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The writer's lifestyle

Being a self-employed writer is not a lifestyle that suits everyone. In fact, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the job entails. I've been doing it full-time for over six years now, so while I can't claim an encyclopedic knowledge I can at least give you a brain dump of my personal perspective on it.

Firstly, forget the romance of the writer's lifestyle and the aesthetic beauty of having a Vocation that calls you to create High Art and lends you total creative control. That's all guff. Any depiction of the way novelists live and work that you see in the popular media is wrong. It's romanticized clap-trap. Here's the skinny:

You are a self-employed business-person. Occasionally you may be half of a partnership — I know a few husband-and-wife teams — but in general novelists are solitary creatures. You work in a service industry where output is proportional to hours spent working per person, and where it is very difficult to subcontract work out to hirelings unless you are rich, famous, and have had thirty years of seniority in which to build up a loyal customer base. So you eat or starve on the basis of your ability to put your bum in a chair and write. BIC or die, that's the first rule. Lifestyle issues come a distant second.

You are a supplier servicing one or two (rarely more) large organizations. You tender for work and if they like your pitch they will cough up an advance payment against the deliverables. Often you will discover in the contractual small-print that if you don't hand over the deliverables on time and to specification that advance, which you are using to pay your bills, becomes repayable in full. NB: if you don't think you can do the job, you shouldn't take the money. Publishers are usually reasonable about hitches on the production side, especially if you give them lots of advance warning and you're usually reliable, but they don't have to be. And if you piss off your large customer, they can drop you. It's a small field, and folks talk to each other. Get dropped by two or more publishers in a row, and people will start muttering.

Being a prima donna or a drama queen is not a survival asset. (Being personable, businesslike, and friendly ... well, that's another matter.)

You are almost certainly badly paid. A typical first novel in the SF or Fantasy fields nets an advance of just $5000 in the US market. By the time you've been around the bush a few times, if your career's doing well, you may be getting $15,000 to $20,000. And if your sales are good and you push foreign sub-rights you may double that figure, over the next two or three years. But you can't do long-term financial planning on the assumption that your advances will increase or your books will be big in Japan. As often as not your career will stagnate due to circumstances outside your control, and you may find your advances spiraling down. The Society of Authors figure I heard from around 2000 was that the average novelist in the UK earns £4,500 a year. Which is even worse when you remember that this "average" is skewed upwards by the presence of Terry Pratchett and J. K. Rowling.

(You shouldn't despair just yet, though. There are a lot of folks who write as a part-time occupation, maybe turning in a novel every 2-3 years while holding down a day job. They tend to drag the average down a bit, but they're not starving because they have other fish to fry. But writing novels is no easy path to fame and fortune, and if you want to earn lots of money, you should have gone into accountancy or medicine.)

Your lifestyle consists of this: sooner or later (usually later) you wake up, do your usual morning pre-work routine, then commute three metres to your office, wherein you sit for several hours, on your own, hoping the phone won't ring because it will break your concentration for a quarter of an hour afterwards, if you're lucky.

Somewhere in those several hours you will hopefully write something. Unless you're already an A-list writer who can pull advances in excess of $50,000, you'd better either pump out an average of 1000 finished (polished, edited) words of prose per working day, or go looking for a day job. There are roughly 250 working days in a year (I'm assuming you take a couple of days a week off, and have vacations and sick leave), so that's 250,000 words, which is about two ordinary-length novels and a couple of short stories. Some writers do a whole lot more than 1000 finished words per day; some do fewer. If you do fewer and you're at the low-to-middling end of the pecking order, you will not be able to earn a living at this career. Many writers do 250,000 words a year and still can't make a living. They may have part-time jobs, to make ends meet, or a full-time job and do the writing thing in the evenings and at weekends. It's a treadmill.

In addition to writing you will:

  • pore over copy-edited manuscripts, correcting editorial mark-ups
  • write
  • grovel over galley proofs, looking for typos
  • write
  • keep track of your expenses and petty cash and do all the 1001 things that any small business person has to do to keep HM Revenue and Customs off your back
  • write
  • enthusiastically deal with the press and interviewers, no matter how small or obscure the outlet — publicity is always a priority unless you're big enough to hire a PR manager
  • write
  • deal with correspondence to your editor(s) and agent in a prompt, professional manner because if you ever get yourself a reputation for being difficult to work with you are so screwed ... (luckily editors and agents know that only lunatics and eccentrics want to be full-time writers, so no small amount of their time is dedicated to insulating you from the demands of other publishing folks, and vice versa)
  • write
  • persuade your bank to accept cheques drawn on currencies they've never heard of
  • write
  • learn more than you ever wanted to know about international double taxation treaties and the associated exemption forms
  • write
  • answer your fan mail (if you're lucky enough to have fans)
  • did I say "write" often enough? I meant "write, even when you're sick to the back teeth of it, when the current project is an interminable drag, when you can't even remember why you ever agreed to write this bloody stupid book, when your hands ache from RSI and your cat's forgotten who you are and your spouse is filing for divorce on grounds of neglect".

    And that's just for starters.

    The most useful piece of sanity-preservation advice I ever received on the subject came from another writer (not sure who, but I think it may have been Mary Gentle) who, years ago, explained to me that if you work full-time as an author for any length of time, you learn to maintain your social life first and schedule your work life around it.

    This may initially sound as if it contradicts what I was saying earlier about BIC, but bear this in mind: we humans are social animals. The novelist works on his or her own, closeted in a cell somewhere, with as little human contact as they can get away with while they're working. It follows that eventually you need to do the human contact thing. And you will receive a nasty shock if you insist on writing in the evenings and at weekends: when you surface to socialize, most of your friends will be unavailable. They all have day jobs, and they have limited free time. If your social hours don't overlap with their free time, you just aren't going to see them. So, despite being free to work whenever you want, this is a fairly strong argument for the jobbing author who values their sanity to keep evenings and weekends free. Never mind the author who has small children underfoot and has to deal with the exigencies of schools, childcare facilities, and the hundred and one other institutions that seem to assume parents are on call from 6am to 9pm.

    So what are the advantages?

    Well, if you're successful, people will want to see you and talk to you. People who've read your books. Sometimes they'll stop you to shake your hand while you're out in public. Often readers assume that they know you because they've read your work, so their body language and approach is unconsciously familiar, as if they've already met you. This can be really disconcerting, not to say embarrassing, if you've got a poor memory for faces and names (like me): is this person a complete stranger, or a long-lost friend?

    If you can keep the writing going and make enough money to eat out once in a while, you suddenly find you've got a wonderful bonus that nobody with a day job has — you can take time off whenever you like! Eventually the novelty wears off (there's nothing like fetching up with jet lag in a strange airport an hour after the last shuttle into town has left to take the shine off foreign travel) but if you've got a yen to visit strange places you can indulge it. (Hell, if you write about them you can even make it a tax-deductible business expense — at least to the extent your accountant or common sense says that you can justify it in the face of an audit.) If you're an SF/F writer, you may find that fans who run conventions want to fly you in and wine you and dine you for the sake of your company. On the other hand, if (like me) you can't work while traveling, this can put a bit of a crimp on your globe-trotting.

    What you won't get: book signing tours, stretch limos, and champagne receptions. Not unless your book advances are way bigger than mine: those things cost your publisher serious marketing money, and they're not going to spend that on you unless you're doing really well.

    If you think I'm being a bit downbeat here, consider what a signing tour entails: you, the author, need to hit at least two bookshops a day — preferably more — and probably two cities a day, typically for five to ten days. This involves significant transport expenses, not to mention five to ten nights in different hotels, living out of a suitcase. Your publisher has probably put someone on managing your tour full-time, so that's two people's accomodation and travel expenses that they have to cough up. That's got to be costing them somewhere north of US $5000 for a 10-day tour (probably double that, easily) so your presence on the tour needs to boost your net sales by something over $15,000 to make it a break-even proposition. If you're signing standard hardbacks, odds are that you're going to be signing your name more than 150 times per day to hit that target. And while you're doing that, you're not actually writing your next book, which will hopefully make them even more money. No, seriously: signing tours don't make sense and won't happen to you unless you make the big-time. Ditto the champagne receptions. Every year or so, when you visit your publisher, your editor will (if you're lucky) take you out for lunch or dinner on the expense account, but that's living large.

    So, to summarize: it's badly paid, the hours are weird, the office environment can be claustrophobic, you can't get the staff, you're selling your wares to big corporations who can roll over in their sleep and crush you if you don't make nice, nobody's going to give you a champagne reception, a stretch limo or a signing tour, there's lots of business admin stuff to deal with, and you still have to cram in a normal social life or you'll go mad.

    On the other hand: you're doing exactly what you always wanted to do (or you'd get frustrated and go do something else). And what could be better than that?

  • 118 Comments

    1:

    Well, I for one am very glad you're putting up with the job stress.

    2:

    Hey, I'm okay at this. For a long time I was the only working member of my family who wasn't self-employed; the small businessman hat is one I'm comfortable wearing. But it's startling how many people think that the writer's life is one of glamour and artistic credibility rather than a mundane job, with everything that goes with that.

    If you want to do the art, you've not only got to put in your time learning the tools of the trade -- you've got to remember that it is a trade, and there are trade-like activities that go with it and that you can't afford to shirk if you want to keep doing the important stuff.

    3:

    Charlie,

    Sounds like heaven compared to much of the computer games industry. I am collecting stories. When I move on from this job, I will even tell them.

    4:

    I can relate from a slightly different tangent. I'm a journalist and I've been fortunate to have been salaried for my entire career. Over the years, I've considered freelance (read as self-employed) work, but as you've pointed out, its a hell of a lot of work. My point is that writing in many of its forms is often overly romanticized. It's only when people become intimately acquainted with the labor of writing that they begin to see the pluses and minuses of making a go at it. My hat's off to you.

    As it is, many thanks for your labors! I just finished Jennifer Morgue and look forward to more of your stuff. ...wow, I never said that to anybody before. Anyway, from one deadline slave to another, keep up the good work.

    5:

    On the positive side, writers won't run into dangerously sexy female colleagues who write bestsellers in a posh mansion and murders them with an icepick...
    ;-)

    6:

    ARY: exactly :)

    (Incidentally, nothing puts "the rapture of the nerds" into context like the kind of singularity fans who really, really want to upload themselves because they're not too sure about this personal hygiene thing. Yes, I speak from bitter personal experience.)

    7:

    If you're trying to make me feel guilty about that "typing with your feet up" crack, it won't work - I've had my conscience surgically removed.

    On the other hand, I'm feeling slightly better about my own job, despite the never-ending learning curve we have to tread.

    8:

    Oh yes, the joys of the freelance writing life.

    No one ever pays you for the research time...

    9:

    Charlie,

    Yes, it can be a hard life; but you've got a better attitude about it than some writers I've met. They are either busy posing artistically, because they managed to sell one short story to a magazine, or have convinced themselves that the way to be successful is to play politics with writers' associations or the local writing community. The latter are sure that if they just cosey up to the right person, their names will become known, and their ships will have come in.

    I doubt it's a coincidence that I've never known any of these people to be successful as writers long-term.

    Closer to topic: the 1,000 word per day figure seems even more harsh when you include all the time you spend on your stories that isn't actually putting new characters on the page: research, plotting, rewriting to fix the howlers your friends or your editor find, etc.

    10:

    And that, Best Beloved, is why I have a job, even though in my dark little heart I really want to write full-time. I tip my hat to you, sir.

    11:

    In the light of my first acceptance, I was so close to falling into Full On (maybe it is too late even now) Prima Donna Mode over a completely seperate incident that happened years ago.

    I think I woke up JUST IN TIME.

    If I get into novels, I see myself doing the day job thing along with the writing. I think that will work better for me.

    Other than that, I agree with most of what you've said about the writing thing. I write at my day job (rent-a-donut eating bastard/security officer) and when I'm not there, the only time I do any writing is either in a cafe while editing or at home actually transcribing/punching in changes into the computer. I write longhand so the transcription is necessary and I don't have a wife or a Turing Compliant AI augmented cat to do it for me.

    Good entry.

    Respects,
    S. F. Murphy
    Trapped in a Place Called Missouri

    12:

    Biggest perk I ever got was a bottle of wine from a fan in upstate New York. It turned out to be a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild... 1917... 8-). Very, very good vino, btw. Not oxydized at all.

    Yeah, Charlie's right, it's a weird life. He's underestimating the element of sheer dumb luck, good or bad, if anything, particularly when you're starting out. Hit the right editor on the right day... or don't. Most big American publishers get more than _sixty thousand_ unsolicited manuscripts a year; that's the ones that still _take_ unsoliciteds.

    It took me about 20 years to get to the level of income I'd have had as a lawyer. OTOH, I hated law and would have killed myself by now... 8-).

    I prefer to think of it as the last of the handicraft industries, though, rather than a service trade. You're producing a one-off, unique product -- rather like handmade pieces of furniture.

    This is why MBA's do badly in publishing. They're used to an entirely different mode of production.

    13:

    I don't believe a word of it.

    Charlie actually writes all of his novels at a small wrought iron table in a Tuscan olive grove.

    As even Italy has winter, he wears a full length mink coat to keep out the cold and a 17 year-old former olympic gymnast brings his steaming bowls of hearty Tuscan bean soup before whispering in his ear that she's invited a friend round that evening...

    You ain't fooling no one mister!

    14:

    On the other hand, it beats the crap out of cubicle hell. I'd write a blog entry about that, but there's a documentary comic strip over at http://www.dilbert.com/ which explains it all...

    15:

    I prefer to think of it as the last of the handicraft industries, though, rather than a service trade.

    That's a good way of looking at it, though looking at writing as a whole it's much like some of the other arts.

    Take photography for instance. Like writers who are more concerned about writing literature than earning money, there are thousands of photographers who take mainly artistic pictures, showing them in local galleries. They remind me a lot of creative writing professors I had who had spent 20 years trying to get published in literary journals.

    Then you have photojournalists, advertising photographers, fashion photographers. A lot of them can be freelancers, and like novelists they want to make something good, but make money at the same time.

    Professional studio photographers and wedding photographers. Basically doing work for hire, and making a good living doing it. I paid my wedding photographers $4000 for 6 hours of work, which is a pretty decent living. I suppose these would compare to authors who primarily write media tie-in novels, or technical manuals.

    16:

    Good post, Charlie, esp on the business side. I've been freelance for the last (oh, god, think of a number that's much too big) n years with the whole VAT, schedule D rigmarole. Horrible though it is, that part of the job doesn't go away and can't be neglected.

    The upside, even for an unpublished but aspiring writer, is the buzz that comes from being in the writing process. There's nothing like it. It's the best legal high there is, and that's even on days when the plot's wriggling out of control, the characters are talking back and picking fights with one another, and the coffee supply is running dangerously low. So, I'm glad I'm doing it.

    There was news at the BSFA meeting in London this week that you'll be at Pico Con at Imperial College on 17 Feb. Great stuff - I'll see you there!

    17:

    Uh, should have said, I've been a freelance TV writer and director for n years. Now, I'm writing full time, mainly SF. Fingers got ahead of brain. Again.

    18:

    S.M., everyone said I should have gone to law school. I'm certain I would have killed myself too, after I'd taken a sizeable body count with me.

    Besides, Me Hates Wearing Ties. Hates it.

    I'm getting your Sky People novel as soon as I can get some money freed up for it.

    Respects,
    S. F. Murphy
    Trapped in a Place Called Missouri

    19:

    Andrew G --

    Technical manuals, if you do them in medical or computing fields, can get you a steady annual income of 75 kCAD if you're calm in the face of insane deadlines, people who are convinced your job is trivial, otherwise very good at your job, and have demonstrably been so for the last twenty years. I'm not sure the job security is any better than what happens to novelists, though; writers go very early in the layoffs process. It's also extraordinarily hard to do much better than that; there are no technical-writing Pratchetts or Rowlings in the world today.

    I suspect the wedding photographers are managing a better net.

    20:

    Graydon: done technical writing, got my chops there. It can be good, but hell hath no circle like unto being a tech writer in a software company whose editor is also your line manager (and who has a journalism degree and no understanding of the tech in question).

    21:

    I was unemployed for a blissful year (blissful other than the poverty) and wrote every day. I didn't sell anything because I was writing silly stuff (fan fiction) but I loved it and didn't mind spending half my day alone in my home office at the computer. I know myself -- I could easily shift from full-time employed bureaucratic cubby denizen to full-time writer. If it wasn't for the income and the fact I'm the primary breadwinner, I'd give up full-time employment and become a writer in a moment. Of course, I'd have to actually have to sell stuff.

    22:

    Okay, so what's the downside? You aren't going to get outsourced to Mumbai unless you actually want to move there.

    You keep on telling us how it is, and we know you're telling the truth. Yet the queue still starts on the right...

    23:

    Upsides:

    a) you can work any 12 hours of the day you want... (currently crunching a deadline due to time lost to family illness in 2006).

    b) You can work _anywhere you want_. I realized this and moved from Toronto to Santa Fe, NM. The money all comes from New York anyway; all I need is a power outlet and DSL connection.

    c) it's actually fun to do. I wake up in the morning and think: "Oh, goodie, I get to work today," and am actually reluctant to do things like take time off for a movie.

    d) you get to hang out with other writers. This is an upside if you like very intelligent, very well-read, very strange people with lots of weird habits.

    e) you get to read other people's books a year before they come out if you want. Major upside for me.

    24:

    And when I quit my last day-job, I danced around the office cutting up my tie with a pair of scissors, throwing the bits at people as I sang.

    25:
    I paid my wedding photographers $4000 for 6 hours of work,
    6 hours at the wedding, perhaps, and another 8 to 16 for even a slash-and-burn level job of examining the photos and picking a candidate set, cropping, adjusting and otherwise tweaking the chosen shots, and then assembling the book so it can go to the printer. And that's with modern technology: digital cameras, Photoshop for photo management and touchup, and the ability to send an electronic markup to the printer. It took about 2-3 times as long when you had to print the pictures and do a pasteup for the book.

    I've been an amateur photographer most of my life, and tried a little bit of the professional work; too much hard work for too little pay in the local wedding / cheerleader competition (yes, really) kinds of jobs. That was in the old days of film, paper contact sheets and printing with an enlarger; today it's a little easier (but I'm a lot older, so it balances out).

    Commercial photography for catalogs, annual reports, advertisements and such is more fun, better paying, and not so grueling a schedule (although it has its death marches at times too). But it takes years to establish yourself before you can make a living as a free-lance in that kind of work. It does have the advantage that it's a well-respected way to build up a body of work that you can use to break into selling your photos as art.

    So photography isn't that different from writing as a means of making a living: you can make a living doing things other peoples' way, or you can try to make a living, and probably make less, doing things your own way.

    26:
    This is why MBA's do badly in publishing. They're used to an entirely different mode of production.
    Naahhhh ...they're used to a different definition of work. MBAs are taught that management is a special field of endeavour and that managers need not know anything about the work they manage. They believe their work is all about process and administration in the abstract, and that there is no gap or necessary translation between the abstract and the concrete. So, for instance, their work is done when they've completed the necessary changes to the organizational chart and the mission statement. This belief results in some very amusing situations sometimes. Well, they're amusing in recollection; at the time they're more likely to be either highly alarming or incredibly irritating.

    My personal opinion is that the whole Harvard MBA movement has been a net loss of value to the US economy quite in excess of the (excessive) salaries they get paid, because of all the damage they've done to the operation of the organizations they've managed. And that's not even mentioning how they've trashed the English language.

    Sorry to go so far off-topic; you pushed one of my buttons. Sometime we can make modern management the topic of discussion, and I can do my ISO 9000, or Sarbanes-Oxley rants. Great fun for the whole family.

    27:

    Charlie -- Ow. Editor = manager = bad, just in general. My favourite was finding out that there was intense opposition to documenting any of that stuff at all. Document it, and other parts of the company might use it and then demand a say in how it was developed, and that would be just intolerable.

    What I'm doing now is content process automation, which is kinda like trying to convince tech writers (and the engineers producing the raw info) that they want to stop making one-off, hand-rubbed finish, turned-leg Queen Anne furniture and start making Ikea flat-pack furniture instead.

    This is quite entertaining as an endevour from time to time.

    28:

    And you don't have to deal with the Human Resources mindset.

    Idea for one of the ASF ultra-shorts: a writer's day if ISO 9000 compliance was required by his publisher. (I'm biased: some of the principles assume more control over process inputs than you get on a farm.)

    29:

    S.M. Stirling,

    This is admitedly one of the perks of the games industry. The only time a suit is seen arround the office is when a senior publishers reprisentative is in. And he dosn't blink when the senior designer he's talking to is in shorts and t-shirt...

    Personally, I'm looking at writing a d20 RPG. It appeals to me as a designer and I can epublish via web stores and still make a reasonable amount of cash for my time (and publish print later if it's worth it). Sure, it's a crowded market, but if it was easy...

    30:

    Hey Andrew C - if you fancy a second writer to help with some of the D20 stuff give me a shout. Especially if you're after a complete rules lawyer to go with your flavour :)

    Mr Stirling. Thanks to you I now have my escape dance planned for when I leave office hell. Mr S hasn't put me off - if I can get the breakin, I'm going for it.

    I just need to figure which one of the wretched tie snakes is going to get it...

    31:

    SMS: that's almost exactly what I did when I quit being a pharmacist. And for much the same reasons.

    (I'd been suffering from insomnia for three years without quite realizing why. That night, I slept for 12 hours solidly -- and the insomnia was gone for a long, long time: it only really came back during the hairiest part of the dot-com boom.)

    32:

    Wow! Thanks for an eye-opening, honest description of the writer's life. 4500 sterling works out to something around $9,000USD, which puts you into ramen, rice and beans territory.

    I appreciate honesty like this as a fledgling, unpublished writer with one rejection slip to his name. But I will persist. Perhaps after today's nap and late lunch I shall write more.

    Thankfully, I have a day job.

    33:

    I'm a fulltime freelancer and novelist and this is 100% accurate.

    Best,
    Mark Terry
    www.markterrybooks.com

    34:

    And you don't have to deal with the Human Resources mindset.

    I've never understood this bias that tech-types seem to have against Human Resources...

    35:
    I've never understood this bias that tech-types seem to have against Human Resources...
    It comes from experience. My experience was
    • the HR person who told me that I would not be considered for the job I had already been given by the head of the department involved, for reasons of minority quota (I wasn't black, or female, or better yet, both. Also, I was a veteran, which apparently counted against me).
    • And the one who took great glee in giving us the news that we'd been laid off a month after most of us had been told (individually, on a person-by-person basis, not a blanket statement) that we were vital to current operations and would not be laid off.
    • And the one who refused to give me the bonus I'd earned (and was promised in writing) before being laid off unless I signed a promise not to bad-mouth the company (which had ceased to exist the day I was laid off, and so was hardly in position to harmed by anything I said).
    • And there was the one who used to lecture the management team (during my abortive venture into management) about how to discriminate against women, minorities, and older people without getting caught.
    Are you sensing a trend here?
    36:

    Its not tech types who have a thing against HR. It is human beings in general, and is similar to their antipathy towards 'managers'

    That sound you can hear is a hobby horse escaping.

    Bruce Cohen, you are so right.

    37:

    It sounds like you've run into some shady HR people...

    It comes from experience. My experience was

    * the HR person who told me that I would not be considered for the job I had already been given by the head of the department involved, for reasons of minority quota (I wasn't black, or female, or better yet, both. Also, I was a veteran, which apparently counted against me).

    In this case the department head is in the wrong -- job offers should always come from HR, because managers often have no idea what they're doing. Legally, if the company say it's "equal opportunity" it has to follow certain practices. It has to compare it's staff vs. certain federal statistics to see if they need to hire minorities or women. Tech jobs almost always do, since there are so many white men employed.

    Often the HR staffing folks can't even make the call, they have to get clearance from a special diversity office, if it's a large organization.

    It would be the same as if the department head decided to fire you without clearing it with HR -- which I've seen happen. There are certain steps they have to go through, and if they don't they could be sued.

    * And the one who took great glee in giving us the news that we'd been laid off a month after most of us had been told (individually, on a person-by-person basis, not a blanket statement) that we were vital to current operations and would not be laid off.

    Sounds like the guy was an asshole, most HR people I know hate laying folks off. And unless you have a contract stating that you're working for a certain period, I wouldn't trust statements about job security. Some upper managment types probably decided they needed to cut staff more, and someone else decided you could be outsourced. HR rarely makes the choice on it's own, and then it's usually seniority based (which I personally hate).

    * And the one who refused to give me the bonus I'd earned (and was promised in writing) before being laid off unless I signed a promise not to bad-mouth the company (which had ceased to exist the day I was laid off, and so was hardly in position to harmed by anything I said).

    I'm not sure they could do that, legally, but it likely wouldn't have been worth the effort to sue them...

    * And there was the one who used to lecture the management team (during my abortive venture into management) about how to discriminate against women, minorities, and older people without getting caught.

    LOL, we aren't supposed to share that... Of course, since management are going to discriminate anyway (like the guy above who tried to hire you despite a diversity search), I guess it's a good idea to make sure they do it in a way that's not actionable.

    In our new candidate management system, we've disabled features that allowed managers to comment on candidates they interviewed. Managers of having habit of commenting on people's personal appearance, manner of speach, ethnicity, "vibe", family situation, etc, in ways that could get a company sued...

    38:

    "Its not tech types who have a thing against HR. It is human beings in general, and is similar to their antipathy towards 'managers'"

    OK, so maybe the entire field sounds like term for managing slaves, but HR does get a bum rap. Modern HR theory is very pro-worker. The difficulty is often in getting upper and lower management to play along.

    39:

    Charlie's a great manager of himself, which is not a tautology.

    Any of the professional writers who comment here could go on at enormous length on almost any of Charlie's excellent points.

    As to the MBA/management subthread:

    (1) I have minimal respect for the MBA degree at all, having ghostwritten two MBA dissertations for cash (both clientsd getting MBA with Honors from a top B-school), and living in a county disrupted by a President with an MBA.

    (2) I think Charlie did a good job of explaining that a professional writer IS a professional mananger, attempting near optimal allocation of resources, which includes his analysis of himself-with-writer hat as supplier, himself-as-marketer, himself-as-social animal, himself as taxpayer, the issues of scheduling, and the like.

    (3) In MBA-speak: "a professional writer must strategize and execute effectively with all 5 types of Competition in the John Porter (Harvard) model:
    (a) competition with others providing the same service (those others in SFWA and kindred organizations);
    (b) competition with one's suppliers (or computers, software, paper, phone service, food, shelter, travel, ...);
    (c) competition with one's buyers (those publishers and magazine editors and the like), usually analyzed in terms of pricing, as with his facts on advances against royalty;
    (d) competition with governments (taxation, regulation, passports, and they have police and armies to enforce);
    (e) competition with changes in underlying technology.

    (4) Interestingly, Charlie is a global leader in describing and extrapolating (e) above. His software industry experience makes him, I should say, a superb manager of his cyber-resources, and of maximizing his own productivity through (broadly speaking) automation. Fortunately, AI's are not yet serious competitors of ours in sense (a). Intriguingly, the postmodern construct of distributed networks as writers (i.e. blogs and wikis that become stories and books) are part of the foreground and background of the life that Charlie lives and describes.

    40:

    Andrew G:

    I suspect the term Human Resources should take a large part of the blame. In my opinion it's dehumanising, and should be excised from the language if at all possible. What was wrong with "Personnel"?

    41:

    This may sound funny, but "Human Resources" was picked because "Personnel" had a bad reputation and it was thought that it would sound more friendly to have "human" in the title.

    It has to do with the view of employees as being more than just the value of their labor, but rather resources distinct from capital resources. The idea is to clearly define the role of employees within the organization, and to develop them as assets rather than to view them as replaceable inputs (like natural resources).

    42:

    It's great to see people actually discuss the reality of being a writer. Especially since there's such a considerable industry devoted to blowing smoke up people's asses about writing and taking their money while doing it.

    43:

    It's great to see people actually discuss the reality of being a writer. Especially since there's such a considerable industry devoted to blowing smoke up people's asses about writing and taking their money while doing it.

    I know what you mean...

    What it boils down to if you want to be a professional writer is that either:

    A. You get really, really lucky.
    B. You do it part-time for years in your spare time, until you either get well enough known to make a living or you retire.

    And even then, being well known doesn't mean you can make a career out of it. Look at Vernor Vinge. He's been well known for years, but it's only now that he's retired and is presumably getting a good package from the State of California that he can write full time...

    44:
    It has to do with the view of employees as being more than just the value of their labor, but rather resources distinct from capital resources. The idea is to clearly define the role of employees within the organization, and to develop them as assets rather than to view them as replaceable inputs (like natural resources).

    But it does the exact opposite of that! It places humans exactly on a par with the other resources that a company "owns".

    Sorry to go on about this, but it's a particular bugbear of mine.

    45:

    In effect, employees are resources, and ones that decrease in relative value in our current economy and rate of progress.

    There are two ways to deal with that. One is high turnover, where you just let your employee's skills wither and hire new people once they're no longer useful. This is not a good thing.

    The other way is to actively develop your employees by encouraging them to improve their skills, and work on career development. This is ideal, though it does have some opposition. Employers have typically put a lot of effort into hire someone and training them. In addition, since pay increases over time, if employees don't keep current with new technologies you've invested a lot in someone who's not giving back as much as they did when they were hired, relatively speaking.

    Of course, there are a lot of folks who just want to show up, do their time, and get their check at the end of the week. Motivating them is a challenge...

    46:

    "Human Resources" always reminds me of what someone who knew him well said about Lenin.

    "He regards human beings in much the same way as a furnaceman regards ore."

    47:

    I usually tell people who ask that they shouldn't try to write fiction professionally unless they want to write so badly that they'd go on doing it in their spare time for the rest of their lives, even if they never made a sale.

    Remembering the early days, it's still a shock sometimes to realize that I went full-time in 1988.

    Mind you, while it was brutal, things were easier for a newbie trying to break in back then than they are now.

    48:

    "Human Resources" always reminds me of what someone who knew him well said about Lenin.

    I had a grim chuckle when reading your Draka books, and thinking what the term "Human Resources" likely means in that universe. :)

    49:

    Andrew,

    Yes, I have run into a lot of shady HR types. Specifically HR managers, especially at the divisional or corporate levels. The workers in HR departments are usually like any other worker type: they vary all along the spectrum of competence and benignity. High-level HR managers, on the other hand, seem often to have risen ot their positions so that they can exercise the power it gives them over people (see discussion upthread about the kind of people that get into politics for comparison).

    50:
    There are two ways to deal with that. One is high turnover, where you just let your employee's skills wither and hire new people once they're no longer useful. This is not a good thing.
    But it is a very common thing, not surprising in a corporate environment where the event horizon is the end of the quarter. It's tempting to managers who are only measured by this quarter's results to hire in as cheaply as possible, then use 'em up and spit 'em out so you can hire afresh for the next project. This is also why some companies are so fond of contractors.
    51:

    Oh, well said, Charlie! In my case, throw in a demented 3 1/2 year-old and a maniacal daycare juggling act, and it's a wonder I don't just shave my head and join a klezmer band. What I've come to understand in recent years is that success in this profession involves cultivating all the interesting stuff that comes with it or surrounds it--public speaking appearances, consultation (foresight studies in my case), academic gigs or writer-in-residence appointments, fulbright scholarships like Cory's on... Which again turns into a massive juggling act where you're constantly scrambling to find writing time--but, hey, you were doing that anyway so it might as well be with interesting stuff for a change.

    52:

    To dip back to the middle of the thread - I am a semi-freelance tech writer - I've got a steady yob and side gigs to pad out the income. It's been amazing to me, over the last seven years, how little skill in English is required to be a successful tech writer. Most techwriters that I know came from English/Journo backgrounds and never quite get the technology. Any toy-loving geek with decent writing ability can make a superior techwriter just because they'll understand what the developers are saying.

    Graydon missed one crucial point in the techwriter's life, though: having managers convinced that if they finish the last build on the software, the manual will be done the next day. I've had far too many managers who can't get their heads around the idea that you can't document features that don't exist. Well, at least not terribly accurately. That lag time has been the source of most of my job frustration, and at least one layoff. In that case, I was living in that circle of Hell Charlie mentioned - a polisci grad and company founder, who also suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder.

    53:

    Andrew G, take the computer games industry for burnout. 5 years in, you're down to about 20% allready. And this is in an industry where you'd EXPECT motivated staff.

    Use em and throw em away. My current employers are paying me far too little, and I'm starting to consider non-industry jobs.

    54:

    One reason writing is such a buyer's market is that

    a) lots and lots of people want to do it; and
    b) they all think they _can_ do it.

    There's an infinity of hungry newcomers who'll do anything to get published, and in many cases they're quite good.

    It's analogous to the situation in acting -- and most "actors" are actually waiting tables, doing valet parking, and things of that nature.

    Any time you get a profession where there are few barriers to entry and a lot of eager applications, you get a reward structure with a few stars and a lot of people starving.

    As I've told people, if you want a steady job with good pay, become a plumber.

    55:

    Umm ... yeah, but I hate plumbing. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon replacing a broken kitchen faucet It took so long largely because the previous owner used non-standard hardware for just about everything. And that was only a week after having to fix the bathroom faucet. And that was only q couple of weeks after having to throw money at a plumber to dig up the water intake line, because it had broken. Plumbing is rapidly becoming my worst nightmare. So that's clearly a non-starter.

    Like everybody else in the world, I've got a handful of short stories in various states of incompleteness lying around. It's clear I'm never going to get anything finished while I'm still working for a living, between my job and the plumbing, so I've decided to work on the stories as I get time, and not get serious about deciding whether I want to do it in earnest until I retire. Current plans call for retiring in two years or so, so it's not such a long wait. That's one of the reasons I hang around here: I want to hear how writers are doing things these days.

    56:

    If you want to write fiction, you're SOL until you retire. On the other hand, if what you want to do is write, then there are plenty of other outlets that offer the upside chance of stardom with less starvation risk. Journalism and academia immediately come to mind, but there are others.

    On the other hand, you will, at times, probably need to wear a tie in both of those professions. That said, while there is nothing good that can be said about ties, most people will enjoy the social reaction that can be produced from the wearing of an unnecessarily expensive suit. So even there you've got some compensation.

    What I can tell you is that, sadly, writer's block is just as bad as when you write nonfiction. Logically, that shouldn't be so. Sadly, it is. I'd be tempted to say that it's worse, but I suspect that's just an effect of selection bias: people go into journalism or academia for other reasons besides a desire to put words on paper, and therefore are more likely to suffer from extreme hueva when they absolutely have to do so.

    I could be wrong. You can count the professional fiction writers I know on one hand. Charlie? You often find yourself trying to do everything but write the book you're supposed to be writing?

    Trying not to write what I need to write is, of course, why I'm writing this and not what I'm sure will be sublimely interesting things about Afghanistan. Can't I just point to the photos, add some graphs, and grunt? "Ugh! Here, explosion! There, nation building! Ugh!" Be much easier. But ni modo. Back to work.

    57:

    Well, yes, I want to write fiction. I've written a fair number of technical documents: product proposals, architecture and design documents, etc; it's interesting, but not really fun when it's for someone else's product or architecture. On the third hand, I haven't worn a tie to work since 1969, and I'd just as soon keep it that way.

    58:

    My wife is an HR person so I hear a lot about how that world works. A lot of HR makes a lot of sense once you hear it in plain language from someone you trust. That said, the problem with HR is that it tends to attract a certain type of person who is very much the opposite of those of us from a tech-oriented world. One of the best moves you can make in any large org is to get in good with the HR people, a small application of courteous interpersonal interaction is often enough to make you stand out as Not-An-Asshole, and then they're much more willing to dump the BS and tell you thinks straight out.

    On the subject at hand - writing 1000 polished words a day is fucking insane. I'm trying to get into fiction writing and I'm lucky if I can hit 100. Clearly I am not cut out for the field as anything other than a hobbyist...

    59:

    Jeff, not quite so hard as you think. It's a little over two words a minute, in a eight hour day. Your post was probably about 150 words, just for scale. If you're motivated, and an idea to work from, it's certainly doable. The problem is having both of those things at the same time.

    60:

    This may sound funny, but "Human Resources" was picked because "Personnel" had a bad reputation and it was thought that it would sound more friendly to have "human" in the title.

    There should be a term for this - "peecee euphemism inflation", or something. It happened with crippled >> handicapped >> disabled >> challenged, where they kept changing the name and being surprised when the stigma they were hoping to leave behind just kept following on after.

    My favorite was the attempt to change "brainstorm" to "word shower" because someone thought the former was insensitive to epileptics (who were of course outraged when it was suggested that they were that thin-skinned).

    61:
    My favorite was the attempt to change "brainstorm" to "word shower"
    Maybe they should have called it "word salad"?

    The saddest thing about pc-ness is how easy it is to lampoon. The phrases practically parody themselves; no real effort is required. I once tried to convince someone that "disabled" was insulting, and that the term should instead be a portmanteau of "differently" and "abled": "diffabled". He only realized I wasn't serious when I said, "Of course, there might be problems applying the term to someone with a lisp".

    62:

    buckethead - name is actually Jett (t's vs. f's), but thanks for putting that in context. I just spent the past hour working on a story and wound up with ~400 fairly well polished words. Maybe 1000 words a day is more feasible than I initially though. Charlie makes it all sound so difficult, it's a bit discouraging, although he of course has the privilege and curse of earning his keep as a professional...

    63:

    (4) Interestingly, Charlie is a global leader in describing and extrapolating (e) above.

    I hear JK Rowling is happy to use a ten year old laptop, so "global leadership" in this area may not be all that worth it.

    Re: HR - I've been a union delegate for a long time now. I have to say I find it considerably easier to deal with HR people than with the members of the union - the HR people know what the organisation want, and are prepared to deal on that basis. Members often don't know what they want, and get caught up in unimportant details due to emotion rather than rational assessment.

    Yes, there's a lot of seriously clotted language. Some of this is due to trying to say exactly what the organisation is doing while not saying or implying anything inaccurate, and some of it is management-yawp imposed by the people they answer to.

    64:

    About the book signing tours, if you're located in England, you can easily mix a nice trip and a small book signing tour in Paris. The city is damn nice and *a lot* of people read SF there (in french or in english).

    When I was a the SF guy in this american bookstore in Paris, I got Robert Jordan and Ray Bradbury do a signing session in the store this way.

    M.Bradbury came first to enjoy Paris, second for signing stuff. In fact, *he* proposed us to come.
    I am not absolutely sure, but I think it was the same for Jordan. He came to Paris for the holidays.
    Both were quite happy with the session.

    The publishers were quite happy too, but it was not their idea and as it was not a book signing trip, they didn't have to finance it. The may have participated tho, i don't know the specific.

    Just an idea.

    65:

    Lionel: hmm, possibly ... I haven't visited France in something like 25 years. It's probably time to go back.

    Tony: you're right about the tech. Actually, I'm mostly pissed-off about the CE industry pointedly refusing to cater to my desire -- which is for something of about the identical spec to the One Laptop Per Child project, albeit with a slightly better keyboard (say, equivalent to the Psion Netbook). Videos? Games? Who needs 'em? I just want cheap, rugged, runs Linux or some flavour of UNIX, light, long battery life, and did I say cheap and rugged? And ideally it shouldn't cost any more than a very posh filofax. We have the technology to do this, we've had it for years, but nobody's done it and nobody's planning on doing it because it's not as profitable as selling fragile, expensive thoroughbreds.

    Sorry, discursive rant over ...

    Noel: yesterday I got mugged by no less than four requests for either biographical information or email interview questionnaires. Never mind not getting any work done, I didn't even get all the interviews done. (I did, however, join a health club. So I suppose there's some progress happening.)

    66:

    "I hear JK Rowling"

    Is JK Rowling the North for (all) (aspiring) writers?

    67:

    Is JK Rowling the North for (all) (aspiring) writers?

    Only her paychecks.

    68:

    "... my desire -- which is for something of about the identical spec to the One Laptop Per Child project, albeit with a slightly better keyboard (say, equivalent to the Psion Netbook). Videos? Games? Who needs 'em? I just want cheap, rugged, runs Linux or some flavour of UNIX, light, long battery life, and did I say cheap and rugged? And ideally it shouldn't cost any more than a very posh filofax."

    Bah, Linux is bloated. I don't need to reprogram the device, only to work on (and read off) it.

    The keyboard can be optional as far as I am concerned; I'd rather attach my own (portable) keyboard than be stuck with whatever your dream manufacturer comes up with.

    But why do you want this infopad? What good do you expect of it? Did you own a Psion Netbook?

    "We have the technology to do this, we've had it for years, but nobody's done it and nobody's planning on doing it because it's not as profitable as selling fragile, expensive thoroughbreds."

    Ah, yes, the great capitalist conspiracy that's keeping the market away from what the market really wants. :-)

    69:

    "Only her paychecks."

    She pays well, eh?

    70:

    For an industry, just like any other, that's shrouded in secrecy to outsiders, i love how you continually give the unedited lowdown on it all.

    71:

    Branko: I don't want an infopad, as described.

    I'm not a visual guy, I'm a text-oriented guy. 100% text. I'll go without a GUI before I'll go without a keyboard. The whole PDA thing started around 1990 at Apple when they decided to build an overpriced chunk of bloat for executives who never learned to type in school. Now everyone can type -- so what's the problem?

    I want something with a decent, solid, built-in keyboard -- yes, just like a Psion Netbook. (And yes, I owned a Series 7 for a while; creeping incompatabilities with everything else I owned put the boot in on it.) Portable/folding keyboards are always a messy compromise between size and durability; the only device that's ever come close to delivering was the IBM butterfly keyboard of the mid-90s, but that relied on mechanical parts that always worked properly, and apparently had a high defect rate.

    You may not want to reprogram the device, but I do. I don't really trust any long-term work solution where I can't roll my own parser for the file format my text is stored in, so I can get it into some other form.

    What I'm after is an open, reprogrammable substitute for a manual portable typewriter.

    What the CE biz is after is maximizing profits, which tends to involve trying to lock the customer in to a vertical marketing proposition with lots of fun expensive media consumables to buy that are locked in via DRM (now that most of the hardware peripherals have been rolled into the core product -- yes, I remember back when even the idea of building a cassette recorder for data into a home computer was exotic and expensive).

    A company that gives me what I want will end up going the way of the Victorian pram makers. Because my requirements are fundamentally unprofitable for them.

    72:

    Charlie,

    You say you don't get book signing tours as though it were a bad thing. Do you think you would actually enjoy them?

    73:

    Charlie, I'd take a OLPC straight, frankly. The failure to realise the market in the developed world - even at twice the price charged to governments - is what has convinced me that OLPC is plain and simple a scam.

    I still have and use a Futitsu Stylistic 1200 as a reading tablet, because of the lack of a smaller, affordable soloution for ebooks. Where's the soloution THERE?

    Branko Collin, that ceased to be a joke somewhere arround the launch of the bloatware known as Vista. Oh, that'd be today then.

    74:

    David: shudders.

    I've seen Terry Pratchett doing a signing. No, I wouldn't enjoy them, and I damn' well know it. (Dropping in on a bookshop to do an impromptu stock signing is fine, as is the odd pre-arranged signing. Doing it three times a day for a week, never sleeping in the same city twice ... that's something else.)

    75:

    During my year of unemployment my main problem with HR people was their complete inability to write a job spec for technical staff that could distinguish between say data design, data analysis or data entry. Their conviction that Oracle 11 (the oracle application suite) must be superior to Oracle 8 (the then current development environment), demands in 2002 for 5 years experience in Windows 2000 and requests for me, the applicant to explain exactly what Oracle did and what a database was did little for my confidence that these people would be helpful in my getting a job with the company that employed them.

    However I think that my basic objection to HR, following a couple of years in which I was employed to make changes to a resource management tool to allow it to deal with personnel as well as materielle, can be summed up in the words of Granny Weatherwax from 'Carpe Jugulam'. "Treating people as things is the begining of sin."

    76:
    Ah, yes, the great capitalist conspiracy that's keeping the market away from what the market really wants. :-)
    Branko, despite all the apologists for the unfettered market saying that it is ideal for both suppliers and consumers, it is true that manufacturers want to build something that is highly profitable, obselesces quickly, and is one-size-fits-all, so they only have to make one model. They sometimes succeed in convincing a large part of the market to shoehorn their requirements into that model, but it usually requires that both the manufacturer and the market do not understand what is possible, or what would be useful if they had it.
    77:

    Charlie,

    It all depends on what you do with your computer. I have a split personality, so I need two different computers. I have a laptop that's 6 years old, maxed out on memory, and has had hard drive transplants twice. All I need out of it is word processing, email, and the hyperlink note-taking app I use for a journal. Oh, and I play MP3s on it while I work. On the other hand, I'm a visual type of person, and I do a lot of photography, drawing, etc. Since switching to a digital camera I've had to get Photoshop, which won't run on my laptop at all. And I have at least 8 or 10 different bitmap, vector, or mixed graphics programs, some commercial, some open-source; each of them has a different emphasis on functionality, so I'm constantly swapping files among them. All this takes a relatively new desktop with lots of memory and disk, good graphics hardware, and tablet, because drawing with a mouse is like drawing with a bar of soap, and a trackball is worse.

    And on the gripping hand, I'm a Unix dude, so all my computers run some flavor of Unix or Linux. I need to be able to tweak things sometimes, but I like to have a system with a simple interface for the times when the default behavior is good enough. As long as I can twitch the curtain aside and grab the levers. I can hack the system when I need to, but I don't do that as a hobby, because I hack Linux 8 hours a day at work.

    This is what the computer industry is only just discovering: not everyone needs (or wants) the same things out of a computer. So far they're only seeing two market segments: gamers, and everyone else (except for Apple, who understand the needs of graphics professionals), but I expect the market to segment further as the marketeers realize that everyone who is going to buy one already has a computer, and not everyone is going to buy a new one every two years.

    So I'd be quite happy with an OLPC for my portable computer, but I have eyes for an 8 processor Mac desktop towards the end of the year, as I hear that Photoshop will be able to use it.

    78:

    John Richards - This is unfortunately true and is my biggest complaint about the entire field of HR. They are the gatekeepers of organizations but tend to do a crappy job of figuring out what sort of people should be allowed through the gate. I've talked to my wife about this a lot, she tends to blame this on bad managers - they are supposed to work directly with HR on drafting job descriptions. Before a job description gets posted the person who would supervise that position should have signed off on it. A bad job description (and I've seen the "5-years experience required" for products that have existed for less than 5 years) is a sign that you will have a bad supervisor, or at least one who doesn't really know what they want or need and has no idea what you actually would do.

    A related major problem with HR: They provide the initial applicant screening. If your job description says you need five years experience with a product that has existed for only three years you either get dumped from the applicant pool or you get a reduced total score. If I claim I worked on that software five years and your app said you only worked on it three years, I rank higher in the applicant pool even though anyone competent would know I was a liar. I think this is one of the major reasons corporations are so totally fucked up these days, HR tends to do a shit job at hiring honest and competent people.

    79:

    Jett - sorry about the name confusion, my home monitor is slowly, slowly, dying. It gets a little fuzzy sometime. Your name is so much clearer now that I am at work.

    80:

    I don't really trust any long-term work solution where I can't roll my own parser for the file format my text is stored in, so I can get it into some other form.

    Charlie, you don't use LaTeX?

    I am, frankly, shocked. Also, I now get to sneer geekily at your lack of skilz.

    81:

    LaTeX is clunkily annoying and far too low-level for what I need. (Might as well use groff.)

    I used to use my own homebrew based on Perl's POD system, but one editor too many insisted on M$ Word. I'm now weaning myself back to plain text by way of cold showers and OpenOrifice.

    82:

    Jett, beyond some minimum requirements based on industry standards, most job descriptions are written entirely by managers. HR is involved in assiging a pay rate, grade, or whatever the organization uses, based on the description. If the description is poorly written, then it's the manager's fault -- HR folks can only really write HR job descriptions from first had knowledge.

    Also, there are a couple reasons why it seems like HR is brain dead. First, they use software to screen applicants. A large organization will have 1 HR person managing 40+ job vacancies, and will get hundreds or thousands of applications a day. Small organizations will just have 1 HR person, period. So they use keywords and requirement based searches against OCR'd resumes. If the job says 5 years of Windows Vista, that's what they'll put in the search. :)

    Fortunately the AI behind the applicant management systems are getting much better, but you still need to tailor your resume as closely as possible to the job description if you want to get noticed.

    For job seekers I usually reccomend a targeted resume and cover letter for each job they apply for. Throw in key words from the requirements on the job description, even if they were a minor part of your previous jobs or education.

    Case in point -- we had a couple jobs that required experience in "mail merging". We passed by several recent college graduates for a receptionist position because they didn't have that on their resumes. OTOH, there were any number of people who had been receptionists for 10 or 15 years who had it on their resume, because they had taken a 1 hour course in it at some point. :)

    83:

    All of which explains why I'm going the online route - so I don't have to run a business. (Does anyone actually want to do signings anyway?)

    84:

    Has anyone else been on the hiring end of the system? As I mentioned, I was a manager for about a year (and was also project leader and one of the implementors as well, which is why I stopped being a manager: that was too many jobs at once, so I dumped the one I liked least to do).

    Part of the job was interviewing potential new hires for engineering positions. I knew what we needed, and we even wrote up a pretty good job description, with some real experience requirements. Then the recruiters sent us hundreds of resumes, 95% of which quite clearly didn't fit the description. For instance, we required 2 years of Java experience (at a time when no one outside of Sun could have more than 4), and more than half of the resumes showed no Java experience at all, while several showed 8-10 years.

    As far as I can see, no one benefits from the way the system works. The candidates can't get managers to look at their resumes, or believe them if they do. The hiring managers spend most of their time just trying to find anyone who has real experience, let alone anyone competent. And the HR people sit in the center, weaving their evil web^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H trying to make it all work and getting all the blame.

    85:

    1000 words a day is fairly easy. I've been doing around 2000-3000 a day for the past month, a lot of it with a bad head-cold, and doing pretty good stuff if I say so myself.

    Inspiration is nice but if you're a pro you've got to be able to write consistently. Just get your arse in there and sit down and write. Rewriting is easy.

    Mind you, fits of inspiration can be pleasant and productive. I once did 20,000 words in 30 hours -- with no sleep. I didn't want to stop because it had all "clicked".

    Mind you(2), I wasn't good for much for the next week or ten days, which means the average was still no more than 2000 a day.

    86:

    As far as keyboards go, I use a Kinesis Classic, and have used it (and its predecessor) for over a decade now. It's a wonderful design and I just take it with me wherever I go, plugging it in to various machines as needed.

    It put my speed from 90 to 120 wpm within a week, and stopped incipient carpal tunnel.

    If you're just doing word processing and email, pretty well any of the computers and software out there will work well enough. I use Microsoft Word -- why not? It's cheap, since it comes with the computer, and it's quite functional for my elementary needs. I don't care how rich Bill Gates is; it just isn't worth the time and trouble to look for other stuff.

    As far as I'm concerned, a car is a box on wheels that gets me from A to B; and a computer is a box that handles my writing and internet needs and plays music. As long as it functions and doesn't cost much, I don't care about anything else.

    87:

    SMS: I used to find that my occasional bouts of carpal tunnel syndrome related to my chair dying under me. Buy a new chair, pains in backs of hands go away.

    After the third time this happened, I realized I was spending up to 60 hours a week in the goddamn chair, and bought myself a second-hand Herman Miller Aeron (which despite being second hand, cost as much as the previous three chairs put together). Whaddaya know? Three years later, I'm still RSI-free, and the chair hasn't collapsed, either.

    I tend to use laptops for writing: right now, I'm using an early MacBook Pro. On my to-buy list is a new desk, with room for both a laptop and the Matias Tactile Pro keyboard, which has about the same feel as the original IBM "M" series keyboard (built by the Selectric typewriter division) and happens to be tailored to work with modern Macs.

    I used to use Microsoft Word way back -- I remember Word for Windows 1.1 -- but (a) on this side of the Atlantic it costs (price in dollars) in pounds sterling (so it's anything but cheap), (b) ever since Word for Windows 2.0 it's been downhill, in my opinion, adding spurious crap instead of useful writing features, and (c) the tendency of MS to change file formats in weird, proprietary ways really pisses me off, because I expect I'll want to be able to read my current manuscripts in three decade's time, and they seem to think the reasonable life span of a document is 1-3 years.

    OpenOffice (or NeoOffice on the Mac) does about the same job as Microsoft Office 97/Office 2000, is cross-platform portable, is free, and uses a really open file format. (But can read/write the Microsoft crap as well.) I've got an 8Gb USB flash dongle on my house keyring and it's got all my writings and versions of OpenOffice for Mac, Windows, and Linux: the idea is that (once I've added my contracts) the house could burn down and I'd be out on the street with nothing but the clothes on my back, and I'd still have my business in my pocket and ready to run as soon as I borrow a computer of some description.

    88:

    All your writings on one keyring you say... I sense a method for finally getting a best seller in my name.

    Of course I'd more likely get the shit belted out of me by Charlie and Feorag when I got within 5 metres.

    I actually use (don't beat me now) a tablet PC, though I am running open office on it. I plug in a usb keyboard to type intensively but can use the stylus to note take on the fly, or to even sketch out little diagrams of what I've got in mind.

    It works to a fashon - but I wish someone much smarter than me would come up with something better. Or a cranial interface.

    89:

    (Does anyone actually want to do signings anyway?)

    I'm sure there are some. When I was a manager at a bookstore we had a couple authors come in. Some were pretty grumpy and didn't seem to want to be there. Carl Hiaasen was probably the most eager. He really enjoyed meeting everyone and didn't seem any less happy at the end of about 4 hours of signing than he did at the beginning. He was wonderful to all of the staff as well.

    90:

    I'm happy enough meeting fans and I don't mind signing for people. I'm a little less enthusiastic about book dealers toting hand-carts laden with cartons of stock -- it makes my wrist ache -- and I'm especially unenthusiastic if I find they're selling signed copies for more than the cover price. (In which case I'm basically hurting my wrist in order to make them money.)

    What really makes me grumpy is signing cover sheets that are to be bound into a limited edition. Nothing brings home what a "limited edition" really means like signing your name 1100 times! I can usually console myself with the fact that most of the time, I'm being paid extra for those ... but it's basically tedious unskilled manual labour, rather than the "real" work that it takes the place of.

    And at the bottom of the heap, there's signing cover sheets for limited edition anthologies. Because what it boils down to is about six to eight hours of manual labour that will leave my hand aching for a week afterwards, typically for an advance of about $250, and I've got to do it in a hurry because the contributors are playing a game of pass-the-parcel with the cover sheets and they've got to get around a loop of a dozen writers in under a month.

    No; bookstore signings are fine, in moderation. It's when you get to the three-shops-a-day or queues right around the block that they stop being fun and turn nasty.

    And I'm still obscure enough that I don't think I've ever had a one hour signing slot where there were still people queueing up for signatures at the end of that hour.

    91:

    And I'm still obscure enough that I don't think I've ever had a one hour signing slot where there were still people queueing up for signatures at the end of that hour.

    That's probably a good place to be, signing wise, especially for a SF/F author. I always felt bad for local authors who would sit there for half the day and sign maybe 5 books. Ditto for the guys who were there half a day signing no stop.

    The biggest crowd I saw was when former President Carter was doing a book signing -- there must have been 5-10 thousand people there. The store (a large Barnes & Noble) was completely full, and there was a line about 500 feet long out the door -- the entire time. He was very nice about it, which I guess is a quality you have to have to be a politician.

    Then are people like James Herriot -- I saw him twice when I was a kid, and he was doing book signings out of his office several times a week, with a small crowd of tourists every time. :)

    92:

    While I haven't quit my day job, I am working at home three days of the week, and I'm really starting to hurt thanks to the cheapo walmart office chair I have. Getting an Aeron chair sounds like a winner.

    Writing manuals is not like writing fiction (though I've seen software manuals that could be classed as fiction.) I'm lucky to get over 500 words a day if I'm starting from scratch. Most of the time though, I'm really a technical editor, translating the scribbles of engineers and developers into English.

    Microsoft Word is better than most people will admit, I think. I used to hate it until I was forced to use WordPerfect for a year. Then I learned the meaning of the word "hate." The only thing that really bugs me about Word is the proprietary format issue Charlie mentioned, but I save everything to flat text for archiving, so that's not too big a problem for me.

    93:

    You can do anything in Microsoft Word. The trouble is, almost nobody knows how :)

    The original program tried to fuse two mutually inconsistent ideas about how to mark up text (hierarchical nested styles and linear streams of text with formatting codes dropped in), then slathered a bunch of goop on top that allowed people to do anything in it, no matter how stupid -- like writing macro viruses, for example.

    A big win for OpenOffice 2.1; not only does it have the OpenDoc format, but it can export to LATEX.

    94:

    Charlie: the idea is that (once I've added my contracts) the house could burn down and I'd be out on the street with nothing but the clothes on my back, and I'd still have my business in my pocket and ready to run as soon as I borrow a computer of some description.

    -- I just do an automatic offsite backup of everything critical every night. That's _dirt_ cheap and requires no attention at all. I'm SOL if someone nukes New York, though.

    95:

    I like star office, I've got it at home. The problem for me is the last little bit of compatibility between programs like that and word. A significant chunk of my "value added" contribution to the manuals and whatnot that I provide my corporate masters is the formatting and prettifying that I do on top of the technical to English translation. If I do that in something other than word, I have to convert the doc to word, and then fix all the gremlins. It's easier to just work in word from the get-go. And then, easier to do all my writing in word rather than use two programs.

    You're certainly right about word and its methods of formatting, the situation is truly bizarre with wordperfect. I remember hearing people exclaim about the wonders of the reveal codes mode, and thinking, they have that so you can fix what the program should have done right in the first place. Once you turn off the more annoying auto- features in Word, it's a fairly well behaved piece of software.

    I don't do nightly backups - but I have all of my important stuff in at least four places, on my iPod, the computer at home, the work laptop and offsite. Sometimes more. I would likely be even more paranoid if, like you and Stirling, my entire livelihood depended on those files. My work stuff is saved in sourcesafe, so I'm pretty solid there.

    96:

    Of course, if my house burned down I'd be out 20 years of spending about $6000 a year on books, mostly nonfiction. Hell if I know how I'd function without my references -- the research would kill me.

    97:

    I'll have to tell my wife that number. She occasionally gives me grief for my book buying habits. You're at close to an order of magnitude more than what I spend. I think I can use that for leverage...

    Moving might be a little bit painful for you.

    98:

    "The Society of Authors figure I heard from around 2000 was that the average novelist in the UK earns £4,500 a year."

    That statistic would be a lot more useful if it were accompanied by a definition of "novelist". If someone writes one novel in their life, over how many years should the earnings from that book be averaged?

    I'd be interested to know, for example, what the average total money paid to the author per word is for novels published commercially in the UK. That would give a much better idea of what the job pays.

    99:

    SMS: Of course, the book budget goes on the tax form as "research" or "competitive market analysis materials", right?

    John Smith: you're absolutely right. On the other hand, I suspect the average per word for novels published in the UK is quite low -- probably in the range 5p to 15p per word (unless you include foreign earnings, in which case it's a whole lot more). You'd do much better writing for your local newspaper, if they published everything you sent in.

    100:

    I do like Open Office. It's only major snag for me is the spreadsheet scripting - for anything really complex (things like expressions of relative combat power of weapons in a 4x PnP game...) I tend to go back to my copy of Excel 2000.

    101:

    10p a word sounds quite plausible. It is consistent, for example, with: 50 million people spending an average of 10 pounds each a year on novels; authors receiving 10% of the sale price; 10 000 novels appearing each year with 50 000 words each on average; a novel costing £10 and selling 5000 copies on average.

    All those numbers are just wild guesses, but perhaps they're within an order of magnitude of the true numbers.

    102:

    John: Those numbers are not too far out, although you massively underestimate how many words there are in the averag novel these days.

    The actual figures are: 100 million books sold per year in the UK, 40,000 titles in print, average length of novels: 100,000 words, average price per novel pretty damn close on #163;10 (when you average out paperbacks at £7 and fewer hardcovers at £16), and average sales per title of 2500. However, that includes a lot of non-fiction and specialist titles along with mass-market stuff and novels, and titles may remain in print for more than 12 months.

    103:

    I�ve been a textbook author for over two decades, so my take is a bit different. Nonetheless, Charlie�s characterization of life as a full time author matches my experiences, with a few differences. First, most textbook writers are educators, so they have day jobs (--I quite mine after tens years to write full time.). Second, unlike great fiction, textbooks have an 18-24 month shelf life due to the march of progress (--especially in my discipline�computer science). Used book dealer also take their toll, cutting sales by 2/3 after a year. Third, you have to create a whole crap load of instructor materials and student aids (--or hire someone to do it poorly ;-).

    Fourth, when I started, a popular textbook author could expect to earn as much as 18-20 percent of the wholesale price per book, but increases in the cost of paper and fierce competition between publishers to add more instructor �extras� has driven that down to 10 percent (--even less with all the clever ways textbook publishers �package� your book with other books--at a reduced royalty). Finally, the U.S. textbook industry has collapsed into basically three mega-publishers, with one of them (Thomson Learning) currently on the auction block. So, what Charlie says about pissing off a large corporation goes double with textbook authoring.

    Despite these challenges, textbook authors can earn significant money. A successful text is typically defined as 10,000-20,000 units per year (--not many authors achieve this status). At $20 wholesale, this can amount to as much as $40K a year (--before the IRS takes its HUGE cut). If you are a superstar and sell 30,000-40,000 units a year, then things can get interesting--financially. Oh yea, advances are normally in the same range as Charlie mentioned for a starting fiction author, but following editions seldom pay advances, unless the textbook is quite popular.

    104:

    Turns out you don't have to get an Aeron chair to treat your back well. About 8 years ago, just as I was starting to develop a serious back problem (which now is much better, thank you), I went shopping for a chair for my home office. I figured I'd be spending a lot of time in that chair, possibly working from home half of the week. I didn't have $1500 to spend, so I looked at and sat in chairs for several hours. I found a chair with adjustments for just about every point of contact between the body and any other surface. It's made by Hon, and it cost me less than $400 in 1999. I'm sitting in it right now; it's just as comfortable now as then. At the peak of my back problem I could sit comfortably in it, more comfortably than lying in bed, even. It's now outlasted three computers, two desks, and a house.

    105:

    Charlie: "Of course, the book budget goes on the tax form as "research" or "competitive market analysis materials", right?"

    -- yup. Along with magazines, newspapers, movies, music CD's, my satellite TV bill, my internet connection, most of my travel, and a fair bit of my housing costs.

    Self-employment _rocks_, tax-wise... 8-).

    I actually pay what I consider a quite reasonable proportion of my income on taxes.

    106:

    The economics of book publishing are tricky. Costs per copy go down tremendously as copies sold increase.

    Now that it's so much cheaper to reprint than it used to be (typesetting costs have plunged) this is even more true than it used to be, since you can respond quickly to reorders and don't need to do as big an initial run, so there's less risk of being stuck with a mass of unsold books.

    After a certain point, it's all gravy.

    If a book sells 2500 copies, the publisher is barely breaking even, if that. That's about $67,000 in receipts for a hardcover; subtract fixed overhead like editorial salaries, distribution costs, typesetting and printing costs, the cost of the cover art, the miserable $5000 or so they paid the poor schmuck who wrote it, and there's not much left.

    If it sells 30,000 copies, gross receipts suddenly go up to well over $800,000 but costs are up only modestly from the ones for the 2500 copy book. The author's cut is now at the six-figure level and the publisher ain't hurting either.

    You become one of their major profit centers. At this point, they discover that they loved you all along; your calls are returned, you get consulted about the cover, they send you on expensive tours, the dinner your editor takes you to is suddenly $250-per-head even before they pop that bottle of Brut Champagne de la Grande Dame, and they start spending advertising money.

    Oh, and they get anxious about you defecting to another house, scramble to lock you into multi-book contracts, and they put your advances up without even being asked.

    And that's at a mere 30K copies sold, about 35,000 shipped if you've got good sell-through.

    Robert Jordan, by way of contrast, averages around 300,000 copies.

    107:

    "Moving might be a little bit painful for you."

    -- in 1995, when I moved down here to New Mexico, the movers did their usual weight estimate. Then they did it again, because they thought they must have made a mistake.

    Then they came to me and said: "Sir, you have three and a half _tons_ of books."

    It's gotten much worse since then...

    108:

    I am struggling to see how this is any different from the corporate crap job I have right now. Or is it just that I am a total wonk on a Friday night?

    I suppose these two things are not mutually exclusive.

    109:

    Jamie: the corporate drones are held at arms length. And you have the privilege of taking your work elsewhere. As SMS points out, if you've got the sales figures to justify it, suddenly the boot is on the other foot and they are groveling to you (although to be fair there's precious little groveling in general). You're 90% immune to office politics (with a few notorious exceptions -- the careers of a couple of respected authors I could mention in private over a pint, who were completely screwed over due to circumstances beyond their control). And you don't have to turn up to work on any day when you don't feel like it: you work the hours you want to work to do the job you told them you'd do some time this year.

    110:

    Thanks for the cheer-up, Charlie. Your reply reminds me that a bad day writing beats any day at the office.

    I think it was a Friday night thing. I was drinking ale and writing code on a project I did not want to finish for a bully who deserves a good spanking... Went to my studio this morning to do some writing-writing. Still felt like crap because I couldn't get the work out of my head.

    "any day" and "sometime this year" sound mighty nice right now regardless of all the other hooptedoodle. :)

    111:

    the HR person who told me that I would not be considered for the job I had already been given by the head of the department involved, for reasons of minority quota (I wasn't black, or female, or better yet, both. Also, I was a veteran, which apparently counted against me).

    Me too.

    Maybe I'll add a bit about HR to a sci fi book I've written that no publisher wants to read.

    PS I'm keeping my day job.

    :)

    112:

    One thing you did not mention in the "advantages" section was the satisfaction of creating something new, getting it done and releasing it out into the world. To create something, to rise above the great mass of "consumers" and become a person who adds to humanity is a desire and goal for many. Many create fan-fiction or amateur work that never sees the light of day, but I believe the number of people out there longing for something more fulfilling than just "I drove the bus all day today" or "I kept the computers running ok today" is huge.

    S.M. Sterling mentioned above: "it's actually fun to do. I wake up in the morning and think: "Oh, goodie, I get to work today,"
    For many, this feeling comes from the satisfaction of creating and the anticipation of finishing something. At work, I just keep the computers going, it never ends, I can never "win" and I never get anywhere...but when writing (as in many creative tasks such as painting or building a ship-model) I will reach the end and be able to check it off as "done," to sit back and say "I did it, I created something new."

    I think that drives a lot of people, besides just "I want to get rich by taking it easy and writing famous novels."

    Mark

    113:


    Posted by: S.M. Stirling:

    "Human Resources" always reminds me of what someone who knew him well said about Lenin.

    "He regards human beings in much the same way as a furnaceman regards ore.""

    Far worse, I'm afraid. I'd put it more like 'as a furnaceman regards *coal*'.

    114:

    Posted by: John Richards | January 30, 2007 2:15 PM:
    "During my year of unemployment my main problem with HR people was their complete inability to write a job spec for technical staff that could distinguish between say data design, data analysis or data entry. Their conviction that Oracle 11 (the oracle application suite) must be superior to Oracle 8 (the then current development environment), demands in 2002 for 5 years experience in Windows 2000 and requests for me, the applicant to explain exactly what Oracle did and what a database was did little for my confidence that these people would be helpful in my getting a job with the company that employed them."

    Tell me about it. I'm a statistician; I've worked in engineering, research academia and healthcare. I figure that I'm one step less flexible than a computer support tech, in terms of the industries and businesses I could work in. Getting an HR person to understand that can be rather hard.

    115:

    On top of everything you've said, the "regular people" in the neighborhood think writers are screwed up. At the neighborhood barbecue, the insurance salesman can talk to the used car dealer and the mafia boss can talk to the first grade teacher, but nobody knows what to say to the writer. Writing is a solitary lifestyle even in crowds.

    116:

    On the other hand...

    Counter argument here: http://zornhau.livejournal.com/112523.html

    117:

    Writers and artists are like farmers. They're always talking about how awful it is and looking at other fields.

    118:

    Can someone please explain to me what BIC stands for?

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