How Ebay eats your vendor’s lunch

Okay, it doesn’t have much to do with editing. It does have to do with buying stuff someone has already edited, because it’s nice to learn about hidden costs. In the past, I have posted about the myth/dodge of free shipping. There is no such thing, of course; the only question is whether it’s buried in the item cost (and will therefore be charged to you for multiple items) or made visible (and therefore can be combined for multiple items).

Want to know what Ebay costs your seller? All right. Let’s imagine selling a book, since I both sell and love books. Fees have gone up recently, for no better reason than Ebay’s basic greed. The basic fees are:

  • $0.35 (listing fee; usually avoided as sellers get some fee-free listings each month, and pays to list the item for roughly thirty days)
  • $0.30 (basic selling fee)
  • 14.55% final value fee; that is, of the final selling price plus any sales tax plus shipping charges (rate varies by category; books are high).

So, here we go. Assume you sold a book with 5% sales tax (which Ebay collects and remits as required; as seller, you learn of it but don’t have to mess with it). You sold it for $6.97 and charged $3.87 for media mail shipping. Begin then with $10.84:

Add 5% for the sales tax; it’s now $11.38, of which $7.32 reflects the item and $4.06 the shipping (this distinction will come into play later). Of course, you will not receive that tax money; we just had to do this for an accurate dissection, so begin by deducting $0.54 for the sales tax. Deduct $0.65 for the listing fee and basic selling fee. Then multiply $11.38 by the final value fee, 14.55%, to get $1.66. Ebay charged me $2.31 in fees on $10.84 in sales revenue.

We have to pay to ship it, naturally. While the media mail rate in Notice 123 (postal rates) says that’ll be $2.89, most shippers use a reseller (often Ebay itself). I use one called PirateShip. It doesn’t drop my rate below the $2.89, so I assume they get a very thin discount and just charge me the Notice 123 rate. Maybe other shippers get it a little cheaper; don’t know. Most shippers try to cheat and use media mail for non-qualifying stuff; I don’t.

We also have to pack it. This is a normal paperback book and can fit in a standard plastic bubble mailer, but I had better put it in a zip-lock bag in case someone spills their coffee or beer on it after someone else stabs a hole in the packing. The bag and mailer cost me $0.24, and only because I buy the mailers in bulk. I also calculate that the label sticker costs $0.04, so supplies total $0.28.

I walk away with $5.36: $10.84, minus $0.65 for listing and basic selling fees, $1.66 for final value fees, $2.89 for shipping and $0.28 for shipping supplies. Not so bad? Not so great. Ebay ate over 20% of my gross. Ah, but looking back, did you observe the disparity between my freight charges and the actual postage? Caught me! Or not. I charged $3.87 for freight. Shipping cost me $2.89; supplies $0.28 on the cheap; Ebay stuck me for 14.55% of $4.06 (remember, they tacked on sales tax, calculated my fee, then remitted the tax–they so suck), so that’s $0.59 of the final value fees related to shipping. My math gives me a net profit on shipping of $0.11. And that’s only by attributing the listing fee and basic selling fee purely to the basic item, not the shipping. Start prorating those, and shipping just became a money-loser.

If the five minutes it takes me to pack the book and buy the postage aren’t worth eleven goddamn cents, then I must really, really suck at both. Hope I didn’t pay more than $5.25 for the book, or I sold at a loss.

You may think it’s incredibly petty to worry about all these “small costs.” No, no, no, no. That’s what everyone who collects those fees hopes you will do. All fees and all costs matter, down to the least one. I am not sure whether my packing tape adds up to a penny per parcel, but I probably should be considering that. The path to unprofitable business is paved with little bits of disregarded cost evidence. Believe me, the people to whom you pay those costs do not disregard their resulting revenues. Try it sometime. “Dear Ebay. Since your final value fees on my shipping are not even enough to buy a can of Coke from a machine, how about you just not charge me them?” Write and let me know what they say.

But what if the customer buys two books? Of course, if I were playing the free shipping shell game, I’d start making good money. Can’t combine shipping if it’s free, right? Such a deal! Ya. The more you buy with “free shipping,” the more you’re screwed. But since I don’t play that crappy little game, in most cases I can combine shipping provided it all qualifies to ship in the same way. Two books with nothing else meet that qualification.

Many buyers think they can both ride for the same price, but that’s not very common. With two small books, it’ll usually be the next pound up, so let’s say it’s just under two pounds. $3.45 according to Notice 123. It’ll also require a slightly larger mailer. So I might charge $4.57, which will put me about in the same place (just covering costs). Instead of paying $7.74, the buyer pays over $3 less. And some of them still think they’re getting hosed.

Not only that, some will even complain: “Dont know why ur not givin free shiping ur charges r a ripoff i no there not chargin u that much 2 ship my cozin works at the postal office”. Or think they are making me a fantastic offer: “Throw in free shipping and you’ve got a deal.”

Now you see why people sell the book for $0.99 (far as I’m aware, lowest price allowed) and jack the shipping way up. That’s the other form of shell game. And it’s true there are ways to trim little costs. Basic selling comes with 250 no-listing-fee listings per month; so as long as you do not get too big, you can avoid those. Ebay probably offers small savings on postage and supplies, and just as all costs are valid, so are all savings.

Anyway, you also now understand what’s really going on when you buy a book from someone. Whether it’s fair or not…you be the judge.

Thinking Fiction: Three Types of Indie Editing Clients — An American Editor

[JK here. I liked this because it showed me a different way of looking at incoming clients than my own, which begins with discovering whether the project is vanity (won’t make money, thus my services are for pride and education) or commercial (meant to make profit after paying expenses including me). I feel constrained to begin there because otherwise I risk leading someone down a garden path by omission of truth, which is: books with marketing plans might make money, but those without one will not. Do I believe that this Ice Bucket phase costs me some projects? I am sure it does–but if I did not, I would in essence be taking advantage of the unknown, withholding known truth, for financial gain. I won’t.]

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Carolyn Haley If you edit enough novels by independent authors, you’ll notice patterns in author types and ambitions. By this I mean broad patterns — which always contain exceptions — that can help guide editors in determining how to guide individual authors on their publishing journeys. The three broad types of indie authors are those […]

Thinking Fiction: Three Types of Indie Editing Clients — An American Editor

Current read: Out of Their League, Dave Meggysey

While this book first saw the light of day in 1970, it amazes me how relevant it remains today.

Meggysey, one of a large family born to Hungarian immigrants, grew up in Ohio and one might say found his way into professional football without ever having seriously dreamed of playing at the highest level. From high school to Syracuse to the end of his NFL career with the Cardinals, a part of him always knew that football culture was exploitative and racist. What would have been a dream for many young American men was a career from which he was eager to move on.

Moving on was simple enough. As the sixties moved on, all he had to do was become active in anti-war and anti-racist activities. That would get him shown the door if he didn’t retire first, which he did. He moved on to a career in education and activism.

The striking thing about Meggysey’s story is that our progress in fifty years has been modest and incremental at best. He tells freely of the ways and amounts in which Syracuse players were paid, a process that goes on today though less openly. (Whenever I see a college program rocket from mehness to top-ten recruiting classes, my first assumption is that they decided to go the bagman route.) He believes American football has a toxic culture. While I still like the college game, and I do not regret my high school playing days, I also think he is right–especially in places where football is the primary religious preference.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Dave Meggysey, like me, would be proud to kneel with Colin Kaepernick. I don’t have much use for mass nationalistic rallies prior to sporting events. I see them as manipulative and indoctrinary. One major change since his playing days involves the demographics of college and professional football, which are now very heavily black and Polynesian. You’d think it would be impossible to have racist issues in football coaching at any level above high school, and yet we keep hearing of them.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers; perhaps in the past fifty years Meggysey has found some. My biggest takeaway from this book was a better understanding of the game’s dynamics during its unsettled sixties, and the understanding that its troubles are nothing new.

Why I had never heard of him, I have no idea. I’ve normally heard of most conspicuous nonconformists in sports I follow, including those mostly before my time. I am glad I found him now, and I hope I get to meet him someday.

What is an Unreliable Narrator? — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

[J here. These are the sorts of questions that arise in the kitchen where the sausage is made. Want my opinion, most fiction authors start out writing exactly the way they want to write, without considering the constraints and impacts of that choice. I don’t have a problem with them writing the way they want to write, but I do have an issue when they don’t realize they aren’t making it work well.]

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You can use a variety of literary devices to add conflict and tension to narrative fiction. But few make readers work harder than the unreliable narrator, a device that, true to its name, allows the storyteller to take readers on a wild goose chase as they determine what’s true, what’s not, and why they feel…

What is an Unreliable Narrator? — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

The investing fast takes I wish I had absorbed when I was much younger

When not editing people’s manuscripts, one of my interests/occupations is investing. In thirty years, I’ve paid lots of investing tuition, which means I made stupid mistakes that cost me money. This has taught me some things, ones I can distill into the modern attention span, so here they are.

  • Stock and index raw numbers do not matter. Only percentage change matters. If you see a headline like DOW JUMPS 100, and you care, you are incorrect.
  • The Dow sucks (and not just because it’s the market’s FUD dispenser). When it’s done, it sucks some more.
  • The money media spend long hours trying to scare you into reading their media. None ever get fired for being wrong. So we keep reading them…why?
  • All fees and taxes matter. Never ignore any fee or tax; that’s the path to self-delusion.
  • Any investment setup that looks like a cutesy little dance, such as little gimmicky stuff that gives you free money to invest, is probably an e-monte game designed to tap into your “omg i could get rich yes plz” wishes. Read the terms, especially those about how you get out when you want to. Bears repeating: Watch the fees. Yes, even those little ones. Yes, those too. And yes, that one. Do you sense a trend? Are they targeting those at younger and less experienced investors? Well, what do you think? Do you suppose that it’s aimed at people who know much about what they are doing? If it’s that great, wouldn’t affluent older people be doing it?
  • Wall Street gets to cheat; you don’t. Love that or hate it, but it is what you will live with, and no one with the power to change it will ever do so.
  • Anyone who uses the word “bagger,” without “grocery” or “vance,” start ignoring. Just put an R after the B and all will be clear.
  • When you are young, time is your friend. Most young people will reject this friendship. I get it; so did I. I was a young idiot. If it were easier to accept that friendship, more young people would do it.
  • Even your brokerage will give Big Money better deals than it will to you. They will only be surprised if you act surprised (or outraged) by it, as if all people were created equal or something. In investing, you would be a hopeless naïf to believe this, and they would treat you with the gentle restraint and pity typically shown toward volatile persons missing a few marbles.
  • The three main ways to make money investing are to: sell it for a profit, get it to pay you, and/or save on your taxes. Growth, income, tax advantages. That’s them.
  • You really can’t know how you’ll react to big gains and big losses until you experience them. What you say about them now is irrelevant. What you do when the crowd’s going wild, or the building is on fire, is your investing identity.
  • Most non-index mutual funds do not beat their target indices, raising the question of why pay them more in order to do worse.
  • Conventional open-end mutual funds have some inherent flaws that harm performance.
  • Understand every investment you buy. It is very stupid to buy something and then go find out what you just got.
  • The biggest enemy of your success is your own emotions, both greed and fear.
  • If you just read the above and though, “Aha! I’m a man, and the women are more emotional, so I have the advantage!”, your furry ass is showing. A book called Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl makes a convincing case that women are likely to be better investors, more prone to do their research homework. I wouldn’t take any generalization too far, but read that book before you start patting your XY chromosomes on the back.
  • If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. With the exception of Berkshire, the only separate issue stocks that have ever succeeded for me were the ones my wife picked. She knows very little about investing. She rarely misses. I don’t even buy them any more, except those she directs me to buy. If you want to know her secret, it’s not very complicated; she buys stock of companies she likes and uses.
  • If you want to punish an evil company, don’t boycott their stock.  That’s mindless, and doesn’t hurt them. Want to mess them up? Buy a bunch, and then vote against management every time in shareholder elections, especially for the loopy proposals management recommends you vote down. Donate the dividends to anti-company causes if you like. But don’t confuse activism with investing, because they do not have the same goals.
  • If your job has a 401k, and you aren’t putting in at least up to the employer’s match, you are financially self-harming. They’re offering you free money and you are refusing it.
  • As you change jobs, roll your old 401ks into a rollover IRA, then manage them yourself. You will have better and more options.
  • Read good books about investing. Ask successful investors which are good books, and why. Don’t read stupid books.
  • If you’re tempted by an investment newsletter, start by rejecting any that arrive as junk mail.
  • If you just want the market return and can be happy with it, buy and hold index ETFs. If you did that consistently, you’d probably end up with a pile without having to do any work.
  • Every minute you spend watching Jim Cramer, you’ll get a little dumber. About 160 hours might be a functional financial lobotomy.
  • “It’s different this time” are investing’s famous last words.

It’s up to you. Good hunting.

Deconstructing Deadly Illusions—What Not to Do With Your Manuscript — Fiction University

[J here: this is a very useful little list of common mistakes that separate bits of untethered plot thrown in from a considered story. Very good advice for writers.]

By Bonnie RandallPart of The How They Do It Series JH: The smart writer learns from the mistakes of others. Bonnie Randall shares what went wrong with a story that made plenty of them, and how we can avoid those same mistakes.Friends, because I’m a little salty these days, and because Netflix is a quadra-gajillion-earning empire…

Deconstructing Deadly Illusions—What Not to Do With Your Manuscript — Fiction University

 

The Young Farmer dogmatism

A couple of years back, I did developmental and line editing on a great fantasy novel. One of the book’s great strengths was the author’s enormous esoteric medievalist vocabulary. Put it this way: I might stand justly accused of many failings, but among them is not a small vocabulary. I respect any writer who can send me fumbling for a dictionary. This author did, perhaps a dozen times.

One of these terms was “gong farmer.” When I first saw it, I thought: Pretty sure one can’t grow gongs in a crop field, or a rice paddy, or orchard. I’d better look this up. This is what competent editors and proofreaders do; we look up that which we do not comprehend. I discovered that a gong farmer was someone who cleaned out latrine pits, hauling the goodness in a shit wagon, most probably to some form of soil enrichment purpose. I laughed, said “stet,” made another nod to my client’s vocabulary, and kept working.

Came time for proofreading, and my client hired a proofer who had plenty of good ratings. That would teach him not to trust the ratings. The proofreader was an abject moron (now you see why I am not naming names). I’m convinced she just ran grammar check and spell check, ‘congrats 2 me I proofed pls heres my pay pal.’ To my our shock, she had simply changed any esoteric terms or usages she didn’t understand. “Gong farmer” had become “young farmer,” from stem to stern.

Ya.

For me, this event memed the term. It came to define mindless editing and proofreading, that dogmatic attitude that finds itself unmoored from context. As I look far back into my own history in this regard, I have probably myself gone through such a phase and made similarly dogmatic, stupid edits. Maybe I owe some empathy for that, and maybe I feel some. But not much, because context always does matter.

The goal is to do all the things that lead to the best possible ms. And now, any time I find myself having a reflex reaction to a usage, I remind myself not to have a Young Farmer moment.

Women’s History Month: Sergeant Joan Mortimer, MM

When I was in college, attempting to be my own editor on my own college papers and not notably succeeding, my country was in the pioneering days of women expanding their roles in the military outside the nursing field. Many went through very difficult times cutting and widening that path, including some I know well and respect. One thing they had going for them was that the path was at least trodden and visible, thanks to true stories of predecessors like Sergeant Joan Mortimer of the WAAF.

A political organizer from London, Joan Mortimer was twenty-seven when she joined the relatively new Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in early 1939. The war clouds were plain on the horizon, and war indeed broke out for Britain in September 1939. After the Nazi forces mauled the Benelux countries and France, it was the turn of the United Kingdom. The goal was to break the island’s resistance through a sustained air campaign, periodically inviting the British and their allies to just give up. They rejected this offer, of course, answering by force of arms–and thus developed the Battle of Britain.

RAF Biggin Hill was a frontline outpost of the air war over the UK. Located in what are now London’s southern outskirts, the base was an early responder to any incursion into UK airspace. That made it imperative for the Luftwaffe to pound it at every opportunity. Assignment there was hazardous duty, and on 1 September 1940 Sergeant Mortimer was among three WAAF enlisted women on communications duty when a major airbase strike came in. Along with Corporal Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner in the HQ, she maintained vital communications from her post at the switchboard (in the armory, surrounded by high explosives one might well hope avoided a direct hit). But that was not all.

Henderson and Turner remained at their posts doing their duties when a bomb struck and set ablaze the headquarters building. Only when the fire reached their room, and under direct orders, did they leave their work. The bombs sometimes didn’t explode upon landing, but that didn’t make them safe. As for Mortimer, she realized that no one had yet red-flagged the unexploded bombs on the runway, and that the base’s fighter complement would be at greater risk as it attempted to land and re-equip. Pilots could usually spot craters, but dud ordnance sometimes not so much. With the Luftwaffe still making runs on the airfield, Sergeant Mortimer ran out to mark the danger spots in disregard for her own life and safety.

No one can tell me that’s not a warrior.

The three women each received the Military Medal, which only six British women earned throughout the war. Sergeant Joan Mortimer’s citation described her actions thus: “This airwoman displayed exceptional courage and coolness which had a great moral effect on all those with whom she came in contact.” Boy howdy it must have. His Majesty the King himself had the privilege of decorating her.

Let her country, and its then and later wartime allies such as my own country, take a moment to remember Sergeant Joan Mortimer, MM, and her fellow airwomen whose valor earned the respect of those who served with them.

For Rent to Publishers: One Pistol with Bullet to Shoot Yourself in the Foot (or Why Good Editing Matters) — An American Editor

Jk here: I’m glad it’s not just my imagination that even the big and supposedly reputable houses are hiring people who end up not doing a decent job. Does evidence of lack of competent editorial impact harm a book’s prospects? I guess some of them think not.

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Richard H. Adin I never thought I would say “Gosh, I am glad I am retired,” but I am. Being retired has done many things for me, not least of which (aside from having the time to play with my granddaughters before their school and other diversions make me uninteresting and obsolete before my time) […]

For Rent to Publishers: One Pistol with Bullet to Shoot Yourself in the Foot (or Why Good Editing Matters) — An American Editor

Sucking at tech support, and the Sea of Red Ink

Not long ago, I asked an editorial community how it felt about clients’ requests to be taught and guided in the use of computers, email, and especially software such as MS Word.

Results were all over the board, from “Sure, I’m an expert” to “Not only no but hell no” to “If they want to pay me for it, I’m their huckleberry.” I asked because I don’t like it and am not good at it, and was wondering if this was rare. The reasons are complex, but are based on this: when I left that field behind, it was like a weight off my shoulders, and I don’t like re-shouldering it. Few seem to understand this reluctance, but we all have different paths and experiences. There are former police officers who never again touch a firearm once they retire. You couldn’t get my football widow mother to sit down and watch a game if I were playing in it, not even if you stapled her to the chair and propped her eyelids open à la A Clockwork Orange. She would look away and sing to drown out the audio for all three and a half hours. I think she’d rather have a bucket of horse turds dropped in her lap than a football.

So I was reading what the other editors said about tech support, and then one of the responses hit me with a flash of the road to Damascus (and no, it wasn’t a Syrian Arab Air Force strike aircraft firing rockets). There are Youtubes on everything. I can’t possibly know what the client is seeing, and I’m not willing to set up some form of screen-sharing remote access software. If I can find out the feature they need help with, and the version they are using, I can find them a YT that will discuss how the feature works. Their screen will look like what the video shows, and menu selections will have the same names as they will see on the video.

It feels like liberation.

Here is a helpful hint for all those of you who work with Word and an editor: Go to YT and search for ” track changes ” plus the version (e.g. ” Word 2013 “). Watch them. Live them. Groove them.

Because I’m still using Word 2007, I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version, and what I see on my screen simply is not what you see. All I can do is confuse you.

I can’t charge you for confusing you. Not nice. I already do enough free work (emails, phone discussions) and have to establish a boundary, stay within my comfort and happiness zone. Doing tech support makes me not want to do my work at all, and I can’t afford that.

That still leaves the Track Changes learning curve, which brings into play the Sea of Red Ink. This is where their first view of the finished product, by default, shows it looking like a e-splatter film. I had one client just accept all the changes without review, so traumatized were they.

There’s a solution and it involves a better way to send the client his or her results. Send two versions: one with all changes accepted (no Sea of Red Ink), one with the changes awaiting acceptance (e-splatter film). I don’t like it, but I have to accept that the Sea of Red Ink is scary when it’s the first thing clients see. It isn’t the version I want them to begin with. What I normally want them to do first is read the edited version (which is not the default view in Track Changes, and which can’t be saved to be the default view) all the way through, with just comments, and see how it feels; see how they like the way they sound, just read and react.

Then I want them to review it with the tracked changes. The Sea of Red Ink will now show, but by now, the client will realize that every single teensy correction (loose space, case error, changed comma, fixed typo) leaves a trail of red pixels out to the margin. This will show, should show, that the Sea of Red Ink is not nearly as fearful as once believed. The simple act of a global S&R for “two spaces, replace with one,” will coat in e-splatter any page in most mss even though it led to no substantive alterations. It looks bloody, but it’s a minor scratch.

Sounds so reasonable, right?

Hardly any of them have ever paid attention to these directions. They dove straight into the Sea of Red Ink (default view), had whatever crisis they were going to have, and either recovered or did not. Their lips said “yes, yes” but their eyes said “FOAD FOAD FOAD,” as one long-ago RA colleague used to say about residents and activities. For me to expect them to follow my suggestions is naïve. I have to make that easier for them.

I’m tired of the crises and worrying about them, and I’m ten times tired of being asked for tech support. So now I’m going to send two versions as described earlier, so that I don’t have to do tech support to help them face the Sea of Red Ink. They never have to see it if they prefer not to; they can, if they wish, just use the fully accepted copy and put comments/edits there. It will still have changes tracked. This should make an enormous difference in outcomes, without ever removing acceptance or rejection of changes from their own hands, where that process belongs.

Not paying attention to that particular group any more due to excessive thought/speech policing, but I have to credit it for this one valuable thing. At least, in return for the many dozens of people I helped, I did get one help back. Could be worse.

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.