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Bookkeeping’s My Bête Noire

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Bookkeeping’s My Bête Noire

 

by Barbara Tasch Ezratty

 

I’m probably the only small
publisher in the country who charges her accountant for laughs. At least that’s
what I keep threatening to do. I say, “George, it’ll cost you a dollar every
time you laugh at me.” That makes him laugh again. All in all, I figure each of
our conversations should earn me a $5 or $10 credit on my accounting bills. If
you pro rate that over the course of a year . . . See, I’m even talking like an
accountant. Which is probably what makes George laugh. He knows me better.

 

I’ve been a publisher for more
than a dozen years. I don’t make much money, but I love books. I love their
covers and their spines. If their contents are good, I love to read them. And I
love the angst of bringing new ones into being.

 

I edit everything that comes under
my eyes. I enjoy interacting with photographers, graphic designers, and
printers. Fonts fascinate me. I doodle alphabets. And when I buy scratch-off
lottery tickets, I buy the crossword games.

 

But numbers? Now, that’s another
story. Math was my worst subject in school. I really didn’t like arithmetic.
Nor algebra. Geometry was okay because there are a lot of words and sentences
in geometry. But I couldn’t say I actually enjoyed it.

 

So do you understand why my
subconscious never warned me that when I got into the publishing business I
would also become a bookkeeper?*

 

Baffled by Borders Numbers

 

A publisher learns about numbers
quickly. Experience—especially the bad kind—is a powerful teacher.

 

I’m sure I’m not the only
publisher who learned by making mistakes. Lessons quickly learned include how
to figure advances vis-à-vis royalties; the norm for quantity discounts;
whether larger discounts for Amazon can still provide a meager profit; and how
much the state sales tax comes to. Piece of cake.

 

However, I freely admit that I
will never learn how to track sales to Borders. It is the only company that
returns books to us. That’s because, I assume, the six books that went to
Tennessee aren’t fit for the people of Pennsylvania. Otherwise, why would I get
Tennessee’s six copies of one book back the same day Pennsylvania orders six of
the same book?

 

Also, I am flummoxed by the
reference numbers on the stubs of Borders checks and the paperwork with book
returns. I’ve learned, over time, that when books arrive back here encased in
torn and scruffy jackets or when they have bruised or dirty page edges, I can
refuse to accept them. That part is good. What I cannot figure out is which
books are being returned: no Borders purchase order number appears on the
papers that accompany those books back to our office, nor is there a reference
to our invoice number. I feel like Alice, trying to make sense out of
gobbledygook. Should I have paid more attention in algebra?

 

What’s So Funny?

 

If we were a big and wealthy
press, I’d hire someone to keep the books. But since we publish between one and
three books and/or magazines a year (including reprints and new editions), we
can’t afford a long-term commitment with a bookkeeper. So I tackle the daily
accounting myself and have an accountant to figure out the annual (or is it
quarterly?) tax returns.

 

That’s what gives George the
giggles, if not downright belly laughs. You see, I’ve always believed that
knowing which is a debit and which a credit is enough. After a career as a
homemaker and mother, and then a second career as a newspaper reporter, I went
into the publishing business. At my first PMA University class, I learned the
importance of keeping accurate financial records. So I bought a ledger with
lined columns in it, thought about what numbers I might possibly need in the
future, and labeled the columns:

 

Date               Who               $
In                $
Out  Per (check #)           For

 

Recording the date of each
transaction, who gave us money or received money from us, exactly how much was
coming in or going out, the check number, and the reason for the payment made
perfect sense to me, and has for the past dozen years. I still keep those kinds
of financial records. But George laughs.

 

I can’t tell you how many times
he’s offered to do the bookkeeping (for a fee, of course). I think it’s because
he gets frustrated with my system. He’s explained over and over again how easy
it would be for me to get a bookkeeping program for my computer. I’m sure he’s
right, and I’ve told him so, and I promised to get one at the earliest
opportunity. And I will. But I really don’t want to admit I’m a bookkeeper yet.

 

Each year, I give George the
company’s bank statements, the ledger pages, and an itemized list of expenses
and income broken down according to his accounting codes (supplies, printing,
postage, professional services, royalties, and the like). But he still laughs a
lot when he calls for explanations.

 

For instance: I got a fax from
George just the other day: “Barbara: The following checks were paid from your
TDI account. They were not identified in your ledger. Let me know if these are
for the magazine, the new chef book, or have you gone shopping?”

 

That has to do with the fact that,
once, when I was on a business trip, I was short on cash and took some out of
the bank. I marked it as “cash out” on my ledger sheet (under “per”) and marked
it personal (under “for”). George wanted to know why I did that. “I wanted to
go shopping,” I said imprudently. Never joke with an accountant about that kind
of thing.

 

Two Was Too Many

 

My life as a reluctant bookkeeper
has been further complicated by the fact that we have two publishing
companies—Omni for books and TDI for a magazine. They had to be separate
because the magazine company had a shareholder and the book company did not.

 

I recently met with George.
“George,” I said, “I can’t go on any longer keeping two sets of books.” George
blanched and said, “Never say that to an accountant!”

 

But it was true. It was getting
much too complicated. The magazine comes out twice a year, and about a month
before the next one, money is tight. Sometimes I have to borrow from the book
company to pay a magazine expense. Then again, when we publish a book, the
costs sometimes preclude other purchases, so when an expenditure is absolutely
necessary, I borrow from the magazine company. I was constantly keeping track
of loans and payments on loans made back and forth. Me, who calls debits and
credits “in and out.”

 

Now I have finally arranged to
have just one company. Just registered, it is called Read Street Publishing
Inc., and it will publish both the magazine and the books. I will henceforth
retire the old green ledger we used for Omni and the old black one that was
reserved for TDI. I will use only one ledger, a nice new blue one.

 

I might even get an accounting
program for the computer. All things are possible. Although I don’t know how
much longer George will keep laughing.

 

*Do
numbers faze you too? If so, help is at hand in this issue’s page 11 article,
“Choosing an Accounting Program.”—The Editors

 

Barbara Tasch Ezratty was
the administrator of a food company until an allergy to mangoes drove her out
of the farms and into a newspaper office, where she became a reporter and
restaurant reviewer. Ten years later, she helped edit a congregational cookbook
and then started a restaurant magazine. Now, she reports, she has 14 issues of
the magazine and a dozen books under her belt, and more titles coming out this
year.

 

 

 

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