(A post about shipping packages through the mail? Surely, it can’t be funny or worth my time, right?)
A few weeks back, I spent a long afternoon in my office, crunching numbers and determining just how I could create a mail order system for 65 Poor Life Decisions without going completely broke and cashew-cake insane. My theory was that more people wanted to order the book directly through me as opposed to Lulu, because they wanted autographs and whatever other free merchandise, cat hair and perfume samples I planned on stuffing into the padded envelope.
So I put the time in. I calculated the cost of ordering copies of my own book. I ordered CDP pins and magnets to include (free!) with every purchase. I stocked up on black Sharpies, packing tape and fat bubble wrap. I have so damn much bubble wrap that I took a nap on a pile of the stuff last weekend. It’s a heavenly experience, but rolling around on it virtually guarantees that you’ll wake up with the terror of a man who thinks he’s being shot at.
So, I incorporated all of these shipping supplies into my overhead cost, and found out what I needed to charge the fans in order to generate a profit that was almost identical to the Lulu profit I would have gotten regardless. I was trying to keep everything honest and charge people the bare minimum for the personal touch. Much like a DIY punk band or back-alley meth whore.
The balance was perfect. I was happy. The Missus was happy. My iMac calculator widget was happy. I threw a ton of money at the issue and embraced the hard work. My numbers were correct, my logic was airtight and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was going to be worth it. And so far, it totally has. I’ve sold far more books via mail order than I ever would have simply through online sales. I keep forgetting that most of my fans live off of the grid, shun debit cards and dwell in tar-paper shacks in the middle of Idaho, clutching a shotgun in one mitt and a bible in the other. How they can relate to my essays is beyond me.
My mother works at the post office, and she was designated the duty of calculating my shipping costs. The plan was to send all the books out via Priority Mail, which was secure and takes approximately 2-3 days to ship anywhere in the nation. I needed to make sure it was cost-effective, however, so I gave her a call while she was on the clock.
“Hey mom, I need to know if I’ll be able to ship these books out Priority and still make a profit.“
“Okay, how much does your book weigh?” She asked me.
“Um…I don’t know. About regular paperback book weight.“
“I need an actual number, Ryan.“
“I need a weight, or this isn’t going to work.“
“Oh, okay. Sure, coming right up.“
I set the phone down and looked around the kitchen for something to weigh this book with. For the first time in my life, it would have been in my best interest to be a drug dealer at that instant. Those guys keep small scales in their wallets, for Christ’s sake.
Just then, I remembered that the Missus recently purchased a small scale in which to weigh her pet hedgehog, Laika. After all the pissing and moaning I did about such a pointless purchase, karma decided to goose my knob and once again remind me that I’m firmly not in charge of anything. I needed that scale now. That all being said, it is pretty adorable to see Laika get weighed, sitting so pathetically in a bowl on top of the scale, being judged, pointed at and ridiculed by myself and the Missus.
I set the book on the pink scale and read the display. “Nine ounces, mom.“
“Great. Priority shipping will cost you about $2.10 a package.“
“Awesome! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Listen, if you’re not busy this weekend, we’d love to invite you over for-“
Happily, almost merrily, I went about the number-crunching process, setting everything around the shipping specifications and reaching perfect monetary harmony between myself and the CDP faithful. Content, I curled up on my bubble wrap and dreamed sweet dreams of success and stray firecrackers.
The next morning, I took my first three mail order packages to the Post Office. They were stuffed to the brim with books and swag, sporting beautifully-printed address labels and expertly packed with love and care by yours truly. I felt good; like I was finally ready to reap the benefits of my hard work. While most people waiting in line were looking angry and impatient, I smiled like a dog that had all common sense bred straight out of him. I didn’t care one bit; I was mailing my own books out to people who paid money for them.
“I’d like to ship these out Priority, please.” I grinned ear-to-ear, while the man behind the counter slit my throat with his icepick stare (see? I can get literary, too!)
“No problem, douchebag!” He shot back. At least, that’s what he wanted to say to me.
“That’ll be $8.95, please.”
Hmmm. $8.95 sounded a little expensive, considering that it should have been around $2.10 a package, even taking into account the lightweight CDP merch, as well.
“Um, $8.95 for everything?” I asked again, just to make sure. I mean, I wasn’t happy with the price, but it would still be okay if I cut some corners and-
“No, it’s $8.95 each.”
Pee instantly shot down the pipe with the reckless abandon of a fat kid on a waterslide, spraying the inner panel of my brand new jeans with little remorse. I saw my royalties vanish to the point of actually losing money for each book mailed out. It was over.
“Oh, man. There’s got to be another way. I was told that Priority would cost-“
“It’s $8.95 each for Priority,” he snapped back. He had heard enough complaining today, he didn’t need me in there whining because I didn’t know how to read a kitchen scale.
“Damn. Is there any cheaper way I can mail these out? You see, I’m mailing out copies of my first book. You may recognize me from a little blog called the CDP. Why, just yesterday, I was voted the #1 Pop Culture blogger in-“
“Sure,” he shot back. “You can send it as a Media Mail package. It costs $2.10 a package, takes 10 days to deliver and just gets thrown away if the address is wrong.”
He looked up at me and smiled, knowing full well that he just slammed me, Postmaster-style. He knew I was screwed, and I knew I was screwed. Because of my error, I was now forced to mail my books out with the delivery equivalent of a rickshaw being towed by a quadriplegic. Slow, unreliable and embarrassing.
“Let’s do it that way, then,” I exhaled.
The old woman behind me in line perked up. “You know that you’re standing in a puddle of your own urine, right?“
“Leave me alone,” I said, as my Sketcher boots squished off into the sunset.
The second I got back home, I e-mailed the future recipients of the Media Mail books, letting them know what had happened, and that the delivery might take a little longer than expected. I also called my mom to let her know that one of us had messed up with the numbers.
“Hey mom, you messed up!“
“No I didn’t, turd. I got your book in the mail today. It doesn’t weigh 9 ounces, it weighs 1.8 pounds.“
“Yeah, really. Priority shipping for 1.8 pounds is $8.95 a book.”
“Crap. This is really going to put a monkey wrench in my money making scheme.“
“Of course, you could just send them in a Priority envelope for $4.60. You do know that, right?“
So, here’s the deal. It turns out that anything you can cram inside of a Priority envelope (not box) will cost $4.60 to ship to anyone in the nation within 3 days. Nobody bothered to tell me this until the last minute, because everyone within the United States Postal Service loves to watch me flirt with suicide. Including my mother, sadly. The shipping will continue as planned, you’ll get your packages on time, and I’ll still be rich.
More importantly, I think me and the Missus have been mis-weighing Laika. I don’t know if there’s a clinic for morbidly obese hedgehogs in the tri-state area, but I sure as hell hope so.
Please sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.