Tuesday, August 20, 2013

They that go down to the sea in ships...

When Italy beat Sweden in the semi-finals and advanced to face New Zealand to determine who would race against Oracle Team USA for the America's Cup, I was less than thrilled. It wasn't that many of my ancestors lived in Sweden. It was the fact that Italy had already raced New Zealand in the round robin races and lost. Badly. Their scores for five races were one DNS (did not sail), 2 losses, and 2 DNFs (Did Not Finish). They did make it to the finish line, but the rules say the race is over five minutes after the first boat crosses the finish line, so if you're seven minutes behind you get DNF for your score.

I was expecting the finals to have all the excitement of watching paint dry--or, in this case, watching paint get wet. I was wrong.

The schedule called for two races on Saturday. The first race was scheduled for 1:10 pm, and things began to go wrong even before the start. First the start time was pushed back twice because the wind was blowing too fast. They started at 1:30 pm. Luna Rossa (Italy) had been frantically fixing a problem with its starboard daggerboard right before the race--nothing like having your shore crew crawling around the boat with a hacksaw and a glue gun to get you into the right frame of mind to race. Unfortunately, the repair failed just as the race started. You need both daggerboards in order to race the boat, so Luna Rossa limped to the downwind end of the course and waited to see if anything would happen to New Zealand's boat.

New Zealand sailed the first downwind leg, rounded the mark, sailed the upwind leg, and rounded the upwind mark. From there all they had to do was sail another downwind leg, make a right turn around the downwind mark and sail a short leg to the finish line. But as they rounded the upwind mark things went--well, Biblical. As in Psalm 107:
23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
The winds were on the high end of safe, and rounding a mark is like turning a corner while driving a car: you accelerate coming out of the turn. There's a video on the America's Cup YouTube channel, but it all happened so fast it's hard to see. There wasn't much mounting up to heaven, but the front of both hulls went underwater. I didn't see anyone reeling to and fro, but two of the crew did go overboard, and I suspect there was quite a bit of prayer. Fortunately the Lord sent the chase boat, which pulled the two men out of the water. This left the racing boat with a nine-man crew and some damage to the boat, but they did sail the rest of the course successfully.

So the race ended with two boats needing to be fixed and a second race scheduled for 2:10 pm. Fortunately, the wind speed increased and the second race was cancelled, giving both teams much-needed repair time.

And that gives me an idea for a story.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Job That Will Not Die, part two, or What Is this Money For?

As I mentioned last week, I still have my old job as Secretary to Mrs. Bradley, even well after her death, and I'm dealing with issues she never foresaw, even in her wildest dreams as a science fiction writer.

I refer both  to our ability to self-publish both domestically and internationally and to the electronic transfers of royalties into her bank account. When we get paper checks, they generally come with a stub or statement that tells what they're for. If information is missing or incomplete, we contact whoever issued the check and say something like: "Your check #9999 dated 06/03/2013 has a line that says SWORD AND SORCERESS. There are 27 volumes with that title, so could you please tell us which one you're paying us for?" But when money appears in the checking account, sometimes it's a bit difficult to tell exactly where it came from.

We can identify the Nook payments; there's only one a month, and it's the only thing we get from Barnes & Noble. Kindle royalty statements aren't too bad. There's one per country, but they send us e-mails with the payment number so we can match them up. But then we have the dead tree editions. We have two different physical book publishers: CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

Lightning Source provides monthly 3-4 page long sales statements for both the US and the UK. The books they published are Sword and Sorceress 22-26, so the title for each item is "Marion Zimmer Bradley's," which means that the only thing that identifies which book they're reporting is the ISBN. So I find the page with the ISBNs and enter the data in my spreadsheet. The payment amount for the UK, of course, is in pounds rather than dollars, and there's no conversion figure because they won't be paying us for another few months. I have the sales for July, but the most recent payment was for April. The payment notice has dollars, but not pounds. I entered the amount in pounds when I got the sales figures, but for the benefit of those who didn't, the statement has one line:
"UK PCOMP-GBP(1.54354) APR-13 Sales Comp" along with the total amount for all five books, in dollars. Because these are anthologies and each book has to be split among different contributors, I need to apportion the total among the individual books, and then enter the final amounts into another set of spreadsheets. It's tedious, but it's not as bad as the Nook royalty statements.

CreateSpace, which we're using for everything else, also sends information in installments, albeit much more quickly. First the money shows up in the bank, looking like this:
24-Jul-2013        33.33               ACH Credit
24-Jul-2013        44.44               ACH Credit
I know that one of these is the UK and the other is the rest of Europe, but at this point I don't know which is which. Shortly after the money lands in the bank, the payment is reported on the CreateSpace site, providing the answer to that question. Then all I have to do is download the associated reports and parcel the money out to the various books.

As we republish MZB's backlist and publish new books, the CreateSpace report gets longer, so it's a good thing that it's readable. We are currently working our way backward through the Darkover anthologies, and the trade paperback of FOUR MOONS OF DARKOVER should be available this week.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Job that Will Not Die

I call "Secretary to Mrs. Bradley" the job that will not die. She's been dead for well over a decade, and I'm still working for her--or, more accurately, for her Trust. There's a good reason I still have this job, and I dread the day that I need to train someone else to do it. I still have this job because I'm the one who remembers both the original names and the current names of the authors we still pay royalties to. I'm the one who knows that the Darkover anthologies were broken up by foreign publishers to make new anthologies (six in France and four in Italy) and can match the foreign titles to the names of the authors we need to pay.

The most frequent challenge, however, is dealing with the monthly royalty statements for our self-published books and ebooks.

As far as ebooks go, Nook is definitely the worst. We actually began our venture into e-publishing with Fictionwise. Fictionwise paid us 50% of the list price, and their royalty statements were wonderful. They paid once a quarter, and they provided a statement sorted by author and then title, with one line for each title. Then Barnes & Noble bought them, and the Fictionwise ebooks became Nook ebooks (and multi-format became ePub).

The most recent monthly Nook statement contained 610 lines of data. That represents 708 copies of 160 titles (close to a line of data for each copy sold). It took me three days to get it sorted out, because what B&N reports is not the information we need. They report a long list of things including: Date of Sale; Date of eGift; Publisher's ISBN (we don't use one); Title; Publisher (uh, that would; List Price; Unit Royalty (which is 40%, not the 50% we were getting); Units Sold, Units Returned; Net Units Sold; and Total Royalty. I'm not certain whom they think they're preparing this report for--somebody who wants to analyze sales by date by ISBN?

What we need from that list is Title, Net Units Sold, and Total Royalty. What we need that is not on that list is Author. The money we get every month has to be split between 17 different authors, not counting Marion, and I am the only person who can look at the title and know who the author is. So after removing the information we don't need, I fill in a column with the author's last name, and sort the spreadsheet by author and title. Then the really tough part begins: for each title, find the sum of the net units sold and the sum of the royalty for that title. Put the amounts on the top line for each title and delete the lines below until the next title starts. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Take Advil for sore wrist. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Give up for the day. Repeat daily until done. If this sounds tedious, I can assure you that it is.

Thank God for Kindle, which reports the authors' names and generally has only one line per title.