Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Taco Truck Method

Down the road from me there's a highway interchange. A number of travel-related businesses, gas stations, etc. have sprung up there.  

About 15 years ago, sitting in a vacant lot next to a gas station for a few hours a day was a Taco Truck. It served tacos and burritos for 99 cents. It only stayed during the lunch hours at the various industrial places
in the area. Over time, they extended their hours and added a few new things to the menu. Then one day, I saw they added tables and chairs. A few months later, they put up an awning. A year or two later, they built the awning permanently on the spot and created a place for the truck to pull in behind a take out window. Then about five years ago, they built a restaurant on the site.  

Inside, you can get a nice sit down Mexican dinner. It's not 99 cents anymore, but you can get the fast food at a take out window on the side.  

Restaurants in that general location don't last very long. However, he's been there five years and is doing well. Now, if he had started by taking out a bunch of loans and building a restaurant, he might have gone out of business before he could have seen one penny of profit. After all, he was an unknown quantity. There were some big chain outfits nearby, an AM/PM, a Bobby Salazar's, a Denny's down the road. He had to have an edge, and he had to control costs. His edge was shaved meat (not ground beef) tacos at a low price that those other restaurants couldn't match with rent, wages, utility costs and other aspects of overhead. After he had a thriving clientele, he upgraded.  

Too many writers want to set up a full-service restaurant on their first book. They need a taco truck instead. There are many authors who have great books, well written ready to go, but they can't afford $500 for a cover design they want or they think they have to hire three editors at $1000+ a pop before they can publish. 

And they have laudable motives in this. They want to produce a good quality product. What they forget is that quality is not in linen napkins and fine china. Quality is in the taco. In the writer's case the taco is the story or the nonfiction book. It's not in a wonderful cover or even a perfect proofreading job. I have traditionally published books with blah covers and not that great proofreading that still hit the bestseller lists and some are even considered classics now.

That guy with the taco truck could have said, "I want my customers to get a quality product. So, I'm not going to sell a single taco until I have a full-service restaurant." If he had done that, he probably would never have built a successful restaurant.

As a one-man operation, he could give his customers a break on the price while keeping the quality of his ingredients and cooking high. That built a "fan base" of regular customers. Sure there were food snobs that drove past his taco truck and probably called it names like "Roach Coach" or "Tomaine Tommies," but he just kept serving tacos while the Bobby Salizar's down the street went out of business. 

Many will say things about indies. They may assume that if you do your own cover or your own editing that it will be poor. They may degrade the DIY indie even claiming people like them give indies a bad name because the cover was done on a Kindle cover creator or used a premade template instead of being custom designed. That there was a comma splice in one chapter or a misspelled word somewhere in the book.

The taco truck had a few dings in the fender. But the food was good. And as the business improved, he added stuff.

I do my own covers and most of my own editing. Are they as good as if I spent thousands of dollars on them? Maybe, Maybe not. But they are published. They are selling. Royalties are coming in. Maybe fewer sales than if I had fancier covers, but a lot more sales than I would get waiting around for the money to pay for a fancier cover and much more in profit than I would get with an expensive cover.

DIY does not have to be shoddy workmanship. Modern cover design software, stockphoto sites, easy to use photo manipulation programs can create good workable professional looking covers. They won't win awards, but they won't look bad. Using good software will also help with editing. And, if you got decent grades in your high school English class, you have the knowledge to edit your own stuff. It mostly takes patience and an ability to look at your own work objectively and that's just a matter of mental discipline. You might miss some problems, but hey, if you do ebooks (like me) when you or someone else spots them, you can correct the problem. First editions are usually identified as such by errors caught in later editions.

Learn the lesson of the taco truck. Start simple and grow. Don't get over extended so that you show a profit on your first book within a couple of months. Then use your proceeds to start working on your next book.

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