Hi hi lovelies. A slightly quicker post from me today. More of a heads up kind of a thing? I’ve been sharing a survey on my socials about how I can improve my Patreon page, the No. 1 Readers’ Club (please take a couple of minutes to do it, whether you’re a member or not, because more voices equals better direction for me, and your input will influence the posts I share here).
One of the suggestions that has come up so far is more transparency about where patrons’ money goes. I’d already been considering sharing a post, or posts, about how I earn my money, because I’ve had a lot of questions about book royalties and how they work. I figured that, since royalties are a quarterly thing, it might be more useful to do a quarterly ’round up’ post detailing all my income rather than a monthly one… also, frankly, I don’t earn enough at present to warrant a monthly post. So what I’m thinking is, I’ll do the first one when my first royalty statement comes through. That will be some time in March, I believe. I can also talk about the money I get in from my stationery shops, plus of course income from my patrons. I’m not sure how long the post will be, but I want to be as transparent with patrons as I can, so I figure I’ll do it every quarter? I won’t be sharing how I spend my money, but the number of questions I’ve had about book royalties alone has convinced me that the general public could do with a little bit of an education about how much authors actually earn.
Spoiler alert: this will be my face when I calculate how much I’ve earnt versus what publishing dragonnovel cost:
(That image has been sitting on my computer for SIX YEARS.)
Anyway. Leave a comment if you’d like to see anything in particular in this as-yet unwritten income round up post! Let me know if you have any questions about book royalties and how they work, or how publishing works, and I’ll do my best to add those in too. I feel like people tend to think of the creative industries as a bit mystical and opaque, not to mention lucrative, so anything I can to, you know, add some reality to the perception is something I’m interested in. I know March isn’t for ages, but this is the sort of topic that requires planning and I want to do it properly.
Look after yourselves!
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Let’s chat about the post. The mail. Shipping. Stamps! Here is a pretty example of postage:
Here is a realistic example of postage:
I started my stationery business back in 2014 or so, and in summer 2017 when I was looking to increase orders, I asked my friends whether they prefer to pay postage on online items or not. They were unequivocal: postage is annoying, especially when your budget is £20 and your basket is £19.50 and then you hit the check out and you’re actually paying £26.72. So I decided to experiment and offer free UK postage. The same day I changed the postage settings, I had my biggest order to date, which felt like a good sign. Back then I used very thin paper envelopes and most of my items were the size of a regular letter, so free domestic postage wasn’t going to bankrupt me.
Royal Mail always put their prices up in March, sometimes by quite a bit, and over the years I began to invest in thicker envelopes and larger items requiring more postage. But my margins were still okay-ish. In 2020, Royal Mail upped their prices in March, July, September and then again from 1st January. Mostly it was international postage changes but in January UK stamp prices went up by 2-12% (biggest increase since 2012. Small parcels have gone up too. Going to blame Covid for that. And Brexit, because it makes me feel better). I realised that if I kept offering free postage, I would be paying my customers to buy my products. So at the end of December I introduced a 50p postage charge on UK items, with 10p on items thereafter. Large letter second class stamps are 96p now, so the customer is still getting a deal; I’m just making sure I don’t lose money.
On the first order I had after changing the postage price, the customer used a browser plugin to use a free postage coupon I’d forgotten about. I love my customers, I am grateful for my customers and I understand that times are tough. I get that we all resent paying for postage. I’m not frustrated at the customer, I’m frustrated at past Francesca for not remembering to cancel those long ago coupons. But still.
Orders have been quiet since. That’s a bit because it’s January, of course, and a bit because Covid is getting to everyone. But is it also a bit because of postage charge? Over on the Big E, they prioritise showing items that offer free shipping over those that don’t (great idea for those creators who have to send their expensive hand crafted items tracked and insured, or those who can’t afford to absorb the cost of postage, or anyone who isn’t a drop shipping shitbag reselling crap they found on Urban Outfitters).
I don’t know. I can either continue offering pencils at £3.95 plus 50p postage, or I can start offering pencils at £4.45. Either way people are going to be thinking ‘well that’s a bit pricy.’ It isn’t, of course. My margins are almost too low to be practical; the majority of my products are purchased from small UK suppliers, so they’re more expensive than the standard fare you find on Amazon or eBay. My suppliers are VAT registered and I’m not, so I can’t claim back that 20%. I’m not busy enough to apply the old economy of scale, either, and purchase a thousand pencils at a lower price than I pay for 250. I’m thinking of changing up my packaging, because those higher quality envelopes are eating my profits. Any savings might be negated by free replacements of items that have been crushed in the post, though. Or maybe I should only offer bundled items, because two or three products per order is a much better margin.
Or perhaps we could as consumers could start understanding that when we buy an item on the internet, the product and the postage are two different things? When I had free shipping on my shop, Royal Mail wasn’t being paid in smiles and small talk; the postage cost was coming out of the product cost alongside packaging materials, the item itself and, you know, my time. Now I’m just asking people to see the two costs in two separate columns. Are we really so used to Amazon Prime’s free-postage-24-hour-delivery-free-returns that we’ve lost our understanding that indie sellers on Folksy or Etsy aren’t using the same business model that Jeff Bezos is?
I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep the postage charge or just raise my prices. I suppose I could go back to those cheap as eff packaging materials and say a small prayer every time I ship something. I could experiment with other postage providers, like Hermes, but I’ve heard so many bad things about their service. I could make another attempt at Click and Drop, although last time I tried printing my own shipping labels I almost threw my printer out of the window. You still have to buy those mailing stickers, anyway, so I don’t know if it’s worth it for my little cards and prints. Maybe it’s time to offer digital items with no postage cost, or much heavier, larger items with a big enough price point that I can include postage within the item price without the customer blinking. Maybe my entire business model needs rethinking.
WHO KNOWS. It’s 2021. We’re living in a world where I can’t hug my nan but white supremacists can attempt a coup d’tat in the United States legislature at the behest of the president. Anything is possible! I’m going to pop off to make a cup of tea – or maybe a gin and tonic, because 2021.
Here’s my shop, by the way, if any of my moaning has whetted your appetite. Are any of you in the online sales business? Are any of you customers with really strong feelings about online sales? Let me know your thoughts on this! I think to-charge-postage-or-to-not-charge-postage is one of those weirdly large issues that will be hanging around for the foreseeable future, and I do not have the answers so I’d love to hear some other perspectives.
My hands have been playing up, so I filmed a wee 17 minute video instead of spending 4 hours writing the equivalent. A free piece of stationery of your choice to anyone who counts the number of times I say ‘er’.
Friends. Patrons. Darling readers. We’re only a week into 2019 and a cursory glance at the news suggests it would be greatly improved by princesses, dragons and unlikely heroes. So I have a dragonnovel-shaped gift for you! I wanted to do something fun for patrons in the new year, while I wait to hear back from agents about the manuscript (and also because it will be fun to have something to talk about that isn’t Brexit or my impending house move). It occurred to me that the first three chapters of dragonnovel 1.0, as I’m calling my draft, are just sitting in agents’ inboxes and on my computer, and that I may as well share them with patrons. So here’s the first chapter, on an epub document (which makes it look like a book/is viewable on an e-reader apparently). Come back in two weeks for the second chapter, and two weeks after that for the third!
If the draft is professionally edited and polished up before publication, it will be fun to compare this version with the finished one (which I’ll call dragonnovel 2.0 HOW ORIGINAL). I also get to do something on my days off other than refresh my emails hoping to hear from an agent, so it’s a win-win really…
All patrons have access to the chapters, by the way, from $1 tier to $5 tier. I think it’s a bit shitty to say ‘be a patron for cool exclusives’ and then demand a higher level of patronage for the majority of exclusives. Not a patron yet? No problem, just click on the big orange BECOME A PATRON button on my page and choose which tier you’d like to join. THEN YOU’RE IN OUR COOL CLUB UNTIL THE UNIVERSE ENDS… or until you decide to stop pledging, whichever comes first.
Since we are celebrating a century in the UK since some-but-not-all-actually-not-many-but-SOME women got the vote, I thought I’d better use my hard earned freedom of speech and say hello. Coincidentally I am doing an Open University course at the moment (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that?) and the current topic is Chartism. I had never heard of the Chartist movement before I read my textbook, and it turns out that is because a) Chartism was an early 19th century movement to gain universal suffrage in Britain but b) it didn’t actually work so c) no one really bothers talking about it unless they are specifically discussing history or humanities (hiii). But it’s really interesting!
In 1842, several hundred thousand people took a charter and petition with about 3 million signatures to Parliament, demanding that Parliament consider giving people the vote. Well, male people. But all male people over 21, regardless of the land they owned! The charter also demanded that any old person could run for Parliament, and that MPs be paid, so you didn’t have to be rich and bored to decide to go and run Scunthorpe or wherever. Aside from the fact the charter didn’t mention women at all and wanted annual elections (Christ what a thought) Chartists were quite the modern community. They utilised the printing press and organised grassroots local meetings. They even tried to get co-operative living off the ground to stop miserly middle class middle men ripping off the working poor. Anyway, it didn’t work. The Chartists did three or four national petitions in total, but the aristocracy was terrified that if they rescinded a tiny little bit of power, there might be a revolution as violent as the one in France, so they resisted change as long as possible.
Anyway, now we’re here. 2018! The people are in power! Sort of. Mostly? I read a fascinating article yesterday about the female-driven economy and it was simultaneously uplifting and depressing. I knew the stat that there are more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs, but I didn’t know that when airbags were first released they killed a lot of women and children because the presumably male engineers testing them hadn’t thought to test for anyone who weighed less than 250lbs.
It’s funny what a centenary will do to you: hearing the Today Programme chat to and about extraordinary women this morning has spurred me on a bit. I had a business meeting today, and until this morning it wouldn’t have occurred to me to call it a business meeting but actually it was a meeting in which I did business. I also made a video for my Patreon page and transcribed 1000 words for my giant story project. The next part of The Elastic Band Theory, by the way, is online now. Am I doing open heart surgery? No. Am doing important work that I should talk more about? Yep.
I guess I knew this academically, but I’m only just starting to understand why there are so many men named John in the FTSE 100: most men I know ooze confidence in their ability to get shit done, or at least possess the confidence to go and get shit done. Most of the women I know just get on with what needs doing without thinking much of it. I feel like women generally are more likely to say ‘I went to work then made the dinner and walked the dog, feeling a bit knackered to be honest’ than say ‘I just put in a five hour shift, cooked a healthy nutritious meal for four people and took the dog on a two hour hike! I’m feeling tired but it’s so worth it when I see my children happy!’ If my brother or dad were running an Etsy store, they would have scheduled that business meeting about two years ago. I had the confidence to send an enquiry email three weeks ago. It’s almost as though I’m socially conditioned to think less of my abilities than all the men I know are. How odd. I wonder if there’s a group of people who believe men and women are the same and should be treated as such?
IT’S A NEW MONTH. WE HAVE SURVIVED JANUARY! SPRING IS ALMOST NEARLY HERE. I’m feeling dangerously new years resolution-y, mostly because the sun is out and I am about to re-dye my hair. New beginnings are upon us! Or upon my washed out highlights, anyway.
Followers of my fiction work may have noticed a new story popping up on my stories blog. The Elastic Band Theory is brilliantly strange and inspired partly by a drunken conversation on New Year’s Eve about Pablo Escobar and partly by people’s suggestions of posh town names when I asked for ideas online, so I should probably thank a) my friends, b) the power of Facebook and c) gin. I’m working on a big old project at the moment have I mentioned that so I’m rooting around for ideas for my next short story that aren’t too long or convoluted. Since The Elastic Band Theory felt a bit like a group effort, I thought I’d expand the group and ask you guys. Yes, you, reading this on your mobile while you wait for a bus. You.
Continuing with the new-month-new-start theme, my current ideas are:
Something about rebirth
Easter/Mardi Gras/Lent/resurrection (which is kind of like rebirth if you stand on your head and squint?)
The commercial evils of Valentine’s Day
Okay Valentine’s is not very spring-like
But I have mixed feelings about it which can come in useful when writing characters
I mean, I’ve made an entire print collection taking the piss out of Valentine’s Day, but people buy those prints thus earning me money what does that say about my relationship with commercial evils?
I mean it might snow here before March so possibly I should just do something about the weather
What do you think? I’m leaning toward something that explores my complex relationship with V Day, but I’m aware that in a week or so, no one on the planet will want to hear the words ‘Valentine’s Day’ again for another year. Let me know and I might, I dunno, get writing.
PS The next instalment of The Elastic Band Theory will be available tomorrow for those of you signed up to my Patreon, and on the story blog on 6th February. Shit gets real. I’m excited.
I got a pitch email earlier from an SEO company saying ‘your Instagram is great and deserves to be seen by more than 186 people!’ I nearly replied with ‘actually that’s 185 people, get with the programme – some new bookstagram account followed me yesterday and has since disappeared back to the Instasphere. Thanks for the encouragement though!’
It’s funny that should happen today though, as I was already going to talk about goals and growth. 2017 is drawing to a close, thank god, and although 2018 will probably be another tyre fire of bullshit, I would like to start it off with good intentions. Case in point: new year’s resolutions. I didn’t have any last year, because I had already resolved to get the hell out of England and did so in the first week of January, but twelve months on I have the itch to resolve… something. I also know that I’m more likely to keep to the resolution if I talk about it publicly, so I thought I would talk about different types of resolutions and the things I’d like to do in 2018.
Resolution 1: The Vague Gesture
My resolution: learn to do my hair? A bit?
I think I may have mentioned my hair is sometimes-often-frequently partially purple. It’s also getting really long, because I enjoy the illusion that I’m a princess in a kingdom with favourable tax laws, but I do nothing to it. Literally nothing. I wash it twice a week, comb out the knots with a tangle teezer and tie it in a bun or ponytail if I’m working. Then I ignore it until it needs another wash. I read somewhere that the longer your hair is, the less you do with it and I want to call bullshit on that. I also want to channel Daenerys Targaryen wherever possible, so in 2018 I resolve to learn how to, like, braid my hair or something. That’s not a huge commitment, and if someone says ‘hey Francesca nice fishtail plait’ I’m going to know it’s working. It’s also not the end of the world if life gets in the way and I don’t learn a fishtail plait, because my hair looks great they way I wear it already (there’s a reason I never brush it dry and that reason is frizz).
So in theory, the Vague Gesture is a good resolution to have. There’s no pressure and I won’t feel bad if I get to June and realise I’ve forgotten it. I suppose a similar one would be something like ‘eat less processed sugar’, because instead of saying ‘eat no processed sugar’, there’s no line to cross, no crushing disappointment of one’s self esteem. It’s something that would be nice to do in the long run but no one cares if you don’t do it, including you.
Resolution 2: The SMART Goal
My resolution: Look after myself better? Look after myself more? Practise self care a day a week until I achieve nirvana?
I looked at a bad website today – not bad as in broken links but bad as in the two thirds of the page was bright pink and white diagonal stripes. My eyes hurt. I’m not even going to link it, it was so hard to look at. Good for marketing, bad for retinas. Especially bad for retinas that already require glasses. And since I am heading into my 23rd year of life and already have to run a bath to get my bones to stop aching when it rains, it’s about time I sopped complaining about my ailments and found a form of exercise that wasn’t physiotherapy. It’s about time I got some sort of blue light blocker on my computer. It’s about time I stopped overriding the Freedom app to check Twitter at 10pm. My 185 followers clearly do not care if I am tweeting at 10pm, so I probably shouldn’t either.
The problem with the resolution to ‘look after myself better’ is that there’s no qualifier. How do I know if I’m looking after myself? I will never not need glasses and I’ll never not ache when it rains. Realistically I will need stronger glasses and more baths year on year. So maybe I should take a leaf out of every business blog’s book and set specific goals I can measure in an achievable, realistictime frame. Something like ‘I will download a blue light blocker to my PC by January and I will sign up to a running club that requires payment in advance because the only thing I hate more than running is wasting money.’ (I actually don’t hate running. I hate that feeling that I’m about to puke up my lungs while I run. Aren’t lungs supposed to keep calm and carry on in those situations?)
I’m going to sleep on the running club, but this type of resolution sounds like one of those you should set if you want to get to December and think ‘fuck yeah I want to high five myself for SMASHING IT’. I kind of think everyone deserves that ‘fuck yeah’ thought.
Resolution 3: The This Has to Work and I’m Going to Make it Work Come Hell or High Water
My resolution: earn more money from my work? Earn increased amounts of money? Don’t sell a kidney to support a hobby?
This is the hardest type of resolution, because it’s a mix of the other two. Saying ‘I want to earn more money’ could just be another way of saying ‘I earned some money this year and would like to continue earning next year’. Realistically I will; my stationery and accessories will still be for sale and I will still crowdfund my writing. There will be money! But I don’t just want to continue, I want to expand. I need to expand if I’m going to continue to justify putting time into both those things. I know the numbers I have to hit if I’m to continue publishing writing with no upfront fees (about $10 a month would cover my website expenses, and $30+ would cover some writing time contribute to my bills). I know I need to double my stationery sales – and grow those follower counts, damn it – to justify using prime space in my bedroom to store stock and to justify spending my evenings and weekends thinking up jokes about Greek gods.
I also can’t ask people for anything other than moral support, because most of the people I know – in real life and online – are as broke as I am. A short story or a funny print is a luxury and if people won’t buy or pledge, there’s nothing I can really do about it except plug away until they go up a wage packet or change their priorities. So going into 2018 I know that, if I don’t get more sales or pledges, I will be shutting up shop eventually – and that’s shutting my Etsy shop, my stories blog and possibly even this place because my spare time will only ever decrease and my bills will only ever increase. I’m not 14 anymore and I have to be pragmatic about where I put my energy – especially if I want to look after my health, because running a shop is eighty per cent adrenaline and twenty per cent pure relief when something goes right. There’s a reason most successful entrepreneurs retire early. They want to spend as much time as they can with their remaining nerves… There’s also reason most novelists have day jobs and eke out books on the weekend – statistically I am not playing a winning game.
So although my resolution is to make my work fucking work, I also know that ‘hell or high water’ will come in the form of a bill I can’t pay in my current status as an intern/freelancer/stationery designer/storyteller. Or in a final argument with one of my parents. Or when I finally decide to trade following what teenage me wanted for adult me and start following what other adults want for adult me.
That took a dark turn there, I didn’t actually mean for it to. I want to know about your resolutions! Tell me the ones you’ve succeeded in keeping, the ones you stopped caring about, the ones that didn’t make it past 1st January. Tell me what you want for 2018, what you don’t want for 2018. Tell me what you did in 2017. Other than swear at the news and drink a lot, presumably…
Afternoon. If you came in via the front page, you will have noticed I’ve tidied up a bit. I’ve been feeling off colour and came home from work early yesterday to curl up and sleep for a few days, because I either have a bad cold that makes me tired or I’m badly tired and have caught a cold. I wasn’t reckoning on my inability to sit still for more than a couple of hours, though, so I thought I’d play about on here. Technically I’m less than a foot away from my bed, so I’m going to count it as convalescence.
I’ve fancied a change for a while, but I’ve been getting general change vibes, which is not that helpful. Do I want to cut my hair? Should I spray paint my car? Would I benefit from a different type of pillow? My subconscious isn’t telling me, so my conscious (hi) has decided to try changing a bit of everything to see what sticks. So far I’ve just done this site, but I’m thinking of revamping the Francesca’s Words branding – the world is so bleak that black and white seems less chic and more depressing these days – and committing to a regular Pilates class. Something to get my insides balancing with my outsides and all that… I’ve also, finally, published the first of a three part story on my story blog that is slightly different from anything else I’ve ever done, but also completely in line with everything I’ve ever tried to do. The next part will be online next week as I want them all to go online this side of Christmas, which is ridiculously soon.
I’m not sure what else to change up without committing hugely to something I might regret – I like the idea of spray painting the Mini, but its current shade of red is actually very nice to look at, you know – so I’m taking ideas. Go and read my story (here is the link again cough cough) then tell me: what do you do when you need a change? Do you book a holiday and get a new hair colour or just ride it out? Have you ever done anything ridiculous just to make life a bit more interesting? You can guarantee I’ll read and reply to comments, because I’m not feeling up to much else.