Risk and the Gom Jabbar

May 21st, 2015 by Potato

This is an excerpt from my book The Value of Simple. It has been edited to stand alone as a post.

In the short term the market as a whole (or an index representing it) can go down 50% or more. As you give the market more and more time to work out the short-term fluctuations stocks become less risky1. For some history, there have been quite a number of market crashes where stocks declined. The worst was the 1929 crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression. Stocks fell some 90% and took about 25 years to recover. But recover they did, and if you would allow yourself to mark that experience down as a one-off, never-to-be-repeated event, then the worst market crashes involve stocks declining by about 50% (including the recent 2008-2009 market crash). Though those events can be quite painful for investors at the time, they do pass and the markets go on to set new highs. If you held on after any given crash the prices recovered within a few years – that’s long enough that in your day-to-day life you’d wonder if the prices would ever recover, but short enough that it would happen soon enough to matter.

When deciding whether to invest in equities, and how much you can allocate to them, on top of your time horizon is the matter of risk tolerance: your ability to receive a statement from your financial institution showing that the value of your investments had been cut in half, and to not panic or lose sleep at night – or worse yet, log in to your account and sell all of your holdings out of fear or disgust. If you’re the type of person who would panic in the midst of prices falling, seeing everyone else selling and decide that you would join the pack, you would take a “paper loss” that might recover (and given the historical record, would in all likelihood do so) and transform it into a permanent loss. Better in that case to stick to safer investments right from the beginning. Better still though to separate emotions from your investing, and keep a coldly rational long-term perspective.

You need to sort out your risk tolerance in advance: the midst of a market panic and sell-off is not the time to discover your risk tolerance isn’t what you thought and to try to change your plan when it is most expensive to do so. Indeed, that is the time to pull out your planning binder and remind yourself of the long-term plan and what you decided you should do in a market downturn when you were in a calm and rational state.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a substitute for that real-world experience of living through a market crash. In Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece Dune, a young Paul Atreides had to endure a test of his humanity called the Gom Jabbar, wherein a magical box simulated the experience of excruciating pain (but left no lasting tissue damage); he had to display the ability to withstand short-term pain and resist his animal instincts in the interest of his long-term future by holding his hand in the box and enduring it by sheer force of will. There are times I wish a similar test existed for investors to accurately gauge their risk tolerance before a market crash, a way to harmlessly experience the pain and roller-coaster of emotions that accompany living through a market crash. Instead you will just have to make the most honest assessment of yourself that you can, and attempt to prepare yourself for what may come — bearing in mind that years-long market crashes and corrections that look like blips on long-term stock charts really consist of day upon day of uncertainty and fear-mongering news reports.

When considering your ability to take risk remember that risk tolerance can also include things like your job or life situation: if you’re in a field that is very boom-and-bust, then you may not want to invest as much in stocks which can also be boom-and-bust-like, because you may find yourself unemployed at the same time that the investments you’ll need to live off of are selling for less. If you’re younger, you have more time to wait for a market recovery or adjust your savings plan than if you are close to retirement. The young can also be more certain of their continued ability to work and save, whereas when you get older your chance of having your investment timeline cut short by a chronic disease increase.

Risk tolerance also touches on your financial ability to suffer losses without destroying your life. If you have a large financial cushion or flexibility in your financial needs you may have a higher risk tolerance. For example, if you were planning on buying a car in four years that would generally be considered too short a time-frame to risk putting the money you have saved up in equities. Yet if you had the flexibility to buy a cheaper car if you did suffer a loss, or to delay your purchase by a few years, it might not be such a black-and-white situation as the timeline alone suggests.

Though I have attempted to put you into the proper mindset with all the warnings of the riskiness of stocks, the simple fact is that investing in stocks is the only easily accessible way to get such high expected returns, with so little effort and expertise required. The warnings are to prepare you for the inevitable rough ride in investing, and not to scare you off of investing entirely. Indeed, including at least some exposure to stocks is critical to reducing your overall risk of running out of money in retirement.

Keep in mind that the volatility of the stock market is very attention-grabbing; market crashes are stressful times and stories of hardship and loss can get passed down through the generations. However, the hidden risks of paying too much in fees or starting too late can be just as costly over the long run – and you cannot recover from those by waiting.

And though I would caution against trying to “time the market”, better returns come from buying when the market is low (remember the aphorism “buy low, sell high”). That will bring us to rebalancing later [in the book], but it’s important to remember that when you’re in the phase of your life when you’re saving money (i.e. when you’re young), you want to be buying stocks when they’re cheaper. So if (when) a market crash comes along, that’s not the time to wring your hands, lament your losses, and consider selling and getting out of the crazy world of investing. Instead it’s the time to cheer the bargains, to buy more, to take advantage of the temporary insanity of the traders to set yourself up for later. Market crashes, as much as they are feared and vilified in the media, usually end up being good for a young investor, and conversely, people do not make money by “waiting for things to settle down.” As long as you have faith that in the long term businesses will continue to be profitable and grow, then eventually your diversified investments should perform for you.

Understanding your risk tolerance in advance is critical for investing success and your ability to stick to your plan through future volatility. Risk tolerance has many components, including details of your situation as well as your psychology.
In the short term, equities can have large losses and high volatility. But history shows that patient investors have been well rewarded over the long term.

1. If you have a definition of risk that is not simply volatility.

Exciting Book Updates and Giveaway

May 15th, 2015 by Potato

I am so excited about the book lately!

Sandi and I got invited back to the Toronto Public Library for our Money 201 course. While that on its own was great, it also helped push the book over 500 sales! That’s not bad for a Canadian release, and the book is still building great reviews, which will hopefully keep the momentum up.

But that’s not the big news. The big, huge, over-the-moon exciting news is that Chapters/Indigo has put the Value of Simple on store shelves! I was just writing about how hard it is to get into bookstores, and just read another self-publishing guide that said to basically forget it as a goal, and then they go and pick it up! I went down to the Eaton Centre right away to visit it as soon as I heard, and there it is. It’s physically there, I can go and touch it or have my picture taken with it — my book, in an actual bookstore! It makes me feel like a successful author and not at all an imposter.

It is a limited release there — in about 25 stores across the country, and only one or two copies each, so it’s best to just go to the page at Indigo to check store stock rather than having me list them here. But the GTA, Ottawa, Montreal, London, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver regions were the spots with copies as of this post.

While for sales this likely will not mean all that much — most book sales are online these days — it is a huge personal achievement, as I had fully given up on the bricks-and-mortar route so their purchasing people decided to stock it without me badgering them. The positive user reviews and decent category rankings must have worked!

I have a few copies here I’ve been holding back for giveaways on other sites, but at this point I think it’s clear that those guys are never going to finish their reviews1. So let’s build off this excitement and give a copy away here!

What you’ll get if you win:

  • A signed copy of The Value of Simple, in your choice of dead tree or ebook editions2.
  • A fridge magnet emblazoned with the glorious cover of The Value of Simple so you’ll have something to talk about the next time you have a party and for some reason everyone ends up mingling standing up in the kitchen instead of moving out to the couch and chairs where you so thoughtfully put the chips and dip…
  • Something else, because good-yet-underwhelming things come in threes, and I’m sure I’ll think of something by then. Until I do, let’s just say an envelope lined with bubble wrap that you can cut open and pop. Pop pop!

How to enter: leave a comment below for 1 entry. To make it a test of skill, eligible entries must either ask an investing-related question that they hope the book will answer, or talk about some part of the investing process you had trouble with. I know I’ve never done this before, but you can get a bonus entry for tweeting about this post (be sure to mention in your comment what your twitter handle is if you’re going to do that so I can assign the bonuses). Contest closes May 30. Canadian addresses only (and if you’re outside Canada, the book really won’t help you anyway).

Too excited to wait? If you’ve bought a copy through my store and end up winning, I’ll just refund your purchase (unfortunately I don’t have that power through my retail partners, but don’t let that stop you from using them… you can always use an extra copy to give to someone special. Did I mention it makes a great graduation gift? Convocation’s coming up…).


1. I would say “and you know who you are,” except that’s likely not true: given that it’s been over 6 months with a few reminders for some of them, it’s probably slipped their mind completely.
2. Yes, I’ve done signed ebooks before. You just have to sign a copy of the title page then scan it in and insert it into the file as an image. More work than for a paper book, but if you like ebooks and that personal touch from authors, nothing is cooler. Well, in the limited context of indie books, and largely because of the uniqueness — other authors just don’t do signed ebooks… yet. Because outside that context, man, it’s hardly cool at all in a world filled with lasers and chocolate ice cream-filled ice cream sandwiches. Anyway, if you want a signed ebook without winning it, you just have to go through my store and mention it in the comments (and send me an email for good measure).

Self-Publishing Interview with Kyle Prevost

May 11th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

To cap off the self-publishing series I have Kyle Prevost, co-author of More Money for Beer and Textbooks, and also the host of the similarly titled podcast. He writes for a few sites around the internet, these days you’ll mostly find him at Young & Thrifty and My University Money. More Money for Beer and Textbooks is an introduction to basic personal finance geared for university students, with tips on budgeting, saving money on textbooks, and using credit cards responsibly.

Kyle spoke to me twice about his experiences with MMfBT, once when I was getting ready to publish my book, and again just two weeks ago for this interview.

MMfBT has two authors, so the process for them was a bit different, having a built-in ability to do some substantive editing and review before looking to freelancers and beta readers. They did higher a copyeditor and layout person – found through O-desk – and used a site called 99 designs to get the cover created. The duo reached out to a number of students in their target demographic to read it at various early teachers, as well as bloggers, teachers, and counsellors – as seems to be the take-home message of this series, getting editors and beta readers can be crucial to having a polished, final product. Of course, Kyle cautions that “before going into beta you need to know what you want to achieve with your book and with each chapter and even paragraph. You will get change suggestions that may not be taking the book where you want to go, and even opposing changes.” Indeed, I can say from experience that sometimes the most important thing a change suggestion can be is a signal that a section has an issue – but the suggested change may not be the way you want to fix issue, given the story you have in your head as the author.

Copyediting was a bit of a challenge for MMfBT because Kyle tried to maintain a casual, approachable tone through the book, which means there has to be a balance between keeping some slang and unconventional word usage versus editing to totally proper English.

When it came time to publish, Kyle and Justin went with LightningSource (at the time IngramSpark wasn’t launched yet), and did order a set of proofs, which did reveal a few issues. Included in that was a choice to switch to a matte cover based on the glossy proofs. Again, just plan ahead to have to change something based on the proofs and consider the change fee spent. With LS they had a lot of flexibility over the wholesale discount, so they started with a minimal wholesale discount – enough to get picked up by Amazon, while letting them keep most of the spoils. A bit after launch they were picked up by Chapters, and changed the wholesale discount to a more conventional, bricks-and-mortar-friendly ~55%. And of course, they did register for cataloguing-in-publication and sent copies off to legal deposit.

When we talked about the writing process, Kyle told me that about 80% of the original writing happened in one summer. However it was a lot of time, “definitely there were weeks over 40 hours spent on the book.” Kyle estimates it was over 500 hours of work to put together, at least half of which was on editing. “Endless editing,” as he puts it. While you can start to build some momentum in writing, they found it harder to gain momentum in the editing phase.

They were fairly well-prepared for what was involved in self-publishing, with a starting budget of ~$500, aiming to not lose money. In the end, editing and outsourcing ran them closer to $1500, but the book was much more successful than they had hoped.

They shot through their initial sales goal of 500 copies in no time at all. Then an interview with CBC and a mention by Rob Carrick about three months after launch helped get them into Chapters stores, which led to book signings and talks at schools. Those were the most rewarding parts, having people come up to praise the book at signings. It wasn’t all serendipity: they put in their time calling Chapters outlets and local bookstores to get them to carry the book.

In the end, the book was not just a success in its own right, but served as a boost to everything else they did, adding authenticity and mainstream media attention. Plus his students were now impressed enough to actually listen to Kyle. “I would definitely do it again… but I’m not in a hurry to write another.”

“Be prepared for a long slog,” Kyle begins when I ask him for any advice he has for aspiring writers. “If you’re in non-fiction, the truth is most people don’t read books. You have to write to a niche that will, and gear the book to them.”

Thank you Kyle for speaking with me (twice!) about publishing and your experiences! Be sure to check out More Money for Beer and Textbooks.

Self-Publishing Interview with Melissa Leong

April 27th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

After talking about my experiences with self-publishing, I reached out to a few other Canadian authors to talk about their experience. First up is Melissa Leong, personal finance columnist for the National Post, who wrote the What Kills Me series under her pen name of Wynne Channing. What Kills Me is a bestselling young adult vampire thriller, so she’s able to provide some great insight into what self-publishing is like outside of Canada-specific non-fiction. Moreover she’s been hugely successful, having sold approximately 50,000 copies of the first two books — What Kills Me and I Am Forever — in the series, with fans clamouring for a third.

Before I get into what we talked about I want to note that Melissa has been very open about her writing and publishing experiences, including publishing a two-part set of articles in the National Post about her experience with the first book, and has had plenty of other interviews about her writing and the content of the books themselves. I didn’t want to use up her valuable time rehashing that stuff, so I encourage you to go and read those articles — here we’ll build on what’s happened behind the scenes since the first book and the related Post articles went up.

I started by asking about her thoughts on editing and using beta readers:

“Editing was extremely important to me, especially being in journalism – I know the magic that an editor can do. They can make a huge difference […] Rewriting is key, as well as having an editor. You need a second eye, and not just beta readers, you need someone who’s a professional.” She used a mix of substantive and copy editing from professional editors, but relied on beta readers to spot plot holes and characterization issues. After that, she used a proofreader for a final polish, and a formatter1 to convert the manuscript into a reflowable e-book file.

For more on her use of beta readers and the questions she put before them, see the end of this post.

For myself and The Value of Simple, the content is intrinsically Canadian, whereas vampires and thrills are international. I was wondering whether her Canadian roots helped build a disproportionate local fan base. Melissa says that most of her readers are from the US and UK, as would be expected from the distribution of the English-speaking population. That was likely helped a bit because she used a UK-based blog promotion service to help drum up interest there. Most of her sales come through Amazon, so many of the Canada-specific issues I talked about earlier in the series would be pretty minor for a more global kind of book like this. She’s also a fan of SmashWords, which gives her the power to generate coupons there for giveaways and reviews.

For the minor debate in cataloguing on whether to use a separate ISBN for each version of the book (e.g. Kindle vs ePub), Melissa chose to go with just one number across her e-book formats.

With two books under her belt, I was really interested to hear what lessons she had learned going in to I Am Forever and what had changed in the intervening years between the first and second book.

“The processes of self-publishing were definitely streamlined between the first and second book,” she told me. Kobo in particular made a big effort to improve their accessibility for self-publishers (and I can back that up — it’s a snap with Writing Life now, vs. my initial experience with Kobo in 2011 where they basically told me to get stuffed if I didn’t have 10+ titles as a publisher).

She was more disciplined the second time around, and got more sleep (cf. her anecdotes in the Post articles from the first book). She set a specific goal, with a deadline (purposely set early, working backwards from a planned timeline), and thought of it as a job. She aimed to write 5k words per week, with a bit of time each day set aside to write.

The second time around also came with a better idea of what was involved in the publishing side and the costs, so she had a budget ready. The first time she just wanted to break even while building her brand and her audience. High on her priorities was to not cut corners — she wanted to pay what it cost for quality work, and focused on what was important. So she paid more for editing, but less on promotion and advertising after having a better idea of what was cost-effective — many ways to advertise books don’t pay for themselves.

To help get people into the series — now that it is a series — the first book is currently available for free, and has otherwise been offered at a low cost. “If you have many books on the shelf under your name, that’s how you make your money, and hope the fans keep coming back for the work.” Also with that interest and audience from the first one she had a pre-order period before releasing the second book, with cover releases, blog book tours, and the ability to pre-arrange reviews to help build buzz.

One thing she was unprepared for with her popularity was pirating, and was surprised to see the book available “for free” on sites so soon after publishing.

“Being a self-published author means that you are an entrepreneur, and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. I know how to write, how to tell a good story, but I don’t necessarily know how to sell myself or how to sell a product. So that was something I had to work on. And those skills did transfer back to journalism [her day job]. I always found self-promotion really difficult, but I realized that if I didn’t toot my own horn that nobody would do it. Then when I took over the personal finance beat [at the National Post], branding and expanding my personal brand became a goal, to also help the paper.”

A big thank-you to Melissa for taking the time to chat with me. Check out the What Kills Me series on Amazon, and follow Melissa on Twitter (or her alter ego Wynne Channing here).

Footnote 1: and she’s happy to recommend him: Michael Mandarano.
Note that all quotes are my transcriptions from a conversation and any errors are mine.

Podcast & Money 201 Redux

April 23rd, 2015 by Potato

Just a quick post to let you know that I was a guest on the Build Wealth Canada podcast with Kornel Szrejber, and part 1 is now live on his site. We chatted about the book and index investing, mistakes investors make, and more! Be sure to check it out for a chance to win a copy of the Value of Simple as well!

Also, Sandi Martin and I will be returning to TPL to give Money 201 at the Agincourt branch on May 4th. See here for more details on that!

VoS BtS 9: Business Side and Taxes

April 21st, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

Now to put on your business hat: what does it cost to self-publish a book, what can you expect in return, and how do you deal and account for it all?

The biggest cost is time. So very much time. A big part of that is my own fault for wanting to make it good, so I spent a lot of time on revisions, going through it with people, etc. If I just wanted to finish and push it out I could have been done months earlier — though at the minimum quality I would consider acceptable, it still would have represented an investment of hundreds and hundreds of hours of my time. A book should be a labour of love, because the odds of making more on your writing time than you could get doing just about anything else are very slim.

There are a number of hard costs as well. Some will be like the “cost of goods sold” — the incremental cost of making each sale, which are really easy costs to swallow: sell a book for $17, spend $12 in incremental costs, and pocket a few bucks for pizza. Some will be the cost of doing business and of getting your book ready for market, which will come long before your first sale or review: these can be a little harder to swallow and you’ll have to be ready for them before you fully commit to self-publishing. As a ballpark I’d say you should be ready to spend at least $1000 to self-publish your book — which should also give you an idea of the kind of market you need to have ready before you set foot down this road.

Expertise: You can’t do it all yourself and will likely have to hire some part of the process out. Professional editing is the main one to look at, which can vary in cost depending on who you hire, how much work your manuscript needs, the kind of editing required (substantive, style, proofreading, etc.), the genre, and the length. A catchy and pleasing cover may require hiring an artist and/or designer. Then you may need help with formatting and layout, or with creating and coding the ebook files. All-in-all I’d suggest starting with a budget of at least $1000, and preparing for more if you need more help.

Printing: Before you get to having your printer send you nearly final proofs, you’re likely going to print several dozen copies on your home printer for yourself and your early beta readers. While many copies were sent out as electronic files, there are people who prefer to read on paper, and I wanted them to be as happy as possible (after all, many were doing me a favour for the dubious benefit of getting to read the book early). For my own review, checking it across multiple formats in multiple places was the only way to see it in a new light. Many review copies were sent early on as home-printed reports with nice office supply store report covers. A new printer toner cartridge and a thousand sheets of paper or so will vary on your model and what-not, but I had $175 in the budget, and other $6 for report covers (thanks to a Grand and Toy 80% off store closing event — best to budget a bit more than that).

Then when all is done at home you go to the professional printer (e.g. IngramSpark) to get your proofs printed, which costs some money (about $60 for 10 copies), plus set-up fees (about $85, including the inevitable file change after reviewing proofs). All told, I’m at $326 in costs to be print-ready.

After finalizing the book with the printer, I had a bulk order done for myself to have books available at events like the book launch party (”the first print run”). Thankfully, IngramSpark didn’t charge me any brokerage fees to get the books to me in Canada — always a concern when ordering items — and they arrived in plenty of time even with economy shipping. For $816, I had just over 160 copies, a cost of about $5 per copy, though the ~$6/copy from the proofs is a more realistic cost for smaller orders. However, this cost is now in to the “cost of goods sold” rather than “getting ready to publish” part of the budget, so you may think about it differently as you prepare to publish — and if you don’t plan to sell directly, you don’t need to do a print run.

Shipping and Postage: You will be sending copies everywhere, first to publishers as you query and submit manuscripts to chase the traditional publishing dream, then to beta readers and reviewers as you get close to publishing yourself. Any relatives, libraries (including legal deposit), or journalists you want to give copies to will also need shipping. I dropped about $130 at Canada Post before I ever started sending out books to customers (those shipping costs again are part of “cost of goods sold” in my mind).

On top of the postage itself, you’ll need some supplies like envelopes and labels to get your stuff out there. I found Uline was by far the cheapest source of bubble mailers sized just right for a trade paperback (for my book, at 204 physical pages, their #1 bubble mailer is still thin enough with the padding to count as lettermail). They don’t come in small quantities: a box of 100 ran me $44, and now that physical book sales have passed the release and RRSP peak, it looks like I’ll still have a giant box of envelopes left to pass to my heirs.

Advertising: I can’t speak much to what works in advertising for books. I tried Google AdSense, and burned through my trial credit without picking up a single sale from that channel. I had more luck putting ads on Reddit, but I didn’t get precise sales numbers out of that, just clicks. Assuming the clicks from Reddit behaved like my average clicks in terms of conversion to sales, then I had just enough sales to pay for the ads. Exposure is good, so I suppose that was worth it, and I’ll likely do another Reddit ad campaign in the future. I went with VistaPrint to get a poster-sized copy of the book cover done for events, and for business cards and postcards to hand out (and leave behind at restaurants when I’m feeling spammy).

Other: I mentioned in the previous post that I registered my publishing imprint as a business name in Ontario, which ran me $60. I also have a domain name and webhosting, which is relatively cheap (my package runs about $140 CAD for the year).

All told, you may be looking at about $1000-2000 to get ready to publish and start shipping books.

Against this you hope to sell hundreds or thousands of copies to break even and maybe even make a profit for all that time and effort.

Taxes: How now to report all this on your taxes? As you sell books you’ll have revenue coming in from multiple sources: straight profits coming in from your retail partners like Amazon and Kobo, as well as revenues from your direct sales, for which you have a number of expenses (including cost of goods sold). The latter income is clearly business income — self-employment income that you’ll report on a T2125 in your taxes. However, the money from your retail partners looks a lot like royalties, which is a bit more confusing. Line 104 (”other income”) clearly mentions royalties, and kind of sounds right but “royalties with expenses associated with them” go to line 135. Most likely as a self-publisher you will have expenses — all the stuff listed above — even if you don’t have to pay for each incremental book (you’re still paying your own advertising to generate those sales, for instance). That mysterious line 135 comes from the profits on the self-employment T2125 form, so good news: you can roll it all together and report it in the same place.

If you’ve never had self-employment income before this form can be a bit intimidating. There are lots of confusing elements that I honestly have problems with — there’s a line for “delivery, freight, and express”, but then “stamps” supposedly fall under “office expenses.” So where do I put the cost of shipping books to customers? It’s too heavy for regular stamps, so each time I have to visit a post office and pay for the special rate, but it’s still postage/lettermail and not freight or special courier delivery. The worst is which professional fees (like editing or design work) are fees that you deduct right away versus those that create intellectual property (”intangible eligible capital property“) that you depreciate over time? The self-employment taxes are tough enough without having to deal with carrying intellectual property on your books for the rest of your operations.

I don’t mean that to scare you off — from my own experience and other self-employed people I’ve spoken to all of the confusion and vague wording is just treated as creating lots of grey zones in reality. Not sure whether your shipping costs are delivery or office expenses? Flip a coin and move on. Terrible tax advice (which is why this post is not tax advice), but the best I can do, and it seems to work well enough for many. Just be honest, make a best effort, and have your receipts ready: they can recategorize in an audit if it’s really necessary, but as long as it’s reasonable in the first place getting the exact category right on the T2125 should not matter (and the net income will come out the same).

The next thing is that if this is your first endeavour as a self-employed individual you’ll have to consider the business-use-of-home expenses section, where you can count a part of your utilities, rent/mortgage interest, and insurance as a business expense. You’ll have to figure out how much of your home is used for business, then add up all the costs of that home, and can then take the proportion used for business use as an expense. If you work from home and have a space dedicated to your business activities, this is a totally legitimate expense — Wayfare, for example, has been self-employed for years and has a dedicated office in the house that is there solely for her business. So we claim the appropriate part of the home expenses there on her taxes. For myself, I don’t claim anything here — I have a desk, but it would be a tiny percentage of the house, and I use it for a mix of personal and business stuff. In other words, whether I was publishing my book or doing consulting or not, I would still have a desk for surfing the internet and gaming, so I don’t feel justified in claiming its footprint in the house as an expense. However, I may start to in the near future as my for-profit writing activities have increased while my desk-related leisure ones have decreased, so the percentage of time dedicated to business is becoming real. Note that if you want to claim a portion of your rent, you do it here — the line for “rent” higher up on business expenses is for the rent on a specific, dedicated business property.

Summary: I hope this massive series has helped you, and has filled in the gaps that other self-publishing guides leave for Canadians. Remember that you will be acting as a business when you self-publish, even if you’re doing it for love and not aiming for anything more than breaking even. That means some kind of budget, keeping receipts, paying taxes — as well as all the stuff from previous posts on timelines and everything else.

Although this is the last entry on my experience, I’m happy to say that there will be an epilogue featuring tales from other, more successful Canadian self-publishers!

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be tax advice, but to provide my own experiences as as starting point on a best-efforts basis. I am not a tax expert. Post not microwave safe, keep out of reach of children, use at own risk.

VoS BtS 8: Registrations and Cataloguing

April 16th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

There are lots of databases that you want to (or must) register your book in.

The most basic one is to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) to uniquely identify your book. In the states you have to purchase an ISBN from someone, so you’ll often see a free (but restricted-use) ISBN listed as a feature on some print services, including CreateSpace. For Canadians that doesn’t apply — we can get them for free from Library and Archives Canada/Collections Canada. Once your account is set up, getting an ISBN is instantaneous.

Most retailers are set up to use your ISBN as an identifier in their catalogue, and the standard for the barcodes on the backs of books is to encode the ISBN. So whenever possible, you want to get yourself an ISBN, which is an easy decision as a Canadian because they’re free for us (if you read other guides to self-publishing there will be some hand-wringing on this issue because ISBNs can be costly). For print editions, even if you don’t choose to encode the price in your barcode, include at least the ISBN.

You are supposed to get a different ISBN for every format and edition of your book. So one for print, one for e-book — but then a debate arises: is the Kindle e-book a different format from the ePub e-book? Is the PDF different from both of those? The librarians and cataloguers seem to suggest that yes, you should be getting multiple ISBNs for your e-book, however in practice nearly everyone uses one ISBN for all e-formats (and another for print) because it vastly improves the ability to cross-reference and search for your e-book. I used one ISBN for the ePub and AZW3 versions of the e-book, which are automatic conversions of the same basic format (reflowable XML-based text for e-readers), but considered the PDF versions to be different. However, because the PDF versions are not available except as part of an e-book bundle with the existing ISBN, I did not register for a third/fourth ISBN to cover the PDFs.

Another thing that you can register for through Library and Archives Canada is cataloguing-in-publication (CIP). This service looks at your book’s content and a cataloguer decides on the call number to give it in the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems, and does so before you print the final version (or upload the final e-book). They will give you a block of text to put on the copyright page, in a standard format. Then when your book goes live, booksellers and libraries know just how to classify it, with the information right there at the front. While I’m always in favour of making the librarian’s life easier, CIP is totally voluntary and is not a great marketing tool in its own right; aside from needing some space in your timeline, it’s also not hard to apply for.

I think it’s important to note that CIP took forever. Their website says “at least 10 days” which would lead you to think that it would be close to 10 days but a little more. I planned for up to 20 days, thinking I was being super conservative. In the end I had to submit my proof files to IngramSpark without the CIP information in order to make my timeline (I added it to the front matter along with other changes to the proof before the final print run). CIP finally came after 29 or 30 days (depending on whether you count the day it arrived). Hopefully this post will give people an idea on how long cataloguing-in-publication takes, so you’ll be ready to submit your material to LAC at least a month before you have to submit your book block — though you do need many things like the title page finalized first for CIP.

Another thing to be ready for is the requirement to submit copies of your book to Library and Archives Canada, called legal deposit. For print books, you will have to submit two copies shortly after publication (for publication runs over 100 — and better to assume the over than have to ship a second copy if you go over). They also accept e-books to legal deposit.

When it comes time to create the listing for your book, you will have to choose which categories it belongs to. While retailers have sometimes added sub-categories of their own, they pretty much follow the BISAC categorization scheme and subject codes. Be sure to give yourself some time to consider which BISAC headings your book belongs in — you can usually select up to three.

As a self-publisher, you may also want to register your “imprint” as a business name in your province — for example, I have Blessed by the Potato Publishing registered in Ontario. It costs $60 for a 5-year term in Ontario, and you can do it online in minutes. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the costs or procedures in other provinces.

VoS BtS 7: Publishing a Print Version

April 7th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

Printing on demand is really the innovation that has made it possible for people to self-publish print books without needing to commit a lot of money to a print run, while simultaneously dealing with distribution. Many local print shops will be able to do a small print run for you if you prefer to manage your own inventory, however I found it nearly impossible to compare the offerings of local businesses to those of the online giants.

The main PoD companies you’ll come across online are IngramSpark (and its sister, LightningSource), CreateSpace (CS), and Lulu. Both IngramSpark (IS) and LightningSource (LS) are divisions of Ingram, a massive world-wide printer and distributor of books — many large traditional publishers use Ingram for their distribution and printing. You’ll likely find many discussions and comparisons to LS, which was formerly the only way to print through Ingram. IngramSpark just launched in late 2013/early 2014, and now LS is trying to target small publishers with more than one title to their name, while IS targets the self-publisher with just one or two titles to put out. LS has more advanced options, while IS is more streamlined and easy to use. CreateSpace is part of Amazon, while Lulu is independent.

Lulu’s pricing is a bit off compared to the other options, but they aim to have a much wider menu of services (at additional cost) that you can get through them so that it’s more of a one-stop solution, including hooking you up with editors and cover artists. Lulu doesn’t look to charge any set-up fees, but has per-book production costs that are about 40% higher, which means that if you don’t need the services they provide the decision really comes down to IS vs CS.

For Canadians, the tight competition between IS and CS comes down to whether you think most of your sales will be in Canada or not. Under IS, you can set the pricing and wholesale discount of your book by country, whereas CreateSpace will dictate your non-Amazon, non-US royalties to you as part of their “expanded distribution” network — forcing a 60% discount on your native Canadian sales, even those through Amazon’s .ca site. I ended up choosing IS, in large part because I expected 100% of my sales to be Canadian (the material is specific to Canada); if your material is international in nature (as with Wynne Channing’s I Am Forever, a work of fiction — we’ll hear more from her at the end of the series), then being Canadian won’t really matter and you may prefer CS.

The rest of this will focus on my experiences with IngramSpark.

I’ll note that everything is of course still evolving: when I signed up with IS they only had two options for wholesale discounts (40% and 65%), but now they allow you to fine-tune and control it a bit more to anything between 30 and 55% (but still not quite as much control as with the more advanced LS platform). There was an annual fee to keep your book in the Ingram distribution catalogue before, which has recently been waived (likely due to competition as all of the major players have waived their distribution fees). It was only $12/yr before, so if this proves to be a temporary relief, the fees are not huge.

Discounts: as a publisher, you sell your book to retailers at a low price, they then mark it up to the list price and make some margin there — that’s the wholesale discount. With discounts it’s a tough balance: a store won’t carry your book if there’s nothing in it for them, but you need to make money too, and you will have fixed costs for printing that will come out of what the retailer pays IS/CS/Lulu (you can use their calculators to see for your format and page count, but expect it to be ~$4 US/copy). A higher discount can force you to drive your list price point higher, which may then eat into your sales (especially if you cross over some threshold for the genre), but set it too low to keep more for yourself and your book may never see the light of day, or never be featured with a special sale price. With IS at the time I didn’t have a ton of options, so I went with 40%, but that seems about right — many people say Amazon will list a book with less of a discount (as little as 20-30% and Amazon will likely still pick it up from LS), and that most bookstores need more of one (~60% is a traditional wholesale discount), however most bookstores won’t be taking your book anyway, and if you do the work of marketing it to them, they’ll likely still take it at ~40%.

Markets and Pricing: IS will let you control which markets and at which price your book sells at, but you must enable sales in the US (I was not expecting that, hoping to only offer my book in Canada). The thing I really didn’t understand at first is that it appears as though Amazon.ca still orders books through the US arm of the distributor, so you’ll get a royalty in USD based on your US price. This also affects your Canadian pricing — Amazon will ignore your manually determined CAD price (and what’s in the barcode and on the back of the book) and just use the US price with a currency conversion factor applied. Be sure to have your pricing set right the first time the book goes live, as they will not update the “list price” on the book’s page.

Determining what price to list your book at is a bit tricky. You’ll want to start by looking at what your competition is pricing at, but you’ll have to keep your cost structure in mind (some bestsellers will have economies of scale you may not be able to match as a self-publisher).

Getting listed in electronic bookstores like Amazon and Indigo is easy — IngramSpark (or CS/Lulu) will take care of that for you, and the online booksellers will likely pick you up because there’s no cost to having another book in their database. They recommend having your title set up 6 weeks in advance for it to percolate out to the retailers, but for me it only took about 3 weeks to show up on their sites. The retailers will pick up your book’s information from the printer, but not necessarily faithfully. I’ve already talked about the CAD retail price issue with The Value of Simple, but the description is also a touch wonky: it’s clearly three separate paragraphs in the Ingram catalogue, but some retailers just have one giant block of text there.

Getting into bricks and mortar bookstores is a whole other matter. I did not bother, but my understanding of the process is that you can either pay an exorbitant amount of money for a certain amount of time on the shelf, or you can call up every single individual manager of Chapters/Coles locations to convince them to order copies of your book. In IS you can select whether or not your book is returnable, and even whether you want returned copies shipped to you or destroyed. Given that they charge ~$20/copy to ship it to you, and they only cost ~$5 to print, it really only makes sense to return and destroy. Being able to return unsold books does reduce the risk for bookstores taking your book while increasing your risk. But again to be realistic, it’s unlikely you’ll get shelf space as a self-published author anyway.

Direct Sales: A big way self-publishers sell their books — especially when starting out — is through direct sales, whether in person at events or through your own website. I don’t know how Amazon is able to ship so quickly and so cheaply (a very small minimum order seems to generate enough margin for them to ship for free), but for individuals in Canada books can be expensive things to ship. I ordered padded envelopes from uline, which was by far the cheapest option I could find, and the envelopes are actually quite good. The book is thin enough that I can send it by regular lettermail — $5.30 per book after tax — and it’s a good thing too because parcel mail or expresspost is prohibitively expensive. On my direct sales website I include a discounted cost for shipping, and eat part of the cost out of my mark-up on the books.

Lulu and CS provide a neat direct sales option, creating a sort of higher-margin ministore for you on their site. However, the shipping costs here may be deal-breakers for your Canadian readers. If IS offers something like that, I haven’t found it — but prefer to order a print run and manage it myself anyway, and my personal store is all set up.

Libraries: As part of the cataloguing-in-publication service, your book will be included in a listing of new books published in Canada; as far as I can tell only one library system actually found the book this way. Most libraries have some kind of form where you can let them know about your book, and my success here has been mixed. I offered free copies to three “hometown” library systems: London Public Library and Toronto Public Library have not responded or included it in their catalogue; the Prince Edward Island Library did (and the uptake there has been great, with all copies almost always checked out and in patrons’ hands, sometimes with holds).

Let’s Get Ready to Publish: So you’ve decided on IS (or are just following along with my experience here), and you’re ready to get your book out to the world and into your hands for events.

First, you have to create an account and set up a title. They [used to] advertise the cost to set up a book as $53 Canadian, but I was actually charged $49 US — the Canadian figure is just an estimate based on exchange rates. With the credit card fees and weakening dollar, that ended up being more than advertised ($56.42). (note: I see they’ve just now stopped listing prices for Canadians)

They will provide you with an InDesign template (including a barcode) for your cover, and it’s actually a good template, clearly marking the bleeds, the danger zones, and the safe zones for content. You can choose whether your barcode has a price embedded in it, or if it will just be an ISBN. So with the interior contents (book block) in a standards-compatible PDF, and my cover designed and turned into a standards-compatible PDF, I was ready to upload. It took a few days for them to verify the files and make the book available to me to order proofs, which I did (I ordered 10, to check over and to hand out as advanced review copies or ARCs).

The proof step is an important one: you will spot an error or misprint that escaped you in all previous electronic and letter paper print reviews, or something new that cropped up in sending your files through IS. There is a change fee of $25 to upload new files and revise the book (note that the fee applies to the cover and book block separately so if you have to change everything it’ll be $50), expect at least one revision on at least one part of the book and just build it into your budget. This process is also why you want to have a nice lead time of a few weeks before your book is officially available.

One thing I had trouble finding out in advance was whether there would be customs brokerage fees on the shipments of books from IS — one document they had on their website said there wouldn’t be for Canadians, another said there would be for all non-US clients, as did the warning while I was paying. I’m happy to say that there were no brokerage fees on shipping with IS (it would have added about $1/copy to my cost direct sales cost if there were, as well as a great deal of anger because brokerage fees are BS).

I did not use their services for the e-book, but rather created my own ePub and AZW3 versions through Calibre and directly worked with the Kobo Writing Life and Amazon Kindle Direct Program systems (which I was already familiar with from the first book) — see part 4 and part 5 for more on the e-book creation and publishing aspects.

They will note in several places that there can be inconsistencies/variances in the printing and cropping of up to 1/16”, and I was surprised to see that this was not just a cover-your-ass kind of warning, but indeed the variability you can expect to see. I figured that the whole print run might have a shift in the positioning of the trim by up to that margin of error in one direction or another, but would mostly be essentially perfect to the naked eye, and consistent through a run. In reality each copy has its own positioning, and the full 1/16” variability is in force even across just a few dozen copies. While you would never notice with any given copy in your hands (unless you ignore their advice about thin outside borders that might get cropped weird), if you stack them up side-by-side you can see the shifting of elements. When designing your cover keep that in mind, and try not to put anything that’s small enough for a 1/16″ shift to be noticeable (for instance, I have 1/4″ coloured bars on the top and bottom of the spine, which in hindsight I would not do again — I would run the white spine right to the edges and into the bleed area, or make the entire spine a solid colour, green in this case).

Then I was able to order a bulk print run for myself (giveaways, review copies, and direct sales), and IS handled distribution to Amazon and Indigo.ca (and I’m sure a few other retailers and libraries I’m not tracking closely). The book went live as scheduled Dec 1st, and aside from the situation with the pricing and the currency conversion, completely without a hitch. At one point just after release Amazon was predicting a 2 month shipping time, but everyone I’ve heard from has received their books within 2 weeks at the most, so they are able to meet the demand in a reasonable amount of time.

In terms of analytics there’s very little through IS (especially compared to all the ebook self-publishing platforms): you get a snapshot of your past 30 days of sales as soon as you log in, but on any given day (once you’re past the first 30-day period where the counter only goes up) it’s pretty hard to say what the sales are like unless you’re obsessive about tracking it. I have not been able to find any information about what portion of sales go through Amazon versus other retailers — it’s all lumped into one line item. Indeed, as far as I can tell there was no point in setting a Canadian price in the catalogue as all the sales have been in USD through the US channel — and I can’t tell if that’s because of how it’s actually working, or if that’s just how they lump it together for reporting.

You’ll find out shortly after the month end how well you did in the previous month, and will get paid about three months later to your Canadian bank account. They will take care of converting your royalties to CAD, at a rate that appears to be very close to the posted fair exchange rate at month-end — if they had sent raw USD to your bank account I doubt your bank would provide rates as good (though in my specific case, with the CAD dropping, taking a marked-up bank rate three months later would have worked to my benefit). They asked me some simple questions during my account registration, figured out I was Canadian, and I have not faced US withholding taxes (and didn’t have to register for an ITIN for the privilege).

All-in-all I’ve been quite happy with IngramSpark, and it definitely has some advantages over CS for Canadians with books that will mostly have sales here. Knowing how much variability there actually is in the printing, I would have made some slight changes to my cover design (particularly the spine), but otherwise found it pleasantly surprise-free and am happy to recommend them to you.

VoS BtS 6: Creating a Print Version

March 27th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

Unlike an ePub or other reflowable e-book format, with print you will have complete control over the format of your book, which means you need to lend a careful eye to the format of your book.

The big question about tools will come down to whether or not to use InDesign. InDesign is the tool for laying out text and images for print, and what most of the professionals use (and what I used for projects like this). It will help align your text to a grid, will naturally set up facing pages, will work very well with mixed text and images, and will give you some options over spacing and hyphenation to try to avoid “rivers” of whitespace in justified text. It will even feature the little embellishments of professional typesetters like ligatures and drop caps to open chapters. However, it’s not a program to compose in — you can’t just open it up and start typing like with Word. And moreover, InDesign is not set up for collaboration and editing — it’s not even backwards compatible beyond one version.

For a simpler layout like a text-based book, Word has the capabilities to produce a good final product, but beyond a document that looks like a report you really start to push its limits. Word is a little buggy and can start throwing unhelpful autoformats around. Images can move in very large jumps seemingly randomly, and it’s very hard to set up a consistent frame for pictures to place on the page (something that is the bread & butter of InDesign) — so you will spend lots of time right-clicking and fiddling in the properties.

So you will end up composing and editing your book in Word (or something like it), and being very good and careful with your styles so that you can make an ebook… then facing the choice of just cleaning up that format to create your book in Word, or starting a whole new layout in InDesign, then cutting and pasting all the content over.

In my case, I stuck with Word. This is in part because I am a Word Wizard — I’m very experienced at battling the autoformat demons and making the program do what I need it to do. In part it was because I still had edits to make as I decided to start formatting in earnest. And in part because I had already been formatting it to look like a book as I went with my styles, facing pages, etc. But it was a near thing — if I had any more complexity in my interior design (e.g., if I had wanted to include embellished calligraphy drop caps to start my chapters) I would have definitely used InDesign.

A happy coincidence that also helped with my choice is that my archaic, old-man hate of the Word ribbon introduced in 2007 means that I’m still using Word 2003 as my workhorse word processor. A quirk of the new-fangled docx format is that Word will downsample any images you insert, making them unsuitable for high-quality print jobs (where you want to aim for a minimum of 300 dpi). If you do want to make a quality book, you will then have to go to InDesign or back to Word 20031! Add all that up and I think that you will probably want to start looking at putting your print book together in InDesign (if you hire the formatting out it’s quite likely that your formatter will use InDesign).

Whatever tool you decide to use, when you go to actually format the book, first you must know that your final book will be the product of two files, the cover (which you pretty much will have to do in InDesign or at worst Photoshop) and the book block, which is all the inside pages.

Your book block should come out to a multiple of 4 pages, which makes sense if you think about how a book is put together: take a large piece of paper, print on both sides, and fold in the middle: 4 pages to a physical sheet of paper. Pad it with blank pages at the front and back (and even between chapters to make your chapters start on odd pages if you like) to get it up to the next multiple of 4, but try to avoid cramming all the padding together, as most printers will think it’s an error in the file if they see more than two consecutive blank pages (or write “this page intentionally left blank”). Usually, you will have to leave the very last page blank for print-on-demand companies to add a barcode and information about the printing.

Then think about what you’re going to put in there (aside from your main content) as your front matter:

  • You must have a title page, and it must be on an odd page (right side) with a blank page facing it. An interesting note is that this title page the official one for cataloguing: sometimes the title of a book (or inclusion of a middle initial for the author) can change when creating the cover art, so when the cover and the inside title page disagree, it’s the inside that’s used. If you are submitting your book for cataloguing in publication, this title page must be finished (with final fonts and any embellishments) well in advance — aim to have the title page, table of contents, and final page count locked down for about a month and a half before you submit your final book block for printing, which may be about three months before release. To get the page count you’ll have to be pretty close on your final format (though having a few blank pages throughout or at the end can give you a bit of leeway for changes that come after you submit your information for cataloguing in publication.
  • On the even page behind your title page (i.e., the back side of the same sheet of paper) you put your copyright information and cataloguing in publication block. Have a look at some other books to see what goes here — there’s a lot to cram in so a smaller font is the norm. Basically, some statement about the copyright date and ownership, and information about publisher (and optionally the printer). The title and author, and any other contributors (co-authors, artists, substantive editors). Disclaimers, links to the books’ website (esp. if you plan to have an errata page, which is usually just a non-fiction thing), copyright/license notices, etc. If you are going print-on-demand then you won’t need information about print runs or those countdown numbers to indicate printings.
  • You might want to have some pages filled with praise and pull-quotes — these often come before the title page, so that they’re the first thing you see when you open the book. “Also by” and “Other books in the [blank] series” lists typically come before the title page as well.
  • A preface, introduction, or dedication. Typically at this point you start numbering with roman numerals for the front matter. Though the title page, copyright page, and pages before don’t typically get page numbers printed on them, they do add to the total, so if your introduction starts on the fifth page after a page of praise, a blank page, a title page, and a copyright page, then the intro will have a little v down there even though it’s the first instance of a numeral.
  • A table of contents usually ends the front matter, with the first chapter starting on the next odd (right-hand-side) page and a switch to numbering with regular numerals starting at 1. You have a lot of freedom in how you want to set up your table of contents — if you have many short chapters you may focus on just a few larger sections to avoid having a multi-page table of contents.

As for formatting, take a look at other books in your genre of choice to see what the conventions are. Usually for print you will be looking for a serif font, around 10-11 pt (with more line spacing for smaller fonts to help readability), with margins of about 0.75” (0.5” is the smallest most printers will allow but looks very cramped; 1″ is common on large-format hardcovers but takes up too much space on paperbacks; and there’s no need to keep the same margin for the top/bottom/sides — some books do have a bit of a skew, especially if the author has a predilection to holding books open one-handed by gripping at the top). Set up slightly larger inside margins, especially if you have a really thick book (over 300 pages) because the binding will take up a bit of the space. Both left-aligned and justified text are common; for 6×9” (trade paperback) and larger you can mostly start to get away without hyphenating lines to fit the maximum amount of text in; for 5×8” paperbacks or smaller you will almost certainly have to enable hyphenation.

Do not put two carriage returns (pressing enter twice) between paragraphs. Mostly you will want a small indent on new paragraphs, and a small space (about ¼-½ the usual line height, ~3-6pt) between paragraphs to maximize readability, though many commercial works don’t use spacing between paragraphs, just indents. New chapters should be started on new pages, with some space added above (through your text styles or InDesign, not by pounding enter).

You’ll usually put in headers and footers in a smaller size, aligned to the outside. The page number can be at the bottom or top corner, but I find bottom corner is more typical. Often you’ll have the author’s name on one side, and the book’s title or the current chapter/section title on the other side. Sometimes it will be book title on one side, section title on the other — it kind of depends on the structure of your sections and what makes sense.

For what it’s worth, here are my format decisions for the Value of Simple:

  • Text: The body font was Bookman Old Style — I was going for a more academic, textbook type look, and something that would be very easy to read. The size was 11pt with line spacing of 1.1X, a 0.25” indent and 6pt spacing between paragraphs. For a more stylish book (esp. fiction) I’d recommend a tighter serif font with something more like a 1.3X line spacing. The body font was paired with Verdana as a sans serif font for chapter headings.
  • Page layout: Margins of 0.75″ on the sides, 0.8″ on the top and bottom, with the header and footer 0.5″ from the outside. I used a gutter of 0.13″ (1/8) to give a little more space near the spine, so the bound book looks more like it’s evenly balanced.
  • Titles: Chapter headings have 36 pt of white space around them, and this was about the minimum I was comfortable going with. Section headings were larger and dropped more (~66 pt) and were noticeably larger (16 pt font).
  • Header/footer: Odd pages had the book title in the header, even pages my name, with the page numbers in the footer on the outside edge. Header/footer text was in the same font as the body text, but two sizes smaller (i.e. 9 pt).
  • Summary boxes: The helpful summary boxes that appear after certain chapters were indented on each side by a third of an inch — and that was one aspect that would have been simple in InDesign but was a fight in Word, as each one kept trying to be its own size. For the ebook version the frame was dropped to just top and bottom and it was a paragraph style with left and right indents.

Then you will create a PDF with this book block — all the front matter, the main text of your book, and any end matter (references, about the author, etc.). Your printer will create the book from that PDF plus your cover file. Check that PDF carefully, many times. Flip through it quickly in a zoomed-out mode to see if anything shifts suddenly. Go through it backwards and forwards. Double-check your requirements for blank pages and the like. Count up along with your pages to make sure they’re all there. Run a preflight check to verify that the images (if any) are at the resolution you expect.

Then you also have to have your cover file ready. I’ll talk more about that in the publishing section.

1. From reading around, I’m not 100% clear if the problem is just with docx or Word itself — if you can use a more recent Word version and just save to the doc format, or if you actually need a copy of Word 2003. In my case I was covered either way.
2. A post with more on cataloguing in publication will follow in the series.

Money 201 and a Crazy Idea

March 24th, 2015 by Potato

I have re-created the Money 201 session from our Toronto Public Library talk in February, and put it up on YouTube for your enjoyment and/or education and/or ridicule:

Now, here’s my crazy idea: wouldn’t it be great if there was a full online course along these lines? A full course would be about 12-24 hours of material, and would be designed to have some coherency and flow. So would you be interested in something like that? Doing something like that would take hundreds of hours of time to plan, draft, record, and upload: would you be willing to pay for it (either to pay for an online course with group hangout sessions/webinars, or to sponsor a video series through something like KickStarter)? If it was say $200 for an online course?

As cool as it sounds, it’s not like an online course is the only way to learn this stuff: there are plenty of books and blog posts, there are even some videos out there on individual components of personal finance/investing/planning if you look hard enough. But other than the odd book it’s very haphazard. If you’re coming in with no background, a blog is a terrible thing to encounter as the information is scattered all over chronologically, and often blog posts are focused on debating little technical issues which are not so helpful for a first-timer looking to learn.

There are in-person courses around: Ellen Roseman and Gail Bebee both offer courses on investing, with the added bonus of the reputational backing of the continuing education arms of UofT and Ryerson (at $245 for ~12 hours of class time). Plus there are plenty of free Toronto Public Library talks on the matter. Of course, you have to live in (or haul your butt to) Toronto for those classes, and I don’t think the rest of the country is as well supplied, so an internet option may be needed. So comment, email, or Tweet if you want to see something like this (especially if you would want to support it and make it happen).

I’ve started to give the idea some thought, and even thought about who I might pull in for guest lectures (some of whom are game if I can raise some money), but this is something that will only come together if there’s a real demand in the community for it — and the demand might be for someone other than me to do it. And just because I was crazy enough to think it was feasible doesn’t mean I’m the one who has to do it: if you think Ellen or someone else should make an online course then mention that in the comments too, and I’ll give them a poke.

“Have I told you about my latest crazy idea?”
“You have lots of crazy ideas, it’s hard to tell which one is the latest.”

Note: the self-publishing series will return at the end of the week.