIRDEST/CLEVEREST/SWEETEST
You guys do enjoy yourselves some cute/weird. I got a lot of talking animals.
And wall hangings of talking animals.
And… talking Nixon heads?
Second prize goes to David R., who sent in a picture of himself, with a mustache added in post.
This wins not just because of the Movember ‘stache, but because this is highest resolution I could pull from his image. As best as I can tell, the text reads: “Gimme book! I just finished re-reading all my Luis Bojod bats, I end some thunder in my life. PS – Two days ago, I’d have a hmo to shave”. Congratulations, David! I love Lois Bojod bats and shaving HMOs, too.
There was one hand-drawn image submitted. I’ll be honest: this would have won for weirdest if David F., the cartoonist, hadn’t designated it for the FUNNIEST category.
I think it’s a seascape? I dunno. It’s got some kind of orange filter and a law theme floating in mid-air over a rug that has never tied any room together, ever, unless maybe there was a dentist’s waiting room in the original TRON. I have no idea what’s going on here. Well done, indeed.
CATEGORY 3: MOST GUT-BUSTINGLY FUNNY
If I’m being honest, the only photo that made me laugh out loud was Donovan’s. (I have independent confirmation on this: I showed it to Brown, who also laughed. We both appreciate Grade-A Lazy.) But two stories came in that made their pictures quite funny.
Second prize goes to Erin O., who sent in this picture:
I put up all the sticky notes, wandered into the other room to post the picture, and then promptly forgot about them until my roommate got home and started going “Book? What book? Am I supposed to be buying you a book? Why are you telling me via sticky note??”
The first prize winner is Amanda J., who decided to recreate the scene of nekked Mare hanging from the ceiling fan using a Rapunzel doll. Except she couldn’t find the Rapunzel doll, or get her hands on anything resembling a doll-doll. She resorted to using what I think is a featureless beige sock monkey?
So! Thanks to everybody who participated. Winners, please email me your contact information, and I’ll have your books out when my restock of MAKER SPACE arrives next week.
Earlier today, my buddy Ursula linked to this article, What You Need to Know, If You’re Relying on Your Payment Processor to Dig You Out of the VAT-MOSS Mess. If Ursula didn’t post quality content, I never would have clicked. VAT-MOSS? Mess? Obviously this was Somebody Else’s Problem.
Nope. It was mine. And apparently had been since 2006 when the Sixth Directive of the VAT was recast and these directives put into play. (Possibly earlier: one article noted that a similar arrangement has been ongoing regarding “businesses who are selling into the EU from outside, [and] this has been the case since 2003″.)
In a nutshell, this is a Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed by the European Union on providers of certain digital products. It is business-to-consumer specific, meaning the provider is responsible for the tax; and location-dependent, meaning the location of the consumer at the time of purchase determines how the tax burden will be allocated. “MOSS” refers to a “Mini One-Stop Shop”, or a store which is registered to participate in the VAT and which sells digital items to customers. The legislation goes into effect in January of 2015.
The non-nutshell version is extremely knotty and I’ve spent most of my Saturday yelling at my monitor about how if I wanted to study international tax law, I’d have a lot more money and wouldn’t be so invested in how international tax law was about to screw me over.
(If you want specifics of how the VAT-MOSS works, I recommend starting with this Q&A held by HM Revenue and Customs. It’s a good breakdown of most major issues. If, like me, you had one question–I am located in the United States, so does the VAT-MOSS even apply to me at all?–I can answer that for you. Yes. Whether the tax applies depends on where the customer is located, not where the content provider is located.)
The VAT-MOSS impacts me directly, as I sell PDFs direct to customers. In fact, since October 2014, PDFs of ebooks and bonus comics are my only store items available to overseas customers, because international shipping and handling costs have become prohibitive. (Not that I won’t ship if asked: just this past week, a reader in Estonia asked how much it would be to send a copy of MAKER SPACE to him. I replied that it would be more than the book. He very reasonably declined.) If I register as a MOSS, I could still sell overseas, but I would be responsible for everything required by the VAT.
I will now relink to that first article to show why voluntarily registering may be a sign that you are certifiably mad. It is also worth noting that the main point of this article is that your payment portal (e.g.: Paypal) is not a solution.
So. It seems I have three options.
1) Registering with VAT-MOSS and complying with their tax laws.
2) Restricting all of my digital products so they are no longer available to EU customers.
3) Use a third-party content distributor.
(Okay, okay, there’s a fourth option, which is to ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away. Shall not be doing this, because Legal Reasons.)
I’m not happy. I don’t sell comics or bonus stories anywhere but through my own store. The products look the way I want them to look, and I can accurately track sales. I’m already paying service providers (Big Cartel, Pulley, and the finance people), in addition to my own tax responsibilities. Going through additional service providers to do what I’m already doing will nickle-and-dime me to death.
Finally, I am extremely concerned about how this might affect my Patreon campaign. On the one hand, Patreon is arguably set up as a monthly donation service, rather than a subscription service, and all digital content set up and distributed accordingly. It is not a shop per se, and nothing is being sold. On the other hand, taxes. I think the VAT-MOSS will shake itself out for a few years before Patreon-like service providers are directly affected, but as I’m becoming increasingly reliant on Patreon, this is a cause of concern.
The latest skirmish in Amazon vs Hachette happened while I was on the road, which worked out well for me, as I was forced to spend five days as passive observer to the initial volley and the subsequent Category 5 Opinionstorm. I’m actually grateful for this, as when I got home I had already read the email Amazon sent out to its Kindle authors; if I had seen it raw in my inbox for the first time, I probably would have roared and said Things I Would Regret Later.
Seriously. It’s not a very good email. It’s insulting and pandering, and when I asked Brown to read it, he said: “Amazon did know they were sending this to writers, right? Because I’m taking a heavy beating from these metaphors.” You can read the full text for yourself here. If you don’t want to read it (don’t blame ya!), the takeaway argument is that readers (and yet somehow the primary audience for this email was authors who publish on Amazon…) need to come together and put pressure on Hachette to lower its ebook prices.
They referenced Orwell.
The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.
They referenced Orwell several times, actually, which is a huge warning sign to me because Orwell is synonymous with the little guy fighting against a giant oppressive force. Also? That giant, oppressive force tends to be a self-interested douche. Whoever wrote that email/press release seems to have intentionally misrepresented Orwell. Amazon could have chosen better, stronger quotes from any number of Orwell’s contemporaries to support their position, but Orwell wasn’t picked by accident. There’s never any subtlety when the O-bomb is dropped: it instantly creates the impression of conflict between good and bad, oppression and freedom, mind control and free will… It’s a trigger warning that an emotional argument is underway.
I can’t stand emotional arguments. I make them myself, and I’m as susceptible to them as anybody else, but if I’m being called in as part of Amazon’s own personal army, I’d like there to be a little more logic involved. Crowdfury is an exceptionally useful tool, especially for smaller persons and companies who do not have lawyers and publicists on staff. As one of those smaller persons and/or companies, I know firsthand that you do not release that particular Kracken unless there is no other choice. Crowdfury is nigh impossible to control, and can turn on you in a heartbeat because nobody likes to be used.
Which seems to be what is happening here. There’s been a substantial backlash to Amazon’s call to arms for this exact reason. No number of invocations of the ghost of Big Brother can change the fact that they are a giant organization with entire battalions of lawyers and publicists. They do not need us to fight their battles for them.
I am not obligated to go to war for Amazon. I provide content to Amazon, they provide services to me, and that is the end of that. And they are arguably less accountable to me than to some of the other service providers I’ve worked with: my relationship with Amazon has the illusion of transparency, as I can check my stats to see if my books are selling, but I can’t request additional data to verify these sales have occurred. I have to trust that Amazon’s algorithms are working, and that there is a 1:1 ratio between actual sales and reported sales. (I have no reason to doubt this is exactly what happens, but I can’t read an article about ebook price-fixing without thinking, “Hmmm…”)
I’m probably not alone in saying I would fight their battles with them if saw a righteous cause. I happen to like Amazon. They have provided great opportunities for me and many other self-published authors. I like the quality of the paperbacks they print for me. And I love the way their monthly payments arrive on time! If I saw another company actively threatening Amazon, I’d probably go and get my old plowshare and start hammering it back into shape. However, that’s not what’s happening here. Amazon’s existing business model is not being threatened, and many (most) of the points they have made to support their anti-Hachette arguments have been disputed.
By pushing this campaign, Amazon has made itself vulnerable. Best-selling authors are ten kinds of grumpy with them. And it’s quite possible that they have overextended themselves in going up first against Hachette, and then against Disney. (Disney, people!) Google Shopping Express, the fledgling Google/Barnes & Noble partnership, sees Amazon’s fight against Hachette as an opportunity. Since nearly a third of my income comes from Amazon. I’m watching all of this play out very, very closely.
p.s.: It seems a good time to offer up a new take on old advice. Here! I’ve redone the Orwell poster for you, free!
Download your own copies here. The .zip has two convenient print file sizes (4.5″x6″ and 8″x10.5″). If you want it in a larger size on heavy paper stock, let me know and I’ll see if I can get it into the store.
Back in August (Wait, that can’t be right… Holy crap, yeah, August) I made a Futurama Head In A Jar template. And then I started working on heads-inna-jar. I finished and posted two of them, and then worked on a bunch of others. Two of these I sent to author Seanan McGuire when I sent her a copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE.
And her alter ego, Mira Grant.
Seanan has been amazing. We’ve been chatting back and forth since I featured her book cover in a comic strip. At the time, I hadn’t read any of her works and picked the cover of a popular zombie novel off of Amazon at random (because what the hell else would undead pixy Ben Franklin read?). Man, I am glad for that chance landing on Feed. Seanan has been nothing but awesome. She’s funny, helpful, and willing to say “Yes, that thing you are doing? Do not do that,” or “That other thing? Do that more.” And today she wrote up a hell of a fantastic review for DIGITAL DIVIDE.
I’m unbelievably appreciative both to Seanan and to her (insanely prolific) writing abilities, because I’ve been devouring her October Daye series like the scrumptious treats they are. BUY HER BOOKS!
NOTE 1: This post does not apply to international orders purchased from the store prior to 10/29.
NOTE 2: I am aware there are other methods/options/opportunities/fish-in-the-sea. I am looking into these.
International shipping will be discontinued from the store until I can find a method that doesn’t
screw negatively affect me in terms of my time and money.
I mailed the first batch of international orders of Digital Divide today. This was my test batch. I have another, much larger, batch to do tomorrow. A total of 7 international packages and 2 domestic packages were mailed today, for a total of $127.40 in shipping. I’m rounding down to make the math easy, so let’s say it was $7 for domestic shipping with $120 for international shipping, or $17 on average per international package.
This was not an anticipated expense. I had weighed the packages and priced out shipping, and costs came to approx. $9 for the UK and Canada, and $14 to Australia. The price for shipping and handling in the store reflected these expenses.
This was also not the first time I went to the post office to mail these books. It was the third. The first time, I was told it was now policy to complete my custom forms online. The second time, I was told the online custom forms were invalid and needed to be submitted manually. Today, I went with a stack of old forms, the ones where you have to write out your information, the buyer’s information, and a tiny bill of lading to tell inspectors what’s in the package. The clerk took those seven forms, then painstakingly entered this information in the computer. It took her nearly thirty minutes to finish my transactions.
It’s not like the final total was a surprise–I had watched the numbers climb as the clerk worked, and I knew something was off when the Canadian shipping costs came back at $10.55 and the UK costs at $16.95. They continued to go up from there. I had a lot of time to think (pulling out a book and reading at the counter seemed like a dick move), so I did math instead: It costs me $5.05 to print each copy, plus $35 to have them shipped to me, plus $0.60 for packing materials, plus at least a dollar of my time for handling because I’m not using that time for paid work, I’m doing brainmath instead, whee goodtimes, so that’s an investment of $6.95 in each book… I was charging $8.95 for shipping to Canada, so that’s not too bad a loss, I’m still ahead by a few bucks, but outside of Canada… aw hell.
(The flat rate for international shipping begins at $19.95. Not-quite-ironically, none of the packages made it there.)
So, yeah. Today pooched me hard, tomorrow will pooch me harder. Nothing to do about it since these packages need to go out. However, until I can expect predictability in international shipping and charge accordingly, I have disabled international orders from the store for all products except digital downloads. I apologize for any inconvenience.
/angry rant off
Last night… Okay. So. I’m doing that lurky-thing you do when you’re working on that night’s update for your comic and two authors you follow start discussing how much they’d love to see a Mangina kaiju. As in:
And you’re all like “WELP COMIC CAN WAIT.”
As luck would have it, that’s when Brown got home from teaching Aikido. We did some light brainstorming on what a vagina kaiju should be. And then I realized that I really don’t know what a vagina looks like; I understand the basics but the vast majority of my lifetime experience with vaginas is using a sample of one, from a distorted perspective. (Yeah yeah, I watch porn, but I’m not there for the ladies so you can shut up now.) So I searched “vagina,” went straight to Wikipedia, and there was an image of the female reproductive system.
Oh. Well, then.
And that’s that. There have been some requests for prints and shirts and such, but I’ve emailed John Scalzi and pledged to redo (aka: spend more than 45 minutes on) the design for the next women’s charity he organizes. So if you’re new to the site and came here because of a Mangina Kaiju link, hi! I’m K.B. Spangler. I’m a SF writer and I do all kinds of dick jokes like this all of the danged time in both comic and prose form. Thanks for coming, please check back often. I’m generally nifty, and I eat well, get regular dental checkups, and shower daily.
(p.s.: I’m happy about the whole Mangina thing, except for the “dudebro” bits. I dislike this word. Pejoratives that belittle individuals or members of a specific culture because of what they do or how they act? Well. Not cool, and not a term I will use myself.)
(p.p.s.: I’m obviously not unhappy enough about the “dudebro” bits to refrain from drawing a freakin’ Mangina Kaiju tho’.)
(p.p.p.s.: Mangina Kaiju. eiiiie!)
(10/05/13: Edited to fix the one sentence that’s been bothering me for two whole days.)
I just posted the following on Twitter:
This was part of a larger spread of writers’ residences in Greensboro, North Carolina. Each one of them with a picture and an image of their actual motherfucking house. It was brought to Brown’s attention as the picture of Randall Jarrell’s house in that spread was not ours, but an earlier one Jarrell owned.
I’ll just leave this here with one comment: I don’t know whether Mr. Card approved of this information being made public, but if so, he has never been on the Internet. Ever.
EDIT TO ADD: Yes, yes, I know I keep a home blog with pictures of our house. Please note the lack of actual physical addresses in that blog. Have fun driving around the thousands of miles of residential streets in scenic Greensboro!