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FAQ: Inviting Charles Stross to speak - what you need to know

This is an informational posting, prompted by my having to turn down two speaking invitations this week ...

If you're thinking of inviting me to talk at an event, please be aware that I'm booked up for the remainder of 2009, most of 2010, and already have bookings for 2011.

If you still want to invite me to your event, read on.

I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. This imposes certain logistical constraints on me. For example, if you want me to give an evening talk in London, it will chew three days out of my schedule — one day to prepare the talk, then a day to fly down to London (flying is the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get there), deliver the talk, spend a night in a hotel, and then a day on which I fly home and deal with whatever correspondence has been piling up while I took time out.

The picture for speaking anywhere in North America is even harder. For example, to give a 30 minute presentation in Palo Alto takes me an absolute minimum of 3 days, even if I'm just repeating a talk I've already prepared — it takes me an entire day for travel (e.g.: up at 6am, fly from Edinburgh to Newark, fly from Newark to SFO, find my way to a hotel, and crash out so I'm on Pacific time the next morning), a day to deliver the talk, and then I have to catch a red-eye flight from SFO to a major European hub. Arriving on day #3, I transfer to a local shuttle and arrive home in a zombie like haze from which I will take 48 hours to recover sufficiently to be productive again. (In fact, due to my local airport not being a major hub, there's only one city in North America that I can effectively visit and return from in 48 hours — New York.)

That 30 minute talk bites nearly as much time out of my schedule as attending a weekend science fiction convention, because of the travel overheads. In fact, every time I accept a speaking or convention invitation outside of Edinburgh, it approximates to five working days out of my writing schedule. I'm not productive while I'm traveling; I work best in my own office/spare bedroom at home.

Experience has taught me that doing back-to-back events in consecutive weeks was a Bad Idea — I lose at least another week to exhaustion. Experience also tells me that making two trans-Atlantic flights in the same month is a Bad Idea (unless somebody is paying to fly me business class, which reduces the pain associated with travel considerably). Too much travel is in any event very bad for my productivity, and has knock-on effects even after I get home; jet lag, exhaustion, general lassitude, and so on.

I now get so many invitations that I have to perform triage ruthlessly. I am a novelist. When evaluating an invitation to go speak somewhere, the first thing I ask myself is: "can I justify this trip as a promotional exercise?" If the answer is "no", the second thing I ask myself is: "can I justify this trip for research purposes?" If the answer to that question is also "no", the third question I ask myself is: "do I want to go there and take a vacation afterwards?" Finally, if the answer to all of the above is "no", I have to ask, "who's going to pay for that working week?"

SF conventions tend to take priority: they pass at the first question (above), their organizers usually book guests a year or more in advance, and they're fun. Between now (July 23rd) and the end of 2009, I have four overseas SF conventions to go to. During 2010, I have six events already booked that involve international travel. I'm even booked for two events in early 2011. And this ignores domestic travel, including visiting my parents (who live, in terms of travel time, as far away as London, and who I like to see from time to time).

Anyway: despite all of the above moaning, you should by all means invite me to your event! To contact me, click here. However, please bear in mind the following ...

* I like as much notice as possible (and please be specific about your dates). Unless you're in Edinburgh, three months is the absolute minimum, imposed by my need to organize long-distance travel; twelve months is much better.

* If giving less than 18 months notice, don't be surprised if I'm already booked or otherwise unavailable. (In fact, 2009 and 2010 are already full.)

* Bear in mind that unless you're in Edinburgh or Glasgow, the hour or day you're asking for equates to a whole working week once I add in the travel overheads.

* I am a forty-something human, not in the prime of athletic health. I may turn you down if I think your event and the associated travel will be too exhausting.

* I reserve the right to cancel due to illness.

* Once I say "yes" to your invitation, I won't dump you if something shinier comes along later.

All of the above points are general guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. For example, I'll go out of my way to do stuff for friends, family, and causes I approve of. But I've learned the hard way that these guidelines are necessary.

To put it in perspective, this year I've turned down invites that would add up to three months on the road to my schedule. As it is, what I've said "yes" to in 2009 already amounts to three months away from home in each of 2009 and 2010. In short, when I say "I'd love to come, but ..." I am not bullshitting you — I really am overloaded!




So I guess the best thing to invite you to Berlin in 2009/10 will be by arranging a video conference with a studio next to your home ;)


Jens: I may stick my nose in at Pentacon in Dresden this year (it's one of my provisional plans), and in 2011 I will be at DORT.con in Dortmund. And I was in Berlin last summer. Does that help?


You're asking us to click a link called foo.cgi? That's clearly hacker stuff, and no doubt dangerous. (-:

I agree with Jens@1. You need telepresence.


With all of this traveling speaking, it's unfortunate that all that is really available on youtube is the Google talk you did for Halting State.

Maybe cell-phone cameras need to get better.


But what's in your actual rider once you attend?
Water, Red jelly beans, etc....

Any crazy rock and roll like requirements that we should know about?


Matt: I'm not crazy and I don't play rock and roll.


Bob@3: I sat in on the Second Life talk a few months ago and it was pretty acceptable, barring a few minor network dropouts.

Plus, you can provide your own refreshments as I did, and as it sounded like Charlie was doing.


Actually, Charlie, the band that stuck the crazy point about M&Ms in their contract were not in fact crazy. They were being dead serious. Unlike you, a music concert can have dozens to hundreds of requirements about what they need stuck into the contract.

The band that put in the requirement about certain colored M&Ms were in fact testing the people at the site to be sure that they had read the requirements properly. If they found out the people had not removed the M&Ms, they now had reason to be paranoid about the other requirements, which were serious and professional and related to the show being met.

That said, there are a lot of prima donnas and divas out there, but you've never quite struck me as that type.







I'm aware of the M&Ms clause.

My requirements are a lot simpler; a reasonable hotel room plus travel expenses, one of the organizers who is able to act as a point of contact, and some input on how my time's going to be used. (Mostly to ensure I don't hit overload too early if it's a multi-day event like a convention.)


As usual, Snopes has the lowdown about Van Halen and M&M:s.

@Charlie: is there a list of where you will speak somewhere, other than what's posted on this blog?


Sounds like the best plan for success is to fly to Edinburgh (which is currently much cooler than Texas), figure out where your favorite pub is, and offer to buy pints for a chat. We were supposed to be over there for a wedding next month, but conflicts with getting the Boy up to college. Next time I will put my plan into action.



Johan: no list as yet, but it's on my to-do list.

Larry: that's about the size of it, as long as you pick a time when I'm at home. I visited Texas ... once. (The world is a big place, and I can't be everywhere.)


And now you can buy specific colors of M&Ms online so nobody would have to sort them by hand.


Charlie = daMan ...


Lol. Worst mistake I ever made was volunteering the information that I would be ok flying economy class given the budget constraints. I ended up being shuttled between Hong Kong and Seattle ec for months. Insist on 1st and make exceptions. Lesson learned.


Have you come across this idea? I found it on The Website at The End Of The Universe.



My best rider gag follows. The place: Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The band: Fields of the Nephilim.
Their rider included bags of flour which they could pour over themselves before swooping atmospherically onto the stage dressed in long black duster coats (it's the 80s, OK?). This usually worked well, except this time round, when the venue had mistranslated the request, perhaps because they were being overly solicitous.

There, in their proper place by the dressing room door, sat three large bags of museli. History does not record whether the band wondered if their cred would survive coming on stage scattering oats, raisins, and chips of dried banana...


The skypeanauthor one (thanks Omega @ 18) also neatly sidesteps Charlie's "issues" with the Big Brother state here in UK.

Srsly dude, post a calendar on ur websiet


History does not record whether the band wondered if their cred would survive coming on stage scattering oats, raisins, and chips of dried banana

They were probably worried that people would think they were nuts. (runs away)


You live in Edinburgh? Damn.. I was just there during my Scotland vacation. I bought "Wireless" from a bookshop, I've been a fan for years. If I had known you lived there I would have tried to bribe you with coffee (maybe tea) for a signature ;-).


So the Book Festival (in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, 15 - 31 Aug 09) is too soon after WorldCon ? Had been hoping to see you there - there isn't very much SF on the program.
(Marc Andreesen's list resulted in my finding your books several years back - it's a good list)


I also find it strange that our host hasn't made to the Book Festival in his home city. He could walk there in under 30 minutes.
I'm not sure what are the required credentials for an invitation to speak but two of his contemporaries a Mr Macleod and Mr Banks have been fixtures for years, possibly decades!
I usually go to several events and am going to see Ken Macleod in 'Genetics and Identity in the Homecoming' and usually catch Iain Banks 'I' or not, howeever I have to pass on him this year, working shifts.....

I centainly would turn up to Charlie speak whether it be in the main tent or in the lesser one and I'm pretty sure it would sell out


Jack: I have done book gestival events in previous years. However, the book festival is somewhat eccentric in management and planning, and I'm not on their radar as a local author. This may change over the next few years.