Challenge,  publishing

The Power of Having Inventory

Not Only Does It Help for Discoverability…

But wow is having inventory important to saving time and making money in fiction writing. And a bunch of it.

First off, in publishing, what is inventory? What you might assume, in many respects. Basically inventory is made up of books and stories and collections and other kinds of books in print, available around the world. In other words, all your IP.

I try to get writers to keep track of their inventory, keep a list at hand. A spreadsheet. And this is very, very easy when you are starting out. You got three novels and seven short stories, your inventory is pretty thin and you need to keep writing. But keep track of it and add to it with everything you finish.

For writers like me, it’s another matter completely to keep track of inventory.

For example, I have an entire spreadsheet of just the short stories that have appeared in the 44 issues so far of my magazine Smith’s Monthly. Four or five short stories per issue, never repeating. Close to 200 stories on that inventory sheet. That’s a big spreadsheet, and it doesn’t even begin to cover all of my short fiction. Or novels. Or nonfiction books.

On that spreadsheet I keep track of what issue the story appeared, if it has been published stand-alone electronic, in paper, in audio, and so on. Even in collections.

Remember that in every issue I also had a novel and part of another novel or book and often a nonfiction book serialized. I keep track of all that as well and so does WMG Publishing. Actually they do it far better than I do and have to help me at times.

So looking at inventory, each issue is an inventory item, each story, each novel, each book. All are inventory items.

So why is this important to have all this at your fingertips? Let me give you an example or two or three.

Just yesterday I got invited into an indie bundle with some large indie names who are wanting to try some experiments with the bundle. I needed a certain type of story. I had my inventory and was able to find one. (Never trust your memory.)

Another example: Not too long ago I was lucky enough to put together a novel bundle for StoryBundle called: Saving the World. Not only did I have a novel in my inventory that was on topic, but Fiction River that I help edit had a volume that fit as well. And you still have ten days to grab that bundle before it goes away. Here’s an image of it:

Inventory. Mine and WMG Publishing.  And notice that Kris had a book in her inventory as well that fit. And when I talked with other authors, they either said, “Yes, got one.” Or they went to look at their inventory and didn’t have anything that fit. But all the writers I asked had inventories of their novels they could check because everyone in the bundle is a professional writer.

Another Example? How about yet another bundle that just launched tonight. Edited by Kris.

It’s a Historical Mystery bundle on StoryBundle and wow does it have some stunning books in it. When Kris asked for an historical mystery novel, I found instantly my novel about the Idanha Hotel in Boise. I spent a vast amount of time researching that old hotel and making it real in the book set in 1903 or so.

I have read many of the books in this bundle she put together. They are stunning and I am proud to be in both of these bundles. And the reason I am is because I had inventory and was able to access it.

(You want two good examples of my Thunder Mountain series, both stand-alone, get these two bundles. I can tell you, both books will surprise you.)

Another form of inventory. The workshops we have available on Teachable. Hit the “see all” button when you get to our school on Teachable to see all the lectures and workshops we have available. There are a lot of them. (And over the next couple of weeks I have planned to move about seven workshops that are not there right now to Classic Status.)

And yes, I have an inventory of all of the classes because they are all work products, they are all IP.

Kris and I and WMG Publishing created them. So when Kevin J. Anderson asked me if I wanted to be in the NaNoWriMo Bundle, I knew that all of my writing books had already been in a bundle (because of an inventory Allyson at WMG holds), so I suggested one of our online writing lectures, which is a $50 value that you can get in the bundle.

Here is a picture of that bundle. Great stuff in this one as well.

Again, I knew my inventory. And because I knew my inventory was at my fingertips, I get to be in three really amazing Storybundles at the same time, and get my work out to more readers and make some extra money in the process.

So even if you are just starting out and focusing on being productive and writing a lot, set up an inventory system to keep track of what you have. It might seem silly at first, but wow will it pay off in time saved and money made down the road.

Just a hint. Now, go get the three bundles. (grin)






  • Harvey Stanbrough

    Great post, Dean. My own inventory is mostly complete. Fortunately, I started keeping it from the very beginning, but almost by accident. It was originally kind of an “I love me” wall, where I could see what I’d written at a glance, which spurred me on to write even more.

    Now we’re in the process of organizing it, separating it into novels/novellas, short stories (and collections), poetry (and collections) and audio lectures. And wow, are you right. Once it’s done, it’s a massive time saver.

  • Glen Sprigg

    Well, I don’t have a lot of inventory yet, having only started in July, but I have been keeping a spreadsheet going. I am proud to say I did reach my 100,000-word goal for October, which felt amazingly awesome. Now, to do it again. And again. And again.

    As for the story bundle…once again, thank you very much. I got the writing tools bundle this morning, and I’ll be putting it all to good use.

  • Michael W Lucas

    I have spreadsheets that list ISBN history (some titles have had multiple ISBNs, thanks to moving publishers and switching from CreateSpace to my own ISBNs), print and ebook prices in each channel, the dates those prices were last verified, and the date each format was refreshed.

    I should probably add a column for “keywords” or “what the book is about.”

    And I’ve been pondering how it might be useful to track all of the refresh and audit dates. If someone starts yammering about a book in 2030, it’d probably be nice to be able to figure out what they’re talking about.

    This is beginning to look like a database.

    Ugh. I don’t want to write a database. Will one of you programmer sorts please design one? It needs to house data locally rather than In The Cloud. Us author sorts will pay you for it. Seriously.

    • dwsmith

      Stay away from databases for this stuff. We have tried, twice, because it seems logical, right? And fails every time. Spreadsheets work just fine.

    • Teri Babcock

      I was considering a database as well, because I could imagine how a spreadsheet could get unwieldy, depending on how many fields I’m tracking for each title.
      I looked at databases, backed away in horror, and decided that if I did that project I’d get out my old XP computer and use PC File. Remarkably sturdy, plain, and low learning curve to design and modify your own data base. But your operating system has to be XP or older, it won’t run on newer operating systems.
      Though if Dean and Kris’s massive inventory is manageable on spreadsheets I don’t think I’ll need anything more.

      • dwsmith

        We use multiple spreadsheets. We do have one master, but for other more extended details, we have secondary ones. Keeps it saner.

    • Rebecca

      I’ve started using the Intellectual Property Tracker that had a Kickstarter some time ago. I’m slowly entering my work in there and it seems quite extensive. Instead of creating your own database, it might be something to look into.

  • James Palmer

    Great thoughts on inventory. I’m trying to create a big inventory as I practice long term vs. short term thinking. Bundles are a great reason to have a wide inventory. I was in an adventure SF bundle a while back curated by Kevin J. Anderson, and made a pretty good wad of cash. When that was going he announced he was doing a vampire bundle and needed one more book to round it out. But alas, I don’t have any vampire books!

    Here’s to the power of inventory and bundles.

  • J. D. Brink

    Totally off topic but thought it would be up your alley:
    I have been slowly (like over the last year) rewatching much of Deep Space Nine on Netflix. This is probably my fave ST series, largely because of the characters and long-running plots and politics that ran over multiple seasons.
    Anyway, tonight I saw one I don’t think I ever saw when it was new in the 90s. It was Season 6, episode 13 (in case anyone wants to find it on Netflix or wherever), “Far Beyond the Stars.” Sisko finds himself as a science fiction writer in the 1950s, trying to get the mag he writes for to run a story starring a black hero, which unfortunately doesn’t go well. It’s really well done. Thought you might enjoy. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Yup, that is a classic one, and there were a lot of the classic sf writers represented in the episode. Very well done, actually.