Archive for 16 November 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure Comes To An End

Cave_of_timePublisher and author R.A. Montgomery passed away this week. His name isn’t familiar to millions of young readers since the late 1970’s (despite being the J.K. Rowling of his generation with 250 million copies sold in 20 years), but his “Choose Your Own Adventure” books are well-remembered. You read the first few pages, make a decision at the end, go to a different page number, read a few more pages, and make another decision. Some decisions cause the story to end sooner than expected.

As a preteen, finding patterns fascinated me.

My parents got me the Coleco Quiz Wiz electronic trivia game for my 10th birthday in 1979. The booklet had 1,001 trivia questions and an electronic device that told you if your answer was right or wrong. The electronic device plugged into other booklets sold separately. I went through a half-dozen booklets before I discovered the pattern with the electronic device: the correct answer for a given question number was the same for every booklet.

Having written down the correct sequence for 1,001 questions, I could answer any booklet correctly on the first pass without reading any questions or answers in 15 minutes. Once I discovered the pattern, the magic of learning new trivia with Quiz Wiz was forever lost. I’ll see the question number and look at the correct number on the booklet page, as I have memorized the correct sequence.

A few years later, I would get an Atari 2600 video game console and the “Adventure” cartridge, a graphical version of the text adventure game known as “Colossal Cave Adventure” that was popular in university computer labs. It took a long time to discover the pattern to defeat the red, yellow and green dragons, as resolving the various quests required going back and forth in the game world. Once memorized I could replay the game in significantly less time than before, a useful skill 20 years later when I worked as a video game tester for six years.

After the home video game revolution in the early 1980’s went kablooey from the Atari E.T. cartridge scandal, I got serious about reading books. My parents had no problem with me spending my weekly allowance on video games, but became distressed when I bought paperback books (they didn’t read for enjoyment). On the bright side, I wasn’t doing drugs like everyone else. Reading was my drug. As my mother crawled into the bottle of alcohol abuse, I needed to escape from reality.

I came across the CYOA books at a game store. Most bookstores kept the books hidden away in the children department. With a college-level reading comprehension in the eighth grade, I wasn’t looking for books in the children department. After reading a dozen CYOA books, I used a pencil to mark the pages read and decisions made. Later I tried to map out the decision tree from each book, a useful skill for computer programming many years later. With the older books in series having 40 possible endings, I never did find a pattern among the different stories.

Writing The Financial Numbers

One of the most important lessons I learned from CNBC’s “The Profit,” where millionaire Marcus Lemonis invests his own money to help failing small businesses, is the financial numbers. If you don’t know the numbers, you don’t know your own business. My modus operandi for many years was to figure out the numbers in March or April, fill out the tax forms, and shove the paperwork into a manila envelope. That always worked well for the short-term, but not for the long-term if you want a profitable business.

November is a good time for looking at the numbers. With the last quarterly payment from Smashwords at the end of October, monthly payments for Amazon ebook sales from September and October being paid in November and December, and no foreseeable first serial and/or reprint sales, I earned my income for the calendar year. Expenses are the only thing I can control for the next several months, and prepare for tax reporting next year.

I spent several Saturdays entering the numbers into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to determine my income, expenses and cash on hand. With pen, paper and calculator in hand, I rechecked all the numbers to make sure that nothing was amiss with the spreadsheet. That’s the easy part. The hard part was printing out the invoices to cross-check the transactions with invoice numbers.

What do the numbers reveal?

Missing Money From Among Invoices

One vendor allows customers to buy credits in advance to automatically pay for renewing services. I had four invoices that zeroed out the credit account and presented a balance due, and four invoices where I paid the full amount due. That meant I was missing $5.19 USD from the credits account. After opening a support ticket with the vendor, I got reimbursed the next day for $6.00 USD. If I haven’t checked the numbers, I wouldn’t have caught this.

Too Many Transaction Accounts

Most transactions got paid from the business checking and PayPal accounts. A few transactions got paid out of personal accounts (i.e., checking, credit cards and PayPal). I’m going to simplify the bookkeeping by having all transactions handled through the business checking account.

Profits (Or Lack Thereof)

Will I make a profit this year? I thought I was within $10 USD of making a profit by having income exceed expenses. Alas, digging deeper into the transactions, the gap to profitability grew larger. Unless I can write a lot of content in a short period of time and find publishers to cut checks in a shorter period of time, I won’t have a profitable year.

If you’re on top of your numbers, updating your numbers should take a few minutes to a few hours of your time each week. I should have my business tax return penciled in on New Year’s Day, saving me the headache of scrambling to put everything together at the last minute. With this year’s numbers in hand, I can figure out ways to reduce expenses and make more money next year.

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