Back to: Attention Conservation Notice | Forward to: National Talk About Something Else Day

An interim report from the coal face

If I had to list the misconceptions to which people intent on becoming writers are prone, I think I'd start my list like this:

1. I am an author! This is a statement of my identity and my lifestyle. Respect my authorial mojo! (What do you mean it's a job, you horrible little killjoy?)

2. I could tell you what I'm going to write next, but you'd steal my ideas. (Planet Earth calling: ideas make up 1% of the job, execution is the other 99%.)

3. The world owes me a living. (Do I need to explain this one?)

More below.

I write for a living. Right now, I'm halfway through the first draft of a novel I'm aiming to finish by December. Ideally it'd be done by the beginning of December, and if I could extract my target quota from the word mines each day it would be, but in reality, Other Shit intervenes:

1. The copy edits for next year's SF novel, "Neptune's Brood", are due to arrive in my email inbox on November 12th. They are due back in production by November 26th. In the intervening two weeks I have to carefully examine the copy editor's marked-up manuscript, approve or veto their changes, make any necessary changes of my own, and double-check everything. Normally, not a problem.

2. The page proofs for the second of next year's reissues, the omnibus volume "The Traders' War" (Merchant Princes #3 and #4) arrived on October 31st. They run to 650-odd pages. They're due back in production by November 20th. (Different publisher, naturally.) The page proofs need examining minutely for typos, and correcting.

3. The page proofs for the third of next year's reissues, the omnibus volume "The Revolution Trade" (Merchant Princes #5 and #5) are due to arrive on December 3rd. Due back December 17th. The page proofs need examining minutely for typos, and correcting.

4. I have a broken bone in one foot and live at the top of several flights of stairs (with no elevator). I'm wearing an orthopedic boot and can't drive (my car is a stick shift: can't work the clutch.)

5. 220 miles away, an elderly relative is recovering from surgery and needs weekly visits ... by train. Hint: I can't work effectively on a train or at the far end.

6. I have the usual accounting and record keeping issues that go with running a small business to keep up with in this period.

Now, all is not as bad as this picture might paint it. Rather than collapsing under the weight of seven book-length sets of copy edits/page proofs in ten weeks, I've hired a local editor I've worked with in the past to do a lot of the legwork on the page proofs. This still doesn't absolve me from working on them, but it reduces the time input. I can't out-source the copy edits on the new novel, because this is the first publication and I'm the only person who can confirm whether or not a given sentence is merely phrased badly or conceals an obscure pun; but that's a relatively light job compared to checking the page proofs. Due to long-standing eye trouble (peripheral retinopathy) my personal bottleneck is simply that my reading speed is quite slow. The Merchant Princes omnibus set makes for hard work simply because it's so big—1850-odd pages when it's in print.

If anything, the worst bits of this it's-a-lifestyle-idiot job are points #4 and #5, and frankly you don't have to be a writer to have those problems.

But anyway: the glam life of this particular Author currently revolves around: worrying about how to do the food shopping on crutches (hint: home delivery services and/or a back-pack—chest strap mandatory), project management of supply contracts for large corporate clients who don't know or care about each other's deliverables and deadlines, checking other peoples' work (copy editors and typesetters), visiting sick relatives (and trying to help out the other relatives who are looking after them from day to day), and somehow squeezing out half a novel in the meantime. And note that these are the problems of a successful writer. The problems of unsuccessful writers include figuring out how to get those large corporate clients in the first place and financing the next can of baked beans.

You want an artistic lifestyle statement? Take mine, please!

PS: I'm halfway through the new novel (Laundry Files #5, "The Rhesus Chart"). If I can just use NaNoWriMo as a pace car, it'll be finished by November 31st (even if I have to insert an extra day in the month to make it fit). I'll rest, as they say, when I'm dead.

69 Comments

1:

No matter what you do, no matter how interesting initially, eventually it becomes "just a job". The second stage is being trapped in it because you have no other expertise.

2:

Your second stage also needs to include: being trapped in it because, after being self-employed for a few years, you're functionally unemployable. Because you've forgotten how to jump when the works bell rings, or kiss the hand that holds the whip.

Independence is a powerful drug.

3:
I could tell you what I'm going to write next, but you'd steal my ideas. (Planet Earth calling: ideas make up 1% of the job, execution is the other 99%.)

Reminds me of video games. "I have this great idea for an MMO, but with feature X! I should be able to do it with my team for 3 friends in a couple months." Yeah, good luck with that.

4:

"Too much rest too soon and we call it death." -- H. G. Wells

5:

And along the way, following Rule 1: Don't die.

6:

"3. The page proofs for the third of next year's reissues... (Merchant Princes #5 and #5)"

Presumably you meant to type #5 and #6? I wouldn't feel the need to comment except this is a statement regarding page proofs so this sort of relatively minor typo is just the sort of thing you'll be looking for.

7:

Rock on, sir. Speaking as someone with disabled relatives, I should point out that one of the best reasons for getting a (gasp) automatic is because it's easier to drive the damn thing if you're partially crippled. Yes, I'm a killjoy and real fun at parties too.

That said, you might consider offering free autographs to any fans willing to carry your groceries up for you. The caveat being you only sign books that they carry up with them at the same time...

8:

Hahaha! I keep getting emails from friends and ex-colleagues about open jobs in software; seems to be a boom time, especially for web app developers. But I've been retired for 4 years now, and there's no way I'd ever work for anyone again unless my next meal depended on it.

9:

I've always been partial to the SubGenius formulation 'The world owes me a living, and I'm going to work like hell---if I have to---to get it.'

10:

The joy of your forties is finally realising that the last company campaign that you bought into "to change the way you work and become more agile" is really identical to the most recent one which has different keywords. It is at this point you realise how stupid and childish the whole change-management crap really is and you recognise it for the mild brainwashing that it is.

You then start contemplating a career as a "consultant" so you can just side-step the bullshit and get-stuff-done. However, that will make you a small business person with all the sales and marketing needs such a business needs. You then crawl back into you warm cave of comfort, notice a dank odour but choose to ignore it, and get on with "sucking it up" for the first time in your life.

When did your passion turn into a job?

On the other hand, your significant other decides to get a job away from the earthquakes and it gives you a glimmer of something you would not have thought of before, in another country, albeit one large numbers of poisonous creatures.

The aura of the possible make the world sparkle with only the mechanics of moving dimming the aura a little.

11:

Well, since the subject of publishing has come up, I'll take this opportunity to ask a somewhat related question (rather than attempting to email it, and become a nuisance).

Should a first time author try to get an agent first, or send that manuscript to a publisher?

Yes, I've seen a few answers to that, mostly contradictory, and of course one person's experience doesn't always apply to another. So why not ask for another opinion.

In other words, I finally finished my novel a few months ago, and after a delay (see point 5 under Shit Intervenes in the post--fortunately I don't have to travel) finished proofing the 1st draft. Now to send copies to friends and family to get other opinions, before deciding if the answer to the question matters.

12:

It may be prohibitively expensive, but I do hope some kind of reasonable grocery delivery service comes to Edinburgh someday . . .

Especially as an amateur copyeditor I do wonder if there could be some way to develop a screenreader/speech interface to make copyedits easier for folks with vision issues, or if one already exists. Other than a paid assistant I mean -- something computerized.

May the coming weeks be behind you and even a small rest come your way soon.

13:

Also, I do hope that better software might improve working for oneself in the future, although it cannot clear the administrative headaches and income juggling. Braver man than I.

14:

Crikey - hope it all settles down soon.
I'll happily swap a spot of proof-reading novels if you're willing to trawl through the mess that is the pile of papers I have to correct before submission to journals. I'm just about to make the jump from lab monkey to stand/sink-alone researcher, along with a move of continent, so I can sympathise at least a little with the idea of working while everything's flying in from all sides.

15:

"The second stage is being trapped in it because you have no other expertise."

From my experience in the New Economy, the third stage is seeing your job automated or sent to China.

Stage 4 through ten zillion is "Welcome to WalMart".

16:

Good idea with outsourcing some of the legwork.
I've heard that other authors have full-time administrative assistants.

17:

Charlie @ 2
You sound like one R. A . Heinlein, there ......

To others ... it's obvious to me that Charlie is a compulsive communicator, much worse (or better) than I am, in fact [ I suspect I'm just a didact ].
I have also noticed how he can pick up on the smallest comment or detail, and include it as a very small by-line or remark in a piece of his written work. Now that is the mark of a really professional author, who is good at it.
OTOH, his description of the present state of the coal-face re-emphasises, were it necessary, the 1% inspiration / 99% perspiration split of the creative processes.
This applies in the experimental sciences as well, of course.

18:

Recently someone - sorry I forget who - posted this on Twitter.

'Being a writer means having homework every night for the rest of your life.'

Sorry your physical plant is failing you so much just now. Hope your broken foot heals up soon.

19:

Should a first time author try to get an agent first, or send that manuscript to a publisher?

I can't answer that question.

Or rather: I can answer it, but my answer would be 12 or more years out of date, and we're in the middle of a gigantic and fast-moving shift in the way the industry works.

One warning: family will either diplomatically ignore your writing or tell you exactly what they think you want to hear. Friends will do likewise unless they're also writers and they're trying to raise their game with an eye to eventual publication and they respect you. My rec would be: look for a local writers' workshop. Sit in on a session. Pay attention to the internal social dynamic as much as the fiction under discussion. If it's 100% mutual ego-stroking, don't go back: it won't help you. If it's a groupthink cult, don't go back: it won't help you. What you're looking for is honest feedback including constructive criticism.

Agents: a good one is worth their weight in, if not gold, then probably silver: they will earn you far more money than they take in their commission. But a bad one is worse than no agent at all.

Publishers: in the USA, most publishers no longer read unsolicited manuscripts that come in over the transom -- they only read submissions from agents. Those who still maintain slushpiles are chronically log-jammed. However, there is a ray of hope: the worst impossible cases are now discovering the joy of self-publishing, relieving some of the pressure on the slushpile, so this situation may eventually improve.

20:

Waitrose deliver to the door (up all those stairs) and tick all my boxes except there's a minimum order of £50 (i.e. about US $80) and a lead time of 24-48 hours. So using them requires some advance planning. Other supermarkets also run home delivery services in this area but I'm not so hard up as to consider dropping my long-term boycott of Tesco and Asda.

21:

This is why you should specialize in a niche that is AI-complete, if at all possible.

I don't see "novelist" being automated any time soon, despite Amazon's attempts at driving prices down by creating a Mechanical Turk (by throwing the floodgates open to allow readers to sample the global slushpile at $1.99 a pop, thereby cornering the valuable addicted-to-the-ranting-of-schizophrenics-with-hypergraphia market[*]).


[*] Yes, some self-published original fiction by writers with no prior industry track record is good. But most of it isn't.

22:

cornering the valuable addicted-to-the-ranting-of-schizophrenics-with-hypergraphia market

But surely is market non-overlapping with yours?

23:

Happy NaNoWriMo Charlie and others! I hope the relative is recovering well. It's my first time participating in NaNoWriMo, and I'm looking forward to the perspiration. I seem to have fallen behind on my book buying, so I've got little else to do during my daily public transit commute.

24:

We speak sarcasm and irony here.

25:

"Yes, some self-published original fiction by writers with no prior industry track record is good. But most of it isn't."

I've actually read some of that stuff (maybe a few dozen). The fraction which has disappointed me has not been unusually large, relative to traditionally published books.

There's probably a huge basement of truly crappy stuff that Amazon never recommends for anyone, but avoiding that doesn't seem to be difficult.

26:

Re: functional unemployablity of writers

In the current US economy, you are considered functionally unemployable after simply being unemployed for six months (I hope things are better in Scotland). If you've been unemployed for over a year (like I have), you might as well start sending stuff to major publisher slush piles. You are as likely to get a book contract as a job.


27:

Thanks for the reply.
I'd been looking into agents and at publisher's submission guidelines for awhile, and have been leaning toward the find an agent route. I assume agents would have a better idea of what publishers are looking for, and hearing what you and the other writers at COSine said about particular publishers made me think some things over.

As for friends/family, I've some that I trust to be brutally honest if I ask them to be (and I will). And I can probably ask them to get spouses who are, or were, teachers to give it a go with a critical eye. Plenty to think about.

28:
But surely is market non-overlapping with yours?

Well, some of the quite-late-but-not-latest P. K. Dick arguably fits the bill somewhat, and at least I for one both enjoyed VALIS and OGH's writings. ;)

Though I guess that's might be an outlier, and whenever I see somebody proposing a link between schizophrenia and creativity (e.g. the Imprinted Brain Theory of schizophrenia), my bet is the person in question is some armchair neuropsychologist with nil clinical experience; in the case of the IBT, Crespi being a molecular taxonomist and Badcock being a sociologist doesn't help much, same as they somewhat cherrypicking the positive symptoms of SZ that fit their view...

29:


by way of

cs: "Friends will do likewise unless they're also writers and they're trying to raise their game with an eye to eventual publication and they respect you. "

Or if they are aspiring editors who also do copyediting on the side. Perhaps we are rare.

Seek out aspiring editors.

(I am also the designated Fixer of English for a widening group of non-native anglophones both on and off the dayjob; I've been told this can be developed into a sideline, although I haven't made any actual money off it yet, or the copyediting for that matter, but may be worth noting for aspiring writers willing to do gruntwork; not sure if journalism is still useful, unless you want to write nonfiction)

30:

What amazon needs is a superior slush-pile sorting.. *cough* recommendation algorithm. But that probably requires getting people to input more data about what they read than "I bought this". It would probably be a good idea to give people 25 cents of store credit (.. and hike prices by 25 cents..) for reviewing their purchases or something.. Or just stick a prompt in the kindle machinery to pop up when you hit the end.

31:

"Or just stick a prompt in the kindle machinery to pop up when you hit the end."

They seem to do this.

About two months ago, my Kindle screen broke and I had to get another one. When I got it, it had a list of all my old books for downloading into the new one, with the location tracking from my old Kindle. In other words, the servers knew if I'd finished it, was halfway through, or just starting.

I don't know if they feed that data back into the rankings (yet).

32:

Minor update: Yes, I'm exhausted. I don't have enough energy to go downstairs and catch a taxi to the pub, much less walk there. (The pub in question is only a mile and a half away.) Due to the osteology boot I can't go swimming and walking requires crutches, so I'm not getting enough exercise.

I'm working, but only because it's a sedentary occupation. Averaging around 2500 words/day.

Gaah. Being ill sucks. Getting old sucks. But getting ill and getting old sucks combinatorially worse

33:

Whenever I hear (or read) "I am an _author_", I am immediately reminded of the first sentence of Quentin 'Q' Morewood's speech in The Wonder Boys. Tosh and balderdash in a mere 4 words; magnificent.

34:

All jobs involve wading through shit. The nice thing about pursuing any sort of vocation is that you are wading towards something you care about.

35:

Charlie @ 32
Tell me about it!
Still, like my leg-problem it'll go away eventually, & with any luck, you'll be better than before you started, so to speak (I certainly am - at age 66 for other readers...)

Plod on with the Laundry, pretty please.

36:

I have done some writing but I always considered it a hobby, though one that I wasn't doing properly if I wasn't being paid token amounts for my stories. I discovered three things.

1. I shouldn't be a writer because I make way too many mechanical mistakes with my English.

2. It is very hard to go from personal fantasies to publishable material, many amateurs who I've read also fail at this. A common mode is to include sexual fantasy before we have even learned to care about to characters.

3. I thought I could write genre fantasy. I can't. Court intrigue often bores me and I find monsters and magic mostly unbelievable.

I sometimes miss my characters, especially Patience, a four hundred pound, scaly radioactive Mary Sue.

37:

I've just quit my regular old job to start working full time as a freelance programmer with a friend. Long term idea is to do a certain realistic percentage of game development and the rest of the time paid freelance work, as much as is needed to pay the bills.

In my experience, your description of writing sounds a lot like game development. Lots of people going into it with big ideas grown in an echo chamber of friends and family, expecting those with graphical and technical skills to bend over backwards for a chance to implement their snazzy new FPS-adventure-MMO-RTS that's "kind of like Zelda but raw and dark and there's tower defense and co-op and fifty playable races, here let me show you my notebooks".

I've known a lot of people like that. And most of them never move beyond that stage, get tired of it and go into business doing something else. But some of them actually have jobs now at big or well-known studios, hammering away on the lowest rungs and making connections and learning the field and getting better at it. Their romantic notions crushed or at least a bit scuffed, but they're in and they're working their way up.

Whereas I was too scared to hold out for a game dev job after school and went straight for the first holy-shit-you're-gonna-pay-me-how-much job I was offered. Now I'm almost 27 and stressed out of my skin and just want to go back to doing something for a living I might actually enjoy, no matter how big a pay-dip I'll take.

I don't know if there's a point in these ramblings, but if there is it's probably that even though you may be the most clueless twat in the world and you don't know a single thing about what it's really like to work in the field of your choosing, it's shit to give it up and you'll have to work hard for whatever you want to accomplish anyway.

38:

I sometimes miss my characters, especially Patience, a four hundred pound, scaly radioactive Mary Sue.

Can you elaborate?

39:

On points 2 and 3, does anyone throw technology at the problem? We wouldn't be able to solve it, but perhaps we can efficiently identify and propose corrections to the majority of errors.

If not I wonder where I can get (/how I could generate) some reasonable data to play with (I'm a graduate student working on parsing, in the Natural Language Processing / Computational Linguistics sense, so being able to find typos intelligently is right up my alley, and correcting page proofs is not the same as spellcheck for text like in MSR's Speller Challenge, so I'm not sure how directly applicable most research on this type of problem is).

40:

Apologies if I've posted this here before, but here's another prolific author (though I don't recommend his course):

http://oglaf.com/muse/1/

41:

This is a reply to 38 using my proper account. The actual owner of sunlion910, prefers Egyptian goddesses to radioactive aliens. I'm not going to elaborate much because that would be cheating, talking about my character without doing the hard work of actually writing a story about him.

Like Charlie said, ideas are a dime a dozen.

42:

If you've been unemployed for over a year (like I have), you might as well start sending stuff to major publisher slush piles. You are as likely to get a book contract as a job.

Good to know I'm not the only one pursuing this route to employment!

I was a librarian for 6 years but after nearly 1.5 years of unemployment, I've started responding with "writer" when someone asks what I do for a living. If I'm not going to be making money, I'd at least like to not make money doing something creative that I enjoy (obviously the preference would be to make money at it too, but one step at a time).

43:

42:I was a librarian for 6 years but after nearly 1.5 years of unemployment, I've started responding with "writer" when someone asks what I do for a living.

In bad economic times, any job with low barriers to entry attracts so many of the unemployed that wages fall toward zero.

Charlie hates the Amazon publish-the-slushpile model for precisely this reason; getting contracts with traditional publishers has been the major barrier to entry in professional writing, and anything that circumvents the barrier is a threat to his income.

44:

On points 2 and 3, does anyone throw technology at the problem?

I already tried crowdsourcing. It was minimally helpful after book 1; people get bored. Also, this isn't solely spell check territory: there are typographical issues to fix (runs and ladders, upside-down quote marks) and at the CE stage, factual issues to check.

45:

... On the other hand, in trade publishing, authors are pretty much the ultimate brand-name product. You don't go into a bookstore looking for a kilogram of mixed SF, you go looking for the new Stross or Reynolds novel and maybe a side-order of Bujold. Or something like that.

I'm not directly threatened by the slushpile approach, as long as I have fans and keep giving them stuff they like (which is not the same as what they [think they] want). On the other hand, it's fairly obvious that Amazon is promoting it because they see it as a tool for undermining the Big Six Five. And it's really going to hurt midlist writers who are just starting out via the traditional publishing route.

46:

On points 2 and 3, does anyone throw technology at the problem?
Uh, where do you think the typos come from? ;-)

47:

If I said that what I think I want is more Laundry novels and more Liz Kavenaugh novels? With some hard SF, and maybe some more Merchant Princes if the UK re-launch sells...

48:

45:"You don't go into a bookstore looking for a kilogram of mixed SF, you go looking for the new Stross or Reynolds novel and maybe a side-order of Bujold."

I wonder. Aside from authors whose blogs I read (you and Scalzi), I usually don't know what books are out until I see them in the store. I just go in looking for something interesting and browse until I find something or give up.

I'm not disputing that the author matters. There are maybe five authors whose name will sell me a hardback and about fifty whose name will attract my attention to a paperback. OTOH, I buy a fair number of books from authors I haven't previously heard of. I buy about 50% of what I read on Kindle, the rest paper.

I wonder what percentage of book sales are planned when the customer enters the store, and what percentage are the result of browsing.

49:

From a certain perspective, the slush pile approach is going to raise, not lower the barrier of entry. In the end, someone will come up with a way to winnow out gold from mountains of dross. And in that steady state, in order to derive an actual income, as opposed to having your work partially read by ten people before being down voted into oblivion, you need to both supply writing and editing.
Which means you either need to be able to edit your own works, which is a somewhat unusual knack, or you need to procure editing elsewhere.

50:

Which means you either need to be able to edit your own works, which is a somewhat unusual knack, or you need to procure editing elsewhere.

I remember I read somewhere that in the distant past writers used to let a finished work "rest" for a few years before editing it with a fresh eye - and only then published it.

Won't work for near future sci-fi, of course...

51:

You are getting: another hard SF novel (about robot bankers in deep spaaaaace), another Laundry novel, and more Merchant Princes, in that order.

You are probably going to get another Liz Kavanaugh novel (it's still under contract!), but it's been postponed for a couple of years because they're skullfuckingly hard to write and I have a deadline crunch and also the near future has gone nonlinear-weird on me again.

Will that do?

52:

I remember I read somewhere that in the distant past writers used to let a finished work "rest" for a few years before editing it with a fresh eye - and only then published it.

Trust me, the only writers who could actually do that are the ones who either have another source of income or who are so wildly successful that they're not under pressure to publish a book a year to keep from starving. Or they're juvenile trunk novels, unpublishable at the time but suitable for an outing once the author's gained a decade or two of experience and has time to re-write them.

53:

Yes thanks - My serious point was that, given that at least 1/3 of the SF fans I know read at least one of your ongoing series, what we think we want and what we're getting from you aren't that far removed.

54:

I remember I read somewhere that in the distant past writers used to let a finished work "rest" for a few years before editing it with a fresh eye - and only then published it.

Won't work for near future sci-fi, of course...

Arguably that won't work for a lot of present day genres be they romance, crime, military etc. If we take a few years to mean 3-5 and compare the latter months of 2012 to the latter months of 2007-2009 there are a lot of differences that could at least make the world presented seem a bit out of kilter and at most completely break the plot. Think of a young adult/teen novel that has minimal social network use, a political thriller set in a north African dictatorship, any story involving getting lost when the protagonist has a phone (what do you mean it doesn't have a map app?) etc.

I'm not trying to argue some nutty singularitoonian position that the world is getting exponentially different but there are many subtleties of life that we tend to forget weren't around just a few short years ago or at least weren't as prevalent.

55:

Forgot to include a big one: the global economic fuck up. Any story written in 2007-9 that features characters getting a job, unemployment, money in the average house, a family getting a mortgage, a young couple trying to plan the next few years, a politician trying to make decisions on how to react to an international incident, a businessman thinking of an investment etc etc is going to be affected.

56:

The problem is, if you ask fans what they want, they'll say "something just like the last one, only different". MOAR! MOAR! ... Until they get indigestion and stop reading you. Which might happen after 1 book, or 10, but it'll happen eventually if you don't diversify.

So rather than giving fans what they ask for, I aim to give them what they should have asked for. If you follow my drift.

57:

So rather than giving fans what they ask for, I aim to give them what they should have asked for

So you're going the Apple way instead of the uSoft way.

Can't say I disapprove... :)

58:

NOTE: The reason for the shortage of blogging in the past week is that I have just emitted over 4000 words for the second consecutive day. To put that in perspective, if sustainable that's a 100,000 word novel in 25 days. That dot shrinking in my rear-view mirror is NaNoWriMo.

(Of course, it won't be sustained. Got the copy edits for "Neptune's Brood" arriving next Monday. But still, I should make it to the 75% mark before then ...)

59:

4000 words? Does that mean your hands are feeling better?

60:

I have to say, "emitting" 4000 anything does not sound healthy.

61:

Charlie hates the Amazon publish-the-slushpile model for precisely this reason; getting contracts with traditional publishers has been the major barrier to entry in professional writing, and anything that circumvents the barrier is a threat to his income.

Setting aside what our kind host hates and why, Amazon's self-publishing model has somewhere between zero and negligible effect on Charlie's income. Publishing isn't a zero sum game. And while he may be competing with the slushpile-as-Kindle ebook to a certain degree, he has the advantage of being a name brand author. (There probably are other factors contributing to Rule 34 outselling my novella on the Kindle, such as minimal audience overlap, but this is the main one. It's safe to assume no one is going to go to Amazon looking for a Charlie Stross novel and by a novella by Keith Edwards instead).

The only thing that could effect his sales would be a failure to fulfill his end of a contract, that is, failure to write the next book and deliver it on time (there's an element of quality control as well but from the books I've read, he's got a solid handle on the consistency issue).

And Amazon's model offers those writers like myself who have yet to secure a contract with a publisher an alternate model of doing so. However likely that may or may not be compared to the traditional route of getting an agent and/or surfing the slushpile at the publishing house of your choice is a discussion we could have, but probably shouldn't as it would involve a lot of wild speculation on the part of all parties.

62:

Yeah, I'll cop to saying "moar, wantz naow!", at least to the extent that my typical reaction to finishing a Laundry novel is to think "I've got to wait 2 to 4 years for the next one". Sure, I'd get bored in a decade or so if you wrote nothing but Laundry novels but the way you mix up sub-genres you can probably apply a multiplier of 4 (or maybe more?) to your "reader boredom" thresholds.

63:

You are probably going to get another Liz Kavanaugh novel (it's still under contract!), but it's been postponed for a couple of years because they're skullfuckingly hard to write and I have a deadline crunch and also the near future has gone nonlinear-weird on me again.

But also skullfuckingly brilliant. Let's hope that you can fit "a couple of years" non-linearly into a smaller time frame :-)

Looking forward to robot bankers in the meantime!

64:
I don't see "novelist" being automated any time soon

On some of my more cynical days I wonder whether some variation of this strategy would make money.

  • Computer generate plots. I saw some really quite decent procedural plot-generation in the late eighties and I can only assume that the potential state of the art has improved since then. Mate of mind did "fantasy" plots (lost sons, wronged kings, etc.) as his undergrad project. They weren't what you'd call terribly interesting - but they made logical and, to some extent, dramatic sense.
  • Breakdown plots into scenes - which I reckon you could do a fairly good programmatic job of (look to characters interacting and location/time groupings in relation to plot nodes).
  • Outsource the writing of scenes to Mechanical Turk in parallel. Give the slaves a style guide to work with and the generated plot so they have some context.
  • Glue scenes together. Do basic copy edit for the worst spelling/inconsistencies.
  • Cover - 99designs.com or, if even better, have a strong typographic cover style so you can just use a common template.
  • Publish to amazon
  • This, of course, would be a f**king awful book... but would it be so bad that it wouldn't make it's money back... Seeing some of the kindle stuff that comes out and apparently makes money I sometimes wonder...

    65:

    On some of my more cynical days I wonder whether some variation of this strategy would make money.

    * Computer generate plots

    You could perhaps hook this up to the TV Tropes website and add a sprinkling of tropes into this. They might even be selectable.

    "Needs a bit more Applied Phlebotinum, less Ermine Cape Effect."

    This might go on towards a real AI too much, though.

    66:
    * Outsource the writing of scenes to Mechanical Turk in parallel. Give the slaves a style guide to work with and the generated plot so they have some context.

    That's one of the standard "accusations" against the dime novel variety of e.g. science-fiction. But then, the historiography around specific authors undermines this somewhat...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._H._Scheer

    67:

    I suppose the universe of Neptune's Brood could support a long-running space-opera series but it would be as much Charles Stross as would be something like the "Tom Clancy's Op-Centre" series is Tom Clancy. Though if his ghost writer were Diane Duane I would not complain much.

    I am not sure that the post-crash world of publishing is so devoted to that sort of book, but I can see how Kindle-like tech could open a market for that sort of series-fiction. I've seen some not-very-competent Kindle things which would fit the Perry Rhodan model, a regular novella, but the quality sucked.

    While I was in hospital, I heard that Amazon had changed its handling of tax and royalties. I couldn't see it being worth getting embroiled with the US tax system, which was the necessity of Kindle Publishing the last time I checked. I shall have to check that, my source could have misread something.

    68:

    All that having been said about the effort of life as it is for you, I am on the receiving end of your efforts. It is a Friday morning in Houston and I have taken the day off to spend 3 days reading and am half way through Apocalypse Codex and I am as happy as a pig in mud to know that I am going back to that world in a few moments. I learned of you in Ken Macleod's Wikipedia page and now I find that I can go back and read 3 other Laundry novels as well as lot a lot of other very interesting looking stuff. Life don't get much sweeter so thanks for all of your hard work. I feel myself reaching out with empathy to assist Bob, Hazard and Johnny because you have engaged with your characters with that kind of depth so it comes back to me through the page. Good job! I am now a fan for life.

    69:

    I know nothing about your editing task, but there's a cool free program called WinMerge and maybe you haven't heard of it and maybe it would be usefull to you. It lets you select any two documents that are in electronic form and sets them up as parallel as it can on a split screen, highlighting differences in different colors and making it real easy to transfer left or right and so forth.

    Specials

    Merchandise

    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 2, 2012 9:06 PM.

    Attention Conservation Notice was the previous entry in this blog.

    National Talk About Something Else Day is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

    Search this blog

    Propaganda