mobile | print

Well, okay, no, that's a lie; that's not why it's been two years since you last heard from me here at my personal website, or three years since I was last posting on a regular steady basis. The answer is much more mundane -- I've simply been out living my life, including an increasing amount of work at the evermore popular Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, an increasing amount of time at my friend Carrie's place in Hyde Park (on the opposite side of the city from where I live), an unsuccessful new job search two years ago in my former industries of copywriting, graphic design and office management, and a recent graduation from the DevBootcamp "computer programming bootcamp" program here in Chicago, and a transition into my new career as a software developer.

I simply haven't had much to say -- I've been mostly keeping my head down and my nose to the grindstone for the last few years, and although I've been very happy with the amount of work I've gotten done, I've found it difficult to drum up enthusiasm for a journal entry when my last week could be described: "Got up. Did twelve hours of work. Went to bed. Repeat." But, now that I'm a DBC graduate and am out getting really actively involved again in the tech community (and just socially in general a lot more), I've decided to start up my personal journal again, for hopeful small updates at least once a week just to get back into the habit again. This is in addition to the new blog I've started just for coding subjects over at Medium.com, called Adventures in Codeland; those entries will be less personal ones about the tech industry in general, and coding lessons I've been learning recently, while this personal journal will continue to be my main place online for talking about personal emotions, personal struggles, personal opinions, etc.

It seems like there's a billion things to tell you in order to get you up to speed, from the last time I updated here two years ago; and this frankly is one of the things that has stymied me from getting more posts up in the last two years, precisely knowing how much writing needed to be done to get you up to speed. So I'm instead just going to pick out a few big topics and get you up to date on the generalities of those, much like if we had recently ran into each other at a dinner party and I officially had five minutes to tell you how the last three years have been going with me; and if you want to know more, just keep coming back here on a weekly basis this fall and winter, or subscribe to the RSS feed. To wit:

Things have gotten a lot busier with CCLaP. Namely, for those who don't know, we finally switched to traditional paperbacks for the first time in 2014, which tripled the amount of work we suddenly had to do, which to be fair also increased our revenue (to a little more than $12,000 last year), although ironically still kept us in our general break-even point for any given year. There are some long posts to be written about how the last two years have been for CCLaP, and especially what it's been like to try to "fit in" for the first time with the way the rest of the publishing industry largely works; but the short version is that I haven't been exactly happy with how things are going, exactly for the reason that I stayed out of traditional paperbacks for so long, because the entire system is set up to only work well for a place like Random House, which puts out hundreds of titles per year, expects sales in the tens of thousands at least for each one, and has millions in spendable cash it can blow through while waiting the sometimes six months for bookstores to cut checks for sales. If you're at any less scope than this, the "traditional" route of paperback publishing (i.e. print your books at a printing plant, hire a distributor to drive them to brick-and-mortar bookstores for foot-traffic sales, and rely mostly on reviews and advertisements to spread the word) is a financial disaster, no two ways about it, and CCLaP has been feeling this pinch over the last several years as well, versus the much more decent profit and notice we got when we were still doing handmade hardbound copies of all our books.

I've decided in 2016, though, to really grasp the horns of this bull in a fully entrepreneurial way like I never have before, and to start making this system really start working for me for the first time, instead of me being a hapless slave to it. And again, there's a fuller post coming in the future about the details, but here's the basic plan for next year, which I'm sharing in case anyone has any advice they want to give about it, or any help they're in a position to offer...

--First, I'm sinking a lot more money into CCLaP next year, which I can do because of this coming tech-industry job I'm about to get -- we're planning on expanding from a budget of $12,000 to $20,000 all at once, all of my own money (CCLaP continues to be 100 percent self-funded), which among other things will let me actually pay some young people on an hourly basis to do all the daily crap we've been bad at following through on, like getting orders in the mail, getting review copies out to members of the press, and ordering more than 100 copies of our books from the printing plant at once, which is the minimum order we need to start getting a per-copy discount.

--Then, with the increased amount of copies at our disposal, we're going to start acting as our own distributor a lot more; we only have several thousand copies of our books to move altogether next year in total, so it's actually pretty easy for us to just ship these via UPS ourselves (versus a place like Random House, which might ship a hundred thousand copies to ten thousand stores every single week). That will save us a whopping 20 percent of the cover price for each sale, the "fee" our distributor takes for shipping these books themselves, which will increase our profit per book tremendously.

--At the same time, then, we're going to start profoundly winnowing down the amount of actual brick-and-mortar bookstores we deal with, or at least the ones we contact out of the blue and keep in regular communication with; for the last two years we've been doing it the way every other press does it, by trying to randomly set up new relationships via cold-calls and sample mailings with the tens of thousands of stores in the US that now exist, and that has generally been getting us freaking nowhere, because we simply don't have the resources to make a dent and even get noticed within a world where the Random Houses of the industry are making all the rules. So, next year we're focusing most of our national efforts exclusively on Amazon, and for walk-in sales we're lasering in on just six different cities -- Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York -- trying instead to set up meaningful, regular relationships with every bookstore that exists in these six towns, in the hopes of getting these places to carry all our books whenever they come out, instead of the constant struggle to start a new relationship with stores every single time a new title gets released. And this is in service of a related item...

--We're going to start getting all our authors out to all six of these cities, to do "mini-tours" where they try to hit as many stores in these places as they can, all in a short period of time. I'm convinced that as a tiny press, this is the key towards us finally doing well at physical bookstores for the first time (our sales right now are nearly non-existent outside of Amazon and our own mail-order service) -- instead of blanketing the entire US to create a series of barely-known acquaintances, we need to set up regular "special" relationships with a small but highly targeted number of stores, where we are literally sending one of our authors there for a fun live event once every month or two, keeping us constantly in the front of their minds there and hopefully inspiring them to carry all our books, promote these books frequently, etc. This means travel money, per diem money, more sample copies of books out to more stores, more promotional merchandise out to more stores, more postage money to make it all happen, etc; and that's why this stuff hasn't been possible before this coming year of a double-sized budget, and why we've largely been having to do it the traditional way for almost no benefits at all.

--I'm fully converting my bedroom into CCLaP's first "warehouse" and mailing center, which in this case means essentially lining the walls with bookshelves, to accommodate the approximate thousand copies of our books that will likely be in our space at any given time, as we constantly make more orders of 101 copies for any given title as we need them (to hit that sweet discount), even as other titles slowly shrink from that 101 as more and more sales go out the door. This will also give my new paid employees and regularly revolving interns an actual place to go to get this daily work done; and this is all with the assumption that I will be receiving raises at my coming tech job at the six-month and one-year mark, and thus able to afford an actual legal storefront space in 2017 for the first time. My eyes have been on that prize ever since we opened in 2007, and would make for a pretty amazing ten-year anniversary present; that will mark the first truly profound jump for CCLaP, when we're able to start making money off live events, host things seven nights a week, have a sidewalk space for retail sales, etc.

We will easily start selling four to five times the amount of copies of our books once all these above steps are in place; this has been the main problem, in fact, that our books currently are only making the same amount of money as it costs to get them out the door, and that we need things like a much larger bookstore presence to make the sales of each particular title get higher and that profit margin finally up to a decent shape. That'll mean big things for the center by 2017 -- for starters, a budget of not $20,000 but hopefully more like $50,000 to 60,000, which makes the $10,000 of seed money coming next year from my own pocket a pretty good investment -- but it's an awfully big commitment we're talking about, so we'll see how it goes.

So what else? Well...

I've started looking for a job in the tech industry for the first time. But you can read a lot more about the daily ups and downs of that over at my Medium.com account. There's a ton of stuff to be said about my time in DevBootcamp, and I hope to be getting to all of it over the next few months.

I'm very close to quitting Facebook. Partly that's because, as part of our DevBootcamp requirements, I started up my first personal Twitter account this year (over at @jason_pettus), and have found it a much more enjoyable medium than I thought it was going to be; the real key is to simply limit your "connections" list there to just people you actually want to hear from, which is easy to do when the "make a connection" function is manual for each direction, not automatically added on both ends whenever you make a new "friend." And partly it's because I've simply grown tired of Facebook; I've grown tired of the two-day flame wars that erupt in the comments section every single time anything of interest is ever said there anymore, and I've grown tired of there being no way to turn that off, and I've grown tired of all the oversimplistic political platitudes that are shared there, and I've grown tired of all the sickly sweet sentimental treacle that takes place there, and I've grown tired of how the "one-stop shop" nature of Facebook has basically turned it into an online version of real life, which I mean in the most damning way possible.

So I'll be quitting by the end of this year at the latest, maybe before, and shuttling off my online persona to several other places -- all my real-time updates to Twitter, all my coding thoughts to Medium, all my personal thoughts here, all my latest photos over to my Flickr account (now updated every day or two), and all my silly/goofy pop-culture things over to my usual Blogspot location for that, I Am A Camera.

Oh, and I'm dating again. Kind of. I'm officially open to the possibility of dating again, let's say, although I have been out on no actual dates in thirteen years, and have no immediate plans for any. More anon.

So that's it for now -- more job-seeking, more coding practice, more trips to Hyde Park, more Minecraft, more CCLaP books, more bicycling, and now with a new Meetup.com group I'm co-running with my friend Carrie (but more on this next time), and a series of Friday-evening dinner parties I've been talking about doing for years but am finally starting this fall (formally known as "The Secret Society of the Green Turtle," but again, more on this next time). And with a new journal entry up here once a week this autumn and winter too, hopefully not too terribly long so to encourage more actual finishings and postings, so I hope you'll have a chance to stop by on a regular basis for the rest of the year and check out the latest.

Copyright 2015, Jason Pettus. All rights reserved. This was published under a Creative Commons license; click here for details. Contact: ilikejason [at] gmail [dot] com.