Author News Opinions

What Pet Sitting and Self-Publishing Have in Common

Yesterday, I posted a very important post about 99 cent eBooks, why they weren’t a good option for me anymore, and that my prices were going up. However, what I didn’t talk about was where my business insights were coming from: my pet sitting business.

Not all Pet Sitters are Created Equal:

I’ve been pet sitting since I was a clueless kid charging five dollars per visit. Ironically, I got more clients in terms of sheer numbers back then than I do thirteen years later as a fully bonded and insured professional who charges at least twice as much. Because I both did this as a summer job and a “real job,” I know something most of my professional competitors either don’t understand or won’t admit: we’re not really competing against each other so much as we’re competing against family, friends, neighbors, kids and adults. These adults are people who go, “I walk my own dog just fine, this should be easy side money!”

Family and friends typically work for free but know the animal and the owner well and do just fine. Neighbors typically work for very little if they are paid at all, but again, they know the family and the animal well.

It’s the kids and “side-money” adults who are the riskiest to work with. Kids can do a very good job, like I did, but they lack the life experience and common sense to deal with problems and mistakes or ideally prevent them from cropping up at all. When I first started out, I didn’t use client forms which spelled what out I needed to do, I just wrote it all down in a notebook as the client told me. This caused me to make an error with one client that is so embarrassing and horrible, I’m not even going to talk about it.  Needless to say, after that I had client forms and that mistake never occurred again.

However, I still didn’t have a legalese contract which spelled out what the client would pay, how they would pay me, what would happen in inclement weather and so on. This caused me to get jerked around by clients who, for example, suddenly decided to pay me less than what we had verbally agreed upon. Now I have a legalese contract that I can point to. People tend to hate legalese up until it saves them, then they can’t get enough of it. It was these blunders that me a better businessman and pet itter. While I still make on-the-job mistakes now, they’re very few and very minor. I’m able to fix them in no time.

Finally we come to the “side-money “adults, found in any business with extremely low cost barriers to entry. Not only do these adults lack job experience like kids, i.e. they don’t use forms or contracts, they are typically lousy at their jobs. Side-money adults don’t have the experience and reputation of someone like me to get away with charging professional-level rates, which generally range from ten to twenty dollars or more a visit depending on the clientele and the size of the business. These people will work for far less than ten dollars per thirty minute visit – rates that I can’t go under because of advertising expenses, insurance premiums and dues to NAPPS. They advertise almost exclusively via free means, namely classifieds like Craigslist, they don’t have insurance and they aren’t members of a professional organization.

The biggest problem with “side-money” adults is that kids will work hard for five dollars a visit because they value that five dollars, but to an adult five dollars is nothing. When coupled with the fact that they’re not in it to build a reputation and a business, this lack of dedication will show in sheer laziness and corner-cutting. For example the most common complaint I’ve heard about is “side-money” adults who say they’ll walk a dog for twenty minutes, but only walk for ten. A thirty minute visit is about twenty to twenty-five minutes of walking time depending on the dog.

The end result of this is numerous clients who turned to me after getting burned by a “side-money” adult, realizing not all pet sitters were the same. These people turn into very good customers. Unlike “side-money” adults, I’ll always make sure I walk for twenty minutes, mostly by taking routes that take twenty minutes.  The only times I won’t do this are on days with really bad weather, either code red days during the summer or sleet during the winter. In those cases, the dog doesn’t want to be out just as much you don’t.

The slogan on NAPPS’s website says it all: “For best results: Hire a professional pet sitter.”

Not All Self-Published Authors are Created Equal:

Most self-published authors are technically “side-money” adults. As they say, “don’t quit your day job.” Unless you sell massive amounts of books, it won’t be a career like pet sitting can be. But there’s a difference between those self-published authors who simply are in for the vanity, who write only to say “Hey I wrote a book, I’m so special, please read my pride and joy,” and self-published authors who are in the business to build a reputation and a reader base, like yours truly.  I’m going to distinguish between these two groups as vanity authors and indie authors.

Vanity authors are easy to spot. They sell their books for 99 cents, advertise only via free methods have bad covers and don’t have editors. The indie authors will price their books around $2.99 to $4.99, pay to market, pay handsomely for covers and have editors. The only difference between vanity authors now and before the eBook revolution was that they didn’t have to pay to published. In addition, self-publishing is now a viable option for authors, unlike times previous. An author can now use a “vanity press” to launch a real career.

The distinction between a vanity and indie author I was one I didn’t really understand until the last few days. When it comes to pet sitting, I’m a veteran with years of experience, but in self-publishing I’m a sixteen year-old kid charging five dollars a visit all over again. I might have been writing fiction for years but when you start publishing your work the game completely changes. Nine months ago when A Clear and Feathered Danger was released, I didn’t know tidbits like how to market, the difference a good editor can make and other tricks established self-published authors know. While I’ve made some serious blunders and ill-advised decisions as an author, I’m learning from my mistakes and becoming better every day. Yes, A Clear and Feathered Danger is nine months old and has sold a few copies, but in the larger scheme of things, it hasn’t really been read at all. I can still recover and play catch-up. I used to think I was failing, but now I realize I haven’t even begun to try to bring my unique vision to the world.

On Twitter and Goodreads, I seem to be mostly marketing to other authors. This is something I need to move beyond if I want to build a following, hence the Facebook ads and the idea to submit K23 Universe stories to short-story magazines. But even so, traditionally-published authors and indie authors turn into readers while vanity authors don’t, because vanity authors are mostly interested in going “hey look at me, I’ve written a book” and won’t buy others’ work because this isn’t about reading others and improving their craft, it’s about their egos.

Work quality is largely unimportant here outside of proofreading, because unlike pet sitting subjectivity plays a huge role. When pet sitting, I’m judged on one single concrete criterion: Did I do what the client asked me to do? I either walk the client’s dog for twenty minutes between 11:00am-1:00pm five days a week and put the poop bag in the trashcan out back or I don’t.  With books, once the errors are out, it all comes down to whether or not readers like my writing style and setting. One man’s art is another man’s trash. I thought Twilight was one of the worst books ever written, for instance, but plenty of teenage girls thought otherwise.

Therefore, what separates the real authors from the vanity ones is how one conducts their business. Someone can write the greatest book in the world, but as long as its presented as a vanity work it will always be treated as one.

Therefore I’m going professional. Twitter meltdowns are not happening anymore, I’m now venting offline. Freaking out on Twitter might get me a few sales, but as I start becoming “higher profile” due to my recent marketing blitz it can be counterproductive. The Twitter feed will remain business as usual otherwise. It’s become an attraction in itself and I enjoy running it. I’ll still be advertising the books, consider it the price of admission, but books won’t be the main focus anymore. I’m finally going to just go ahead and get a “professional looking” picture, for instance.

Also don’t expect to see me putting any of the novellas up for free. That’s why the Side Stories exist, though I will be giving away three copies of the Print Collection later this month. And of course I’ve raised book prices. I haven’t raised them a lot, just enough to pull myself out of the bargain basement. While I know there might be secret grumbling, businesses learn to ignore the bargain hunters. They simply aren’t  lucrative.

For me at least, self-publishing is a business, not a social club. I believe that the authors who realize this and treat it as a business are the ones who stand out. While I’ve said this before, back then there wasn’t the wall between my business-self and my personal self that exists with my pet sitting business. I act differently when I’m out walking dogs and caring for cats, I treat my clients differently than I would a friend. I’m almost neurotically clean, something people who know me in person know isn’t the norm for me.

I’ve built a wall between my professional self and personal self, one I created after my trials as teenager. It doesn’t hurt that pet sitting is one of the very, very few fields in which my autism, is not a factor beyond getting hired. Once I’m hired, I’m very good at what I do and my clients love me for it.

As an author, autism is great for creativity. It’s not so helpful for other things, but scifi/fantasy is chock full of autistic writers – fellow indie NV Binder is autistic, for instance – and so I’ve run into issues that I can and have overcome. Unlike other high-functioning autistic writers, I’m more open about my disability. While you won’t find it in my bio and ads, I do talk about it because its part of who I am. I believe it’s key to how I’m able to write a body work of so different from the norm that it pretty much stands alone. It’s part of my brand.

The important thing is that I’m building that wall between my personal self and my author self. I’ll try to be kooky and offbeat, but not crazy. It’ll be a tightrope walk, but I think I can handle it.

Conclusion:

Pet sitting and writing might seem to be two completely different fields with two completely different skill sets. However, all businesses, whether it’s caring for animals or writing fiction, require a level of professionalism that will separate people with real dedication from pretenders. People who care do everything they need to do in order to present themselves in the best possible light and do the best job they can. The pretenders, the “side-money” people, just go through the motions.

I’m not saying a hobby writer shouldn’t put his book up on Amazon or that somebody needs some extra cash shouldn’t walk dogs. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t expect to make something of yourself unless you put in the time and effort to do so. Behind every success story is years and years of toil and hard work along with ten people who failed. Everyone starts out a clueless kid in business, but nobody will become an adult unless they grow up.

And unless you’re willing to grow up, you’ll always fail eventually. It might be easier to succeed in pet sitting than writing, but make no mistake, you can fail in pet sitting. Cyberspace is littered with the forgotten web pages of the fallen. I worked my butt off over thirteen years and now I have so much business I’ve had to turn away clients on occasion: pet sitting’s “mark of success.” I’ve even been referred by other pet sitters I’ve never even heard of or met – now that’s a reputation! I’m not going to post the link to my pet sitting website since I want to build a wall between my author side and my pet sitting side but I still can be found rather easily on Google if you know what to search for.

And when you do find my website, look up my testimonial page. Those were all real clients for which I performed exceptional service. I never would have found success if I had never built that professional wall. I may never find success as an author…but I’ll never have any chance at all unless I step up to the challenge.

P.S. if you do happen to find my webpage, live in my area and want top quality pet care at an affordable price, there’s a service request page you can use! 😉

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