Lightening Up

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Passion to the Third Degree .

I am lightening up. It’s a process of elimination, either of what has been holding me back or what has been weighing me down.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

Much of this past year (and more) has also been about losing some of the things (and people) in my life I didn’t want to lose but also about eliminating things I didn’t want in my life. The process of lightening up is ongoing, sometimes painful and sometimes wonderful.

Lightening up has included some business decisions that won’t make sense to most people. That means decisions to “fire” some of my customers, authors, and editors. Gasp! Never mind the belief that if someone is paying you or you’re receiving a financial benefit of any sort, then you have to stay in the relationship.

I have decided not to write certain types of books anymore, even for editors and publishers I truly like. Other authors think I’m crazy for turning down some opportunities that have come to me, but the income and lukewarm level of satisfaction just can’t justify the grueling hours I’d spend on the project. Some writers have even called me ungrateful, but I know what it costs me in resources and it’s not how and where I want to spend my life.

The same applies to promotion opportunities in my career. I’ve had several promotions waved in my face in the past year but the travel and overtime can’t possibly justify the slight increase in pay. My home life is worth more than an extra 3 to 5k a year, pre-tax.

As a small publisher who understands that sales for most authors “suck dead canaries” from self-published to small-press to major international houses, I’ve made decisions not to take on more authors and then only certain types of books that will justify my time. I’ve also said goodbye to some of my existing authors who were calling me daily or emailing me several times a day with 1. Questions about every rumor they heard in the publishing industry, 2. Seemingly good advice—on how I should run my business—that I’d already examined several years ago and found lacking, and 3. Complaints about politics, weather, other authors, bookstores, sales, technology, why does what it does, who stole something of theirs, you-name-it. As I explained to Yoda, who does a lot of business consulting, Pareto is definitely at play here: 80% of my profits from 20% of my authors, and those 80% almost never have a problem. I can go a whole year without hearing a word other than to order more books to sell. The eye-opener for me was realizing how many hours a week went to answering one particular author’s insecurities about something because I was the only person she knew in the book industry.

I’ve fired some of the services that are supposed to benefit me, too. Last night, I took a good look at four different monthly services that bring in income—and found that they were ultimately breaking even, if that, if I factored in my time. I fired them all within two hours and gave myself an automatic $120 a month raise. The sales I make from those services should stay the same but will be made through a different channel.

I’ve fired some customers, too. Oooh. That hurts. But, like most businesses, I have a few customers who… gee, how can I say it… they’re insane. Wonderful customers, I never hear much at all from except to get their repeat business or a note of appreciation. The insane ones rarely make an actual purchase or if they do, they spend the next six months reading and re-reading a book they bought in a used-bookstore and sending lists of synonyms for words they didn’t like or wanting you to change your website to suit them personally.

Problem customers are also the reason for a new decision to stop shipping books outside the U.S. International shipping fees rarely cover the cheapest shipping costs and I usually receive at least one or two (often belligerent) emails from international customers who want to know why their order is taking so long. The pleasant ones laugh about how it’ll show up the next day…and it almost always does. However, in the past few months, international sales are taking money out of my pocket and very few pay the additional postage for outside the U.S. The final straw? Four hours of additional work, a dozen emails including to the middleman, an additional $25 in shipping costs alone, and some bad press…from a customer in Australia who received her box of books exactly 6 weeks after the order, knowing the normal time was 3-6 weeks, knowing that it might additionally be held up in customs, refusing an offer of free e-versions while she waited. That was a very expensive sale that cost me some good customers, so I’ve had to re-look at where I make my direct sales. It’s unfortunate that a few bad apples make it too costly for me to do business with the many more honest, helpful, wonderful international customers we have, but there are plenty of other online resources for our books that don’t come directly from us over land and water. This “problem customer” is typical of that 20%, and to break even on that one customer’s drama cancelled out the profits from the next 187 international customers.

These are just a few of the time and money drains I’m eliminating. On one hand, it may sound cruel or cold-hearted, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and it’s necessary to lighten up and concentrate on where I can do the most good, use my resources the wisest, and be the happiest.