Friday, June 21, 2013

Publishing my First e-books…What an Experience!

Publishing my first e-books through Kindle Direct Publishing was more work than I ever expected.  Not that the Kindle Direct portion was that difficult, but there were a lot of steps prior to this portion of the publishing process that were involved and that took me plenty of time to work through.

I mean, I guess if I was willing to just slap some stuff together and call it a book; it may not have been all that time consuming.  But seeing as how I wanted an at least halfway presentable finished product, it took me quite a bit of work.

I have to admit though, seeing my finished works up on Amazon and available for purchase to the world, is kind of cool.

Cover Art
Professional cover art can get costly, and since I’m not really sure just how much I’ll be making off my e-books, spending several hundred dollars for cover designs seemed a rather poor investment.  Therefore, I took some time to go through old photos, and even take some new ones to use for my e-book covers. 

Then I utilized the media programs on my computer to modify and enhance these photos.  I altered their look and the pixel dimensions to a book cover-fitting 500 x 768, cropped and cleaned up the pictures, and inserted title and author text, getting the look and feel I wanted for my covers.

It took me a while to figure out how to do this with my initial cover, but once I had the process down, it didn’t take me nearly as long for my second cover, and by the third one, I had it down and had three e-book covers for one great price…free!

Descriptive Overview
Much like the inside jacket cover, the Kindle Direct Publishing site has a place for an overview of the work so that when prospective buyers view the product online, they can get an idea of what my works are about as well as see a brief bio about me.

Finally!  All those query letters and synopses I wrote to publishers and agents paid off!

I was able to take portions of those write-ups and form the descriptive portions to accompany my online works in a concise, yet informative few paragraphs, providing enough information to intrigue a prospective buyer without giving away too much of the plot.

Formatting
I started off thinking that since I wasn’t using a lot of graphics, charts and pictures in my books that I wouldn’t really have any formatting issues.  This wasn’t to be the case though. 

While it wasn’t a complete disaster transferring my works from Microsoft Word over to Kindle Direct’s format, there were a ton of paragraph indentation issues that I had to go back and fix throughout the entirety of my three manuscripts.  While it only added about two extra days to the process, it wasn’t something that I was expecting, yet still had to fix, since otherwise the Kindle versions of my works just didn’t look right.

Setting a Sales Price for My Books
Setting a sales price for my books was also a point of contention with me.  Having spent countless hours on my three projects, I obviously had a lot of time, effort and emotion put into them, which makes my works quite valuable to me.  I fully understand though that the average reader couldn’t care less how difficult it was for me to write, edit and promote a book, and they simply want the best bang for their buck.

Therefore, I had to balance my desire to recognize something monetarily from my efforts, with selling copies of my book in order to grow readership and possibly even a small following of loyal readers for future works.

With Kindle Direct, I could choose from two residual levels – 30 percent of the sales price and 70 percent of the sales price.  To get the higher residual price, I had to set the sale price of my works at $2.99 or higher.  While this might not sound like much, competing with other e-books that are free, 99 cents or $1.99 means that I could be losing market share by going with this relatively higher rate.  Meanwhile, if I went with a $1.99 or an even lower price, I might be gaining readership but cutting myself short in terms of profit.

It was a tough call, but I went with the $2.99 sales price (70 percent of sales residual) for all three of my works, figuring I’d give it a shot, see what happens, and going in fully aware that I could always adjust the price later if I felt it necessary. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Outlining Vacation and Travel Costs

When we’re preparing to travel, I do my best to cover our bases when it comes to outlining our costs for the trip.  From start to finish, I do a timeline of sorts with associated costs.  This applies whether we’re heading out for a long weekend or going on a three-week vacation.  This way I have a good idea of what our overall expenses will be and I can then budget and plan accordingly as well as look for areas to cut costs.

Getting to our Destination
The first step in my vacation travel cost outline comes in the form of figuring out how much it’s going to cost to get to our destination.  If we’re flying, this is typically a little bit easier.  There is the cost of the flight, transportation to get to the airport, luggage check or per bag fees, and any meals or snacks that we might have along our travels.

We tend to pack accordingly to avoid checked bag fees, and we also typically pack snacks and treats in our carry-on bags to cut our meal costs since we find airport food somewhat pricey.

If we’re driving, it’s a different story.  Since we’ve owned our vehicle for over 10 years, we have a pretty good feel for our gas mileage.  We tend to get about 17 or 18 miles per gallon with highway driving and closer to 14 or 15 with city driving.  By gauging the mileage of our trip before we leave, I can get a pretty good feel for how many gallons of gas we’ll be consuming in order to get to our destination.  At this point, I can either multiply our number of gallons consumed by my own per/gallon price average or I can use a site like gasbuddy.com or fuelcostcalculator.aaa.com to get an even better idea of what our cost for fuel consumption will be to get where we’re going.  Then I tend to add in a few bucks for meals or snacks along the way, though we tend to pack such items for the trip before we leave home to cut costs.

Once There
Next up on my vacation cost timeline are the costs once we arrive.  These costs typically involve hotel room expenses (adding in any additional taxes and fees such as state and local taxes, crib fee, or whatever), food and beverage expenses (which we tend to keep low by packing much of our own food if we are driving or buying at local grocery stores once we arrive if we have the opportunity), and entertainment costs.
 
With my estimates, I tend to come up with a general food and entertainment budget total and then divide it by day so that I can gauge how much we’re spending each day and ensure that we’re staying on track with our travel budget as our trip progresses.

Getting Home
If we fly to our destination, this portion of my travel cost outline isn’t as difficult since that cost has already been factored in well in advance to our departure through out ticket purchase.  There can however be the cost involved in getting back to the airport and any meals or snacks involved along the way home.

Otherwise, it’s back to my gas mileage cost estimates and food cost estimates, which I can utilize from our trip there. 

From combining all these cost determinations, I can have a complete travel cost outline well before ever setting foot outside the home.  This is helpful in not only finding out how much our travels will cost and planning appropriately, but it helps us look for ways to cut costs, and determine which trips are most important to us and whether they are really worth the costs involved.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer is a Great Time to Teach the Kids about Personal Finance

As our first child gets older, I’m starting to find that summer can be a great time for us to teach him about certain aspects of personal finance.  In our family, with a dad who is self-employed and a mom who works in the school system, summer provides us not only with a lot of time for teaching but a situation in which personal finance comes into play in a number of areas of our lives and in a variety of ways. 

Therefore, we are starting to take this warm-weather opportunity to try to teach our son about certain money issues by way of illustrations from our own lives.  Moving forward, I think that this will be a great time of year to focus on several pertinent personal finance factors relating to his money education.

Budgeting
With my wife not working summers and me as a self-employed, work-at-home dad, income during the summer plummets significantly.  This means that our budget during this time is even more important to our financial lives.

While I keep a regular running budget at all times, during the summer, I tend to drill down even more into costs since we still want to have fun as a family -- and have more time for doing so -- but don’t have more money for doing so.  This means that rather than just allocating money for our “entertainment” line, I tend to break that amount down into its various components that comprise what we’d like to do each month.  This way I can get a more exact feel for what costs will be and ensure that we can break such events up over the course of the month so that we aren’t doing a ton of stuff one week and nothing the other three.

This coming summer, I plan to involve our five-year-old (by then six-year-old) in the process so that he can see what I do and even take part in making some of the decisions on what we do and when.

Forecasting
Again, since my wife is off for over the summer, we have to make my income last over a multi-month period.  This means that it’s pertinent that we forecast not just for expenses in our summer budget, but income as well over the multi-month timeframe.

I hope to use our forecast from May until September to illustrate to our son how financial planning takes place.  I want him to see in a basic way how we have to ensure that expenses don’t override income, as well as the addition and subtraction math we do to ensure that we end up in the black at the end of this season.

Denial of Self-gratification
Summer is also an important time for teaching our son a little about denial of self-gratification.  Due to our lower income during this time, there are some things we may not be able to do.  I plan to give our son a list of entertainment options that we tend to do throughout the summer and have him select a few out of that list based not only on what he would like to do, but upon the cost of those events, giving him a small budget of his own with which to work.  This will make the process fun, as he’s picking out entertaining things for the family to do, but educational as well as he has to base his choices on pricing and the amount of money he has to put toward them.