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Hot Saturday Afternoon

It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Edinburgh — I'm not betting against an evening thunderstorm — and I've got a blog, so I'm going to ramble on.

One of the curses of writing for a living is that life doesn't stop while you're trying to wrestle a story into submission. In fact, I could probably work a regular 40 hour week as a writer without actually writing any fiction. Where does the time go?

First of all, I get email. If you write me a note and (a) you appear to expect a reply, (b) you don't scare me, and (c) it's not one of those days when I don't want to get out of bed, you can usually expect a response. But I don't get that much mail; unless I'm up for a major award (or worse, have just won one) it doesn't take more than half an hour to deal with it.

Then there's the business admin side of things. Being a full-time writer means being self-employed. There's keep track of expenses, doing the accounts, and the usual stuff that goes with running a one-man business. Also wrapped up in this: keeping all the computers going. There's the colocated server I lease, which runs this blog (and a whole bunch of other stuff including the email server and the spam filter that keeps the 500 spams a day I get from washing out the reader emails). There's the laptop I work on. There's my smartphone, and the old laptop I keep as an emergency spare in case the work machine dies on me (as it did last month ... and again, last week, albeit for less serious values of "died"). Unfortunately for me, I'm an inveterate tinkerer and I can't hide behind my own ignorance and leave tinkering with the computers to someone else. Some guys do DIY, others do gardening, and more do car stuff. I don't do any of that. I do computer stuff, and it's even more annoying because if I don't keep an eye on my time I can mistake it for paying working hours.

Next, there are those odd demands on my time that come from the business of writing but aren't strictly writing per se. When you sell a book, and deliver the manuscript to your editor, that's not the end of the job. I reckon that it takes me somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks of extra work before a novel I've delivered goes into print — time spent checking copy edits, poring over galley proofs, writing up outlines and marketing pitches for the editor to point at their sales staff where necessary, and (this bit goes first) writing the original proposal for the book that gets sent to the editor before they buy it. If you write more than one book a year, this peripheral activity mounts up. And if there's a scheduling crunch such that three books I wrote some time ago end up coming out in the same 12 month period, that's up to a third of the current productive year gone before I start writing. Note that this doesn't mean I'm writing three books a year — just that they end up coming out in the same year.

And then there's marketing and promotion.

If you're a midlist author (one with maybe five or more books in print, but not a best-seller: you make a living, but you're probably driving a ten year old banger unless your car is your main recreational expenditure) then your publisher probably allocates a marketing budget to your books consisting of five tulip bulbs and a coat button. That's an exaggeration, but not by much. They'll probably purchase a few targeted ads in some of the trade and enthusiast magazines (like Locus or Asimovs), and they'll send out review copies and talk to the book chains, but you're not getting any signing tours or stretch limos with buckets of champagne. You're not even getting dump bins in the chain stores. (Those are expensive.) If you want your books to do well, you need to promote them: not necessarily by getting out in public and hectoring people to buy them, but at the very least you need to practice being friendly and helpful to reviewers and members of the press, however obscure their publications are. Sometimes it's hard: if you tried to contact me this week I'd like to apologize for being a little short. (Excessively hot weather, computers breaking, and being behind schedule on a deadline job, combine to have that effect on me.)

Science fiction conventions and fandom are a whole other kettle of fish; I'll talk about them some other time. Suffice to say that they suck up about another month per year, if not more. While SF/F has this subculture and other genres don't, you can easily spend plenty of time rushing from one book festival to the next.

Anyway. In combination, these activities can turn into such a sucking vortex of administrative inactivity that you can be horribly busy and not realize that you're not actually doing anything productive — the stuff they pay you for. I had a patch like that from February through late April; four SF conventions (three of them overseas — in two cases, on other continents), the Clarke awards, copy edits on three novels, galley proofs to check on two. It's a miracle and a wonder I got anything written at all over that period, although I did manage to fit the back half of a novel in somewhere along the line.

Now I'm running late on the next book — due on my editor's desk on September 1st, Or Else — with the first draft about 40% complete. There is, in principle, enough time to do a competent job of finishing it. Things look a bit more fraught if you factor in two weeks against an unscheduled illness (this is not the kind of job where you can outsource the heavy lifting to a temping agency), and another three and a half weeks booked long in advance for a vacation (and an SF convention appearance) on another continent. I suspect I'm going to be taking the laptop on holiday and working in the hotel room, if I don't want to blow the deadline (with a knock-on effect on the two novels that are due in next year).

So: business as usual. Why am I wasting time blogging? Because ... it's not a waste of time. It's time spent getting myself into a working frame of mind, and it's time spent communicating with you, the reading public. Some folks read my blog because they liked the books, and some folks read my books because they liked the blog. Blogging is, in fact, a vital marketing tool for midlist writers these days (as other authors, like Neal Asher — a few entries down from here — have figured out). There is no longer any pretense at there being a fourth wall between the show that is the writer's life and the audience who read their work. I wouldn't go so far as to say that writing books has become a performance art, but it's getting close.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go write some more of "Halting State" ...

8 Comments

1:

Actually, at least one other genre has a fandom: mysteries.

2:

I often tell my friends about interesting things you say on your blog when recommending your books; a certain subset of my friends are right in the crosshairs of the target market for The Atrocity Archives and are now eagerly awaiting The Jennifer Morgue.

3:

Actually there are lots of genres with an associated fandom. One of the most active is that around romance novels, and there's the matter of the Rocky Horror Picture Show which has a fandom all by itself. If you can dig out a copy of Toffler's Future Shock, there's a great riff on folks creating niche communities around their passions, be it surfing or whatever.

4:

Tried posting this before, and it didn't seem to stick:

All right - Work in Progress Dept. -

- how long should I wait before finishing reading the last chapter of the latest "Family" book? I sneaked a peek at the very end ... I think I can hang on for another three months, tops.

I've gotten to really like the main character, and I thought you got the US intelligence processes exactly, right. (shudder)

5:

Max, a certain subset? Heck, a majority of *my* friends are in the crosshairs. Factoid: Between us, we own ~0.2% of the HC first printing of TAA. Granted, it was a small run, but even so...

6:

Max,
Certain subset heck. A *majority* of my friends are in the crosshairs. Factoid: Between us, we own ~0.2% of the first printing of of the HC TAA. Granted, it was a small run of ~3000, but even so...

7:

Charlie, have you ever read Edward Gorey's little book _The Unstrung Harp, or Mr Earbrass Writes A Novel_? It's worth 15 more minutes of your time, trust me.

8:

Chris: yup, I've got it.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 17, 2006 5:33 PM.

Chekhov's Gun revisited was the previous entry in this blog.

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