Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Revenue Streams

March 2, 2010
Last Friday I found out that my largest client, the one that accounts for about 80 to 90% of my annual income, was going through a restructuring. Well, let's put it this way. The sales guy I've been working with on an ancillary project for the client left a message on my answering machine that went something like, "I was just hoping to talk to you about today's conference call, especially in light of XXXXX leaving the company and all the things that have been going on that you know about."

Um, what? (I didn't know shit).

A tiny bit of background. The client is a publisher that is owned by a group publisher which is owned by a larger corporation which is... you get the idea. My contact with the client, it turns out, was probably leaving the company (well, he is, but I didn't know that at the time). Basically early last week everyone who worked at my client's company was called together, told that there would be restructuring. Two days later 35 people were on their way out and my contact person was one of them.

Now, here's the thing. This client isn't going out of business, at least not this year. They're shifting under a different part of the parent corporation. Generally speaking, it looks like all their writers are staying, but a lot of the publishing/production people are leaving.

Where did that leave me? I was assured I was "probably okay." I was fairly confident I was, too, but since I'm a freelancer and my point of contact was leaving and I didn't have contracts for all the work I was scheduled to do in 2010 (we generally lay out what I'm going to do over the course of the year, how much we'll pay, then as each comes up with contract for it), things weren't so clear cut. I wasn't worried, exactly, but I was concerned.

[And a footnote. If you're the type of person who goes into a raging fit of panic whenever things change like this--don't become a freelance writer. Or even a novelist. These sorts of things just happen all the frickin' time. If you can't deal with it, keep your day job. Really.]

Anyway, yesterday I finally got hold of my contact and discussed matters with him and I did point out that I didn't have a contract for any of the remaining work, did he think we were going to continue doing it? He said he was pretty sure they were because there were an awful lot of important revenue streams involved. And I rather bluntly suggested he should talk to whoever was taking over about getting a contract to me sooner rather than later, then, because I was otherwise going to be out looking for replacement work (sooner, rather than later).

And voila, by the end of the day yesterday I had a contract for 3 projects over the next 3 months totaling about $32,000. Apparently those revenue streams were important to the management.

Hell, they're important to me.

Another funny thing happened to me yesterday. I got a royalty check from iUniverse for my novella collection, CATFISH GURU. Granted, the check was for $5.41.

But I've been thinking a lot about revenue streams lately. And not just from the freelance writing business perspective, but from the novelist perspective. I'm also working on a nonfiction book. I won't see any money from it until sometime late in 2011. My next novel, THE FALLEN, will be officially published on April 5th of this year and although I received a small advance last year, I expect to see royalties from it... sometime in 2011.

And for that matter, I hope my agent will sell some foreign rights to it. More revenue streams.

If you're really lucky as a novelist, you can write one book a year and make a living at it. If you do, there's a good possibility that each book is providing multiple revenue streams--your advance, your paperback sales, your e-book sales, foreign rights sales, maybe audiobooks, even possibly TV or film options, videogame options, merchandising (well, it COULD happen), etc.

Also, part of the goal really is to grow your audience. So that each time you come out with a new book, say your fifth book, and you garner an additional set of readers to go along with your old readers, those new readers will be so delighted with your fifth book that they'll go back and buy your first four--and you'll get royalties, ie., revenue streams, from those books as well.

If you have any notion of making a living as a writer of any sort, do not discount the importance of multiple revenue streams. I've been aware of it in the context of having multiple clients, but I'm increasingly aware of the value of what you might call passive revenue streams.

As it is, I'm primarily a work-for-hire kind of writer. I write an article, I get paid for it. I get hired to write a report, I get 50% up front and the remaining 50% when I'm done. I have a long-term contract to edit a technical journal, and I get a check after I complete the edits on each issue. I write a regular column for an e-newsletter now and I invoice for all of them (2X a week) at the end of each month.

That's fine. But the longer I stay in this business the more it sometimes feels like being on a gerbil wheel. You've got to run pretty hard to keep up. That's fine. That's just like everybody else's job, pretty much, except there's no coasting allowed. But it would be nice if some of the earlier books started generating royalties, ie., revenue streams. If my books were being published regularly enough and successfully enough and with enough subsidiary revenue streams that I was getting unexpected, but welcome, revenue in the forthcoming years.

So that approach is becoming more of a priority, an actual goal, as part of my writing business. And I might be a slow learner in terms of this, but I'm really starting to think that if you want to survive happily as a writer, you're well-advised to start thinking about multiple revenue streams.


Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

I've been in that exact position ... a large client restructures and everything is thrown into total chaos. It's mostly worked out to my benefit, but not always—one time in particular, I lost a huge chunk of income as a result of it. Other times, I've been able to approach the skeleton crew that is left and basically say, "I know exactly how to do this whole job, so if you need help, please don't hesitate to ask me." In some cases, it's resulted in increased revenue.

However, the big thing I've taken away from these events is this: never let more than about 20% of my income come from a single client. The one time I got burned, I was on a huge contract that lasted for a year and was in the six figures. As a result, I neglected everything else and focused on this project exclusively. But the project flamed out right at the end (not my fault) and poof! I was stuck at zero. Thus followed the worst year of my career.

Today, I never let any client dominate my billing because no client—no matter how good—lasts forever. So it's like you said: multiple streams of revenue.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Ever since I got this client I've been aware I've got a problem. I don't seem quite able to solve it, although this year I'm working my ass off to build up other clients, especially related books. This has been a terrific client, but they've been a little inconsistent in terms of revenue. One year you make $30G, another $60G. It took a few years to figure that out and this year is a big year, but next year probably won't be and might even be non-existent, so I think the idea of never being that reliant on a single client is a damned good idea--not all that easy to do, but a damned good idea.

6:19 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

It's why I'm writing erotica. Hell, it's pretty easy to sell and make cash on.

Artistically, it's fun and very freeing, too. For instance, I'm going to write an erotica space opera that I'm fairly certain will sell as soon as it's finished. I couldn't sell a space opera to standard markets at all, not even in short form. But I want to write one so I get to. And make money.

It also gives me a much needed break from my more intense work.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

You had me worried there, pal. Glad it turned out. It's like running a small company. You know the day to day income and outgoing payables. Scary as hell, but better than being left in the dark in a huge company. It is nice to have a "steady" income while working on my novels. Given, I have to get up at 4:30 to get any decent writing in, but it's what puts the living into life, isn't it?

7:56 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I'm with Jon. I had a client pull that last July. I am a THOUSAND times happier, having replaced them and no longer dealing with the Anti-Christ head of the marketing department. But I don't let one client dominate. I "think" this will be a 6-figure year after a blah last year. So we'll see.


12:10 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

We have multiple revenue streams but they are pretty much like your Catfish Guru stream. Small. Just big enough to be up without a paddle.

Great news, though, with your other work. I imagine it was a relief to get those contracts. You're right, publishers of all sorts are constantly shuffling things and sometimes freelancers get caught in the shuffle. It isn't all bad news though. The ecomic mess hasn't affected me at all so far. In fact, I suspect legal publishers find it even more attractive to farm stuff out since it is cheaper than doing the writing in-house.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

There are types of writing that just don't seem to thin out much (I hope). I suspect legal writing is one. In my experience, businesses always are in need of other people's data to base their decisions on and that's a big part of my writing. I think tech writing for pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing, and computer companies is like that, too. Good work if you can get it and can stand it. I actually don't mind it most of the time and sometimes find it interesting, and it's generally pretty lucrative. Not glamorous, that's for damned sure.

I did a little work for a very large national organization for doctors and other lab people and it seems like it should be steady work and they have plenty of money, but the person who handles their writing needs doesn't seem quite organized about it. I get the impression that her MO is to try and do it herself, gets totally swamped, but forgets she can hire someone outside until it's too late. Last time I talked to her she was all, "Yeah, I was just thinking I should call you, but I got all caught up, but I'll get back with you soon." No words. If things slow down again, I'll contact her. Some people just don't know what's good for them.

2:59 PM  

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